christmas in new york

15 Best Things To Do for a Magical Christmas In New York

Featured in countless movies and TV shows from generations past and present, the pure magic of Christmas in New York is world famous. However, there is nothing like experiencing New York at Christmastime firsthand; it’s even more magical than you can imagine!

From larger-than-life Christmas trees and incredible festivals of light to world-class window displays at department stores and delicious treats to warm your smile on a cold day, these are some of the best experiences to enjoy for a memorable and festive Christmas in New York.

rockefeller center

15 Highlights of Christmas in New York

From off-the-beaten-path attractions and events to the city’s most iconic Christmas landmarks and celebrations, these are the New York City Christmas highlights guaranteed to make for a memorable holiday season.

1. Marvel at New York’s Most Iconic Christmas Destination

Home to the world’s most famous Christmas tree, Rockefeller Center is the best place to start any festive Christmas in New York City. Pictures simply don’t do justice to this iconic destination, complete with New York’s largest Christmas tree, twinkling lights, Christmas music, and ice skating.

Towering over the ice skating rink below, the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree evokes awe. Make sure to get your first glimpse of it from 5th Avenue, with twinkling angels lining a magical pathway towards the tree.

Start your evening at Rockefeller Center, and make sure to visit nearby destinations like FAO Schwarz, Radio City Music Hall, and Bryant Park. The whole neighborhood is lit with twinkling lights, and plenty of New York’s most iconic Christmas destinations are just steps away.

Read More: 9 Best Hotels for a Festive Christmas in New York City

Hudson Yards
© Hudson Yards

2. Greet Santa Among Twinkling Lights at Hudson Yards

While the Christmas display and festive celebrations at Hudson Yards might be new to the scene compared to some of New York’s Christmas classics, Hudson Yards has quickly become one of the best places in the city to get into the Christmas spirit.

Hudson Yards takes holiday decorations to the next level. Highlights include 115 miles of twinkling Christmas lights and 725 evergreen trees, creating a festive forest you need to see to believe. Decorations also include 16′-tall illuminated set-pieces in the shape of hot air balloons arranged throughout the Public Square and Gardens.

Hudson Yards is also the perfect place to take the kids to meet Santa. This year, Santa’s sleigh will be making a pitstop on Level 4 of Hudson Yards from December 5-9th and 12-16th from 5:00 PM to 8:00 PM. Kids can meet Santa while parents snap photos or take a family shot courtesy of Santa’s Helpers.

The best news? It’s all free and open to the public! Whether you’re looking for a family-friendly activity or a romantic thing to do in New York City, this is a perfect option.

3. Enjoy Over-the-Top Christmas Decorations at Rolf’s

Located in Gramercy Park, Rolf’s German Restaurant is considered among the most festive restaurants in New York City. Every square inch of Rolf’s is covered with twinkling lights (over 200,000 in total!), sparkling ornaments, and Christmas trees. The decorations take almost three months to mount, and it’s easy to see why.

This cozy, festive restaurant and bar serves delicious German food and has a great selection of drinks, ensuring your visit is memorable for more than just the over-the-top decorations.

Visiting Rolfs around the holidays is so popular that it’s almost impossible to make it inside without a reservation during November and December, even just for a drink at the bar. Make sure to call well in advance to make a reservation, especially if you’d like to visit in the evenings or on the weekend.

L'Avenue at Saks
© L’Avenue at Saks

4. Take Window Shopping To the Next Level at Saks

Glimpsing the over-the-top window displays is a must when experiencing Christmas in New York. From Macy’s and Bergdorf Goodman to Bloomingdale’s and the iconic Saks Fifth Avenue, New York’s holiday windowscapes are endless, always managing to top the previous years’ displays.

Looking for a delicious way to take your holiday window shopping to the next level? Head inside Saks to visit L’Avenue at Saks, an A-list favorite turned cozy escape with their holiday pop-up from the famous Parisian cafe, Angelina.

Choose from delicious favorites like macarons and madeleines or their signature pastry, the Mont-Blanc, complete with chestnut cream reminiscent of the roasted chestnuts so beloved during Christmas in New York. Of course, a visit wouldn’t be complete without Angelina’s famous old-fashioned hot chocolate. Pick up Angelina’s emblematic box set or chocolate mix for a holiday gift anyone is sure to love.

5. Visit FAO Schwarz

If you’re spending Christmas in New York with the kids, a visit to the iconic FAO Schwarz toy store is a must. Kids and adults alike will marvel at the over-the-top Christmas decor turning every inch of the store into a Christmas wonderland.

Located in Rockefeller Center, you’ll want to visit the world’s most famous toy store whether you have Christmas shopping to do or not. From soaring Christmas trees and life-sized nutcrackers to beautifully gift-wrapped boxes and festive, interactive displays, the store guarantees fun and enchantment, whether you make a quick visit or plan your whole day around the excursion.

During most of December, the store is open for extended Christmas hours, meaning it’s easier than ever to enjoy a visit. Whether you’re eight or eighty, FAO Schwarz is an iconic New York Christmas destination that will put a smile on your face.

© Watermark

6. Enjoy Winter Wonderland by the Water

Be transported to a winter wonderland among twinkling lights by the water at Watermark, a 10,000-square-foot outdoor bar and restaurant on Pier 15. Evening views from the pier towards Brooklyn are always spectacular, but Watermark’s Christmas display makes a visit truly magical.

This year’s display is inspired by the new Disney+ series, ‘The Santa Clauses,’  a throwback to the Christmas classic starring Tim Allen as Santa Claus. Visitors can explore candy-cane-lined corridors and cozy spaces like Santa’s Living Room and the Gingerbread House Bar with festive holiday drinks and bites.

Make sure to reserve a glass cabin for a Christmas party with Santa and all your friends. They’ll love exploring this Christmas wonderland inspired by holiday classics!

7. Shop at the Union Square Holiday Market

Transporting visitors to the festive Christmas markets of Europe for almost thirty years, the Union Square Holiday Market is considered among the best Christmas markets in the United States and is a must on any itinerary for travelers spending Christmas in New York.

With its red-and-white-striped cabins lined with garlands and Christmas lights, and delicious smells of roasted chestnuts and fresh pretzels wafting throughout the market, you’ll feel instantly transported to a winter wonderland.

Open every year from mid-November through Christmas Eve, the Union Square Holiday Market takes over the square’s entire southwest corner with more than 100 vendors selling handmade crafts, ornaments, and much more. Of course, hot chocolate, warm apple cider, and plenty of treats are at the ready to help you power through a shopping spree.

Whether you’re looking for the perfect place to complete your Christmas shopping or simply want to wander through one of the most festive corners of New York at Christmas, visiting the Union Square Holiday Market will be a memorable highlight of your holiday season.

radio city music hall

8. Marvel at the Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall

Starring the Radio City Rockettes, Radio City Music Hall’s annual Christmas Spectacular is an event that can’t be missed. Expect spectacular dance numbers portraying a variety of Christmas scenes, brought to life with original music scores, stunning costumes, and the event’s iconic finale, including a living nativity scene complete with a live camel.

This family-friendly Christmas highlight is popular with travelers of all ages and is guaranteed to put a smile on your face. Make sure to complete a memorable evening at Radio City Music Hall with a visit to Rockefeller Center, just around the block.

9. Take in the New York Botanical Garden’s Train Show

A favorite holiday tradition in New York for more than thirty years, the New York Botanical Garden’s Holiday Train Show is an iconic part of Christmas in New York. This festive event is a must for children and children at heart and delightfully recreates the most impressive features of the New York skyline in miniature, the backdrop for countless trains whizzing and huffing through the display.

The level of detail in these miniature displays, created out of natural materials, is truly breathtaking!

The show is made even better by the Botanical Garden’s incredible outdoor light display – one of the city’s largest – called NYBG GLOW. Explore the gardens after dark, with historic buildings impressively lit and seasonal displays that will transport you to the North Pole.

Baccarat Hotel
© Baccarat Hotel

10. Enjoy a Festive Tea Service at Baccarat Hotel

Is there any better way to rest and recharge after exploring New York than with a full tea service, complete with festive bites and beverages? Head to Baccarat Hotel, steps away from the city’s most famous Christmas attractions, to enjoy a luxurious tea service, soon to be a highlight of your Christmas trip to the city.

With two unique holiday tea services – the Christmas Carol tea for adults and the Nutcracker tea for children – your experience at Baccarat Hotel is sure to be a hit with the whole family. You’ll enjoy an array of sweet and savory bites that include the classic flavors of the holidays with a twist. Plus, choose from an array of beverages, including decadent hot chocolate, a bottle of champagne, and of course, a curated selection of delicious teas.

Read More: 9 Best Hotels for a Festive Christmas in New York City

11. Experience the Winter Village at Bryant Park

Home to the New York Public Library, a massive outdoor ice skating rink, and the famed Winter Village, there is no better time to visit Bryant Park than when celebrating Christmas in New York. Whether you’re looking for unique gifts from dozens of vendors or simply perusing the park and taking in the spectacular Christmas decor, you’ll consider the Winter Village a highlight of your Christmas in New York.

If skating doesn’t sound like your thing, wave on skaters from the cozy rinkside bar and food hall, The Lodge. Inspired by European ski lodges and filled with all the festive decor you would expect, this is the perfect place to escape the cold and enjoy delicious food and drinks.

Amaze Light Festival
© Amaze Light Festival

12. Marvel at a Festival of Lights

If you’re looking for a new family Christmas tradition, look no further than the Amaze Light Festival at Citi Field. This immersive celebration with millions of twinkling lights is poised to become a family tradition for locals and visitors alike looking for a memorable Christmas in New York.

Guests will immediately be impressed with the size of the light display as they explore five unique thematic worlds, all featuring 3D-lighted decor you must see to believe. Take your time exploring the displays, taking holiday photos, and getting into the Christmas spirit along the way.

Get some last-minute Christmas shopping done at the European Christmas market-inspired cottages, where vendors sell handmade crafts and delicious concessions as the kids enjoy the countless activities the Festival has to offer. With train rides, tubing down Zing’s Thrill Hill, and delicious holiday treats at Sparky’s Sweet Spot, kids of all ages are guaranteed to have an evening of fun.

Great Jones Distilling Co. Whiskey Wonderland
© Great Jones Distilling Co.

13. Sip Drinks in a Christmassy Distillery

If you’re looking for a memorable way to get into the Christmas spirit, no pun intended, head to Manhattan’s first and only whiskey distillery since Prohibition for a festive pop-up you won’t want to miss.

With the new “Whiskey Wonderland” pop-up inside its beautiful speakeasy, Great Jones Distilling Co. transports guests to the North Pole with delicious craft cocktails, a winter-inspired menu, and beautiful holiday decor. This is the place to gather with friends for a memorable holiday celebration; you’ll feel right at home connecting over drinks in this cozy, Christmasy space.

Make sure to check out the rest of the distillery on your visit as well – the building is spectacular. Need a last-minute holiday gift? Any craft alcohol enthusiast would love a tour of the distillery, one of the unique experiences offered at Great Jones Distilling Co., or take home a bottle from among the extensive offerings in their showroom.

city cruises
© City Experiences

14. Take a Christmas Cruise Around the City

No matter the season, the views of New York City from the water are spectacular, though the twinkling lights of the New York skyline seem even more festive at Christmastime. Take it all in with one of the City Cruises offered by City Experiences for a perfect under-the-radar Christmas experience in New York.

A fully-enclosed glass deck makes the most of incredible city views, while festive Christmas programming and delicious bites get guests into the holiday spirit. From ugly sweater parties to gourmet meals aboard, you’re sure to find a cruise around the city that helps you create the perfect Christmas memories you’re looking for.

City Cruises also make for a memorable, stress-free holiday meal. Whether you’re a local looking to take the stress out of Christmas cooking or a visitor looking to make the most of the day, consider the Christmas Eve and Christmas Day dinner cruises. An annual favorite, the memorable Christmas Day Brunch Cruise is another highlight of a Christmas in New York.

NYC Winter Lantern Festival
© NYC Winter Lantern Festival

15. Experience a One-Of-A-Kind Holiday Festival

Expanding to four different locations this year, the NYC Winter Lantern Festival is an excellent choice for those looking for a unique multi-cultural experience this holiday season, whether you celebrate Christmas or not. Featuring over 10,000 Chinese-inspired artisan lanterns stunningly illuminating all corners of the city, the Winter Lantern Festival is a unique addition to complete your New York Christmas itinerary.

At the festival, larger-than-life light installations highlight Chinese myths and legends as guests are transported through illuminated tunnels and unique lantern-lit worlds. Visiting the Winter Lantern Festival is a holiday season highlight for families and friends.

For those looking to get outside of the city, two alternative locations of the Lantern Festival can be found on Long Island between New York City and the Hamptons: the Nassau County Museum of Art in Roslyn and the Smithtown Historical Society in Suffolk County.

Christmas in New York

Is there any better place to experience Christmas than New York City? With new events, festive pop-ups, and jaw-dropping displays of Christmas cheer every holiday season, visiting New York during the Christmas season is guaranteed to help visitors make memories you’ll never forget.

carley rojas avila

Carley Rojas Avila is a bilingual New York-based travel writer, editor, content marketer, and the founder of the digital travel publications Explorers Away and Home to Havana. Carley is an expert on all things Latin America, the Caribbean, and Cuba, having lived and worked in four different countries in the region. Her writing has appeared on the Associated Press wires and in Travel + Leisure, Yahoo, MSN, Euronews, The Weather Channel, and more. When she's not writing about her travels, find her front row at a Bad Bunny concert, befriending street cats, and taste-testing every pizza in Havana.