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10 Best New York City Holiday Activities for Families

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Add these New York City Christmas activities to your family's vacation itinerary for a fun and festive winter visit. From spectacular window displays and iconic shows to one of the world’s most glamorous Christmas trees, these holiday events will wow visitors of all ages. Pack your bags and come explore the 10 best things to do in New York City during the holiday season.

Glowing angels leading up to the Rockefeller Christmas tree
Glowing angels leading up to the Rockefeller Christmas tree (Photo credit: andykazie, Depositphotos.com)

1. Rockefeller Center

Rockefeller Center is famous for being the New York headquarters of NBC and the location of shows like 30 Rock and Saturday Night Live. It is also New York City's epicenter of holiday cheer.

Look for joyous floral displays among fountains from Fifth Avenue to 30 Rock. That's where the Channel Gardens has been decorating with themed installations made of live flowers and other plants for decades. The stunning scenes change with the seasons. At Christmastime, the highlight is a grouping of beautiful lighted angels.

The Rink at Rockefeller Center
The Rink at Rockefeller Center (Photo credit: pedro2009, Depositphotos.com)

Be sure to stop for photos in front of the world-famous Christmas tree, the breathtaking centerpiece at 30 Rockefeller Plaza. Up to 100 feet tall in stature, this gigantic tree makes its debut in early December each year and stays lit through the New Year.

If you want to see the city decked out in its wintry finest from above, then the Top of the Rock observation deck offers great views of the city’s skyline.

 
A winter view of New York City from Top of the Rock
A wintery view of the city from Top of the Rock (Photo credit:

2. Ice Skating in New York City

One of the most iconic NYC holiday activities is ice skating in the city. The most popular (and priciest) choice is The Rink at Rockefeller Center. Situated in front of Rockefeller Center's Christmas Tree and the larger-than-life bronze Prometheus sculpture, this rink provides one of the city’s classic holiday scenes. Book your tickets in advance to ensure you have a spot on the ice and try to go off-peak to avoid the crowds.

Two other skating options are sure to please revelers in New York City during the holidays, too. The lovely Bank of America Winter Village Rink in Bryant Park is free (you just need to pay for skates) and has nearby snack and holiday shopping options. Meanwhile, Wollman Rink in Central Park offers stunning city views.

Wollman Skating Rink
Wollman Skating Rink (Photo credit: eddtoro35, Depositphotos.com)

3. Department Store Holiday Displays and Santa Visits

You must check out the famous department store windows and in-store displays while in New York City for the holidays. The best Christmas window displays in New York City can be found at Saks Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf Goodman, Bloomingdale’s, Barneys New York, Tiffany & Co., and Macy’s.

Holiday window display at Macy's in New York City at Christmas
Holiday window display at Macy's (Photo credit: littleny, Depositphotos.com)

Also at Macy's, families love Santaland. This elaborate indoor winter wonderland features over-the-top decorations as well as long waits. For a more low-key, and faster-moving Santa experience, check out ABC Carpet & Home‘s Santa display. For more places to see the jolly old elf in NYC, take a look at this list by Mommy Poppins.

Santaland at Macy's
Santaland at Macy's (Photo credit: Macys.com)

4. Rockettes at the Radio City Christmas Spectacular

Don’t miss the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, The Rockettes Celebration. This annual stage show has been a holiday fixture since 1933 for good reason. The show has kept up with the times and includes 3-D effects, techno-tricks, amazing costumes, and stunning backdrops. The famed dancers, however, really steal the show. Buy your tickets now!

Rockettes at the Radio City Christmas Spectacular
Rockettes at the Radio City Christmas Spectacular (Photo credit: Rockettes.com)

5. Holiday Shopping in New York City

Tourists strolling down New York City streets with tons of shopping bags can be seen on every block during the holiday season. If you’ve got a family of shoppers, you’ll want to get in on the Fifth Avenue fun. Kid favorites include the Lego Store, American Girl Place, and Build-A-Bear. Meanwhile, parents will want to check out NYC's renowned department stores and jewelry boutiques. There are also several pop-up Christmas markets throughout the city featuring art, unique gifts, and tasty treats.

Holiday Shops at Bryant Park
Holiday Shops at Bryant Park (Photo credit: littleny, Depositphotos.com)

6. New York Botanical Garden Holiday Train Show

For one of the hottest holiday tickets in town head to Brooklyn for the one-of-a-kind New York Botanical Garden Holiday Train Show. Watch model trains zip past more than 150 miniature New York landmarks like the Statue of Liberty, the Brooklyn Bridge, and Rockefeller Center. Aside from the trains, families enjoy special tours, musical performances, and activities for kids. Be sure to get advance reservations for this popular event. It runs mid-November through mid-January so you can go after the holidays and miss the crowds, depending on when you'll be in NYC.

New York Botanical Garden Holiday Train Show, a Fun Christmas Activity for Families
New York Botanical Garden Holiday Train Show (Photo credit: New York Botanical Garden)

7. New York City Christmas Carriage Ride

What could be more festive than taking a tour of the city's holiday lights and decorations in a horsedrawn carriage? Start with a tour of Central Park, passing such highlights as the Wollman Skating Rink and the park's carousel. Then trot down Fifth Avenue, where you can see the department stores dolled up for the holidays. Continue on to Rockefeller Center, where you can view the city's famous Christmas tree. Be sure to book your Christmas carriage ride in advance since this is a popular New York City holiday activity.

A snowy carriage ride in Central Park
A snowy carriage ride in Central Park (Photo credit: littleny, Depositphotos.com)

8. Holiday Tea or Hot Cocoa

Warm up with a cuppa tea or hot chocolate at one of the city’s famous sweets shops or restaurants. For a full afternoon tea complete with finger sandwiches, scones with jam, and tiered tiny treats — make reservations at favorites like Alice’s Tea Cup, the Russian Tea Room, or The Palm Court at The Plaza. If you'd rather embrace the cold, then order a frothy cup of famous Frozen Hot Chocolate at Serendipity 3.

Holiday Tea at The Plaza's Palm Court
Holiday Tea at The Plaza's Palm Court (Photo credit: The Plaza Hotel Facebook page)

9. Christmas Lights Tour of Brooklyn's Dyker Heights

New Yorker/author of Travel Food and Notes, Meryl Pearlstein, recommends taking A Christmas Lights Bus Tour of Dyker Heights in Brooklyn for a truly spectacular display. Riders are wowed by homes decked out for the holidays with thousands of lights and impressive inflatable and animated figures. The bus tours start and conclude in Manhattan and take 3.5 to 4 hours roundtrip.

 
Homes decorated for Christmas in Dyker Heights
Homes decorated for Christmas in Dyker Heights (Photo credit: Vadim_777, Depositphotos.com)

10. The Nutcracker by the New York City Ballet

Watching some of the country's finest performers on stage adds to the specialness of any trip to New York City, and even more so during the holiday season. The New York City Ballet, widely regarded as one of the most prestigious ballet companies in the world, performs the Nutcracker Ballet at Lincoln Center in Midtown with music by Tschaikovsky and choreography by George Balanchine. According to NYCBallet.org, “George Balanchine's The Nutcracker is one of the most complex theatrical, staged ballets in the Company's active repertory.” The performance features 90 dancers, 62 musicians, 40 stagehands, and more than 125 children in two alternating casts.

Additionally, from Manhattan to the Bronx, Brooklyn, and beyond — there are several other Nutcracker options sure to delight visitors to the city.

George Balanchine's The Nutcracker in New York City
George Balanchine's The Nutcracker (Photo credit: NYCBallet.com)

Learn More

Central Park is beautiful year-round with each season offering unique ways to explore and play. Discover the best things to do in Central Park with kids during every season.

What could be more joyful than visiting the Happiest Place on Earth during the holidays? Take a peek at what to expect at Disneyland at Christmas.

If you love the holidays, then you definitely will want to read this list of the best Christmas markets in the world.

Best New York City Christmas Activities

Save These New York City Christmas Activities

Dreaming of visiting the Big Apple during the holiday season? Keep this list of New York City Christmas activities for future reference. Simply save the image above to Pinterest. Go ahead and follow Travel Mamas on Pinterest while you’re at it!

Would you like to visit New York City during the holidays? Which of these New York City Christmas activities appeals most to you? Let us know in the comments below!

About Lyla Gleason, The Globetrotting Travel Mama

Long before the glamorous world of marriage, motherhood and travel blogging, Lyla Gleason had an exciting career as a travel publicist representing hotels and destinations across the globe. She spent her childhood on Long Island and then attended college and grad school in Boston and lived abroad in Rome. Some of her favorite vacation spots include the Caribbean, India and Turkey. She is currently a downtown NYC mom who can be found chasing after her daughter, cooking dinner, mingling at blogger events, and exploring near and far with a camera in hand. She is the author of GlobetrottingMommy.com, a lifestyle blog dedicated to travel, family fun and fabulous finds. Connect with Lyla on Twitter at @travelmommy.

Comments
  1. Ntensibe Edgar says

    I would love to ice-skate in New York City….it doesn’t even have to be in the holiday season!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      True! These skating rinks are available in NYC throughout the winter — not just during the holiday season!

  2. Blair Villanueva says

    OMG So many things to do and enjoy in New York this Christmas season, and now I am so jealous coz I can’t be there for now. Should I can travel next year, maybe I will explore these places and take so many souvenir photos with my hubby 🙂

  3. Beth Pierce says

    There’s so many things to do in New Year. Its a great time to Visit there

  4. Even though our family does not celebrate Christmas, I’ve always wanted to go to New York and see The Rockettes Celebration! These ladies are so talented and I would love to see them live!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Ebony – Me too! This is one NYC activity I have yet to do but would love to experience someday. Too bad they had to shut down their show this year for health/public safety reasons. Hopefully they will return in years to come!

  5. Fransic verso says

    Awesome ideas! I love the idea of ice skating. It’s so much fun. Buut I can see myself doing other ideas in this list as well when I go to NYC

  6. Really want to visit sometime there. Such a colorful city New York. Thanks for sharing with us.

  7. I was just in NYC this past weekend for a birthday celebration, and the city was all lit up for Christmas – so magical! We tried to get tickets for the Rockettes or the Nutcracker, but we left it too late and they sold out 🙁 We were coincidentally there during SantaCon, so saw tons of groups decked out for their Santa-themed bar crawls (not a family-friendly activity, but it’s fun to see so many people all dressed up). Bryant Park’s holiday market was a must-see, and a fun way to spend a few hours.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      I’m so glad you were able to experience the magic of New York City during the holidays! Too bad you missed the Rockettes and Nutcracker this time, but hopefully you can see those performances sometime in the future!

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