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10 Best New York City Holiday Activities for Families

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New York City’s hustle and bustle is fun any time of year but a visit during the holiday season is something every family should experience at least once. From spectacular holiday window displays and iconic holiday shows to one of the world’s most glamorous Christmas trees, the Big Apple’s holiday attractions are sure to wow visitors of all ages. Pack your bags and come explore the 10 best New York City holiday activities for families.

10 Best New York City Holiday Activities for Families 

10 Best New York City Holiday Activities for Families (Photo credit: Lyla Gleason)

1. Rockefeller Center

Rockefeller Center is the New York City’s epicenter of holiday cheer. Be sure to stop by for photos in front of the world famous Christmas tree. With its larger than life bronze Prometheus sculpture and hoards of ice skaters, this is one of the city’s classic holiday scenes. This year’s tree lighting ceremony takes place on December 2nd and it will remain lit until January 6th. If you want to see the city from above, Top of the Rock offers great views of the city’s skyline.

2. Department store holiday displays

You must check out the famous holiday department store windows and in-store holiday displays while in NYC. The best store displays can be found at Saks Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf Goodman, Bloomingdale’s, Barneys New York, Henri Bendel, Tiffany & Co., Lord & Taylor and Macy’s. Also at Macy’s you’ll find Santaland, an elaborate indoor winter wonderland with over-the-top decorations and long waits. For a more low key Santa experience, check out ABC Carpet & Home.

Ice skating at The Rink at Rockefeller Center is a favorite holiday activity for tourists and locals alike - 10 Best New York City Holiday Activities for Families

Ice skating at the Rink at Rockefeller Center is a favorite holiday activity for tourists and locals alike in New York City (Photo credit: Lyla Gleason)

3. Ice skating in the city

One of the most iconic New York City holiday activities is ice skating in the city. Choose from three great options. The most popular (and priciest) choice is The Rink at Rockefeller Center. Sure it’s crowded and touristy but it’s also the most classic backdrop you’ve seen on TV time and again. Be sure to book tickets in advance and try to go off-peak to avoid the crowds. Trump Wollman Rink in Central Park offers stunning city views. The lovely Bank of America Winter Village Bryant Park rink is free (you just need to pay for skates) and has nearby snack and shopping options.

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 spectacular has kept up with the times and now features a 3-D portion, techno-tricks, amazing costumes and backdrops. The famed dancers, however, really steal the show.

5. Shop till you drop

Tourists strolling down New York City streets with tons of shopping bags can be seen on ever 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 famed department stores and jewelry boutiques. There are also several festive pop up holiday markets in Bryant Park, Union Square, Columbus Circle and Grand Central.

6. New York Botanical Garden Holiday Train Show

Head to Brooklyn for the New York Botanical Garden Holiday Train Show, a one-of-a-kind experience where families can watch model trains zip past more than 150 miniature New York landmarks like the Statue of Liberty, the Brooklyn Bridge and Rockefeller Center. You’ll want to get advance reservations because this is one of the hottest holiday tickets in town. Aside from the trains, families can enjoy special tours, musical performances and activities for kids. It runs mid-November through mid-January so you can go after the holidays and miss the crowds, depending on when you plan to visit.

7. Special New York City holiday activities for kids

December in New York City offers a wide range of special holiday events for kids. Choose from such options as Hanukkah Cookie decorating at Eloise at The Plaza, making a Build-A-Bear Statue of Liberty as a special gift, and seeing the Rockettes with The American Girl Place.

Holiday Tea at the Palm Court in New York City's Plaza Hotel ~ 10 Best New York City Holiday Activities for Families

The holidays are a great time to enjoy Afternoon Tea at the Palm Court in NYC’s Plaza Hotel (Photo credit: Lyla Gleason)

8. Tea time

Take an afternoon break for tea or hot (or frozen) chocolate at one of the city’s famous sweet shops or restaurants. Some favorites include Alice’s Tea Cup, the Russian Tea Room, The Palm Court at The Plaza, Serendipity 3, City Bakery, Max Brenner, and Rolf’s German Restaurant.

9. A holiday ride

One of the city’s newest family friendly (kids 6+) sightseeing options is The Ride which offers a comfortable tour of NYC hotspots with great views and interactive entertainment along the way (think part tour, part show, total entertainment). Check out their regular tour or the holiday edition, which runs through early January. Look for discount codes on their website and book in advance as popular times will fill up.

10. Live theatre

Every trip to New York City should include attending a live theatre performance. You can’t go wrong with a holiday classic, like the New York Theater Ballet’s Nutcracker. The Three Bears Holiday Bash at the Central Park Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre makes a fun option for kids ages 3 to 9. Other family friendly picks include Broadway productions like Aladdin or The Lion King.

Have you embarked on a New York City holiday trip? What are your favorite memories or what would you most like to experience? Tell us below in the comments!

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 most favorite vacation spots include the Caribbean, India and Turkey. She is currently a downtown NYC mom who can be found chasing after her 7-year-old daughter, cooking dinner, mingling at blogger events and exploring near and far with a camera in hand. She is the author of, a lifestyle blog dedicated to travel, family fun and fabulous finds. Connect with Lyla on Twitter at @travelmommy.

  1. Love this post! This is top on my bucket list, someday I would love to be in New Year City for the holidays. I will be pinning this post and maybe within a couple years I will be here 🙂

    • Lyla Gleason, The Globetrotting Travel Mama says

      Glad you liked it Tabitha. New York City is so magical this time of year I hope you can come visit soon.

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