Christmas in New York City: 10 Classic Things to See and Do

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Since we couldn’t go home (to Estonia or Taiwan) this Christmas, we decided to spend our holidays in NYC and do all the classic Christmas activities…

Christmas is my absolute favorite holiday so I was really excited for this trip. New York is only a 4 hour train/bus ride away from Boston so it’s very accessible and pretty affordable. Funnily, although it was my fourth time there, it’s my first blog post about New York.

I know many of you would like to visit NYC during Christmas. I mean, all the movies like Home Alone 2 and Elf have made it a pretty popular destination. So I hope this post will be somewhat inspiring and useful.

I must warn you, however, that NYC is EXTREMELY crowded during this time of the year. There were times that I almost gave up on trying to see places or take decent photos. I think next time I will try to plan my trip before or after Christmas but not during it.

Here’s a list of some of the classic Christmas things to see and do in the Big Apple:

1. Stroll through the iconic 5th Avenue

Going window shopping on the 5th avenue is a MUST in NYC by itself, however, it’s even more mandatory during the holiday season. The whole avenue is looking extra festive, with shops competing with one another for best decorations.

Some of the best displays are at Cartier and Saks 5th Avenue (they even have a musically coordinated light show every now and then).

Pro tip: Unless you’d like to do some shopping, I recommend to go once the stores have closed, since it is a little less crowded then. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself amidst a sea of stressed last-minute Christmas shoppers.

Bonus: Macy’s department store is not located on the 5th avenue (it’s on the 34th street, near Penn Station) but it’s also definitely worth seeing.

Macy’s

2. Marvel at the Rockefeller Christmas tree

A Christmas trip to NYC just wouldn’t be complete without checking out the famous Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. It’s THE celebrity tree of the city and you can tell, since it is always surrounded with insane crowds.

Pro tip: Personally, I couldn’t enjoy it much and recommend to go at night or super early in the morning (before sunrise) if possible. Otherwise, the crowds will be just too much to enjoy it.

Rockefeller center Christmas tree

3. Go ice skating at Bryant park or do some shopping at their Winter Village

NYC has multiple ice skating rinks but Bryant Park is certainly one of the best options – not only does it look very pretty with the high-rise buildings all around, skating is actually free and you can even bring your own skates. In case you’re not traveling with your own skates (haha), you can also rent a pair at a reasonable price (between $18 and $32). It’s much less crowded than Rockefeller and Central Park, and the lines seemed to be shorter as well. More information can be found here.

In case you’re not keen on winter sports, there is also a cute holiday winter village surrounding the rink, where you can buy some last-minute Christmas presents or cute souvenirs for your family.

Winter Village and ice skating at Bryant Park

4. See the Radio City Rockettes and their Christmas Spectacular dance show

NYC is famous for a wide variety of Broadway and off-Broadway shows, concerts etc. However, if there is one show that is a must-see during the Christmas season, it’s the Radio City Rockettes and their Christmas Spectacular. The Radio City Rockettes are a precision dance group that’s been entertaining NYC since 1930s. We went to see their show and it was truly spectacular (just like the show name says)!

Pro tip: if you want to score cheaper tickets, go to one of the TKTS booths on the day of the show and buy last-minute discounted tickets. I recommend downloading their app and checking which shows are sold at which boots and then going a little before the booths open. We got there just for the opening time and still had to wait an hour in line. Luckily we still managed to score the tickets.

PS: There is also a cute Christmas photo-opt right in front of the Radio City Music hall, where you can take photos with giant Christmas ornaments. Go late so your photos aren’t flooded with tourists. We took these photos at 11pm.

Radio City Music Hall

5. Take photos with the most beautiful Christmas tree in NYC (in my opinion) at Lotte New York Palace

Honestly, I don’t see the hype around Rockefeller Christmas tree. I think the Lotte Christmas tree is so much more beautiful and it’s way less crowded, so you can actually enjoy it and also take some gorgeous photos in front of it. The tree is located in a hotel courtyard (Lotte New York Palace) but you don’t need to be a guest at the hotel to see the tree. In fact, the courtyard is open to the public.

Christmas tree at Lotte New York Palace

6. Take a break at Washington Square Park

This isn’t perhaps the most classic Christmas activity, but I think that Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village is one of the most beautiful and quaint parks in NYC. There is a gorgeous tree before the arch and oftentimes, there are numerous street musicians/bands/a cappella groups playing in the park. We even saw old-school carolers singing under the arch.

Pro tip: If you’re in the neighborhood, go grab a slice of pizza from Joe’s Pizza (7 Carmine Street). It’s one of the most famous pizza places in New York and there’s usually a line outside the door, but it’s absolutely delicious and worth the wait.

7. Do some Christmas shopping at the Oculus

Take a long walk down to the Financial district, go see the lights and tree at Wall Street, and then take a stroll through the Oculus (The World Trade Center Transportation Hub). It looks like winter wonderland during this time of the year, and there is a little Christmas market set up just in the middle of it.

Pro tip: There’s Lady M cakes in the building. If you haven’t tried it already, go try one of their signature crepe cakes.

The Oculus (the new World Trade Center hub)

8. Take a leisurely walk through Central Park

No visit to the Big Apple is complete without a walk through Central Park. At Christmas, they have extra festive activities, such as a Christmas market at Central Park south where you can grab a nice hot beverage of your choice – whether it will be hot apple cider, mulled wine or hot cocoa, and do some Christmas shopping. There’s also a huge ice skating rink, which is a beautiful sight on its own. Various street musicians will set the mood even further by singing beautiful classic Christmas songs throughout the park.

Ice skating at Central Park

BONUS:

9. See the over-the-top Christmas decorations at Dyker Heights in Brooklyn

This is unfortunately one of the sights we did not have time for, as it is quite a long subway ride away from mid-Manhattan where we were staying. HOWEVER, I highly recommend you to fit this in your schedule if you can.

The Dyker Christmas lights are located between 11th and 13th Avenues (also known as Dyker Heights Blvd) from 83rd to 86th St in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn. There are also tours available.

Photo Credit: Dyker Heights Christmas Lights Facebook page

10. Try to score a reservation at Rolf’s German Restaurant

This place is so popular that it’s almost impossible to score a reservation for December. There are people who make reservations months in advance. It’s certainly possible, though. People usually go for their lavish Christmas decorations.

Photo credit: James and Karla Murray, 6sqft.com

I hope you enjoyed this list!

Merry Christmas and happy holidays!

K.

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2 Comments

  1. Wow – what a wonderful tribute to NYC! Thank you so much for sharing your adventures. It’s incredible that you were able to captivate so much of the life and joy of the city in your trip! I look forward to using your tips the next time I visit the city.

    1. Thanks so much, Audrey! 🙂 I’m glad you enjoyed the read and I’m always happy to hear when people actually use my posts on their trips. K.

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