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Christmas in New York: 12 Festive Things to Do in NYC

December in New York City means georgeous Christmas trees, amazing light displays, and fun-filled holiday markets. It also means gliding on the ice under the twinkling sky, staring at the glamorous window displays along Fifth Avenue, and ringing in the New Year along with millions of people from around the world in Times Square.

Though rules have changed a bit (proof of vaccination is required for people 12 and older for indoor dining and entertainment), there are plenty of holiday displays and activities to put you in a Christmas state of mind in 2021’s NYC.

To unwrap the Christmas magic of New York City, start with these festive things to do that will get you in the holiday mood in no time.

The Rockettes at Radio City

he Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes kicks off the 2021 holiday season in NYC, and it’s one of the best things to do on Christmas. An annual tradition since 1933, the show was canceled in 2020 because of health concerns related to COVID-19, but tickets are already on sale for its 2021 comeback. This classic Christmas spectacle offers tap dancers, a flying Santa Claus and, of course, the world-famous synchronized precision dancing of the Rockettes. 

Ice Skate in Central Park

Wollman Rink, Central Park
Photo: demerzel21/Depositphotos.com

Step into cinematic New York with a visit to Wollman Rink. Featured in movies such as Love Story and Serendipity, this icy oasis in the heart of Central Park is one of the city’s most romantic and beloved winter attractions. A lovely place to skate under the stars with your special someone as you take in the dazzling skyline views framing the rink!

Window Shop on 5th Avenue

Christmas window displays on 5th Avenue
Photo via Facebook/Saks

From Bloomingdale’s to Macy’s, a walk down Fifth Avenue in December is sure to get you in the holiday spirit. Every year, Manhattan’s flagship department stores put on a big show to reveal their elaborately designed windows, which usually remain on display until January 1st.

Each storefront is beautifully decorated with stunning lights and garlands, and has its own unique theme. Some of them depict whimsical wintry scenes, others tell fascinating stories, yet all look like genuine art installations, attracting visitors from far and wide.

With glittery wreaths, charming characters, and high-end fashion at every step, Christmas window shopping doesn’t get more glamorous than this!

Macy’s Santaland

Macy's HThings to do NYC Holidayserald Square Santaland - 2017
Getty Images

Take a trip to the New York North Pole this year at Macy’s’ iconic Santaland. Perfect for the whole family, the 13,000-square-foot holiday display and indoor wonderland is located inside the Herald Square Macy’s at 151 West 34th Street. Inside, you’ll be met with caroling snowmen, prancing reindeer, a whimsical array of decor, and of course, Santa himself. Santaland opens on Friday, November 29, 2019, and runs through Christmas Eve.

The New York Botanical Garden Holiday Train Show

christmas new york
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Either take your family, friends or go this show or go yourself and feel like a kid again with its enchanting miniature railroads and trains. The Holiday Train Show showcases more than 150 landmark replicas like Grand Central Terminal and The Statue of Liberty made of plant materials such as bark and leaves. 

Meanwhile, nearly half a mile of track lays down the path for zipping trains, evoking memories of childhood Christmases that were anchored by the sound of a train twirling around the tree. The show runs from November 23 until January 26 in The New York Botanical Garden, located in the Bronx.

Serendipity3

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Daydreaming about an explosion of tinsel, sparkling lights, and all the Christmas chintz? Then, hurry up and make your holiday reservations at Serendipity3, where you can slurp down their delicious Frrrozen Hot Chocolate surrounded by the cheeriest holiday decor you ever did see.

Pro Tip: Don’t sleep on the rest of the menu, including their outrageous drug store sundaes and their Golden Opulence Sundae, which contains real gold flakes and must be ordered ahead of time.

The Nutcracker

Sugarplum fairies, giant mice, and magic Christmas trees, oh my! There is nothing like the first striking notes of ‘Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy’ to whisk you away to the magical world of The Nutcracker. 

Escape into a realm of fantasy and beauty with the international phenomenon of The Nutcracker®. 

This is an elaborate performance of epic proportions. Ballet lovers and novices alike will be starstruck by: 

  • the artistry and talent of 90 dancers
  • stunning handmade costumes
  • the mountainous 41 foot tall Christmas tree

The Brooklyn Botanic Garden Lightscape

The Brooklyn Botanic Garden is bringing a gorgeous, new after-dark illuminated spectacular to its grounds in November.  Between November 19 and January 9, visitors to BBG will be able to walk through the Cathedral of Light tunnel, a Fire Garden on Lily Pool Terrace, a Field of Light and an animated light installation covering Cherry Esplanade (and visible from the Robert W. Wilson Overlook). Colorful light displays highlighting the garden’s trees, landscapes, and architecture with more than 18 distinct works of light art and a series of light-based artworks by local artists will be installed in the Plant Family Collection. “Lightscape” is coming to BBG in partnership with Sony Music. It was launched at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in London in 2014 and has sold out year after year across the U.K. and in Chicago. This is currently the only East Coast Lightscape.

The Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park

Each fall, the Winter Village at Bryant Park returns in all its holiday glory. On the grounds you can peruse about 60 shopping and food kiosks—all at one of the best NYC parks. Expect loads of handmade, unique and New York City-specific gifts for your family and friends. Work up an appetite at the free, 17,000-square-foot ice-skating rink and then fill up at the rinkside pop-up restaurant called The Lodge Deck for festive cocktails and hearty food.

Met Christmas Tree

Duck out of the cold and into the Met’s Great Hall, then head straight past the stairs to Gallery 305, where each year, the museum displays a 20-foot blue spruce in its Medieval Sculpture Hall. This ain’t just any ol’ tree display: there’s also an eighteenth-century Neapolitan Nativity scene at its base, all backed by an eighteenth-century Spanish choir screen from the Cathedral of Valladolid.

Central Park in December

No New York City List is complete without Central Park being on it; December is no exception! If you are lucky, you might even have the chance to visit Central Park when it snows, making the whole park a winter wonderland.

Some places to visit in Central Park include Bow Bridge, Bethesda Terrace and Fountain.

New York Philharmonic

The New York Philharmonic is world-famous orchestras, and one of the oldest musical institutions in the U.S. While people make their way to Lincoln Center year round to be serenaded by the iconic orchestra, the holidays are when the Philharmonic truly shines.

During the Christmas season, enjoy the Holidays with the Philharmonic, where performances of “Winter Wonderland,” “O Tannenbaum,” “White Christmas,” and more are in the holiday lineup.

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