15 Magical Experiences For Your New York City Christmas Bucket List

Is a New York City Christmas on your bucket list? Will you be visiting this winter? Find Christmas markets, holiday shows, ice skating underneath Christmas trees, and more.

how to enjoy a new york city christmas

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Nothing got me in the holiday spirit like our annual trips into New York City.

Hold on while I go cry about being a southerner now...

The New Yorker in is still silently singing Rob Thomas’ It’s a New York City Christmas … while I turn on my Texas air conditioner and eat smoked brisket.

Nothing screams festive like touristy New York City Christmas Tree pictures, dining at the most over-the-top decorated German restaurant, Christmas Markets and ice skating in Central Park.

We’d never miss perusing the decorations down one of the New York’s major avenues or a stop at the New York Public Library, either. And I hope, one day, to take my kids back to see the Radio City Rockettes.

Here’s how to experience a truly magical New York City Christmas, including popular must visit spots and local hidden gems.

15 Magical Experiences For Your New York City Christmas Bucket List

visiting the iconic new york city christmas tree at rockefeller center is a must.

Visit the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree

Visiting the iconic New York City Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center is a must. Though crowded and full of tourists, its size is truly impressive and worth feasting your eyes upon, at least once in a lifetime.

The best views are from The Channel Gardens (between 5th Avenue and Rockerfeller Plaza) but avoid approaching the tree from 5th Avenue.

Experience Macy’s Santaland

The most epic New York City Christmas experience for children, Macy’s Santaland is a must see if you have kids. Or if you don’t…

Since the early 1860s, Santa has considered Macy’s Herald Square his ‘home base,’ welcoming thousands of children annually. Visitors typically would wander through the winter wonderland, meet Santa’s famous tiny helpers, and spill the beans on their holiday wishlists.

**Santaland will obviously look quite different this year, and as of now Macy’s is working on safely providing a unique 2020 experience.

Don't miss the christmas window displays of the fifth avenue New York City department stories

Walk the Christmas Displays on 5th Avenue

The department stores that line Fifth Avenue boast incredible window displays during the holidays. Find fun and child-like displays in Macy’s, couture set ups in Bloomingdale’s, and the famously chic window art of Sack’s Fifth Avenue.

In addition to their window displays, Sack’s Fifth Avenue adorns the entire store in lights, set to instrumental Christmas music.

nyc christmas 6th avenue

Check Out the Giant Ornaments on 6th Avenue

Only in New York City can you find giant, oversizes holiday ornaments sitting in the middle of a major avenue.

Near Rockefeller Center, at 1251 6th Avenue, you can find giant Christmas ornaments sitting in the fountain plaza.

See the Radio City Christmas Spectacular

There’s nothing to get you in the Christmas spirit like the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. The annual show, showcased at Radio City Music Hall, features original music, traditional Christmas stories, and the world famous Rockettes. It’s a ton of fun for the entire family, whether you have children or not.

Snag Tickets to the Nutcracker

An upscale and classy production, the Nutcracker Ballet is a truly magical experience.

Lincoln Center presents the NYC Ballet’s The Nutcracker in this classic holiday performance. As the story goes, a brave girl finds herself amidst a battle between toy soldiers and mischievous mice.

** The Nutcracker Production and The Radio City Christmas Spectacular for 2020 have both been cancelled. I’m highlighting these still, though, to let you know for the future. Broadway and production have particularly been hurt by the pandemic and patronizing these shows in the future will be money well spent.

New York City's premier bar and dining spot, especially for holiday decor.

Eat at Rolf’s

All New Yorkers know that Rolf’s is the place to be for Christmas decor. Almost every inch of the restaurant, from floor to ceiling, is covered with Christmas decorations.

Rolf’s is so popular that you absolutely must make reservations months out. Dining reservations require each person order an entree. If you’re looking to grab a drink at the bar, expect an hour long wait, or more.

My insider tip: Rolf’s keeps their decorations up months after Christmas, so if you have trouble snagging a reservation, ask about the week or two after the holiday is wrapping up. Most tourists head home and you’ll still be in the mood for some Christmas magic.

the New York City Christmas market at bryant park features artisan and handmade goods

Spend Time in Bryant Park

The New York City Christmas market at Bryant park is one of the city’s most famous. Shop for artisan and handmade goods or sample fare from the dozens of eclectic food stands.

In addition to shopping, Bryant Park features a gorgeous tree of its own and free ice skating (if you bring your own skates). And an overpriced bar. There’s nothing like a glass of red to warm the soul, though.

Peruse The Union Square Christmas Market

Right in the heart of Manhattan sits a world renowned Christmas market. Visitors can purchase handmade goods by craftsmen and artists, while munching on delicious snacks and local fare.

don't miss a quiet side to new york city and stroll through central park this christmas

Visit Central Park

Nothing is as serene as Central Park during the winter months, covered in a blanket of snow. The iconic park features a few holiday specials, as well.

The landmark restaurant, Tavern on the Green, is spectacularly decorated for the holidays, too. After a delicious meal, head to Wollman Rink for ice skating or walk the park’s romantic paths and take a look at the holiday lights and decorations.

Go Ice Skating

There’s no shortage of options for skating during Christmas in New York City. The Rink at Rockefeller Center is iconic, but steeply priced, starting at $25 for adults, $15 for kids/seniors, and $12.50 for skate rentals. Central Park’s Wollman Rink is famous for its scenery and starts at $19 for adults, $6 for kids, and $10 for skate rentals. Bryant Park offers New York City’s only admission free skating, though skate rentals are steep at $20.

Visit the New York Public Library during the holidays for classic decor and cozy books.

Browse The New York Public Library

The New York Public Library is absolutely exquisite during the holidays. I personally think their Christmas tree, in Astor Hall, is one of New York City’s most beautiful.

Plus, the subtle, yet classy decor, set against the stonework, is stunning.

Marvel at the Empire State Building

During the holidays, one one of New York City’s most iconic skyscrapers is uplit in beautiful reds and greens. As you walk the city streets, don’t miss taking a look up.

A premier New York City Christmas destination, Dyker Heights is a must.

Visit Brooklyn’s Dyker Heights

A premier New York City Christmas destination, Dyker Heights in Brooklyn is a must.

Homeowners in the Dyker Heights neighborhood (between 11th and 13th ave and 83rd to 86th street) go all out to decorate their homes just after Thanksgiving. Through the New Year, you can visit some of the best holiday displays. You’ll find life-sized Santas, decorations, and light sows set to holiday music.

Grab some hot chocolate an take a drive through New York City’s most beloved Christmas neighborhood.

See NYBG’s Holiday Train Show

New York Botanical Gardens’ annual holiday train show is a miniature locomotive marvel. Model trains zip through to-scale replicas of New York City landmarks, like Central Park, Rockefeller Center, and the Brooklyn Bridge.

Not just for kids, you can book an adults only tour on special bar car nights. View the train show while sipping spiked hot chocolate…yes please!

I do my best to update this list with changes and accommodations that have been made regarding Covid-19. Be sure to check for adjustments and cancellations before booking anything. Some attractions, especially those outdoors, are scheduled to run in 2020. New York City now, more than ever, needs a little holiday spirit!


Where to Book New York City Christmas Accommodations


Have you spent the holidays in the City That Never Sleeps? Is a New York City Christmas on your bucket list?

Christmas, for many years, was incomplete without a trip into the city. We loved heading in early to beat the crowds and spending the entire day. Since my father worked in Manhattan for 35+ years, we’d often meet him for dinner. Even after spending over eight hours a day on the city streets, he was always up for some New York City Christmas magic!

What are you most looking forward to? What would you add to this list? Feel free to reach out in the comments with any questions you might have about visiting New York City this holiday season!

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New York City Christmas Bucket List

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3 Comments

  1. Kalena
    December 15, 2018 / 10:25 pm

    I was in the city around New Years and it was lovely, so I can just imagine what it’s like leading up to Christmas! The decorations and displays look so magical 🙂

  2. Tren
    December 19, 2018 / 7:20 pm

    Thanks for the tips. New York City is a trip that my twins have always discussed. They turned 13 today. We promised to take them when they get a little older.

  3. December 20, 2018 / 8:48 pm

    It has to be at least 13 years since I spent a Christmas around/near NYC. Back in college and high school, I went a little more often. I loved seeing the tree in Rockefeller Center and watching the ice-skaters out the window from what I remember being a bar or restaurant. I also enjoyed seeing all of the windows decorated for the holidays, especially in the ritzy neighborhoods.

    I’d love to watch the ball drop from a warm, cozy bar on NYE too. I don’t think that I could ever watch from the ground, freezing my behind off for hours upon hours with those insanely large crowds. I imagine the Macy’s Day Parade being a similar experience. I see you have a post link up there about NYE…which I am headed to next.

    SantaCon would be AMAZING. GAHAHA. I just saw how some famous actor was IG televising some Santas from the event playing beer pong on the roof, and they invited him to join. What a sh*t show.

    Happy Holidays! Xxx

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