Experience the magic of Christmas in NYC without emptying your wallet. The city sparkles with countless free festivities during the holiday season. Dive into my guide to discover the best free things to do in New York City at Christmas time.
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My tipp: Don’t forget to check out my article about the Best Things to Do in NYC For Christmas!
Where To Stay in NYC during Christmas
Before we get started: If you haven’t booked a hotel yet, be sure to check out my article on the best hotels in NYC for Christmas. They are beautifully decorated and you are guaranteed to get into the Christmas spirit!
Free Things to Do in NYC For Christmas
#26 Free Things to Do in NYC For Christmas: Visit the Saks Fifth Avenue Light ShowOther Shopping in Midtown ManhattanAdd to myNY added
You can’t talk about Christmas in NYC without mentioning the Saks Fifth Avenue light show. This isn’t just a basic, boring light show; it’s a full-blown spectacle. Just think about the magic that happens when you’re standing in front of the iconic Saks building as it transforms into a canvas of twinkling lights. All while it’s synchronized to holiday tunes. It’s a magical experience that captivates both young and old. And guess what? It’s absolutely free! You’ll be spellbound, I promise.
My tip: These are the best Christmas lights in NYC.
#25 Free Things to Do in NYC For Christmas: Brooklyn Bridge WalkBuilding in DumboOur HighlightAdd to myNY added
The Brooklyn Bridge is a sight to behold any time of the year, but during Christmas, it’s something else. Picture yourself walking across this historic bridge, the cold air is crisp but invigorating, and you’ve got panoramic views of Manhattan’s skyline. All while the buildings are decked out in holiday lights. It’s a peaceful, almost meditative experience that’s completely free. Trust me, you’ll want to make this a holiday tradition.
#24 Free Things to Do in NYC For Christmas: Take photos of the Wall Street Christmas TreeChristmas Tree in Financial DistrictAdd to myNY added
The Christmas tree on Wall Street looks back on a long tradition: this year it can be seen for the 100th time. Not only is the tree itself festively decorated – the building of the New York Stock Exchange also looks beautiful, as it is illuminated from the outside in Christmas colors.
The 101st Annual Tree Lighting will take place at the end of November. The exact date will be announced throughout the year.
#23 Free Things to Do in NYC For Christmas: Holiday Train Show at Grand CentralOther Events in BronxAdd to myNY added
If you’re passing through Grand Central Terminal, then do yourself a favor and check out the Holiday Train Show. It’s located in the Transit Museum Gallery and it isn’t your average train set. We’re talking about a miniature New York City, complete with tiny trains zipping through the scaled-down skyscrapers and landmarks. It’s a hit with kids, but let’s be honest, adults find it just as mesmerizing. And it’s free!
#22 Free Things to Do in NYC For Christmas: Attend a Hanukkah Menorah LightingOther Events in Prospect HeightsAdd to myNY added
New York is a melting pot of cultures. The holiday season is a great time to experience this diversity. If you’re curious about how different communities celebrate, attending a public Menorah lighting can be a heartwarming and enlightening experience. Places like Washington Square Park and Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza host these events – and everyone is welcome. It’s a beautiful ceremony that’s open to all, regardless of your background.
By the way: Did you know all of the nicknames of New York City!
#21 Free Things to Do in NYC For Christmas: Sledding in Prospect ParkPark in Park SlopeAdd to myNY added
Ah, the joy of a snowy day in NYC! If you find yourself in the city when the snowflakes start to fall, you’ve got to head over to Prospect Park in Brooklyn. This park is a winter wonderland with steep hills that are perfect for sledding. Grab a sled, or even a cardboard box, and join the locals in this age-old winter tradition. And don’t worry about being too old – it’s not just for kids; adults get in on the fun too! The best of all it all is, it’s one of the free things to do in NYC during Christmas that’ll make you feel like a kid again.
#20 (Almost) Free Things to Do in NYC For Christmas: Catch the Holiday Nostalgia TrainMuseum in DumboAdd to myNY added
If you’re a fan of all things vintage, then I’m sure you won’t want to miss the Holiday Nostalgia Train. It’s operated by the MTA in partnership with the New York Transit Museum. This train runs on weekends in December and offers a ride straight out of the 1930s. The best part about it is that it only costs the standard subway fare. So, if you’re looking to add a touch of old-school charm to your New York City on Christmas, this is a must-do that you should add to your list.
#19 Free Things to Do in NYC For Christmas: Stroll the West VillagePizza Spot in West VillageAdd to myNY added
The West Village is charming year-round, but I would argue that it reaches peak enchantment during the holidays. Picture cobblestone streets, historic brownstones, and boutique shops – all adorned with twinkling lights and festive wreaths. It’s the perfect setting for a romantic Christmas in NYC stroll with your lover or a family walk with your little ones. Don’t forget to grab a warm drink from one of the many cozy cafes in the area!
#18 Free Things to Do in NYC For Christmas: Take in the City Views from the FerryCruise in Financial DistrictAdd to myNY added
Who says you need to spend money to enjoy the best views of NYC? For just $2.75, almost the same fare as the subway, you can hop on the NYC Ferry – basically, for free, if you are moving around anyways.
It’s a fantastic way to see the city from a different angle, especially during the holiday season when the skyline is lit up like a Christmas tree. The short route between DUMBO and Wall Street is particularly scenic. Just keep in mind that this is a mode of public transport, so don’t plan on spending all day on it! Eventually, you’ll have to get off.
My tip: 100% FREE of charge is the Staten Island Ferry.
The Cathedral Church of St. John the DivineBuilding in Harlem & Washington HeightsAdd to myNY added
St. John the Divine is the largest church in NYC, did you know that? But not only that, it’s also home to one of the most soul-stirring Christmas concerts you’ll ever attend. Known as the “Joy of Christmas,” this annual concert usually takes place one Friday in mid-December.
The tickets are very hard to come by, so make sure to keep an eye on their website. If you’re lucky and get to experience the concert, then you’ll get to hear classical hymns as well as contemporary carols. The concert offers a musical journey that encapsulates the spirit of the season. It’s not completely free, but it’s just too good to pass on and it is money very well spent.
#16 Free Things to Do in NYC For Christmas: Go on the Hunt for NYC's Best Hot ChocolateCafé in Midtown ManhattanAdd to myNY added
If you’re a hot chocolate lover like me, then NYC won’t disappoint you. For a rich and dark hot chocolate that feels like a warm hug, I can only recommend heading over to Jacques Torres Chocolate.
Trust me, it’s a chocoholic’s dream come true!
They have two locations: one in Grand Central Station on Lexington (Address: 17 Grand Central Terminal) and one in DUMBO (Address: 66 Water Street).
If you prefer something lighter and thinner, then Levain Bakery offers a cup that’s just as comforting but maybe not as heavy. Either way, you’re in for a treat that’s perfect for the chilly NYC weather.
#15 Free Things to Do in NYC For Christmas: Discover Hidden Christmas MarketsChristmas Market in Midtown ManhattanAdd to myNY added
Sure, everyone knows about the Bryant Park Winter Village, but have you ever visited the Grand Central Holiday Fair? It’s tucked away inside the Vanderbilt Hall. This lesser-known market might not be super famous, but it’s a true treasure trove of unique crafts and artisanal foods.
Hand-painted ornaments, and gourmet truffles – these are just a few of the unique gifts you’ll be able to find here. The (in my opinion) best part about it is that it is indoors, which makes it a perfect shopping destination when the New York City Christmas Markets winter gets too nippy.
#14 Free Things to Do in NYC For Christmas: Walk the High Line (or take this FREE guided tour)Walking Tour in West VillageAdd to myNY added
The High Line is a gem at any time of the year, but it takes on a special charm during the holidays. This elevated park, which was built on a disused rail line, offers stunning views of the city’s architecture and the Hudson River.
During Christmas in NYC, the High Line is adorned with subtle decorations that complement its already lush landscape. What makes it so special? It’s the silence and the serenity. Inside of the city, it’s easy to get overstimulated and overwhelmed by all the holiday hustle and bustle. The High Line offers a peaceful retreat where you can enjoy nature and art installations while comfortably sipping on a cup of hot cocoa from a nearby vendor.
#13 Free Things to Do in NYC For Christmas: Attend a Free Christmas Concert at a Local ChurchBuilding in Midtown ManhattanAdd to myNY added
When it comes to soaking in the holiday spirit, there is nothing that beats the ethereal sound of Christmas carols echoing through a grand cathedral. And if you thought that you would have to pay for this experience, then I have good news for you: Renowned churches like St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Trinity Church offer completely free concerts during the holiday season.
You’ll find classical hymns as well as modern renditions – the musical performances are as diverse as the city itself. These concerts are a New York City Christmas Show must-attend. Just make sure to arrive early; seats usually fill up fast!
#12 Free Things to Do in NYC For Christmas: Take a Self-Guided Holiday Movie TourActivities in Upper West SideAdd to myNY added
Have you ever wanted to walk in the footsteps of your favorite Christmas movie characters? I know that I have dreamed of this since I was little. NYC Christmas is the backdrop for so many holiday classics: “Home Alone 2” and “Elf” are just a few of the famous titles. Create your own self-guided tour and visit iconic locations like the Rockefeller Center, Central Park’s Wollman Rink, or the toy store from “Big.”
My tips for your tour:
- Plan your route in advance so you don’t waste time or get lost – check out my Christmas itineraries for 1, 2 and 3 days!
- Use public transport where possible; it’s a part of the New York City on Christmas experience!
- Don’t forget to take photos so you can share your movie moments with friends and family after your trip.
#11 Free Things to Do in NYC For Christmas: Explore the New York Public Library's Christmas ExhibitsBuilding in Midtown ManhattanAdd to myNY added
If you haven’t experienced the New York Public Library during the holiday season, then you’re seriously missing out on one of the most enchanting free things to do in NYC during Christmas.
The iconic Beaux-Arts architecture of the library turns into a winter wonderland, which is adorned with twinkling lights and festive wreaths. The grand entrance itself is a sight to behold, with its famous lion statues wearing holiday bows. Inside, the library offers a variety of Christmas exhibits that are both educational and festive. You’ll find anything you desire to read here. The library has reading material ranging from historical holiday manuscripts to themed book collections. There truly is something for every bibliophile to enjoy. It’s like stepping into a “Christmas in New York City”-storybook, but in the heart of Manhattan!
#10 Free Things to Do in NYC For Christmas: Ice skating at The RinkChristmas Market in Midtown ManhattanOur HighlightAdd to myNY added
Watching visitors skate on the famous rink at Bryant Park Winter Village is fun – but you can do your laps for free if you bring your own skates! Please be sure to reserve an entry time ahead of your visit here.
#9 Free Things to Do in NYC For Christmas: Take photos of the famous Rockefeller TreeChristmas Tree in Midtown ManhattanAdd to myNY added
Of course, no list of free things to do in NYC at Christmas is complete without mentioning the holiday and tree display at Rockefeller Center. This event is iconic, and nothing like you’ve seen on television.
Just keep in mind that while this event is free and open to the public, space fills up fast, so be sure to get there early and secure a good spot. Once the lighting event is over, you can ice skate for a small fee or simply wander around checking out the magical displays.
#8 Free Things to Do in NYC For Christmas: Christmas CarolingPark in GramercyAdd to myNY added
If visiting the Rockefeller Tree isn’t enough to get you in the holiday spirit, perhaps some Christmas carols may do the trick. Join local NYC families on Christmas Eve for caroling to help warm hearts and spread goodwill throughout the community. If you’re unsure where to find local families, head over to Gramercy Park or Washington Square Park for caroling events, where you can sing the night away.
#7 Free Things to Do in NYC For Christmas: Explore Central ParkPark in Midtown ManhattanOur HighlightAdd to myNY added
Central Park is one of NYC’s most popular destinations and is a magical place to visit anytime, but during Christmas, words can’t describe the emotion of this fantastic experience. Whether you’re visiting the city alone and decide to put some earbuds in and wander around by yourself, or plan to visit with the entire family, Central Park around the Holidays is a magical and peaceful experience.
#6 Free Things to Do in NYC For Christmas: Enjoy The Mall at Hudson YardsOther Events in Hudson YardsAdd to myNY added
Hudson Yards is a vast mall that sits adjacent to the famed Vessel. The mall is home to many high-end restaurants and shops that are fun to explore any time of the year. However, during Christmas, it’s definitely worth a visit with the family to see a Christmas light show that features over two million lights.
Hudson Yards’ holiday celebration is called Shine On, and it’s a unique experience that spans the entire holiday season. This is an excellent time for kids and adults alike, so don’t miss it!
#5 Free Things to Do in NYC For Christmas: Warm Up at a MuseumMuseum in Midtown ManhattanOur HighlightAdd to myNY added
NYC is home to some of the nation’s best museums, so when you’re looking for something free to do in NYC for Christmas, don’t discredit these institutions. The MoMA or Museum of Modern Art offers free entry on Fridays from 4 pm until 8 pm, and it’s always free for college students and kids under 16 (and there are quite a few more – check out all free museums in NYC here).
However, you also have the American Museum of Natural History, the Guggenheim Museum, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, which all feature a system where you just pay what you can to enter at specific times. Some of them may include holiday exhibits or decor outside.
#4 Free Things to Do in NYC For Christmas: Visit a Winter Market or Holiday MarketChristmas Market in Midtown ManhattanOur HighlightAdd to myNY added
NYC does not have a shortage of holiday markets. From the Union Square Holiday Market and Bank of America’s Bryant Park Winter Village to the Columbus Circle Holiday Market, there are many from which you can choose. The holiday markets usually partner with Urbanspace to ensure that aside from excellent shopping, there’s also a curated food experience in store for you too.
At Bryant Park’s Winter Village, you can ice skate for a fee or visit the second-story observation deck for free. Just keep in mind that while the Bryant Park observation deck is free, you will still have to wait in line where you pay to ice skate and get a wristband for entry. After all of this fun, be sure to stop by the carousel, where you may find a story time or a magic show happening.
My tip: These are the best holiday markets in NYC.
#3 Free Things to Do in NYC For Christmas: Enjoy the Holiday Lights of Dyker HeightsBus Tour in Dyker HeightsOur HighlightAdd to myNY added
Dyker Heights is a Brooklyn neighborhood that’s renowned for its Christmas lights display each year. Stop by this community and enjoy the over-the-top Christmas decor that includes lights, life-size Santas, snowmen, sleighs, and wonderful Christmas carols bumping out the loudspeakers. What’s not to love about all the razzle-dazzle to put you in the holiday mood?
You can do this by yourself (it is free!) or you can choose a guided tour – here you find the best Dyker Heights Holiday Lights Tours.
#2 Free Things to Do in NYC For Christmas: Window Shopping on Fifth AvenueOther Shopping in Midtown ManhattanAdd to myNY added
Window Shopping on Fifth AvenueFifth Avenue turns into a holiday spectacle every Christmas in New York City. Why? Well, all the stores are competing to have the most eye-catching window displays. That means that you’ll find intricate miniature worlds as well as high-tech interactive installations. These windows are a feast for the eyes.
It’s one of the Free Things to Do in NYC During Christmas that offers both a visual treat and a festive atmosphere, without spending a dime. It’s like a New York City Christmas Show that’s open to everyone.
My tip: Here you find the best holiday windows in NYC.
#1 Free Things to Do in NYC For Christmas: Visit Santa!Other Events in Midtown ManhattanAdd to myNY added
NYC is home to so many flagship stores and squares that offer their own version of Santaland. Of course, you can always visit the one that’s hosted by Macy’s, or you can find the man in red in other areas of the city as well. Be sure to check out Bryant Park, The Plaza, Bloomingdale’s, and Rockefeller Center. Most of these venues incorporate Santa with other fun such as games, prizes, rides, and more.
Christmas in NYC is filled with amazing opportunities that allow you to enjoy the magic of Christmas without breaking the bank. In fact, if you know where to look, there are tons of free things to do in NYC for Christmas. Check out my favorites here:
Free Things to Do in NYC For Christmas
I hope these suggestions add a sprinkle of magic to your NYC holiday experience. Remember, the best things in life (and in New York during Christmas) are often free!
What should you not miss in New York at Christmas?
There are so many things to do in New York at Christmas, but if you aren’t in the city long enough to enjoy everything, be sure not to miss Central Park, Rockefeller Center, the Winter Village at Bryant Park, Saks Fifth Avenue Light Show, and the rest of the Midtown department store holiday windows.
What is there to do in Central Park at Christmas?
Central Park at Christmastime has so many wonderful things to do. Be sure to check out the bridge from Home Alone 2, ice skating, a carriage tour of the park, or just take in the sights and sounds of the holiday decor.
Is NYC crowded during Christmas?
When isn’t NYC crowded? But to be honest, Christmas is one of the busiest times in the city, so it’s worth setting the alarm and getting an early start each day to beat the crowds.
How cold is New York at Christmas?
Though Christmas in NYC isn’t as cold as January or February, the highs usually hover around 43 degrees Fahrenheit, while the lows dip down into the low 30s. Be sure to pack plenty of warm clothes, a coat, and boots.
Is New York Magical at Christmas?
Yes! NYC is magical all year long, but it’s a whole new experience at Christmas. In fact, most people would agree that you’ve never actually seen the magic of the season until you’ve spent time in NYC celebrating!
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I'm a true New York fan! Not only have I visited the city over 25 times but also have I spent several months here at a time. On my blog I show you the best and most beautiful spots of the city, so that you have a really good time! You can also find lots of insider tips in our New York travel guide. Also check out my hotel finder for New York!