Nothing compares to Christmas in New York City. Millions of twinkling lights adorn the buildings everywhere, providing the perfect background for cheery holiday shows, iconic experiences, and some of the best shopping in the world. We think your itinerary should reflect this magic. So, we compiled the only NYC Christmas itinerary you’ll need to see the best of the city.
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If you have limited time you’ll be especially pleased. We’ve included an itinerary for a day trip for those with only 👉 1-day to see the city at Christmas! There is also a 👉 2-day itinerary and 👉 one for three days.
My tip: This is my complete guide to Christmas in NYC.
Best Places to Stay in New York City during Christmas
If you haven’t booked a hotel yet, be sure to check out my article on the most beautiful hotels in NYC at Christmas time. They are beautifully decorated and you are guaranteed to get into the Christmas spirit!
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1 Day NYC Christmas Itinerary
If you only have one day in NYC for Christmas you’ll want to focus on as many of the city’s iconic Christmas sights as you can, while including the must-see borough of Brooklyn. This means an early start and a detailed game plan (don’t worry, we’ve included both a map and a handy list of all the places mentioned at the end of each section to help with your plan of attack!).
1 Day in NYC at Christmas: Morning – One World Observatory and Holiday Village at The Oculus
With only a day to explore NYC, the only way you’ll see all of the city’s famous buildings is through one of the sky-high observatories. We recommend the One World Observatory as it opens a full hour before the Empire State Building, therefore freeing up more of your time. It also helps that for Christmas, the observatory has been transformed into a mountainside Onederland complete with cozy red and white sleighs, a faux fireplace, and cozy gingerbread decor. Be sure to bring your camera!
After your bird’s eye views of NYC’s best sights, take a five minute walk to the nearby bird-shaped Oculus building for some of the city’s best shopping and a nostalgic Holiday Market. Booths serving everything from locally baked goods to scented candles and surrounded by Christmas trees and snowy scenery bring true holiday cheer as you end your morning.
My tip: These are the best holiday markets in NYC
1 Day in NYC at Christmas: For Lunch
For lunch we suggest the historic Gansevoort Market Food Court onsite at the Oculus, or the local favorite for salads, Sweetgreen, which is right next door.
My tip: These are the best Christmas restaurants in NYC
1 Day in NYC at Christmas: Afternoon–Brooklyn Bridge and Dumbo Holiday Market
For the afternoon of your 1 day NYC Christmas itinerary, you’ll want to squeeze in some Brooklyn sights. Luckily, the Oculus is within walking distance to the famous Brooklyn Bridge. Take the 40 minute walk across the historic bridge to Brooklyn where you’ll spend the afternoon staring in awe at the best views of the Manhattan skyline you’ll find in all of New York. Don’t worry if it’s too cold to take the walk. It’s easy to hop on a train to Brooklyn right from the Oculus. Or, if you prefer, you can take a guided bus tour of the area (THIS is the best tour in my opinion).
Once you get to the Dumbo neighborhood on the Brooklyn side of the bridge, you’ll want to find the iconic Manhattan Bridge spot on Washington Street for the perfect selfie with the Manhattan Bridge in the background. Or head to the Brooklyn Bridge Park on the edge of the river for breathtaking views. We also recommend stopping for hot chocolate at Jacques Torres’ (yes that same Jacques Torres from Netflix’s popular Nailed It series) and the very artsy Dumbo Holiday Market.
1 Day in NYC at Christmas: Dinner
For dinner, we suggest the tantalizing Christmas menu at the upscale River Cafe (reservations usually required) or any of the fantastic restaurants at the 1 Hotel. For budget options, Dumbo has a Shake Shack and an excellent pizza place run by locals on Front Street.
1 Day in NYC at Christmas: Evening- Rockefeller Christmas Tree and Rockettes Christmas Show
As the sun disappears, New York City reveals why no other place compares at Christmas. Buildings come alive with lights, music fills the air, and the energy changes. The Rockefeller Plaza Area is the best place to take it all in. Head to the Rockefeller Tree to see one of the world’s tallest Christmas trees. Nearby, find the Saks Fifth Avenue building for a heartwarming light show. As you walk, you’ll pass holiday windows, fairly lights everywhere, and projections to warm your heart. Don’t miss DIOR (59th corner 5th Ave.), Bergdorf Goodman (5th Ave corner 58th St.), the Cartier Building (5th Ave corner 52nd St.) and the FOX News Christmas Tree (6th Ave corner 48th St.)).
When you’ve had your fill of holiday cheer, walk a few minutes to the Radio City Music Hall to end your day with the must see Rockettes Christmas Show.
As promised, here’s a handy list of your one day NYC Christmas Itinerary stops. We’ve also added a map for reference!
Things To Do on Your Christmas Day Trip to NYC
- Wonderland at the One World Observatory
- Holiday Village at the Oculus
- Brooklyn Bridge
- Dumbo Holiday Market
- Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree
- Saks Fifth Avenue Light Show
- Rockettes Christmas Show at Radio City Music Hall
2 Day Itinerary to NYC at Christmas
If you are coming to NYC for two days this Christmas or you are planning your Christmas weekend in NYC, this itinerary is for you. You’ll want to spend a day and a half exploring Manhattan and the evening of the second day exploring some fantastic Christmas lights in Brooklyn. Here’s how to do it!
2 Days in NYC at Christmas: Day 1
Morning- Empire State Building, Macy’s Christmas Windows
Start the first day of your 2 day NYC Christmas trip with a visit to the historic Empire State Building for views of every famous building in New York. Plan to spend about an hour and a half to two hours getting to the cheerfully decorated viewing decks and taking in all the sights. Look out for Central Park, the Statue of Liberty, the Brooklyn Bridge, and more. Go prepared to snap photo after photo!
After leaving the Empire State Building, walk two minutes west to 34th Street where you’ll find Macy’s Holiday Windows, a local Christmas tradition in New York City. Admire the Christmas stories visually depicted in each window of the beloved department store while you mingle with local families out for some fun. When you’re done, this is a good area to get some shopping done as there are many budget stores in the area.
For lunch, Rib No 7 is a good option for a more upscale experience. The whole Herald Square area is also home to many casual eateries so you’ll have your pick of options on every block you pass.
Afternoon – Morgan Museum and Bryant Park’s Winter Village
After lunch, you’ll be walking up to the picturesque Bryant Park (about a 8 minute walk from Macy’s). But first, since you have two days, we thought you could spare an hour or two to stop at one of NYC’s more manageable museums!
History buffs and book lovers will especially appreciate the treasures in the Morgan Library and Museum. Fine art, mostly with historic or academic significance, and rare books, are the highlights of this museum. But truly, anyone will appreciate the rarities in the private collections of J.P. Morgan who this museum is named for.
After leaving the Morgan, head up to Bryant Park where every Christmas, the green space transforms into a Christmassy Winter Village. Spend your afternoon wandering through delightful booths where leather goods, fashion, jewelry, Christmas ornaments and more can be bought for yourself or your loved ones. We also recommend trying out the skating at the ice skating rink right next to Bryant Park’s life-size Christmas tree.
My tip: These are the best ice rinks in NYC
Evening- Times Square, Balanchine’s Nutcracker Ballet
Times Square is one of those bucket list places you’ll want to see on your two day Christmas trip to NYC. With dizzying lights, neon billboards, and foreign sounds and smells, it’s a sensory overload any time of year. But Christmas sees the lights going into overdrive and it’s truly a spectacular sight. Spend your evening walking around and taking in the electricity in the air. Look out for famous characters like the naked cowboy, and do spend some time sitting at Duffy Square just inhaling it all.
When you’re done, head west towards the river to end the first day of your 2 day NYC Christmas itinerary with the Nutcracker Ballet, a holiday classic even New Yorkers rush to see every year.
2 Days in NYC at Christmas: Day 2
Morning- Rockefeller Center and Christmas Tree
No Christmas trip to NYC is complete without seeing the larger than life Rockefeller Tree and Center. Start your second day admiring the tree early in the morning when it’s not too crowded. After taking in the colorful lights sparkling on the tree, head to the nearby Channel Gardens in Rockefeller Center for even more lights in the form of sparkling angels standing like guards to the garden’s water features. If you look up while sitting in the gardens, you’ll also see the Saks Fifth Avenue light show! After you’ve had your fill of sparkle, you’ll want to walk along Fifth Avenue to take in the Holiday Windows of the area.
My tip: These are the best holiday lights and decorations in NYC
Rockefeller Center is home to such a delicious array of dining options that we would recommend eating there. Here are your dining options.
Afternoon–Grand Central Terminal Holiday Fair
After spending so much time outside, you’ll welcome the warmth of the Grand Central Terminal, just a ten minute walk away. But Grand Central is more than just a warm place to escape New York’s brutal winter. The Terminal is home to elegant shops and restaurants year round. But come Christmas, one of the city’s best Holiday Markets add to the charm. While you stroll through the tastefully decorated Market, look up for the famous paintings on the Terminal’s ceilings. And stop by the Campbell to have a shot of whiskey or a cocktail from their unbelievable collection.
My tip: These are the best Christmas markets in NYC
My tip: These are the best Christmas restaurants in NYC
Evening – Birdland Jazz Club and Dyker Heights Holiday Lights
Come evening you’ll be leaving Grand Central and walking to the off-the-beaten-track Birdland Jazz Club for one of their early evening Christmas shows. With red decor and Christmas cheer everywhere Birdland is perfect for losing yourself in some soulful music.
After the hour-long Christmas show, it will be the perfect time to head out to Dyker Heights in Brooklyn for what is arguably the best display of residential Christmas lights in New York. Admire home after home decked out in red, blue and white lights and surrounded by holiday ornaments. With the homes going to lengths to outdo each other, you’re in for a real treat! Getting to Dyker Heights can be challenging so we recommend a guided bus tour to make it easier.
Here’s a quick list of all things you can do if you have 2 days in NYC for Christmas
Things To Do On a 2 Day NYC Christmas Trip
- Empire State Building
- Macy’s Holiday Windows
- Morgan Library and Museum
- Bryant Park’s Winter Village
- Times Square
- Nutcracker Ballet
- Rockefeller Christmas Tree
- Rockefeller Center-Channel Gardens
- The Peninsula Hotel
- Grand Central Terminal Holiday Fair
- Birdland Jazz Club
- Dyker Heights Christmas Lights
3 Day NYC Christmas Itinerary
With 3 days in NYC for Christmas you’ll be able to see the most quintessential NYC sights and to head to a few in the outer boroughs for a deeper experience!
3 Day NYC Christmas Itinerary: Day 1
Morning- Central Park and The Tavern on The Green Christmas Tree
More movies than can be counted have taken advantage of the magical settings all over Central Park. When Christmas comes around, some of these sites get elevated into what can only be described as fairy tales. This is where you’ll start your 3 day Christmas trip to New York City.
Enter at the Harlem Meer entrance at 110 Street to see the park’s floating Christmas Trees. From there wander over to the Charles A Dana Center for more holiday lights, or head up further in the park (between 57th and 59th St.) where a romantic horse carriage ride in a carriage decked out in holiday finery can be booked with add-ons like chocolates and roses (pre-booking during the holiday season is highly suggested)! Ice skating at Wollman Rink should also be part of your plans for this morning (My tip: These are the best ice rinks in NYC).
And even if you don’t plan on eating there, we recommend stopping at the movie famous Tavern on The Green to see their Christmas tree and holiday decorations.
Afternoon – Origami Tree at The Museum of Natural History and Columbus Circle Holiday Market
After spending a full morning outside, head to the first floor of the nearby Museum of Natural History to see their unusual origami Christmas Tree. Every year the tree has a different theme, but the themes are always related to the natural world. Past origami decorations on the tree have included dinosaurs and bugs. While there you may also want to check out the fantastic exhibitions in the world class museum.
After, end your afternoon at the Columbus Circle Holiday Market where everything from holiday foods to jewelry can be had.
My tip: These are the best Christmas restaurants in NYC
Evening- Times Square and a Broadway Christmas Play
Ending your day with a broadway show is a very New York thing to do. Before heading to one of the excellent holiday plays on Broadway, stop at Times Square for a stunning array of holiday lights and flashing billboards. The area is touristy, but no visit to New York City is complete without seeing it at least once.
My tip: These are the best broadway shows during the holiday season!
3 Day NYC Christmas Itinerary: Day 2
Morning- Santa Claus at Top of the Rock and Rockefeller Center
Since New York City is the city of skyscrapers you really can’t visit and not see the most iconic ones. Day 2 of your Christmas itinerary starts with Rockefeller Center’s Top of The Rock Observatory where you’ll have less lines and an easier time getting up and down. After admiring the lighted Empire State Building and all the other icons, head to the Top Of The Rock Shop for ornaments or stop to snap a pic with Santa Claus.
Once downstairs on the street again, head to the Rockefeller Christmas Tree, another of the city’s popular holiday sights you don’t want to miss. It will be too early for the Saks Fifth Avenue Light Show, but you can sit in the Channel Gardens where the illuminated angels and twinkling trees will bring some much needed warmth in the cold. This whole area is NYC’s holiday central, so head to the Holiday Windows on Fifth Avenue, stop at the magical skating rink just below the Christmas tree, and be sure to take photos of all the twinkling installations along the way. If this sounds like a lot, you can also book a guided Holiday Tour of the area to ensure you don’t miss a thing!
After being outside for much of the morning, you’ll want to head inside to any of Rockefeller Center’s well loved restaurants for lunch.
Afternoon- Radio City Music Hall and A Rockettes Show
For your afternoon, take the short walk from Rockefeller Center to Radio City Music Hall for a backstage tour or to see an early afternoon showing of The Rockettes Show, a NYC Christmas institution that will have you dancing to the entertaining holiday selections.
My tip: These are the best Christmas shows in NYC
After your early show, try the famous Del Friscos for an unforgettable dinner. Or Toloache for something more spicy.
Evening- Holiday Train Show at New York Botanical Garden
New York City’s gardens all celebrate Christmas in a big way. This evening you will spend a few hours exploring this major one out in the Bronx. Give yourself an early start to get to it as Bronx is a good distance away from where you’ll likely be staying in Manhattan or Brooklyn. Once there, prepare to be awed by a miles long light show that transforms the garden’s wintery plants with thousands of fairy lights and illuminated installations every evening.
After taking in the lights, explore the miniature renditions of New York City’s buildings and the trains chugging around them in the onsite train show. If you’ve never seen a Holiday Train Show, this one is highly recommended.
3 Day NYC Christmas Itinerary: Day 3
Morning- Shine Bright Light Show at Hudson Yards and Winter Lights at The High Line
It takes a lot to impress local New Yorkers and the Christmas lights at Hudson Yards have managed to do that. You’ll be ending your 3 days NYC Christmas trip with a bang by joining them at this dazzling light show at Hudson Yards. Walk through a forest of twinkling trees for a magical experience. Head inside the mall for millions of lights everywhere and a suspended hot air balloon also adorned with fairy lights. Whatever you do, do not forget your camera or phone!
After leaving Hudson Yards, head to the nearby High Line Park for a modern take on holiday lights. High Line Park’s reflective holiday lighting installations are as inventive as the first-of-its kind park and sure to have you smiling.
The famous Chelsea Market is close by. We suggest having lunch in one of their excellent eateries!
Afternoon – Holiday Harbor Cruise.
This afternoon you’ll be heading from Chelsea Market up to Chelsea Piers where you’ll be winding down your trip with a relaxing Holiday Harbor Cruise around New York City. See the city from the comfort of a well decorated yacht where you’ll be served cocktails or hot chocolate and dinner, depending on the cruise you choose.
As most of the holiday cruises come with dinner, we suggest having dinner on your boat.
Evening-North Pole Express Bus Tour
For your last night, you’ll be going all out and taking a festive North Pole Express ride through Manhattan for a tour of the city’s best Christmas lights. End your NYC Christmas trip singing carols, meeting Santa, and listening to Christmas stories aboard a festive bus with people who all came to New York to enjoy the magic of the city.
It’s the perfect end to your time in New York City!
Everything You’ll Do on Your Three Day NYC Christmas Itinerary
3 Days in NYC at Christmas: Day 1
- Central Park Holiday Lights
- Tavern On The Green Christmas Tree
- Museum Of Natural History Origami Tree
- Columbus Circle Holiday Market
- Times Square Lights
- A Holiday Show on Broadway
3 Days in NYC at Christmas: Day 2
- Top Of The Rock Observatory
- Rockefeller Center
- Radio City Music Hall Tour
- Rockettes Show
- New York Botanical Garden’s Holiday Train Show
3 Days in NYC at Christmas: Day 3
- Shine Bright Light Show at Hudson Yards
- Winter Lights at High Line Park
- Chelsea Market
- Christmas Harbour Cruise
- North Pole Express Bus Tour
My NYC Christmas itineraries for an amazing time
New York City is truly the best place on earth to spend Christmas at. Use these itineraries to help you see everything that’s special about the city and I guarantee you won’t miss a thing!
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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!