In this guide, you will find out everything about what to do at Christmas time in New York City to experience a holly jolly vacation during the holidays. After living in the city for over 5 years now I’ll share my absolute favorite things to do in New York City at Christmas time as well as the best Christmas activities in New York City.
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If you’re in the city on Christmas Day and you’re searching for things to do in New York City on Christmas Day, or you’re visiting during the time prior to Christmas and are looking for things to do in NYC at Christmas time, I’ve got you covered. I will navigate you through the best and most festive events, attractions and shows during Christmas in New York. I’ll even give you some great tips about beautiful and absolute unforgettable things to do in New York City on Christmas Eve.
Best 6 Things To Do In New York City On Christmas Day
Don’t stay at home or at your hotel on December 25. The city offers a lot of things to do in New York City on Christmas Day, from dinners to Broadway shows and everything in between. Even though it will be a very quiet day in NYC since most locals are either with their families or out of town visiting their loved ones, there are still a few things going on.
But that doesn’t mean it has to be quiet for you. We always recommend checking back to the website of the attractions or the restaurants you’re going to, just to confirm their opening hours. Main attractions like the Empire State Building are open on Christmas Day and you may experience fewer lines and crowds which you can benefit from.
The Empire State Building
Are you wondering what to do in New York City on Christmas Day? Some of the best NYC attractions are open on Christmas Day in NYC and one of them is the Empire State Building. So if you’re looking for shorter lines and fewer crowds, Christmas Day may be the perfect day for you to visit the Empire State Building. Just recently the 102nd floor reopened, which is totally worth checking out as well.
Maybe you can even catch the sunset before heading to Christmas dinner. Get festive on top of the city at one of the most recognizable skyscrapers in the world.
Ice Skating in NYC
Ice Skating is a big thing during Christmas time in New York and one of my favorite activities in New York City on Christmas day. The most famous ice rinks are the ones in Bryant Park, the Rink at Rockefeller Center with the Christmas tree in the backdrop and of course the famous Wollman Rink in Central Park. Just like with the Empire State Building, you will also have a pretty empty ice rink to show off your ice skating talent. Here is more information about ice skating in NYC, prices, and schedules.
The Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center
For some families in the city, one of their favorite things to do in New York on Christmas Day is to go see the Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center. As a worldwide symbol of the holidays in New York City, the Christmas Tree on Rockefeller Plaza will be lit for the first time on December 4th during the popular Tree Lighting Ceremony and remains one of the most photographed spots in the city during the holidays.
Since 1931, both locals and tourists made it their very own tradition to visit the tree, take photos and get really festive. The atmosphere is magical and it is the most beautiful Christmas tree you can possibly imagine.
Go for a walk at Central Park
You don’t know what to do on Christmas Day in New York? Head over to Central Park and go for a walk. The park, of course, is always a great destination to go to while visiting New York City no matter the season. But during the Christmas season and especially on Christmas Day you might get lucky and get to see the park covered in snow.
Central Park itself is already peaceful and beautiful, but when there’s snow, it almost can’t get any prettier.
Go to church on Christmas Day
If you like to go to church on Christmas Day and enjoy a Christmas service you can also do so in New York City. There are several churches I can recommend going on Christmas Day. 3 of the best churches in New York City for a remarkable Christmas service are the Grace Church on Broadway, the St Mary the Virgin Church Main Office & Rectory in Midtown and St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue. It’s high on my list of great things to do in NYC on Christmas Day, not only because it’s a tradition for me to go to church on Christmas Day, but also because the Christmas services are absolutely beautiful.
Radio City Christmas Spectacular
You’re in town for Christmas and are wondering what to do on Christmas Day in New York City? Throughout the year, concerts and events take place here such as the popular Radio City Christmas Spectacular. This is a classic Christmas in New York. Radio City Music Hall is a well-known concert and event hall located on Sixth Avenue and can be recognized from a distance by its striking exterior lighting.
I’ve watched it before and it’s exactly what you would expect from a Christmas show in New York City. As one of the best shows to go to during the holiday, Radio City Christmas Spectacular is also performing on Christmas Day.
Top 7 Things To Do In New York City At Christmas Time
Our Favorite Christmas Markets in New York
New York already starts gearing up for the holiday season in the fall. Christmas markets return to the city as early as October, setting the mood for the most magical time of the year. Here's...
Holiday Markets are pretty popular in New York City and should be on top of your list of things to do in New York City during Christmas time. To me, there is no better way to get into the holiday spirit than grabbing a hot cup of cocoa and strolling through some of the best Christmas markets in New York.
You will love the booths with local crafts, savory treats, and hot specialty drinks. The Christmas Markets in the city is the most authentic environment to have a wonderful time and wrap up your gift shopping. Here’s where to find the best Christmas markets in NYC.
Enjoy the Christmas Decorations in NYC
During the holiday season, the entire city is stringed up with dazzling lights for you to enjoy. Both private homes and established landmarks are beautifully decorated and there are Christmas lights wherever you go. It’s one of the best things to do in NYC at Christmas time.
There is no way not getting festive and excited about the holidays in New York City. Find out more about the Christmas Lights in New York City and where to find them in our NYC Christmas Lights Guide.
Visit Rockefeller Center
There are a bunch of things to do in New York at Christmas time at Rockefeller Center. Besides the incredible and most popular Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center, there’s an Ice rink right in front of the tree, great restaurants, and wonderful shops to find gifts for the entire family. Make sure to check out Top of the Rock as well.
The Observation Deck on top of Rockefeller Center is one of the main attractions in the city and also great to visit during Christmas so you can see Christmas Wonderland with all the decorations and Christmas Lights from above.
Ice Skating with a view at Pier 17
As mentioned before Ice skating in New York City is one of those classic experiences that never gets old. Now imagine Ice skating on an Ice rink with spectacular views of the East River, the Brooklyn Bridge, and the Manhattan skyline. As one of the most special things to do in NYC during Christmas time Pier 17 will really elevate your rink game. After their successful debut in 2018, they are now back with a bigger Ice rink and more things to explore at Winterland at Pier 17.
NYC Christmas Lights tours: Dyker Heights
I’m a huge fan of the Dyker Heights in Brooklyn, where you can find the most beautifully decorated homes in the city. It is actually so popular that it’s known as one of the best things to do in NYC for Christmas time. The easiest way to explore the Dyker Heights is to book one of the four really amazing Holiday Light tours in NYC.
Each of them is a little different: some are bus tours, others are walking tours; some take place in Brooklyn, others in Manhattan. See the details for yourself to decide which ones of the New York Christmas lights tour is best for you.
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Christmas Shopping in NYC
As one of my favorite Christmas time activities, Christmas shopping in NYC is a must-do. While the city is covered in Christmas lights and decoration, there is no better place to buy gifts for your family and friends. Large department stores like Macy’s, Saks on Fifth Avenue or Bloomingdales decorate their holiday windows different every year which is worth checking out as well.
Macy’s at Herald Square invites you to have a date with Santa Claus at Santaland and buy special ornaments at their Holiday lane on the 9th floor.
Check out FAO Schwarz
FAO Schwarz is unlike every other toy store and a fun thing to do in NYC at Christmas time. Take your kids or just feel like a child again entering the amazing collection of unique toys and life-sized stuffed animals.
Schwarz FAO is the oldest toy store in the United States and with its location right in front of the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center, it’s something you can’t miss during Christmas time in NYC. Don’t miss the famous clock on the staircase. Also, you can play “The Big Piano” on the floor (famous from the movie “Big”).
Best 4 Things To Do In New York City On Christmas Eve
Go see Santa Claus at Macy’s
There’s nothing you can’t do in New York City. During the holidays, you should set up a date with Santa Claus at Macy’s and share your wish list. Santaland at Macy’s is a whole experience with a meet & greet with Santa in the end. Both kids and adults come to Santaland to talk to the big guy. It’s a special thing to do in New York on Christmas Eve.
Every year, Macy’s Santaland is the main highlight of Macy’s Christmas celebrations. The history of Santaland goes back to 1861 when the store advertised that Santa Claus would come to stock their counters with the finest and most special Christmas gifts. Fast forward to today, close to 200,000 Santa fans are visiting Santaland at Macy’s every season. If you’d like to be one of them make your reservation online beforehand.
Hornblower New York – Christmas Dinner Cruise
But there are more things to do in New York City Christmas Eve. How about a dinner cruise with Santa Claus? With its extensive fleet, Hornblower is one of the major providers of lunch and dinner cruises in New York. You may be familiar with the name; they also operate in other cities such as San Francisco and San Diego. I was invited to the legendary Santa’s Christmas Eve Dinner Cruise and spent three wonderful hours on board the Hornblower Infinity.
The early bird gets the worm: this Christmas Eve Cruise is one of the favorite events in town and therefore sells out quickly. Secure your ticket as soon as possible for the Christmas Eve Cruise 2019.
Get festive at a museum
Many of the major museums in NYC are open on Christmas Eve. Lines are short and most museums will put you in the holiday spirit as well. My favorite museums like the MoMA, the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Whitney Museum are my go-to museums on Christmas Eve in New York and very popular things to do in New York City on Christmas Eve as well.
Go Christmas caroling
It’s a tradition and one of my favorite things to do on Christmas Eve in New York City to gather under the Washington Square Arch next to the illuminated tree to sing traditional holiday songs at 5 pm. Meet the Rob Susman Brass Quartet and accompany the crooners to sing your favorite Christmas songs. You don’t know the lyrics? No worries, songbooks are provided.
My Personal Best New York City Christmas Time Activities
I hope after reading my recommendations about the best things to do in NYC at Christmas time you know now what to do in New York City during the most wonderful time of the year. If I had to pick my absolute all-time favorite New York City Christmas activities I personally would choose to visit the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center after watching the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. Then I’d go to one of the many great restaurants in town for a Christmas dinner before heading to a rooftop bar for a drink or visiting my favorite holiday market at Union Square.
But there are so many things to do in NYC at Christmas time that it is really hard to pick my favorites. It also depends on what you’re in the mood for. New York City offers many options to have a blast during the holidays. Either way and regardless of what you end up doing Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.
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Calling New York City home is still pretty surreal. After moving here 5 years ago, I still see it as my dream life. Ever since I’ve been exploring this amazing city for Loving New York I’ve grown to love it even more. I love hooking all of you up with the inside scoop, top attractions, events and everything in between. I'm your go-to person for the hidden gems, best restaurants and the absolute best things to do in the city that never sleeps.