Spending Christmas in New York is the dream of many travelers. We’ve all seen the city during this special time in thousands of movies and it is pure magic. The streets are filled with lights, Christmas hymns sound in every store, the squares become Christmas markets and even people are in a very happy and special mood. Christmas spirit is more alive in New York than anywhere in the world. In this guide I will tell you everything about the best things to do in New York during Christmas time.
In this post you will find:
- New York weather during Christmas
- Rockefeller Center Christmas tree
- Ice Skating rinks in New York
- Christmas window displays
- New York Christmas Markets
- Christmas shows
- Dyker Heights
- Winter Lantern Festival
- Christmas trees in New York
- Things to do on Christmas Eve
- Things to do on Christmas day in New York
- Recommended accommodation in New York
There is no way to describe exactly what the city feels like during the holidays, it is simply special. Everything we see in American movies showing Christmas in New York is completely real. It is a unique experience that I recommend to every traveler, and especially to those who love NY.
Although Christmas is December 25, the Christmas vibes and celebrations begin at the end of November and continue until the first days of January. No matter when you travel, in this complete guide to Christmas in New York I tell you everything you need to know to plan your trip and have an incredible experience.
Invasion of tourists in the city
Between Christmas and New Year the city is extremely crowded. This is something that you should keep in mind when planning your trip because there will be people everywhere.
After January 2 or 3 the city empties, and it is much more comfortable to visit and enjoy it. If you have the opportunity to stay longer, I recommend visiting the city during the first days of January.
For example, my boyfriend and I spent Christmas and New Year’s eve in New York but in between both we went to Washington DC. After January 1, we stayed one more week in New York with less people on the streets. If you are like me and don’t like crowds or having to queue for everything, this is ideal.
If you need help for planning your trip read: The best things to do in New York
Weather in New York during December
The weather in NY during the holidays is cold, this is nothing new. However it is the only way to spend Christmas there and in my opinion it is 100% worth it. Winter in New York is one of the most beautiful times to visit the city and see it covered in snow. If you’re not used to cold weather and want to know what to wear to be warm, I recommend reading my post: New York winter packing list
BEST THINGS TO DO IN NEW YORK DURING CHRISTMAS:
Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree
One of the most important attractions during the holidays is the famous Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, which with a 23 meters height is the largest tree in NY. The event that represents the beginning of Christmas is the lighting of this tree. It is a super massive event, so it is best to go with plenty of time and patience. You can see the tree at Rockefeller Center until January 7th. Just below the tree you will see the Rockefeller Center ice skating rink.
- Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree lighting date: Christmas 2020 lighting date hasn’t been announced yet.
Ice skating rinks in New York
Who hasn’t dream of skating in New York? In October all the city’s ice skating rinks open. The days near Christmas there are a lot of people so I recommend going skating before this or after New Year.
The most famous skating rinks in the city are:
- Wollman Rink in Central Park (Prices vary between USD$12-$19, skate rental price is USD$10). Open on Monday and Tuesday from 10 am to 2.30 pm; Wednesday and Thursday from 10 am to 10 pm; Friday and Saturday from 10 am to 11 pm; Sundays from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
- The Rink at Rockefeller Center (the ticket price varies between USD$25-$35, skate rental price is USD$18). The closer to Christmas, the more expensive the price gets. This is the most crowded rink in the city so there can sometimes be lines of up to 1 hour to enter. You cann’t make reservations online ahead of time, so male sure you get there with extra time. The Rink is open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. from October to April.
- The Rink – Bryant Park (admission is FREE, the price of the skate rental varies according to the date between USD$18-USD$33). Bryant Park rink is the cheapest since it is the only one with free admission. If you have your own skates you can take them and skate completely for free. There are free lockers to leave your belongings, you just have to bring your own padlock (or buy one there for USD $12). Opening times: from November 30 to December 30 from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. On December 31 from 8 am to 4 pm; from January 1 to 4 from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. and from January 5 to March 1 from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
NYC Christmas window displays
One of the things that stands out in the streets of New York during the holidays are the incredible window displays on Fifth Avenue. All the stores have amazing displays with Christmas characters, and there are even interactive ones with moving objects and sounds. All stores begin to decorate their windows in mid-November. Some window displays you can’t miss are:
- Macy’s Herald Square – 151 W 34th St
The largest store in NY historically decorates its stained glass windows and every year they are more incredible. In addition to this, you can visit Santa Claus in Santaland inside the store! If you have children it is a perfect plan, that if: prepare yourself mentally for the line. Learn more about Macy’s Santaland
- Saks Fifth Avenue – 5th Ave between 49th and 50th streets.
Saks Fifth Avenue projects a Christmas light show in front of the building that can be admired perfectly from the Rockefeller Center. It is a 5-minute show that is projected every 10 minutes every night: short but spectacular.
TIP: If you want to avoid the hordes of tourists, go see the show after January 2nd. Until January 8th the show is still projected.
- FAO Schwarz – 30 Rockefeller Plaza
- Tiffany & Co – 5th Ave and 52nd Street
- Bloomingdale’s – Lexington Ave and 59th Street
- Lord & Taylor – 424 5th Ave
NYC Christmas Markets
Another attraction that the city has during this time are the Christmas markets. Many squares in the city become markets from November until the first days of January. Here you can get decorations for your Christmas tree, crafts, Christmas items or just take a walk and have a hot chocolate to warm up a little.
The most important Christmas markets in New York are:
- Bryant Park
Bryant Park’s “Winter Village” is probably the most Christmassy place in Manhattan. On one side of the park you will find the skating rink and on the other side all the shops. You can find not only Christmas decorations, but also clothes, books and other objects. Winter Village at Bryant Park is open from October 27th to January 2nd.
- Union Square Holiday Market
This is my favorite market because it is located in a part of the city that I particularly love. Union Square Park is transformed into a maze of stalls where you can mainly find crafts and decorations. Open from November 21 to December 24 from 11 AM to 8 PM.
- Grand Central Terminal Holiday Fair
In the Vanderbilt Hall inside the Grand Central Terminal you will find many stands with handicrafts, gifts and other objects. Open from November 12 to December 24 from 10 AM to 8 PM.
- Columbus Circle Holiday Market
If you are going to stroll through Central Park, don’t forget to stop by Columbus Circle to see the Holiday Market. It opens from December 4 to 24 from 10 AM to 8 PM. Address: Columbus Circle, 59th Street and Central Park West.
Christmas Shows in NYC
As you should already know New York is one of the best places in the world to go to the theatre and enjoy a Broadway musical. So to get yourself into the Christmas spirit you can go see a Christmas show that are only available during this magical time of the year.
- Radio City Christmas Spectacular (November 9 to January 5)
The traditional New York Christmas show that has been live every Christmas since 1933 at the legendary Radio City Music Hall. The famous Rockettes dance with different New York decorations as scenery. A must if you like musicals and you travel during the holidays.
- The Nutcracker (November 24 to December 31)
Another show that you can see exclusively during Christmas season in New York is this Chaikovski ballet performed by the New York City Ballet at Lincoln Center.
A visit that you can’t miss if you are in New York for Christmas is Dyker Heights, a neighborhood in Brooklyn where neighbors decorate their houses in an exaggerated and creative way. It is one of the activities that I liked the most.
The houses not only have lights but also sounds, dolls and even artificial snow! By the end of November some houses begin to turn on their lights and maintain them until the first days of January. Read the full post about visiting Dyker Heights here.
Winter Lantern Festival
A new attraction to visit this Christmas in New York is the Wintern Lantern Festival in the botanical garden located on Staten Island. The festival consists of more than 40 installations with lights, tunnels and more than 1,000 traditional Chinese figures illuminated by millions of LEDs that make the park a magical Christmas setting.
Dates for the 2020 Winter Lantern Festival haven’t been announced yet so stay tunned to the latest info on the festival’s website. Address: 1000 Richmond Terrace, Staten Island.
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Christmas trees in New York
In addition to the Rockefeller Center tree, you will find many other beautiful trees that illuminate the city during the holiday season. Some of them are:
- Lotte Palace: it is the tree of the luxurious hotel Lotte New York Palace. Location: 455 Madison Ave.
- Tavern on the Green: an iconic restaurant located in Central Park that decorates its garden with a beautiful tree. Location: Central Park, W 67th St.
- Washington Square Park: This is one of the most known parks in the city and obviously has its Christmas tree. It lights up around December 4th.
- Wall Street: New York’s financial district also celebrates Christmas with a very large tree that lights up on December 5 with live shows. The Christmas tree is located just in front of the New York Stock Exchange. Location: 11 Wall St.
- Bryant Park: This park, as I said, is the most Christmassy in the whole city. In the Winter Village market in Bryant Park there is a Christmas tree that is also very cute.
- New York Public Library: The New York Library also has a tree. To see it you have to enter the library hall, admission is free! It is located right in Bryant Park.
Christmas Eve in New York
Americans generally spend Christmas with their families at home, so don’t expect to see too much in the streets for Christmas Eve. If you plan to go out for dinner, I recommend that you book a table in advance. You can book restaurants in New York through Open Table website.
We didn’t book a restaurant but luckily we ended up finding an Italian restaurant called Scarlatto that had a place available. After that we went to the Rockefeller Center that was bursting with people, with the skating rink open. Some themed restaurants for Christmas Eve dining are: Tavern on the Green, The Ho Ho Holiday Lounge or Rolf’s German Restaurant.
Christmas in New York (December 25)
Despite being a holiday, most shops, restaurants and attractions are open like any other day. You can basically enjoy New York like any other day. A good plan is to take a walk through Central Park or Brooklyn and – why not – go see a show on Broadway.
Where to stay in New York at Christmas
If you are traveling to New York for Christmas, I recommend booking accommodation as far in advance as possible because as the date approaches prices will increase more and more.
Some recommended hotels:
$: HI NYC Hostel USD $35-70/night per person. HI NYC Hostel is in uptown New York about 1 block away from Broadway Street. I’ve stayed at HI in different cities and always come back because the staff and service is great.
$$: YOTEL New York USD $100-270/night double occupancy.The YOTEL is a hotel with a super modern and futuristic design with small rooms but with all the comforts. It is located just 6 blocks from Times Square.
$$$: Hotel Iberostar Park Avenue USD $230-350/night double occupancy. If you’re looking for something more luxurious, Iberostar Park Avenue is great. The rooms are huge and the location is perfect.
Other attractions and tours
If you need help for planning your trip to New York read my article: The best things to do in New York city. If you’re planning on visiting many attractions it might be convenient for you to buy one of New York attraction passes.
Beyond the mass of tourism that drowns you in the streets during the Christmas season in New York, I think it is an unforgettable experience to spend the holidays there.
If you are planning your trip to New York at Christmas I hope you’ve found this post useful. If you have any questions please leave them in the comments or send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
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Other posts you might like:
- Dyker Heights Christmas lights tour
- New Year’s Eve in New York
- Winter in New York
- The best Christmas markets in US
- 20 Christmas gifts ideas for travelers
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