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Are you looking for the most festive things to do in New York in December? Whether it’s your first time visiting or an annual pilgrimage, this city never ceases to amaze.
Even the most seasoned pros will always look for new things to do in NYC for the holidays and return to visit their favorite spots again and again.
There are so many reasons to go to New York City this Christmas that you can have a severe case of FOMO before you even start planning your trip.
In this list, we’ve got a mix of shopping, eating, and sightseeing – the three things New York City does best – detailed out for you so you can have the merriest Christmas and the happiest holidays in magical New York City.
You may also like our guide to NYC in the rain, it is December in NYC after all!
And check out these winter day trips from the city if you’re looking for more festive fun.
Things to Do in New York in December for Christmas
How to Dress in New York in December
If you’re wondering what to wear in New York in December, there’s one word to describe it all – layers!
It will be cold, but odds are you’ll be walking a lot, and that body heat will kick in sooner than later, and as soon as you step inside, you’ll start to overheat unless you can shed some of your clothing.
You will definitely want the entire winter ensemble: a hat, scarf, gloves, a heavy coat, and warm boots; no matter how cold New York is in December, you’ll want to be outside as much as you can.
It’s hard to dress practically when you’re in one of the world’s most fashion-forward cities, so this is where the layers come in handy, so you can still wear your nice outfit underneath and just unravel the top few layers once you arrive at your destination.
Weather in New York in December
NYC December temperatures hover between the low 30s to low 40s, so yes, it’s cold.
However, sadly, it is rarely cold enough to snow in New York in December, you might see some flurries, but the true snow days don’t really start to roll in until late January.
Check out your visit sunset time to catch the city during twilight from one of the best NYC observation decks.
Catch a Show Before You Go
If seeing is believing then you have to see these performances over the Christmas season.
Live mini-concerts from the actors of the most popular musicals on Broadway, the most well-known and popular Christmas show in the world, the beloved Nutcracker Ballet that has enraptured audiences all over the world for over a century, and more.
The whole family will be dazzled by more than just the bright lights when you spend an afternoon seeing any of these shows.
Night owls might want to check out our guide things to do in NYC at night.
1. Broadway Under the Stars, 10 Columbus Circle, Manhattan
Musical Theatre lovers looking for things to do in NYC in December can get a sneak peek of the best of the current Broadway season at Broadway Under the Stars.
The name is derived from 12 gigantic 14 foot colorfully lit stars hanging from the 100-foot ceiling at Time Warner Center that serves as the backdrop for the Broadway stars to perform.
If you visit The Shops at Columbus Circle on a Monday from late November to early December, you’ll get to listen to 2-3 songs from each show as well as a Q&A with the actors starting at 5 pm sharp.
2. Radio City Rockettes, 1260 6th Avenue, Manhattan
If you want to see shows or concerts when visiting New York City in December, you have to see the Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes.
The show has been around for nearly a century but has been updated throughout the years to keep it fresh and relevant for modern audiences.
The 90-minute show is ideal for families with small kids with small attention spans and has over 140 performers is a mix of singing and dancing with a nice slice of comedy.
The crowning glory is always the Rockettes; these women train rigorously to be a part of the highly prestigious dance troupe.
Tickets are available from early November to early January, and shows are on multiple times throughout the day, get a ticket here.
The Rockettes also features in our NYC bucket list! How many things have you done?
3. Nutcracker Ballet, 20 Lincoln Plaza, Manhattan
Who doesn’t know the classic story of The Nutcracker?
You’ve probably seen a few local performances, but you haven’t really seen it until you’ve seen it at the New York City Ballet.
If you’re wondering what to do in New York in December, this has to go on your list.
Performed at the world-renowned, gorgeous Lincoln Center, this ballet has been performed at the New York City Ballet since 1954.
The magical world comes to life will delight viewers of all ages with the 90-minute performance.
The gigantic Christmas that grows from 12 to 41 feet, snowflakes fluttering down throughout the performance, and 150 beautifully hand-designed costumes will be a few of the lifelong memories the viewers will take home with them.
4. New York Botanical Garden’s Holiday Train Show, 2900 Southern Blvd, Bronx
Not only is the New York Botanical Garden a fantastic place to visit year-round, but every year at Christmastime, they bring out the Holiday Train Show and a new tradition, NYBG GLOW, some of the most incredible attractions in New York in December.
To see the Holiday Train Show, head to the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, where you’ll stay warm while looking at the 175+ miniature models of famous New York landmarks like the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center, and The Brooklyn Bridge.
The landmarks are created from natural materials like birch bark, lotus pods, pine cones, acorns, seeds, and cinnamon sticks, and it is mesmerizing to watch the model trains zip through.
Tickets are available from late November to late January.
If you’re prepared to brave NYC winter weather, you can get tickets to NYBG GLOW, an outdoor color and light experience.
For 25 select nights, you can wander through the NYBG at night and see it illuminated with color and magic for a 1.5-mile trail.
Eat, Drink, and Be Merry in New York at Christmas
If your itinerary for your NYC trip in December doesn’t include a slew of restaurants and bars that you have to go to… you’re going to miss the best part!
New York is known for its ever-changing food scene; a furniture shop can close on a Monday and become a taco spot by Friday.
You almost can’t go wrong in this city, but if you’re looking for a Christmassy vibe while you’re visiting New York in December, check these 8 spots out on your trip.
Staying in NYC until New Year’s Eve? Read this guide.
5. Serendipity 3, 225 E 60th St, Manhattan
Made famous by the 2001 film of the same name, Serendipity 3 has been a favorite location for something sweet for nearly 70 years with famed patrons such as Marilyn Monroe, Jacqueline Kennedy, and Andy Warhol.
Although it might not be what you initially picture having on a cold day in December in New York, their Frrrozen Hot Chocolate is the most well-known item on the menu.
They’ve also got classic American dishes and lots of other things to satisfy your sweet tooth too!
Its unassuming outside doesn’t compare with the color, fun, and whimsy you’re surrounded by once you step inside.
You can also purchase pints of ice cream that are inspired by their signature dishes like Salty Caramel Pretzel, Humble Pie, and Outrageous Banana Split.
6. Rolf’s Restaurant, 281 3rd Ave, Manhattan
There are a few different Christmas-themed restaurants in NYC during the winter season, but the best well-known one is Rolf’s Restaurant.
This authentic German restaurant has all of the classics on the menu that you’d expect: schnitzel, potato pancakes, bratwurst, and more to bring patrons in all year-round.
However, they’re the most popular at Christmas because they’re known for their over-the-top, ultra-elaborate decorations – they start decorating in September and keep the decor until springtime.
Whether you go here for a romantic date, a full meal or just to drop in for a drink, you can’t skip this spot on your NYC Christmas trip.
7. Snow Days NYC, 241 East 10th St, Manhattan or 7025 3rd Avenue, Brooklyn
Snow Days NYC aims to be everything you loved about having a snow day as a kid, but with a sweet twist.
Their shaved cream and mochi snowball desserts might not seem ideal on a cold day in NY in December, but you can keep your hands warm with their hot coffee and hot chocolates.
Plus, with 30 options for toppings, you can have a new creation every time that you go.
They’ve also got vegan and dairy-free options so everyone in your group can find something to suit them.
8. Eataly SERRA by Birreria, 200 5th Avenue, Manhattan
Eataly is a cultural institution in New York; it is part restaurant, part wine bar, part home store, part grocery store, and all * chef’s kiss* perfection.
On the rooftop of Eataly, you’ll find a SERRA by Birreria, a seasonally changing greenhouse restaurant that not only changes its decor to match the current season but also the entire food and drinks menu changes as well – all inspired by the Italian Countryside.
In 2020 it was transformed into a winter woodland with dishes like wild-boar ragù, blistered dumpling squash filled with fontina or taleggio, and braised leeks drizzled with balsamic on the menu.
You could honestly spend an entire day here wandering and shopping in Eataly and having a long, luxurious Italian-style meal in SERRA by Birreria.
9. Miracle on 9th Street, 649 East 9th Street, Manhattan
For most of the year, The Cabinet operates like any other bar.
But in December, it turns into Miracle on 9th Street, a winter wonderland filled with garlands, Christmas lights, ribbons, candles, and tinsel, and holiday carols galore.
Between the second week of November and just after New Year’s Day, you can indulge in a Christmas drink (or two) if you’re looking for Christmas things to do in NYC.
Make sure your phone is fully charged; this will definitely be one for the ‘gram.
For more unusual places to eat and drink, check out our unique NYC guide.
10. 230 Fifth Rooftop Igloo Bar, 230 5th Ave, Manhattan
New York weather for December can be pretty brutal, especially at night, but you don’t want to spend all your time indoors and miss the magic of the city.
Luckily, 230 Fifth Rooftop Igloo Bar has found the perfect solution with heated and transparent igloos so you can stay warm and toasty but also get a great view.
The igloos crop up in November and can accommodate up to 10 guests in each, so you can have a romantic date or a little dinner party – food and drink are allowed inside.
Stay cozy with their unique selection of hot drinks like caramel Irish coffee, pumpkin pie hot chocolate, and apple pie cider as you get into the holiday spirit.
11. Snowday in Brooklyn, 348 Wythe Ave, Brooklyn
Sunday in Brooklyn is a relatively unassuming bar year-round, but during the holiday season, the pop-up bar, Snowday in Brooklyn, makes an appearance to the delight of all who visit.
With decorations covering nearly every square inch, a fire roaring, cozy blankets to snuggle into, and of course, holiday-themed cocktails, you’ll want to make an appearance before they close at the end of December.
With cocktails like “Grinch, Don’t Kill My Vibe,” “Rum, Rum Rudolph,” and “Bad Krampus,” you know that this little bar is going to be packed, so making an online reservation or arriving early is the best way to guarantee a seat.
12. Haven Rooftop at The Sanctuary Hotel, 32 W 47th St, Manhattan
Ask any local where NOT to spend your time when visiting NYC in December, and Times Square will be high on that list.
However, exceptions can be made for Haven Rooftop at The Sanctuary; in the winter, they are enclosed and heated as well as decorated to reflect the season with a canopy of twinkling lights.
It’s a great place to get a view of the bright city lights, or get a relaxing meal before catching a Broadway show, or just find refuge from the cold without sacrificing any ambiance.
Gaze at the Amazing Christmas Lights
No matter what time of year it is, New York is always known for its bright lights but this city really knows how to light things up at Christmastime.
NYC begins to decorate for Christmas in November and by early December the city is a magical wonderland.
Anywhere you go while you’re in New York in December you’ll see lights, colors, and decorations celebrating the holiday season but there are a few spots that will make your jaw drop.
You may also visit our guide for ideas about outdoors activities in NYC.
13. Luminaries at Brookfield Place Winter Garden, 230 Vesey Street, Manhattan
Luminaries at Brookfield Place Winter Garden, which usually kick off around the end of November and finish in early January, is a great option to add to the list if you don’t know what to do in NYC in December.
The Winter Garden is a beautiful glass atrium where you can see amazing views of the Hudson River and the North Cove Marina and is a host to events year-round, like the Luminaries.
Every year the Luminaries light show kicks off at the beginning of December with live performances, free ice skating at the rink & lots of sweet treats to go around.
There are light shows at the top of every hour throughout the season, and three interactive Wishing Stations are active immediately after.
The Wishing Stations allow visitors to send a wish to the canopy of lanterns above, activating a magical display of lights and colors.
Brookfield Place donates $1 for every wish up to $25,000 to a pre-chosen charity.
14. Dyker Heights, Brooklyn
If you want to see the best Christmas lights in NYC, look no further than Dyker Heights.
The Christmas lights in this Brooklyn, NY neighborhood are infamous, and locals and tourists can help but visit every year to see what new tricks might make an appearance.
Lights start going up just after Thanksgiving, and they’re in full swing by mid-December from 11th to 13th Avenues from 83rd to 86th Street.
You can drive or walk through, but we recommend taking a tour to make sure you don’t miss anything; Dyker Heights Christmas Lights are famous for a reason, and you’ll want to see it all!
Just remember this is a residential neighborhood, and to be respectful of people’s homes.
Dyker Heights is also one of the nice places you can visit on Christmas day in NYC.
15. The Rockefeller Christmas Tree, 5 Rockefeller Plaza, Midtown
Is there a more iconic sight than the big New York Rockefeller Tree?
If you wanna see the giant Christmas tree all lit up in New York, you’ll need to visit between early December and early January.
The tree arrives in mid-November but isn’t lit until early December. The exact date for New York’s favorite tree lighting changes is always the Wednesday evening following Thanksgiving.
If you want to see the tree lighting in NYC this year, you’ll need to get there early; the event is top-rated, and people come from all over to see it happen.
While you’re there, take a spin around The Rink at Rockefeller to get right into the Christmas spirit!
Rockefeller itself is filled with shops, places to eat, and things to see, so when you’re starting to get too cold, head indoors to check it out, you can even take a tour of Rockefeller to learn all about it.
Go Shopping in the Fashion Capital of the World
People often wonder about all of the things to do in New York in December, but there is always one straightforward answer to that question: shopping!
You will be spoiled for choice: between gigantic department stores, hole-in-the-wall boutiques, or the infamous NYC Christmas holiday markets there will be plenty to find for everyone on your list and a few treats for you to take home too.
There isn’t a specific best time to visit New York City for Christmas shopping, but if you come at the end of November, you’ll arrive in time for the Black Friday sales and can continue shopping until you — or your wallet — can’t take it anymore.
To see the best of Fifth Ave and the surrounding area, you can take a tour like this one.
16. Macy’s, 34th Street & 6th Avenue, Manhattan
If you only know a few things about visiting NY in December, you know that you have to go to Macy’s.
From the second you arrive, there will be something to see; the window displays hail crowds all day long, and the inside is beautifully decorated too.
Macy’s Herald Square is the largest department store in the world (you may need to buy a whole new suitcase after spending an afternoon here), but it is also home to Santaland, 3,000-square-foot Christmas village holiday display means, yes, you can meet Santa.
Just like in Miracle on 34th Street, you can make your way up to Santa (located on the 8th floor) and walk through the Christmas village until you get a chance to sit on his knee and tell him what you want for Christmas.
Be sure to reserve your space online before you go; you can start booking your spot for the last week of November.
Once you’ve met Santa, make your way up to the 9th floor of the store for Holiday Lane, a glittery wonderland of mesmerizing Christmas trees and ornaments, accessories, and even toys.
You won’t be able to leave without one souvenir!
17. Christmas and the City, 142 Mulberry Street, Manhattan
In the middle of Little Italy sits the year-round Christmas store, Christmas and the City.
This place feels like a bit of the North Pole any time you visit with fully decorated themed trees, Mrs. Claus’ cafe serving pastries and warm drinks, and even a Christmas museum on the bottom floor.
If you’re looking for Christmas ornaments, treats, sweets, and more, this wonderland will fill check every box.
18. Saks Fifth Ave, 611 5th Ave, Manhattan
Across the street from the Rockefeller Christmas Tree is the luxury department store, Saks Fifth Avenue.
If your budget doesn’t match the price tag, it’s still worth visiting the themed window displays and light show that begins every year, starting around Thanksgiving.
The very famous 5-minute show runs every 10 minutes from about 4:35 pm to 11:35 pm and pulls Fifth Avenue to a complete stop with hoards of crowds stopping to watch it every single time.
Starting in 2004, the light show has changed and evolved in many ways, each year becoming a little more spectacular than the year past, making this one of the best New York Christmas light displays.
19. Bergdorf Goodman, 754 Fifth Avenue, Manhattan
A store is known for a hefty price tag attached to nearly everything inside; Bergdorf Goodman never disappoints when it comes to its window displays.
The window displays reflect the luxury inside, often with a mix of antique and couture and always with a relevant theme.
20. Bloomingdale’s, 1000 Third Avenue, Manhattan
Bloomingdale’s is a little off of the Fifth avenue stretch but well worth the short walk away.
The store sits between Third Ave and Lexington Ave, and while both sides have got something to see, the Lexington Avenue side is usually the more grandiose.
The store also usually has something a little interactive in its displays for a little extra fun.
21. Union Square Holiday Market, East 14th St, Manhattan
With over 300 local vendors, the Union Square Holiday Market is a great place to do some Christmas shopping, eat some tasty treats, or just stroll through for a browse.
If you’re looking for something one of a kind to give or the perfect souvenir for yourself, this eclectic market will definitely have it.
In recent years they’ve expanded to include new sections like Little Brooklyn and Urbanspace Provisions, a Warming Station, a Kid’s Arts Studio, live music, and more.
Union Square Park also features in our favorite New York City parks — check out the others, too!
22. Columbus Circle Holiday Market, Columbus Circle &, Central Park South, Manhattan
The Columbus Circle Holiday Market is perched at the entrance to Central Park, at 59th street and Central Park West.
It has long been known for its elegance with aisles of art, jewelry, home goods, and delicious eats from local artisans and designers.
Here you’ll find something to take home that is definitely off the beaten track but with that air of “Oh this? I got it in New York”.
After you’ve shopped and eaten as much as you can, you can quickly enter the park from its Southwest entrance; after all, Central Park in December is a must on the to-do list.
If you’re in Central Park in New York in December, you absolutely have to go skating on Wollman Rink; as iconic as it is in the films, you’ll not only have a blast but take in some great views at the same time.
For more ice rinks to visit in NYC, check this guide.
If you’re short on time and want to see as much of the markets as you can, take this tour to see all the best highlights.
23. Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park, 5th Avenue & 40th Street, Manhattan
Winter Village at Bryant Park is smack in the middle of Midtown and yet draws inspiration from traditional European, outdoor markets.
Each vendor is tucked into a semi-enclosed “jewel box” kiosk, leaving the pathways free for the patrons to wander and enjoy.
The crowning glory of the village is the ice skating rink – the only free admission one in the city – making it the perfect activity for your New York break in December, no matter what your budget is.
When you can’t feel your toes anymore, head into the Lodge to warm up and get some food and drinks, or reserve a private igloo ahead of time to stay cozy and still see the enchanting scenery.
24. Grand Central Holiday Fair, 89 E 42nd St, Manhattan
One of the most recognized buildings in New York City, Grand Central Terminal is a national landmark and one of the busiest train stations in America.
Aside from that, it also has boutique shops and restaurants, cocktail lounges, and even a gourmet market that draw in locals and visitors each day.
And during the Christmas season, they launch the Grand Central Holiday Fair and indoor fair that runs from mid-November to Christmas Eve with several dozens of traders and their “only in New York” products.
25. The Market at Westfield World Trade Center, 185 Greenwich St, Manhattan
Inside the Oculus lies The Market at Westfield World Trade Center, a pop-up winter wonderland designed to bring a little whimsy and magic to commuters and tourists.
The specialty shops have souvenirs, gifts, and snacks that are easy to grab and bring home. Be sure to take advantage of the scenery and snap a few pics for the ‘gram.
26. Grand Bazaar Holiday Market, 100 W 77th St, Manhattan
This Upper West Side institution only runs for a month – from around Thanksgiving to just before Christmas, but it gets a lot done in such a short amount of time.
The Grand Bazaar Holiday Market, the only market that is both indoors and outdoors with rotating merchants, is known for its quirky and unique finds like candles, vintage items, glassware, artisanal foods (and more!)
Plus, while you’re crossing items from your list supporting local artists and business owners, 100% of Grand Bazaar NYC’s profits are donated to four local public schools benefiting over 2,000 children.
Make a cup of hot chocolate, turn on Home Alone 2: Lost in New York or Elf, and light a Christmas-scented candle because your voyage to New York City this December is going to be one for the books.
While visions of sugar plums dance in your head as you dream about this once-in-a-lifetime trip be sure to mark down all of the amazing spots you’ll want to visit in real life.
If you’re looking to take a longer trip and visit NYC in the fall and stay through for Christmas, this guide has tons of ideas for fun things to do in New York in the fall.
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