How to Spend Christmas in New York

There’s few cities on earth quite as unique as New York. But when it comes to Christmas? Well, New York comes alive on a whole new level.

The city that never sleeps is amazing to visit all year round, but there’s nothing quite like it during the festive season. From over-the-top displays to gigantic Christmas trees and ice-skating opportunities galore, the spirit of Christmas shines brighter than ever in the weeks leading up to Christmas and for some time after.

If you’re thinking of visiting New York at Christmas take a look at all the things you need to tick off your to-do list right here. Your Christmas adventure to New York will be nothing short of iconic!

When to go

Christmas in New York is something everyone should experience at least once, and there’s plenty of time to squeeze a city break in there in the weeks leading up to Christmas and after it. 

The festivities begin to take shape from mid November right through to early January, with certain events taking place on different dates. The Rockefeller Tree lighting ceremony for example, usually takes place on the last day of November. 

Christmas time in New York is considered a high season for the city, so you can expect crowds from November right through to January. It’s also important to remember that the American holiday of Thanksgiving is on the fourth Thursday of November each year, so you can expect things to be significantly busier then, too. 

No matter when you go during these weeks, you’re sure to have a fabulous time. Enjoy Thanksgiving celebrations like a local by going in November, nab some Christmas shopping bargains before Christmas in early December, or celebrate Christmas in style in the lead up to New Year. The choice is yours!

Shop ‘til you drop

Some would argue there’s no better shopping spree in the world like in New York. With each neighborhood having its own distinct shopping opportunities, there’s pretty much nothing you won’t be able to find amongst the thousands of stores available. 

From world-renowned brands to smaller boutiques and cool shops you can only find in this city, New York is a shopper’s paradise. And what better time is there to take advantage of such retail therapy than in the lead up to Christmas?

Find unique gifts for your loved ones at home or treat yourself to that bit of sparkle that caught your eye. If you’re heading there after Christmas, there’s no better place in the world to spend your Christmas money! 

Not only that, but the shops in NYC are an experience in themselves. In fact, the stores here come to life in a way you almost couldn’t imagine. You’ll find out-of-this-world decorations inviting you in, before you even step foot through the door!

Some stores even turn their windows in to full displays and attractions over Christmas – Barney’s, Bloomingdales, and Sak’s Fifth Avenue being some of our favourites.

And, you simply have to visit the oldest and most recognised department store during your visit – Macy’s. Spanning an amazing 11 floors, this store has everything you could possibly imagine. Make sure you visit Macy’s Santaland and the insta-worthy Holiday Lane on the 9th floor. You’ll have seen nothing like it! 

See the sights

Sight-seeing is taken to a whole new level when it comes to the Big Apple. And visiting at Christmas time, you can be sure your visits to all the usual sights will be even more amazing than usual, as everywhere in the city goes the extra mile during the festive season!

There are simply so many must-see spots – taking it all in at Times Square, making your way to the top of the Empire State Building, standing inside the impressive walls of Grand Central Station, and not forgetting Lower Manhattan gems like the famous Statue of Liberty and the One World Trade Center. 

We’d fully recommend trying to plan your days in advance with a mini itinerary of all the things you’d like to see and do, and doing your best to organise tickets in advance. That way, you can rest easy knowing things are sorted – leaving you more time to enjoy yourself once actually in the city! 

Christmas markets

Who doesn’t love a good Christmas market? There’s just something about them that makes you instantly feel festive!

The Christmas markets in New York, like everything else in this superb city, are nothing short of spectacular, and you can spend blissful hours wandering around them to your heart’s content. 

You’ll find various ones popping up all over the city, in varying sizes – from the gigantic offerings at Union Square Holiday market to the smaller but no less impressive Grand Central Terminal market.

Take your pick of handmade crafts and clothing, delicious sweet and savoury treats, and even  commemorative Christmas decorations. You simply have to buy a bauble to hang on your tree back home! 

Ice skating

Is there any more iconic festive scene than ice skating in New York? That’s one to tick off the bucket list, surely!

Wrap up in your best hat, scarf and gloves and hit one of the (many!) ice skating rinks that pop up all over the city. Hand in hand with your loved one, looking around at snowy scenes, gliding across the fresh ice – could it get any more magical?

The most famous ice rinks to attend have to be the one at Rockefeller Center and of course, the one in Central Park. But there are plenty of other, smaller ones dotted around the city that you can go to, too.

The rinks are always extremely popular so you can expect them to be quite busy, less so in November but especially in the month of December. We’d always advise to book your sessions ahead of time to save wasting time in unnecessary queues, especially when it’s rather nippy!

See a show!

An absolute ‘must’ no matter what time of year you visit New York – you simply must make time to see a show. Get ready to see dazzling dancers, superb singers and powerful performances – a Broadway Show should be on everyone’s bucket list!

You won’t be short on amazing performances to choose from – with special shows being added to the schedule especially for over the holiday season too! 

The most famous show you can see is likely the Christmas Spectacular featuring the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall – or if classical music is more your thing, then there are also multiple renditions of The Nutcracker by the one and only New York City Ballet. On top of that you’ll discover Christmas themed musicals, and so much more! 

Take some time before your trip to see what’s on during your stay, and book tickets and seats in advance, as most shows sell out around this busy time of year. We can guarantee a show will be one of the highlights of your trip! 

Stroll through Central Park

You must have been expecting this one – you can’t come to New York without having a stroll through Central Park!

If you’re an animal lover, a trip to the Central Park Zoo is a must, where you’ll spot furry friends from snow monkeys to sea lions, and puffins to penguins! 

Or if you’re a film and TV fan, have fun recreating the scenes from iconic Christmas movies like Home Alone 2 and Elf, or feel like a member of ‘Friends’, being in the exact spot where the show was set! 

As we’ve already said, the ice rink here is pretty iconic, so boot up and get gliding around the ice – or simply enjoy the views of Wollman Rink if you’d rather stay stationary! There are often carolers in the park leading up to and around Christmas, making for a fantastically festive atmosphere. After all, everyone knows ‘the best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear!’

And, if you’re lucky enough to catch New York leading up to a white Christmas, you’ll see how simply stunning the park looks with a fresh layer of snow decorating each and every tree branch. It’s equally as beautiful on a dry, crisp, winter’s day too – you’ll soon forget you’re surrounded by one of the busiest cities on earth. 

Have your own Home Alone moment

For an iconic Christmas experience in New York, you simply have to visit the Rockefeller Center, and more precisely, the Rockefeller Tree! 

Feel the same joy Kevin Mcallister did as you finally get to gaze up at the enormous and beautifully lit Christmas tree located between 5th and 6th avenue. It’s truly a sight to behold! 

You could even time your trip perfectly to be there for the official light switch on of the tree, which is usually around the end of November. It’s an amazing experience to be part of the huge crowd that gathers, counting down together and witnessing what many think of as the official start of the Christmas season! 

Afterwards, you can go ice skating here or take a scenic stroll along all the shops at 5th Avenue, taking in the beautiful displays of each and every one. This area really shows you that no other city in the world quite celebrates Christmas like in New York!

Ready for new experiences in New York?

We’re feeling festive already! If Christmas-time in New York sounds like your idea of heaven, then take a look at our best deals right here, or use our handy search tool to find the best prices for your dates!