Top Festive Things To Do in New York City in December
While New York might be on your bucket list all year round, New York City is a little extra special in December during the holidays! Since December is one of the most popular times to visit NYC, you will be learning the best things to do all from a local New Yorker – ME! Below, I cover the best things to do in New York City that are specifically special during the winter and December of 2023!
I will continue to update this guide as we get closer to the Holidays in NYC.
Planning to be in NYC on Christmas Day? Here are the best things to do in NYC on Christmas Day!
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
- Top Festive Things To Do in New York City in December
- 1. Rockefeller Center In December
- 2. Visit Saint Patrick’s Cathedral
- 3. NYC Saks 5th Avenue Christmas Lightshow
- 4. Radio City Music Hall
- 5. The Nutcracker New York City Ballet
- 6. Cartier Holiday Decorations
- 7. Bryant Park Winter Village (Bank of America)
- 8. NYC Holiday Window Displays
- 9. Central Park in December
- 10. Lotte Palace
- 11. Broadway Show
- 12. Washington Square Park
- 13. Union Square Christmas Market
- 14. Rolf’s Restaurant
- 15. Hudson Yards in December
- 16. Columbus Circle Holiday Cheer
- 17. Dyker Heights Christmas Lights
- 18. Igloos at 230 Fifth
- 19. Upper East Side Christmas Decorations
- 20. The Rooftop At Pier 17
- 21. Wall Street Christmas Tree & Stock Exchange
- 22. Holiday Train Show at the New York Botanical Garden
- 23. See Lightscape at The Brooklyn Botanic Garden
- 24. Experience Astra Lumina: An Enchanted Night Walk Amongst The Stars in Queens
- 25. New York City Cocoa and Carols Holiday Cruise
- 26. Join the Santacon Parade
- 27. Walk Down NYC 5th Avenue During the Holidays
- 28. FAO Schwarz at Rockefeller Center
- 29. See The Origami Holiday Tree at the American Museum of Natural History
- 30. Grand Central Holiday Fair 2023
- 31. Shop at The Oculus Holiday Market
- 32. Christmas Basketball Game
- 33. Holiday Football Game
- 34. Hockey at Madison Square Garden
- 35. New Year’s Eve in New York City
- 36. Explore Stone Street
- Tips For Visiting New York City in December
- NYC Best Things to Do in December Travel Guide: Wrap-Up
1. Rockefeller Center In December
Let’s start with the super festive things to do, and what’s more festive than Rockefeller Center?! Every year, a few weeks after Thanksgiving, Rockefeller Center does its epic Christmas tree lighting ceremony. People from all over the world come to the tree sparkle in the night sky!
Did you know the first Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree was in 1931? It was a 20 ft tree decorated by construction workers during the Depression.
The Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center is usually between 80-100 ft on average! Last year’s Christmas Tree was around 90 years old, 82 feet tall, 50 feet wide, and weighs about 14 tons.
While at Rockefeller Plaza, you can enjoy their little Christmas Market, Ice Skate under the Rockefeller Christmas tree at the Rink, and even go to “The Top of The Rock”(Top of Rockefeller Center Tower)! At the top of the Rock, view Manhattan’s epic skyline! It is easily one of the best things to do in NYC!
NYC Insider Tip: If you want to go to the Top of The Rock, I recommend getting tickets online in advance or getting one of the NYC Passes. The line can be long at all times of the year, and these specialty passes give you discounts on top NYC attractions, including the Empire State Building and The Edge. Go City Pass | New York City Pass | City Sightseeing Pass
How to Get There: To get to Rockefeller Center, take the subway line B, D, F, or M train to the 47-50th Street Rockefeller Center stop. You can also take the 1 train to 50th. Uber, Lyft, and NYC Taxis can also get you there.
2. Visit Saint Patrick’s Cathedral
Right across the street from the Rockefeller Christmas Tree, you will find the stunning Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. While the Cathedral is popular to see year-round, a visit during the holidays makes a visit a little extra special. This impressive cathedral opened in 1879, and you can even attend mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Christmas day.
Address: 5th Ave, New York, NY 10022
3. NYC Saks 5th Avenue Christmas Lightshow
After visiting Rockefeller Center, make sure to check out Saks 5th Ave. light show! It starts at around 5 pm (Sundown) and does the entire light show about every 10-15 minutes.
If there is any NYC store you visit for holiday decorations, let it be this one. Seriously, they have the best Christmas decorations in NYC! You will be able to see it from the Rockefeller Center.
Saks 5th Avenue is located at 611 5th Ave, New York, NY 10022. You can take the same train lines as Rockefeller Center to get here.
4. Radio City Music Hall
Another one of the best things to do in New York City during December is visiting Radio City Music Hall. Radio City Christmas Spectacular to see the Rockettes dance the night away is on most NYC winter bucket lists! But even if you don’t go to the show, make sure to check out the Radio City Christmas tree decorations!
The Rockettes have performed at Radio City Music Hall in Manhattan, New York City, since 1932. If you plan on seeing the Rockettes perform, make sure to get your tickets well in advance!
Radio City Music Hall is also where you will find the iconic giant red Christmas Ornaments and a decorative court. While visiting, there are usually vendors selling all types of goodies, including bags, wallets, and paintings.
Radio City Music Hall is located right by the Rockefeller Tree.
Address: 260 6th Ave, New York, NY 10020
5. The Nutcracker New York City Ballet
Another classic experience during the holiday season and another best thing to do during the month of December in NYC is watching the Nutcracker. The performance is at the David H. Koch Theater (Lincoln Center), and the performance is of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker this year, 2023.
Make sure to get your tickets in advance since this sells out quickly! They have just gone live on September 25th, 2023. Find tickets for the Nutcracker here.
NYC Fun Fact: The first production of the Nutcracker by George Balanchine was in 1954, in New York City and has been an annual holiday tradition ever since.
6. Cartier Holiday Decorations
If you love holiday decorations, make sure to add the NYC Cartier Building to your winter itinerary! The building does fun Christmas holiday lights every year, which makes it a very photo-worthy spot. You will also be right near Saks 5th Ave. The below Christmas decoration photos are from 2021 and 2019.
The address to see the Cartier holiday decorations is 653 5th Ave, New York, NY 10022
7. Bryant Park Winter Village (Bank of America)
A stop at the Bank of America Winter Village hosted at Bryant Park is a NYC must in December! The Bryant Park Winter Village is likely one of the best Christmas Markets in NYC. They offer tons and tons of holiday shops and food!
Bryant Park also does a Christmas tree lighting ceremony and has an ice rink to enjoy. If the Rink at Rockefeller Center is too busy for you, consider hitting the ice here! It is also one of the only free ice skating rinks in NYC if you have your own skates.
While visiting the Bank of America Winter Village, make sure to check out The Lodge Bar + Food Hall. You will find the most delicious Chimney Cakes with hot chocolate, among other delicious treats!
You can also enjoy their “Cozy Igloos,” right in the heart of Byrant Park. You do need to make a reservation in advance, and it allows for 90 minutes to enjoy! To learn more about these epic igloos and to make a reservation, click here!
NYC Tip: While in the area, you can also check out the New York Public Library (if open).
Address: Bryant Park is located in Midtown between Fifth Ave. and Ave. of the Americas and between 40th and 42nd St.
8. NYC Holiday Window Displays
If you find yourself in New York City in December, visiting the top department store window displays is a must!
Some of the best window displays are Saks Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf Goodman, Macy’s, and Bloomingdales. Make sure to also walk down 5th Avenue for all the designer storefronts as well to get in the full holiday spirit!
NYC Fun Fact: Did you know Macy’s was the first retail store in NYC to do Holiday window displays?
Address: 151 W 34th St, New York, NY 10001
9. Central Park in December
No New York City List is complete without Central Park being on it; December is no exception! If you are lucky, you might even have the chance to visit Central Park when it snows, making the whole park a winter wonderland.
Some places to visit in Central Park include Bow Bridge, Bethesda Terrace and Fountain, and ice skating at the famous Wollman Rink from the movie Serendipity. After, you can even sip on hot chocolate at Serendipity 3!
Furthermore, you may even be able to attend the Central Park Holiday Lighting! This usually happens at the beginning of December, and it is totally free to enjoy. During the event, they have Santa and friends, hot cocoa, music, and even a flotilla of Christmas trees dazzling over the water! I will update this when the event date becomes available!
10. Lotte Palace
The hotel itself is also supposed to be absolutely beautiful if you are looking for somewhere to stay during the Christmas season!
Address: 455 Madison Ave, New York, NY 10022
11. Broadway Show
Escape the NYC winter weather and head over to a Broadway Show. It’s one of the most iconic things to do while visiting New York City, and what better time than in December since it’s likely freezing (or as us New Yorkers might say, “BRICK OUT”)!
You can purchase tickets for a show ahead of time, or try your luck walking up to the office or visiting the TKTS Ticket Booth in Times Square. If you want to be specific about where you will be sitting, it will be best to purchase in advance. Seeing a Broadway play is also one of the best things to do in NYC at night!
12. Washington Square Park
If you love Christmas trees and famous NYC landmarks, you will also want to add Washington Square Park to your New York City December itinerary!
Not only is Washington Square Park free to visit, but it is also located in the quaint neighborhood of Greenwich Village (West Village).
They also put up a Christmas tree under the famous arch, making the square look pretty magical! If you happen to be in NYC on Christmas Eve, you can even watch them carol by the tree.
Visiting this Christmas tree in December will be one of the less touristy areas in New York.
Address: Washington Square, New York, NY 10012
13. Union Square Christmas Market
On your way to or from Washington Square Park, you can also consider stopping by the Union Square Holiday Market. Their Christmas Market usually starts mid-November – December 24th. They have over 180 vendors in this European-style outdoor market with a variety of goodies. They have even been considered one of the best holiday markets in the United States!
Since this is located in Union Square, you can take a variety of train lines to get here, as it is one of the transport hubs!
Address: 14th st, New York, NY 10011
14. Rolf’s Restaurant
Looking for the ultimate NYC holiday-themed restaurant? Rolf’s is a German restaurant decked out with holiday cheer!
It’s as if the Grinches bag of all the stolen decorations exploded here, but in the best way! Expect large crowds here as it is extremely popular to visit in December. Also, make sure to make your reservation in advance!
If you love Christmas-decorated bars and restaurants, you may also want to check out Lillie’s Victorian Establishment, Oscar Wilde NYC, and Miracle on 9th Street Pop-up Bar.
Address: 281 3rd Ave, New York, NY 10010
15. Hudson Yards in December
Hudson Yards is New York City’s newest playground! Some top attractions include the Vessel, a huge honeycomb-like structure standing at 154 ft high.
Likely the most exciting attraction, The Edge, one of NYC’s newest and highest outdoor sky decks on the West Hemisphere!
Then, of course, there is top-of-the-line shopping, and they deck it out with Christmas decorations, making it a must-visit during your NYC December itinerary! The Shine Bright lights are easily some of the best Christmas lights to experience in New York City.
There are often pop-up holiday markets at the Hudson Yards as well. From the Hudson Yards, you can stroll the High Line to the Chelsea Markets for some great food and more Christmas decorations.
Address: The Shops and Restaurants at Hudson Yards, New York, NY 10001
16. Columbus Circle Holiday Cheer
Another one of the best places to visit in NYC in December is The Shops at Columbus Circle. Not only do they have excellent shopping, but they also deck out the inside with Christmas lights. It is also a great place to warm up from the cold weather of New York streets.
So enjoy some Christmas lights, shopping, and food. Columbus Circle is located right next to Central Park!
Oh, and did I mention The Shops at Columbus Circle will also be hosting their second annual Broadway Under The Stars?
This is a free concert with live performances that will be held on Mondays from November 13 to December 11. Some performances you can expect are Wicked and Chicago. See the showing dates here.
Additionally, outside of the shopping plaza is the Columbus Circle Holiday Market. Here, you will find more festive season holiday treats and shopping for all the holiday vibes right outside the famous Central Park.
Address: 10 Columbus Circle New York, NY 10019
17. Dyker Heights Christmas Lights
Dyker Heights, Brooklyn, is not in Manhattan, but if you have extra time, I would definitely check out the Christmas lights here!
During December, the homes of Dkyer Heights, Brooklyn, go into a Christmas lights battle royal where each house goes above and beyond, making the ultimate Christmas spectacle!
The best time to enjoy the Dyker Heights Christmas lights with fewer crowds is at the beginning of December, however, all the houses might not be lit up. For the best light show, mid-December is better, but, the crowds are much, much larger!
The lights go on at Sundown (about 5 PM) and end around 10ish (when homeowners go to bed). For the best lights, travel around 11th Ave. to 13th Ave. and from 83rd to 86th Street.
If you are traveling from NYC, you can take the R, N, and D trains. From there, it’s about a 20-30 minute walk from the surrounding train stations to get to the lights.
(IMO) The best way to get here is actually by car since it is usually very cold during the winter months (especially at night). You can expect the temperatures to be around 40 degrees Fahrenheit to below 32 degrees. If you don’t have a car, the next best option is to do one of the many Dyker Heights Christmas tours.
A Dyker Heights tour, of course, will be the most informative and know the best houses to bring you to!
18. Igloos at 230 Fifth
Want to experience a trendy dining option? 230 FIFTH is NYC’s largest outdoor Rooftop Garden that has been outfitted with 17 heated Igloos for dining on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
It is one of the most popular NYC rooftop bars to visit during December for its epic view of the Empire State Building and, of course, the igloos.
The Igloos are now on a first-come-first-served basis, however, if you know you’re going with a large group and want an igloo, they can be reserved. For more info on experiencing their igloos, head to Igloos at 230 Fifth here!
Address: 230 5th Ave 21st Floor, New York, NY 10001
19. Upper East Side Christmas Decorations
December is the month of all things Christmas in NYC, so it only makes sense to tell you about more places to see Christmas decorations. A stroll around the Upper East Side (UES) will surely fit the bill!
Each year, the beautiful brownstones around the UES go all out in decorations. Check 78th Street and walk around. One of my favorites last December was at E 64th Street between 5th and Madison.
Throughout the UES, you will find plenty of beautiful Christmas decorations, from storefronts to people’s homes!
20. The Rooftop At Pier 17
Another great place to enjoy the holidays in New York is at Pier 17, located in The Seaport. Every year, they turn The Rooftop into a winter wonderland.
These trendy glass cabins fit 2-10 people and offer seasonal drinks and dishes. You will also be treated to beautiful skyline views with the Brooklyn Bridge in the background. Since the Rooftop is very popular in December, you will want to make reservations in advance. Rooftop at Pier 17 reservations here!
The Seaport also puts up a beautiful Christmas Tree every year!
Address: 89 South St, New York, NY 10038
21. Wall Street Christmas Tree & Stock Exchange
If you’re a huge fan of Christmas Trees, you won’t want to miss the tree on Wall Street at the Stock Exchange located in lower Manhattan. This year will be the 99th annual lighting celebration!
They are located in front of the New York Stock Exchange at the corner of Wall and Broad Streets.
Address: 11 Wall Street New York, NY 10005
22. Holiday Train Show at the New York Botanical Garden
Another favorite NYC event in December happens at the New York Botanical Garden. They are going into the 32nd year of their model trains that travel through over 190 famous NYC landmark replicas!
After the sun goes down, you can enjoy their NYBG GLOW, where the garden gets lit up with stunning Christmas light decorations. Additionally, they have brought back the popular Bar Car Nights which are for guests 21+ to enjoy drinks in the enchanting gardens.
Presale tickets usually happen sometime in September. The Holiday Train Show will start November 17, 2023, until January 15, 2024. Find tickets to the New York Botanical train show here!
Address: 2900 Southern Boulevard Bronx, NY 10458-5126
23. See Lightscape at The Brooklyn Botanic Garden
Another incredible garden to experience in December is The Brooklyn Botanic Garden Lightscape! Some consider it “NYC’s most Dazzling light show!” This year, they will be even more immersive, with enchanting lights covering the garden!
The event will happen from November 17, 2023, to January 1, 2024, and tickets are already available for purchase directly on the Brooklyn Botanic Garden website.
24. Experience Astra Lumina: An Enchanted Night Walk Amongst The Stars in Queens
A unique experience coming to Queens this December is the Astra Lumina. With unique and immersive lights and projections, walk through the Queens Botanical Garden with its celestial pathway!
The experience lasts about an hour, and you can get tickets now!
Address: Queens Botanical Garden, 42-80 Crommelin Street, Flushing, NY 11355
25. New York City Cocoa and Carols Holiday Cruise
Want to experience December in NYC from a different perspective? Hop on one of New York City’s holiday cruises to get into the holiday spirit! Not only will you be able to see the skyline from the water, but the boat will have the halls decked in Christmas decorations, a live jazz band, carolers, and even Christmas cookies to nibble on!
26. Join the Santacon Parade
Ever wonder what it would be like to participate in a New York City Parade? Join thousands of people parading through Manhattan wearing Santa Claus costumes. The event is actually a charitable event, and to just wear a Santa Hat is considered “lame.” Therefore, they want you to be fully in the holiday spirit and dressed from head to toe.
The 2023 date has not been announced yet, but it is usually the second Saturday of December (12/9/2023), but the festivities start at 10 AM, and the start location is announced about a week before the event. You can learn more and get your ticket here to have access to the official Santacon venues. This is an over-21-year-old event, although Santas in training can still come, however, they can’t go into the participating bars.
27. Walk Down NYC 5th Avenue During the Holidays
A new tradition in NYC that started in December is shutting down part of 5th Avenue so pedestrians can walk and enjoy the holidays. This is great news for anyone visiting New York City, although maybe not as great for the ridiculous traffic the city already has. Nonetheless, make sure to strut down the Avenue, as this never happens!
28. FAO Schwarz at Rockefeller Center
Probably one of the most famous toy stores in New York City goes to FAO Schwarz, and while the original store is no longer open, a new one is now located in Rockefeller Center for all to enjoy!
If you’re traveling with children, this is a fun place to stop with bigger-than-life toys and a New York tradition.
Address: 30 Rockefeller Plaza New York, New York 10111
29. See The Origami Holiday Tree at the American Museum of Natural History
Heading to any of the New York City museums in December is a great way to warm up from the cold, but if you’re looking for something a little more in the Christmas spirit, head to the American Museum of Natural History!
Each year, they traditionally do an origami Holiday tree that consists of over 1,000 origami decorations. You can visit their holiday tree for free with admission to the museum and it is located in the Grand Gallery on the first floor.
Every year, the tree has a different theme, making the tree unique each year. Last year, the theme was beautiful bugs. The tree is usually put up just before Thanksgiving and stays up until mid-January.
Address: 200 Central Park West New York, NY 10024-5102
30. Grand Central Holiday Fair 2023
Another great spot to drop by during a visit to New York City in December is Grand Central Terminal! If you’re lucky enough to be visiting between November 13th to December 24th, you will have the opportunity to experience the longest-running indoor fair in the city; the Grand Central Holiday Fair!
You can enjoy browsing, shopping, and even tasting your way through this iconic landmark thanks to the 40 local vendors offering a variety of goods.
Plus, Grand Central puts up some Christmas decorations, and it is one of the most iconic landmarks in New York!
Hours: Monday – Saturday: 10 AM – 7 PM; Sunday: 11 AM – 6 PM; Christmas Eve: 10 AM – 6 PM.
Address: Vanderbilt Hall: Grand Central Terminal 89 E 42nd Street New York, NY 10017
31. Shop at The Oculus Holiday Market
Speaking of holiday markets, another great market to drop by is at the Oculus at Westfield World Trade Center. Not only is this one of the coolest transport hubs and shopping malls, but it also has a pop-up indoor Christmas Market and Displays.
For those 3 reasons, this is another great place to visit during December in New York City!
Address: 185 Greenwich Street New York, New York 10007
32. Christmas Basketball Game
If you want to warm up on a cold December night in NYC, head to Madison Square Garden to catch the New York Knicks play! Or you can even head to Brooklyn and watch the Brooklyn Nets play at the Barclays Center.
Although it doesn’t always feel holiday-themed, it is a fun experience if you are interested in basketball!
33. Holiday Football Game
Speaking of sports, the NFL will also be in full swing with the New York Jets and the New York Giants. If you don’t mind braving the cold to watch a home game for one of New York’s football teams, this can be another fun thing to do in December!
The games happen at METLIFE Stadium in New Jersey. Just check the schedule beforehand! The Jets are even playing on Christmas Eve at home.
34. Hockey at Madison Square Garden
Or, if you’ve dreamed of making it inside Madison Square Garden for a Hockey Game, this is a great time to do it! Treat yourself and see the New York Rangers hit the puck around while still being able to stay relatively warm on a cold December night in New York!
The Rangers have a handful of at-home games throughout December to catch! You can find game times and tickets on the Rangers official website.
35. New Year’s Eve in New York City
As a local New Yorker, you will never find me waiting for the ball to drop in Times Square for NYE, however, there are always thousands of people every year. To be honest, it’s generally pretty cold in NYC during December, especially NYE, so standing out in the cold for hours is not always comfortable.
I would suggest checking out one of the many bars, restaurants, etc, that are having NYE events to watch the ball drop!
36. Explore Stone Street
Not only is Stone Street known as one of the oldest streets in New York City, making it a must-see in itself, this pedestrian-only street is known to have holiday pop-ups in December.
Wander down the cobblestoned street and embrace one of the most enchanting areas of NYC with pop-up Christmas bars, igloos, and decorations!
Tips For Visiting New York City in December
Now that you know some of the best things to do in NYC in December, here are some travel tips to keep in mind for your visit!
Weather: December is generally a very cold month in NYC. Make sure to pack layers that are easy to take off; think of items that zip. Inside shops and restaurants it will be hot! Here is my Ultimate NYC Winter Packing List.
You can expect average New York temperatures in December to be a High of 44° F and a Low of 31° F. Also note, it doesn’t snow much in December, but it can rain while still being cold.
Prices: New York City in December is a very desirable time to visit. Therefore, prices tend to be much higher during this month. Make sure to book accommodations, restaurant reservations, and event tickets in advance.
Crowds: Expect crowds during December in NYC. As stated above, this is one of the most popular times to visit the city. The crowds can even feel overwhelming at Rockefeller Center. If you still want to feel Christmas vibes with fewer crowds, book your trip more towards the beginning of December.
Don’t Forget: To try hot chocolate around the city! This is one of the best times to indulge in hot cocoa!
NYC Best Things to Do in December Travel Guide: Wrap-Up
This covers some of the top things to do during the holidays in New York City, specifically in December! For additional New York travel tips, find helpful resources below!
Have any questions about any of these top things to do in NYC in December? Let me know in the comments below, or send me a DM or email, and I will do my best to help you out!