If you’re wondering where to go for a Christmas vacation, is there anywhere more legendary than New York? When thinking of the best things to do in New York City at Christmas, most people envision the Rockefeller tree, ice skating, the Rockettes, and shopping…all things that no holiday itinerary would be complete without. In this blog post, I’m going to guide you through the touristy and not-so-touristy things you can do to have the best Christmas in the Big Apple.
Christmas in New York City is more than just an unforgettable experience…it’s a feeling. Between the holiday markets, decorated bars and shops, and city lights glistening on the snow, it just feels magic. I know…how cliché could I be?! But really, it does. Keep reading to learn the best things to do in New York City at Christmas and experience the magic for yourself.
But first, let me answer the question you’re probably dreading to ask:
Is Christmas in New York City as Insane as I Think It Is?
The short answer is an overwhelming YES. If you hate crowds, this might not be the place for you. If you don’t remember to make reservations weeks (or even months) in advance, this might not be the place for you either. But is New York City at Christmas something you NEED to experience? ……probably.
Listen, I’m not here to tell you what to do. Or maybe I am. Regardless, I feel like everyone should visit New York at Christmas at LEAST once. If nothing else, fighting through crowds of people in freezing cold weather when you haven’t gotten to pee for the last 2 hours builds character. (And trust me, there are plenty of decorations to distract yourself.)
Some Tips to Combat The Christmas Craziness
I promise you, NOTHING I say will negate the fact that there are people everywhere, everything is busy, and you will ALWAYS have to wait. But, here are some suggestions that MIGHT give you some relief:
- Stay in a hotel or AirBNB somewhere other than Manhattan. I stayed in Brooklyn when I went, and it was less crowded. Plus, your hotel/AirBNB will likely be cheaper. Just know that you will have potentially longer travel times to where you are wanting to go.
Although Manhattan is the epicenter of NYC, Brooklyn has fun things to do to celebrate the holidays too! Check out the following posts for things to do in Brooklyn during Christmas:
13 Awesome Things to do in Brooklyn During the Holidays
Guide to Christmas in Brooklyn
The Dyker Heights Christmas Lights Guide
- If you really want to stay in Manhattan, pay a little extra to stay as close to the things you want to do as possible. This will help cut down on transportation time.
- Rely on the subway more than Uber. Download the CityMapper app to help guide you through the train station (bonus: NYC subway system runs 24/7!)
- Make. Reservations. In. Advance. – and get there early.
- Visit NYC during the week (as opposed to the weekend) when people still have to work
Website Disclaimer: I visited New York City during the 2022 holiday season. Although everything is accurate as of the publication of this post, it is important to keep in mind that prices, attractions, and other things may change with time.
Things to do in New York City at Christmastime
This list that I have compiled has some traditional suggestions that you’ve probably heard a million times, as well as some not-so-traditional ones that will keep you warm and help you enjoy the city, all while putting you in the holiday spirit.
The Typical Must-Do Suggestions
The Rockefeller Christmas Tree
Address: 45 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10111
Let’s get the tourist traps out of the way, shall we? The Rockefeller tree is beautiful, enormous, and is the one thing that people will probably ask if you saw when visiting New York at Christmastime. So, you have to see it. I would recommend going at night to really get the “wow” factor of it being all lit up.
The Rockefeller Tree sits in Rockefeller Plaza and draws millions of visitors each year. It is one of the longest-running NYC traditions at Christmastime, and therefore, a must-do. But be warned: there will be crowds. Bring your camera, your patience, and don’t expect to get a photo without a ton of people in the background.
If you really want to get the hardcore New York City Christmas experience, the city has the annual tree lighting ceremony every year during the Wednesday following Thanksgiving. There are celebrity performances, and hundreds of thousands of people watch as the tree is lit up to signify the start of the Christmas holiday. I have never done this, but I’m envisioning New Years Eve in NYC, except on a smaller scale. If this is too overwhelming for you (and tbh, it would be for me), you can always tune in to the live ceremony on NBC each year.
See the Red Ornaments on the Avenue of the Americas
Another famous NYC Christmas symbol is the cluster of red ornaments on top of a fountain across from Radio City Music Hall. The ornaments are located on 6th Avenue, otherwise known as the “Avenue of the Americas.” These not only make for a great photo op, but they are right near Times Square, so you can hop from 6th Ave to arguably the most famous epicenter in all of NYC. Which brings me to my next point….
Check Out Times Square & the Radio City Rockettes
As many times as I have been to New York City, I always get excited to see Times Square. People either love it or avoid it like the plague (because, well, people). If you’ve seen Times Square and have no interest in seeing a show, this is something you could definitely skip (but if you still want to see it anyway for the “wow factor,” go ahead. I won’t judge you 😊.)
It should be noted that Times Square really doesn’t look any different at Christmastime than it does any other time of the year. But in terms of holiday spirit, the biggest draw to this area is, of course, The Christmas Spectacular starring the Radio City Rockettes. Year after year, this show ranks as one of the top-rated shows in New York City and is the perfect excuse to brave the crowds of Times Square if seeing a Broadway show is on your holiday must-do list.
You already know New York City is famous for its shopping scene, and Christmas is the perfect excuse to really get to experience it for yourself.
Name-Brands You Know and Love
Right across from the Rockefeller Tree (on W 50th Street) is an Anthropologie store with a gorgeous holiday window display, and FAO Schwarz, the iconic children’s toy store, is the next street over on 49th. For a complete list of shops near Rockefeller Center, click on this link.
The Rockefeller Plaza is also right near 5th Avenue, New York’s most famous shopping street. A lot of the storefronts are decorated for Christmas, and it is fun to walk down and look at everything all lit up. Contrary to what some may think, not all the stores on 5th Avenue are unaffordable designer boutiques. To see a complete list of 5th Ave. shops as of 2022, click here.
Another great shopping destination is Macy’s at Herald Square. With its staggering 8 levels of shopping, it is the largest department store in the world. On the 8th floor, they have created Santaland – a winter village complete with Santa Claus at the end that children will love. For more information about Santaland, check out this website here.
If you’re looking for something that’s largely indoors, The Shops at Columbus Circle is about a 9 minute subway ride from Rockefeller Center. Click the link to view their list of shops, along with restaurants on the 4th floor. If none of the restaurants sound like something you desire, there are also restaurants and bakeries across the street (Le Pain Quotidien, Magnolia Bakery, and Farinella Pizza, to name a few!).
Boutiques & Smaller Shops
NYC has countless small boutique shops where you can really find a lot of unique gifts. My favorite place to boutique shop in the city is in the SoHo area. Some of my favorites include:
- 12th Tribe (a new boutique with chic outfits for every occasion) – view their website here
- & Other Stories (clothing brand based out of Paris, Stockholm, and Los Angeles) – view their website here
- Free People (okay, I know this isn’t necessarily a boutique, but FP is my favorite name-brand, and I can’t go without mentioning their SoHo location. I have always found something every time I go in.) – view their website here
Gifts for Yourself
BITE Lip Lab
BITE Beauty – a brand focused mainly on lip products – has created the opportunity to customize your own lipstick. The lip lab employees help you create a shade using 1 of 4 finishes (matte, satin, luminous, or sheer), and you get to watch the process of your lipstick being made right in front of you. You can even add a scent and name the shade whatever you want! If you love your new lipstick but don’t live near a Lip Lab, you are able to reorder your shade online and have it shipped to you.
I did this when I visited their Los Angeles location a few years ago, and the lipstick I created is still one of my favorite shades that I wear. At present time, BITE has 9 lip labs, including locations in Paris and Canada. For more information, check out their website here.
- Note: While Bite Beauty has announced they are going out of business in 2022, their Lip Labs will remain open, according to Global Cosmetics News
Have you ever wanted to create a perfume to be uniquely your own? Olfactory NYC lets you have this experience. Starting with one of their 9 core scents, you are able to experiment with and add new perfume notes to make it exactly what you desire. They have scent experts to help you along the way, and you are also able to re-order your perfume online once you run out. The chemistry nerd in me was SCREAMING.
Olfactory NYC has 2 locations: one in Nolita, and one in West Village. Reservations are not required, but are definitely recommended, especially during this time of the year. To make reservations, explore scent options, and more, check out Olfactory NYC’s website here.
Check Out the Christmas-Themed Bars
Oscar Wilde NYC
Address: 45 W 27th St, New York, NY 10001
Oscar Wilde is a Victorian-themed bar in the heart of the Flatiron District, where bartenders in eccentrically era-appropriate suits and top hats serve you some of the best cocktails in Manhattan. When I tell you this is quite possibly my favorite bar not only in NYC but in the world, I mean it. The decor, the drinks, the atmosphere…it’s what my friend back home would call a “Mary Lou Retton.” In other words, it’s an all-around 10.
Oscar Wilde (the person) was known for his love of aesthetics, and Oscar Wilde (the bar) takes that love verrry seriously. This place is known for is going all-out in terms of decor for holidays, and Christmas may be the most popular time to visit. It’s worth noting if you live in NYC you will have more evenings to try and go, but for those of us who don’t, book waaaaay in advance. Tables are sometimes nearly impossible to come by, even on weekdays.
If you are unable to get a reservation, you can wait in line at the door to be let in. Once you’re in, anticipate standing room only (unless you’re lucky enough to catch a seat from people cashing out from the bar). It sounds like a lot, but it’s worth it. I promise.
Miracle Pop Up NYC/Brooklyn
Address: Location varies each year (hence why it’s a “pop up” bar); for the most up-to-date addresses, check out Miracle’s website here
Whoever invented Miracle Pop up is a genius. What originally started as a single Christmas pop-up bar in NYC is now a worldwide phenomenon, with Miracle bars in many major cities worldwide. The bars serve festive-themed drinks with over-the-top decor. Since every city runs their own unique Miracle Pop Up bar, every bar in every city looks different. (Wouldn’t it be fun to see them all? Don’t give me any ideas…)
As if all that wasn’t enough of an excuse to go, Miracle Pop Up is also partnering with Seva Foundation, a non-profit eye care organization that develops self-sustaining programs to preserve and restore eyesight. It’s fun, it’s festive, AND you’re celebrating for a good cause. For a list of drinks plus to find the nearest Miracle Pop Up location, check out their website here.
Address: 281 3rd Ave, New York, NY 10010
I’ll admit I didn’t get a chance to go to this one, but many people told me to get a drink here. I think maybe what they meant was go for the atmosphere? Rolf’s, a German restaurant near Gramercy Park, is similar to the other places I’ve mentioned in the sense that they go all out with their Christmas decor. And judging by the photos I’ve seen, it’s beautiful. (The main reason we did not go is because we were told the drinks were good but the food was “ehh” …and, girls gotta eat.) If you’ve been here and recommend going, feel free to write a comment at the bottom of this post!
Magic Hour at the Moxy Hotel
Address: 485 7th Ave 18th floor, New York, NY 10018
Okay, so this *technically* isn’t a Christmas-themed bar, but they still change their decor for the summer and winter months to be seasonally appropriate. If you (or anyone in your party) has a thing for all things, pink, extra, and flamboyant, put Magic Hour Rooftop Bar & Lounge on your itinerary list. Their Instagram-famous carousel is decorated for the season, going from glitter and flowers in the summer to a frosted après-ski vibe for winter.
- Photo tip: I visited Magic Hour after dark, and the lighting on the carousel wasn’t great for photos. Make sure your camera is in night mode, or use the flashlight from one person’s iPhone for extra light while using another iPhone to take photos.
In addition to the scenery, Magic Hour also has small bites along with seasonally-themed drinks and desserts. We got the s’mores, complete with sparkly graham crackers, and they also have spiked hot chocolate. For more information and to book a reservation, check out their website here.
Visit the New York City Christmas Markets
New York City has 2 main Christmas markets that I would recommend visiting. If you’re going to New York mainly to experience Christmas festivities, I would suggest trying to hit up both.
Bryant Park Christmas Market
I love Bryant Park. I think of it as your quintessential “park in the city.” There are activities going on year round, and best of all, it’s free. In the winter, they have a Christmas market with food and shopping vendors, and there’s also an ice skating rink. In terms of crowds, I feel like it was easier to walk around here than it was at the Union Square market because the rows of vendors were more spaced out. For hours and information, including a list of shopping vendors, check out Bryant Park’s Holiday Markets link here.
Union Square Christmas Market
Union Square’s Christmas market is similar to Bryant Park’s, except without the ice skating rink. Some of the vendors were the same, but I also felt like I saw more unique vendors here. In terms of shopping, I probably liked Union Square more. For more information about this market, check out the Union Square Christmas Market website here.
Christmas Market Tips
- Bryant Park Transportation Tip: The closest subway stop to Bryant Park is the Times Square-42nd Street station, which is about a 3 minute walk to the park.
- Union Square Transportation Tip: There is a subway station right in the middle of Union Square, which makes traveling to and from this market relatively easy! Just know that the station will be VERY crowded.
- If you want to go ice skating at Bryant Park, click on this link to reserve your skates
- As previously mentioned, the markets are crowded, but Bryant Park is a little easier to navigate and get around. There’s not as much space in between the rows of vendors at Union Square, and sometimes it made it difficult to see which area you haven’t walked through.
- I didn’t get food at either vendor because the lines were outrageous, but they sell your typical Christmas market staples: hot pretzels, mulled wine/cider, hot chocolate, fried doughnuts, etc.
Warm Up From the Cold at Bathhouse
Address: 103 N 10th St, Brooklyn, NY 11249
If you’re looking for somewhere to relax and escape from all the insanity that is Christmas in New York, Bathhouse is the perfect solution. Inside the gorgeous black and brick building, you’ll find a tranquil, equally gorgeous atmosphere that features all the elements of a spa while still allowing visitors to socially engage. After checking in, head downstairs to the baths and saunas where the dark, moody aesthetic instantly switches your brain to relaxation mode. Seriously, it’s beautiful.
Bathhouse offers massage treatments, a restaurant on-site, 3 thermal pools (one hot, one thermoneutral, and one cold plunge), heated marble hammams, saunas, steam-rooms, and more. Make sure to bring a swimsuit (and if you forget, they have some for sale in the front lobby!)
This link takes you to Bathhouse’s website, so you can view and book treatments, read about bathhouse etiquette, and more. You are able to book a massage treatment that includes a day-pass, or just a day pass by itself. The day pass gives you access to all the amenities, and once you’re inside, you can stay as long as you wish. When you need a break, grab a bite inside their restaurant that serves breakfast, dessert, and drinks in addition to an all-day menu (try the black hummus toast, skewers, and smoked salmon…amaaaazing!!)
Once you’re done for the day, you can shower and get ready in their spacious locker room, so you’re ready to take on the city again. The waterfall showers are fully stocked with hair and body products, so no need to bring your own! Oh – and they have Dyson hairdryers. It’s nice.
Try the Cronut of the Month at Dominique Ansel Bakery
Address: 189 Spring St, New York, NY 10012
- Travel Tip: This bakery is very popular, and there will almost always be a line outside the door. Get there early!
The man who was once named the World’s Best Pastry Chef, Dominique Ansel’s SoHo bakery is a Manhattan staple (fun fact: he recently opened a bakery at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas too!). He is famous for inventing the “cronut,” a croissant and donut hybrid pastry. Every month, they feature a new cronut flavor, and never repeat the same flavor twice. For December 2022, they had mandarin orange and dark chocolate.
- You can also get cronuts shipped to your door in most of the United States (excluding Hawaii and Alaska). Cronuts always ship the day they are baked so they arrive fresh. For more details, check out the Dominique Ansel Bakery website here.
To celebrate Christmas, Dominique Ansel Bakery also sells their signature Christmas Morning Cereal (caramelized chocolate crispy puffed rice, smoked cinnamon mini meringues, and candied hazelnuts). People LOVE this stuff, and as you can imagine, it sells out pretty quickly. In fact, at the time of this post, it’s out of stock for the 2022 year.
2022 was the first year that Dominique Ansel was able to ship Christmas Morning Cereal to the continental 48 United States. They shipped very limited quantities, and the cereal sold out rather quickly. This link takes you to the Christmas Morning Cereal page where you can sign up to be notified when the cereal is back in stock. From what I have seen on their website, it typically comes back in stock for purchase around the end of November. Set an alarm on your phone, mark your calendar, and be prepared to indulge.
Visit the Christmas Store in Little Italy
Little Italy is one of my favorite areas of New York, and Christmas makes it exceptionally beautiful. It’s nice to simply walk around and take in the atmosphere. Mulberry St, the main street running through this area, has decorations, restaurants, and shops that give off that authentic Italian feel.
Little Italy has a Christmas store, appropriately named “Christmas in New York,” that is open and sells Christmas decor year-round. When you walk in, you are greeted by (what else?) a counter to the left serving gelato, coffee, cannolis, and cakes. It is elaborately decorated for the holidays inside and a great place for souvenirs.
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