There is no place better to celebrate the holiday season than New York City! With countless annual holiday traditions and decked out places to shop, dine and drink, NYC is the place to be to get you in the Christmas spirit.
The Annual Christmas Tree Lighting at Rockefeller Center
Kick off the holiday season in New York City at the world’s most famous Christmas tree lighting! When most people think about Christmas in NYC, one of the first things they picture is the famous, giant Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center.
The annual Christmas tree lighting is usually the last week in November or the first week in December, is completely free and is open to the public on a come, first-serve basis. Every year, thousands of people come to witness the live broadcast and musical guests while millions of people around the country watch it on TV. Check out the website here for details on when and where the annual Christmas tree lighting occurs.
Did you know that before the first ever formal Christmas tree was placed in Rockefeller Center, it served as a gathering place for the holiday season where construction workers would come to collect their paychecks during the Great Depression? The annual tradition of placing a tree in Rockefeller Center to kick off the Christmas season started shortly after in 1933!
The Christmas Spectacular starring the Radio City Rockettes
The Christmas Spectacular is by far my favorite holiday activity in NYC and in my opinion is just as great as any show on Broadway! It should definitely be at the top of your to-do list during your visit.
The show is 90 minutes long and features music and dancing with 140 talented performers and REAL camels!
The first ever Christmas Spectacular performance was on December 21st, 1931 and is one of the most popular holiday traditions in New York City today. Purchase your tickets here.
Ice skating in New York City
There are multiple places you can go ice skating in New York City during the Christmas season. Choosing the location really just depends on your personal preference. Here are my top 3 recommendations:
1. Wollman Rink in Central Park
Wollman Rink first opened in 1949 and is a popular location to go ice skating for both New Yorkers and tourists today. Located in the heart of Central Park, this ice skating rink is open from October through April and features spectacular views of the Manhattan skyline. You can find pricing and rink hours here.
After working up an appetite from ice skating, I would recommend brunch or lunch nearby at either Sarabeth’s or Rue 57.
2. The Rink at Rockefeller Center
Located in midtown Manhattan, The Rink at Rockefeller Center is steps away from Times Square and Bryant Park. In my opinion, the ice skating here is the best location in New York City because you can take iconic photos with the famous Christmas tree and you’re surrounded by some of the best shopping and dining in the city.
You can find more information including pricing and rink hours here.
After working up an appetite from ice skating, I would recommend brunch or lunch nearby at either Rock Center Cafe or Del Frisco’s Grill.
3. The Rink at Bryant Park
Open from late October to early March, The Rink in Bryant Park is the only free admission ice rink in New York City, but you do have to pay for your skate rental.
You can find more information including pricing and rink hours here.
After working up an appetite from ice skating, I would recommend brunch or lunch nearby at Bryant Park Grill.
Holiday shopping in New York City
There are a plethora of shopping destinations New York City during the holidays, but here are my top suggestions if you’re looking to be selective!
1. 5th Avenue
Start at 5th Avenue and 57th Street, working your way South. High end stores like Tiffany and Co., Bergdorf Goodman and Cartier have some of my favorite holiday decor, both inside their stores and in their front windows. Make sure to stop by Saint Patrick’s Cathedral for beautiful architecture and history, Rockefeller Center for photos with the giant Christmas tree and Sak’s 5th Avenue for their annual Christmas light show which is projected onto the front of the store.
If you’re looking to fuel up before your shopping journey on 5th Avenue, check out the Food Court at the famous Plaza Hotel between 58th and 59th street, located on the lower level of the hotel.
2. The Holiday Shops at Bryant Park
Every holiday season, Bryant Park sets up an open-air shopping experience with 170 boutiques that offer unique gifts and local food. You can find everything from winter accessories, Christmas ornaments, skincare products, kitchen seasonings and art to specialty coffee drinks and sweet treats.
If you get hangry (like me) after a lot of holiday shopping, I would suggest grabbing brunch or lunch nearby at Bryant Park Grill.
3. Chelsea Market
Chelsea Market is one of my favorite year round shopping destinations in New York City and is decked out in Christmas decor during the holiday season. It’s home to many different unique shops, boutiques, bakeries and restaurants.
This is a great spot to find a wide variety of unique gifts with a few of my favorites being Artists and Fleas, Sarabeth’s Bakery and Anthropologie. You can check out the full list of stores and hours here. My favorite brunch and lunch spot to check out after all your shopping nearby is Westville.
4. Macy’s at 34th street
The annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is the official kick off to the Christmas season.
If you don’t feel like doing Christmas shopping here, I would highly recommend making your way to the 9th floor to check out Macy’s Holiday Lane Christmas Shop. There are fantastic options for Holiday home decor, themed Christmas ornaments and giftable holiday sweets. My favorite thing to do is pick out a New York City themed Christmas ornament each year! Be sure to take the elevator up because I can guarantee you’ll get lost trying to navigate your way via the store escalators.
If you’re shopping with little ones, they can meet Santa and his elfs at Santa Land located on the 8th floor. Book your spot in line here.
5. Smorgasurg in Brooklyn
If you’re willing to make the trek, Smorgasburg in Brooklyn is another indoor unique, fun spot to explore with Holiday gifts and sweet treats. It’s a shopping experience like no other! Come with an empty stomach and leave with your hands full of goodies and gifts. You can check out more information and hours here.
Enjoy a Holiday Hot chocolate
There’s nothing better than warming up with a delicious hot chocolate after a long day of shopping in the city. My favorite hot chocolate is from Maison Kayser and La Maison Du Chocolat. Both places also offer specialty coffees, tea, delicious pastries and chocolates that are to die for!
End your night with a Christmas cocktail
Starting after Thanksgiving, most bars decorate for the holidays, but a handful are famous for their extravagant decorations in New York City.
The most famous you’ve probably seen on instagram is Rolf’s, a German restaurant that’s known for every single inch of their restaurant and bar being covered in Christmas decor! If you don’t book a reservation before October, you’ll have to wait in line outside in the cold and if even if you arrive by 10am any day of the week, you’re still pretty much guaranteed to wait. Rolf’s was great before it became insta-famous but now you’re pretty much crammed into the bar and it can take 15 minutes yminimum to grab an $18 cocktail.
if you don’t feel like waiting, two of my favorite bars down the street that decorate for Christmas include Lillie’s Victorian Establishment and Pete’s Tavern. Both have loads of Christmas decorations, plenty of space at the bar and cocktails that are just as good as Rolf’s, plus you won’t have to wait in the cold!