Experience the magic of New York City when you try these Christmas activities with your kids! Nothing beats the holidays in the Big Apple, from the tree at Rockefeller Center to the twinkling lights of Central Park. Iconic landmarks become even more incredible, whether you’re ice skating in Bryant Park or watching a show at Radio City Music Hall. Yes, it will probably be cold, and possibly very crowded. But it’s worth it to experience the season at least once, especially with your children! However, with all there is to do, it can feel a little overwhelming to some parents. Luckily, we’ve simplified the process for you. So, if you have your heart set on visiting New York City in December, stay tuned for advice on how to get into the holiday spirit. Here’s our list of the Best New York City Christmas Activities For Kids!
Best Christmas Activities in Manhattan for Kids
Manhattan is the center of most of the action in New York City, so it’s unsurprising it also has some of the best Christmas in New York activities for families! From shopping in Little Italy to browsing Christmas markets, here are our favorite suggestions for families looking to go to New York for Christmas!
Plus, don’t forget to purchase all of your tickets for the best things to do year-round in NYC with kids! It can be helpful to have everything secured in advance of your departure date to ensure availability.
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Shop for Christmas Ornaments in Little Italy
Need some last-minute gifts, decorations, or other holiday goodies? Luckily, shopping in Little Italy is one of the best New York City Christmas activities for kids! On Mulberry between Grand and Hester Street, you’ll find Christmas In New York, a two-floor, all-year-round holiday superstore. It’s the perfect place to shop for ornaments, Christmas lights, and anything else you may need.
Everything is reasonably priced, including some stunning, handmade ornaments. Plus, the store even offers a customization service (with a coupon for first-time shoppers!), so you can take home a personalized memento from your trip too. Real bargain hunters can also find good deals at other shops in nearby neighborhoods such as Chinatown. Once you’re done in Little Italy, consider visiting the Pearl River Mart, Canal Street Market, or the Essex Market for seasonal food from around the world!
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Browse a Christmas Market
Take your Christmas shopping to the next level by visiting one of New York City’s many holiday-themed markets! Spread across the city, they’re the perfect place to experience the season in full swing. Brave the cold winds with a warm cup of cocoa in your hands as you explore the Union Square Holiday Market. Local craftsmen display their best handiwork of the year, accompanied by some amazing artisanal food.
Or, get lost in the stalls of the Columbus Circle Christmas Market, located near Central Park West at 59th Street. Open through Christmas Eve, it similarly showcases a range of jewelry, home goods, and great food. Of course, the Grand Central Holiday Fair is another classic. Browse the shops, grab a sweet treat, and escape the cold inside a quintessential NYC attraction!
Embark on a Statue & Skyline Holiday Cocoa Cruise
Get into the holiday spirit on a Statue & Skyline Holiday Cocoa Cruise! Families can hop aboard a 1920s-style yacht from late November through December. This twist on a typical Circle Line Cruise is a great way to see some of the most famous landmarks in the city, except with a Christmas theme! Dress up in your best holiday attire as you circle the New York Harbor in this decked-out, decorated boat, featuring a beautiful tree and illuminated displays.
Along the way, you’ll get a great view of the Manhattan skyline, and a glimpse at the Statue of Liberty. A friendly guide will provide a brief narration to give you a tour, and then you can listen to Christmas music while you indulge in hot cocoa and holiday cookies. For parents, alcoholic beverages such as wine and champagne are also available. Meeting locations vary, but boats usually depart from Chelsea Piers.
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Meet Santa at Macy’s
Macy’s Santaland is without a doubt a must-see, and one of the best New York City Christmas activities for kids! Dating back over 100 years, this holiday tradition is a favorite among locals and tourists alike. Starting late November, you can make a reservation online to meet Santa on the 8th floor of Macy’s in Herald Square, which will be lavishly decorated for the season. Meander through a 13,000-square-foot Christmas village, with twinkling lights, an enchanted forest, and so much more!
After you make your way through the eye-popping decorations, kids can present Santa with their holiday wish list. Be sure to snap lots of photos, though there’ll also be professional ones you can purchase afterward. Since this is such a popular activity, we suggest making your reservation way in advance to guarantee your spot. Tickets are easiest to obtain during the weekdays.
Encounter Santa Elsewhere in the City
Macy’s 8th Floor may be one of the most famous places to meet Santa in NYC, but it isn’t the only one! Younger kids may prefer to meet Santa at Stella 34 Trattoria. Located on the 6th floor of Macy’s, this cozy Italian restaurant offers a special Breakfast With Santa with views of the Empire State Building. From Thanksgiving up until Christmas, little ones can munch on cookies, pancakes, and other treats while parents drink mimosas. Then, take a picture with Santa and his elves!
If you’d prefer a more festive backdrop, children can also put on their best Eloise impression at The Plaza Hotel. It hosts an annual Santa meet-and-greet, framed by the beauty of its iconic Christmas tree! Looking for more places to meet Santa in NYC? Try Breakfast With Santa at Bergdorf Goodman, visit Green Meadows Farm to take a picture, or go ice skating with Santa at Brookfield Place!
Go Sledding in Central Park
If you’re lucky enough to experience a snowy Christmas in New York, you should definitely go sledding! Central Park is a great place to try it, given its abundance of wide-open spaces and hilltops. In fact, this is one of the best things to do in NYC during Christmas for families.
One particularly popular spot is Cedar Hill, located between 76th and 79th Street on 5th Avenue. There are two areas here separated by a walkway, but the lower portion is great for beginners since it’s not too high. If you have an adventurous kid in your family, you could head to the top portion for an even faster ride down! Another more popular sledding hill is Pilgrim Hill, though we also suggest this for older, more active children. Located by 72nd Street and 5th Avenue, it can get pretty crowded on weekends, so arrive early! If you don’t have a sled with you, buy one from Target or DIY one.
Visit a Museum
New York City museums are always a great place to visit, but some are extra special during the holidays. If your kids love art, a trip to The Metropolitan Museum of Art is a must. Every year, this spectacular institution becomes even more incredible, thanks to its amazing Christmas tree! It’s an especially great time to visit if you’ve never been because you can take in the enormous collection with a bit of festive cheer. You’ll find the marvelous Christmas tree in the Medieval Sculpture Hall, standing at 20 feet tall!
Then, history lovers should also make a trip to the American Museum of Natural History. Every year starting around Thanksgiving, the museum showcases its special Origami Holiday Tree. Marvel at the 1,000+ origami pieces forming a 13-foot, multi-colored curiosity! Certainly, this is one of the best things to do in NYC during Christmas for families! Looking for more museums to cover your itinerary? Add a few of the Best Museums In NYC By Age For Families.
Finally, don’t forget to secure The New York Pass by Go City for your family too!
Explore Bryant Park
Bryant Park is a destination within itself all year round, but especially during the holidays! For one, it hosts the Bryant Park Winter Village. Open from the end of October through January, it’s one of the longest-running holiday events in the city – and the most popular for families too! Browse over 150 shopping stalls selling holiday goodies at a fair price, from decorations to handmade crafts and more.
Then, kids can rent some skates and take advantage of the free ice skating rink! Parents will appreciate all the different rinkside food and drink vendors, so they can cozy up with a festive cocktail while little ones play. You can even reserve an igloo to keep warm! Bryant Park also holds an annual tree lighting, usually around the first week of December.
Pro Tip: Check if you need timed reservations to skate at Bryant Park ahead of time so that you don’t miss experiencing one of the best things to do in NYC during Christmas with kids!
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See the Rockefeller Tree
The Rockefeller Center Tree is truly New York City’s Christmas centerpiece. So, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say it’s one of the best New York City Christmas activities for kids! Families who are in town in early December should set aside time to see the tree lighting, as it’s the unofficial kick-off to the holiday season. However, even if you miss the lighting, you can still see this ginormous tree in all its glory until January. It’s open from 6 AM to midnight every day, framed by beautiful statues and other decorations. Expect lots of crowds regardless of when you visit, especially at night. Of course, since you’re in the area, you can also maximize your visit. Nearby, you’ll find an ice skating rink the whole family can enjoy. Then, check out the shops on 5th Avenue, take kids to FAO Schwarz, or see a holiday show!
Other Places to Go Ice Skating
What better way to celebrate Christmas in New York than with a spin around the ice? Luckily, there are plenty of places to go ice skating in New York City with kids! Of course, Bryant Park is a famous one we’ve already mentioned. But families can also visit:
- The Sky Rink at Chelsea Piers is indoors, so it’s an ideal place to escape the crowds and the cold weather.
- The Rink at Brookefield Place, near the Freedom Tower, is open from late November through the winter.
- Wollman Rink near 59th Street for a quintessential New York skating experience. If you’re around for the Annual Holiday Tree Lighting, be sure to stop by to see the park illuminated with beautiful colors!
Watch the Radio City Rockettes
Want a break from the cold? Buy tickets to watch an entertaining performance by the Radio City Rockettes! Widely known around the city (and the world) as one of the best Christmas shows in NYC, you can catch these talented dancers in action at Radio City Music Hall on 50th Street and 6th Avenue. See how many kicks you can count during the 90-minute show, though you may lose track considering how dynamic the dances are! Kids will love all the bright lights and energy of the performance, but keep there’s no intermission if they get finicky.
Though the calendar is always evolving, tickets go on sale as early as November. During December, there are shows daily at 2 PM, 5 PM, 8 PM, and sometimes even additional ones at 11 AM on weekends. Be sure to grab yours early, because it’s a highly coveted event! Certainly, this will be a highlight when spending Christmas in New York with kids.
Enjoy Another Holiday-Themed Performance
Want to experience Christmas shows in NYC that aren’t The Rockettes? New York City has plenty! Children will love seeing Mickey, Minnie, and more of their favorite Disney characters at Disney On Ice. Shows run through January at the Barclays Center. Families can also see a classic Christmas play featuring Ebenezer Scrooge, A Christmas Carol, which is playing on Broadway during the Christmas season. Then, with nightly (and sometimes afternoon) performances, more mature kids can see The Nutcracker at Lincoln Center from November through January. Other holiday shows with shorter runtimes and select dates include A Charlie Brown Christmas Live, where little ones can watch Snoopy, Charlie, Linus, and the whole Peanuts gang!
Take a Holiday Tour
Families who want to sightsee with a Christmas twist will love the North Pole Express. Hosted by TopView, you can cruise through Manhattan in a decorated double-decker bus, keeping warm with blankets, hot cocoa, and funky winter hats. Along the way, you’ll pass iconic holiday spots like Lincoln Center, Columbus Circle, Rockefeller Center, and Bryant Park. It’ll be equally educational and entertaining, complete with Christmas carols, storytelling, and more fun facts.
As a plus, you’ll even enjoy a special appearance from Santa and other Christmas characters as they hop aboard and help you navigate the city! Be sure to bring your Christmas list, a camera, and maybe even some warm pajamas for the upper deck. There are two ticket packages available, one lasting 45-minutes with minimal character interactions and another for over an hour with lots of interactions. Both depart from 6th Avenue between 47th and 48th Street.
Indulge in a Holiday Treat
Dessert tastes even sweeter during the holidays! Families looking to indulge in a Christmas treat will love the variety New York City offers. Lines form out the door at the famous SoHo stronghold Dominque Ansel, known for its decadent, French desserts. During the holiday season, the bakery releases its special Christmas cereal, featuring chocolate, mini-merengue, and more delicious add-ons!
Or, head to Baxter Street to visit the Dough Club, located inside Taiyaki NYC. Every Christmas, this Japanese dessert spot releases special holiday-themed donuts, cutely decorated and all! Bien Cuit, which has multiple locations throughout the city, also releases a limited-time-only bûches de Noël, aka a chocolate dessert originating in Europe. Of course, you can’t beat the classic dessert spots in New York, holiday-themed or not. Check out Max Brenner for all things chocolate, Serendipity 3 for frozen hot chocolate, or Spot Dessert Bar for s’mores cookies!
Marvel at the Beautiful Window Displays
Walking around New York City to check out the holiday window displays is a beautiful (and free!) activity for families. One of the best places to do this is along Fifth Avenue in Midtown, where you will find displays at major department stores. Near Herald Square, you’ll find Macy’s, which puts on a world-famous window display every year. It’s also lavishly decorated inside, so be sure to stop in for a peek!
Saks Fifth Avenue is another must-see, since this flagship store goes all out every year for Christmas. Kids will surely be dazzled by all the LED lights! On Third Avenue and 58th Street, you can pass by Bergdorf Goodman, then make your way to Bloomingdales at 59th Street. Since most of these are near other Christmas attractions, you can make it a two-for-one with a visit to nearby Rockefeller Center, for example.
Best Christmas Activities in Brooklyn for Kids
Families who have time to venture out should consider visiting Brooklyn during the holidays. Keep reading for the best New York City Christmas activities for kids!
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Stroll By the Lights at Dyker Heights
Hardcore Christmas fanatics should jump at the chance to visit Dyker Heights. It’s a little bit outside of the main tourist activities in New York, with the nearest stop being 79th St on the D Train. However, it’s absolutely worth it to see the fun, over-the-top decorations! From Thanksgiving through December, this ordinary Brooklyn neighborhood transforms into a glittering, winter wonderland. From life-size Santas to sleighs, snowmen, and even Christmas carols blaring from outside speakers, it’s truly an immersive experience.
You’ll see most of the best decorations between 83rd and 86th Street along 11th, 12th, and 13th Avenue. The evening is the best time to visit, but most houses close their lights at 9 pm. Though some tours come here, we suggest taking the train and walking, since traffic is usually backed up for miles during December. Be sure to bring your camera to capture the moment!
Check Out Lightscape at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden
Lights illuminate Manhattan throughout the Christmas season, but did you know you can also experience some in Brooklyn? Open through January, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden is hosting Lightscape, an after-dark, colorful spectacular! Walk through enchanted trails illuminated by thousands of twinkling lights as you make your way through the gardens. Kids will love all the open space to run around, plus the artworks are really cool too.
During your visit, you’ll pass the Winter Cathedral Tunnel, Fire Garden, Field of Light, and more amazing displays, including works by local artists. Christmas music will be playing the whole time to amplify the holiday cheer, and you can even enjoy hot cocoa and cookies. Reservations are timed, so remember to reserve your tickets beforehand. Spaces are limited since this is one of the best New York City Christmas activities for kids!
Best Christmas Activities in Staten Island for Kids
Staten Island may seem like an unexpected holiday destination, but families can still find plenty of fun here. Keep reading to learn more about the best New York City Christmas activities for kids!
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Engage Your Senses at Escape the Winter Lantern Festival
Escape into a colorful world of flashing lights, holiday music, and more family fun at the Winter Lantern Festival. This Christmas attraction has multiple iterations throughout the boroughs, but the most popular takes place at the SIUH Community Park in Staten Island. It runs from late October through January, so you should save time to fit it into your schedule! First, you’ll be able to explore illuminated paths filled with fascinating sculptures. See everything from pandas to Chinese dragons, reindeer, and more. In fact, there will be more than 1,000 Chinese lanterns on display, all handmade by local artisans!
Then, you can take time to explore the various food vendors to grab a bite to eat. In the process, you can enjoy a live DJ, projection mapping, and other family-friendly activities. Buy your tickets now, as they tend to sell out.
Best Christmas Activities in the Bronx for Kids
Though the Bronx may seem like an unexpected holiday destination, there are actually several things to do with kids during the holidays! Here are two of our favorites.
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Appreciate the Bright Lights at the Bronx Zoo
If you have time for the Bronx Zoo during your trip, you can’t miss the Holiday Lights. Available for select dates from late November through January, this holiday extravaganza is perfect for kids of all ages. Watch the zoo come alive with LED sculptures of various animals, lighting your path through the “Forest Of Color”. There are over 250 lanterns depicting 30+ animal species, so we’re sure your kids will find their favorite! Remember to keep an eye out for the stilt walkers, as well as other costume characters.
During the experience, you can also enjoy holiday music, ice carving competitions, and other festivities. Not to mention all the sweet treats, like hot cocoa and marshmallows. When you want to test your animal trivia, the Wildlife Theater hosts holiday-themed puppet shows. Kids can even take a trip on the special holiday train to circle the property!
Attend the Holiday Train Show at the New York Botanical Garden
If you have a train lover in your family, don’t miss the Holiday Train Show at the New York Botanical Garden! Located in the Bronx and accessible by the Metro-North, this annual event runs from late November through mid-January. Though it’s a bit out of the way, it’s worth the trip to see the look on your kids’ faces! Watch as model trains travel through detailed displays of New York’s most famous landmarks, from the Brooklyn Bridge to the Statue of Liberty, Rockefeller Center, and beyond. Best of all, they’re made from unconventional, natural materials, like cinnamon sticks, berries, and leaves.
Depending on when you visit, you can also catch GLOW, an outdoor experience complete with twinkling lights, ice sculptures, and cheerful music. You won’t have to worry about the weather either, since the Holiday Train Show is inside and outside there’s a cozy fire pit! Don’t miss this when visiting New York for Christmas with kids!
We hope you liked this list of the Best New York City Christmas Activities For Kids! Christmas is certainly a special time in New York, so if you can set aside some time for a visit, we highly recommend it. From the bright lights to holiday decor, there’s truly nothing else like it. Enjoy your visit to New York for Christmas as a family!
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*Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some of the attractions, accommodations, or things to do on this list may be closed. Please ensure availability before making your decision.
*This post may contain affiliate links that may earn us a small commission, at no additional cost to you. Affiliate links in no way inform the hotels, sights, products, or other recommendations included in our articles. All opinions and recommendations expressed here are compiled from submissions submitted by the generous members of our Families Who Love To Travel community.
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