How to enjoy the most wonderful time of the year in one of the world's greatest cities
There’s no city that shines like NYC, so it’s no coincidence that millions flock Stateside during the festive season to spend Christmas in New York, lured by the lights, landmarks and magic you can feel amid fresh snowfall in Central Park.
Whether you’re booking a last minute break or planning ahead for next year, these are the best things to do in December in New York that all the family will love.
1. See an iconic New York Christmas tree
Every winter, thousands travel to the city’s brightest landmark: the Rockefeller Christmas Tree, a Norway spruce around 75 feet high.
There’s been a tree at the Rockefeller Center since 1933, but these days the tree boasts around 50,000 LED lights. It’s lit up from the 28 November at 7pm alongside an incredible show, but if you miss the big switch-on, you can see the tree in all its glory until 7 January.
There are plenty of other Christmas trees to admire in New York, too. If you’re around Fifth Avenue, make sure to head to the New York Public Library and Bryant Park to see their offerings. Meanwhile, for more than 40 years the American Museum of Natural History has adorned its holiday tree with origami decorations (2019’s theme is dinosaurs).
2. Take in the bright lights
One of the most photographed holiday decorations are the giant Christmas ornaments on Sixth Avenue across from the Radio City Music Hall. You’ve no doubt seen pictures, but you can’t beat seeing them in real life.
New York is also known for its spectacular holiday window displays. Every year, Saks Fifth Avenue strings up enough bulbs to illuminate the entire block after dark. For 2019, the department store has teamed up with Disney with Frozen 2-themed window displays. Make sure to hunt out Olaf, Kristoff, and Anna and Elsa.
3. Check out the shop window displays
When it comes to Christmas window displays, Midtown does it the best. Take a walk up Fifth Avenue from Saks at 49th St to Bergdorf Goodman at 58th, and don’t miss outliers like Macy’s (34th St & Broadway) and Barney’s (Madison Avenue).
If you’re after something a little more unique, there are Christmas markets scattered across the city. The Grand Central Terminal Holiday Fair, which sits in the lavish Vanderbilt Hall, focuses on handmade gifts using locally sourced materials. The market at Bryant Park is more food-oriented, while the one at Union Square is good for well-priced quirky gifts.
4. Enjoy Central Park at Christmas
Central Park is a magical place all year round, but if you’re able to catch a glimpse in the snow, prepared to be wowed. The park is enormous, so don’t try to see it comprehensively on foot. Rent a bike, or grab a pedal-cab and pick your stops – they range from the iconic Bow Bridge, the Central Park Zoo and the Bethesda Terrace and Fountain.
Of course if you’re heading to the city at Christmas, there’s also the Wollman Ice Skating Rink in Central Park, where you’ll enjoy the stunning backdrop of the New York Skyline, Christmas music and, if you’re lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of Santa Claus.
5. View the city from above
After exploring the bustling streets dwarfed by Manhattan’s skyscrapers towering over you, rise above it all – literally. The Top of the Rock observation platform at the Rockefeller Center has fantastic views of Central Park, the Empire State Building and so many other landmarks. Head up at sunset for an unforgettable moment.
Perhaps most impressive though is the One World Observatory on the top of the One World Trade Center. It’s worth a slightly stomach-dropping lift ride to get to the 102nd floor for the breathtaking 360-degree views of the city’s iconic skyline and surrounding waterways.
6. See a Christmas show
Show business is part of New York’s DNA and Broadway is the home of musical theatre. It’s also the home of the annual Radio City Christmas Spectacular. A yearly tradition since 1933, this classic Christmas spectacle offers tap dancers, a flying Santa Claus and, of course, the world-famous synchronised high-kicking Rockettes.
Meanwhile, family shows on Broadway include Frozen and Wicked, with perennial favourites including The Lion King, School of Rock – The Musical and Aladdin.
Where to stay in New York at Christmas
Moxy Chelsea is in the heart of the city’s flower district on a street bursting with florists. Naturally, you enter the hotel via a fragrant florist – the Putnam & Putnam Flower Shop.
They do Christmas a little different here, turning everything (including the hot chocolate) pink – providing the perfect Instagram backdrop for conscious teens.
The rooms have brilliant space-saving solutions such as under-bed storage and multipurpose furniture – especially useful in a city like New York.
Elsewhere, the second-floor Conservatory and Bar is a stylish space to relax. By day you’ll find cosy corners, an at night expect DJ sets, oven-fired pizzas and inventive Italian cocktails.
Christmas in NYC: need to know
- New York is busier than usual in the run-up to Christmas, so book ahead for dinner and drinks and prepare for some queues.
- Pre-book any attractions ahead of time through Attraction Tickets Direct. As well as making savings on tickets, you’ll also jump the long queues at the most popular tourist spots.
- Save money on admission to New York’s best attractions and skips main-entrance ticket lines at attractions including Top of the Rock Valid with CityPASS. Valid for nine consecutive days, beginning with the first day of use, it costs $132 for adults and $108 for ages 6-17.
- Wrap up, because although average temperatures in December are around 7°C it’s not uncommon for temperatures to plummet below zero.
Flights to New York at Christmas
Norwegian fly daily from London Gatwick to New York from £200pp return.