Christmas is easily my favorite holiday. Everything about it seems magical, with the twinkling lights and decorations. Not to mention it’s such a great time to be with those you love. I had always dreamed about seeing Christmastime in NYC, and was lucky enough to experience it over my birthday last year! Since it was a sort of spontaneous trip, I didn’t have a whole lot of pre-planning for all the Christmas-y things I wanted to do. I quickly learned the things I needed to do and things I wish I had done, and I wanted to share them here with you so you can have the best Christmas in NYC!
Also, if you're headed to New York outside of Christmas season, be sure to check out the Best Weekend Guide to NYC here!
Christmas in NYC isn't complete without Trees!
There are Christmas trees everywhere. Back where I’m from, if you want a Christmas tree, you either have to drive hours and hours away to chop one down yourself, or buy one from a tent somewhere in a parking lot. Never in my life did I imagine walking through a row of Christmas trees on the sidewalk, but sure enough - that is how New York sells their Christmas trees! The areas are normally decorated with lights up above, and various Santas or reindeer to catch your attention, but the smell of fresh pine will probably pull you in anyways. Words don’t describe it well, but it’s super cute and festive!
Aside from trees being sold on the sidewalk, there are tons of decorated and lighted trees to see! Probably the most well-known one is the one at Rockefeller center. It is an incredible tree, but be warned - you will probably not be able to get a photo without other people in the background. Christmas in NYC is a busy time of year and Rockefeller Center is super popular year round. During Christmas, it is decked out and is the site of many popular Christmas attractions, so be prepared for even bigger crowds. Even so, it’s a magical area to see, so definitely check it out, and don’t be afraid to ask a stranger for a picture!
Christmas in NYC even has Christmas Markets!
When most people think of Christmas Markets, they probably think of Europe. I know that’s what came to my mind when someone mentioned it, but celebrating Christmas in NYC offers many Christmas Markets as well! The one I visited was in Union Square Park, and is probably one of the largest in the City. To be honest, I could’ve spent all day (and all my savings) a the market, even if it was just buying hot chocolate and mulled wine and people watching. The markets can get pretty crowded, so be prepared to not have a whole lot of leg room (so to speak). That being said, Jess and I went in the middle of the day on the weekend, and were able to walk around, take pictures, and didn’t feel overwhelmed with hordes of people! There are many other Christmas markets in town as well, so check out the closest one to where you’re staying if you don’t want to make the hike to Union Square Park!
Window Displays Around the City Light up Buildings for Christmas in NYC
Fifth Avenue is full of shops that decorate their windows to the nines. If you love seeing Christmas decorations, definitely check out the decorations on 5th Avenue! I didn’t get the chance to really appreciate them in their entirety, but got to look at them while I was walking to Radio City and Rockefeller Center.
Another place that would be great for decorations is Macy’s, but be warned - it’s super easy to get lost in there! I visited just to use a restroom one day, and ended up trying to find the exit for at least 30 minutes! I’ve heard Macy’s displays are incredible though, and am definitely adding them to my list for next time!
Okay, okay. I know I already touched on the tree here, but there is so much more going on in Rockefeller Center than just the Christmas Tree (although that is a huge part of it). There’s ice skating, the famous F.A.O. Schwartz toy shop, giant Christmas decorations all over, lots of friendly people, and is super close to some of New York’s big attractions (like Radio City - more on that later). While I wouldn’t set aside a whole day here, it’s a great place to spend a few hours and get some fun Insta shots and make some new memories.
Something to note: F.A.O. Schwartz is going to have a line. A long line. I really wanted to go in and be a little kid again, but couldn’t justify waiting in a line that wraps around the building, no matter how badly I wanted to play the giant floor piano.
If you want to go ice skating, know that Rockefeller Center isn’t the only place to do it. Yes, it looks iconic and romantic in the movies, but the rink is actually a lot smaller than it appears. I’m sure it’s still lots of fun, but the price and long wait were enough to make me consider skating somewhere else. (I didn’t actually end up going ice skating - something I wish we had done!) Another place that is pretty popular for ice skating is Bryant Park, and is the one we were going to go to if we were able to make it!
Really love Christmas? Want to do a NYC bar crawl too?? Then find out when Santa-con is and plan your trip around that. Since my trip was actually for business, I couldn’t actually plan it for that weekend, but we found a smaller Santa-con only an hour train ride from the city. There are people of all levels of commitment to Santa - from just a Christmas t-shirt, to full blown costumes, belly and all. If you’re going to go - plan on having a way to keep track of your friends, it can be easy to get lost with everyone in red and white fuzzy suits.
The Nutcracker - A Christmas in NYC Tradition
Something I wish I had gotten to see. New York City Ballet puts on one of the world’s most iconic Nutcracker performances. It’s so popular that it is shown on major television networks every year. For those of you unaware, the Nutcracker is a Christmas story of a girl named Clara, who falls asleep with her Uncle’s gift of a magical nutcracker, and dreams of a land of sweets - only to wake up to wonder if it was ever truly a dream or not. It’s a classic Christmas tale that is appropriate for date nights, families, or even a solo show. If you’re able to snag tickets and enjoy a world-class performance, definitely check it out!
By no means is this image even a smidge of what incredible dancing that New York City Ballet does, but it's my only picture of The Nutcracker. Fun fact, this is a snap from my senior year Nutcracker, of my role as Snow Queen!
Now this was another performance that I had always dreamed of seeing. How iconic is it to see the Rockettes at their home stage at Radio City? Their Christmas Spectacular ticket prices were astronomical for even a nose-bleed seat, and I quickly got discouraged. That is, until I happened to be browsing around the seating chart and found tickets for $40. Yes, that’s right - FORTY DOLLARS. How on earth, there must be a typo. This seat seemed too good to be true - it was on the third level Mezzanine, right in the center. Turns out, on paper, it is too good to be true. When I went to book, I got a warning that said something along the lines of “this is an obstructed view, are you sure?” How could I pass up a dream performance? I started searching around for views of that section and found out that the “obstruction” was the booth they use for lighting and music. I booked the tickets immediately and let me tell you, I had a perfect view, and felt awesome that I had snagged the tickets for only $40! That is unheard of for any New York performance. Moral of the story - if you can snag a ticket with an obstructed view for a reasonable price, do it. The view might just be incredible like mine was and it'll make your Christmas in NYC unforgettable!
Somewhere I love spending time when I’m in NYC, but didn’t get to spend much time in for this trip. Central Park is home to many Christmas traditions that I wish I had the opportunity to participate in. Ice skating, looking at the Christmas lights, and a variety of holiday events around the park make Central Park that much more magical. Gran a hot chocolate and blanket, and go snuggle up on a bench to watch everyone snuggled up walk by!
And last but not least, the most magical part of winter, snow! I’ve only seen snow a couple times in my life, but love how it makes the sky glitter and the ground look like it was covered in icing. New York is a great place to experience snow during Christmas time. I was so excited when I was walking from Rockefeller Center to Radio City and saw flurries falling from the sky! It seems like the city lights up the snowflakes and makes the whole sky look like it’s dotted with diamonds. The snow may not stick, or even fall all the way to the ground depending when you visit, but if you’re lucky enough to get snowfall during your trip, soak in the magic that snow can give a normally plain, concrete jungle.
I think Christmas in NYC will forever be one of my favorite memories, and hope to someday experience it again. Now that I know all the things to see and what to expect, I’m sure it will be an incredible experience! Nothing will ever beat your first time seeing Christmas in New York though, it is truly something magical and something I hope everyone gets the chance to experience at least once in their lifetime!