Here are all the best things to do in NYC in December if you’re planning a Christmas in New York this year. Christmas in NYC is magical!
I’m just back from 5 days in New York. Guys, it was awesome. I’ll admit, it wasn’t all the dreamy ‘Christmas in New York’ experience I imagined, but with my help, yours can be.
I didn’t manage to meet Santa in Macy’s like on Miracle on 34th Street, I didn’t sing carols in the street a la Elf, and I definitely didn’t go ice skating in Central Park, as in Home Alone.
Nope, turns out those cliche New York Christmassy experiences are kind of exaggerated in the movies. NYC in December is busy, hectic, exciting and colder than you’d imagine. But oh so totally worth it.
Top Tips for New York at Christmas
Remember these tips for a December NYC when your turn comes around, you’ll thank me for it!
- Top Tips for New York at Christmas
- 1. Pack carefully for a freezing cold city
- 2. Christmas is busy in NYC, get up early
- 3. You HAVE to see Central Park in the snow
- 4. Go to Museums for warmth
- 6. Drinking warms you up
- 7. Keep your energy up with eating
- 8. Go to as many Christmassy shows as possible
- 9. Take time for shopping in New York
- 10. Give yourself time to get around
- 11. Visit an NYC Christmas Market
- The downsides of Christmas in NYC
- FAQs about New York Christmas
1. Pack carefully for a freezing cold city
It was freezing in New York in December.
One day it was -8C and the wind made it feel even worse. I’d packed so poorly for Christmas in NYC, I ended up wearing pretty much the same thing every day I was there.
Two pairs of tights, socks, jeans, a vest top, a t shirt, a long sleeved top, a jumper, a coat, a scarf, hat and gloves. Layered up AF. And still, the top part of my cheeks (on my face) felt like they were being stabbed by icicles as I walked from sight to sight.
It was so cold my phone kept turning itself off (yeah, cheers for that, Apple). It snowed, it iced and it turned to slush.
I’d strongly recommend packing your thermals, and layering up too. It starts with some great city walking boots – if your feet are warm, you’ll be right.
The first thing on your list of things to do in NYC in December, is to pack enough clothes to stay warm and have a bag to peel off the layers into when you go into the shops.
2. Christmas is busy in NYC, get up early
Christmas in NYC is one of the busiest times you can visit the city. I’d strongly recommend setting up an alarm clock to get up early to see the best sights without the crazy crowds.
I was in New York by myself, meeting a friend on a few days, so it my Christmas in NYC was more about the day time than the evening anyway. I was fine to get up early to explore New York in December.
I strolled up to the Rockefeller Tree, to the bottom of the Chrysler Building and to get that view of the Empire State Building. I’m lucky enough to say I’ve been up twice before, so to save myself the $56 entrance fee, I admired from below.
For free entertainment, I walked the Brooklyn Bridge, enjoying the views of the New York skyline and the Statue of Liberty as I went. I also went to the New York Public Library, which looked just like something from Harry Potter.
3. You HAVE to see Central Park in the snow
If you’re in New York in December, you must see snowy Central Park.
I headed straight to Central Park as soon as I saw the ten inches of snow on waking up one morning. I wanted to photograph those famous wintry scenes with the skyscrapers in the background.
I layered up, ventured out, saw Central Park, and then had to seek warmth ten minutes later when no matter how many layers I had on, they were no match for the freezing cold.
As my seventh time in New York (crazy hey!) I’d already done a lot of the sights – the High Line, the Statue of Liberty, MoMA, Top of the Rock, Times Square – and so it was a chance to just walk around, relax and enjoy what I saw. Darting into shops as I needed to warm up as I went.
4. Go to Museums for warmth
We spent a whole afternoon at the 9/11 Memorial Museum – so much to see and so much to learn. It was so interesting to learn more about what happened, and how the survivors survived. There were 1000s of exhibits there from phone calls between the the plane passengers and their loved ones, to photos that had been made famous around the world and the symbolic Last Column of the trade centers.
I’d definitely recommend going to this in New York. It was interesting to read about their version of events since too.
There are so many museums in New York that are great to seek warmth from the cold, but you might want to book in advance to make sure you get in, and go early too. December in NYC and the museums will be your saviour!
6. Drinking warms you up
Although the cold meant I didn’t experience all the attractions I’d expected (still sad about it being too cold for ice skating), it did mean I had a lovely time exploring some of the bars with my friend Andrea in New York in December. My friend from university, she moved to New York six months ago.
We went to The Whiskey in Williamsburg, right next to the Brooklyn Brewery, and one of those bars you could imagine spending the whole day in. It was like a cellar, all cosy, and with no notion of time or the craziness of outside Manhattan just across the water. Just two, super strong, cocktails later (for me, a Spicy Margarita and Grandma Joan’s Special Lemonade) and we decided to go to The (fancy) Wythe Hotel next door to take in the views of the skyline and have a mulled wine.
A few days later and I met Andrea again at The Keg Room in Manhattan – an Irish-American sports bar, where we had no interest in the sports, just the Riesling. And then we went to try and get into Rolf’s. Big mistake. Every year they spend $60k on decorations (why don’t they use the same ones I’m wondering?) making it the number one place for New Yorkers to go to feel Christmassy. It was 4pm on a Friday and the people at the front of said queue, outside, had been there for an hour.
Did I mention it was freezing?
So we went to Molly’s Irish Bar, a few doors up, obviously picking up the passing trade for Rolf’s. They looked like they invested 10% of the $60k, at a push, yet it was full and the sawdust floor hinted to me that things might get a little crazy later on.
And so a bottle of Malbec later and we went on to Eataly. A huge warehouse that’s been turned into a food store of everything Italy inspired. On the roof they’ve set up a terrace, ski-style, serving food and drink. We spent the next five hours eating lasagne, drinking red wine, mulled wine and the free Prosecco they offered us to get off the table and drink at the bar.
Rounding up my drinking recommendations for New York at Christmas. Expect to pay from $12 / £10 per drink, plus tax, plus tip, at 20%. Yeah, it gets expensive.
7. Keep your energy up with eating
If I listed what I ate in New York I’d be embarrassed… so here goes.
I kept getting to a stage where I was absolutely ravenous – could have something to do with the cold and the 20k+ steps I was doing a day – and anything would do. The fanciest meal I had was that one at Eataly, where a 10cm x 10cm piece of spinach lasagne cost $25 / £20.
– Didn’t take one picture of my food in New York,
here are some massive baubles instead
Food is exp-en-sive in New York, even cheap food.
Every day for breakfast I had some variation of and egg and / or bacon and / or cheese from Hana Food, a hipster organic food shop, by Jefferson Avenue Metro stop in Williamsburg where I was staying. They were $3, and a coffee was $1 – the cheapest I found in the city by far (expect around $6 at Starbucks). And actually nice, Colombian, in fact.
Other food devoured over my 5 day trip to New York in December included delicious pizza from Rays (chain, all over, I highly recommend, $7 a slice), tacos from La Chula inside Grand Central Station (3 = $17), pizza from Prova ($6), also in Grand Central, and a Kansas style Hot Dog from Zaro’s Family Bakery ($6) .
Every day I seemed to be at Grand Central Station for one reason or another. The food options in there were good for someone on a budget, and, as I was for those meals, by myself.
I also had Wasabi sushi one day ($13), pumpkin soup and a bagel from Pret a Manger ($12) and actually missed two dinners thanks to the shows I went to. Although one of those nights I did pick up a hot dog from a street seller for $4. Grim, to the highest degree.
But, the best for last, the burger at Alls Well in Williamsburg was without a doubt, on a par with Honest Burger in London as one of the best I’ve ever had.
Yeah, I’m probably not the person to ask for foodie recommendations in New York in December, unless Grand Central Station and Alls Well are enough for you.
– If you’re looking for kid-friendly restaurants in NYC, check this post out –
8. Go to as many Christmassy shows as possible
Some of the absolute MUST things to do in NYC in December include going to see the festive shows.
You can’t go to New York without watching a show right?
Randomly my friend Kelly – who I went to Wilderness Festival with – and her sister arrived in New York the same day I did. On the Tuesday we decided to get tickets for The Rockettes, apparently the best Christmas show in New York around.
It was so good. So good.
And then the next night Andrea had tickets to The Nutcracker Rouge – a burlesque take on The Nutcracker. The dancing, the storyline, the singing – it was all absolutely incredible. I know I keep saying things are the best, but this was honestly one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. My favourite part was when the dancer was high up in a hoop, singing Sia’s Chandelier operatically and in French, as glitter fell on her.
New life goals right there.
There are lots of fun, festive shows in New York in December to make the most of at Christmas. Just have a look at the listings for the time you’re there, and you can also head to Times Square for cheap tickets too.
9. Take time for shopping in New York
Shopping: the ultimate on the list of things to do in NYC in December, hey?
To manage expectations though, shopping in New York is no cheaper than in the UK. I think maybe once upon a time it was, but with the ££ being so low, not any more.
It didn’t stop the window shopping though and as long as you treat every shop as a museum – where you can look but don’t touch – you’ll be alright. And of course, being Christmas, some of the shop window displays were awesome.
The highlight of my shopping experiences was walking up Broadway with a hot cider from Union Square – as there were so many pretty and unique shops to look at.
I also walked round Chelsea Market picking up a few presents as I went and I filled my basket in Century 21 with gifts for others, but mostly for myself. I actually had to buy a new bag to fit all my new possessions in.
Whether you like shopping or not, the window displays on the main streets of NYC are just magical.
READ MORE: All my USA travel blogs are here!
10. Give yourself time to get around
As we’ve said, Christmas in NYC can be hectic. You need to give yourself enough time to get from A to B, especially if you have timed tickets. The NYC Subway is easy to navigate, and there are buses and Ubers too.
Don’t get yourself in a flap by not leaving enough time to move.
11. Visit an NYC Christmas Market
New York now has quite a few Christmas markets dotted around the city. You can buy food, clothes, artwork, novelty crafts and gifts with a festive theme. Great place for a mulled wine and a chocolatey treat if you’re in New York in December.
The best ones are Bryant Park Holiday Market (with ice rink), the Union Square Holiday Market, Grand Central Holiday Market and Columbus Circle Holiday Market too.
The downsides of Christmas in NYC
I’ve had a brilliant few days, but the reality of Christmas in New York is that the shops are super busy, the bars full and the weather outside, literally, frightful. It was too cold to even contemplate the ice skating, and I had a quick peep in Macy’s, wanting to buy a Christmas decoration, but recoiling at the minimum $40 for pretty much any piece of hanging tat. Yes, this, was $40.
If you’re happy to hot drink crawl the avenues and streets, as I did, make sure you dress warm, bring some fur lined boots – or buy some at Century 21 – and be prepared for the cold and the people traffic, then Christmas in New York can be a brilliant (probably) once in a lifetime experience.
If you do go, keep an eye on Company XIV to see if they’re performing, the Nutcracker Rouge was the absolute highlight of my December in NYC.
There’s lots more to see in the city too, check out my guide to 4 days in New York here.
FAQs about New York Christmas
1. What best things to do on a New York Christmas?
You will be overwhelmed with all the things you could do on a New York Christmas because it’s literally too many. A piece of advice: you better start your day early.
Head over the streets and experience broadway shows (Rockettes Christmas Spectacular), spectate light shows (Saks, Randall’s Island), check out Christmas markets and shops, (Chelsea Market, Macy’s, Columbus Square, Union Square, Bryant Park), stroll around spectacular parks (Central Park) dine in restaurants with holiday treats, drink up to bars, and tree and skating at Rockefeller Center, of course!
2. What’s New York like at Christmas?
It’s MAGICAL. That’s what New York is like during Christmas. It’s like everybody’s dream place. The streets may be busy but around you, your eyes will be filled with nothing but amazing sights of lights, displays, and performances.
3. Is Christmas in New York worth it?
A hundred percent! It’s the liveliest, grandest, and best Christmas vacation that you’ll ever experience. And I attest that it’s one of the time of the year to visit the place. Nothing compares.
4. When does New York put the Christmas tree up?
The famous tree at Rockefeller Center in New York will be put up on November 20, 2022 and will run until the first week of January 2023. It will be lit daily from 5:30 pm – 12 am. Since its tradition way back in 1931, the tree gave everyone a free amazing sight to enjoy watching on every Christmas holiday in NY.
5. When does New York take their Christmas decorations down?
Christmas spirit dies down in New York City around the first week of January (usually around the 5th-7th day) when decorations are taken down. This is also along whenever the feast of the Epiphany is held.
6. How do New York locals celebrate Christmas?
Well, New York locals are no different from tourists when celebrating Christmas. They get together with their families, do the usual exchanging of gifts, share thanksgiving, and the other usual Christmas traditions. Of course, they crash the streets of New York to do fun holiday activities.
7. Are there New York Christmas restaurants?
Not only do the streets of New York show off the Christmas spirit but restaurants as well make an effort to have Christmas in full effect. Around this time of the year, many will be putting up lights and popups to resonate more with the vibes of the special holiday. There are exclusive dishes too in relation to the holiday that every customer can choose from.
Some of the best spots to dine and enjoy Christmas decorations are Rolf’s, Tavern On the Green, Sunday In Brooklyn / Williamsburg, Bell Book & Candle, Temple Court, Lillie’s Victorian Establishment, Oscar Wilde, and Haven Rooftop. You should not miss these places
8. Should you go to NYC at Christmas?
Oh, absolutely definitely. Visiting NYC at Christmas was an absolute dream of mine and I’m so glad I’ve done it. Despite the cold and the hectic streets just being there was everything.
The streets, the NYC landmarks, the sidewalks, the people, the accents and the excited buzz in the air just made an extra special trip that I’ll remember forever.
New York in December? Go for it!
If you want to warm up after a Christmas in New York, how about driving to Miami from NYC on an awesome road trip? You can thaw out!
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