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A Local’s Detailed NYC Guide to the Christmas Holidays

Updated: Dec 16, 2020

“It’s looking a lot like Christmas.”

The weather is getting all the more colder.

Streets and Christmas trees are being decked out in Christmas lights.

Christmas markets are springing up around the city.

Rockefeller Tree is being set up.

Stores are elaborately decorating their storefronts.

New York City is truly magical during the Christmas season, and I take that for granted as a native New Yorker. There is so much to love -- Christmas markets, decorations, the window decorations, and the sweets! 2020 has been the year of New York City appreciation because of the pandemic. Hence, I wanted to take the time to share the wealth of things there are to do in New York City, including both the typical “touristy” bucket list items as well as many local items too! Now more than ever, Christmas cheer is needed. Let’s embrace the holiday season -- which is typically from Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving) to post New Years -- with this Comprehensive NYC Christmas Bucketlist, which will answer:

  • What is there to do in NYC on holidays?

  • Is Christmas a good time to visit New York?

  • What is there to do in NYC on Christmas Day?

  • What are things to do in New York at Christmas 2020?

NOTE: Please note some of these things are canceled for the 2020 season because of the pandemic, so make sure to check! For 2020, I highly recommend sticking to the Bucketlist items that are outside for your safety.

Table of Contents

1. Watch a Holiday Show1. Watch a Holiday Show
2. Grab a Drink at a Holiday Rooftop2. Grab a Drink at a Holiday Rooftop
3. Check out a Holiday Pop Up3. Check out a Holiday Pop Up
4. Shop at a Christmas Market4. Shop at a Christmas Market
5. Rock Around a Christmas Tree5. Rock Around a Christmas Tree
6. Gaze at Holiday Window Displays6. Gaze at Holiday Window Displays 
7. Ice skate in one of the major rinks7. Ice skate in one of the major rinks
8. Explore a Holiday Light Display8. Explore a Holiday Light Display
9. Walk around Holiday Decorated Home or Neighborhood9. Walk around Holiday Decorated Home or Neighborhood
10. Attend Christmas Mass10. Attend Christmas Mass
11. Participate in a Holiday Tour11. Participate in a Holiday Tour
12. Take a Photo with Santa12. Take a Photo with Santa
13. Participate in a Holiday Music Event13. Participate in a Holiday Music Event
14. Sip some hot chocolate14. Sip some hot chocolate
15. Participate in a unique holiday event15. Participate in a unique holiday event

Tips Before Visiting for Christmas Holidaysfor Christmas Holidays
Other Christmas Holiday Blog Posts

1. Watch a Holiday Show

  • The Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes: Did you really do a NYC Christmas right if you did not go to the Radio City Christmas show? The Rockettes first performed at Radio City in 1932 and continues to this day!

  • The New York City Ballet: The Nutcracker: The New York City Ballet at Lincoln Center puts on the Nutcracker annually

  • The Hip Hop Nutcracker: This is a modern version of the Nutcracker, incorporating hip-hop choreography at the historic Kings Theater. It's a great way to watch the Nutcracker without the traditional ballet if that is not your thing!

  • A Christmas Carol -- Merchant House Edition: Located in a 19th-century mansion, this rendition of the Christmas Carol occurs in a candlelight setting, providing the perfect setting for the show

  • A Christmas Carol on Broadway: There is now an additional version of “A Christmas Carol” from the same director as “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”

  • A Christmas Carol in Harlem: This version, which occurs at Aaron Davis Hall at City College is set in present-day Manhattan

  • Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol: This version of “A Christmas Carol” from the Staten Island Shakespeare Company Edition is told from the perspective of Ebenezer Scrooge’s departed business partner

  • ‘Twas the Night Before…by Cirque du Soleil: This is Cirque du Soleil’s first Christmas show, filled with acrobatics set to classic Christmas tunes.

  • A Brooklyn Tabernacle Show: Yearly, the Brooklyn Tabernacle puts on a yearly festive show for free. However, you need to get a hold of those free tickets from the church.

  • The Brooklyn Nutcracker in the Jewel Box: This offers nine opportunities for people to see a production that fuses ballett, hip-hop, and world dance genres to recreate the Nutcracker. This will be performed in the Brooklyn Ballet’s studio in their windows.


2. Grab a Drink at a Holiday Rooftop

  • SERRA by Birreria: For each season, the rooftop restaurant at the Eataly Flatiron’s location is transformed, which includes the Christmas holiday season. The menu is also inspired by the season as well!

  • Chalet at Mr. Purple: This is set up as a ski lodge on a rooftop. They offer seasonal cocktails and meals!

  • 230 Fifth Rooftop: Every year, they install their Rooftop Igloo Bar. Each igloo can accommodate 4-10 guests and they must be reserved in advance. You can even enjoy movies from the igloo!

  • PHD Terrace at Dream Midtown: This rooftop has been transformed into the setting of A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the winter using lots of lights and plants.

  • Haven Rooftop at Sanctuary Hotel: This rooftop changes its themes by the season. This winter, they created a wintery ski chalet look, making it very cozy.

  • The Rooftop at Pier 17, South Street Seaport: They install individual dining cabins that can sit up to 10 people. The cabins have winter decor, a virtual fireplace, heaters, and amazing NYC views.

  • Winterly Rooftop (at 'Summerly' at The Hoxton): Looking for a winter wonderland? Check this out! You can dine under starry lights while sipping on a warm winter cocktail

  • Electric Lemon at the Equinox Hotel of Hudson Yards: It doesn’t get better than gorgeous views of NYC, soulful food, and a massive fire pit

  • The Standard: The Standard has opened an enchanted forest with outdoor Christmas movie screening filled with fresh pine trees and twinkling lights, plus outdoor heaters and faux-fur throw blankets to keep you warm and cozy. The food-and-drink menu is holiday themed such as cheese fondue for two, fully loaded baked potatoes and hot cocktails like spiked cocoa and mulled cider.⠀


3. Check out a Holiday Pop Up

  • Rolf’s Restaurant: This traditional German restaurant is DECKED OUT in Christmas decorations each year. It is a little pricey and fairly small but always draws a crowd. The best way to enjoy is by grabbing eggnog or a seasonal cocktail You can also reserve a table to enjoy classic German food

  • Miracle: Since 2014, this is a Christmas-themed pop-up cocktail bar offering seasonal drinks with over the top Christmas decorations. It started in the East Village, but now there are several locations in NYC and even around the world

  • NoMad: On Sunday evenings, this holiday popup bar, which is located in a hotel offers seasonal drinks such as “Lump of Coal” made with mezcal, oloroso sherry, fig leaf, and verjus or the “Candy Cane Colada” with absinthe, Branca Menta, coconut, and pineapple


4. Shop at a Christmas Market


  • Winter Village at Bryant Park: This Christmas village has it all -- ice skating, food stalls, drinks, and shopping.

  • Union Square Holiday Market: This holiday market features many local spots to shop and eat in the middle of Union Square

  • Columbus Circle Holiday Market: Conveniently located at the Columbus Circle entrance of Central Park, this market has several food and craft options

  • Grand Central Holiday Fair: Looking for a holiday market that is not outside to warm up during the winter? This indoor market is located inside of Grand Central Station.

  • Grand Holiday Bazaar: Operating since 1982, this Upper West Side market sells items from 150+ local artisans as well as delicious food and treats! The best part is that 100% of the profits go to four public schools

  • 3rd and B’zaar: located in the East Village at 191 E. Third St. between Avenue A and Avenue B. and 3rd Street, this holiday market offers unique, vintage, and affordable gifts for the holiday season from local merchants, artists, and designers! Great place to shop for records, home goods, artwork, clothing, jewelry, and more!

  • The Market at Westfield: Located in the World Trade Center Oculus, this market has over 20 specialty shops as well as areas you can take cute holiday photos


  • Brooklyn Flea + Smorgasburg Winter Market: Although this exists all year, during the holidays, they offer more holiday-themed decorations and gifts

  • Brooklyn Navy Yard Annual Holiday Market: This is the perfect place to find unique Brooklyn-made gifts from over 30 vendors ranging from fashion, art and design, and home goods. There are even ornament engraving and screen-printed bags and prints

  • I Am Caribbeing Holiday Market: this annual holiday market (4th year now!) features Caribbean and LatinX brands from NYC and “Back Home” selling a range of food, beauty, jewelry, and hand-crafted good. This year it is in Prospect Park.

  • Oasis Market Holiday Pop Up: Looking for another Black-Owned market, check this curated 3-week Holiday boutique, featuring goods from 20+ Black-Owned businesses to shop from! Find everything from clothing, jewelry, candles, skincare, home goods, teas, snacks, and more, while supporting some amazing, local, Black-owned brands.

  • Holiday Market at City Point: Taking place on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays throughout the holiday season, this market features local craftspeople, artisans and entrepreneurs with a special goal to amplify the voices of BIPOC and LGBTQIA entrepreneurs

  • Holiday Village at MetroTech Commons: The open-air holiday market’s focus is on local artisans, accessories, home goods, beauty products, jewelry, plants, and artisanal distillers, and is located directly in front of the Metro Tech Commons Christmas tree. It is open from Thursdays- Sundays.


  • Astoria Market: Located at the Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden, you can shop for art, jewelry, chocolates, toys, clothing, and more as gifts and then head downstairs for drinks and goulash.

  • Queens County Farm Museum: Although this is quite far from most of the other things on this list, it is worth it if you want a change of scenery. This is worth stopping at if you are coming from or heading to JFK Airport. Throughout the month of December, there is usually a holiday market to buy Christmas trees, poinsettias, and wreaths. You can even take a wreath-making class. They also have cider and crafts for kids.


5. Rock around a Christmas Tree

The most popular Christmas tree to visit is at Rockefeller Center. However, there are many others worth visiting as well. The cool part is that many Christmas trees have a special tree lighting events. There are so many options of Christmas trees to visit that I created a whole separate post about it! Check out: 15 Must-See Christmas trees in NYC. You will literally be rocking around a Christmas tree!


6. Gaze at Holiday Window Displays

The tradition of holiday window displays started in the 1800s when Macy’s was the first to decorate their windows. Isn’t it crazy that this tradition still continues today? If you are looking to be time-efficient, just walk along Fifth Avenue in Manhattan to check out window displays from designer stores! Here are some of the most stunning window displays to check out:

  • Macy’s (151 W 34th St): This is the GOAT of windows decor as they started the trend and are still here! You must take the time to enjoy each window, as they each have their own storyline and moving parts. Inside is usually decked out too!

  • Saks 5th Avenue (611 5th Ave): This brings huge crowds of people with their time window light shows -- yes, it is not just a display, but a whole show with moving lights and music. Each year brings a different theme. They also do different vignettes with their window displays

  • Cartier (653 5th Ave): They keep it classic, wrapping the store like a present with a huge red bow! They also have charming window displays as well

  • Bergdorf Goodman (754 5th Ave): They go ALL out with their decorations. A production team works for nearly a year to bring their themes to life.

  • Bloomingdale’s (Lexington and 59th): Looking for more themed window displays? This is another spot to go to! In 2019, their theme was “An Out of This World Holiday Windows” inspired by the 50th anniversary of the first lunar landing and featured futuristic fashion

  • American Girl: Using 15,000 lights, the window displays are brainstormed from the middle of the summer with a combination of graphic designers, copywriters, and visual managers from the three flagship stores (Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles) to work together to come up with a concept. Their display always feature their American Girl dolls

  • Tiffany & Co: The outside of Tiffany & Co. is decked out with oversized jewels, which fits perfectly with the store’s theme

  • Hudson Yards: The holiday decor is spectacular this year! In addition to illuminating the existing trees in the Plaza, a forest of 725 additional trees are being added and decorated. There will be more than 2 million glistening lights inviting guests to celebrate the season - that’s 610,000 feet / 115 miles of string lights! On The Plaza, there are five illuminated hot air balloons that are each 16' tall and the 32' masterpiece hot air balloon is suspended proudly in The Great Room at The Shops.


7. Ice skate in one of the major skating rinks

  • Rockefeller Center: This is considered to be the most iconic skating rink in the city. It is pretty epic to skate with the Rockefeller Christmas tree in your background. However, this is definitely one of the pricier rinks costing around $50 between admission price and skate rental.

  • Bryant Park: The Bryant Park Winter Village rink is also a classic. This rink is free -- you just need to rent skates or bring your own. In fact, it is New York City’s only ice skating rink with free admission. Afterward, you can then check out the Christmas village for the markets.

  • Winterland Rink at Pier 17: This rooftop skating rink offers AMAZING views. It is also conveniently located near the winter market where you can sip on some hot cocoa and holiday shop

  • Wollman Rink in Central Park: Another famous spot is Wollman Rink, located very near the Central Park Zoo. In the summertime, this turns into a roller skating rink. This is a perfect spot as you are surrounded by stunning views of The Plaza Hotel and Gapstow Bridge in the background. It’s also within walking distance from many of the high-end designer stores with amazing Christmas decor

  • Laser Rink in Central Park: This is Central Park’s other ice rink, which isn’t as popular or picturesque. Hence, it is not as crowded and expensive either. This is located in the northern section of the Park, next to the North Meadow.

  • The Rink at Brookfield Place: Named #1 rink by Curbed NY and Thrillist, this is run by the U.S. Olympians Melissa Gregory and Denis Petukhov. If you don’t want to skate, you can come watch performances with different figure skaters and acrobats during “Red Hot Holidays.” This rink is part of Brookfield Place Mall, so you can go shopping afterward. Located in Battery Park City, there are great views of the Hudson River.

  • LeFrak Center in Prospect Park: Looking for an option that is not in Manhattan? Check out this center which is actually two outdoor ice skating rinks in Brooklyn. You can enjoy picturesque views of Prospect Park Lake!

  • WWII Veterans Memorial Ice Skating Rink: There are options if you live in Staten Island and don’t want to trek to Manhattan. This is a public skating rink located within Clove Lakes Park that is run by the NYC Parks Department

  • Staten Island Skating Pavilion: This is another option for those who live in or closer to Staten Island. This ice rink is open year-round and open to the public on Saturdays and Sundays


8. Explore a Holiday Light Display

Please Note: For most of the following places, you need to pay for and reserve a ticket ahead of time!

Massive Light Display:

  • LuminoCity Festival: Located on Randall’s Island, this is an outdoor light festival based on the tradition of Chinese lantern festivals. There are food trucks to purchase bites and beverages. There will be buses running from the East 125th Street 4,5,6 subway station every 30 minutes to help get you there

  • Bronx Zoo Holiday Lights: Returning last year after a 10-year hiatus, this light display features creatures from Asia, Africa, and under the sea. In addition to lighted animals, there is holiday-themed music, ice carving demonstrations, costumed characters, stilt walkers, souvenirs, and seasonal treats like hot chocolate and s’mores.

  • GLOW at New York Botanical Gardens: This is a new outdoor experience designed as a result of limiting their annual Holiday Train show to members only in response to the pandemic. The garden’s landscape will be illuminated with light and color. There will also be artistic ice carving displays, dancers and musicians, and outdoor fun.

  • NYC Winter Lantern Festival: Occurring at the Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Gardens in Staten Island, this features 1,200 lanterns following the Chinese lantern tradition. This started in 2018 but did not return in 2020, so I am unsure if this will be brought back in 2021!

Alternative, smaller free light displays:

  • Luminaries at Brookfield Place: Every hour daily from 8 am-10 pm, there is a light show accompanied by four Christmas songs. There are also wishing stations that allow visitors to send a motion-activated wish that will illuminate. The money will be donated to ROAR (Relief Opportunities for All Restaurants)

  • Holiday Under the Stars at Columbus Circle: Located at The Shops at Columbus Circle in Time Warner Center, this is a holiday light show featuring twelve 14-foot stars that hang from the ceiling of the 150-foot Great Room overlooking Central Park. The show occurs every half hour daily from 4:00 pm until 7:00 pm. You can also check out the Astolat Dollhouse Castle, a display with 29 rooms filled with 10,000 miniature pieces, including elaborate furniture, oil paintings, mirrors, fireplaces, gold miniature jewelry, rare-mini books more than 100 years old, and fine rugs. This is the first-ever public viewing of the famous dollhouse.

  • Saks Fifth Avenue: Yearly, there is a ten-story-tall theatrical light show to a specific theme at its New York flagship location

  • "Make it Bright" Holiday Sculptures on 5th Avenue: There are 10 installations of illuminated toys along 5th Avenue from 51st-59th Streets to help New Yorkers get into the Holiday spirit. Each sculpture has a QR code that visitors can scan to read a story of the toy


9. Wander around Holiday Decorated Home or Neighborhood


  • Dyker Heights (between 11th to 13th Avenues from 83rd to 86th Streets): Although this is really far out in Brooklyn and near Staten Island, the trek is well worth it. Yearly, over 100,000 people -- both New Yorkers and tourists -- flock to Dyker Heights to check out the over the top house displays spread throughout the neighborhood. In addition to displays, some houses have performers and sell/give away sweet treats

  • Seddio House in Canarsie (Flatlands Avenue and East 93rd Street): Since 1963, Brooklyn Democratic Party Chairman and 59th Assembly District Leader Frank Seddio annually decorates his family house -- it has become known as Canarsie’s Christmas house. Typically there are over 50,000 lights, 200 animated figures, and numerous other decorations costing around $350,000. Last year, there were musical performances by the chorus of a local public school and choir of a local church. Every year, the event honors a different member of the community.


  • Santa's Corner in Whitestone (166-04 23rd Avenue): Owner Kevin Lynch’s house has become known as Santa’s Corner -- a tradition that he started over two decades over to compete with this neighbor. This home is usually wrapped in thousands of lights, covered with lawn figures, and even has a glass display case with moving toys. The second-floor windows display holiday movies. Decorations take about three months to put up, beginning in September and ending around Thanksgiving! The display stays up until Three Kings Day. They take donations for a local children’s charity.

  • Little North Pole in Rockaway (144-03 Neponsit Avenue): Owner Joe Mure, a criminal attorney, decks out his home yearly to put a smile on visitors' faces and raise money for children with juvenile diabetes. He has been decorating his home, located near the beach, for more than 20 years

  • Christmas in Jamaica Estates in Jamaica (185-07 80th Drive ): Anthony Gurino and his grandson yearly decorate their house, the fence around the property, and the large tree, which can be seen from blocks away. There's a Nativity scene, as well as a few menorahs. They use this as an opportunity to raise money for the charity Toys for Tots.

  • Howard Beach's Musical House in Old Howard Beach (white house at the corner of 97th Street and 165th Avenue): They install lights timed to music played on speakers outside. There are dozens of other decked out homes along Cross Bay Boulevard

  • Krieger's Village in Glendale (corner of 77th Street and 76th Avenue): Owner Charlie Krieger takes three weeks to set up Christmas decorations and an elaborate miniature village inside his garage. There is also a singing Christmas tree, multiple singing Santas, and two massive inflatables. He started this tradition about 20 years ago.

Staten Island

  • Christmas Lights 4 Life in Charleston (107 Sharrotts Road): Annually, Joe DiMartino and his family have transformed their house into a Christmas wonderland to honor his wife, Debra Ann, who was killed on 9/11. Usually, there is a walk-through experience as every square inch is covered in decorations. Donations are collected for Staten Island University Hospital's Pediatric Cancer Unit in memory of his wife.


  • Garabedian Family's Christmas House in Pelham Gardens (1605 Pelham Parkway North at Westervelt Avenue): The Garabedian family's home has become known to many as the Christmas House. Each year, since 1973, they set up a traditional nativity scene with nearly 200 mannequins glammed up in Hollywood style gowns that they outfit themselves, as they are in the fabric-trimming business. There is also holiday music blasting from multiple speakers. People visit from the tri-state area to check this out. A few other homes nearby are also decorated. It is reported they