Christmas in New York City: Best Events & Things to See

Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree

 

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Christmas is the ultimate time to visit New York City. The Big Apple is a major holiday destination from the time Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade marches down Sixth Avenue until the ball drops above Times Square. Between the skyscraper-sized Norwegian spruce in Rockefeller Center and the beautifully decorated storefronts along Fifth Avenue, New York City is brimming with festive attractions.

It's highly recommended to book your hotel and attraction tickets months in advance. While you're there, definitely don't forget to venture out to some of the lesser-known holiday events.

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Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

Thanksgiving Day Parade

 

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This nearly century-old tradition is the starting point of holiday spirit in New York City. Every Thanksgiving morning, the iconic floats and balloons that make up Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade make their way along Central Park West and Sixth Avenue. All the good viewing spots are taken by the wee hours of Thursday morning, but you can actually see the balloons up-close on the Upper West Side the day before.

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Radio City Christmas Spectacular

2018 Christmas Spectacular Opening Night

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The Radio City Rockettes are world famous for their high kicks and candy-cane costumes. Anyone who visits NYC over the holidays should make time to watch their most beloved show of the year, the Christmas Spectacular, at the iconic Radio City Music Hall. The show combines such classic scenes as "Parade of the Wooden Soldiers" and "New York at Christmas" with new numbers and cutting-edge digital projection which transforms Radio City Music Hall's interior into a giant canvas. This year's show takes place November 8, 2019, through January 5, 2020.

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New York Botanical Garden’s Holiday Train Show

Christmas Tree at conservatory in New York Botanical Garden, Bronx

 

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The New York Botanical Garden’s Holiday Train Show is a lesser-known exhibit if you're looking for an opportunity to escape the crowds. The Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge, and Yankee Stadium are among the 150 landmarks that form the mini cityscape built from seeds, bark, leaves, and twigs. You'll watch trains ride a half-mile of track through the historic Enid A. Haupt Conservatory and maybe even be treated to a musical performance. The event takes place November 23, 2019, to January 26, 2020.

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THE RIDE: Holiday Edition

The Ride

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See New York City’s holiday attractions from the comfort of a multi-million dollar motor coach on this Christmas-themed bus tour. The experience is hosted by two New York City experts and features live street performers, which you can watch through floor-to-ceiling windows. This year's rides can be taken from mid-November until the first week of January. 

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Origami Holiday Tree

The American Museum of Natural History's annual Origami Holiday Tree is a staple of Christmastime in New York City. This year's theme is "T. rex and Friends: History in the Making," which is inspired by the museum's current T. rex exhibition. The 13-foot tree is decorated with hundreds of hand-folded paper models created by local, national, and international origami artists. You can get in the act, too. Volunteers will be on hand to teach the art of origami. The event takes place from November 25, 2019, through January 12, 2020.

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The Nutcracker at New York City Ballet

Opening December 5, 2019, one of the season’s favorite annual productions, George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker is an age-old holiday treat complete with marching toy soldiers, a one-ton Christmas tree that grows before the audience’s eyes, and crystalline snowflakes. This special event features the entire company, plus 62 musicians, 40 stagehands, and more than 125 children from the School of American Ballet. 

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Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree

Brightly illuminated the Rockefeller Plaza ice skating rink filled with tourists and locals skating and watching, with a Christmas tree during the holiday season.

 

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One of your first stops in NYC will inevitably be the tree on Rockefeller Plaza. Each year, the city drops the largest evergreen it can find right in the heart of Midtown Manhattan and lights it during a celebrity-studded, televised ceremony in November. This year, it will be lit from December 4 to January 17, 2020. While you're at it, strap on a pair of skates and hit the ice rink at Rockefeller Center.

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Holiday Markets

Union Square Park in New York City, New York

 

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Holiday markets are a popular pastime with both tourists and locals in December. They offer an opportunity to stock up on local- and artisan-made gifts, buy vacation souvenirs, and try the local fare. Annual favorites include the Union Square Holiday Market, Columbus Circle Holiday Market, Holiday Shops at Bryant Park, and Grand Central Holiday Fair.

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Christmas Lights in Dyker Heights

Snow-covered decorations at Dyker Heights

 

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Every year the Dyker Heights neighborhood in Brooklyn becomes ablaze with illuminating exhibitions complete with 30-foot toy soldiers and nativity scenes. The residential area is about a 15-minute walk from the subway station at 79th Street and New Utrecht Avenue, but there's also a bus tour operated by A Slice of Brooklyn that can get you there. The bus features festive holiday music and old-time Christmas television variety specials, topped off with a taste of Brooklyn’s best cannolis and hot chocolate. It's a 3.5-hour tour and takes place every night in December except Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

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Shopping on Madison Avenue

Get your holiday shopping done on December 7, when the shops on Madison Street donate 20 percent of their earnings to The Society of MSK, an organization that raises funds for cancer research and patient care. The annual philanthropic event is called Miracle on Madison Avenue and it's now in its 33rd year. On the Avenue, you’ll meet MSK’s beloved therapy dogs, the Caring Canines, and costumed carolers singing familiar songs.

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Christmas in Richmond

Richmond Town is Staten Island's largest and oldest cultural institution. Every Christmas, the authentic neighborhood and farm museum complex hosts carriage rides, candlelight tours, and a “wassail bowl” in the historic courthouse. At this event, you can shop like in the olden days at the fully-functioning Stephens-Black General Store and indulge in Dutch holiday treats. Programming takes place during weekends in December and prepaid reservations are required.

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Queens County Farm Museum's Holiday Open House

Take a break from the bustling city and spend the afternoon on 47 acres of quiet farmland in Queens (no, really). This historic estate still operates as a farm today and it welcomes visitors for several festive events around the holiday, one of them being the annual Open House. On the days following Christmas, folks can come warm up by the fire at the Adriance Farmhouse in Floral Park while they partake in crafts and sip on mulled cider, all for free.

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New Year's Eve in Times Square

New Years Eve Ball Drop in Time Square

 

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Those who are brave enough to face the crowds and stand out in the cold for hours upon hours will be treated to the spectacle that is Times Square on New Years Eve. It's one of the biggest and most well-known events in the world, so despite the weather and being wedged between millions of people, it's worth it.

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