What to Do for the Holidays in NYC

12 must-do holiday traditions in New York City

New York is really at its best at Christmas—the decorations, the lights, the events…it’s a city that just gets the holidays right. With so much to choose from, where do you start? We’ve taken away some of the guesswork with these 10 holiday must do’s in the city. No matter which ones you choose (why not all?) you can’t go wrong.

1. Christmas Trees

rock center tree lit

While the indisputable Christmas tree champ is the one at Rockefeller Center, New York has others on display that are well worth a visit. Here's our list:

  • Rockefeller Center, of course. The tree—an 80 feet tall Northern Spruce that weighs roughly 12 tons—remains lit daily from 6am-midnight. The tree is decked out with 50,000 LED lights strung on five miles of wire.
  • Further uptown, the Christmas Tree and Neapolitan Crèche at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is a dazzling sight in front of the more-than-50-foot-high choir screen in the Medieval Sculpture Court.
  • Across the park, the origami tree at The American Museum of Natural History is covered with delicate origami creations: This year’s theme is “Beautiful Bugs,” and features models inspired by the upcoming Insectarium opening next year.
  • And at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, the annual Peace Tree is decorated with 1,000 paper cranes to celebrate world peace.

Rockefeller Center: 45 Rockefeller Plaza,

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Ave.,

The American Museum of Natural History, 200 Central Park West,

The Cathedral of St. John the Divine, 1047 Amsterdam Ave.,

2. The Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park

winter village bryant park

Image: Colin Miller.

If you’re looking for a kind of all-inclusive holiday experience, head to the Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park. Skate on the 17,000 square-foot rink, or watch an ice show (free admission for both!); grab a snack or a drink at the Lodge Bar + Food Hall; and stock up on gifts at the Holiday Shops, inspired by European open-air markets. There you’ll find artisan-made creations ranging from jewelry to vintage finds, glass ornaments to loose-leaf teas. To up the experience even more: Reserve a private igloo to enjoy your meal; or take on curling in the Curling Café & Bar. Now through March 3, 2024. Bryant Park,

3. abc carpet & home Holiday Bazaar

abc carpet & home

 abc carpet & home is hosting a Holiday Bazaar this year from Nov. 17 through Dec. 23rd at abc’s Manhattan Flagship at 888 Broadway. Highlight vendors include:

4. The Museum of the City of New York

gingerbread nyc museum city new york

“Gingerbread NYC: The Great Borough Bake-Off” combines the best features of holiday baking competitions and neighborhood pride into one exhibition; it brought both amateur and professional bakers together to create gingerbread displays that represented their own neighborhoods. The result? A plethora of fantastic gingerbread creations inspired by the theme “Winter in New York.” The contest boasts an overall winner (shops in Astoria) as well as winners in such categories as “Good Enough to Eat” (a scene inspired by the 7 train) and “Grandest” (a recreation of Madison Square Park, above). On view through January 15th, 2024. 1220 Fifth Ave.,

5. Dyker Heights Holiday Light Display

If you’re looking for Christmas décor to the max (and then to the max again) head to Dyker Heights in Brooklyn for the most over-the-top, can’t-fit-in-one-more-decoration display around. The iconic display features, well, everything Christmas—Christmas lights and snowmen and Santas and reindeer and candy canes and trees and lights and elves and more lights and carols. You can explore on foot or check out a bus or walking tour; it’s like all 12 days of Christmas took root in one neighborhood. Dyker Heights, Brooklyn,

6. Lightscape at Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Experience the magic of Lightscape, also in Brooklyn, 11/17-1/1/24. The after-dark, illuminated trail returns to Brooklyn with brand new works of art and promises an even more immersive and magical experience for visitors of all ages. Explore the beauty of the Garden under moonlight while enjoying seasonal treats and festive music. 150 Eastern Parkway, 718-623-7200,

7. Union Square Holiday Market

union square holiday market night

Photo: Javan Ng.

There’s no shortage of holiday markets in New York this time of year, and each one adds its own festive flavor to the season. But the Union Square Holiday Market, often voted one the best holiday markets in the country, is worth a trip. The market features more than 180 vendors boasting unique gifts. Some of the offerings: handmade chocolates; socks inspired by the colors and patterns of Japan; all natural bath products; Czech hand-decorated eggs; art made from upcycled books. Don’t forget to grab a snack as you walk around—maybe a mochi-stuffed shortbread cookie? Or cider and a donut? (You really can’t go wrong.) The market is there until Christmas Eve—but why wait? Union Square,

8. PaleyLand Holiday Extravaganza


With four floors of holiday fun, Paleyland, at the The Paley Center for Media in midtown has entered full-on Christmas mode. You’ll find photos ops with Santa and holiday characters, from Bumble the Snow Monster to Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer; a classic model railroad display; and free hot chocolate. Plus, you’ll be able to watch plenty of screenings of holiday films, including Mickey Saves Christmas, a new Disney stop-motion holiday special and screenings of episodes of the new series The Santa Clauses. Runs Nov. 17-Jan. 1, 2024. 25 W. 52nd St.,

9. Bronx Zoo Holiday Lights

tigers bronx zoo holiday lights

One of New York’s best-loved holiday traditions, the holiday lights at the Bronx Zoo entice visitors with a walk-through experience landscape that comes to Iife at night: the star is the immersive light displays, including animal favorites lit up in lights; new this year are vampire squid, anglerfish, and a giant anteater. There are also more than 360 animal and plant lanterns, the Holiday Train, holiday music, and more. Other activities and performances include ice carving, activities for kids, animal trivia, and special performances. And a Light Tunnel provides the perfect photo op. 2300 Southern Blvd.,

10. New York Botanical Garden Holiday Train Show and NYBG GLOW

holiday train show new york botanical garden

Trains are a popular theme for the holidays, and one of the most anticipated every year is the one at the New York Botanical Garden. In this case, it’s not just the trains that are the stars; it’s what they zip past—more than 190 replicas of New York landmarks, recreated in natural materials including birch bark, lotus pods, and cinnamon sticks.

While you’re there, don’t miss GLOW, the outdoor light show that meanders across the 1.5 miles of the gardens, illuminating everything from trees to paths. Special activities like performances and seasonal eats are also part of the fun. 2900 Southern Blvd.,

Fever Candlelight Concert Series

11. Fever's Candlelight Concert Series

(12/13, 12/15, 12/20-21, 12/23) Fever's Candlelight Holiday Concert Series immerses viewers in themed musical programs. On December 13th, St. Ann & the Holy Trinity Church will present the best hits and Christmas favorite songs, performed by Vitamin String Quartet, which were popularized by their unforgettable performances in the hit Netflix series Bridgerton and Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story. From December 15th, the same venue and the Church of the Heavenly Rest will host a program dedicated to The Nutcracker” and More. On December 23rd, The Opera House will have a special show with Holiday Carols on Strings played by the Highline String Quartet. And Arlo Williamsburg will host on December 20th and 21st, a program featuring Holiday Jazz and Soul Classics, including greatest hits from Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong and Nat King Cole.

12. Winter Lantern Festival

 Winter Lantern Festival at Queens County Farm returns for its third year, running Nov. 17-Jan 7, 2024. Step into a dazzling world of light with over 1000 Chinese lanterns; all handmade by artisans with decades of experience. A whimsical walk-through experience to light up and warm up the holiday season! All ages. Queens County Farm, 73-50 Little Neck Pkwy, 718-347-3276,


About the Author

Evan Levy runs fable & lark, which offers interactive museum tours inspired by great stories. See for all the details. In addition, she's the author of two children's picture books. She loves stories in any form, and lives in New York with her family.

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