Christmas in Manhattan, NYC – 10 things to do!

Spending Christmas in Manhattan is such an exciting thing to do.  It seems to have been captured in so many movies and I’ll be honest, if I was to spend the holiday season anywhere in the world away from home it would be in NYC.

Funnily enough, spending the holidays in New York was our first taste of Christmas away from home and it certainly didn’t disappoint.

The city has such an amazing vibe to it at any time of the year but at the holidays it really excels. If you manage to catch some snow falling, as we did wandering up Fifth Avenue, you’ll remember it for a lifetime – so magical!

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Do you need to book things in advance?

NYC is busy all year round but the holidays is something else entirely and so with that in mind I highly recommend you book activities in advance if there’s anything that you absolutely *must* do. Here’s a selection of popular activities:

Accommodation should also be booked as far in advance as you can – I prefer to use for this as their cancellation policies are quite good. Essential if booking far out.

So, if you’re planning to go to New York City at any point over the Christmas and holiday season then here’s the 10 things I’d suggest that you do not miss:

Visit the Rockefeller Centre

rockefeller xmas tree

You can’t miss taking time out to see the amazing, huge Christmas tree outside the Rockefeller Centre.  I’ll admit that I found it way too busy on the day that we went so my tip for you is to see if you can either go early on or later in the evening.

Add in a trip to the Top of the Rock and it’s a perfect combo – you get such amazing views from up there and of course they include the Empire State Building!

Passes for the Rockefeller centre and some other attractions can be worth looking in to.  Think about if you want to be doing a number of paid attractions and add up if it will be worth it for you.

Get tickets here:

Top of the Rock Observation Deck – Skip the Queue

New York City Pass (Includes Rockefeller Centre)

(a fellow blogger has also written about whether the New York Pass is worth getting)

If you have time you could also tick off the second item on the list by going…

Money saving tip! – If you’re also planning to take in some of the traditional tourist sites (and why not!) on your NYC Christmas trip then I’d suggest looking at the New York City Pass which can save you up to 42% on buying tickets individually.

Go Ice Skating

ice skating nyc

There are many different areas of Manhattan that you can do ice skating over the Christmas period.  The Rockefeller Plaza is probably one that springs to mind but is only one out of many options.  Why not head over to the really family friendly and much less busy Bryant Park?  Or perhaps central park away from the hustle and bustle will be more your style?

Take in a Broadway show


There are some great shows on at NYC at any time of the year but if you’re visiting at Christmas why not look out for something a bit more special?  Radio City has an annual show called the Rockettes which is quintessential American Christmas!

Get tickets here:

Radio City Christmas Spectacular ticket

Radio City Christmas Spectacular and Holiday Windows Tour

Radio City Christmas Spectacular and Times Square Dinner

Walk up 5th Avenue and gaze at the Christmas windows

5th avenue saks christmas lights

Truth be told, we’re not big shoppers so walking 5th Avenue wouldn’t sound like it would be much fun for us.  However it was made much more interesting since it was Xmas and the vibe and atmosphere was so high.  Also, so many of the stores would put on huge Christmas displays and they were really fun to watch.  Look out for the light show from Saks which we really enjoyed watching!

There are many tours that take in the Christmas lights, some in Manhattan and some heading out towards Brooklyn.  Check out what’s on offer below.

Get tickets here:

New York City Holiday Lights Extravaganza Walking Tour

New York Christmas Holiday Tour of Manhattan

Christmas Lights Tours to Brooklyn:

Dyker Heights Holiday Bus Tour

Find Santa at Macy’s


If you’re bringing kids to NYC this Christmas then make sure you try and find Santa at a department store.  Macy’s is probably the best known one to try, although you might well find it’s quite busy so go with what you and your kids are comfortable with.  Each year Macy’s have a whole section called SantaLand – not just for the little kids!

Check out FAO Schwarz

fao schwarz piano christmas

It’s gotta be done hasn’t it?  Who hasn’t watched Big and just wanted to have a go?  It’s really fun to watch others even if you don’t want to partake.  On the plus side, while you’re there it’s a great place to pick up some last minute gifts for anyone who likes toys and collectables.  And don’t even start me on their soft toy section!

Read more – If you’re going to NYC with kids then check out our list of things to do in the city that they’ll really love.

Grab a hot chocolate

It can get VERY cold in NY at winter so a great way to warm up is to get a hot chocolate.  What I love about Manhattan is that there are so many small, independently owned coffee shops which means guilt free drinks!    If you’re planning a long day out wandering in the cold then it’s worth factoring in plenty of warm up stops.

Visit a church

church nyc

There are loads of churches dotted around in Manhattan, and often in places that seem out of sync with all the high rises that are all around.  We visited St Patricks church which is on 5th Avenue and my husband lighted a candle for his mum.  It’s a nice way to slow down, remember those that aren’t with us and also to reflect on what Christmas is all about to you.

Take in a wintery Manhattan skyline view


When we were in New York we hardly had any grey days.  The sky can be such a stunning blue and the clear light from the winter sun gives such an amazing feel to the skyline.  The views from the Staten Island ferry, which is free to go on, give a perfect photo opportunity and a unique perspective of the busy metropolis.

If you fancy something a bit more special then take in a holiday cruise along the river – you’ll not forget it in a hurry!

New York City Cocoa and Carols holiday cruise

NYC sightseeing holiday cruise

NYC holiday Jazz cruise

Enjoy the snow in Central Park

central park christmas

If it happens to snow while you’re in New York then you just have to head on over to Central Park for a bit of snow fun!  Take a sled, have a snowball fight (maybe you’ll see Buddy from Elf!!) or just go for a walk and enjoy the views.  If horse rides are your thing you could also take a carriage ride around central park which would certainly be a magical way to enjoy the area.

Get tickets here:

Carriage ride in Central Park

Tours to try at Christmas

If you like tours then these are great ideas specifically for the holiday season in NYC – you can see the lights, enjoy the festive feelings and give someone else the responsibility of organising it!  The images below go to a site called Get Your Guide which is one of the big operators and curators of lots of tours (all with reviews) and another good site to check out is Viator which is owned by TripAdvisor.  Here’s some holiday tours in NYC to have a browse through.


Where to stay in Manhattan for Christmas

When we visited New York we were lucky to have a base in Staten Island for the month, however, we also stayed one night in Manhattan too – well you just have to experience it don’t you?

We based ourselves near the Empire State Building as it seemed central enough and not too far to walk to sights while still being affordable.  Our hotel was the Holiday Inn Express Times Square South – it was a good hotel, nice and clean but nothing too spectacular (lots of these chains just blend into one another!) but was good value for the time we were there.

Some other options that might put you in a better position for spending your day fitting in all the Christmas joy might be Marriott Marquis on Times Square itself or the Warwick New York hotel which is just by central park.  If you want a good overview of what is available for your stay I recommend –  see here for New York hotels – often you can book without a deposit which is great!

Don’t leave booking too late though as often they’ll get really booked up.

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Kirsty Bartholomew

Kirsty Bartholomew is a travel expert and has been getting lost around the world for over 30 years and writing about it for over 10 of those. She loves to help people explore her favourite places in Scotland, England and beyond. She cannot stay away from historical sites.

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