New York City is great all year long, but during the holidays it’s magic. The whole city becomes a winter wonderland (bonus when it snows!), and the best part is that it’s a great experience for all ages.
Last winter, I noticed how my older son took after his mother for his love in holiday lights and decorations. Since there weren’t many events due to COVID, I took him to all the drive-thru light shows and drive him around the neighborhoods that went all out for their decorations. It was so fun to have that experience with him. That’s when I decided that when the world opens up again, I want to take him on a trip to NYC during the holidays.
We were going on our yearly trip to Texas for Thanksgiving at my parents’ house, so I decided that while we were there, we would fly to New York for a few days. It ended up being a group trip with both of my sons, my mom, my sister and niece, and my aunt which was even better. We had a blast.
If you’re heading to the city, read over my guide so you know exactly where to go!
Note: This post is just for activities in Manhattan. There are plenty of other activities in the other Burroughs (like the famous Dyker Heights neighborhood lights in Brooklyn and the Botanical Garden decorations and train show in the Bronx), but since it was our first time there for the holidays, we didn’t venture out of Manhattan.
Note on COVID: New Yorkers and visitors age 12 and older are required to show proof of vaccination to participate in indoor activities. Read over the most recent updates here.
How to Get to NYC
There are three major airports around NYC. They’re relatively close mile-wise to Manhattan, however there is always traffic so the drive time can vary. If you can, try not to fly in during rush hour.
LaGuardia Airport (LGA) is in Queens, NY. It’s 10 miles and ~20 minutes (no traffic) from midtown Manhattan.
John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) is also in Queens, NY. It’s 18 miles and ~30 minutes (no traffic) from midtown Manhattan.
Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) is in Newark, NJ. It’s 17 miles and ~30 minutes (no traffic) from midtown Manhattan.
How to Get Around NYC
Walk. To really experience the city, walking is the best option. Try to stay in the area that the activities you want to visit are located.
Subway. To get to other areas of the city, the subway is the best way to get there. It’s the quickest option, cheap at under $3 a ride, and you won’t have to deal with the traffic.
Taxi. A taxi is another way to get around town if you want to brave the traffic. The good news is that you do not need car seats on NYC taxis.
Unless absolutely necessary, I wouldn’t recommend renting a car. Parking is hard to come by and is very expensive.
Where to Stay in NYC
NYC is full of options for lodging, but I found a few options for 1-, 2-, and even 3- bedroom suites.
Best Western Hospitality Place: 49th and 3rd
Standard 1- and 2-bedroom suites available that offer a living room, dining area, and full kitchen. The Penthouse has a patio as well. Breakfast and WiFi are included and Pack-and-Plays are available.
Fifty Hotel and Suites by Affinia: 50th and 3rd
Super chic with options of regular rooms or studios and 1-bedroom suites with a full kitchen. Affinia’s Junior Program includes fun activities like coloring and board games. Cribs and Pack-and-Plays available.
Gardens Suites Hotel: 64th and 2nd
Regular rooms plus 1- and 2-bedroom suites are offered, all with full kitchens. Also owned by Affinia, the Junior Program is also available here. Cribs and Pack-and-Plays available.
The Marmara Manhattan: 94th and 2nd
Offers 1-, 2-, or 3-bedroom suites with a living room and full kitchen. There’s also free WiFi, 24-hour concierge, an exercise room, and it’s pet friendly. Pack-and-Plays are available.
Holiday Activities in NYC
Take a walk on (and slightly off) 5th Ave.
Grab your comfy shoes and the stroller and get walking. 5th avenue glows from 39th to 59th. The major department stores decorate their storefronts plus many offer amazing window displays. Some even have light shows that coordinate with music.
Notable sites to watch out for on 5th:
Saks Fifth Avenue on 49th is unbelievable. The whole front side of the store is covered in lights, there are window displays, plus every night there is a light show that is coordinated with Christmas songs. It’s by far the best of the best. (And bonus, it’s right across the street from Rockefeller Center.)
Cartier on 52nd is wrapped up to look like a gift.
On 57th, right next to UNICEF HQ, is the world’s largest snowflake.
Bergdorf Goodman on 58th has decorative lights and window displays. While other stores have holiday themed displays, there’s are high fashion inspired.
In addition to that, there are gigantic holiday toys right on the sidewalks of 5th avenue from 47th to 60th that light up at night!
Plane: 48th and 49th
Christmas cab: between 51st and 52nd
Teddy bear: between 53rd and 54th
Hot air balloon: between 55th and 56th
Dreidel: between 55th and 56th
Santa’s mailbox: (you can actually mail him a letter!) 58th and 59th
Right off 5th:
On 34th and 7th Ave. is Macy’s Herald Square. Not only are there lights, but the window displays are amazing, and the inside is decorated too. PLUS, Santa Land is here too! (Reservations required.)
The iconic Radio City Music Hall is on 50th and 6th Ave. Across the street is a fountain that changes colors and has beautiful life size ornaments.
Bloomingdales on 60th and 3rd Ave. has holiday window displays and is lit up in green and red lights.
Visit the Trees and Winter Villages
Rockefeller Center –49th and 5th Ave.
The Rock needs no introduction as it’s the most popular area in all of NYC during the holidays. The tree lighting event has the NYPD at every corner because it’s THAT big. Yes, it’s a tourist trap, but you have to see it at least once. The tree is HUGE (like 80 feet) but while you can’t get too close, the ice-skating rink gives you a perfect view of it. If you make the walk from Saks, there’s a beautiful fountain lined with angels that you can’t miss.
Winter Village at Bryant Park –42nd and 6th Ave.
Bryant Park impresses with a great tree, a European Christmas Market, and an ice-skating rink (which is way less popular than Rockefeller Center’s rink). Entry is free but you have to pay for skate rentals.
There are even cozy igloos you can warm up in and enjoy your favorite festive snacks and drinks! If you are a fan of curling, you can make a reservation at the Curling Cafe and get your own lane for 90 minutes. Bonus- you’ll get an igloo included with your reservation!
Seaport Village –Lower Manhattan
Alllll the way downtown is Seaport Village. Their tree is huge (like 60 feet) and most years, you’re able to get right up to the tree for pictures. There’s also a Christmas market and an ice rink on a rooftop! This area gives you perfect views of the Brooklyn Bridge and the skyline.
Washington Square Park tree—Greenwich Village
A great place to get a picture of the gorgeous tree within the arch. Greenwich Village is a great area to walk around and explore as well. Plus, it has some of the best food in the city!
Check Out the Best Shopping Center Light Displays
A new-ish development, Hudson Yards has it all—apartments, offices, even a gym. But head over to the mall to see the magic. On the walking path to get there all the trees are lit up, there’s a hot air balloon installation, and you’ll pass the Vessel, an intricate spiral stairway. Once you get into the mall, you’ll be in awe of all of the lights that cover practically every inch of the walls plus the huge hot air balloon hanging from the ceiling!
And if you have time, go visit The Edge! It’s the highest skydeck in the country. You’ll get amazing 360 views of the whole city. When you get too cold, you can pop inside for a drink at the bar or just to relax on the comfy couches.
The Shops at Columbus Center in Time Warner Center—Midtown
Visit the “Holiday Under the Stars” exhibit—twelve illuminating 14-foot stars that hang from the ceiling. They look awesome at night, but during the day you can catch a beautiful view of Central Park in the background.
Bonus—right across the street is the Columbus Circle Holiday Market! Over 100 vendors sell crafts, art, home décor, and food at the outdoor market.
A canopy of colorful winter lanterns light up the entrance at Brookfield Place. There are light shows at the top of every hour AND this year you’re now able to conduct your own light show coordinated with holiday music. There’s also a beautiful tree, ice skating, and tons of shopping.
Oculus @ One World Trade Center—Downtown
Around the corner from Brookfield Place is Oculus. In addition to being a transportation hub (the subway stop lets out on the floor above), it’s a high-end shopping center. There are adorable decorations in the center of the space for many different photo opps.
A shopping center, but for food. While there are some retail shops here, it’s considered one of the best food marketplaces in the country. You’ll get tastes from all over the world. As you walk through the halls, the arches are covered in white lights and shiny ornaments hang from the ceiling!
Go to Central Park
Central Park is a must if you’re visiting New York. There’s an adorable zoo, multiple playgrounds, gorgeous walking paths, delicious restaurants, even horse drawn carriage rides.
While there isn’t much in terms of decorations, there’s a great ice-skating rink. You can easily spend the full day here!
If you’re entering the park from the southern side, you’ll pass the Pulitzer Fountain on the way there. They turned the fountain into a full-out winter wonderland. A part of “The Fifth Season” installation, the fountain features a faux ice-skating rink, hand-crafted animal sculptures, and handmade icebergs. It’s set to music and some of the sculptures rotate too!
And right next door to that is the famous (think Home Alone) Plaza Hotel. It’s worth it to pop in and get a picture with the exquisite tree in the lobby. There isn’t a specific theme other than “Christmas at the Plaza” which is enough.
Watch a show
Christmas Spectacular, The Rockettes—Radio City Music Hall
The classic holiday show, it’ll get even the biggest Grinch in the Christmas spirit. With over 140 performers, it combines singing, dancing, and humor in one spectacular event.
Nutcracker NYC Ballet—Koch Theater
The gold standard of ballet, the show is a must for any dance lover. It features 90 dancers in a beautifully complex masterpiece.
Peter and the Wolf—Guggenheim Museum
An adorable theater production that brings the charming children’s classic book to life. It’s only 30 minutes so it’s perfect for even the littlest ones.
And that’s it! Have you been to New York for the holidays? What was your favorite part?
need help booking your trip? use my favorite resources!
I always start with Kayak when I book flights. It searches hundreds of travel sites for the lowest prices plus the flexible calendar tells you which days are the cheapest to fly. you can also set price alerts for a specific flight.
My first stop for rental cars is rentalcars.com. It scans multiple agencies at your destination to give you the best price.
Read over my full list of the best sites to book with on my Resources page.