Heading into the Big Apple is always an adventure, but there’s something that is just so special about New York City at Christmastime. The lights, the sights, the shows, skaters, and shopping…even the crowds—it’s everything. I’m lucky enough to have grown up in the metro area and to live just across the river from Manhattan. So I have some of the best memories of Christmas in NYC, and now, with a daughter of my own, we continue to make new ones each year.
So if you’re thinking of heading into the big city for some festive fun with the family, here are 11 of my absolute favorite things to do in NYC at Christmas with kids: places to see, things to eat and drink, and more!
The Ultimate Guide to NYC at Christmas With Kids
1. Rockefeller Center Tree
Gather ’round at the iconic Rockefeller Center for a dazzling display of lights and holiday cheer. The colossal Christmas tree lighting ceremony is a spectacle that will leave your family in awe. I highly recommend watching it on TV before heading in to see the massive glowing tree in real life.
2. Bryant Park Christmas Village
Step into a winter wonderland at Bryant Park’s Christmas Village. With over 170 boutique-style shops and eateries, an enchanting ice skating rink, the iconic Bryant Park carousel, as well as delicious treats, craft hot chocolate, and drinks at The Lodge or Curling Cafe’ and bar, it’s really the perfect spot for family fun and holiday shopping. Just try to get there early, and don’t forget to make advanced reservations to skate.
3. Santaland at Macy’s
Santaland at Macy’s Herald Square is the ultimate Santa meet-and-greet. Meet Santa, explore whimsical holiday displays, and capture precious family moments in this festive setting. Pro tip: Beat the crowds by visiting on a weekday morning. It’s like the classic holiday movie Miracle on 34th Street but in real life.
4. Strolling Fifth Avenue
Fifth Avenue in NYC is a luxury shopper’s dream come true, but it really comes to life during the holidays. The massive windows of some of the most major, highly coveted retailers transform into dazzling, artful holiday-themed displays that just ooze holiday spirit and cheer. Grab a hot chocolate or coffee before you head over, and kids and adults alike will marvel at the seasonal decor.
5. Union Square Holiday Market
A haven for holiday shoppers, over 150 vendors and artisans gather at the Union Square Holiday Market along with award-winning food and treats, making it a great destination for an afternoon with the family. Wander, eat, and enjoy as you find gifts for everyone on your list.
6. The Hard Rock, Times Square
If you plan on staying overnight, there’s no better place or location to call home for your visit than the Hard Rock Hotel New York. Rock ‘n roll themed, this hotel is in a prime location for Christmas cheer-seekers, just blocks from Radio City, Rockefeller Center, and everything Times Square has to offer. For the season, they also offer “Sessions Snowglobes” where you can dine in an igloo on the terrace with holiday music and delicious food and drink.
7. The Radio City Christmas Spectacular
Seeing the Radio City Christmas Spectacular is pretty much a non-negotiable when in town. The show features incredible singing, dancing, special effects, fun surprises, and of course—the infamous kickline. With up to five magical shows per day (I’m tired just typing that), the world-famous Rockettes absolutely know how to put on a show.
Last year, my daughter and I even had the incredible opportunity to take a dance class with them at Radio City, which is sometimes offered as a special event. Truly a dream come true for the former dancer in me, and my little aspiring ballerina.
8. Disney’s The Santa Clauses’ Winter Wonderland
Located at The Rooftop at Pier 17, this winter wonderland is inspired by Disney’s The Santa Clause and is every bit as magical and fun. With a rooftop skating rink, seasonal treats and sweets, and of course, a Judy’s Hot Cocoa-inspired cafe, this North-Pole-inspired pop-up is open through January 7, and advanced tickets are recommended.
9. Rolf’s German Restaurant
Known for its over-the-top festive decor (think ornaments and lights, everywhere you turn), Rolf’s German Restaurant offers hearty comfort foods and craft cocktails where you can sit down, snuggle up and enjoy a family meal. For real, it kind of feels like you’re in a Christmas tree.
This iconic spot is home to the famous Frrrozen Hot Chocolate and much, much more. It’s a magical and whimsical setting year-round, but extra special during Christmastime. With oversized portions, a generous children’s menu (with crayons for coloring—score!), and even boozy hot chocolates for the adults, Serendipity3 is a place where you can all be kids again, together. Reservations are available online too!
11. Ice Skating in Central Park
No trip to NYC is complete without a visit to Central Park, but during the holidays it somehow becomes even more magical. At Wollman Rink, you can ice skate with the family in one of the most picturesque, quintessentially New York settings. They even have rinkside igloos available for reservations where you can rest, refuel, and recharge.
Aside from the incredible shows and popular events, just being in NYC at Christmas with kids is an experience in itself. If you haven’t made any advance plans, don’t stress. Just go. Take in what you can, and feel the Christmas magic. My best advice? Just be sure to bundle up, pack snacks, and properly caffeinate.