If you’re looking for some merry ideas to add to your NYC Christmas bucket list, look no further!
There’s seriously no better way to ’tis the season than by experiencing an NYC Christmas trip.
The Big Apple comes alive during this time of year, giving you so many exciting things to add to your NYC holiday bucket list.
From sparkling lights, festive window displays, and towering Christmas trees adorning every street corner, New York for Christmas is a truly magical sight, and it’s one of the best USA Christmas destinations.
Whether you’re a native New Yorker or just visiting for the holidays, here are 20 joyous things to add to your New York Christmas bucket list to get you in the holiday spirit!
In This Post:
The Ultimate NYC Christmas Bucket List
1. See the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree
The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree is an iconic symbol of the holidays in New York City and belongs on every NYC Christmas bucket list.
This 75-100 foot tall Norway spruce gets decorated with more than 50,000 LED lights to create its beautiful glow.
The most impressive thing about the Rockefeller Christmas tree is the Swarovski star that sits atop it, which is nine feet in diameter and has more than three million crystals!
The Rockefeller tree lighting ceremony usually takes place in late November or early December and is definitely a top New York Christmas bucket list item.
The Rockefeller Christmas tree is lit every day during the holiday season from 6 am until midnight.
2. Go Ice Skating at Rockefeller Center
One of the most classic things to do on an NYC Christmas trip is to go ice skating at The Rink At Rockefeller Center.
Surrounded by twinkling lights and towering buildings, gliding across the rink is an experience you’ll never forget! And it’s not just for tourists — locals love it too.
Even if you’re not a skilled skater, it’s still worth taking a spin around the rink just to soak in the festive atmosphere.
If you want to sharpen your skills or learn how to ice skate for the first time, The Rink At Rockefeller Center offers private skating lessons for all levels.
Some argue that you should go skating during the day to avoid the crowds, but I think the experience is even more magical at night when the city is aglow.
3. Stroll Around Union Square Holiday Market
Another fun thing to add to your NYC Christmas bucket list is to stroll around Union Square Holiday Market.
For over three decades, this Christmas market has been a vibrant gathering place for locals and visitors alike, offering a unique shopping experience in the heart of New York City.
The Christmas market features an array of 140+ vendors selling a variety of holiday-themed goods, including handmade gifts, decorations, and food that you won’t find anywhere else.
Whether you’re looking for a unique present for a loved one or some festive treats for yourself, you’re sure to find some goodies at the Union Square Christmas Market.
And, of course, no New York City Christmas market would be complete without some traditional holiday foods like roasted chestnuts and hot chocolate!
4. Watch the Empire State Building’s Annual Holiday Light Show
The New York City skyline is a stunning sight, and it only gets more magical during the holidays.
Every year, the Empire State Building is illuminated with a dazzling light show, making it a must-see on any New York Christmas bucket list.
The Empire State Building’s Annual Holiday Light Show is synchronized to Christmas music, adding an extra layer of festive cheer.
And each year, different musical guests (like Carrie Underwood and John Legend) perform live on the observation deck to help kick off the light show.
Typically, this holiday lights show starts a few days before Christmas and runs through Christmas Day.
For the calendar of events and to purchase tickets, visit the Empire State Building website.
5. Go on the New York City Cocoa and Carols Holiday Cruise
The New York City Cocoa and Carols Holiday Cruise is the perfect way to check something off your NYC Christmas bucket list.
This jolly cruise around Manhattan lets you see all the best holiday sights while sipping on spiked hot cocoa, eating Christmas cookies, and singing Christmas carols.
The cruise departs from Chelsea Piers and sails past iconic landmarks like the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and the Brooklyn Bridge.
Hop aboard and let the holiday cheer begin! You’re guaranteed to have a wonderful time!
👉 Purchase your tickets for the New York City Cocoa and Carols Holiday Cruise!
6. Watch The Nutcracker at Lincoln Center Plaza
George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker is a holiday tradition unlike any other.
Every year, hundreds of thousands of people flock to New York City to see the world-renowned New York City Ballet perform, and the experience is truly unforgettable.
From the awe-inspiring sets and costumes to the iconic Tchaikovsky score, NYC Ballet’s The Nutcracker is a feast for the senses.
But what really sets this ballet apart is its perfect blend of artistry and athleticism.
The dancers are true masters of their craft, making it look effortless as they glide across the stage.
Whether you’re a ballet aficionado or you’ve never seen a ballet in your life, The Nutcracker is an essential part of any NYC Christmas bucket list.
7. Go Ice Skating at the Bryant Park Winter Village
If you’re on a mission to go ice skating at as many ice rinks as possible on your NYC Christmas bucket list, then you’ll definitely want to add Bryant Park Winter Village to your list.
Not only is Bryant Park centrally located in Midtown Manhattan, but it’s also home to a 17,000-square-foot rink during the holiday season.
The best part? If you have your own skates, you can skate for free. If you don’t have your own skates, don’t worry — you can rent them on-site for a small fee.
Bryant Park Winter Village also features over 160 shops selling everything from winter apparel to unique gifts, and there are plenty of food and drink options if you work up an appetite while skating.
8. See the Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall
When visiting New York for Christmas, you can’t miss the world-famous Radio City Christmas Spectacular.
This 90-minute Christmas show features the iconic Radio City Rockettes, Santa Claus, and a cast of hundreds of dancers, singers, and actors.
The Rockettes are known for their perfect synchronization and high kicks, and they always put on a spectacular show.
From the moment the curtain goes up, you’re transported to a winter wonderland of dancing snowflakes and glistening lights.
The show is an annual tradition dating back to 1933, and it’s an immersive experience that will leave you feeling festive and merry.
9. Visit Santaland at Macy’s Herald Square
If you’re looking for a truly magical Christmas experience, make sure to add Santaland at Macy’s Herald Square to your NYC Christmas bucket list.
Before stepping into the flagship store, be sure to soak in the holiday decorations and figures on display in the windows of the building.
You’ll also see the lit-up “Believe” sign, which is a staple of Macy’s holiday display, that encourages people to donate to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Once you’re inside, take the escalator to the 8th floor and follow the signs to Santaland. This is where the real magic begins.
You’ll be transported into a winter wonderland complete with dazzling trees draped in shimmering lights, festive holiday decorations, and sparkling snowflakes falling from the sky.
You’ll also get the chance to whisper your Christmas wish list into Santa’s ear before posing for memorable photos with him.
10. Marvel at the Dyker Heights Christmas Lights
The Dyker Heights Christmas Lights in Brooklyn are a must-do on anyone’s New York Christmas bucket list.
Located in the charming neighborhood of Dyker Heights, homeowners go all out with their holiday decorations, and the results are truly breathtaking.
These awe-inspiring holiday lights and displays take over whole houses and yards, featuring everything from stunning light tunnels to giant glowing snowflakes and animatronic Santa Clauses.
Whether you’re driving through or walking along the candy cane-lined sidewalks, you’re sure to be mesmerized by the festive atmosphere and Christmas decorations created by Brooklyn’s Dyker Heights.
👉 A guided tour is the best way to see the lights. This way, you can sit back and relax while someone else does the driving — and you’ll also get insider tips and information about the displays from your tour guide.
11. Check Out the Fifth Avenue Christmas Displays
Undoubtedly, New York City is one of the best getaways on the East Coast, and each Christmas season, New York becomes more magical because of the cheery winter wonderland that the Fifth Avenue Christmas displays create.
These incredible decorations stretch for miles up and down one of the most famous streets in New York City, bringing a sense of joy and beauty to everyone who passes by.
The iconic department stores, including Saks Fifth Avenue, Lord & Taylor, and Bergdorf Goodman, go all out with their holiday window displays, and it’s a truly magical sight to see.
With glowing trees, twinkling lights, and glittery holiday ornaments, these brightly-decorated shops on Fifth Avenue capture the spirit of the holiday season in all its magic and wonder.
Bundle up in your coziest sweater and mittens, and experience New York for Christmas like never before!
12. Snap a Picture With the Giant Red Ornaments on Sixth Avenue
Next up on this list of New York City Christmas trip ideas are the giant red ornaments on Sixth Avenue right across from Radio City Music Hall.
With their bright crimson hue and dazzling sparkle, these giant Christmas ornaments sit on a fountain and seem to embody all the magic and joy of Christmastime in New York City.
They make for the perfect photo opportunity, so be sure to snap a picture or two while you’re in the area.
13. Grab a Drink at Rolf’s
Rolf’s, an NYC Christmas bucket list staple, is the perfect place to get into the holiday spirit.
This German restaurant is renowned for over-the-top Christmas decor that transforms it from a dining hotspot into a true marvel of holiday magic.
Inside, chandeliers are dripping with holiday lights, and garlands adorn every surface from the floor to the ceiling and everything in between.
The overall effect is both charming and cozy, making Rolf’s the ideal spot for a warm drink or a festive meal while jamming out to holiday music.
14. Stand in Awe of the New York Public Library Christmas Tree
The New York Public Library is already an iconic New York City landmark, and at Christmastime, it becomes even more magical.
That’s because the library is home to an enormous Christmas tree in Astor Hall that towers high into the sky and sparkles with golden ornaments and bright lights, making it a must-see attraction on anyone’s NYC holiday bucket list.
The tree is absolutely stunning, and it’s hard not to be swept up in the atmosphere of cheer and excitement!
15. Experience the Holiday Train Show at New York Botanical Garden
The New York Botanical Gardens is one of the most beautiful places to visit in New York for Christmas.
Every year, they put on a dazzling Holiday Train Show that is a true treat for the senses.
This enchanting display features hundreds of intricate model trains winding their way among stunning miniature replicas of famous New York landmarks and buildings.
You’ll marvel as these tiny trains chug along amidst jaw-droppingly realistic replicas of Times Square, Central Park, Rockefeller Center, and more.
16. Experience the Holiday Atmosphere of Hudson Yards
Hudson Yards definitely snags a spot on this NYC Christmas bucket list, and you’ll see why when you experience it for yourself!
Even though the Christmas scene at Hudson Yards is newer than other New York City Christmas attractions, it has become a fast favorite among locals and visitors alike.
First, you have to see the Vessel, which is an incredible staircase structure that’s especially beautiful when illuminated at night with Christmas lights.
Then, there are the giant lit-up hot air balloons, which make for a festive and Instagram-worthy photo op.
The 30+ foot tall balloon in the lobby is the most impressive, but you can also see one outside of the mall and one behind the Vessel.
After that, wander around the lobby and take in the festive atmosphere, which is complete with holiday wreaths and twinkling lights.
Last but not least, Hudson Yards is also home to several great shops and restaurants, making it the perfect place to do some holiday shopping or grab a few delicious snacks.
17. Go Ice Skating at Wollman Rink in Central Park
New York City is famous for its winter holiday traditions, and perhaps none are more beloved than ice skating at Wollman Rink in Central Park.
This New York Christmas bucket list item is the perfect way to get outside and enjoy the crisp winter air, all while getting a little exercise in too.
With its stunning views of the glittering Manhattan skyline, Central Park’s Wollman Rink is one of the most beautiful places to lace up your skates and glide into Christmas.
When you’re finished at this ice skating rink, see the infamous bridge from Home Alone 2, where Kevin talks to the pigeon lady.
18. Grab a Bûche de Noël From Balthazar
Bûche de Noël, or Yule Log cake, is a traditional French Christmas dessert, and it just so happens to be one of the specialties at NYC’s famed Balthazar Bakery.
This scrumptious holiday treat is made with chocolate sponge cake, chocolate ganache, and mascarpone whipped cream topped with a rich chocolate ganache frosting.
This decadent dessert captures the holiday spirit perfectly, so why not add it to your NYC Christmas bucket list and treat yourself? You won’t regret it!
19. Enjoy High Tea at The Plaza Hotel
When you want a break from trying to cross things off of your New York Christmas bucket list, head over to The Plaza Hotel for high tea.
Located in the center of Manhattan, this grand hotel has been synonymous with luxury since it first opened its door back in 1907.
Tourists and New Yorkers alike flock to The Plaza during the holidays to experience its famous afternoon high tea in The Palm Court.
Served on shimmering platters under glistening chandeliers, the tea includes an array of delicious finger sandwiches, pastries, and scones.
Just a warning, though – if you’re watching your wallet on this NYC Christmas trip, high tea at The Plaza is definitely a splurge.
The regular holiday tea experience is around $100 per person, and the champagne holiday tea experience is around $125 per person.
But it’s definitely worth it if you can swing the hefty price tag for a truly luxurious and memorable New York City Christmas.
20. Visit St. Patrick’s Cathedral
St. Patrick’s Cathedral is one of the most beloved landmarks in New York City, and it is particularly enchanting during the holidays.
There is nothing quite like stepping inside those gilded doors and taking in the beauty of the soaring Gothic Revival architecture, even if you’re not religious.
It’s a surreal feeling to attend mass here during the holidays, surrounded by parishioners and the enchanting holiday atmosphere.
Whether you’re just passing through on your NYC Christmas bucket list or lingering within to admire the beautiful architecture and take in the timeless spirit of the season, St. Patrick’s Cathedral is truly a special place that you won’t want to miss out on.
Helpful Tips for Your NYC Christmas Trip
Now that you know what NYC Christmas bucket list items you need to check off, it’s time to start planning your trip!
I’m fairly confident that this will be one of the best winter trips in the U.S. that you’ll go on.
Here are a few helpful tips to keep in mind as you’re getting ready for your NYC Christmas trip:
- Bundle up! The weather in New York City during Christmas is chilly, so make sure you pack your warmest coats, gloves, hats, and scarves.
- New York City is a big city, so be sure to wear comfortable shoes. You’ll probably do a lot of walking as you check things off of your NYC Christmas bucket list.
- Speaking of checking things off your NYC Christmas bucket list, remember to give yourself some wiggle room. There’s no need to try and cram everything into one day – spread out your NYC holiday bucket list items over the course of your trip so you can truly savor the experience.
- Finally, don’t forget to enjoy the little moments. New York City during Christmas is a magical place, so take some time to savor the sights, sounds, and smells of the season.
And who knows? You might just find yourself crossing a few items off of your NYC Christmas bucket list that you didn’t even know were on there!
Where to Stay in New York for Christmas
New York City is a big place, and there are many great places to stay during your NYC Christmas trip.
To help you narrow down your options, here are a few of the best places to stay in New York City during Christmas:
👉 Conrad New York Midtown: If you’re looking for a luxury hotel in New York City, look no further than The Conrad New York Midtown. This upscale hotel is located in the heart of NYC’s Midtown district and a few steps away from Central Park, Times Square, and Rockefeller Center.
👉 TownePlace Suites by Marriott New York Manhattan/Chelsea: The TownePlace Suites by Marriott New York Manhattan/Chelsea is located in NYC’s trendy Chelsea neighborhood and features select suites with fully-equipped kitchens and separate living and sleeping areas. This mid-range option is a great choice for families or longer New York City stays.
Map of New York Christmas Bucket List Items
Here’s a map to help you visualize these NYC Christmas bucket list items. Click on the map to enlarge it or print it off.
NYC Christmas Bucket List Final Thoughts
Christmas in New York is an incredible place to be, and there’s no shortage of festive things to do.
Whether you’re visiting the Big Apple as a USA weekend trip or you’re there for a week, you won’t run out of holiday cheer and spirit.
From visiting iconic landmarks decked out in their holiday best to enjoying beautiful holiday markets and ice skating rinks, there’s something for everyone on this NYC holiday bucket list that’ll get them in the Christmas spirit!
Is spending Christmas in New York City on your bucket list? Let me know in the comments below!
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Disha Smith is the founder of Disha Discovers. She quit her job in 2017 to travel the world to explore new cultures and experience new adventures. She has since been to 95+ countries and counting and has lived in South Africa, Thailand, Croatia, and Australia. She has done all kinds of travel ranging from luxury to budget backpacking, and her mission is to inspire others to discover their own sense of adventure and to help them plan a life full of meaningful experiences through travel.