New York in December
Few cities know how to celebrate the holidays quite like New York. If you’re lucky enough to be in the city during December, you’ll notice New York’s most iconic landmarks transformed with lights, decorations and events in time for the holidays. Whatever you’re into, whether it’s festive Broadway shows, holiday markets, sightseeing or all three, it's easy to get into the spirit of the season with so many things to do in New York in December.
The sight of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree is as impressive as it is famous. A New York City icon, the tree reaches up to 100 feet tall and lighting it has been a NYC tradition since 1933. The ceremony usually takes place in either late November or early December, so if you’re travelling to New York around this time, you’ll enjoy a festive treat.
As well as this annual event, you can take advantage of the many shopping and dining options available nearby. Why not lace up a pair of rental skates and glide around the ice rink at Rockefeller Center?
Admission: viewing the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center is free and open to the public.
Address: 45 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10111
Opening times: open 24 hours
Holiday window displays
Every holiday season, world-famous New York City department stores compete to create the best holiday window display. This window display competition creates a great tourist activity that's apt for the holiday season, and it's free! There are five major department stores to check out: Bloomingdale's, Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom, and Macy's Herald Square. These department stores are all located fairly close to one another in the Midtown area, along Lexington Ave, Madison Ave, Fifth Ave and Broadway.
Radio City Music Hall is perhaps most famous for the Christmas Spectacular and the Rockettes. Ask any local and they’ll agree that no holiday season is complete without this high-energy and highly entertaining performance, with the Rockettes performing eye-high kicks to the beat of festive holiday music. After viewing the Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall, continue the holiday festivities at the Bryant Park Holiday Market. Just head eight blocks downtown to check out the Market at 6th Ave and 42nd Street.
Address: 1260 6th Ave, New York, NY 10020
Opening times: the Apollo Theatre Box Office is open Monday to Saturday 10AM - 8PM
The celebration, which takes place throughout November and December, will include a seasonal Fifth Ave window display, holiday concerts and surprise appearances by celebrity guests.
Decorations in the building's signature Art Deco style adorn the 34th Street Observatory entrance and iconic Fifth Ave lobby, making the interior of the Empire State Building shine like its world-famous tower lights. From the ground floor to the sparkling antenna, ESB spreads holiday cheer throughout every corner of New York City and the world. Visitors can enjoy the attraction’s radiant heaters, which provide extra comfort on ESB's 86th floor exterior 360-degree viewing deck.
Address: 20 W 34th St, New York, NY 10001
Opening times: Open every day 3AM - 6PM
During the rest of the year, Dyker Heights is a small area of Brooklyn you might just wander through on your travels. But during the holidays, the area, especially the Kings County neighborhood, is transformed into an illumination-filled festive nightscape widely hailed as the best in NYC. Expect lifesize santas, sleighs, carols and a crowd of all ages. Take down a flask of eggnog and enjoy the festive atmosphere.
Address: displays from 11th to 13th Ave (also known as Dyker Heights Blvd) from 83rd to 86th St in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn.
If you find the Dyker Heights lights in Brooklyn mesmerizing, try the Time Warner Center lights display. The hanging stars change color every few seconds, and while it’s not as grand and elaborate as the ones in Dyker Heights - nothing is - it’s less crowded, it’s inside (although you can also see them from outside) and you can pop into Williams Sonoma to buy some Peppermint Bark.
And, if you’re still in need of more holiday shopping, check out the holiday market right across the street, as well as many others.
Address: 10 Columbus Circle, New York, NY 10019
Opening times: display times vary
Central Park and Wollman Rink
The City of New York gets Central Park all decked out for the holidays. Decorations and lights are put up all over and you may hear Christmas carolers during a holiday visit - a walk through Central Park is especially festive when it’s snowing. The park also offers horse-drawn carriage rides that contribute some rustic charm to a wintertime ride through the park. One wintertime activity that you should definitely take advantage of when you’re in the city for the holidays is ice skating at the Wollman Rink. The rink offers ice skate rentals and it’s located only minutes from the Central Park Zoo.
Address: Wollman Rink: 830 5th Ave, New York, NY 10065
Opening times: Woolman Rink: 10AM - 11PM / Rockefeller Center: 8.30AM - midnight
After viewing the Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall, continue the holiday festivities at the Bryant Park Holiday Market. Just head eight blocks downtown to check out the market at 6th Ave and 42nd Street. Or if you love shopping at the holiday markets but want to check out something new, try the Strasbourg-Alsace Holiday Market in Bowling Green Park. This is truly an under-the-radar holiday event.
The market features table linens from Colmar, pottery from Soufflenheim, ornaments from Strasbourg and more. You’ll also find such delicacies as Alsatian craft beer, hot chestnuts and sausages. For more holiday markets, check out our deep dive.
Opening times: these vary, but New York’s holiday markets are exclusively open from November - December.
Address: 26 Broadway, New York, New York 10004