Rather than hitting you over the head with the same old details, we’ve created an ultimate checklist with the most important highlights so that you don’t miss the frenzy of fun that descends upon the city every December. We dare you to cross everything off before the New Year.
Some of the city’s most impressive and storied arbors that make holiday nights sparkle.
Rockefeller Center — The iconic spruce boasts 30,000 LED lights and a Swarovski star. On display.
Bryant Park — A cheery 50-plus-foot spruce illuminates the free admission 170′ x 100′ rink. On display.
Madison Square Park — Dating back to 1912, this is one of the oldest spots in the city to dress holiday trees. 12/10 lighting.
American Museum of Natural History — 500+ origami creations adorn a 13-foot tree, this year with a Wicked, Wild, and Wonderful theme. On display.
Metropolitan Museum of Art — Angels and cherubs transports visitors back to 18th Century Neapolitan times. On display.
Park Avenue — Glittering trees along this high-traffic avenue honor those who lost their lives defending our country. Lighting 12/8.
Washington Square Park — Washington Square Association doesn’t skimp; it’s importing the perfect 45-foot tree from Vermont. Lighting 12/11.
Dante Park at Lincoln Square — A stately, towering tree greets visitors from just beyond the famed Lincoln Center fountain. On display.
St. John the Divine — The Peace Tree stands as a symbol of longevity and happiness with 1,000 paper cranes. Ceremony 12/20.
It’s not just the big boys who string together amazing lights. These neighborhood gems dazzle in their own right with additional DIY charm.
Holiday Light Spectacular in South Slope — This 20-minute show, rigged to a two-floor home, runs from 5pm to 11pm daily.
Dyker Heights, Brooklyn — The region on 86th Streets between 11th and 13th Avenues is known for brilliant displays; best viewed by car or via tours like A Slice of Brooklyn.
Santa’s Corner in Bayside, Queens — An elaborate intersection at 166th Street and 23rd Avenue lives up to its nickname.
Garabediam Family’s Christmas House in Baychester, Bronx — Full-size mannequins take over a family porch in a one-of-a-kind Hollywood-themed nativity scene.
DEPARTMENT STORE WINDOWS
Every November, the city’s major department stores dress their windows up with detailed dioramas, pulling in exquisite miniatures, bedazzled accents, and the latest technology to wow passersby. We’ve got the scoop just in time for press.
Barney’s — An uber high-tech interactive installation involves video mapping, LED magic, and stunning projections, in collaboration with rapper and business mogul Jay Z.
Bergdorf Goodman — “Holidays on Ice” means frosty, glittering odes to all holidays throughout the year, from Valentine’s Day to Fourth of July.
Bloomingdale’s — This global take on holiday shopping features scenes from Italy, France, China, the UK, and, of course, NYC.
Henri Bendel — Inspired by Al Hirschfeld’s drawings, scenes include a dinner party featuring Audrey Hepburn, Sarah Jessica Parker, Woody Allen, and more.
Lord & Taylor — In honor of the store’s upcoming 100th anniversary, vintage windows harken back to gift exchanges, Santa visits, and loving embraces past.
Macy’s — Embark on an enchanted forest adventure with crystal trees and magical fairies to boot.
Saks Fifth Avenue — All about the Saks Yeti, a “snowflake artist” much hipper than his urban legend namesake.
A sampling of where you can snap a photo, enjoy a yummy breakfast, or even go on a cruise with the jolly St. Nick.
Ripley’s Believe It or Not! — Everything’s backward at this Times Square attraction, where a Little Santa will sit in your lap. Ongoing.
Macy’s Santaland — The department store’s 8th floor has transformed into a 13,000-square-foot village filled with photos, puppet shows, and more. Ongoing.
The Plaza Hotel — Meet Santa at a Rawther Fancy Tea in the Eloise tea room, where decadent snacks go hand in hand with sharing holiday wishes. 12/6, 12/13, 12/20.
ABC Carpet and Home — A photo opp with the “most authentically snugable” Santa of them all? Yes, please! Weekends.
ZEPHYR Cruise Circle Line — All aboard for a breakfast buffet, dance party, and games at sea with a wayfaring Kris Kringle! 12/14.
Staten Island Zoo — Enjoy a Beastly Breakfast and a special tour of the zoo followed by photos with a very special guest.
Rockefeller Center Cafe — A hearty breakfast feast starring Santa and his gift-bearing elves is followed by VIP access to the rink. Through 12/24.
Many family-friendly renditions of Tchaikovsky’s ballet allow all ages to experience the magical tale of after-hours adventures and good vs. evil battles.
New York Theater Ballet — Keith Michael’s condensed ballet impresses parents and kids alike with Met Opera-grade costumes and energetic choreography in one manageable hour. 12/14, 12/15, 12/22.
American Ballet Theatre — A cast of more than 100, not to mention sets by a Tony Award winner, makes this Alexei Ratmansky production an extraordinary one. 12/13-15, 12 18-22.
New York City Ballet — A tree that grows from 12 to 40 feet? An onstage snowstorm? Sounds like magic indeed. Through 1/4/14.
Ailey Citigroup Theater — Clara and the Nutcracker are launched into modern times as they encounter a gingerbread toy and fly-swatting candy canes in contemporary choreography. 12/14 & 12/15.
Dances Patrelle (Yorkville Nutcracker) — The annual “Yorkville Nutcracker” situates the classic dance right here in NYC, as characters dance at landmarks like Gracie Mansion and Central Park. Through 12/8.
Ballet for Young Audiences — A narrator helps the under-12 set follow along a performance specifically tailored for little ones, with a simple but engaging format and small cast. 12/10-12/20.
Peridance Capezio Center — Tchaikovsky’s original score meets new age music for a “Nutcracker” show like you’ve never seen before. Perfect for veteran families who are looking for something new. 12/14 & 12/15.
Lehman Center – The world renowned Moscow Classic Ballet is back by popular demand with 50 of Russia’s best dancers. Tickets for children under 12 for any seat in the house will only set you back $10. 12/15
Clothing, toys, gourmet snacks, and knick knacks aside, many of the bustling holiday markets are a sight to behold in themselves. More to the point, they’re always fun to browse, with or without a shopping list.
Grand Central Terminal — This indoor marketplace is a comfortable (warm) and convenient stop for daily commuters hosting 76 venders. Through 12/24.
Union Square — Perhaps most iconic of the pack, the 150-booth Union Square holiday market is perfect for foodie gifts and crafty goods. Through 12/24.
Bryant Park’s Holiday Shops — It’s as much fun to marvel at the set-up of these gorgeous glass-walled stores as it is to shop the clothing and accessories in them. Through 1/5/14.
Brooklyn Flea — 70-foot vaulted ceilings, a customer service desk-turned coffee bar, and vintage gifts galore at the famed flea market’s “Gifted” market beckons to hipster fams. Through 12/23.
Columbus Circle — Twinkling trees line the tents along the Southwest entrance of Central Park, where more than 100 local vendors show off homemade jams, handmade jewelry, and more. Through 12/24.
Holiday Handmade Cavalcade (Brooklyn) — This two-day craft fair hosted by Etsy New York is the ultimate DIY haven. Shop here to support local artisans, designers, and crafters. 12/14 & 12/15.
Columbus Avenue Holiday Market — Not to be confused with the midtown tents, 45-plus vendors bring vintage crafts to a 9,000-square-foot bazaar at the Church of St. Paul the Apostle.12/15.
ICE SKATING RINKS
Here, we round up the classics (think Rockefeller Center, Bryant Park, and Trump Rink) alongside a few new and lesser-known spots.
The Rink at Rockefeller Center
The world-famous ice rink with Rockefeller Center’s renowned holiday tree as its backdrop has been a classic New York City experience for generations. This season offers a whole new array of programming with Breakfast with Santa, VIP Skate, all-new partnership packages with the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, First Skate (think complimentary coffee and pastries at this 7am session), and SkySkate, which also lets you venture to the Top of the Rock Observation Deck.
The tradition of ice skating at this iconic rink (formerly known as Wollman rink) with skyline views is as old as the park itself. Holiday season VIP skating offers skate rental, private lockers, use of the heated tent, refreshments, and no wait times. Plus, Trump rink is so spectacular at what they do, that they actually boast the largest instructional skating program in the entire country!
Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park
The park’s transformation into a winter wonderland has the Rink as its centerpiece and features free admission ice skating, in addition to high-quality rental skates, skating shows, special events, and activities. The surrounding area offers more than 125 holiday shops, all semi-enclosed for a cozy feel. Factor in the holiday tree and adjacent options for dining, drinking, and warming up, and you’ve got one spectacular destination.
See/Change Rink at the South Street Seaport — A free rink is hitting Lower Manhattan. Hopefully weekend carolers, pop-up shops, and more will bring holiday cheer to an area still affected by Hurricane Sandy.
The Standard Ice Rink — In the winter, The Standard Hotel transforms 3,000 square feet of its plaza into a splendid rink by the High Line, complete with a rinkside café with spiced cider and other faves.
The Rink at Brookfield Place — The city’s newest premiere skating destination is a 7.350-square-foot rink in Battery Park City. Classes are offered for novices, alongside skate sharpening for the pros.
Riverbank State Park — One of our favorite affordable rinks, this weekend-only outdoor venue in Upper Manhattan is covered to protect skaters from snow or rain at just $3 for children and $5 for adults.
McCarren Rink (Brooklyn) — Williamsburg is now home to Brooklyn’s first outdoor rink, nestled next to the McCarren Park pool and bathhouse. We hear plans for food carts and pop-up shops could be in the works.
Lakeside Rinks (Prospect Park) — Slated to open mid-month in Prospect Park, this 26-acre venue will comprise one outdoor and one indoor rink, so no fickle New York weather can stand in your way.
Chelsea Piers — This family attraction offers not one but two full-sized indoor rinks with panoramic views of the Hudson River. Helmet rentals are available if you plan on doing serious jumps or playing some hockey.
World Ice Arena (Queens) — Escape the crowds at this rink in Flushing Meadows Park, where you’ll have plenty of space to skate up a storm to live music before cozying up with a cup of hot chocolate from its café.
Of course, world-famous productions like The Radio City Christmas Spectacular always top the list, but intimate holiday shows at local theater companies—like the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theater (“The Three Bears Holiday Bash”), Puppetworks (“The Steadfast Tin Soldier & Nutcracker Sweets”), and Literally Alive (“A Christmas Carol”), just to name a few—are worth carving out the time for, too.
Gingerbread is one of the yummiest parts of the holidays! If you’re not up to baking at home yourself, check out the city’s various crafts and venues for family workshops. Some ideas to get you started: Make Meaning, the James Beard Foundation, American Girl Place, and the Craft Studio.