The Ultimate Guide to Family Holiday Fun in New York City

There are so many ways to get into the holiday spirit in New York City. We’ve got the classics, like watching the Radio City Rockettes Christmas Spectacular and ice skating at Rockefeller Center, but we’ve also mixed in less well-known ideas for holiday fun, such as the NYCRUNS Cocoa Classic 5K and 10K and holiday-themed storytimes at bookstores and libraries. Make the most of the holiday season before it’s over with our Ultimate Guide to Family Holiday Fun!    

Manhattan

As you stroll through the city with your family, don’t miss the beautiful holiday window displays! Two of our favorites are Saks and Bergdorf Goodman on 5th Avenue. Last year, Saks presented the Theater of Dreams with a Broadway-themed display and performance. Bergdorf Goodman took a super sweet direction with a candy-themed display that all ages gravitated towards. We’re curious what these shops have in store for us this holiday season, but with their unique style and grandeur, you surely won’t be disappointed! 

What better way to get into the holiday spirit than by ice skating? Bryant Park has an ice rink in the Bank of America Winter Village with free admission, and the rink at Rockefeller Center is always a winter classic. Wollman Rink in Central Park is another great option, with the picturesque Central Park views surrounding you as you skate. 

Make your kids’ dreams come true by bringing them to meet Santa Claus! There are many places to meet and greet Santa throughout the city. The best free or low cost options to see Santa are at ABC Carpet & Home in Union Square, Santa in Central Park, and Santa’s Corner at Bryant Park’s Winter Village. Be sure to bring your camera to take adorable photos of your little ones with Santa Claus! 

Photo by The New York Times

Catch the Radio City Rockettes Christmas Spectacular! Whether you’ve seen the show every year or have never seen it before, the Rockettes always dazzle their audience of toddlers, kids, teens, and adults. Ticket prices start at $25 and vary depending on the day and seat. 

Enjoy some holiday dancing with the “The Little Dancer… a holiday family musical,” which will be returning from Philadelphia to New York for its second production at Theatre 71 located at 152 W. 71st Street, right off Broadway on the Upper West Side. Recommended for ages 6 to 106, this musical runs throughout December. Ticket prices are around $34 for most seats.

Your Christmas tree may be great, but there’s nothing like the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center. This enormous tree, with its multicolored lights provides the perfect backdrop for photos, which may even make it into your holiday cards! The Tree Lighting Ceremony will take place on December 4, 8-10 pm. 

The tree at Rockefeller Center isn’t the only tree that has a lighting ceremony; Holiday on the Hudson invites all families to their holiday tree lighting party! Enjoy live music, dancing, tree decoration making, and hot chocolate to keep you warm. The festive celebration will take place on December 7, 4:30-6:30 pm, at West Harlem Piers Park on West 125th Street and Marginal Street. 

Have you ever seen a Christmas tree decorated with paper? Head over to the American Museum of Natural History to see the Origami Holiday Tree, an annual tradition for more than 40 years! The theme of the tree this year is “T. rex and Friends: History in the Making,” which goes along with the T. rex: The Ultimate Predator exhibit. There will be volunteers from OrigamiUSA to teach visitors of all ages paper folding techniques.  

One of the best places for hot cocoa is Max Brenner in Greenwich Village, the all-things-chocolate restaurant! Choose from Original, Italian Thick, Belgian, Mexican Spicy, Marshmallow, Peanut Butter, Hazelnut, Oreo, Salted Caramel, and Mocha, all served in their signature Hug Mug. All hot chocolates come in your choice of milk, dark, or white chocolate. 

Photo by Time Out

Visit Santaland at Macy’s Herald Square to be transported into a magical world of elves, sleighs, Santa Claus, snow-topped trees, lights, and so much more! Make your way through the 13,000 square foot display to see Santa’s Workshop, a giant Lionel train-scape, the rainbow bridge, and a shiny red sleigh. At the end of your walk through Santaland, little ones get to meet Santa! Santaland is free, but there are additional fees if you wish to purchase a photo package of your kids with Santa Claus. 

Don’t miss out on New York’s largest holiday festival, Winter’s Eve at Lincoln Square on December 2, 5:30-9 pm! Enjoy live entertainment by world-class performance groups, food tastings, including hot soups, drinks, and desserts from the Upper West Side’s top local kitchens, and the iconic tree lighting ceremony. Winter’s Eve also features plenty of kid-friendly activities, music, and holiday crafts. 

Head to Central Park Holiday Lighting on December 5, 5:30-6:30 pm at the Charles A. Dana Discovery Center. Meet Santa Claus, sing carols on the Plaza, and enjoy delicious hot chocolate and cookies. Then watch the lighting of several trees on Harlem Meer to kick off the holiday season! 

Sign up for a parent and child cooking class at Taste Buds Kitchen. Get ready for Thanksgiving with the Turkey Cupcakes Workshop, and throughout December, take part in the Gingerbread House Workshop. Sessions are typically for kids ages 2 to 8. The Gingerbread House Workshop is $75 per child with one caregiver and the Turkey Cupcakes Workshop is $45. There’s also the Cookies & Milk for Santa Workshop, in which you bake cookies for Santa and his reindeer, complete with a milkshake for $45. 

Browse 75 cookie varieties at the Annual St. Nicholas Cookie Walk! Take a stroll through the tables with more than 70,000 cookies, baked by the Cookie Walk Team, and select your favorites to fill your box. Afterwards, kids can create their own sweets at the Little Elves Bakery & Workshop, meet Santa Claus, and sip hot chocolate. Look forward to cookie flavors such as Macadamia Dreams, Lemon Ricotta, Rugelach, Hunka Hunka Chocolate,  S’mores S’merrier, Kit Kat, and so many more. The walk will take place on December 14, 11 am-4 pm, and 15, 12-3 pm, at St. Nicholas of Myra Orthodox Church in East Village. 

If you’re looking for a way to also stay active this holiday season, consider running the NYCRUNS Cocoa Classic 5K & 10K on December 1 at 9 am. You’ll run along tree-lined paths and waterfront walkways, where you can appreciate winter’s beauty. After you cross the finish line, enjoy hot cocoa, New York’s finest bagels, and fresh fruit. All ages are welcome to join, so run the course as a family! The cost is $35 through November 18, $40 until online registration closes, and $50 on race day. The race kicks off at 108th Street and Riverside Drive in Riverside Park

The sweet treats are endless around the holidays, and Dylan’s Candy Bar specializes in all things sweet! Every Saturday and Sunday leading up to Christmas, head to one of Dylan’s Candy Bar’s locations in Manhattan to build your own gingerbread house. Drink hot cocoa and munch on holiday cookies as you construct your gingerbread house as a family. 

Looking to celebrate or learn more about Kwanzaa? Head to the American Museum of Natural History this December to experience one of the country’s largest Kwanzaa celebrations. There will be live performances, film screenings, a local artisan marketplace, and fun giveaways. Your whole family is invited to learn about African-American heritage and the cultural and artistic legacy of the African-American community. 

Spend the day at the Children’s Museum of Manhattan to take part in a variety of holiday-themed activities. Build your own Christmas tree, paint a mug for your hot cocoa, create a gigantic marshmallow sculpture, explore snow that never melts, design your own gingerbread puppet, listen to the Nutcracker storytime, make your own holiday cards, and ring in the new year at the kid-friendly New Year’s Eve Ball Drop & Dance Party.

Visit the Grand Holiday Bazaar for the ultimate holiday gift shopping. There will be over 150 hand-picked, independent local artisans and dealers. Choose from candles, jewelry, chocolates, decorations, and so much more. This is a great place to buy unique gifts for your kids, and kids get a kick out of shopping for gifts here as well. Opening day is November 24, and then the Bazaar will be open on December 1, 8, 15, and 22. 

Check out the Holiday Shops at Bryant Park for more than 175 boutiques with gifts, apparel, local foods, and more. Kids will surely love Breezy Hill Orchards’s tasty gingerbread men, Dulcinea Churros, Fluffy Alpacas, a store for kids that sells alpaca stuffed animals, and Mr. Ellie Pooh, which sells handmade elephant-themed gifts to promote elephant conservation. 

Step into the world of theater with Symphony Spaces holiday-themed shows. From Sing-Along: White Christmas to Bolshoi Ballet: The Nutcracker (Encore) to even The Andersons present “A Jazzy Christmas”, Symphony Space at 95th Street has it all. Experience the holiday season through dance, vocal music, performance, and instrumental music for all ages. Prices vary per show, but tickets are around $16-$20 for kids. 

For bigger kids who are past the age of meet and greets with Santa Claus or holiday-themed arts and crafts, consider buying tickets to Jingle Ball. This year, the event will take place at Madison Square Garden on December 13. Watch pop artists, like Taylor Swift, the Jonas Brothers, Camila Cabello, 5 Seconds of Summer, Halsey, Lizzo, Niall Horan, and more, perform your favorite songs. Ticket prices vary depending on your seat. 

The holidays aren’t all about Christmas- they also include Hanukkah! On December 15, 11 am-4 pm, make your way over to the Jewish Museum to celebrate. Build a sculptural Hanukkah lamp, dance to Joanie Leeds & The Nightlights, sketch Hanukkah lamps from around the globe on a gallery tour, and watch a Haukkah story come to life through a drawing performance. Hanukkah Family Day is included with museum admission.  

Always a spectacle for kids and adults of all ages, the New York Transit Museum brings back their Holiday Train Show for its 17th year at the Museum’s Grand Central Gallery Annex & Store. Set against a backdrop designed by artist Ebony Bolt, the trains travel around a 34-inch long, two-level track. Your little ones will definitely get a kick out of watching the trains in action.

Brooklyn

Celebrate the holidays in a literary style with holiday and winter-themed storytimes at bookstores and libraries. Books Are Magic on 225 Smith Street features lots of storytimes for kids, including one with Elliot Kreloff: The Luckiest Snowball on November 24. POWERHOUSE on 8th has Sunday storytime with holiday specials, and of course, Brooklyn Library has plenty of storytimes to check out, generally on Saturdays.

Watch the family-friendly, classic story of A Charlie Brown Christmas come to life on stage. The Charlie Brown gang works together to produce their own Christmas play, and in doing so, they learn the true meaning of the holiday season. The show is on November 17 at 2 pm, and tickets are around $13, though the price may vary slightly depending on the seat. Make your way over to On Stage At Kingsborough at 2001 Oriental Boulevard to start your holiday season off with this heart-warming show, recommended for ages 4 and up. 

Interested in more holiday-themed theater? BAMkids is putting on the production of Muppet Christmas Carol on December 1 at 2 pm. Scrooge is forced to face the prolonged effect of his past misdeeds with visits from the ghost of the past, present, and future. General admission is $10, but kids ages 12 and under are $7. The performance takes place at the Peter Jay Sharp Building at 30 Lafayette Avenue. 

Bring the kids to the beautiful Kings Theatre at 1027 Flatbush Avenue to watch the beloved classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer live December 1st at 1 pm and 4:30 pm. Also, with Rudolph, you’ll see favorite characters from the beloved tv special such as Santa and Mrs. Claus, Hermey the Elf, Bumble the Abominable Snow Monster, and more. The performance runs  90 minutes, including a 20-minute intermission. 

Photo by Time Out

Dyker Heights Christmas Lights are back again this year for another magical display of Christmas. This well-loved and well-known NYC holiday display features life-size Santas, sleighs, snowmen, Christmas carols, and, of course, lots of lights. There’s an ongoing competition among neighbors in the area to create the best, most extravagant holiday display, which makes for a collection of spectacular sights. 

The Brooklyn Children’s Museum has everything you need to celebrate Kwanzaa with your family. As the 11th Annual Celebrate Kwanzaa!, on December 26-31, this is the largest family Kwanzaa event in NYC. Explore Kwanzaa’s seven principles, learn about the history of Kwanzaa, and embark on a fun exploration of culture and heritage through arts and crafts, activities, and discussions. 

It wouldn’t be the holiday season without a trip to Prospect Park to join in on the holiday-themed programming. There’s a Family Christmas Bird Count at the Audubon Center on December 15, 10 am-1 pm, and Winter Recess from December 26-30, which features games, nature explorations, DIY discovery packs, animal encounters, and more. Watch the New Years Eve fireworks on December 31 and January 1, and then prepare for Winter Zoo Wonderland. On weekends in December and January, learn about which animals love the cold temperatures and post your “Zoo Year” resolutions on the wall. 

The holiday season is also the season of treating yourself. How could you not with all of the delicious eats and sweets surrounding you at all times? Satisfy your sweet tooth and stay warm with a donut and hot chocolate at Dough Doughnuts in Bed Stuy at 448 Lafayette Avenue. Choose from unique donut flavors, such as cheesecake, hibiscus, Nutella, and salted chocolate caramel, as well as the classics, such as plain glazed and cinnamon sugar. Pair your donut with hot cocoa made from a blend of different chocolates with optional whipped cream. 

Get crafty at Private Picassos with a DIY Wrapping Paper Family Workshop on November 10, 10:30-11:30 am, and a DIY Ornament Family Art Workshop on December 8, 10:30-11:30 am. Both workshops are for kids ages 3 and up and their caregivers. Get ready for the holiday season with these creative art projects. Leave with your very own roll of wrapping paper and plastic ornaments, decorated with glitter, beads, bells, and yarn, to hang on your Christmas tree! The cost is $40 per child with one caregiver included. 

Looking for more holiday-themed crafts? Michaels Stores offers plenty of craft classes for kids for a low cost. The Michaels location at 252 Atlantic Avenue has make your own snowman ornament, paper Christmas decor, snowman cookies, and clay pot bell classes. The other Michaels location in Brooklyn at 410 Gateway Drive offers make your own Christmas ornaments, mini tree decorations, holiday wreath, and a gingerbread house classes. Prices range from free to $3 per child, but make sure to call ahead for availability.

Photo by nycgo

Celebrate Hanukkah with Brooklyn’s Largest Menorah in Grand Army Plaza. There will be a live kickoff concert on the first night of Hanukkah, and then stop by the menorah every day of Hanukkah to watch the next candle being lit. Kids will also receive small gifts, and everyone can enjoy hot latkes and live music. Lighting times are 4 pm on the first night (December 22), 6 pm on the second through fifth nights, 3:30 pm on the sixth night, 7 pm on the seventh night, and 5:30 pm on the eighth night. 

Another amazing (and might we add, delicious!) Hanukkah celebration is The 11th Annual Latke Festival on December 16, 6-8:30 pm at the Brooklyn Museum. Restaurants such as Jacob’s Pickles NYC, Brings Jam & Marmalade, bricolage, Benchmark Restaurant, Baoburg Brooklyn, and many more will come together to make delectable latkes, and you get to help the judges decide the winner. Enjoy the best and most creative potato pancakes in the city. All proceeds go to The Sylvia Center, a nonprofit that focuses on teaching cooking in underserved communities. Ticket prices range from $75-$120. 

Our final favorite Hanukkah event for kids and families in Brooklyn is the Chanukah Festival at the Jewish Children’s Museum. There will be delicious food, arts and crafts, and games, all centered around celebrating Hanukkah. All ages are welcome to learn about the holiday and spend time with their loved ones at the museum on December 22. 

Queens

See what Queens County Farm has to offer during the holiday season. There’s the Queens Farm Holiday Market, December 1-23, which features Christmas trees, wreaths, games, toys, handmade stuffed animals, and plenty of other unique items for gifts. The best part about the market is that all sales help support Queens County Farm’s School-to-Farm education programs. On select weekends in December, sign up for a Wreathmaking Workshop, no experience necessary. Then right after Christmas, December 26-28, head to the Holiday Open House for kids crafts, fireplaces, tours, mulled cider, and more.

Take the holiday celebrations from the farm to the garden at Queens Botanical Garden. Christmas in the Garden features free festive activities, such as live musical performances, photos with Santa (additional fee), tree lighting, holiday crafts, and amazing sales at the shop. Get into the holiday spirit on December 8, 12-5 pm, with your family. 

Looking for places to shop one-of-a-kind holiday gifts? Pop into Flushing Town Hall’s Holiday Market on December 8, 1-5 pm, for a selection of jewelry, paintings, ceramics, paper goods, greeting cards, clothing, and more from artists and crafts people from Queens. And don’t miss out on the performance of The Nutcracker, by Salzburg Marionette Theater, at Flushing Town Hall. The show will take place on December 4 at 7 pm, and the cost is $14 for adults, $8 for kids, and free for teens. 

If you always get into a cooking and baking kick once the holiday season rolls around, then sign up for the Winter Solstice Workshop: Rice Ball & Dumpling Making on December 15 at 2 pm. Learn about traditions and stories of Chinese culture, like the Lunar New Year. Kids ages 4 and up are welcome to come, along with a caregiver. The cost is $10 for adults, $5 for students and kids, and free for teens. 

As the record-holder of the Guinness World Records for Largest Gingerbread Village, made up of more than 1,300 gingerbread houses, GingerBread Lane 2019 at the New York Hall of Science is a must-see this holiday season. Candy canes are railings on staircases, pieces of gum make brick walls, and M&Ms, candy corn, jelly beans, and Necco Wafers make colorful rooftop shingles. If your little ones, ages 4 and older, want to make their own gingerbread houses or trains, sign up for a GingerBread Lane Workshop for $15. GingerBread Lane 2019 is free with museum admission. Return to the museum on January 12 for the GingerBread Lane House Giveaway, when you can take home one of the gingerbread houses, first-come, first-served.

Feeling creative? Kids ages 3 and up can come make spiced ornaments at Hands on History: Make Your Own Scented Pomander on December 7, 1-4 pm. Oranges used to be a very special fruit in the 18th and 19th century, because you could only eat them in the winter. Some of the oranges were used to make pomanders to decorate and fill homes with a lovely scent of holiday spice. Bring your pomander home and hang it on your tree. Afterwards, visit the rest of King Manor Museum in Rufus King Park to check out their holiday decor.  

Watch the production of The Nutcracker at LaGuardia Performing Arts Center in Long Island City on December 15, 3:30-5 pm. Watch a little girl’s fantasy world of dolls, toy soldiers, an army of mice, snowflakes, princes, and fairies unfold on stage. After the show, kids get to meet and greet cast members and Santa in the magical Toyland, where each child will receive a special gift. Tickets are $20.

Bronx

Bronx Terminal Market Winter Wonderland will get you in the spirit to celebrate the magic of the holidays at their annual market on Tuesday, November 19, 5:30 pm-7:30 pm on the BTM pedestrian walkway (@River Ave). Enjoy this two-hour holiday celebration with the family as there are lots of kid-friendly activities by an array of neighborhood Bronx organizations, including HOSTOS, the Bronx Children’s Museum. This free event will offer photo ops with Santa, hot drinks, holiday décor (including fake snow!), arts and crafts with the Bronx Children’s Museum, and retailer promotions

Williamsburg Oval Recreation Center creates a Winter Wonderland for families. Celebrate the holiday season with arts and crafts, music, games, and a special visit from Santa Claus. Have some free family fun as you learn about all of the winter holidays. Winter Wonderland takes place this year on December 14, 12:30-2:30 pm. 

You can truly never get enough of Winter Wonderlands, so also check out Family Affair: Winter Wonderland at The Bronx Museum of the Arts. On December 7, 1-4 pm, celebrate winter and the holidays with your friends and family at the museum. There will be plenty of festive art activities and games for kids ages 4 to 12 and their caregivers. 

If you haven’t yet seen the iconic Holiday Train Show at the New York Botanical Garden, this is the year to do so, sometime between November 23 and January 26. The incredible display features more than 175 famous New York landmarks, and this year’s show showcases Central Park with its beautiful landscape, architecture, and history, including Belvedere Castle. In addition to the show, there’s The Poetry of Trains: Billy Collins and Young Poets readings of poems inspired by trains, the holidays, and NYBG. Kids can also explore Evergreen Express for train-inspired fun in the Adventure Garden, including a child-sized train, crafts, sing-alongs, and an outdoor puppeteer theater! 

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, or both, bring your family to the Holiday Lighting Ceremony at the New York Botanical Garden. Watch the annual tree and menorah lighting on December 5, 4-5:15 pm. Gather around the tree or menorah for family photos and sing along to holiday jams with carolers. 

One more exciting holiday program that the New York Botanical Garden holds is the Holiday Favorites Film Festival, taking place on December 21-24 and 26-29, 11 am-4 pm. Watch the holiday classics on the big screen at Ross Hall with your family. There will be a rotating selection of holiday films to keep you entertained and get you into the holiday spirit.

Photo by NJFamily

The Holiday Lights at the Bronx Zoo are back and better, bigger, and greener than ever. Stroll through the zoo to see the animal lanterns, animated sculptures, colorful designs, and beautiful, bright displays of holiday magic. Listen to the music of carolers, watch ice carving demonstrations, board the holiday train for a fun ride, and enjoy hot cocoa and roasted marshmallows. Holiday Lights officially opens November 29-December 31 and January 3-5, but there are also preview days on November 21-24. 

Wave Hill always has something fun in store for kids, and the holiday season doesn’t disappoint. Drop in for a holiday-inspired Family Art Project during the winter months. Kids and parents will learn about the selected topic or theme, and then get creative together as they work on an exciting craft. Stop by Wave Hill anytime between 10 am and 1 pm for the Family Art Project.

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