New York USA

22 Festive Things to Do in NYC in December (+ Helpful Tips for Visiting)

There’s nothing like New York in December. I’ve visited NYC five times over the years, but visiting in December was by far my most favorite trip – Christmas in New York City is absolutely magical, with twinkly lights, festive storefronts, and just the holiday magic being present and alive in every corner of the city.

There is no bad time to visit NYC, and the city’s many attractions and sights are amazing (and photogenic) all year round. However, New York City is *the* Christmas capital in the United States (and perhaps even in the world) – no other city does Christmas quite like NYC. I’ve visited other cities that know how to do Christmas (Quebec City, Leavenworth, San Francisco, Munich, and Prague are some of my faves) – but NYC takes it to another level. 

Ever since I was a little kid, I’d always wanted to see NYC in December and it was a dream come true to finally make it happen. And it was an absolutely magical experience, and I highly recommend that everyone see it at least once in their lives – you can’t help but let the Christmas cheer rub off on you after spending some time in the city!

If you are planning a trip to New York City in December, you’re in luck – I’ve written this guide with everything you need to know, from where to see the best Christmas decorations, what to do, where to stay, and other helpful tips to help you plan the perfect trip! 

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Weather in December in New York City

Average December highs in NYC: 44° F / 6°C
Average December lows in NYC: 31°F / -1°C

December in NYC is cold but not *that* cold – this is coming from a lifelong California girl who tends to be afraid of the cold. 

The weather is much more mild compared to January and February, the coldest months in the city, when all my NYC friends say they are miserable. It was also not nearly chilly as some other winter destinations that I’ve visited (i.e. Montreal and Quebec City, where I headed afterwards). 

That said, it does get chilly, especially at night – so be sure to pack a lot of layers (see my packing list below)! This way, you can peel them on and off throughout the day as you get warm or cold.

Does it snow in NYC in December?

Maybe – although you shouldn’t count on it. New York City only 1-3 snowy days in December, with average snowfall measuring only about an inch each time it snows. While the chance of snow increases towards the end of the month, December tends to not be a snowy month as a whole.

What is more likely is rain – the city experiences an average of eight rainy days in the month of December.

What to pack for New York in December

Packing the right things will help you stay warm and comfortable for December in New York City! Here are some essentials that I packed for my trip, and I recommend you do too:

  • Base layers/thermals: I’ve been wearing the Uniqlo Heattech shirts for years and they definitely came in handy during my time in NYC! I love that they are lightweight but keep you warm without making you sweaty and moist. 
  • Warm Winter Coat: I wear a coat similar to this one, that has served me well on my winter trips. For more stylish outfits, wear a wool trench
  • Puffy Jacket: For winter days that are less cold, OR as an extra layer of warmth under your coat. I recently got a Patagonia Nano Puff jacket and LOVE it – it is lightweight and packable, but super warm!
  • Thermal tights or underwear: These Uniqlo Heattech tights are perfect for wearing underneath your pants on extra cold days.
  • Winter Boots: I mostly wore my winter boots, that keep my feet warm and are made to withstand rain and snow. I have this pair, which is being discontinued so stock is low, but here is also a similar pair from the same brand.
  • Fleece Lined Leggings: These are my favorite pairs – they come in a bunch of colors (and you can even choose ones with pockets), and are super warm and comfortable!!
  • Sweaters: For a warm, stylish layer. You can even pack some cute Christmas sweaters for some fun, festive photos!
  • Wool socks: I packed these and never once did my feet get cold.
  • Leg warmers: Not only do they add a cute element to your outfit, they add another warm layer.
  • Beanie: I also packed a knitted headband to switch it up a bit.
  • Warm Gloves: These also allow you to use your touchscreen smartphone without taking them off.
  • Scarves: I packed a thick infinity scarf, as well as a blanket scarf (this one is my FAVE)
  • Power Bank: To keep your devices charged as you explore New York City! Colder weather makes your battery drain faster, so this is a must. I never travel without this one – one charge will give five full charges to your devices.
  • Lotion: Winter weather tends to dry out your skin, so be prepared with some good moisturizing lotion!
  • Lip balm: Same with your lips. This is my favorite lip balm, especially for those winter months.
  • Umbrella: December is a rainy month, so be prepared with a travel umbrella.

When are the Christmas decorations up in NYC?

If you’re visiting New York City in December, you’re probably coming from the Christmas decorations! The lights and decorations start going up throughout the month of November, and you’ll find that most places will have theirs up by mid-late November.

The one exception to this is the Rockefeller Christmas tree, which traditionally gets lit the Wednesday after Thanksgiving. Depending on the year, this ends up being the end of November or beginning of December – in 2022, it will happen on November 30. After the tree gets lit, the Christmas season will have officially begun in NYC and you’ll be able to see all of the festive sights!

More December in NYC travel tips

  • Expect crowds: Especially if you are planning to visit on a weekend. I visited the first weekend of December and it was absolute madness – if possible, I suggest visiting during the week instead.
  • It’s expensive: I was shocked to see how much hotel accommodations were. We saw places like the Holiday Inn going for $500+/night! As I said earlier, try visiting during the week if possible. We stayed Saturday-Monday and the rate on Sunday night  was half of what it was on Saturday. 
  • Book early: Like MONTHS early! When I started toying with the idea of visiting NYC in December, hotels were still only about $200-300/night – by the time I went to actually book in late October, things were insane! See below for tips on saving money on accommodations.
  • Make reservations: Another reason to plan things early – if you want to visit the popup Christmas restaurants/bars, you will need to make a reservation and they go quick!  

Where to stay in NYC in December

Let’s get one thing out of the way – you’ll probably know that hotels in New York City are pretty expensive year-round, but they are INSANELY expensive in the month of December (especially on the weekend). My eyes almost popped out of my head when I saw how much hotels were going for – most places were going for $500/night!

Some tips for finding finding hotels in December in NYC: 

Book early: If you are planning a trip to New York City in December, I highly recommend that you book hotels EARLY – I’m talking MONTHS in advance, like in September! When I first started casually looking at the beginning of September, hotels were still only about $200-300/night – by the time I was ready to commit, things had gone up to almost double that.

Stay during the week: If possible, visit during the week to save money. We stayed Saturday-Monday and the room rate for Sunday was about half of what it cost on Saturday.

Stay in Midtown if possible: If you can swing it, I highly recommend staying in Midtown Manhattan, as this will put you close to many of the city’s best Christmas decorations and sights. However, this unfortunately tends to be the most expensive part of the city to stay in. However, I wanted to do things like skate at Rockefeller Center at 7am and I figured staying Midtown was going to be the best option for that, so I sucked up the cost.

Where to stay if on a budget: If you want to save some money on hotels, look beyond Manhattan – staying in Brooklyn or Queens will be significantly cheaper. I do recommend that you look at how long the commute into Manhattan is on the subway, as I found that some places would take close to an hour and it wasn’t worth the cost savings. If you want to stay in Manhattan, the Financial District had some deals as well. Also consider non-traditional accommodations, such as a pod hotel.

With that say, here are some recommended places to stay when visiting New York in December:

  • Renaissance Midtown: I got lucky and ended up scoring a relatively good deal on an upgraded room here for around $350/night – which probably doesn’t seem like much of a deal, but it was WAY cheaper than everything else that I found! I loved saying here – the rooms were super spacious (sometimes a rarity in Manhattan), the beds were comfortable, impeccable service, and the view was pretty awesome! It’s also super convenient, and within walking distance to many of the best things to do in NYC.
  • Springhill Suites Midtown: I stayed here a few years ago, and highly recommend it! My friends ended up getting a room here for a really good price (around $200/night). The rooms here are super spacious and comfortable, and the hotel is very conveniently located to many of the top sights in New York City.
  • CitizenM Times Square: I stayed in a CitizenM hotel in Seattle and loved the concept – it’s really high-tech and they really plan out the essentials of a hotel room to maximize space. The lobby space is beautiful and meant to be a hangout space where you can relax. 
  • Pod 51 Hotel: If you’re on a budget and not really planning to spend much time in the room, this is an awesome option. You really can’t go wrong with the Midtown location here! You can sleep in a pod, which comes with just a bed and a shared bathroom, or you can opt for a standard room if you want more privacy. They also host activities and tours.
  • Moxy NYC Downtown: I’ve stayed in a few Moxy hotels (Tempe, AZ and Austin to name a couple) and have always enjoyed it! The rooms are pretty basic but have everything you need, and the properties have a trendy, modern, and fun vibe. For starters, the front desk doubles as a bar (and you get a welcome drink upon check-in), and the common space has fun games and events. As this location is downtown, the rates are a bit more affordable.

Festive Things to Do in New York in December

Check out the iconic Rockefeller Center

Rockefeller Center basically *is* Christmas in New York City – you cannot go to NYC in December and NOT go to Rockefeller Center. It’s basically synonymous with Christmas!

Rockefeller Center is home to one of the most famous Christmas trees in the world. Even after seeing it on TV so many times over the years, I have to say that it is 100000000x more spectacular in person – it just sparkles and is just magical!

A Christmas tree has stood here every year since 1931, when a group of construction workers during the Depression decorated a 20 foot tree. Nowadays, the tree is one of the most impressive and well-known in the world – the 2021 version was a 79 foot tall Norway spruce tree that measured 46 feet wide and weighed 12 tons.

The tree arrives in mid-November, but it does not actually get lit until the Wednesday after Thanksgiving (in 2022, this is on November 30). The tree lighting event is a whole spectacle, with live performances from top musical artists and appearances with celebrities, and is televised on NBC. 

After the tree lighting takes place, Christmas is officially here in NYC! The tree stays lit from 6am to 12am every day, and 24 hours on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. It stays up until the first week of January.

Rockefeller Center is also home to the famous ice skating rink. Skating here had been on my bucket list for years, and I was so excited to finally take the ice here! There is nothing more magical than gliding across under the sparkling lights of the grand Christmas tree. It’s just one of the most iconic NYC holiday experiences and I highly recommend it!

I suggest skating in an early morning session – the rink won’t be terribly crowded yet, and another plus that it’s a bit cheaper (It’s $20 to skate the early morning session on a weekday vs. $54 for peak times such as a weekend evening – not including skate rental). You can see session times/pricing and book tickets here.

Do note that the area gets BUSY, especially on the weekends! I suggest coming earlier in the morning for some peace and quiet. I passed through the area around the tree after skating the 7 am session on Monday morning and was pleasantly surprised to see that there was hardly anyone there. It was such a nice respite, especially since I passed through a few times on Saturday and Sunday and it was such a zoo!

Visit the Radio City Music Hall

Another one of the most iconic Christmas spots in the city, you’ll find some of the best things to do in NYC in December at the Radio City Music Hall. 

Radio City Music Hall is best known as being home of the Rockettes, who have performed here since 1932. Every year during the Christmas season they put on the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, a 90 minute holiday show that features singing, dancing, and humor with traditional holiday scenes.

The show kicks off (pun intended haha) in mid-November and continues throughout the holiday season until the day after New Years. Seeing the Christmas Spectacular is one of the most popular things to do in New York in December and a beloved holiday tradition for both locals and tourists alike, so if you want to go, be sure to buy your tickets in advance!

Even if you are not intending to watch the Christmas Spectacular, you still must stop by Radio City as it’s one of New York City’s classic Christmas spots! Not only is there a dazzling Christmas tree perched atop the marquee sign out front, the giant ornaments and candy canes across the street are super fun and festive and make an awesome photo op!

Hang out in the Winter Village at Bryant Park

The Winter Village at Bryant Park is one of the best places to visit during Christmas in New York because it has it all – a Christmas Market, an ice rink, a beautiful tree, decorations, bars, restaurants, and even igloos.

It is the perfect place to hang out for an afternoon for some holiday fun! The Christmas Market is the perfect place to do some holiday shopping, with dozens of vendors selling handmade crafts, gourmet items, local gifts, and more, housed in the cutest glass huts. You’ll find something for everyone on your list here!

The Winter Village is also home to the city’s only admission free ice skating rink (skate rentals available for an additional cost, or you can bring your own), and it’s one of the best! I loved being able to skate right in the middle of the city and taking in those skyline views – you can even spot the Empire State Building while gliding across the ice here. Such a cool experience! Be sure to reserve your session here

There’s also a number of bars and restaurants here, where you can grab some delicious treats and/or a warm beverage as you enjoy the village. You can even enjoy your food and beverages in a cozy igloo, which you can rent out for 90 minutes. It’s the perfect place to hang out with friends and family!

Bryant Park also has its own Christmas tree, which is often overlooked but really beautiful! 

Admire the Christmas storefronts and decorations

New York City is one of the biggest shopping meccas in the world, and Fifth Avenue is its most famous shopping street, dotted with tons of luxury boutiques and high-end stores. It’s also one of the best places to go to see Christmas decorations in the city, as many of the stores put up festive displays!

I suggest spending a few hours cruising up and down the street to see all of the decorations and store displays, as there will be plenty that are a feast for the eyes! It gets super busy and chaotic here, especially on the weekends – you’ll find that it’s so crowded you can barely walk around. I suggest coming on a weekday, if possible.

In addition to the decorations on Fifth Avenue, the city’s department stores usually have some festive displays as well that are well worth checking out.

These are some of the most well-known displays that you shouldn’t miss:

  • Fifth Avenue Lights: The street itself also has a number of lights and decorations – from twinkling light trees, a mailbox, cab, cute animals, and more.
  • Cartier: This one was one of my favorites – the entire building is decorated to look like a sparkling red present, complete with a bow. It’s best photographed from across the street. I came by here several times and I thought it looked best late in the afternoon, when the light isn’t so bright but it’s not completely dark out yet.
  • Dior: There’s a cluster of white snowflakes and star decorations hanging above the entrance here, and it’s super pretty!
  • Saks Fifth Avenue: They have some festive window displays as well as a spectacular light show on the facade of the building (see below for more on that!)
  • Macy’s: The first department store in the city to have a holiday display! There’s festive decorations in the window, as well as the iconic “Believe” sign on the facade of the building. Inside, they also host SantaLand, where you can meet Santa and write a letter to him. 
  • Bergdorf Goodman: Also has a super festive window display every year. 

Watch the Saks Light Show

One of the most famous department stores in the world, the flagship Saks location on Fifth Avenue is also one of the best places to visit in December in NYC. Not only do they have some amazing window displays, they put on a spectacular light show every evening that you absolutely cannot miss!

Choreographed to Christmas music, the puts on a dazzling display of colorful lights that illuminate the facade of the building. It really is a magical sight!

The show takes place every 15 minutes from sundown until 11:30pm, from the end of November until the end of December. 

Go ice skating

Ice skating is by far my favorite winter activity, and every winter I look forward to all the outdoor rinks that pop up everywhere I go. I love skating at as many outdoor rinks as possible back home in California, but recently I’ve been skating during my winter travels as well! 

I was so excited about skating on some of the rinks here and I have to say – NYC has some of the best outdoor ice rinks in the world. The city skyline views and holiday lights are unmatched! 

Here are some of the outdoor ice skating rinks to check out in December in New York City:

  • The Rink at Rockefeller Center: One of the most famous ice rinks in the world! If you choose only one rink to skate on, I’d choose this one because it’s such an iconic experience. Yes, it’s pricey – skate early mornings or late at night to save a bit of money.
  • Winter Village at Bryant Park: The only free admission skating rink in the city (skate rentals are available at an additional cost, or you can bring your own). You can’t beat the skyline views here as you are skating right in the middle of the city – you can even see the Empire State Building!
  • Wollman Rink at Central Park: Another one of NYC’s iconic holiday experiences as you’ll be able to skate in the heart of Central Park. Take in views of the tall skyscrapers, and the park’s scenery – you might still be able to catch the tail end of the fall foliage, depending on when you visit in December! The rink was upgraded in 2021, providing an elevated skating experience.
  • The Rink at Brookfield Place: It’s hard to beat the views here – you get views of the Hudson River and the Lower Manhattan skyline. It’s also one of the city’s most spacious rinks – at 7350 square feet, it’s larger than Rockefeller Center’s ice.
  • LeFrak Center at Lakeside: Located in the southeast end of Prospect Park in Brooklyn, you’ll find not one but TWO ice rinks here. One is an outdoor rink where you can glide under the holiday lights, and the second is an indoor rink, perfect for those blisteringly cold days.

Visit Hudson Yards

One of the newest and trendiest developments in NYC, Hudson Yards is home to office buildings, retail, and dining, as well as some of the top attractions in the city, including the Vessel, the Edge Observatory, and the High Line.

Hudson Yards is one of the best places to visit in December in New York City, as it’s got some of the most beautiful Christmas lights in the city! Check out the Shops at Hudson Yards, which gets decked out in tons of string dazzling lights – there are lights hanging from the ceiling, in the windows, from the railings, from the escalators – seriously, the whole place just sparkles!

They also have a giant hot air balloon decoration hanging inside the mall. The ballon changes colors every few minutes and is super pretty! 

I recommend coming late at night, after the shops close at 10pm. There are a few entrances to the mall that are still open, and this way, you can enjoy the displays without hordes of people around.

Right outside the shops is the Vessel, one of NYC’s most unique attractions. While you cannot currently go up to the top of the Vessel due to a series of tragic events, there are still tons of lights and balloons set up outside of it, and it is a beautiful sight!

Catch a holiday performance

New York City is one of the performing arts capitals of the world, with plenty of top performers and venues, including Broadway, the Radio City Rockettes, New York City Ballet, and more. 

Seeing a show is a must when in NYC, especially in December, when there are a number of special holiday performances that take place. It’s also the perfect indoor activity for when you are trying to escape the cold!

Here are some holiday performances to check out in New York City in December:

  • Radio City Christmas Spectacular: A beloved holiday tradition in the city, the 90 minute show features the world-famous Radio City Rockettes featuring dancing, singing, humor, and traditional holiday scenes. 
  • Broadway: Seeing a Broadway production is a must in New York City. Along with classic musicals such as the Lion King, Phantom of the Opera, and Wicked, you’ll find seasonal performances such as A Christmas Carol, Frozen, and Christmas Eve And Other Stories! By the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Browse the Broadway Box Office website to see what’s playing and for tickets.
  • The Nutcracker by the New York City Ballet: See the beloved Christmas ballet be performed by one of the top dance companies in the world! The New York City Ballet’s version of the Nutcracker features elaborate stage elements and intricate lighting, along with choreography by George Balanchine, one of the most famous ballet choreographers in the world. 

Visit the Christmas Markets

New York City hosts several Christmas Markets throughout the city, each with vendors offering local gifts, handmade crafts, gourmet foods, and more. While nothing beats going to the Christmas Markets in Europe, checking out the markets in NYC is a fun way to experience the tradition closer to home.

Here are some of the Christmas Markets that take place in December in New York City:

  • Union Square Holiday Market: Named one of the best holiday markets in the United States, the Union Square Holiday Market features over 160 vendors selling unique wares created by local artisans and entrepreneurs.
  • Winter Village at Bryant Park: This European-inspired market features over 170 vendors housed in glass “jewel box” kiosks, selling artisanal provisions, local crafts, unique gifts, and more.
  • Columbus Circle Holiday Market: Known as one of the most elegant markets in the city, you’ll find local artisans and designers selling everything from jewelry, home goods, and gourmet foods. 

Frolic around Central Park

Arguably the best urban park in the world, no visit to New York City is complete without a visit to Central Park. While the park doesn’t have any holiday displays or events aside from its ice skating rink, it is still one of the most beautiful places to visit in New York City in December.

You can go ice skating in the heart of the park at the Wollman Rink, one of the most beautiful rinks in the city. You can glide across the ice while taking in impressive views of the city’s skyline and the park’s natural beauty. The rink experienced a renovation in 2021, with upgraded facilities and amenities being installed.

Aside from that, I recommend just strolling through the park and taking in all of its sights. Some of the highlights in Central Park include the Bethesda Terrace and Fountain, Bow Bridge, Belvedere Castle, Gapstow Bridge, and Umpire Rock.

One thing that I was pleasantly surprised to find visiting in early December was that there was still a good amount of fall foliage in the park! It was awesome to be able to experience the Christmas magic that the city is so famous for along with some of its fall beauty. 

If you are lucky enough to be in the city when it snows, Central Park transforms into a magical winter wonderland as well!

Eat at a Christmas themed restaurant

New York CIty also has a number of Christmas themed restaurants where you can dine amidst super festive decor that is sure to help you experience the holiday cheer! While the food may not be great at some of these establishments, you are essentially coming for the atmosphere, as it is a fun experience!

Here are some holiday restaurants to check out in NYC:

  • Lillie’s Victorian Establishment: This Victorian-themed pub and restaurant always has extravagant decorations, but especially so during the Christmas season. You’ll find a beautifully decorated Christmas tree along with a collection of antiques and trinkets. There are two locations in the city – the Union Square location is the more festive of the two.
  • Rolf’s: This German restaurant is famous for its Christmas decorations that adorn the inside of the restaurant – year-round! I’ve heard that the food here is overpriced and not great, but you’re coming for the decorations – it looks like Christmas exploded inside here! 
  • Serra by Birreria: This restaurant on the rooftop of the Eataly building is beautifully decorated, inspired by the seasons. The holiday display is one of the best. Come for a rustic menu of delicious Italian specialties, inspired by the Italian countryside and Alps.
  • The Greens at Pier 17: For a fun and unique group experience, reserve one of the heated glass cabins located at the rooftop of Pier 17. There is a fee to reserve, as well as a minimum food and beverage spend, but you can’t beat the views of the city’s bridges and the Manhattan skyline here. The food and drinks here come from Dante, featuring seasonally inspired cuisine.

Have a cocktail at a Christmas bar

One of my favorite things to do during the holiday season is to enjoy some seasonally inspired cocktails at a pop-up Christmas bar. It’s always such a fun experience and it never fails to put me into the Christmas spirit!

NYC has a number of holiday themed bars that pop up throughout the city. Here are some to check out:

  • Igloo Bar at 230 Fifth: This rooftop bar is best known for its impressive views of the Empire State Building. During the holidays, it gets decked out in festive lights and decor, and there are also heated cabins and igloos you can rent out by reservation. Even if you don’t rent one out, you can still go up to enjoy a warm beverage and enjoy the view!
  • Oscar Wilde: You’ll find extravagant Victorian-era antiques and decor inside Oscar Wilde, but it steps up its game during the holidays. It’s also known as one of the best whiskey bars in the city, with over 300 varieties. It’s also got the longest bar in the city, measuring 118.5 feet.
  • Miracle: Miracle takes over bars around the country and turns them into a festive Christmas wonderland. I haven’t been to the one in NYC, but I used to go to the one in San Francisco every year and it was always one of my favorite traditions! 
  • Magic Hour: This rooftop bar located on top of the Moxy Times Square hotel is a pink Christmas wonderland and is SO cute!
  • Mr. Purple: Located on top of Hotel Indigo, Mr. Purple is known as one of the best rooftops in the county and hosts the Veuve Clicquot Winter Chalet. The lounge takes on a ski chalet/lodge theme, with a champagne bar, and more.
  • City Winery Wine Garden: Every year, they set up a winter wine garden and igloos at Rockefeller Center. There is a minimum food + beverage spend to rent out the igloos.

Check out some of NYC’s best views

New York City’s impressive skyscrapers and urban vibes mean that there are some insane views of the city. There are five observation decks in the city where you can take in a birds-eye view of NYC and beyond. While they’re one of the top things to do in the city year-round, there’s just something special and romantic about visiting them in the winter months.

At around ~$40 a pop, visiting the observation decks in NYC can get really expensive! If you are sucker for a good view like I am and plan to visit a few, I recommend getting yourself the New York Pass, which includes admission to three of the spots listed above (Top of the Rock, Empire State Building, and One World). You also get admission to some of the other best things to do in New York City in December that I go over in this post, including the Botanical Gardens and a ton of museums!

Note that lines can get really long, so I suggest pre-booking skip-the-line tickets to save yourself a lot of time (there are a lot of fun things to do in New York in December after all!) – I’ve linked to most of them below. Here are all the observation decks to visit in New York City:

  • Top of the Rock: This one is one of my all-time favorite places in NYC! It’s one of those classic NYC spots you cannot miss. It’s arguably the best observation deck in the city, because you get the PERFECT view of the Empire State Building. The views of midtown Manhattan and Central Park are unparalleled. 
  • Empire State Building: One of the most iconic landmarks in all of New York. This is *the* classic observation deck in the city, and there’s just something so magical about it. You can take in the view from the 86th floor, or there’s an option to go up to the 102nd floor. While it’s a must any time of the year, the holidays are an especially awesome time to visit as it gets decked out in special decor!
  • One World Observatory: Standing on top of the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, you will zoom up to the 102nd floor in the Skypod in just 47 seconds. You can then check out insane views of the Manhattan skyline and beyond.
  • The Edge: One of the newest and trendiest observation decks in the city, the edge has a glass floor from over 100 floors above the ground and offers a thrilling experience. They also have a bar with some seasonal winter cocktails!
  • Summit One Vanderbilt: The newest of the observation decks in the city. Summit is a good option to visit on those super cold days, as it is indoors. What is unique about Summit is that they have a mirrored room, a room with silver balls, and two transparent skyboxes, which make for some really cool photo ops!

Visit the Oculus

Standing near the site of where the World Trade Center once stood, the Oculus is a transportation hub and luxury shopping center. It is the most expensive train station ever built, with the project costing $4 billion dollars to build.

The result is a strikingly modern building that is meant to resemble a giant steel bird about to take flight. It is a symbol of hope and meant to capture the spirit of New Yorkers, who survived the tragic events of 9/11.

Visiting the Oculus is a must, as the architecture is truly impressive. I’ve always loved how the light plays off the tall steel columns that make up the “bones” of the bird. December is especially awesome time to visit, as there is a small Christmas market and a cluster of decorations and trees set up on the ground floor.

Take a holiday cruise around Manhattan

One of my favorite ways to see a city is from the water, and I’ve always enjoyed taking sightseeing cruises to take in the views (some of the ones I’ve enjoyed were in Stockholm, Paris, and Prague).

Taking a sunset cruise around the New York Harbor is a fantastic way to see the dazzling lights of the Manhattan skyline and truly take in the grandeur of the city. It’s also an awesome way to relax and enjoy the view (much needed during a busy trip!). It’s the perfect winter activity too as you can stay cozy and take in the views from the heated inside cabin!

For a fun holiday activity that’s perfect for December in NYC, I suggest taking a holiday jazz yacht cruise. This is the perfect cruise to experience some Christmas cheer – you’ll sail on a luxury yacht that is decked out with festive holiday decorations, warm up with some hot beverages and Christmas cookies, and listen to live jazz and Christmas carols. A complimentary champagne, beer, or wine is included as well.

See decorations at NYC’s most iconic luxury hotels

New York City is home to some of the most famous luxury hotels in the world, some of which dress up for the holidays. Even if you don’t stay at them (they cost a pretty penny!), it’s worth checking out what Christmas displays are on display.

One of the most well-known is the Plaza Hotel, which has made an appearance in countless movies in TV shows including Home Alone 2, Gossip Girl, and Eloise, among many others. Just outside of the hotel is the Pulitzer Fountain, where you’ll find some of the best Christmas decorations in the city.

The theme of the Christmas display changes every year – when I visited in 2021, there were cute polar animals that were skating around the fountain. The year before, it was a collection of giant ornaments that lit up and sparkled.

Another one of NYC’s luxury hotels to check out is the Peninsula Hotel. While it doesn’t look very festive from the outside, you’ll find the stairs in the lobby decked out with a beautiful tree, nutcrackers, presents, and other festive decor.

If you feel like splurging, the Peninsula has some amazing holiday packages in the month of December, which includes things like your own Christmas tree in your room, private transportation to see the lights in Dyker Heights, VIP access to the Top of the Rock, among other festive amenities.

Admire the New York Botanical Gardens

Located in the Bronx, the New York Botanical Gardens are perfect for plant lovers year-round, but they put on a series of special events and displays during the holiday season.

Every year in December, they host the NYBG Glow installation, when the gardens are illuminated with breathtaking lights around a 1.5 mile trail. It is one of the most spectacular displays in New York in December. 

They also have a Holiday Train show, featuring a miniature winter wonderland with model trains zipping through some of NYC’s most well-known landmarks. There’s also a Bronx Night Market pop-up as well.

Admire the city’s beautiful Christmas trees

There is no shortage of breathtaking Christmas trees all around NYC. Everyone knows about the Rockefeller tree (it is arguably the most famous in the world), but there are plenty of other beautifully decorated trees around the city that are also worth admiring. 

Here are some to check out:

  • Lotte Palace: Many people say this is the most beautiful tree in the city! Sadly they did not put it up in 2021 due to construction, but I’d love to see it someday!
  • New York Stock Exchange Building: There has been a Christmas tree here for over 100 years, and it’s one of the most impressive in the city. Not only that, the building itself is super festive, with red and green lights illuminating the facade.
  • Washington Square Park: What makes this tree special is that it gets perfectly framed by the beautiful Arch, which is reminiscent of Arc de Triomphe.
  • Madison Square Park: Did you know that Madison Square Park had the first tree lighting in the United States, over 100 years ago? You’ll find a sparkling tree standing here every year.
  • Bryant Park: There’s a tree standing here as part of the Winter Village, which often gets overlooked but is gorgeous!   
Dyker Heights Christmas Lights” by philipp.alexander.ernst (imprintmytravel.com) is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Check out the Christmas decorations on Dyker Heights

Located in Brooklyn, the Dyker Heights neighborhood is known as one of the best areas to see Christmas lights in the country. Everyone living here goes all-out in decking out their houses with over-the-top decorations and lights.

While you’ll see lights all throughout the neighborhood, you’ll see the best decorations on 11th to 13th Avenue, from 83rd to 86th street.

It takes around an hour to get from Manhattan to Dyker Heights on the subway. If you are only visiting New York City for a shorter trip (or don’t want to deal with the hassle of figuring out your own transportation), I highly recommend booking a tour, which will take you straight to where all the best decorations are!

Visit a museum

Visiting a museum is the perfect activity when visiting NYC in the winter, and you’re in luck because the city is home to many world-class museums. It is a fantastic place to escape the cold for a few hours, and learn something new on top of it!

If you plan to visit several museums and/or other ticket attractions in the city, i.e. observation decks, I recommend getting yourself the New York Pass, which includes admission to many of the top museums and attractions in the city. It’s an awesome way to save some money on some of the best things to do in the city!

Here are some of the top museums in NYC that I recommend visiting:

  • Metropolitan Museum of Art aka “The Met”: Known as one of the best art museums in the world, the Met is a must visit when in NYC. The collection includes over two million works, divided among 17 curatorial departments. It can get super overwhelming in here – I recommend booking this guided tour, which takes you straight to the most notable works in the museum in two hours, and also gives you skip-the-line-access.
  • 9/11 Memorial Museum: This powerful museum is dedicated to the 3000 people who lost their lives as part of the tragic events of 9/11. It is a heartbreaking but important museum to visit. There are artifacts, first-person accounts, and multimedia exhibitions about that day and the people who were involved.
  • Guggenheim Museum: Another one of the city’s most well-known museums, dedicated to modern and contemporary art. The building itself is also a work of art and famously designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
  • Museum of Modern Art (MoMA): Known as one of the best museums of modern and contemporary art in the world, the MoMA features some of the most famous works in the world, including Van Gogh’s Starry Night, Andy Warhol’s Soup Cans, Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon, and many more.
  • American Museum of Natural History: This acclaimed museum, one of the largest in the world, has over 50 exhibits with 32 million artifacts dedicated to the world’s most important scientific and cultural institutions. Learn about human origin and culture, dinosaur fossils, biodiversity, space, and more.

Visit Chelsea Market + the High Line

The High Line, an elevated walkway and park built on former railroad tracks, is one of those places in the city that is beloved by both locals and tourists alike. Stretching for almost 1.5 miles, the High Line has plenty of greenery, outdoor art installations, and some amazing city views. 

One of the best stops along the High Line is the Chelsea Market, a food and retail marketplace located close to the southern end. Featuring a global perspective, you’ll find tons of unique boutiques and delicious eateries inside the market. 

It’s the perfect place to stop for some lunch and do some holiday shopping – there’s tons of vendors to choose from! You can even take a food tour to find all the best spots.

Chelsea Market also has some super cute Christmas decorations in a red and pink theme, which is a unique spin on the traditional holiday colors! I loved the trees, lights, and hanging ornaments here.

Watch the ball drop in Times Square

One of the biggest and most famous New Year’s Eve celebrations in the world, thousands of people gather in Times Square to watch the ball drop at midnight. The televised celebration features performances by top musical artists, as well as appearances from celebrities. 

The event has taken place in Times Square every year since 1907 and is a prominent part of the city’s New Year’s eve celebrations. Over the year, the ball has been fashioned out of everything from wood, iron, aluminum, and crystal.

It’s not really something that the locals participate in, but thousands of people visit the city on New Year’s Eve just to partake in the event!

If you do plan to attend the ball drop in Times Square make sure you go EARLY! People stake out their spots hours in advance, Iike, early in the morning! Also bring tons of warm layers, as it gets pretty cold by the time the clock hits midnight.

Have you ever been to NYC in December? What are some of your favorite things to do in December in New York City?

You might also like:
25 Best Christmas Decorations in NYC
30 Most Instagrammable Places in NYC
100+ New York City Quotes + Captions

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