There’s no better place to be during holiday time than New York City. As always, the Holiday Markets and Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade kicks off the season, with floats, balloons and marching bands. Other exciting, family-friendly events include the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, the Holiday Train Shows at the New York Botanical Garden and Grand Central Terminal, Kwanzaa celebrations at the Apollo Theater and American Museum of Natural History, and the informal competition for largest Hanukkah menorah. For details on these and many other happenings, read on.
NYC Ice-Skating Rinks
Oct 15 – March 31, 2019
New York City’s many ice-skating rinks are synonymous with winter and the first glimpse of the holiday season. If you prefer your skating experience to come with a killer view, take a spin at Wollman Rink (open late-October through March), with its amazing skyline vistas from inside Central Park, or enjoy the spectacular surroundings of the seasonal Rink at Rockefeller Center (in December, the famous tree will be there too). The Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park, which is open October to March, is another fine option with stunning architecture nearby. For an indoor experience that will make you feel like a professional hockey or skating star, visit City Ice Pavilion in Queens or the Aviator Sports & Events Center in Brooklyn; both operate year-round.
The Holiday Shops at Winter Village at Bryant Park
Oct 27— Dec 31
After taking a few turns around the ice-skating rink, finish up your holiday shopping at The Holiday Shops at Winter Village at Bryant Park. Browse the many vendor booths offering clothing, jewelry, household gifts, crafts, art and more.
Oct 27, 2018— Jan 2, 2019
New York City takes its shopping experience to a new level with the many holiday markets that pop up for the season. So grab a cup of hot cocoa and brave the cold to find homemade wares for everyone on your list at the three big outdoor markets—Union Square Holiday Market, Holiday Shops at Winter Village at Bryant Park and Columbus Circle Holiday Market—or stay warm at the indoor Grand Central Holiday Fair.
Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes
Nov 9, 2018— Jan 1, 2019
This iconic song-and-dance extravaganza, featuring the legendary Rockettes, is one of the holiday season’s must-see attractions. This year’s show combines such classic scenes as “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers” and “New York at Christmas” with new numbers and cutting-edge digital projection and digital mapping technology, which transforms Radio City Music Hall’s interior into a giant canvas.
Nov 10, 2018— Jan 13, 2019
The New York Hall of Science hosts the world’s largest gingerbread village, as determined by Guinness World Records for the past five years. In its sixth year in contention for the title, the 2018 event is sure to be as delicious and amazing as its predecessors. Creator and chef Jon Lovitch drafts, designs, bakes and constructs the homemade gingerbread houses, which are made of edible gingerbread, royal icing and candy. This confectionary wonderland is a sight for the whole family to enjoy.
Holiday Train Show at Grand Central Terminal
Nov 15, 2018— Feb 3, 2019
The New York Transit Museum Gallery Annex and Store at Grand Central Terminal is back with its annual Holiday Train Show, whose layout features Lionel trains traveling through a two-level, 34-foot-long miniature New York City and countryside scene. Vintage trains from the museum’s collection, including New York Central models, travel all the way to the diorama’s North Pole.
New York Botanical Garden Holiday Train Show
Nov 17, 2018— Jan 21, 2019
Model trains navigate painstakingly crafted miniatures of New York City’s built environment, all made entirely out of plant parts. The Statue of Liberty, the Brooklyn Bridge and Yankee Stadium are among the 150 landmarks that form a fantastically rendered city landscape built from seeds, bark, leaves and twigs, serviced by a robust half-mile of track, all nestled within the stunning and historic Enid A. Haupt Conservatory. This year’s train show showcases Lower Manhattan’s famous skyscrapers with replicas of the Woolworth Building and One World Trade Center—and some vintage ferry boats, too. Other events coinciding with the train show include a cappella performances, classical music concerts, a poetry reading and activities for kids.
Origami Holiday Tree
Nov 20, 2018— Jan 7, 2019
Holiday decor gets a historical makeover with the American Museum of Natural History’s annual Origami Holiday Tree. The museum draws inspiration from its own items for the nearly 1,000 folded-paper works, constructed by volunteers throughout the year. After exploring the permanent-exhibition halls, current shows and expansive collections, see which pieces made their way onto the 13-foot tree.
Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
Nov 22, 2018
A Thanksgiving tradition for more than 90 years, this parade is one of the most famous holiday events in the world. Millions line the streets of Manhattan to watch celebrities, Broadway performers, clowns, marching bands, floats (including Santa himself riding a reindeer-powered sleigh) and the true headliners of the day: the all-star roster of floating balloons—Snoopy, Hello Kitty and friends—flying high above the route. The procession heads south down Central Park West from 77th Street, east along Central Park South to Sixth Avenue and then south along Sixth Avenue to West 34th Street, ending in front of Macy’s in Herald Square. Also, the balloon inflation along the perimeter of the American Museum of Natural History has become its own beloved Thanksgiving eve tradition.
George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker
Nov 23— Dec 30
It’s likely you already know the fanciful, fantastical Christmas Eve story and Tchaikovsky’s unforgettable melodies—but it’s certain that no NYC holiday season is complete without seeing choreographer George Balanchine’s confection come to life. The glittering classic, performed annually by the New York City Ballet since 1954, has become one of the City’s signature family-friendly traditions. Expect to warm your spirits with visions of the Sugarplum Fairy dancing in your head.
Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting
Nov 28, 2018— Jan 7, 2019
It doesn’t get much more picture-postcard NYC Christmas than the sight of the stately Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, towering above the ice rink below, all decked out in its finest holiday bling. Things get even more festive when thousands of revelers fill the area for the lighting of the Norway spruce. A star-studded lineup, usually hosted by NBC Today show anchors, provides plenty of live entertainment. The crowning moment comes when the switch is flipped and the Swarovski star–topped tree’s tens of thousands of (energy-efficient LED) lights come alive. Expect plenty of “oohs” and “ahs” from the crowd. If you can’t make it to the big event on November 28, worry not—you can see the tree (and snap plenty of photos of it) through early January.
Christmas Lights Tour of Dyker Heights
Dec 1— Dec 30
Each December tour company A Slice of Brooklyn presents this bus tour of the famous Dyker Heights Christmas lights. More than 100,000 people visit the Brooklyn neighborhood annually to see the awe-inspiring decorations—many of which have lights synchronized to music and animatronic features. Rather than wander the neighborhood yourself, let A Slice of Brooklyn guide you on this 3.5-hour jaunt—during which you’ll learn stories of the homeowners so dedicated to the art of holiday cheer. Some may even come out and greet you.
Holidays at the Apollo
Dec 1— Dec 29
The legendary Apollo Theater presents several holiday events this month, kicking off with the free annual Coca-Cola Winter Wonderland festival. Take pictures with Santa and hear music from local a cappella groups and choirs; in the evening, there’s a special holiday edition of Amateur Night. Other events include a Holiday Joy Gospel Concert and Kwanzaa Celebration on December 29.
23 Days of Flatiron Cheer
Dec 1— Dec 23
The annual 23 Days of Flatiron Cheer brings many holiday-time traditions to this proud neighborhood. Throughout the three-plus weeks, expect an interactive installation in the North Public Plaza at Broadway and 23rd Street, performances from local groups, contests and giveaways from local businesses. Most of the events will take place in the public plazas surrounding the Flatiron Building.
The Magic Flute
Dec 19, 2018— Jan 5, 2019
The Metropolitan Opera takes Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Magic Flute and adapts it into a family-friendly, English-language version that’s full of holiday spirit and enchantment. Conductor Harry Bicket leads the production directed by Juile Taymor (from Broadway’s The Lion King), which stars Nathan Gunn as bird catcher Papageno, along with Erin Morley and Ben Bliss as the princess and prince.
New Year’s Eve Grand Army Plaza Fireworks Display
Check out Brooklyn’s dazzling New Year Eve’s display with the Grand Army Plaza fireworks, just off Prospect Park. This free event is fun for all ages. The fireworks begin at midnight, but get there early if you come by car; parking spots can be scarce. The best places for viewing are along Prospect Park’s West Drive and between Grand Army Plaza and 9th Street.
Times Square Ball Drop
Dec 31, 2018
Celebrate the arrival of 2019 with the world’s biggest New Year’s celebration. It’s a chance to catch live music and other performances before and after midnight, and be part of this unique party that the whole world is watching. Last year’s performers were Nick Jonas, Sugarland, Camilla Cabello and Mariah Carey. It’s best to get to Times Square as early as possible; street closures begin during the midafternoon, and the choicest spots are usually filled by 3pm or earlier.