How to Celebrate the Holidays in New York City
Christmas and Hanukkah in NYC By Holly Rosen Fink
Dancing Snowflakes at Rockefeller Center, Manhattan (Flickr: Adnan Islam)
New York is absolutely fabulous during the holiday season. From the tree at Rockefeller Center lit up in all its glory to the ornate department store windows to menorah lightings, the city is simply electrifying and utterly family-friendly.
Even with the chill in the air, NYC is a wonderland for any child. It’s easy to fill a day, weekend or even the entire holiday break with family-centric holiday activities. NYC has a wide variety of family-friendly options for families of all religions and backgrounds. Here’s a list of what to do, where to stay, where to eat and a tip or two to ensure a great trip to NYC.
Your child’s eyes will pop open wide at the city’s department store windows. From Macy’s and Lord & Taylor to Bloomingdale’s and Bergdorf Goodman, Christmas in NYC would not be complete without a look at the glitz and glam of the city’s finest holiday lights.
Tips for your visit: The windows are spread out around the city. Go on a bus tour or take public transportation to get around.
The Rockefeller Center Tree Lighting is one of NYC’s most celebrated events. The annual lighting will take place on December 2nd and will remain on display through January 6th.
Tips for your visit: The tree lighting is extremely popular. Go early! Or go another time when the crowds are not as heavy.
Columbus Circle Holiday Market (Flickr: Charley Lhasa)
Kids will love a stroll through the city’s holiday markets, located in Bryant Park, Union Square, Columbus Circle, Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, Long Island City Flea and Food Holiday Market, Astoria Market Holiday, the Winter Flea in Brooklyn, Brooklyn Holiday Bazaar, Jolly Holly Fair on Staten Island and Grand Central. At each market, you’ll find unique artisans and merchants with handmade hats and gloves, jewelry and other assorted gifts.
Another great place to shop and see lights is at Chelsea Market, lit up with beautiful holiday lights and also host to dozens of vendors and restaurants.
Tips for your visit: After you’re done poking around the market, head up to the High Line for a stroll. You might encounter a holiday stroll, a gift drive or something else hosted by Friends of the High Line.
Little Italy is another family-friendly neighborhood to explore during the holidays. The streets are decadently lit and the restaurant owners will shower your kids with delicious food.
If you and your kids love ornaments, you must see the giant red ornaments, lights, toy soldiers, model train and Christmas trees along Sixth Avenue in midtown. It’s quite a holiday spectacle.
The Holiday Train Show at Grand Central Station is a model of New York’s regional commuter rail network featuring Metro-North, New York Central and subway trains departing from a miniature Grand Central Terminal.
At the New York Botanical Garden's annual Holiday Train Show, you and your kids will marvel at the charming model trains and NYC landmark replicas, from the Empire State Building to Grand Central.
Tips for your visit: Book your tickets in advance, as you need a day and time to enter. On your way home, stop in the Bronx's Little Italy at Arthur Avenue & 187th Street for a cannoli and cappuccino.
St. John the Divine's Winter Solstice is a favorite concert series for New Yorkers. The stunning interior of The Cathedral is featured in these celebrations, as well as its Great Aeolian-Skinner Pipe Organ.
Tips for your visit: This is a great alternative to the Nutcracker and Rockettes, and it’s certainly easier to get tickets to. Book your tickets in advance.
Bryant Park Winter Village and Ice Skating Rink (Courtesy Bryant Park)
If you want to take your children ice-skating in NYC, Bryant Park is a wonderful option. You can bring your own skates or rent on the premises. In addition, you can check out the Fetes de Noel holiday market, which sells unique gifts or have a hot chocolate at the Pond Snack Shop or your kids can ride the carousel.
Tips for your visit: Make sure you bring a combination lock if you need to lock up your things.
The Museum of Natural History hosts a vibrant annual celebration that honors the seven principles of Kwanza with performances of song, dance, and spoken word, and an international marketplace.
Tips for your visit: After you are done exploring the museum, head over to Alice's Tea Cup on 73rd and Columbus for tea and scones.
Dyker Heights Light Extravaganz (Flickr: Dov Harrington)
You won’t want to miss the Light Extravaganza in Dyker Heights in Brooklyn, a largely Italian-American neighborhood in southwestern Brooklyn for its spectacular Christmas light display. You can catch the displays from 11th Avenue to 13th Avenue and from 83rd to 86th Street.
If you’re Jewish and wondering what to do with your kids on Christmas Day, head to the beautiful Eldridge Street Synagogue where you can all sing and dance to Yiddish music at the Museum’s annual family concert.
The biggest menorah in the world is lit nightly during Hanukkah at 5th Avenue near Central Park. The nightly lighting ceremonies will be accompanied by folk dancing and sufganiyot (holiday jelly doughnuts).
For many New Yorkers with roots in Latin America or the Caribbean, the holiday season is celebrated until 12 days after Christmas. Epiphany, or Three Kings Day, is a celebration of the Biblical story of the three wise men bringing gifts to the baby Jesus. Every year El Museo del Barrio celebrates with a procession throughout the streets of East Harlem known as the Three Kings Day Parade, this year happening on January 6th.
For a real treat, be sure to visit Serendipity on the Upper East Side for a frozen hot chocolate, banana sundae or hot fudge brownie.
Tips for your visit: There may be a wait, so be sure to stop by Dylan’s Candy Bar first for replenishment while waiting.
If you’re looking to stay in NYC during the holidays, The Westin New York at Times Square is a great option. Centrally located in the heart of Times Square, it’s family-friendly and the concierge can advise on Broadway shows and more. Plus, it’s across the street from Carlo’s Bakery, a passion for most kids.
The Kimberly Hotel in New York City, located on 145 East 50th Street, is close to Rockefeller Center, the American Girl Store and Bloomingdale’s. It’s perfect for families like us, or extended-stay visitors planning to stay for long periods.