10 Essential Things to Do in New York City During the Holiday Season

It’s Christmas time in the city—New York City, of course! From the iconic Fifth Avenue window displays to Her Majesty the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, there isn’t a single cross street not decked out this time of year. And with so many sights to see and peppermint mochas to drink, celebrating the holiday season in the city requires a foolproof, fun-filled plan. Look no further: I’ve put together a local’s guide to the best things to do in New York around the holidays, and let’s just say it sleighs. Get ready for a multitude of festive photo ops, Christmas markets, and internet-famous hot cocoa stops. You’ll be in the holiday spirit in a New York minute.

1. Go ice skating in Central Park

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Get ready for a new core memory. After your mandatory bacon-egg-and-cheese, get in line at the Wollman Rink for some good old-fashioned ice skating (be sure to book a time in advance!). While there are several great rinks throughout the city, there’s nothing quite as magical as ice skating in the middle of the world’s most renowned park, with the Midtown Manhattan skyscrapers in the background.

2. Amble along Madison Avenue

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During your trip to the Big Apple, make sure to spend some time in residential neighborhoods like the Upper East Side to scope out the decorated townhouses. Madison Avenue and its side streets are particularly festive. Your first stop? Ralph’s Coffee on Madison and 72nd. Warm up with a tea or latte and snap a pic with the ultimate accessory: the world’s cutest holiday cup (Starbucks, who?). Other spots in the area worth visiting include E.A.T. Gifts, Butterfield Market, and Sant Ambroeus (for the most decadent hot chocolate).

3. Hit up the holiday markets

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A beloved tradition among New Yorkers, the many (many) Christmas markets across the five boroughs will get you in the holiday spirit, stat. Noteworthy markets can be found in Union Square, Astoria, Grand Central Station, Columbus Circle, East Harlem, and DUMBO. But arguably the best of them all is located at Bryant Park’s Winter Village, where over 180 artisan vendors take over the red and green kiosks with unique gifts and tasty treats. It’s such a foodie wonderland, you may not need that dinner res.

4. Window shop on Fifth Avenue

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Begin your holiday window tour with a bang at Bergdorf Goodman before continuing down Fifth for more impressive lights and sights. Remember to take a picture of Saks and Cartier, then pivot to Sixth Avenue to see Radio City Music Hall and the massive ornament statues. Oh, and you might even stumble upon a hidden gem Christmas tree (wink, wink).

5. Grab a festive drink (or two)

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‘Tis the season for a holiday happy hour, and surprise, surprise: NYC exceeds expectations. Grab a holiday martini at Rolf’s, Gramercy’s year-round Christmas-themed bar, or pop into the Miracle on 9th Street pop-up bar for a cocktail aptly named “Elfing Around.” In search of city views? Make a reservation at the snowglobe-esque rooftop lounge, Ophelia. Or skip (some of) the crowds and opt for a drink at a historic hotel like The Carlyle or The Plaza.

6. Take in a show

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The list of things to do in New York around the holidays can seem never-ending, but if there’s one activity to prioritize, it’s seeing a show. The Nutcracker at Lincoln Center and The Christmas Spectacular starring the Radio City Rockettes are two of the most festive performances in the city. Short on time and/or money? Stop by Saks Fifth Avenue for a free light show, which happens every ten minutes from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.

7. See all the Christmas trees

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The Rockefeller Christmas tree may get all the glory, what with its Swarovski crystal star topper and all, but there are dozens of dazzling trees in New York that are just as photo-worthy. My own personal favorites are located at Washington Square Park, Wall Street, the courtyard at The Palace, and The Met.

8. Try some TikTok-viral hot chocolate

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At this point, my FYP is just desserts in New York, and I’m not mad about it. This year, I’ll be making every effort to try the Liquid S’mores from Rubyzaar Baked at the Union Square Holiday Market. On my tried-and-true list are the hot chocolate offerings from Bar Pisellino, Brooklyn Farmacy & Soda Fountain, L.A. Burdick, and as previously mentioned, Sant Ambroeus. But you should probably just sample them all.

9. Listen to some live jazz

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Cap off your trip with a quintessential New York moment at a Greenwich Village jazz club. Smalls, Mezzrow, and Village Vanguard are all classics worthy of a visit. Plus, you’ll be near some of the most beautiful brownstones and buzziest restaurants.

10. Gift yourself an ornament

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You’ve now had an NYC bagel, an elf-approved cocktail, and at least five different hot chocolate beverages—all you need is a souvenir to commemorate your festive weekend. What about something special for your own Christmas tree? As someone who can’t resist the urge to buy any and every niche ornament, I know where to shop. Check out John Derian Company in the East Village, More & More Antiques on the Upper West Side, or the Christmas in New York store in Little Italy. Now, you’ll always remember this trip—as if you could ever forget it.

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