Post overview: The Best Things to Do for Christmas in NYC with Kids
Christmas is such a magical time of year, and when spent with family it’s that much richer. Spending Christmas in New York City with kids can provide the memories of a lifetime, although it can be a daunting task.
But don’t sweat it, I’m here to help. As a young mom who lives in the city I’ve spent the last five years taking my daughter to all the bright lights and fun events, and I’m here to share them with you.
I’ll give you plenty of fun things to do in NYC with kids on Christmas, all you have to do is choose which sound best for you and your family.
But I don’t want to get ahead of myself. What do you say we jump right in?
Visiting New York City? If you haven’t decided where to stay (yet) check out our helpful guide on Where to Stay in New York City (The best neighborhoods for first timers +2 to avoid). Don’t have time? Here’s our favorite hotel in NYC, hands down.
Tips for celebrating Christmas in NYC with Kids
Book ahead: I start with this tip for a reason. Christmas brings hordes of tourists to New York City, and believe me when I tell you things sell out. If you’re visiting NYC at Christmas with kids book activities, restaurants and events well ahead time to avoid missing out.
Remember, “kids be kids.” It’s easy to rack your brain and stress every tiny detail because you want the trip to be perfect.
Give yourself some grace and remember that kids don’t care too much where the chicken nuggets came from, so long as they actually arrived. Relax and let us do the heavy lifting for you, we’ll keep this list focused on fun memories you can make as a family.
Don’t forget to sprinkle in some fun for yourself: Piggy backing off our last tip, experiencing Christmas in New York City with kids can be an animal. Burn out is real, so treat yourself and remember to have some fun, too!
Things to Do for Christmas in New York City with Kids
Catch The Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes
The Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes is arguably the most iconic holiday show in NYC. If you’re spending Christmas in NYC with kids it’s the show that should be at the top of your list.
During the 90 minute performance the Rockettes dance troupe dazzles with high energy and even higher kicks at the world-famous Radio City Music Hall. The dance numbers involve Christmas themed music, costumes and story-telling to keep your family in the festive holiday spirit.
And did I mention The Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes has been an annual tradition for generations of New Yorkers? The first performance took place in 1933.
Although the world has changed over the last 90 years, the Rockettes’ status as an elite dance company has not. Needless to say, the high energy show will have your children awe-struck from beginning to end.
So if you’re spending Christmas in NYC with kids you should (strongly) consider purchasing tickets. In 2024 the Christmas Spectacular runs from November 17th to January 1st, with performances spread throughout the day.
Check Out the Bronx Zoo Holiday Light Show
If you’re a regular reader of New York Simply you’ll know we’re big fans of the Bronx Zoo. And not just because of the animals that call it home. The zoo is an exemplary community space, hosting a number of events every year.
One of these events is the annual Holiday Light Show, a prime activity for anyone spending Christmas in NYC with kids. Bright lights adorn a meandering path that takes you past illuminated animal displays.
It’s important to make clear that the animal exhibits are closed for the night. Just remember your children will have a blast nonetheless. Pick up a hot chocolate at the Crane Cafe and embark on the epic adventure.
What’s more, at 265 acres, the Bronx Zoo is the largest metropolitan zoo in the country, reason alone to visit! I’d plan to spend two to three hours checking the Holiday Light Show while celebrating Christmas in NYC with kids.
Word to the wise: The Holiday Light Show has its own, proprietary ticket needed for entry. A regular ticket into the zoo won’t get you in, so be sure to book the event-specific ticket here.
Address: 2300 Southern Blvd, Bronx, NY 10460
Visit Macy’s Santaland
Covering an entire city block and spanning 1.1 million square feet, the largest Macy’s in the world is as impressive as it sounds. What’s more, it’s especially worth visiting during Christmas in NYC with kids!
Even if your toddlers aren’t old enough for their own credit cards they’ll have a blast. Every year the store unveils some of the best window displays in the Big Apple, and the bright lights will leave kids wide-eyed.
But the decorations alone aren’t the only reason to visit. Macy’s hosts an annual event called Santaland. The name alone should tell you this will be a highlight of your family trip to New York City for Christmas.
During Santaland Macy’s transforms the 8th floor of their massive department store into a Christmas palooza. Visitors will meander through charming villages, Santa’s workshop and tons of other fun displays before getting to meet Santa face-to-face.
The best part? This is one of the best free kids Christmas events in NYC (but advanced reservations are required).
Having said all that, I’d be negligent not to mention spots are hard to get and the wait to get in can be long, even with tickets. Although my experiences at Macy’s Santaland have all been positive, I’ve heard enough complaints about long lines that I feel I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention it.
Further reading: Interested in Santaland and want to know more? Check out our Complete Guide to Macy’s Santaland in NYC.
Address: 151 W 34th St., New York, NY 10001
Experience the Holiday Train Show at New York Botanical Garden
The Holiday Train Show at New York Botanical Garden (NYBG) is a can’t-miss experience, especially if you’re spending Christmas in NYC with kids in tow. Your entire family will be enthralled by the trains running through impressive and sizeable displays of iconic buildings in NYC.
The model trains make way past 190 replicas of New York’s landmarks, all made from natural materials.
And don’t think for a second these are small, popsicle stick replicas fit for a middle school science fair. The New York Botanical Garden creates an immersive, walk-through experience.
The train show has been an ongoing holiday show New York City has loved for more than 30 years, inspiring countless young minds. If you have the time, the trek to the Bronx is well worth one of the best things to do with kids in New York City for Christmas.
Address: 2900 Southern Blvd, Bronx, NY 10458
Make a Pit-Stop at FAO Schwarz
Every year countless kids eagerly look forward to Christmas in anticipation of gifts, and more specifically, toys. Why not blow their budding minds by taking them to the oldest toy store in America?
Operating since 1862, FAO Schwarz is an easy pit-stop for anyone visiting NYC at Christmas with kids. The original location closed in 2015 but they re-opened in a new 20,000 square foot location at Rockefeller Plaza.
All of the classic attractions have made their return, from the dance-on piano made famous by Tom Hanks in the movie Big to the exemplary clock tower.
FAO Schwarz specializes in sparking the imagination and have the toys and activities to prove it.
Visitors are encouraged to participate in a plethora of free daily activities like book readings, magic shows and music performances that will help make visiting NYC during Christmas with kids a blast.
Address: 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10111
Burn Off Some Energy Ice Skating
If you’re kids are anything like mine they put the Energizer Bunny to shame. Take my advice and pay any number of the ice skating rinks sprinkled across the Big Apple a visit.
Ice skating is one of the best things to do to celebrate Christmas in NYC with kids, it’ll tire them out and provide you with an adorable photo taking opportunity.
There are a number of amazing ice-skating rinks in New York City but I’ll quickly go over the three most iconic ones. The first is Wollman Rink in Central Park. I mean heck it’s in Central Park – need I say more?
The second is the Rink at Rockefeller Center (which I like to call the New York City’s capital of Christmas). It’s surrounded by Midtown Manhattan’s skyscrapers and lies in the shadow of the most iconic Christmas tree in NYC.
Pair the wonderful decorations with the up-beat music and your little ones will be grinning from ear to ear. Your family trip to New York City for Christmas will be unforgettable after spending some time on the ice.
And lastly I recommend The Rink at the Bank of American Winter Village in Bryant Park, the city’s most beloved holiday market. It’s in the backyard of the New York Public Library, boasts views of the Empire State Building and you can skate for free (but renting skates costs a fee).
Hop aboard the Holiday Nostalgia Train
The Holiday Nostalgia Train is a once-a-year tradition where a 1930’s subway car takes to the tracks. Hopping aboard is one of the Christmas activities in NYC with kids because for a moment they get to experience a
new old world.
Thanks to the New York Transmit Museum and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority we now get to take a trip into the past. It’s the type of train New Yorkers used to commute nearly 100 years ago.
And you don’t need to purchase special tickets to take a ride, for the cost of a subway fare you can enjoy a fun Christmas activity in New York City with kids. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority lets the old subway cart run on a current subway line, replacing the newer trains for the day.
Some folks don’t know to expect the train, so seeing the confused look on their face is amusing to say the least. Others locals go all out, dressing in clothing you would’ve seen back in the day. Either way, taking a ride aboard the Holiday Nostalgia Train is a fun way to celebrate Christmas in NYC with kids.
2023 dates have yet to be announced, but I’ll keep an eye out and update this post when they are. If you’d like you can also check the New York Transit Museum’s website for more information.
Savor a Meal at a Christmas Restaurant
Let’s be honest – most kids can’t taste the difference between a gourmet and slap-dash meal. So while I wouldn’t recommend every decorated Christmas restaurant in New York City based off food alone, visiting can be one of the best things to do while spending Christmas in NYC with kids.
There’s a plethora of decorated restaurants that warrant a visit for a holiday themed meal. From the candy canes and garlands to the ornaments and nutcrackers, the only thing missing is Santa Claus himself.
My top recommendation would be Frosty’s Christmas Bar (which isn’t only a bar). But I really want to emphasize you come here for the decorations and not the food. I best equate the meal to amusement-park quality.
If you rather go for something sweet you can also add Serendipity 3 to your itinerary. Famous for their frozen hot-chocolate, it’s one of the best pit-stops while enjoying Christmas in NYC with kids (and they decorate too!).
Interested in more holiday themed restaurants you can visit this December in NYC? Read 15 Epic New York City Christmas Restaurants You’re Sure to Love.
Enjoy Lightscape at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden
Founded in 1910 and hosting nearly a million visitors annually, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden (BBG) is a blast. If you’re in search of one of the best things to do in New York City with kids during Christmas, the garden has it!
The BBG hosts an annual art display named Lightscape, which boasts more than one million holiday lights. The lights follow a path that leads guests through the different gardens, showcasing ornate trees and lighted sculptures.
As the lights move so will your children’s imaginations, it’s captivating and fun. If you’re a Brooklynite or willing to travel this is one of the best things to do in NYC with kids for Christmas.
Note: This is a popular event and tickets sold out last year. Be sure to book your tickets well in advance.
Address: 990 Washington Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11225
Admire the Saks Fifth Avenue Light Show
The Saks Fifth Avenue Light show is one of the best free things to with kids in NYC for Christmas, you’ll just have to brave the crowds.
The department store draws folks in droves for their 10 minute light shows, that run between 5 and 11PM. The lights seem to dance across the facade to holiday music directly across the street from the Rockefeller Christmas tree.
It’s estimated nearly 125 million people visit each year, so make sure your holding hands with your small children.
Better yet, throw them on your shoulders so they get a great view of one of the best things to do in NYC with kids for Christmas.
And the City’s Most Iconic Christmas Tree
Putting up a Christmas Tree at the Rockefeller Center is a tradition that dates back to 1933, officially. (Unofficially, construction workers put up the first tree in 1931.)
The fact that even during the Great Depression New Yorkers understood the importance of holiday cheer, it should come as no surprise that in the present this is the most popular Christmas tree in NYC.
If you’re visiting New York City for Christmas with kids visiting this tree should be written down in permanent marker on your itinerary.
A new tree is selected every year with an impressive requirement: the tree must be at least 75 feet tall. It’s decorated with more than 50,000 lights and topped with a breathtaking (and super bright) Swarovski star.
Your littles’ jaw will drop at the sight of the the majestic tree!
My advice is to visit as early as possible (like first thing in the morning) while visiting NYC during Christmas with kids. The crowds are so intense it takes away from the overall experience, so hit it first thing in the morning.
Address: 45 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10111
Take Your Kids to the New York City Ballet’s Nutcracker
Most folks have watched the Nutcracker on screen at least once. But trust me, there’s nothing like seeing a live performance by the talented New York City Ballet.
George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker ballet at the Lincoln Center is an engaging show full of intricate dance numbers and theatrical ingenuity.
The show will undoubtedly be a highlight of your NYC Christmas family vacation. Plus, the attention to detail that goes into setting the stage and backdrops is astounding.
Tickets clock in around $100-200 so it can be an expense. Having said that, if you can swing it it’s one of the best things to do in NYC with kids on Christmas.
The talent the ballerinas have is worth every applause and the show is not something you will forget anytime soon. I’ll give you a heads up and mention the first act can be a little slow for some kids, but the second act more than makes up for it.
Address: 20 Lincoln Center Plaza, New York, NY 10023
Hop Aboard the North Pole Express
We’ve all been there, with achey feet and tired kids as you trudge along a new city hoping to pay for an overpriced coffee just so you can rest your legs.
But the North Pole Express does you one better. This fabulous bus provides one of the best things to do in NYC with kids during Christmas and you can sit down as you enjoy it.
The North Pole Express gives you a bus tour of Midtown’s beloved Christmas lights. It’s hosted by elves and even Santa himself makes an appearance. You can sip on some hot chocolate as you work your way all the way up to the North Pole!
Tickets start at $60 for the upcoming holiday season, but remember the bus does all the heavy lifting for you! We can all agree that being nice and cozy as a bus drives you around is one of the best Christmas events in NYC with kids.
Experience Dyker Heights
Dyker Heights is a neighborhood in Brooklyn with around 100 houses that go all out decorating for the holidays. Between the bright lights and lawn decorations this is one of the best Christmas events in NYC with kids!
Perusing the Dyker Heights Christmas lights has been one of a local tradition for nearly 40 years. And with the growing crowds I can only assume the amount of houses decorating will also increase.
There are plenty of tours offered in Dyker Heights, but in my (humble) opinion you’ll be fine visiting without one. Try to visit on a weekday to avoid the crowds since this is one of the most popular things to do with kids in NYC for Christmas.
The one thing I’ll say is that I recommend this kid-friendly NYC Christmas event for locals. I wouldn’t recommend it so much for out of town guests. The reason is since most visitors are only in New York for a few days it’s hard to justify the two hour round-trip when there’s so much to see elsewhere!
Want more information? Check out Dyker Heights Christmas Lights 2022 (Everything You Need to Know)
Explore Central Park – Especially if it Snows
Although snow isn’t guaranteed during your visit to New York City, if you’re one of the lucky few that does get it then you’ll want to make a bee-line for Central Park.
Central Park is magical anytime of year, but especially so during the first snowfall of the year. It’s hard to describe the emotion of this magical experience. While celebrating Christmas in NYC with kids it’s so much fun!
Lace up your snow boots and hit the ground running as your littles experience something they can brag about for the rest of their lives. Throw snowballs, sled, and just enjoy the scenery!
Things to Do with Kids in New York City at Christmas (Post Summary)
- Catch The Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes
- Check Out the Spectacular Bronx Zoo Holiday Light Show
- Visit Macy’s Santaland
- Experience the Holiday Train Show at New York Botanical Garden
- Make a Pit-Stop at FAO Schwarz
- Burn Off Some Energy Ice Skating
- Hop aboard the Holiday Nostalgia Train
- Savor a Meal at a Christmas Restaurant
- Enjoy Lightscape at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden
- Admire the Saks Fifth Avenue Light Show
- And the City’s Most Iconic Christmas Tree
- Take Your Kids to the New York City Ballet’s Nutcracker
- Hop Aboard the North Pole Express
- Experience Dyker Heights
- Explore Central Park – Especially if it Snows
Christmas in NYC with Kids (Map)
Well that was a lot! I hope you found the article helpful and you’re better prepared to celebrate Christmas in NYC with kids. Until next time, happy holidays!