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15+ EPIC Things to Do in New York this December (Best Attractions!)

Bryant Park Winter Village, best things to do in NYC in December

So you’ve decided to visit New York City in December, lucky you! This month just might be the best time in the Big Apple, especially for those who love the holiday festivities. In this post I’ll outline seasonal attractions and events taking place in December.

As a local, this list has been a long time in the making with many trial runs with my out of town guests (thanks, mom). I hope you find it useful in planning things to do in New York City in December.


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 +3 to avoid). Don’t have time? Here’s our favorite hotel in NYC, hands down.


Best ice skating NYC, things to do in NYC in December

Tips for Visiting NYC in December

  • Bring winter shoes: It’s no secret that winter in New York City is cold, and the most miserable place to be cold is in your toes. I recommend insulated/waterproof boots (here’s the pair I live in) and the only wool socks you’ll need. 
  • Bring lip balm & moisturizer: Winters in New York City are dry and cold. Add the raging industrial heaters to the mix and you’re bound to need quality lip balm and moisturizer. Lip balm is a personal thing, but if helpful, here’s the best one I’ve found to date (and it’s cheap!). 
  • Portable charger: Cold weather depletes batteries quicker than you’d expect, so when heading out for the day make sure you’re at full charge and pick up one of these.

Things to Do in New York City in December

Table of Contents: NYC December Guide

Lincoln Center NYC, December in NYC

Admire George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker

Website: New York City Ballet: George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker
Address:
Lincoln Center, 20 Lincoln Center Plaza, New York, NY 10023
Dates:
Usually the day after Thanksgiving through New Years Eve

Many folks grow up watching The Nutcracker on a screen, but there’s nothing like seeing a live performance by the talented New York City Ballet while visiting New York City in December. The captivating dance numbers, attention to detail on the stage, and backdrops are astounding.

Tickets clock in at around $100-200 a piece, but considering the New York City Ballet is a world-class dance company, it’s easier to justify the prices. Plus, the live orchestra playing Tschaikovsky’s music during the two-hour performance makes The Nutcracker a can’t miss holiday show in NYC.


Wander Your Way Through Lightscape at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Website: Lightscape at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden
Address:
990 Washington Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11238
Dates:
December to early January

Botanical gardens aren’t usually where most folks want to be during the winter. However, most botanical gardens don’t have one million dazzling holiday lights like the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

Their show, Lightscape, is one of the best events in New York City in December and takes you through an illuminated path past different garden displays. There are abounding decorations, including sculptures made of lights, decorated plants, and plenty of photo-ops.


Miracle on 9th Christmas Pop up Bar NYC, December in New York City

Enjoy Holiday Cocktails at Miracle on 9th

Website: Miracle on 9th Street
Address:
649 E 9th St, New York, NY 10009
Dates:
Early November to late December

In 2014, Greg Boehm was constructing his new bar when he put a pin in the project and opted to string up Christmas decorations and serve creative, holiday-themed cocktails. He called it the Miracle on 9th Street, and it became one of the best Christmas pop-up bars in NYC, returning every December since.

With warm, colorful lights and creative holiday cocktails, Miracle on 9th goes the whole nine yards. The bar has creative seasonal cups like a T-Rex wearing a Santa hat and even Santa shot glasses. They only serve drinks (so make dinner plans elsewhere), and the Christmas pop-up is strictly 21+.


5th Avenue Window Displays, Best things to do in New York City in December

Peruse the Window Displays on Fifth Avenue

Address: Fifth Avenue (Between 42nd & 59th Streets), New York, NY 10022
Dates:
All December

Fifth Avenue is the most popular shopping area in NYC and one of the most expensive in the world. It’s always chock-full of people, but especially during December in New York, when the shopping district is marked by luxury brands competing with each other using stunning window displays.

Lucky us! The competition lets us enjoy some of the best Christmas decorations in NYC. Some stores and hotels do it better than others, so those short on time should visit Cartier, Saks Fifth Avenue, Tiffany & Co., and the Peninsula Hotel (whose lobby is open to the public).


Best ice skating NYC, Visiting New York City in December

Go Ice Skating in Central Park

Website: Wollman Rink
Address: 830 5th Ave, New York, NY
Dates: All December

One of the most iconic things to do in New York City in December is to go ice skating at Wollman Rink, which is in the iconic Central Park. The popular NYC ice skating rink offers stunning skyline views and is at the bottom of the park, making it a great spot to start or end a visit to Central Park.

Bundled up, gliding on the ice, surrounded by crisp Central Park air and friends—it’s a New York winter dream. Pro tip: the Christmas rush hits Wollman Rink hard, especially on weekends. Dodge the crowd, visit on a weekday, and make sure to hit the ATM beforehand—it’s cash-only (unless you book online).


Dyker Heights Christmas Lights, what to do in NYC in December

Tour Dyker Heights

Address: 1072 80th St 1st. Floor, Brooklyn, NY 11228
Dates:
All December

The Dyker Heights Christmas lights consist of around 100 houses in south Brooklyn, decorated for the holiday season with bright lights, blow-up figurines and lawn decorations. The entire neighborhood turns into a holiday wonderland full of the best Christmas decorations in New York City.

The festive tradition was started by Lucy Spata in the 1980s (the photo above is of her home), who is affectionately known as the Queen of Christmas. Over the years, neighbors joined in, elevating the decorations to extravagant levels and creating one of the most cherishes December traditions in NYC.


Oscar Wilde Christmas Decorations, December in NYC

Have Dinner at Oscar Wilde

Website: Oscar Wilde
Address:
45 W 27th St, New York, NY 10001
Dates: All December

One of the most viral Christmas restaurants in New York City, Oscar Wilde decorates nearly every conceivable surface for the holidays. The animatronics, lights, and baubles all fit into the Victorian-era restaurant where craft cocktails are the specialty.

The food is good, not great, but there’s a seasonal cocktail menu that warrants a visit. Due to the restaurant’s fame Oscar Wilde is one of the most popular restaurants in New York City in December, so book reservations them as soon as possible.


macys santaland, nyc macys christmas, December in NYC

Visit Macy’s Herald Square

Website: Macy’s Herald Square
Address:
151 W 34th St., New York, NY 10001
Dates:
All December

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. Visiting for the best New York Christmas decorations and a little retail-therapy never hurt anybody is one of the best things to do in NYC in December. 

Macy’s Christmas window displays are legendary and the Santaland pop-up is one of the best events in NYC in December for kids. For Santaland, Macy’s transforms the 8th floor of their massive department store into a free 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.


Radio City Music Hall Christmas Tree Red Ornaments, December in New York City

Applaud the Christmas Spectacular featuring the Radio City Rockettes

Website: Christmas Spectacular featuring the Radio City Rockettes
Address: 1260 6th Ave, New York, NY 10020
Dates:
December to early January

The Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes dates back to the 1930’s, and over generations has become one of the most treasured holiday shows in NYC. The Rockettes are a lauded dance group that have entertained troops stationed overseas during wartime, performed at a presidential inauguration, and even a Superbowl halftime show.

Every year the troupe fills the iconic Radio City Music Hall and perform a dazzling 90-minute show full of high energy, precision dancing that’s narrated by none other than Santa Claus himself. The strong holiday theme and electric dance numbers makes this one of the things to do in New York City in December with kids.


NYBG Holiday Train Show Best Christmas Show New York City, December
Image Courtesy New York Botanical Garden

Enjoy the New York Botanical Garden Train Show

Website: New York Botanical Garden Train Show
Address:
2900 Southern Blvd, Bronx, NY 10458
Dates:
December to mid-January

The Holiday Train Show at New York Botanical Garden is a can’t-miss event in New York City in December, especially if you have kids in tow. It’s hard not to be excited by the trains chugging past 190 replicas of New York’s landmarks, all made from natural-growing materials.

For more than 30 years The New York Botanical Garden has gone all out with the immersive, walk-through experience. They also host adult-only bar car nights, where those 21 and older can enjoy NYC’s favorite holiday train show and some brews at the same time.


Rockefeller Ice Skating Rink and Christmas Tree, Best things to do in New York City in December

Admire the Rockefeller Center Tree

Website: Rockefeller Center Tree
Address:
45 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10111
Dates:
All December

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 75+ foot tree is draped in more than 50,000 lights and topped with a breathtaking Swarovski star.

Underneath the tree is the Rink at Rockefeller Center, chock-full of families, couples, and tourists ice-skating around and around. The Rockefeller Center during Christmas has a plethora of fun things to do including shopping, grabbing a bite, and vibrant decorations making it a must-stop while visiting NYC in December.


Christmas Tree at Bryant Park Winter Village, December in NYC

Visit the Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park

Website: Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park
Address:
41st Street and, 6th Ave, New York, NY 10018
Dates:
All December

The most famous Christmas Market in New York City is the Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park. The small NYC park is transformed into a European-style Christmas market, equipped with 100 vendors that line a magical ice skating rink that sits in the shadow of the Empire State Building.

The stalls sell fun Christmas decorations, handmade crafts, unique jewelry lots of good food. The 17,000-square foot ice skating rink is free to use for those with their own skates, otherwise rental skates are available. The abundance of things to do makes visiting the market a top tourist-attraction in New York City in December.


Holiday Nostalgia Train, December in NYC

Hop Aboard the Holiday Nostalgia Train

Website: Holiday Nostalgia Train
Address:
Subway stations vary per year
Dates:
Weekends in December

During the weekends in December, the MTA (Metropolitan Transportation Authority) partners with the New York Transit Museum and offers folks a rare opportunity to travel back in time. By running a vintage 1930’s subway train guests get a taste of what New Yorkers’ daily commute was like nearly 100 years ago. The subway lines that host the annual tradition vary from year to year.

This unique experience is known as the Holiday Nostalgia Ride, and it’s something you’re not going to want to miss if you’re visiting New York City during the winter. It’s one of the most affordable winter activities in NYC, since it doesn’t cost anything more than the standard subway fare ($2.90). Some locals even dress the part, showing up in clothing styles that represent the vintage era.


The Shops at Columbus Circle, December in New York City

Check Out a Free Broadway Performance

Website: Broadway Under the Stars
Address:
The Shops at Columbus Circle, 10 Columbus Cir, New York, NY 10019
Dates:
Thursdays in December

For those who want to attend a Broadway musical but lack the time, The Shops at Columbus Circle has you covered with Broadway Under The Stars. Performers from some of Broadway’s most popular musicals perform at the mall in one of the best free things to do in New York City in December.

Participating Broadway shows vary from year to year, but the mall has been host to Phantom of the Opera, Kimberly Akimbo, Moulin Rouge!, Aladdin, and more! Performances generally start around 5 PM.


SantaCon NYC 2022, What to Do in December in New York City

Partake In (or Avoid) SantaCon

Website: SantaCon
Address:
Announced closer to the date
Dates:
mid-December

SantaCon is an infamous event where thousands of tourists and locals dress up in Santa costumes and go on a pub crawl. Some folks love the event, viewing it as a lively and memorable way to make friends. Others hate it, with drunk Santas littering the streets and subways.

Needless to say, SantaCon is an annual event in NYC in December that you should know about. The event generally takes place in mid-December, and the meeting point of the crawl is announced closer to the event date. We have a complete guide for SantaCon with photos from previous year’s festivities.


Washington Square Park Christmas Tree, Christmas Caroling in NYC in December

Sing Christmas Carols at Washington Square Park

Website: Christmas Carols at Washington Square Park
Address:
Washington Square, New York, NY 10012
Date:
Christmas Eve

One of the most timeless Christmas traditions, Christmas caroling, takes place every year in Washington Square Park. Classics like Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men can be heard on Christmas Eve usually around sunset, sung by chipper locals from a variety of backgrounds and ages. It’s one of the best family-friendly events in NYC in December, both to participate in or just spectate!


New York City New Years Eve
Image Courtesy Time Square

Celebrate New Years Eve

Date: December 31st

I often get asked if New Year’s Eve in NYC is as magical as it seems in the movies. The honest answer? It can be even better! And no – I’m not talking about visiting Times Square on NYE (I won’t be doing that again). From dancing until your feet ache to drinking champagne at a black-tie party, New Year’s Eve in NYC is a blast. Just make sure to budget appropriately. It can easily becomes one of the most expensive days in New York City in December.


Best Things to Do in New York in December (Post Summary)

  1. Admire George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker
  2. Wander Your Way Through Lightscape at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden
  3. Enjoy Holiday Cocktails at Miracle on 9th
  4. Peruse the Window Displays on Fifth Avenue
  5. Go Ice Skating in Central Park
  6. Tour Dyker Heights
  7. Have Dinner at Oscar Wilde
  8. Visit Macy’s Herald Square
  9. Applaud the Christmas Spectacular featuring the Radio City Rockettes
  10. Enjoy the New York Botanical Garden Train Show
  11. Admire the Rockefeller Center Tree
  12. Visit the Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park
  13. Hop Aboard the Holiday Nostalgia Train
  14. Check Out a Free Broadway Performance
  15. Partake In (or Avoid) SantaCon
  16. Sing Christmas Carols at Washington Square Park
  17. Celebrate New Years Eve

Map of fun New York City December

Frequently Asked Questions
Is NYC worth visiting in December?

Visiting NYC in December is worth it for its festive atmosphere, holiday decorations, iconic events like the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree lighting, and opportunities for ice skating in iconic locations like Central Park or Bryant Park.

Is it expensive to go to New York in December?

Visiting New York City in December can be expensive due to increased demand for accommodations, dining, and holiday activities, but with careful planning and budgeting, enjoyable experiences can still be had.

Is it too cold to go to New York in December?

New York City can experience cold temperatures in December, but with proper winter attire, it’s still a manageable and enjoyable time to visit, especially to experience the holiday festivities.

What is happening in New York in December?

In December, New York City hosts various holiday events, such as the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree lighting, holiday markets at Bryant Park and Union Square, seasonal performances like the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, and New Year’s Eve celebrations in Times Square.

Are Christmas decorations up in New York City in December?

Christmas decorations are typically up throughout New York City in December, adorning landmarks, streets, and storefronts, adding to the festive ambiance of the city during the holiday season.

Is New York City busy in December?

New York City is typically busy in December due to holiday shopping, festive events, and an influx of tourists visiting to experience the city’s seasonal attractions and decorations.

Why is New York so expensive in December?

New York City tends to be expensive in December due to increased demand for accommodations, dining, and entertainment during the holiday season, along with the city’s renowned festive events and attractions drawing in tourists.


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When to Visit: The BEST Time to Visit New York City (And The Season to Avoid!)
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More Months to Explore NYC:

The Best of January: 15+ EPIC Things to Do in New York City in January (2024 Guide)
Best Things to Do February
: 20 FUN Things to Do in New York City in February (2024 Guide)
March in NYC: 15+ Magnificent Things to Do in New York City in March (+ Helpful Tips!)


And there you have it, folks! A rundown of the best things to do in New York in December.

Let me know if you found this post helpful, or how we can improve. Cheers! (Best Time to Visit)

Erika M

Tuesday 13th of December 2022

Such a detailed and great article. I’ve lived in Manhattan for 32 years but haven’t done anything mentioned in your list. I’m thinking about starting a new tradition this holiday season!