How to enjoy Christmas in New York with your children

From ice skating at Rockefeller Center to the million lights of Dyker Heights, the Big Apple offers plenty of options for an unforgettable trip with the whole family

Nueva York en Navidad con niños
Christmas decorations in the Dyker Heights neighborhood, in New York.Adrián Rodríguez
Adrián Rodríguez

Sure, most cities spruce up and fill with lights when Christmas arrives – but New York is without a doubt on a whole other level. Not even the Grinch would be able to escape the clutches of the holiday spirit that overwhelms you when you visit the city during this time of the year.

Are you considering a visit to the Big Apple this season? We can think of hundreds of things to do at Christmas in New York, but time is limited, and you want to make the most of your trip. To help you out, here is our list of tips, suggestions and must-see places to enjoy with your family.

Things to see and do

Ice skating. It is really fun, and a perfect way to warm up when it is cold. The most famous rinks (perhaps because they appear frequently in movies and television shows) are those at Rockefeller Center, Bryant Park and Central Park. However, they also tend to be packed; at some, it is even advisable to book in advance. Luckily, there are plenty more ice skating rinks in New York, like the one at Brookfield Place or even the one on Governors Island, which opened on November 17.

Bryant Park skating rink, one of the most famous in New York.
Bryant Park skating rink, one of the most famous in New York.Adrián Rodríguez

Christmas markets. Just like in Europe, New York has its own Christmas markets. There, you will find products with an artisanal touch, clothing, accessories, chocolate, Christmas sweets and more. Cinnamon rolls and hot cider are some of our favorite treats. The most popular markets are located in Union Square, Bryant Park, the southwest corner of Central Park and inside Grand Central Station.

Christmas trees. Christmas trees overwhelm the streets of New York when their lights are switched on. The Christmas tree at the Rockefeller Center is topped with a Swarovski crystal star, and the turning of the lights is quite a sight – it’s even televised. In addition to the tree at the Rockefeller Center, other high-profile trees are located at Bryant Park and the New York Stock Exchange. There are also some impressive ones inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the New York Public Library and the Plaza Hotel.

The great Christmas fir, a gift from Norway, installed in the Rockefeller Center in New York.
The great Christmas fir, a gift from Norway, installed in the Rockefeller Center in New York.Adrián Rodríguez

Dyker Heights. Want to fill your Instagram account with the colors of the season? Then go to Brooklyn and let yourself be carried away by the Christmas spirit of the Dyker Heights neighborhood, where an intense competition for the title of the best (or most) decorated house takes place. Get your camera ready, wear a warm jacket and take a stroll while enjoying a free show packed with holiday cheer.

The Rockettes. Any Broadway musical show is a delight, but if you go during the Christmas season and with children, the Christmas Spectacular with the Rockettes is a must-see. These dancers put on an impressive show, where the only thing missing is the snow (or maybe not). The performance, almost a century old, has adapted to the passage of time, even introducing elements of virtual reality.

The show 'Christmas Spectacular' starring The Rockettes, a New York Christmas classic.
The show 'Christmas Spectacular' starring The Rockettes, a New York Christmas classic.Adrián Rodríguez

Window shopping. Aside from the shopping itself, the stores are true sources of entertainment during Christmas, thanks to their window displays and the shows they put on. There are two that you cannot miss: Macy’s, which dresses its windows with fun Christmas stories, and Saks Fifth Avenue, which has a projection on its 5th Avenue building that draws crowds every 10 minutes or so after sunset. Of course, these are not the only window displays: the nearby Bergdorf Goodman does not fall behind, perhaps even with an extra touch of class, and the most exclusive stores in the area all dress for the occasion too.

Street lighting. In addition to the window displays, you can find special lighting for this season in various places. The interior of the Brookfield Place shopping center is usually an interesting sight, as well as the Hudson Yards area. And as if that was not enough, different thematic light shows have been set up in recent years; you can find some inside enclosures such as the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, while others, like LuminoCity or the Winter Lantern Festival, stage whole shows on a larger scale.

Christmas lights and decoration in one of the streets of New York.
Christmas lights and decoration in one of the streets of New York.Adrián Rodríguez

Another attraction that you cannot miss are the model trains that go through a scale model of all the most emblematic landmarks of New York, made with the remains that are collected throughout the year in the New York Botanical Garden.

Christmas restaurants. Although all kinds of restaurants can be found in the city, there are some that take their Christmas decorations to unsuspected extremes, such as Rolf’s, which you’ll find full of onlookers taking pictures. The restaurant is a bit expensive for what you get, but hey, it’s Christmas!

Tips for visiting New York at Christmas with children

• First of all: patience. Breathe and lighten up. You will have a happier trip that way.

• Bring warm clothes. New York gets very cold in the winter, so wear good shoes that protect your feet against the rain or snow, and a good coat or thermal clothing so that nothing stops you. If your children are sensitive to cold, you can try hand warmers, a truly great invention.

• Dates and times. It is important to be fully aware of the schedules of the attractions, the markets, the lighting of the trees and the houses and everything else you plan to do. Some routes are long, and it will be frustrating to get there only to discover that you missed it (especially with children in tow).

• New Year’s Eve in New York. As Hollywoodian as spending New Year’s Eve in Times Square may seem, it actually may not be a very pleasant experience. Hours of waiting, on your feet, in a cold, closed area, can be overwhelming; particularly if you travel with children. We do not recommend it. Also, keep in mind that Manhattan is one of the most expensive places on the planet to spend New Year’s Eve, both to sleep and to dine.

• In New York, consumerism is king. The stores will make it very hard for you to stay within budget; be careful with your money from day one.

The man in the red suit

Depending on your children’s age, you must be aware that Santa Claus can be found in certain places, like the shopping malls. One of the most popular Santas is the one in Santaland, at Macy’s. You can visit him in his village and hand him your letter. And if shopping malls aren’t your thing, you can also have brunch on a cruise ship with Santa Claus as a guest star. There are options for all tastes.

So there you have it. If you are looking for a memorable trip that you will remember for years to come, visiting New York with your children during the holiday season is an unforgettable experience that you will not regret.

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