Christmas in New York is an experience unlike any other, and the festive season really is the most wonderful time of the year to visit The Big Apple.
From ice rinks with breathtaking views to glittering window displays, Broadway shows, and (if you’re lucky) snow in Central Park, you’re guaranteed to have an amazing trip if you visit New York at Christmas time. New York offers some of the most iconic festive sights in the world, including the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lights, Santa’s Grotto in Macy's, and bustling Christmas markets across the city.
Christmas in New York is a bucket list destination, along with the likes of visiting the best Christmas markets in Europe and seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland, or visiting the most iconic places in India, such as the Taj Mahal. If you're planning to spend some of the festive season in The Big Apple, here's our guide to what to do and see for a magical trip, from where to eat and drink, to shopping tips and the most incredible winter experiences - as well as how much money you're likely to need while you're out there.
Is Christmas a good time to visit New York?
Absolutely, 100% yes! Christmas in New York is the most wonderful time to visit. There’s simply no other time like it. There’s a chill in the air – but it’s before the temperature really drops come January – and the city's streets are decked out in shimmering lights and dazzling displays of the best Christmas decorations, from ornaments to snowflakes and tinsel.
The setting of some of the best Christmas movies on Disney Plus, Netflix, and more (we're looking at you, Home Alone 2), Christmas in New York City is a special time and, undoubtedly, your visit will always hold a special place in your memories.
Where to shop during Christmas in New York
If Christmas shopping is at the top of your agenda for a trip to New York, there's no better place to find brilliant Christmas gifts for her, for him, and for the whole family.
For department store trips, Midtown does it best. Walk up Fifth Avenue from Saks at 49th Street, to Bergdorf Goodman at 58th, and don’t miss outliers like Macy’s (34th Street & Broadway) on the way.
If New York is famous for anything around Christmas time, it has to be their impressively ornate holiday window displays. As always, all of these stores join in to show off their holiday spirit and latest merchandise - and window shopping is a festive experience that won't cost you a penny.
While Macy's is an iconic sight, Saks Fifth Avenue strings up enough bulbs to illuminate the entire block after dark. We don't know what this year's theme is going to be just yet, but looking at previous years, we'll be in for a treat.
If you're going to take the whole family to New York for Christmas, FAO Schwarz is one of the best toy stores in the city, and not only will their displays be the stuff of childhood dreams, but you can't pick a better destination to shop for Christmas gifts for kids either.
If you’re after something a little more unique, there are lots of different Christmas markets scattered across the city. The Grand Central Terminal Holiday Fair, which sits in the lavish Vanderbilt Hall, focuses on handmade, unique gifts using locally sourced materials.
Held from late November through to Christmas Eve, it's an unforgettable festive one-stop-shopping experience. You’ll find everything from men’s and women’s clothing and jewelry, to home accessories and holiday ornaments for new Christmas centerpiece ideas.
The market at Bryant Park is more food-oriented, while the one at Union Square is great for quirky, cheap Christmas gifts. It's also home to its own ice rink to round off a fun-filled afternoon.
If outlet shopping is your thing, head to Woodbury Common Premium Outlets. Its 220 stores offer savings of 25-65% off the original price of many US brands including Ralph Lauren, Converse, and Calvin Klein. In addition, you'll find that most stores offer flash sales offering extra money off.
Woodbury Common is approximately a one-hour drive from Manhattan, so it will most likely be a day trip. If you can't spend the whole day shopping the discounts at Woodbury Common, back in the City you will find that most shops have impressive seasonal sales. You're sure to find a bargain just about everywhere you go.
What to do while spending Christmas in New York
Make the most of Christmas in New York with our list of Christmas things to do in the big city, including tree-lightings, impressive shows, and mind-blowing views.
Pre-book any attractions ahead of time through AttractionTickets.com. As well as making savings on tickets, you’ll also jump the long queues at the most popular tourist spots. Make sure to pack comfortable walking shoes, closed-toe shoes, or boots so you can enjoy your time walking around the city, as well as something a bit more fancy for the nightlife.
1. Visit the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree
Nothing says Christmas in New York more than the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree. Every winter, thousands travel to the city’s brightest landmark; the Rockefeller Christmas Tree, which is a Norway spruce around 75 feet high. There’s been a tree at the Rockefeller since 1931, these days boasting around 50,000 LED lights.
This year, we don't have a date for when the tree will be lit just yet but the unlit Rockefeller Center Christmas tree usually arrives in mid-November. Then, about a week after Thanksgiving and Black Friday, when the department stores unveil their famous window holiday displays, the tree is lit.
If you miss the big switch-on, you can see the real Christmas tree lit up in all its glory, it's usually kept on until January. For most it's considered a must-see if you're spending Christmas in New York - so plan a visit into your trip.
TOP TIP: When visiting the tree, enter Rockefeller Center from 5th Avenue and walk through the horn-blowing Angels toward the tree for an iconic and Insta-worthy view. Entering from the side, 47th or 50th streets is just not the same experience.
2. Try one of the many observatory decks
Head up to the roof of the 66-story Rockefeller skyscraper, to the Top of the Rock Observation Deck, which offers sweeping unobstructed views right across the city, including Central Park.
Do you really need travel insurance?
Winter escapes can be exhilarating, but frigid weather and winter sports could wreak havoc on your holiday and travel insurance can give you peace of mind should the worst happen. Many travel insurance policies will cover things like emergency medical expenses, stolen or damaged possessions and even lost luggage. You can even get tailored cover if you are planning a trip to enjoy some winter sports.
Make your way up and peer down on the streets of New York, lit up with its gorgeous sparkling Christmas lights.
Its location right in the heart of midtown means it’s also surrounded by some of the best shopping, dining, and entertainment in the city.
For other unforgettable views, the Rock is in competition with the nearby Empire State Building, a 102-storey Art Deco tower in central Manhattan, and the One World Observatory on the top of the One World Trade Center.
It’s worth a slightly stomach-dropping lift ride to get to the 102nd floor for the breathtaking 360-degree views of the city’s iconic skyline and surrounding waterways.
3. See a show
Show business is part of New York’s DNA and Broadway is the home of musical theatre. It’s also the home of the annual Radio City Christmas Spectacular.
A yearly tradition since 1933, this classic Christmas spectacle offers tap dancers, a flying Santa Claus, and, of course, the world-famous synchronized high-kicking Rockettes. You can book tickets to see the Rockettes in 2022 here.
Meanwhile, family shows on Broadway include Frozen and Wicked, with perennial favorites including The Lion King, School of Rock – The Musical, and Aladdin. Book tickets ahead here for cheaper deals and to ensure you get a seat!
4. Visit award-winning New York museums
If the weather app says rain all day, why not head over to one of New York's many museums? Whether your interest is in art, science or history, there’s something for everyone in just about every neighbourhood.
Pick from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, MoMA, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, American Museum of Natural History, Whitney Museum of American Art or Museum of the City of New York.
5. Explore Dyker Heights
There’s decorating your home for Christmas and then there’s decorating your home for Christmas the Dyker Heights way. Head out to Brooklyn and see the residents of this neighborhood take getting into the festive spirit to new heights year after year.
Think inflatable snowmen, carols blasting from loudspeakers, and enough Christmas lights to put Manhattan to shame. The lights at the houses usually stay on from 5pm to 9pm. The nearest subway station is the 86th Street/4th Avenue station on the R line and the area is about a 20-minute walk away.
Christmas in New York: Where to eat
In New York at Christmas, you’ll find a foodie hotspot on every corner - half the battle is deciding which one to choose.
New York is busier than usual in the run-up to Christmas, so book ahead for dinner and drinks and prepare for some queues. And remember, the portions across the city are impressive so don't be scared to ask for a doggy bag. Don't waste any of that good food!
Cafes and bakeries
For relaxed festive food take a trip to one of the many cafes and bakeries in New York for an easy-going bite to eat in between Christmas shopping.
- Jack's Wife Freda: One of our favorite spots for brunch, Jack's Wife Freda is a lively all-day dining bistro serving American-Mediterranean cooking and some tasty cocktails.
- Magnolia Bakery: This treasure trove of sweet treats was made famous after featuring in Sex and the City. There's usually a big line for the Magnolia Bakery, but it's worth the wait.
Street food in New York is iconic. There's nothing quite like that sloppy slice of pizza in the Big Apple, a super-sized hot dog, or a Mister Softee cone. Street food is available all over the city, but there are a few places where the offering is particularly strong.
- Greenwich Village: Enjoy The Kati Roll Company with delicious Calcuttan casual fare served here, or the legendary NY Dosas cart, parked on the southwest corner of Washington Square Park, with vegan-friendly dosas, a southern India–style crêpe.
- East Village: Packed with interesting and unique street food vendors, there's so much choice in East Village. We love DokoDemo, no-frills Japanese street food.
- Williamsburg: Smorgasburg is a weekly festival of over 100 food vendors, as well as a full outdoor bar overlooking the river.
- Peking Duck House: A hot spot for delicious Chinese food in the heart of China Town, you'll want to try everything on the menu a Peking Duck House.
- Rubirosa: Its clientele is a mix of new and regular, young and old, vibrant neighborhood restaurant Rubirosa serves traditional Italian cuisine.
- Jean Georges: Enjoy delicacies like foie gras, Wagyu beef, and Maine lobster at the exceptional restaurant Jean Georges, perfect for a special festive occasion, with views over Central Park.
- The Modern: The Modern is a Michelin-starred contemporary American restaurant led by Chef Thomas Allen, with stunning views of the Museum of Modern Art.
Drinks and snacks
- MO Lounge at the Mandarin Oriental: For something extra special during Christmas in New York, head to MO Lounge at the Mandarin Oriental, which has the most exquisite views across Manhattan. Enjoy comfort food and well-crafted cocktails with a stunning view overlooking Central Park and the ever-impressive Manhattan skyline.
- 230 Fifth Rooftop: Head to 230 Fifth Rooftop for a hot cider, boozy hot chocolate, or Irish hot cream coffee in a cozy igloo. Heated (thankfully) and transparent, they offer a spectacular view of the city.
Where to stay if you visit New York at Christmas
If you’re going to be in The Big Apple for a few days, make the most out of your Christmas in New York and stay centrally. Within minutes from Broadway and major Midtown attractions – think Rockefeller Center, Empire State Building, and Madison Square Gardens – The Westin New York at Times Square is the perfect base for a New York stay.
With over 800 rooms, from a standard double to a one-bedroom suite, there's something for everyone's needs. By New York standards, the rooms are large and they come with Westin's famous 'Heavenly Bed', flat-screen TVs, and rainfall showerheads. If you're lucky, you might even get a view of the Empire State Building.
Family Rooms come with two queen beds, microwaves, and refrigerators. Other rooms can easily fit a rollaway bed for an extra per night fee. Cribs are free.
Most commendable, though, is the hotel's commitment to energy conservation and all-around sustainability. There's recyclable carpet on the walls, non-toxic paint on the walls, and low-flush toilets and faucets in all bathrooms. Even the room keys are 100% recycled and biodegradable.
For a casual meal or a quick cocktail before heading out, go to the Foundry Kitchen & Bar. Steal a seat by the window and watch life happen on Eighth Avenue while sipping a Manhattan.
Rooms start from around $463 per night, mid-week, in early December.
Is New York expensive at Christmas?
Just like any major city, New York is expensive in general, but especially so at Christmas. Hotel prices and airfares are high, as this is peak travel time and visitors flood to the most popular attractions.
Book your flights and accommodation in advance for the best prices. Midtown and Times Square are the most popular choices for accommodation, but there are plenty of other options, especially in Brooklyn with convenient transport options to Manhattan attractions.
However, Christmas in New York doesn’t have to be more expensive when you're there. In fact, if you’re heading to the Big Apple to shop, you’ll save money compared to other times of the year thanks to the city’s impressive holiday sales.
Save money on admission to New York’s best attractions and skip main-entrance ticket lines at attractions including Top of the Rock with a CityPASS. Valid for nine consecutive days, beginning with the first day of use, it costs $132 for adults and $108 for ages 6-17.
How much spending money will I need for a week in New York at Christmas?
How much money you need will depend entirely on where you stay and what you get up to while you’re there. Flights and hotels can vary hugely, but as a blanket rule, they do tend to hike the prices up in New York around Christmas time.
New York can be an expensive city, so you may need to save up if you want to make the most of your time there. "You should probably budget for around $150-$200 (approx £130-£175) around a day per person if you want to have a great time in New York - that should cover eating out, getting around and sightseeing - and add more if you’re planning on shopping in the Big Apple," Melanie Wright, Money Editor at Rest Less, explains.
For UK visitors, prices may feel higher due to the weak exchange rate at the moment. "Sterling has taken a real battering this year due to economic and political uncertainty and at one point in October, one pound would barely get you one dollar, making holidaying in New York much more expensive," Wright explains.
"Things have slightly improved since then, and at the time of writing (1 November 2022), £1,000 would get you around $1,145, but we’re still a long way from the times a few years back when £1 was roughly equivalent to $2."
That being said, there are cheaper ways to enjoy the city for less. "Make the most of sights you don’t have to pay entry for. Walking the Skyline in New York is a fantastic way to see the city and it won’t cost you anything, and window shopping can be a great way to get all the festive feels you need without spending a penny," says Wright.
"Whatever you want to do in New York, planning ahead is really important and can prevent you from making spur-of-the-moment decisions that might cost you more than you’d intended to spend."
Kia Commodore, the founder of the financial advice website Pennies To Pounds, adds that a great way to save money is to be organized about transport. "Opt for public transport over taxis. Although taxis can be convenient, they can become costly if you’re getting them frequently.
"Why not opt for the NY metro? Purchasing a metro card for the period of time that you away allow you to save money on transport as well as experience NY in an authentic way, it’s a win-win!"
Christmas in New York 2022: What you need to know before you go
- Covid-19: With travel now firmly back on the menu after the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions of last year, Christmas in New York is a perfectly viable option for the 2022 festive season. Do bear in mind that all travelers over the age of 18 must be fully vaccinated. The latest news from the New York State Travel Advisory can be found here, and advice from the CDC for International travelers wishing to enter the US can be found here.
- Know your way from the airport: The two main airports in New York City are LaGuardia and JFK International Airport. Be wary of cabs outside the station that will bump up the prices for tourists.
- Tipping: It's customary to tip in the US, even when you're just having drinks. As a general rule of thumb, tip between 15% to 20% of your bill for restaurants and bars - cabs often have an automatic tipping service built into the price.
- Be aware of cab signals: It's a simple formula, if you want to hail a cab in NYC, keep an eye out for taxi tops with their lights on. If a taxi does not have its light on, then the driver is signaling that the cab is already filled.
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Helena is the Travel Editor for Woman & Home, Woman’s Weekly, Woman, Woman’s Own and Chat. As a journalist with 8 years’ experience, she has also worked for titles including Stylist, The Evening Standard and Heat.
She is a keen traveller who loves nothing more than exploring a new country. Her dream trip is a safari. A fierce animal lover, she dreams of seeing some of the big five out in the wild. Her wish-list also includes India – to explore her husband’s heritage more – as well as exploring more of America’s stunning national parks.
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