8 things to do in New York in December

Every year, tourists from all over the world come to New York in December to experience the magic of the Big Apple covered in snow. The city is great to visit any time of the year, but Christmas and New Year’s Eve create a particular atmosphere that should be experienced by everyone at least once. In December, New York turns into a wintery fairy tale.

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Through my list of 8 things to do in New York in December, I hope to inspire you to travel to New York for the holidays and enjoy the festive events, magical places, delicious food and wonderful experiences the city has to offer.

 

1. Tree Lighting Ceremony at Rockefeller Center

The legendary Tree Lighting Ceremony takes place at Rockefeller Center, and it is completely free and open to the public. But be careful, visitors enter on a first-come, first-served basis, and given the previous numbers of attendees, you’d better be there early if you want to attend the ceremony.
This event is scheduled for the beginning of December. It is a tradition that has been respected for over eight decades and that been featured on the big screen several times. A real highlight of the holiday season, it marks the official start of the festivities. During the ceremony, many famous singers and dancers perform, and the lights on the giant Christmas tree stays on, until the beginning of the next year.

 

2. Ice-skating on the iconic ice rinks of New York in December

Ice-skating is a must when visiting New York in December. If you’ve ever watched a movie portraying a wintery New York, you probably know about the many (outdoor) ice rinks that are available all over the city for tourists and New Yorkers to enjoy.

Wollman Rink

The Wollman Rink is situated at the heart of Manhattan in Central Park. It is one of the city’s most iconic ice rinks. The location is ideal to get an amazing view of the New York City skyline.

Rink at Rockefeller Center

The Rink at Rockefeller Center is another famous attraction and tradition of New York City. Skate under Rockefeller Center’s majestic Christmas tree and enjoy one of their many ice-skating experience packages including breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, appetizers or dinner.

Rink at Bank of America’s Winter Village

Located in Bryant Park, the rink at Bank of America’s Winter Village is in the middle of a holiday village with a winter wonderland atmosphere. The admission to the rink is completely free! Events are also often organized, such as ice-skating-based exercise classes and bumper cars on ice.

Rink at Brookfield Place

The Rink at Brookfield Place is smaller but also less crowded. Situated on the waterfront terrace, it is a nice way to end a day spent at the shopping center.

 

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If you want to know more about where to go ice-skating in New York, Time Out has a nice article listing the best ice rinks including indoor ones.

 

3. Window shop the 5th Avenue of New York in December

When visiting New York in December, remember that the city is famous worldwide for fashion and shopping. Considered to be one of the most expensive and elegant streets in the world, 5th avenue is the place to be for those who love to shop. Stores from famous brands line up along the street, and in December, they dress up their windows to match the season. A magical spectacle for both children and adults!

Macy’s

Featured in the movie Miracle on 34th Street, Macy’s is one of the most famous stores in NYC in terms of Christmas festivities. Following its Thanksgiving parade, the flagship store transforms itself into Santaland where children come to meet Santa Claus and tell him what’s on their Christmas list. Make sure to check out their spectacular windows relating enchanting tales.

Other stores displaying amazing holiday-themed windows include Bloomingdale’s (which also opens its own Santaland in December) and Saks, known to make a real entertaining event out of its window unveiling.

 

4. Stroll around Dyker Heights

Witnessing the over-the-top Christmas lights decorations of Dyker Heights (nicknamed Dyker Lights) in Brooklyn is one of the top things to do in New York in December. Every year, the houses in this neighborhood are covered in lights, with life-size Santas, angels, snowmen, and giant nutcrackers, bows and sleighs. The Christmas lights tradition started in the 80s when Lucy Spata, an inhabitant of the neighborhood, decorated her house in her mom’s memory to carry on the tradition she had started.

Walking the streets of Dyker Heights is like entering a fairytale. Nowadays, many families participate in the tradition, which has even become a sort of unspoken competition between the homeowners. Some even dress up in Christmas characters to entertain visitors and other houses play Christmas carols through loudspeakers, making you feel like you’re in the middle of Santa Claus’s Village! Definitely a must see for all Christmas lovers out there.

 

5. Shop at one of New York’s Holiday/Christmas Markets

A December in New York wouldn’t be complete without a visit to a Christmas market, and the city offers many avenues to fulfil your needs in regard to that matter!

Bank of America Winter Village

The Bank of America Winter Village in Bryant Park features a holiday market inspired by the European open-air markets. The food and artisan boutiques offer a large choice of delicious food and seasonal gifts. It’s a great place to sip glühwein and have some raclette while soaking in the holiday atmosphere!

 

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Columbus Circle Holiday Market

Located at one of the entrances to Central Park, the Colombus Circle Holiday Market is popular in New York City. Take a walk down the many aisles of the market and you might find the perfect Christmas gifts for your loved ones. And no need to mention the amazing winter street food that can be found there!

Union Square Holiday Market

Union Square Holiday Market can be found at the heart of New York City. Local and international artisans gather every year to offer a delightful holiday shopping experience.

 

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Grand Central Holiday Fair

Let’s be honest, New York in December is not always the perfect winter wonderland painted in the movies. The city can get quite chilly, and the weather can be pretty bad. In such cases, the Grand Central Holiday Fair is the solution to continue to enjoy the festivities! No need to brave the cold when shopping in the elegant decor of Grand Central. Artisans sell many different types of local products and you can enjoy exquisite food.

Gingerbread Boulevard

Not a holiday market but a pretty nice Christmas village experience to have, the Gingerbread Boulevard at Madison Square Park features life-size interactive gingerbread houses. This immersive tour will engage all your senses: smell the spices of gingerbread, feel the biting cold of a snowstorm, meet special guests along the way… A sweet winter dream!

 

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6. See a Holiday/Christmas show

One of the most famous attractions in New York is Broadway with its fabulous musicals and plays. But the city is also known for its dance companies and off-Broadway shows.

One of the many versions of The Nutcracker

The Nutcracker is a holiday classic and has been adapted to many styles for all types of crowds.

If you’re into traditional ballet, George Balanchine’s version is for you. Enter a magical world recreated for you by the New York City Ballet and spend an enchanted night with Clara and her Prince.

Prepared to be dazzled by Company XIV’s version of The Nutcracker. The Nutcracker Rouge reinvents the traditional show with touches of eroticism, opera and circus performances.

If you’re into a more modern style, The Hip Hop Nutcracker will meet all your expectations! Watch as hip hop dancers tell you the Christmas story on Tchaikovsky’s score in the New York City urban style.

The Mark Morris Dance Group performs a comical and fun version of The Nutcracker with The Hard Nut. The story is produced in a 60s setting where sections of the original story, that were not even included in the original ballet version, are brought to life.

Radio City Christmas Spectacular

Every year, the Radio City Christmas Spectacular combines singing, dancing and humor on a Christmassy background. The star performers of the show are the Rockettes, a famous American precision dance company that will impress you with their spectacular synchronized routines.

Frozen

Although Frozen is not a holiday show per se, it is a great musical to see on Broadway when in New York in December. Disney’s hit film has already become a timeless tale and matches perfectly the winter weather of the City.

A Christmas Carol

Ready to be moved once again by A Christmas Carol on Broadway? The show often takes back the stage during the holiday season to warm the heart of the coldest Scrooges of this world. A must see if you’re lucky to be in New York when it is performed!

Annual Merry Tuba Christmas

Annual Merry Tuba Christmas at Rockefeller Center is another classic performance to attend when in New York in December. Every year, tenor and bass tuba players gather under the world-famous Rockefeller Center Christmas tree to enchant New Yorkers and tourists with holiday classics. The best part? The event is completely free and open to the public!

 

7. Have holiday/winter food

You can find any type of food in New York, from very traditional dishes to insanely creative wacky food! With the cold weather taking over the city, the festive season calls for heart-warming sweet and savoury holiday specials.

Hot Chocolate

Hot chocolate is truly a holiday favorite and will definitely help you fight the cold NYC weather.

You probably saw Dominique Ansel Bakery’s blossoming hot chocolate on social media. The drink is topped with a marshmallow flower that blooms when in contact with the hot chocolate. When opening, the flower unveils a chocolate truffle in its center. A wonderful experience for the eyes and the palate!

 

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In Little Italy, Maman serves a hot chocolate made with dark cocoa and infused with dried lavender. This twist gives a floral touch completing the hot drink perfectly.

 

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With its fancy European café atmosphere, MarieBelle’s Cacao Bar makes you feel like in another city such as Paris or Vienna. The wide variety of high-quality hot chocolate will satisfy every palate!

 

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Eggnog

Eggnog is a sweetened dairy-based beverage usually composed of milk, cream, sugar, eggs. Brandy, rum, whisky or bourbon is often added to the mix, as well as some cinnamon or nutmeg. Traditionally consumed around the holiday season, many places in New York will serve this drink in December.

Pete’s Tavern is the oldest continually operating bar and restaurant in NYC. Naturally, they start serving spiked eggnog when the holiday season starts. A perfect way to warm up in the cold winter months.

 

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Located at Rockefeller Plaza, Del Frisco’s Grille is a great place to enjoy some eggnog after an afternoon of ice-skating under the giant Christmas tree. They make their drink extra special by mixing it with Godiva chocolate and Stoli Vanil!

Rolf’s is a reference in terms of Christmas atmosphere. The restaurant is flooded with tons of decorations. Enormous Christmas bubbles hang from the ceiling and eggnog is served to top it all!

 

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Sweet treats

Holiday season also means festive sweet treats!

With several boutiques in the City, Schmackary’s is nicknamed the Cookie King of New York. Their series of very original baked goods promises delicious surprising cookies for the holidays!

 

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If you’re looking for more classic options, Levain Bakery is the place for you. On a mission to create the world’s greatest chocolate chip cookie, the two founders have become famous cookie masters in the US capital. Their bakery is where you’ll find the perfect treat to leave for Santa on Christmas Eve.

 

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Magnolia Bakery offers a selection of classic American baked goods. Especially famous for their cupcakes, special festive versions of their treats often fill their windows during the holiday season.

 

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Mac & Cheese

Mac & Cheese is the ultimate American comfort food and is ideal for the cold weather of New York in December.

A true cheese lover’s paradise, Murray’s Cheese Bar offers a variety of cheesy dishes, including an exquisite Mac & Cheese.

 

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Beecher’s Mac & Cheese is to die for. Their sauce made of a mix of homemade cheeses perfectly coats their penne pastas. They offer many optional add-ons (prosciutto, lobster, buffalo chicken…) but the name of their classic Mac & Cheese says it all: “world’s best”.

 

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Heidi’s house offers a sort of DIY Mac & Cheese: choose your toppings and create your perfect dish. Although the menu warns that it may take up to 25 minutes to prepare, the wait is really worth it.

 

8. Attend the New Year’s Eve Ball Drop in Time Square

At 11:59pm on December 31st, the Time Ball begins its descent from the top of the One Times Square building. Over a million spectators watch with anticipation and excitement from the streets as it slowly reaches its lowest point. When midnight strikes on January 1st, fireworks go off and tons of confetti fall from the sky, offering a stunning spectacle to mark the end of the year and the beginning of a new one.

This New Year tradition is more than a century old. The first celebration in Time Square occurred in 1904 and the Time Ball was used for the first time in 1907. Seven versions of the Ball have descended the flagpole throughout the years. The initial iron and wood Time Ball gradually evolved into today’s magnificent Big Ball on which 2,688 Waterford Crystals triangles are illuminated to sparkle in a kaleidoscopic way.

Needless to say, the scale of the event requires attendees to arrive very early in order to get a good spot. You should also be prepared for a long wait and a gigantic crowd, but it is an unforgettable experience to have at least once in your life!

 

Enough reading about New York! Time to book your flight and pack your bags 😉 Don’t forget to add these places on TWISPER so you’ll remember to check them out. I really hope you do, I promise they are worth your time!

Sarah Chin A Sen
Written by Sarah Chin A Sen
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