Come the holidays, New York transforms from a city of grit and hustle to one of holly and joy.
During the holidays, New York City becomes a veritable wonderland of festivities. From the twinkly lights that adorn the buildings along Fifth Avenue to the European-inspired Christmas markets that take over Union Square and Bryant Park, NYC is a great place to visit any time of year, but it is especially magical during the holiday season.
In New York, holiday activities are all about spectacle, like the 200,000 lights that adorn a certain German restaurant in Manhattan, while others are about flavor, like that first sip of a truly memorable blooming hot chocolate from Dominique Ansel. Some NYC holiday traditions are timeless, such as the Rockettes’ Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall, having become as integral to the city’s fabric as the Empire State Building; while other holiday events are new on the scene, offering unique and—in the case of one secret Santa speakeasy—exciting ways to celebrate Christmas.
From Manhattan to Brooklyn and even to upstate New York—here are 12 ways to make the most of a holiday visit to the Empire State.
Top Picks for You
Make Bryant Park Your Go-to Holiday Destination
During the holidays, Bryant Park morphs into a winter wonderland replete with Christmas markets, bookable igloos, an iceless curling café, and an ice-skating rink. The best way to tap into Bryant Park’s unparalleled holiday energy is to stay close and try everything.
Book a stay at the 4-star Park Terrace Hotel, which sits right on the edge of Bryant Park and puts you mere feet from the Bank of America Winter Village and the Bryant Park Curling Café. Start your day with a visit to nearby Paris transplant, Angelina, and treat yourself to either a sit-down breakfast or a flaky croissant and coffee to-go. Afterward, stroll through the next-door winter village, inspired by an open-air European market. After perusing the many curated shops selling artisan goods, local crafts, and gifts from around the globe, warm up with some glögg (aka mulled wine), which you can find at the rink-side Lodge.
If you’d like to add a little shimmer to your holiday market experience, make a reservation for the Bryant Park Curling Café and its bookable igloos, which are heated and offer a private dining experience with views of the ice rink. For the curling café, guests can reserve a dedicated curling lane and enjoy iceless curling for up to 90 minutes, which includes a private, heated dome and seasonal drinks.
For dinner, head to La Pecora Bianca for some stellar Italian fare before retiring for the evening with cocktails on the Park Terrace Hotel’s year-round Terrazzo, which offers views of Bryant Park below. Here, you can soak in the best views of midtown Manhattan either with Italian-roasted coffee in the morning or mixologist-crafted cocktails at night.
INSIDER TIPKeen to go ice skating in Bryant Park? You’ll definitely need to reserve your spot ahead of time.
See the Radio City Rockettes
There is perhaps nothing more synonymous with Christmas in New York than the Radio City Rockettes and their Annual Christmas Spectacular. Having formed back in the 1920s, the Rockettes are a historic dance troupe that moves in precise tandem, meaning every kick and pirouette is in perfect synchronicity. Throughout the decades, the Rockettes have danced their way through history, from performing for the USO troops after the Pearl Harbor attacks to sharing the stage with actress and princess of Monaco Grace Kelly in the late 1980s. The 90-minute Christmas Spectacular is a true spectacle of holiday music, decor, dancing, and fabulous costumes—all honoring the timeless tradition of the Rockettes and New York’s enduring holiday spirit.
If you’re feeling peckish after the performance, walk the one-minute over to Magnolia Bakery on West 49th and 6th Avenue. Renowned for their buttercream cupcakes, Magnolia Bakery has become a popular bakery to visit, in large part because of their 30-second appearance on Sex & the City. Grab yourself a cupcake and some of their awesome banana pudding, and walk along 6th Avenue to check out the holiday displays.
Dine at the Iconic Rolf’s German Restaurant
If we had to imagine what the North Pole and Santa’s workshop looked like, it would probably be similar to Rolf’s German Restaurant. Found near Gramercy Park on the corner of 22nd Street and 3rd Avenue, this German restaurant takes holiday decorations to the next level. Every inch of the dining room—and we mean every single inch—is adorned with over 200,000 holiday lights, colorful ribbons, and wreaths while guests dine beneath a canopy of hanging garlands and antique ornaments.
As the name suggests, the menu is an ode to German comfort dishes like all forms of schnitzel, but the true draw is Rolf’s unbeatable holiday decor. Make a reservation far in advance, as Rolf’s books up fast during the holiday season. If you don’t snag a table during the holiday season, don’t worry. Rolf’s keeps its decorations up year-round, so you can check out the display on your next visit.
INSIDER TIPReservations can only be made over the phone by calling 212-477-4750 or 212-473-8718.
See the Holiday Lights in Brooklyn’s Dyker Heights
While most travelers know to visit the various holiday displays scattered throughout Manhattan, few know to check out Brooklyn’s Dyker Heights neighborhood. Year after year, this neighborhood gem is crowned as the absolute best place to spot over-the-top holiday displays. Expect life-size lawn Santas and twinkly light-covered houses with outdoor speakers playing holiday music.
The best time to go is after Thanksgiving, when most Dyker Heights residents put up their holiday decorations. Arrive at night and wander down the colorful avenues, which have become a popular city-wide attraction for holiday lovers.
INSIDER TIPThere are tours available if you prefer to venture to Dyker Heights with a guide.
Have a Spiced-Up Holiday With This New Secret Santa Speakeasy
From ice skating to visiting Santa at Macy’s, most of NYC’s holiday activities are family-friendly and, well, far from sexy. Enter Santa’s Secret, a new immersive experience and speakeasy offering live music and performances, including holiday-themed burlesque and cabaret. Found on the fifth floor of the Shops at Hudson Yards, as you enter the space, you are met with a menagerie of holiday characters, including the Gingerbread Lady, the Nutcracker, the Ice Queen, and Jill Frost. As you come to find, each of these characters is part of the show itself and, eventually, takes the stage in a tantalizing performance.
The show begins by setting the speakeasy tone with a live band and the outstanding vocal stylings of Inyang Bassey, singing everything from classic Christmas music to “Total Eclipse of the Heart” by Bonnie Tyler. After Bassey warms up the audience, the hilarious Ice Queen (played by MC and performer Shequida Hall) introduces the various characters and their backstories before each one takes the stage with aerial performances, saucy burlesque dances, ballet-style cabaret, and outright comedy.
Santa’s Secret is 18+ to enter and offers full bar service to patrons over 21. Book the VIP champagne loveseat for an extra special evening, which comes with cozy lounge seating for two to four people and includes a bottle of brut or rosé Moet & Chandon champagne with your ticket.
INSIDER TIPGet to Hudson Yards early to check out the dazzling holiday lights around the Vessel and inside the Shops.
Check Out the New Santa Clauses’ Winter Wonderland
Inspired by the new movie The Santa Clauses, this winter pop-up has arrived in New York at Watermark. From now until January 15th, the 10,000-square-foot space has been transformed into a holiday wonderland with plenty of photo opportunities to light up your Instagram, including Santa’s Living Room (with an oversized fireplace), Santa’s sleigh, Santa’s Workshop, and a giant snow globe. For an extra special experience, make sure to book one of the heated outdoor cabins. Reservations come with s’mores, a souvenir Santa hat, and unbeatable views of the Brooklyn skyline.
INSIDER TIPThe Santa Clauses’ Winter Wonderland is a largely outdoor event, so make sure to dress warmly.
Book a Wintery Upstate Getaway at Inness
Venture beyond New York City, and you’ll discover a world completely contrasting with the bustling streets of the five boroughs. Skyscrapers give way to mountains, paved avenues morph into wild meadows, and the city’s hustle is replaced with the serenity of nature. Less than three hours driving from NYC is the idyllic Inness, named for the landscape artist George Inness. Boasting an aesthetic that is peak hygge, where Scandinavian chic meets rustic American comfort, Inness is what you want when the temperatures drop, and those knit sweaters come out of storage.
Minimalist cabins and spacious rooms offer uninterrupted views of the surrounding meadows, forest, and mountains, while an on-site restaurant whips up stellar farm-fresh cuisine to the tune of a crackling fireplace roaring in the background. Once you arrive at Inness, there really is no reason to leave until check-out, as the property has everything you’d want—from a pool for the warmer months to 60 acres of trails to explore.
INSIDER TIPInness is super dog-friendly, with pups allowed virtually anywhere on the property, including indoors at the restaurant and bar. Take advantage of the “honor bar,” where you can help yourself to wine and cocktails before curling up by the fireplace with your loved one and pup.
Take the Kids to Macy’s Santaland
On the opposite side of the spectrum from Santa’s Secret is Macy’s Santaland, a family-friendly tradition where you can take the kiddos to meet old Saint Nick in the flesh. Or, at least, someone dressed as old Saint Nick. Macy’s goes all out for its annual Santaland, creating a wondrous space where a rainbow bridge leads you and your family through a Christmas village, enchanted forest, and past snow-capped mountains before meeting jolly Santa and his merry elves. While visiting Santaland is free, reservations are needed to visit Santa—he is, after all, a popular man. After you visit Santa, make sure to walk around Macy’s and see their holiday window displays.
INSIDER TIPCan’t make it to New York this year? Macy’s is offering a virtual Santa Claus experience to enchant the little ones from home.
Treat Yourself to the Best Hot Chocolate in the City
When the temperature drops in New York, there’s nothing more magical than walking around the city with a steaming cup of hot cocoa. Thankfully, there’s no shortage of hot chocolates to choose from, whether you want a simple hot cocoa topped with whipped cream or one that’s a bit more extraordinary. For a hot chocolate destined for Instagram sharing, head to Dominique Ansel for their blooming hot cocoa, in which a flower-shaped marshmallow will bloom in your cup. For a hot chocolate that strays from the norm, head to Martha’s Bakery, where you can try a red velvet hot cocoa topped with a dollop of whipped cream and a plethora of sprinkles. And, of course, there’s no visiting NYC without trying Serendipity 3’s world-famous frozen hot chocolate, served in a gigantic bowl and topped with a mountain of whipped cream and sprinkles.
Enjoy a Cocktail Inside a Rooftop Igloo
In the winter, New York’s restaurants all seem to outdo each other by transforming their eateries into winter wonderlands. Some simply hang up holiday lights and decorations, while others go the extra mile to introduce heated igloos or cozy pop-up cabins. Heated igloos are a unique way to enjoy the holidays in New York, and in this city, you’ll find plenty of seasonal igloos to choose from. From igloos in Bryant Park to streetside bubbles, this popular experience becomes all the rage when temperatures drop. But the best igloo experience belongs to the popular rooftop bar, 230 Fifth. These heated and transparent igloos give you unbeatable views of New York City and the Empire State Building, making for a truly special holiday evening.
INSIDER TIPIgloos are available on a first-come, first-served basis, so get to 230 Fifth early. You can also rent private igloos for parties of up to 25 people.
Go Ice Skating at Rockefeller Plaza
If you’re coming to New York for the holiday season, you must swing by Rockefeller Center in Manhattan. Not only will you see the famous Rockefeller Tree, but you can go ice skating beneath the tree, making this one of the quintessential NYC winter activities. Rockefeller Center is a tourist attraction year-round, but during the holiday season, it can become especially crowded, making it difficult to even come close to approaching the tree, let alone get a good view. One way to work around this is by making a reservation at the City Winery Garden, which gives you great views of the tree and plaza. During the winter, City Winery Garden also has heated igloos that you can book.
Take In the Holiday Lights at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden
Year-round, the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens is an oasis that starkly contrasts with the rest of the city. Here, colorful flowers from around the globe bloom beneath a canopy of towering trees. But in winter, this garden becomes even more magical with a dazzling light display. From now until January 8th, the Brooklyn Botanical Garden lights up with Lightscape, an after-dark trail illuminated with spectacular holiday light displays. This unique experience allows guests to enjoy the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens under the moonlight while enjoying hot chocolate (spiked or regular) and holiday tunes. Make sure to book your tickets in advance for this family-friendly holiday event.