Christmas is widely known as the day most of the outside world shutters, leaving anyone with a case of cabin fever to seek respite in movie theaters and Chinese restaurants. As usual New York City is a notable outlier, preserving its always-open reputation with countless ways to celebrate the holiday—or avoid it altogether. If you’re lucky enough to find yourself within the five boroughs this December 25, here’s how to make the most of it.
1. Eat, Drink and Be Merry
The Tradition: NYC chefs often feature prix-fixe menus and lavish buffets on Christmas Day at restaurants like the elegant Tavern on the Green and comfort-food mainstay Red Rooster Harlem. Many eateries have designated seating times or modified holiday hours, so book ahead of time. Others, like Bushwick’s beloved pizza spot Roberta’s, are business as usual with holiday specials sprinkled in.
The Twist: You can count on a classic Jewish deli to be open on Christmas, and NYC has some of the best. Tuck into a towering pastrami sandwich at Katz’s Delicatessen or “The Classic” smoked salmon board at Russ & Daughters Cafe. If your Christmas isn’t complete without lo mein, head to one of the City’s three Chinatowns—in Sunset Park, Flushing or downtown Manhattan—for authentic Chinese fare.
2. Catch a Show
The Tradition: An annual Radio City institution that’s been running since 1933, the Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes lives up to its name with legendary choreography, elaborate costumes, charming vignettes and venue-transforming special effects. The high-kicking headliners (and company) do an impressive four performances on Christmas Day.
The Twist: The show goes on for many Broadway productions this Christmas, including hit musicals like School of Rock and My Fair Lady and critically acclaimed plays like The Ferryman. The Big Apple Circus is also in full swing, with two shows on Christmas Day.
3. Take in the Views
The Tradition: New York City’s ever-changing landscape is especially photogenic during the holidays. You could spend the day admiring dramatic window displays along Fifth Avenue or marveling at the giant Christmas trees in Rockefeller Center and Washington Square Park.
The Twist: A bird’s-eye view of the five boroughs is as transcendent as any holiday display. Need proof? The Empire State Building Observatory, One World Observatory and the Top of the Rock Observation Deck are all open on Christmas Day.
4. Do Some Last-Minute Shopping
The Tradition: After an eventful season, most NYC retailers take Christmas Day off. For down-to-the-wire gifts, try the Holiday Shops at Winter Village at Bryant Park, where many of the 170 participating vendors opt to stay open on December 25.
The Twist: Zabar’s, an Upper West Side institution offering gourmet groceries, prepared foods and impressive selection of housewares, is open all day. (You can’t go wrong with a gift card for NYC-based relatives.) Down in Manhattan’s Chinatown, some shops are likely to be open as well—and you’re sure to stumble upon some excellent dim sum either way.
5. Get in the Spirit
The Tradition: Catch a Christmas morning service or afternoon concert at the majestic Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, the world’s largest Anglican cathedral. Or head to St. Patrick’s Cathedral—a pristine landmark amid the Fifth Avenue bustle—for any of the six traditional Catholic masses held that day.
Also Tradition: Whatever you celebrate, the holiday season is a reminder to give back. Lend a helping hand to New Yorkers in need this Christmas by volunteering at a soup kitchen, food pantry or hospital through nyc.gov.