Spending the holiday season in New York City and simply sticking to the (admittedly magical) borough of Manhattan is like cozying up in front of a merrily decorated fireplace without an extra-large cup of hot cocoa and incredibly fluffy slippers. Sure, it’s still pretty great…it’s just not as great as it could be.
Everyone knows NYC’s holiday essentials—attending the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting, seeing the Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes, going window-shopping along Fifth Avenue—but visitors determined to experience the City like a local need to venture to all five boroughs. In that (holiday) spirit, here’s your guide to finding cheer throughout the entire city, whether shopping at local vendors in Brooklyn, sipping holiday-themed cocktails in the East Village or checking out a festive display complete with a million lights at the home of the Mets. It’s always a good time to visit New York, but the holiday season is when this city shines brightest.
Check out the Holiday Lights at the Bronx Zoo
November 18–January 8
When the sun goes down during the holiday season at the Bronx Zoo, the animals turn in and the epic light displays come out. The zoo’s elaborate, custom-designed lantern trails feature glittering snow leopards, packs of glowing monkeys and giant jeweled jellyfish floating above the crowd. The winter extravaganza also includes a holiday train, costumed performers, ice-carving demos, synchronized light shows and seasonal treats like s’mores and hot chocolate.
Enjoy the New York Botanical Garden Holiday Train Show
November 19–January 16
For those interested in trains, natural wonders or incredibly festive art displays, look no further than this holiday-themed train show, located inside the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory at the lush New York Botanical Garden. Now in its 30th year, the train show spotlights a miniature set of over 175 city landmarks, from the Brooklyn Bridge to the Statue of Liberty, crafted from all-natural materials like cinnamon sticks, lotus pods and tree bark (this is the Botanical Garden, after all). Guests can also purchase a combination ticket to visit NYBG Glow, the garden’s color-and-light show that features a well-stocked outdoor bar.
Join the Tree Lighting on Arthur Avenue
Millions of yearly visitors take advantage of seeing Manhattan’s Little Italy, and rightfully so; it’s well worth the trip to Mott Street. But the City’s northernmost borough has a Little Italy, on Arthur Avenue, that deserves your attention too. There may be no better time to experience this neighborhood in full swing than the annual tree lighting ceremony in Ciccarone Park. Visitors will get the chance to meet Santa, revel in Christmas music and most important, indulge in hot chocolate and authentic Italian snacks. The event is sponsored by much-loved Bronx pastry shops like Artuso, Gino’s and Egidio.
See the Bronx Concert Singers’ Holiday Concert at St. Helena Church
Founded in 1981, the Bronx Concert Singers formed with the goal of bringing “downtown” concert hall experiences to new boroughs. Decades later, their yearly holiday show stands as one of the most moving concert experiences in the City. For their 41st annual yuletide performance, the group of professional vocal soloists and orchestra will perform Handel’s Messiah, including the instantly recognizable “Hallelujah” chorus.
Snag the Perfect Gift at the Dumbo x Brooklyn Flea Holiday Market
November 14, 21 and 28, December 5, 12 and 19
Choose unique gifts from local vendors at Brooklyn’s largest flea market, which offers a selection of items ranging from antiques and collectibles to vintage clothes. You can also catch DJ sets, giveaways and even try your hand at a scavenger hunt. When you’re done shopping and enjoying the market, explore the surrounding neighborhood’s cobblestone streets, renovated warehouses and views of the city skyline from Brooklyn Bridge Park. If you’re seeking a holiday market experience across the river in Midtown, check out Bank of America’s Winter Village at Bryant Park, featuring dozens of top-notch vendors, ice-skating and more.
Shop Local at the Holiday Makers Show
Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, November 25–December 23
The founders of the Holiday Makers Show have dedicated themselves to amplifying businesses owned by Black, LGBTQ+ and women artisans, along with other underrepresented groups, while promoting sustainable business practices and the spirit of shopping local. Now in its third year, the Holiday Makers Show at City Point in Brooklyn remains one the City’s best platforms for buying from small businesses. You’ll find vendors selling custom clothing, jewelry, home goods and more. Cross everyone off your gift-giving list while also supporting the hardworking creators that make New York City so vibrant.
See the Brooklyn Nutcracker at Kings Theatre
If the world-famous Balanchine’s Nutcracker at the New York City Ballet is the tried-and-true classic, consider this Nutcracker the Brooklyn remix. The modern reimagining of the holiday favorite is a fusion of ballet, hip-hop and an electric mix of world dances, representative of the diverse borough of Brooklyn. Thanks to the show’s setting at the ornate, century-old Kings Theatre, you can experience the perfect mix of old tradition and new adventure in one thrilling performance.
Attend the Lighting of the Brooklyn’s Largest Hanukkah Menorah (Grand Army Plaza)
The Grand Army Plaza Menorah Lighting stands as one of the top Hanukkah events in Brooklyn, and the City at large. And at 32 feet and 4,000 pounds, this giant menorah lives up to its name. Revelers at the lightings (nightly, usually 6pm except for the first night and Sabbath; check the website for exact times) can expect live music, gifts for children and treats each evening of the Jewish holiday. A quick note for menorah (and record) enthusiasts: the Brooklyn menorah has been the subject of a yearslong friendly competition with a similar menorah at Grand Army Plaza in Manhattan. Guinness World Records certified the Manhattan construction as the larger, though the battle raged on; in 2016 a rabbinical court weighed in, favoring the Manhattan one (though on a technicality); the Brooklyn lighting makes up for it with a bounty of holiday festivities.
Celebrate Kwanza at the Brooklyn’s Children Museum
December 26–December 30
Each year the Brooklyn Children’s Museum teams up with the Asase Yaa Cultural Arts Foundation to present a series of programs illuminating the tradition of Kwanzaa and the celebration of African American and Pan-African culture. With its focus on traditions of the African diaspora and the seven principles of Kwanzaa (unity; self-determination; collective work and responsibility; cooperative economics; purpose; faith; and creativity), the museum’s goal is to teach children to incorporate these concepts into their day to day lives through stories, music, dance and crafts.
Sip Holiday Themed Cocktails at Miracle on 9th Street Pop-Up Bar
Through December 31
Have you ever wanted to sip festive cocktails like spiked eggnog in a bar decorated like a kitschy, Christmas-y, midwestern basement? Good news: that’s exactly what Miracle on 9th Street—a yuletide pop-up experience that takes over The Cabinet in the East Village every holiday season—provides. Snag a reservation if you can, as this buzzy bar tends to fill up fast. And for Jewish revelers, there’s even a “Hanukkah Corner” in the bar dedicated to the Festival of Lights.
Take a Movie-Themed Christmas Tour Through Famous Filming Locations
Elf. Home Alone 2. Miracle on 34th Street. The list of classic holiday movies set and filmed in New York City is longer than Santa’s “nice list.” This NYC sightseeing tour, on a warm and cozy bus that lets you off for on-foot photo ops, takes you around Central Park and Midtown Manhattan and features sites from those films plus Scrooged, Serendipity, New Year’s Eve and more, paired with movie clips and behind-the-scenes trivia. You can opt for a private group tour (up to 22 people) for even more opportunities to pretend you’re Buddy the Elf (but please, don’t throw any snowballs).
Eat Latkes at a Classic Jewish Deli
If you visit the City without swinging by one the its iconic Jewish delis, did you even really visit New York at all? While you can find viable locations all over the city, one of Manhattan's premier delis to snack on some golden, wonderfully flaky latkes (fried potato pancakes)—a treat long associated with Hanukkah—is the venerable Katz’s Delicatessen on the Lower East Side. Or think of dedicating a day for a “latke crawl” and sampling them citywide at well-loved spots like 2nd Avenue Deli or PJ Bernstein Deli.
Take in the View from the Top at the Empire State Building (Sponsored)
Complete your NYC holiday experience by visiting a classic attraction and symbol of the city, the Empire State Building. During the holidays, ESB offers can’t-miss seasonal sights, twinkling lights and exhibits decked out in holiday decor. Cozy up with heaters on the 86th-floor open-air observatory for sweeping 360-degree views of the City including the Brooklyn Bridge, Central Park and the Statue of Liberty.
Embark on a Cocoa and Carols Holiday Cruise
If a cruise along the Hudson River, complete with sweeping views of the city skyline, Christmas carols backed by a live band and a heated boat cabin, doesn’t put you in the holiday spirit, perhaps nothing will. The Classic Harbor Line’s luxury, 1920s-style yachts get fully decked out in holiday decor for seasonally themed adventures like a cocoa and carols cruise and a live jazz cruise, both pairing yuletide cheer with music and a top-shelf bar. Stocking-stuffer bonus: the first drink is on the house. Or in this case, the vessel.
Take the Family to See Wicked on Broadway(Sponsored)
Build on the excitement of the season by taking a trip to Broadway and enjoying the musical that’s been on since 2003—Wicked. The story of two witches whose initial rivalry turns into the unlikeliest of friendships, the show also makes for a great gift for those looking to experience the spectacle and magic of this larger-than-life production.
Catch the Radio City Rockettes at the Radio City Christmas Spectacular (Sponsored)
November 18–January 2
A staple of the holidays at the legendary Radio City Music Hall, the Christmas Spectacular stars the Radio City Rockettes, the longest-running precision dance company in the United States. The Rockettes are famous for their talent, unity and athleticism in addition to their style of dance, on display in this production that features intricate choreography and show-stopping numbers perfect for getting into the holiday spirit. They perform in nine numbers throughout the 90-minute program—showcasing all their varied styles and techniques.
Immerse Yourself in a Holiday Multiverse at Artechouse
November 19–January 8
The experience of the Spectacular Factory at Artechouse is hard to capture with words. It’s a multisensory, interactive intersection of technology, art and science. During the holiday season, this boundary-pushing exhibition—located in a former boiler space under Chelsea Market—adopts a holiday multiverse theme that will have you floating among giant bells, crashing a party full of nutcrackers and zipping through giant wreaths. It might be a big departure from classic holiday traditions, but that’s kind of the point.
Transport Yourself with Live Music by the NY Philharmonic at Lincoln Center (Sponsored)
Handel’s Messiah, December 13–17; Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets in Concert, December 20–23
Holidays at NY Phil returns with a lineup featuring the traditional oratorio Handel’s Messiah at David Geffen Hall, featuring the orchestra, choir and solo singing. The holiday lineup also brings the magical adventures of Harry Potter to life as the NY Philharmonic performs the score live while Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is projected in high definition on a giant screen.
See the “Illuminate the Farm” NYC Lantern Fest
November 11–January 8
This time of year, the Queens County Farm Museum transforms into an immersive, illuminated world of light, via a glimmering showcase of handmade Chinese lanterns spread over six acres of historic farmland. The festival features luminescent arrays of lanterns, inspired by Chinese myths and legends. Alongside the displays, visitors can glide on glowing swings and walk through illuminated tunnels. It’s perfect for a wintery night of adventure (with plenty of social-media-ready photo ops).
Head to Citi Field for the Amaze Light Festival
November 19–January 8
One of the country’s largest light shows, the Amaze Light Festival, is coming to the home of baseball’s New York Mets. With over a million lights, Amaze showcases the interactive storybook adventures of characters Zing and Sparky as they journey through different worlds. The multisensory experience features live performances every night, a holiday market, an arctic-themed tubing run, candy and toy shops. This is the ideal vision of a family-friendly winter wonderland—right off the 7 line.
Create in “Santa’s Workshop” at the Lewis Latimer House Museum
Lewis Latimer, born in the mid-1800s, was a world-renowned Black inventor, electrical pioneer and the child of fugitive slaves. He made major contributions to some of the biggest inventions of the times: the telephone, incandescent light bulbs, carbon filaments and rail-car toilets among them. This holiday season, you can honor his memory by visiting this Queens museum dedicated to the trailblazer’s life and work, and participating in a kids-focused Holiday Tinker Festival. This one-day event features a hands-on “Santa’s Workshop” with mini winter experiments, a holiday tree lighting and (edible) gingerbread arts and crafts.
Join the Parade Down Rockaway
Rockaway Boulevard is home to one of the largest holiday parades in the borough. Created by Hope NYC Church to help residents following Hurricane Sandy, the Parade on Rockaway gifts the community 13 blocks worth of floats, dance performances, and holiday lights to commemorate the season. Shop for gifts at the Hope Holiday Winter Village pop-up, or simply grab a bite to eat at the market. The parade is the cherry on top of a three-day celebration, which begins with a tree lighting and gift giveaway.
Celebrate at the Astoria Park Holiday Festival and Tree Lighting
While attending the legendary Rockefeller Christmas Tree lighting is highly recommended, you won’t want to miss the numerous other local tree lightings happening around the city for a slice of real neighborhood life. This Queens favorite, occurring annually for more than a decade, features balloon art, holiday carolers and performances by local artists. The tree lighting is held on the Great Lawn in Astoria Park; afterward, attendees can swing by one of the many restaurants bordering the green space for a holiday dinner.
Visit a Chinese Lantern Display at SIHU Community park
Through January 8, Fridays through Sundays
Like its sister event at Queens County Farm Museum, this Chinese-inspired lantern display, Journey to the East, showcases over 1,000 handmade lanterns, immersing visitors in depictions of Chinese mythology, including a model of Sun Wukong, the Monkey King. The large-scale lanterns come in various shapes (including animal sculptures in separate “kingdoms”), and there are interactive, glowing swings and glimmering tunnels to walk through. All this combines for a magical night on Staten Island, and always excellent photo ops.
Eat Your Way Through the Edible Island Food Fair
The Edible Island Food Fair at the Staten Island Museum, curated by the food editor of the Staten Island Advance, Pamela Silvestri, is a must-visit for two reasons: it’s a great place to stock up on delicious, artisan edible gifts for your loved ones, and, well, you can buy treats for yourself too. In addition to holding the fair, the museum features numerous exhibitions that show off the borough’s rich history, natural wonder and pedigree of talented artists.
See the Christmas Show at St. George Theatre
Manhattan has Radio City and the Rockettes; Staten Island has the annual Christmas Show at St. George Theatre. Running yearly for nearly two decades, the two-hour high-energy production is a delightful mash-up of numerous holiday traditions. The narrative centers on a grandmother reading a story to her grandchildren, detailing what makes Christmas so special. Travel to the North Pole; hear a live orchestra take on holiday classics like “White Christmas” and “Let It Snow”; and see an excerpt from The Nutcracker. The cast is all volunteers, but they pour their heart into this expertly produced show every year. It’s clear why it’s become a New York City holiday tradition.
Enjoy a 19th-Century Christmas at Historic Richmond Town
December 10–11 & 17–18
Calling all history buffs: Staten Island’s Historic Richmond Town turns into a winter wonderland every December, allowing visitors to drift back in time and experience how Staten Island celebrated Christmas through the years. The quaint recreation of a centuries-old town includes living history demonstrations, an old-fashioned horse-drawn carriage and even a visit from Santa. Cap the day off with an intimate candlelit tour that transports you back to a time where Christmas lights weren’t made of LEDs, featuring stops at a tinsmith shop, the lively Guyon Tavern (where early 19th-century American songs are sung and warm beverages are served) and inside a historic home to witness a family tree lighting.
Join in the Borough Hall Menorah Lighting
One of the most underrated experiences in New York City is a ride on the Staten Island Ferry: it’s convenient, it’s free and it gives you scenic views of Lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty. On the Staten Island side, it drops you right next to Borough Hall, the setting for the borough’s most prominent menorah lighting during Hanukkah. The historic French Renaissance–style brick building is a lovely backdrop for this annual ceremony. Luckily, the ferry runs 24/7, so you feel free to extend your trip to explore the rest of the island. Stop for local beer at Kills Boro Brewing Company and eats at New Asha, a standby in the borough’s Little Sri Lanka neighborhood in Tompkinsville.