It’s no wonder that the holidays in New York City are frequently referred to as the most magical time of year. As 2021 nears its end, beautiful traditions across the five boroughs will spread cheer to visitors and locals. Major hallmarks of the season include the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree lighting and New Year’s Eve Ball Drop in Times Square—all returning this year in their more dynamic forms—but those are just three among the many fun events that the City will host. Read on to explore our recommendations for where to go and what to do across NYC to celebrate the season.
Holiday Lights at the Bronx Zoo
November 19–January 9
The Bronx Zoo is one of New York City’s most famous attractions for kids, but during the holidays things get a little brighter. When the live animals turn in for the night, the zoo lights up for visitors with over 250 animal-shaped lanterns and sculptures. Displays include safaris and journeys from different regions of the globe; a forest lit up with insects, amphibians and plants; costumed characters; and ice sculptures. You can also enjoy roast marshmallows and s’mores.
Holiday Train Show at the New York Botanical Garden
November 20–January 23
Back for its 30th year, the New York Botanical Garden once again hosts its beloved annual Holiday Train Show. Those who admire craftsmanship will especially enjoy the display, which features over 175 NYC landmarks made from all-natural materials (think bark, leaves, pinecones, acorns and seeds). Among the structures rendered in miniature are the Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge, Yankee Stadium and Rockefeller Center. Guests can also purchase a combination ticket to visit NYBG Glow, the garden’s color-and-light show.
Atlantic Avenue Tree Lighting
Located at St. Cyril of Turov Belarusian Church on Atlantic Avenue in Boerum Hill, this tree lighting draws crowds of residents from the surrounding neighborhoods as well as New Yorkers far and wide. Holiday tunes, caroling and performances by local school children are just a few typical features. Local elected officials have also been known to attend the event and mingle with the residents. To get a full Brooklyn experience, attendees should also take time to explore this section of Atlantic Avenue, one of Brooklyn’s busiest thoroughfares, which holds a number of well-known boutiques and restaurants.
Celebrate Kwanzaa at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum
This five-day series of programs is dedicated to teaching children about the history and importance of Kwanzaa, which celebrates African American and Pan-African culture. Centered around the art, dance, music and significant African traditions that still thrive in communities of the African diaspora, the programs teach attendees about Kwanzaa’s seven principles: unity; self-determination; collective work and responsibility; cooperative economics; purpose; faith; and creativity. Through stories, song, dance and craft making, the museum aims to have children incorporate these principles into their everyday lives.
Dumbo X Brooklyn Flea Holiday Market
Sundays, November 7–December 19
Pop-up markets are a longstanding seasonal staple. Brooklyn is no stranger to them, particularly for holiday shoppers looking for unique and beautiful gifts. The Dumbo X Brooklyn Flea Holiday Market provides a solution for those shoppers with a mix of vendors from Brooklyn’s largest flea market, Brooklyn Flea, and the shops located in Dumbo. The market offers a curated selection of vintage designs, antiques and collectibles; expect fun activities like scavenger hunts, giveaways, photo stations and a live DJ. Between the neighborhood’s charming cobblestone streets, renovated warehouse buildings and beautiful views of Manhattan from Brooklyn Bridge Park, a trip to this market can easily become an all-day event.
Lighting the World’s Largest Hanukkah Menorahs
November 28–December 6
The Grand Army Plaza Menorah Lighting is one of the top Hanukkah events in Brooklyn. Festivalgoers can expect live music, gifts for children and delicious treats each night of the Jewish holiday. (A note for Hanukkah enthusiasts: the Brooklyn menorah has been the subject of a friendly competition with the one located at Grand Army Plaza in Manhattan. While both were constructed at the same time and thought to be the same height, the Guinness World Book of Records certified the Manhattan construction to be the larger of the two—thanks to its central candle. (Dispute aside, the Brooklyn lighting is a fantastic way to commemorate the season.)
The Makers Show at City Point
Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, November 26–December 19; daily, December 20–23
Dedicated to empowering BIPOC, LGBTQ+ and women business owners, as well as those from other underrepresented groups, the Makers Show hosts a holiday marketplace at City Point in Brooklyn. With vendors selling apparel, home goods, food, beverages, art, beauty, jewelry and other accessories, holiday shoppers are sure to find gifts and stocking stuffers for their loved ones while simultaneously supporting the creative entrepreneurs that give New York City its appeal.
Bank of America’s Winter Village at Bryant Park
Through January 2
Shopping is one of the season’s most enjoyable pastimes, and Bank of America’s Winter Village at Bryant Park is a great way to find distinctive gifts for your loved ones. Located in Bryant Park, this collection of pop-ups is arranged as a European-inspired open-air market, with each of the shops housed in its own little kiosk. The market lines a 17,000-square-foot skating rink, which is free (skate rental extra) and open to the public.
Big Apple Circus (Sponsored)
This reimagined, reinvented and reinvigorated circus is something you won’t want to miss this holiday season. See aerialists, jugglers and other performers, led by tightrope artist Nik Wallenda, execute daring feats—or, as the title of the show promises, “making the impossible possible.”
Blacklane’s chauffeur hailing service is the safe and stylish way to get around New York City, combining high-end car service and ride-hailing. Professional chauffeurs drive top-quality cars, clean vehicles between rides, wear masks and offer hand sanitizer. The company’s distance-based rates start at $18, and you never pay surge pricing. Plus, all rides are 100-percent carbon neutral as part of their global carbon offset program—the industry’s first. Ride in between the five boroughs for holiday shopping and dining, and see the sights and shows New York City is known for during the holidays.
Broadway Under the Stars at the Shops at Columbus Circle
Thursdays, November 4–December 16
An ongoing collaboration between Broadway and the high-end Shops at Columbus Circle, Broadway Under the Stars is a free must-see during the holiday season. This multi-week series of truncated performances features cast members from popular Broadway musicals such as Chicago, Moulin Rouge and The Phantom of the Opera belting out the hits. Consider these early evening musical interludes a wonderful accompaniment to shopping. Round out the experience with dinner at one of the Shops’ many fine dining and Michelin-starred restaurants.
Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes (Sponsored)
One of the most beloved holiday traditions returns this fall—Christmas in New York is back. The 2021 Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes, presented by Chase, comes back this holiday season with performances at Radio City Music Hall from November 5, 2021, to January 2, 2022. The Christmas Spectacular—seen by more than 69 million people since it debuted in 1933—is a one-of-a-kind tradition where the magic of Christmas in New York comes alive. The show will feature more Rockettes numbers than ever, including the return of the beloved scene “Snow,” which transforms Radio City into a magical winter wonderland.
Conrad New York Downtown (Sponsored)
Located close to major Lower Manhattan landmarks like One World Observatory, the Oculus and Brookfield Place, the Conrad New York Downtown offers stylish, luxurious accommodations and amenities. Guests can enjoy sumptuous seasonal cuisine at Atrio Wine Bar & Restaurant, along with delightful cocktails and impressive views at the hotel’s Loopy Doopy Rooftop Bar. This holiday season, the Conrad will feature spectacular holiday decor in its lobby, perfect for your family pictures and selfies.
Experience Grand Opera at the Met (Sponsored)
The Metropolitan Opera is one of the world’s leading performing arts organizations and an iconic NYC cultural institution, located in Lincoln Center. Experience extraordinary artistry and spectacular stagecraft this holiday season, with several classic favorites on stage. Productions include the Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess (through December 12), Puccini’s La Bohème (November 9–December 3 & January 9–22), Puccini’s Tosca (December 2–18 & January 8–29) and two abridged, English-language presentations that are perfect for families: Mozart’s The Magic Flute (December 10–January 5) and Massenet’s Cinderella (December 17–January 3).
George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker at Lincoln Center
November 26–January 2
This Balanchine-choreographed version of the classic Christmas fairy tale is an annual favorite. Set to Tchaikovsky’s music, the show provides an enchanting and memorable experience for viewers young and old. Performed by the New York City Ballet at the David H. Koch Theater, the production has received rave reviews from critics since its initial run in 1954. The Nutcracker returns to live performance this year after the 2020 production was canceled due to the pandemic. Families will be delighted to return to the theater to witness the beauty of this live performance with its magnificent snowfalls, toy soldiers, ballerina dolls and, of course, Sugar Plum Fairy.
Hershey’s Chocolate World (Sponsored)
Unwrap the holidays at Hershey’s Chocolate World Times Square, located at 47th Street and Seventh Avenue. Find your favorite treats and merchandise, including Reese’s, Kisses, Kit Kat, Twizzlers and Jolly Rancher, as well as exclusive holiday gifts like a giant Hershey’s bar customized with a personal photo and note. While you’re looking for gifts, indulge your love of chocolate with a sweet treat, Hershey’s hot chocolate or s’more.
Holidays at Starbucks Reserve Roastery (Sponsored)
Celebrate the season at the Starbucks Reserve Roastery New York, a must-visit destination for coffee, experiences and holiday gift giving. Enjoy Italian baked specialties while you sip a savory-sweet Pistachio Buttered Rum made with Starbucks Reserve Christmas Blend coffee or an eggnog-inspired spiced Maharaja Chai Nog. Find holiday gifts for everyone on your list—the 2021 holiday collection features a handblown glass ornament, mercury tumbler and ceramic mug, along with Chemex brewers reimagined by local New York City artists.
Light Up Luminaries/The Rink at Brookfield
November 29—January 2
Inspiring visitors to reflect on the past and look to the future, this display is a dynamic installation consisting of over 600 lanterns that illuminate the plaza at Brookfield Place. In addition to getting to see periodic light shows synchronized to a selection of holiday music, visitors can lead their own light show (on select days) thanks to an instrument that they control with gestures and movement. The event also includes wishing stations on the ground that allow users to transmit wishes to the lanterns above, triggering an assortment of flashing lights and colors. Just outside, the Rink at Brookfield Place offers guests the opportunity to go skating while overlooking the Hudson River.
Martinique New York on Broadway, Curio Collection by Hilton (Sponsored)
Every holiday period, the lobby of this conveniently located Midtown Manhattan hotel is beautifully decorated. The Christmas tree near the grand spiral staircase is the hotel guests’ favorite spot to take precious holiday photos.
Save 20% on Blue Man Group Tickets (Sponsored)
Perfect for the holidays, Blue Man Group performances are a celebration of human connection. Mixing art, music, comedy and state-of-the-art technology, the show encourages audiences to reconnect with their inner (and outer) child and see the world through a new perspective. Three bald and blue men explore our cultural norms with wide-eyed wonder, poking fun at our collective quirks and reminding us how much we all have in common. Backed by a live rock band, the Blue Men unify the audience for the show’s celebratory climax—a euphoric dance party.
Astoria Park Holiday Festival and Tree Lighting
This neighborhood favorite will include balloon art, holiday carolers and festive performances by a number of groups, including Academia de Mariachi Nuevo Amanecer. The tree lighting is held on the Great Lawn in Astoria Park; afterward, attendees will want to visit one of the many restaurants bordering the green space for a fun family dinner.
NYC Turkey Trot Half Marathon and 5K
This run takes place in Flushing Meadows Corona Park. With multiple options for a timed or untimed 5K run/walk, a half marathon and a fun run or dash for children ages 11 and under, the event is designed to ensure that all members of the family can participate. This year’s run supports the Rolling Thunder Special Needs Program, a nonprofit that supports athletes who are developmentally disabled or have other special needs.
NYC Winter Farm Festival: Illuminate the Farm
November 25–January 9
The Queens Country Farm Museum is all aglow during the holidays as the NYC Winter Lantern Festival illuminates its grounds with holiday lights and handmade lanterns in the shapes of flowers, farm animals and other location-appropriate objects. This year guests will be able to pick and decorate their own wish lantern to bring home as a memento. Take advantage of this display for fun family photos or to spruce up your social media channels.
Parade on Rockaway
Rockaway Boulevard is one of Queens’ busiest streets—and home to one of the largest holiday parades in Queens. Created by HopeNYC Church to help residents following Hurricane Sandy, Parade on Rockaway is now celebrating its eighth year of sharing seasonal joy with attendees. The parade stretches for over 13 blocks and includes more than 15 floats, 1 million lights and plenty of dancers to help spread cheer. On the route is the Hope Holiday Winter Village pop-up market, offering food, shopping and family photo ops. The parade is the culmination of a three-day celebration, which begins with the largest Christmas tree lighting in Queens and follows with toy giveaways to early registrants.
Escape: NYC Winter Lantern Festival at Snug Harbor
Through January 9
This dazzling display illuminates Snug Harbor with acres of lights, numerous food vendors, a DJ, gift shop and more. (Just like at the Queens County Farm Museum, wish lanterns are also available.) Outside of the NYC Winter Lantern Festival, Snug Harbor has plenty of other attractions on offer, including museums and botanical gardens.
Historic Richmond Town Candlelight Tours
December 11–12 & 18–19
Historic Richmond Town offers candlelit tours on select December weekends, during which guests visit the neighborhood’s historic homes in the early evening to learn about the traditions of Christmases past. Tours include a visit to the tinsmith, standing around the tree in an old family home, the smells of gingerbread-baking in a historic farmhouse and singing and drinking in the restored early 1800s tavern.
St. George Theatre Christmas Show
Now in its 18th year, this production features a medley of popular holiday songs set against the story of a woman teaching her grandchildren about what makes the holiday season special. The annual favorite features more than 100 volunteer performers who are locals to the area; proceeds from the show support the restoration of the historic theater.
Tree Lighting at Empire Outlets
Enjoy a little holiday cheer while shopping at Empire Outlets, which will feature a tree lighting along with caroling, seasonal bites and deals on gifts. Holiday decorations are already up, and there will be other events throughout at the shopping center during the season, including a sensory-friendly photo day with Santa.