The holidays in New York City are always a magical time. This year will prove no exception, though many of the usual highlights will be held in a novel way or, in some cases, not at all. There’s still plenty to do and see, and it’s a great time to establish new traditions—especially while some of the famous happenings are on hold. Read on for our roundup of events and activities taking place, and check back as others get added and more details come in.
Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park
October 30, 2020–January 3, 2021 (shops dates only; ice-skating will continue through March 7)
Almost everything at Winter Village is open air—the ice-skating, the holiday shops, the drinking and dining at the Lodge Deck—but we’d be remiss not to mention the idiosyncratic things are that aren’t. Those are the heated igloos and curling tents, both of which can be booked by small groups.
New York Botanical Garden Holiday Train Show
November 12, 2020–January 31, 2021
The intricately constructed models and sets will run on time as usual, but access will be limited to garden members—a great reason to sign up and support the NYBG.
Grand Central Terminal Holiday Fair (Virtual)
November 16–December 24
This shopping experience will be virtual this year, but most of the shops in the rail station are still open for in-person business.
Holiday Lights at the Bronx Zoo
November 20, 2020–January 10, 2021
Go on “lantern safaris” throughout the grounds, including seeing illuminated creatures of the sea and mammals from Africa. (Disclaimer: real animals are not used for these light displays.)
Rink at Rockefeller Center
November 21, 2020–January 17, 2021
The City’s most famous skating rink will open for a limited time (the early closing is due to a renovation of the plaza). Reserve tickets ahead of time, as there will be restrictions on the number of skaters.
Holidays at Hudson Yards
November 22–December 31
The westside neighborhood will have festive goings-on throughout the season: holiday decorations all around; music and cookie decorating in the Shops and Restaurants; and artistically painted pianos in the Shops, courtesy of Sing for Hope. Following the use of the pianos' here, the arts organization will deliver the instruments to local schools and hospitals.
Origami Holiday Tree at the American Museum of Natural History
November 25, 2020–January 10, 2021
This year's tree takes "Cranes and Colors" as its theme, meant to evoke a positive, peaceful, healing spirit in the face of the many challenges of the past year. Around 1,000 folded cranes adorn the tree, taking a cue as well from the Nature of Color exhibit that is currently running at the museum.
Thanksgiving Day Parade (Virtual)
Rather than starting up at Central Park West and proceeding down to West 34th Street, the activities will take place in and around Herald Square over two days—without crowds—and be broadcast on television the holiday morning. You’ll watch the giant balloons, performances and floats from home.
Luminocity at Randall’s Island
November 27, 2020–January 10, 2021
This festival of lights debuted last year and was a huge success; it’s back with its interactive experiences, sparkling illuminations and assorted food vendors.
Glow at New York Botanical Garden
Select evenings November 27, 2020–January 9, 2021
Unlike the train show, this garden event is open to anyone who buys a separate reserved ticket and offers a lot of room to socially distance. See lights and installations around the grounds and at the Enid Haupt Conservatory, check out ice sculptures and enjoy music and roving dance performances.
Luminaries at Brookfield Place
November 27, 2020–January 8, 2021
Enjoy light shows with musical accompaniment in Lower Manhattan’s Winter Garden.
Holiday Express: Toys and Trains from the Jerni Collection at New-York Historical Society
November 27, 2020–February 21, 2021
As is its custom, the Upper West Side museum puts models of rail stations, toy trains and various figurines on display for the holidays. Many of the items date from the first half of the 20th century.
The Christmas Show at Radial Park
November 27–28, December 4–5, 11–12 and 17–18
At Hallet Point in Astoria, Broadway at the Drive-In presents a series of holiday-themed movies accompanied by live performances. Screenings include the always endearing Elf (spoiler: this guy is a close, personal friend of Santa's), The Polar Express, Gremlins and AChristmas Story, with little Ralphie. Reserve a vehicle spot or, if you're arriving sans automotive transportation, a picnic table.
Macy’s Santaland (Virtual)
November 27–December 24
For the first time in years, kids won’t be able to hit the giant department store to tell Santa in person what they want for the holidays. This free interactive experience, which ends with a selfie opportunity, will serve as the next best thing.
Candlelight Tours at Historic Richmond Town
November 28 and December 5, 12 & 19
Interpretive guides lead private tours of up to six people—all from the same group or family—around the grounds and structures of this living history museum, shedding light, so to speak, on the practices and traditions of Christmas in past centuries.
Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree
The lighting ceremony, which traditionally brings big crowds, will not have spectators this time around. But the tree will arrive Rock Center on November 14, put on its decorations soon after and be lit on December 2—and you’ll have the chance in the weeks after to see it, socially distanced, for yourself. Check rockefellercenter.com for details, which are still forthcoming.
Lighting of the Giant Menorah
According to the Chabad Park Slope website, the nightly lighting at Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn will happen, with a socially distant celebration on the first night. We’ve been unable to confirm the lighting of the similary enormous menorah at Manhattan’s Grand Army Plaza.
NYC Holiday Cookie Crawl
Take a 90-minute cookie-tasting tour of shops in Soho and Little Italy, led by a guide who knows their way around the sweet treats. You'll have a scorecard to keep track of it all and add personal notes on your favorites.
Times Square Ball Drop (Virtual)
This one will be virtual, as access to the entertainment and ball drop that take place near the Times Tower will not be open to the general public. But revelers will be able to tune in from home. Check timessquarenyc.org for further details as 2021 approaches.