Christmas time in NYC is pure magic and in my opinion the best time to visit the city. I’ve had the opportunity to vacation in NYC during every season and Christmas is by far my favourite! The secret is to book a visit right after American Thanksgiving when the crowds have gone home from celebrating that holiday and the big crowds for Christmas haven’t yet arrived. Both times we’ve gone we’ve lucked out with some pretty mild weather as well, with some days going up to 13 degrees! When you are spending half your days outside walking, the cold can really get to you so this weather is perfect for exploring in the great outdoors.
This is our second time visiting NYC during the holidays with the kids. In 2018 we took our first trip with them to take in all the Christmas things in the big city and it was hands down their favourite vacation. At the time they were just 7 + 10 years old and they handled the walking and busy days like troopers. We finally decided to head back when they were 12 + 15 this year and we all had the best time together.
There is something about being in the big city with the kids during the holidays, it feels like you are in a movie everyday it’s just so beautiful! So many people reached out letting me know they would also like to travel to NYC during the holidays after seeing our stories so I thought it might be helpful to share some of our favourite places to visit for Christmas!
The number one thing to do is visit Santa in NYC and this one takes a bit of planning ahead! The best Santa experience can be found at Macy’s Herald Square where people of all ages line up to see Santa Claus. What you need to know before you go is you MUST book an appointment online to be able to see him! We saw so many disappointed families being turned away because they didn’t have an appointment so make sure you plan ahead on this one. In 2023 they release the day/times 5 days in advance at 6:30 am EST which meant I needed to set my alarm for 3:25 am PST to secure our spot!
When you get to Macy’s Herald Square you will head up the escalators to the 8th floor where Santa is waiting in his village. Be prepared for a long wait even though you have an appointment! Our time in line was easily 60 minutes but there is lots to see along the way as you weave your way through. The cost of the experience is free but if you choose to purchase the photo the price starts at $39.95.
Our second visit with Santa was at Nordstrom in NYC. They have a couple of spots set up in the store for you to capture photos with Santa and his elves at set times during the day (see their website for more details on times). We happened to be enjoying lunch when Santa arrived in the kids department so we snuck over for a photo and visit when he was finished reading stories to the kids. We loved how interactive this Santa was as he made his way down the escalators talking to customers while it was snowing in the store. It was a Santa experience like no other!
Next on your list should be visiting all the department stores to check out their amazing window displays during the holidays. It is incredible the work that goes into these displays and you really have to see them yourself to appreciate the beauty!
Saks 5th Avenue introduced an incredible light show and display in 2023 that is set to music. Be sure to visit after 4:30 pm so you can take it in from across the street. After watching the light show you’ll want to take in the windows that are filled with tiny NYC scenes like the Rockefeller Tree and skaing rink.
Macy’s Herald Square always goes all out for the holiday season with interactive windows and decor along 6th avenue. They also decorate the 34th street side of the building too! Be sure to check out all the windows and the main floor of the store that is fully decked out for Christmas. Take the escalator up to the 9th floor to visit the Christmas store as well nestled among the home furnishings.
Nordstrom NYC was new to us this year as the store wasn’t open during our last visit. They have a beautiful display of trees to take in from the outside of the store. Our favourite part was the interactive Santa Claus that spends time reading stories to the kids and visiting shoppers in the store before stopping at one of the two spots they have set up for photos. Be sure to check the website for the times that Santa is out mingling.
Bloomingdales on Lexington is another must visit department store during the holidays. Every year they go all out with their window displays, this year they had a Willy Wonka theme! Take in the various interactive windows during your visit which is a short walk from Centra Park. Be sure to visit this location as the one on Broadway does not have the Christmas windows.
Rockefeller Center and surrounding areas will need to top your list of places to visit in NYC during the holidays. The Rockefeller Christmas Tree is the most amazing Christmas tree you will ever see! Nestled among a skating rink and retail stores like FAO Schwarz, this will likely be the busiest area you will visit. There are many great angles you can capture of this tree so make sure to walk all around the plaza so you don’t miss anything!
If you are travelling with kids you’ll want to plan to stop at FAO Schwarz to spend some time shopping for all the cool toys. Be sure to head up to the second floor to dance along on the life sized piano that you may recognize from the movie BIG. You will also find Nintendo New York and American Girl all within this general area to keep the kids entertained.
There are so many things to see around Rockefeller Center! You won’t want to miss any of it so make sure to set aside enough time to take it all in.
The Lotte New York Palace can be found around the corner from Saks 5th Avenue and is the best hotel to visit during the holidays. Out front you will find the most gorgeous Christmas Tree in their courtyard for capturing photos and a hot chocolate stand set up in case you need a warm up. Once you capture your tree photos (we lucked out with a staff member stationed there to take photos for you) head inside to see the beautiful decor and giant gingerbread house that is on display in the lobby. You might recognize the interior of this hotel, many scenes from Gossip Girl were filmed here back in the day!
One block over is 6th Ave or Avenue of Americas where you will find a bunch of fun Christmas displays to capture in photos! Be sure to head down the stairs when you spot the giant tree to be able to stand under it for your photos. All within a block you will find the Giant Candy Canes, Red Christmas Balls, Radio City Music Hall and 2 beautifully decorated trees for photos.
New York has the most incredible Holiday Markets to explore when you visit the city during the holidays. The Union Square Holiday Market is located in the heart of Union Square and offers so many food options and shopping to explore. There was lots of cool local businesses to find treasures to put under the tree for someone special and a variety of food options including hot chocolate, pasta, cookies and more!
The Bryant Park Holiday Market is the largest in the city and located close to Rockefeller Center. The market offers shopping, food and drinks but also a skating rink to enjoy! This one tends to be the most busy as people spend an afternoon shopping and having lunch with friends and family. We found lots of unique Christmas gift ideas here and always love visiting this market during the holiday season.
This year we stumbled across a small holiday market in the heart of Times Square that had lots of NYC merchandise for shoppers to discover. It was probably the best spot for merch since you can’t leave the city without something NYC! I love the toque I found, it is perfect for winter.
For the first time this year we headed down to the Lower East Side of Manhattan to explore the Christmas decor and it was magical. The Christmas tree on Wall Street is grand in size and worth the visit. One of the great things about this one is that I don’t think as many people know about it making it an ideal location to visit if you want to avoid the crowds.
Head over to One World Trade Center where you will find one of the most unique buildings I have ever seen. The Oculus is both a main train station and shopping mall that gets all decked out for the holidays. We found adorable snowman displays and a synthetic skating rink right in the middle of the mall. This location was mentioned a few times online and I’m so glad we made the trip down to see it! It’s also nice to spend some time indoors, this happened to be the coldest day while we were visiting NYC.
Pier 17 was home to Disney’s The Santa Clause event while we were in town so it was also decked out for the holidays. It was pretty cool to visit this one on the roof of Pier 17 to take in the views of the Brooklyn Bridge. I won’t say too much about this one as I’m not sure it will be back next year but we did notice some Christmas things happening at Pier 15 as well so it’s worth checking out.
About a 15-20 minute walk from this area to Tribeca is where you will find the original Ghostbusters Fire Hall that is still in operation today. It was fun to see where the movie was filmed but also how cute it was all decorated for Christmas. This was definitely a highlight of our trip so be sure to add it to your must visit list!
By Ashley Sexsmith|2023-12-12T11:42:31-07:00December 12th, 2023|Travel|Comments Off on The Magic of Christmas in NYC