New York City is never more of a wonderland than during the holiday season, offering a potpourri of iconic festivities shared through the generations, as well as festive hidden gems. Holiday cheer is spread through all five boroughs, with The New York Botanical Garden’s Holiday Train Show in the Bronx, the New York Hall of Science’s Gingerbread Lane in Queens, the Annual Menorah Lighting at Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza, and Historic Richmond Town’s Candlelight Tours in Staten Island.
Highlights of holiday events taking place in the five boroughs include:
Holiday Happenings in Manhattan
Visitors can see the world-famous Rockettes kick their way into the holiday season as the Radio City Christmas Spectacular returns from November 13–January 3. The 2015 production will delight audiences with dance numbers, elaborate costumes, state-of-the-art technology and traditional fan favorite numbers, including “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers,” “Living Nativity,” and “Rag Dolls,” which was re-imagined for the 2014 production. (radiocitychristmas.com).
New York’s largest holiday festival, Winter’s Eve at Lincoln Square, features entertainment, festive holiday treats at outdoor food stalls lined up along Columbus Circle to 68th street (winterseve.nyc)
Returning to the Flatiron District this holiday season is the 4th Annual 23 Days of Flatiron Cheer celebration, featuring popular traditions and performances by local groups, giveaways and a dynamic holiday installation in the North Public Plaza from December 1 – 23 (FlatironDistrict.nyc).
The American Museum of Natural History’s famous Origami Holiday Tree marks the start of the holiday season at the museum and will be on display November 23 through January 10. On December 27, the museum will have a Kwanzaa International Marketplace and fun activities for the whole family as part of its 37th Annual Kwanzaa Celebration, commemorating the seven guiding principles of Kwanzaa (amnh.org).
The 14th annual Holiday Train Show at Grand Central Terminal is on view through February 21 at the New York Transit Museum Gallery Annex and Store. Watch as Lionel trains zip through a two-level, 34-foot long miniature model of New York City and holiday scenes from the countryside (grandcentralterminal.com).
The City twinkles with holiday spirit, particularly as its famed stores and iconic hotels strive to outdo the previous year’s celebration. Macy’s, Lord & Taylor, Saks Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf Goodman, Barneys, Lord & Taylor and Bloomingdale’s spruce up their window displays with beautiful holiday-themed decor that awes visitors year after year.
Manhattan’s outdoor ice skating rinks are open to the public for the holiday season. With the world-famous Rockefeller Center Christmas tree as a backdrop, visitors are able to skate on The Rink at Rockefeller Center, which opened mid-October (therinkatrockcenter.com). Additionally, enjoy delicious treats, free ice skating (rentals available) and lovely boutique shops at the Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park behind the 42nd Street Library (wintervillage.org), or skate under the snow-covered trees of the Wollman Rink in Central Park, which opened in early November (wollmanskatingrink.com). The Rink at Brookfield Place is open for skaters along the picturesque Hudson River waterfront (gpice.com).
The City’s beloved holiday markets are a great place to purchase gifts and festive items and souvenirs. In addition to Bryant Park, visitors and locals can find homemade treats and presents for family and loved ones at Union Square Holiday Market from November 19–December 24, the Columbus Circle Holiday Market from December 1–December 24 and the Grand Central Holiday Fair from November 16–December 24.
What would Christmas be without The Nutcracker? New York City Ballet will present one of the holiday season’s most cherished performances, George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, complete with marching toy soldiers, a one-ton Christmas tree that grows before the audience’s eyes and crystalline snowflakes. The show will run November 27–January 3 (nycballet.com).
The Metropolitan Opera is offering a special “Half-Priced Holiday” promotion, where visitors who buy a full-priced ticket may purchase a second one at half price for guest under 18 years of age. A family-oriented performance of The Barber of Seville from December 16–January 2 and an adult-centric performance of Die Fledermaus from December 4–January 7 will both be headlining the Met’s holiday offerings (metopera.org).
Harlem’s Apollo Theater comes alive this holiday season with The Classical Theatre of Harlem’s The First Noel: A World Premiere Musical from December 11–30. Additional events at the iconic venue include the Coca-Cola Winter Wonderland on December 19, which will bring free holiday-themed activities and performances to Harlem, and the 9th annual Kwanzaa Celebration on December 27 (apollotheater.com).
Returning to New York City Center for a joyous holiday tradition, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s breathtaking dancers will perform world premieres, new productions and the must-see Revelations from December 2-January 3. Dance lovers can also enjoy a free class with their ticket stub at The Ailey Extension (alvinailey.org).
Also check out performances at Carnegie Hall, the New York Philharmonic at Lincoln Center and Town Hall.
And what would a visit to New York City be without a Broadway Show? Broadway performs every day of the week at multiple curtain times to accommodate every schedule, including holidays. During Christmas week, in addition to some Christmas Eve and Christmas Day performances, alternate curtain times include Sunday matinees and evening performances. Check Broadway.org to see Broadway Performance Times for Christmas Week and easily find out where and when shows are playing.
Buddy the Elf takes the Big Apple this winter in Elf The Musical for the first time ever at the Theater at Madison Square Garden from December 9-27, inviting visitors to follow along on his fascinating journey through the City in this family-friendly show (theateratmsg.com/elf)
A holiday favorite returns this winter to the landmark Merchant’s House Museum. Charles Dicken’s beloved holiday tale, A Christmas Carol, will transport audiences back 150 years with an unforgettable performance and 19th century holiday decorations. The show will run from December 10-14, December 15-20 and December 22-24 (merchanthouse.org).
A hidden Manhattan treasure, the Mount Vernon Hotel Museum & Garden invites visitors on their special Candlelight Tours December 4 and 5, to celebrate the holidays like 19th century New Yorkers. In addition, the museum invites visitors to bring along their teddy bears to the annual Teddy Bear Tea on January 3 for some post-holiday fun (mvhm.org)
The New-York Historical Society Museum & Library invites visitors to their spectacular new exhibit of model trains from their renowned collection. The Holiday Express: Toys and Trains from the Jerni Collection exhibition, which opened October 30 and runs through February 28, expands the first floor of the museum, transforming the space into an immersive experience filled with visual effects, a 360-degree mountainous landscape, scenic elements and holiday toys of the past (nyhistory.org).
Right across from The Plaza Hotel at Manhattan’s Grand Army Plaza, visitors can celebrate the festival of lights with a special menorah lighting celebration around the “world’s largest menorah” at 32-foot-high, 4,000-pounds from December 6-13. Lightings are generally at 5:30 p.m., with Friday’s around 3:30 p.m. and Saturday’s at 8 p.m.
WindowsWear operates daily walking tours that begin at Macy’s in Herald Square and journeys up Fifth Avenue, passing the Empire State Building, Bryant Park, Rockefeller Center, Central Park and more (windowswear.com).
Free Tours by Foot invites visitors on their New York Holiday Lights Tour to learn about Midtown Manhattan’s holiday lighting and window displays from December 3-January 3. Stops along the tour include St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Lord and Taylor, Macy’s Herald Square and the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree (freetoursbyfoot.com).
Those looking to see the sights can hop aboard a multi-million dollar motor coach and spread some holiday cheer aboard THE RIDE’s Holiday Edition. Already in its 4th year, guests will be dazzled by New York City’s holiday decorations, special choreographed performances and new seasonal content in celebration of Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. This “enchantment on wheels” tour runs from November 12–January 3 (experiencetheride.com).
Visitors can spot iconic landmarks featured in their favorite movies and hidden gems throughout Manhattan aboard a special Holiday Lights & Movie Sites tour with On Location Tours. This annual holiday offering runs daily from November 27 through January 1 at 3 p.m. with an additional tour on Saturdays at 5:30 p.m. (onlocationtours.com).
Those that wanting to learn the best way to photograph the City this holiday season can sign up for NYC Photo Safari’s Holiday Boot Camp. The three day tour teaches visitors tips and tricks on taking the best photos of iconic landmarks all decked out for the holidays, including Radio City Music Hall, Grand Central Terminal and Times Square (newyorkcityphotosafari.com).
The Empire State Building lights up the City’s skyline with its third annual holiday light show series from December 20 – December 24. The building’s stunning Art Deco lobby will also be decked out with brand-new holiday decorations and custom-designed holiday windows. Along with holiday concerts in the lobby, a live saxophone player will be playing holiday tunes Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights around the 86thfloor observation deck from November 30 – December 18 (esbnyc.com).
The holiday season in New York City comes to a close with one of the world’s largest outdoor celebrations: New Year’s Eve in Times Square. The annual ball drop attracts a million people each year to the Crossroads of the World, filled with tons of confetti, celebrity performances and an unforgettable countdown to the New Year. For more information, visit timessquarenyc.org.
An alternative way to close out 2015 from being in Times Square to watch the ball drop, is to take part in the New York Road Runners Club’s Midnight Run in Central Park. There’s live music, dancing (starting at 10 pm), a costume parade and contest (starting at 11 p.m.), and a 15-minute fireworks show . With a countdown to midnight beginning at 11:59 p.m., the four-mile unscored run begins on the stroke of midnight, as will a spectacular fireworks display to light up the night and the start of 2015. (Info and registration at www.nyrr.org/races-and-events/2015/nyrr-midnight-run).
Celebrating their 10th anniversary this year, A Slice of Brooklyn’s Christmas Lights Tour offers visitors the opportunity to see the famed Dyker Heights Christmas lights. Every year the neighborhood is ablaze with illuminating exhibitions featuring 30-foot toy soldiers and nativity scenes. The bus tour also offers festive holiday music and old-time Christmas television variety specials. Tours run December 1–31, except Christmas Eve and Christmas Day (asliceofbrooklyn.com).
The Coney Island Holiday Market returns to Brooklyn this holiday season on weekends 12-6 p.m. from Thanksgiving through Christmas. Visitors can take their picture with Santa Claus and shop for festive crafts and collectibles to take home (coneyisland.com).
The beautifully restored Kings Theatre will feature two holiday classics this winter. Celebrate a beloved Christmas tradition on December 5 with Moscow Ballet’s Great Russian Nutcracker, featuring 40 world-class Russian artists, larger-than-life puppets and super-sized Matrushka dolls. From December 15-27, visitors can enjoy a new incarnation of ANNIE, featuring original lyricist and director Martin Charnin (kingstheatre.com).
Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts kicks off the holiday season with two live holiday performances. On December 12, The Vienna Boys Choir that has entertained music lovers for six centuries will perform Christmas in Vienna, featuring Austrian folk songs and holiday favorites. An annual holiday favorite, The Colonial Nutcracker will be performed by Dance Theatre from Westchester, set in wintry colonial Yorktown and features the full-length version of Tchaikovsky’s ballet set (brooklyncenter.org).
Celebrate the festival of lights this year with a special menorah lighting celebration in Brooklyn from December 6-13. Enjoy live music and hot latkes every night outside Grand Army Plaza. Lightings are at 6 p.m. most evenings, with Wednesday’s and Friday’s at 3 p.m. and Saturday’s at 7 p.m.
In its 22nd season, The New York Hall of Science presents Gingerbread Lane, which features more than 1,050 gingerbread houses as well as a double-decker carousel and 10-square-foot candy factory. Visitors can walk through Peppermint Central Park, Gum Drop Row and Toffee Boulevard, as well as participate in gingerbread workshops and holiday giveaways throughout the season from November 14 – January 9 (nysci.org).
Visitors can take a tour of the festively decorated Queens County Farm Museum during the Holiday Open House at the Adriance Farmhouse in Floral Park, December 26–28. There, they can warm up with a cup of freshly mulled cider while kids enjoy craft activities (queensfarm.org).
The Louis Armstrong House Museum hosts its annual holiday tours throughout the month of December, featuring Louis Armstrong’s voice recording of “Twas the Night Before Christmas (A Visit from St. Nicholas)” and other seasonal favorites. The 40-minute guided tours of the house, a National Historic and New York City Landmark, offer a look into the life of a jazz legend (louisarmstronghouse.org).
The Queens Historical Society presents its Annual Historic Holiday House Tour on December 6. The guided trolley tour includes stops at seven festively decorated museums and historical sites in Queens: the Kingsland Homestead, the Flushing Quaker Meeting House, Flushing Town Hall, the Voelker Orth Museum, Lewis H. Latimer House,Louis Armstrong House Museum and the Bowne House. Tickets cost $20 for adult admission, and $10 for children ages 12 and under (queenshistoricalsociety.org).
Holiday Train Show in The Bronx
The New York Botanical Garden’s Holiday Train Show is a must-see New York tradition for families, featuring model trains that hum past more than 150 iconic buildings in a miniature city landscape. The show runs from November 21–January 18 (nybg.org).
Families can enjoy making special holiday-themed crafts during the Holiday Workshop Weekend at Wave Hill from December 12–13. Visitors can create and take home their very own natural wreaths, treasure boxes and other great keepsakes (wavehill.org).
The Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum Annual Holiday Family Day in Pelham Bay Park is set for December 5. Families will love the festively decorated 19th-century mansion and can participate in various kids’ activities, including photos with Santa Claus (bpmm.org).
Candlelight Tours in Staten Island
A classic holiday tradition continues with the 12th Annual St. George Theatre Christmas Show from December 11 – December 13. Just steps from the Staten Island Ferry, this two-hour production features over 100 actors, a live orchestra and numerous holiday standards set in holiday scenes from the North Pole to the surrounding neighborhoods of Staten Island (stgeorgetheatre.com).
Historic Richmond Town offers several holiday-themed events that are perfect for the whole family, such as the Traditional Tree Lighting on December 6. An annual holiday tradition, they can also join Historic Richmond Town’s Candlelight Tours, where candles, oil lamps and flickering fireplaces will light up the town, and visitors can expect a “wassail bowl” reception in the courthouse. On January 2, MakeFest invites visitors to enjoy hands-on activities that will give them a glimpse of the simpler times in the Colonial era, including make-your-own LED paper lanterns, 1715- and 1815-style ornaments and toys, and a complete tour of the grounds. Prepaid reservations are required (historicrichmondtown.org).
More than 5 million visitors are expected during the holiday season, contributing $3.7 billion to the local economy between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve.
Because of the popularity of the holiday season, NYC & Company recommends visitors book their travel now through their tour operator, travel agent or by visiting nycgo.com/hotels and reserving through the organization’s exclusive hotel booking partner, Booking.com.
For more information on planning your New York City holiday vacation, visitnycgo.com/holidays; for all there is to do and see in NYC, visit nycgo.com.
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