Will the holidays in NYC be different this year? Sure. But no place celebrates like New York City, even in 2020. So if you’re looking for things to do with the kids this festive season, we’ve got you covered. From traditional outdoor traditions like the Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center, ice skating and holiday lights and decorations, to cozy, Covid-safe activities for the family, here’s how to do the holidays in NYC right this year.
Watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade
It's happening, just, you know, adjusted for 2020. Snuggle up with some hot chocolate and take in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade from the comfort of your couch. (Bonus: no guilt or FOMO this year for not seeing it in person!)
Get the full scoop on the reimagined Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade here!
Get a Tree!
Find a nice live one at one of our favorite NYC area Christmas tree farms!
Not up to the outing? Here's how to get a Christmas tree delivered to your door in NYC!
Visit the Tree at Rockefeller Center
You can't attend the lighting ceremony (catch it on December 2 on NBC from 7-10 p.m.), but you can visit the Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center from 6 a.m. to midnight, daily. (Although know that masks are required, there will be "virtual queuing" with a maximum of four people per group, and a five-minute time limit.)
30 Rockefeller Plaza
Visit Macy's Santaland—From anywhere!
Yep, Macy's Santa is doing Covid-safe virtual visits this year—and yes, you can still get a photo with him!
Click here to see how to make your free trip to the North Pole happen!
Or Get a Photo with Santa In Person (Safely)
The man in the suit is making appearances around town (with plenty of sanitizer on hand). Click here to see where to get a snap with St. Nick!
(Click here to see other ways you can connect with Santa virtually!)
See ALL the Lights
So. Many. Lights. Tiny and LED, big and colorful, in the center of Manhattan and in the outer boroughs! (And lots and lots of light shows and experiences to walk or drive through.)
We've rounded up where to find them, here.
Marvel at The Winter Escape at the Queens County Farm Museum
The holiday iteration of the Queens County Farm Museum's Floral Escape is in bloom, and it's extraordinary! The Winter Escape is all your holiday and winter favorites bundled up into a multi-sensory floral experience. Take a stroll through a Gingerbread Village, stop by and smell the Candy Cane Rose Garden or snap an ‘elfie with Santa in his "Jolly ‘olly," throne chair. Advance tickets only; click here to purchase.
Nov. 28, 2020-Jan. 10, 2021; Thurs. & Fri., 11 a.m.- 4 p.m.; Sat. & Sun., 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Tickets: $24/adults; $15/10 & under
73-50 Little Neck Pkwy.
Floral Park, NY
Watch the Central Park Conservancy’s 24th Annual Holiday Tree Lighting
The Central Park Conservancy’s Tree Lighting on the Harlem Meer will be virtual this year; you can catch it on Facebook Live December 3. The annual event features holiday music performances by local school choir groups, a very special Conservancy-themed reimagining of the beloved poem, "‘Twas the Night Before Christmas," and a grand finale of a countdown to the holiday tree flotilla lighting on the Harlem Meer.
The virtual festivities continue throughout the holiday season. Head to centralparknyc.org for activities and multimedia offerings that include an ice-carving demonstration, song sheets, coloring pages, holiday recipes, and more!
Dec. 3, 5:15 p.m.
Chanukah falls on December 10-17 this year. Celebrate by attending the lighting of one of two huge menorahs in the city, both, technically, the largest in the world. (They are the same height.)
Brooklyn’s menorah can be found in Grand Army Plaza at Eastern Parkway in Prospect Heights. The lightings here will include live music, hot latkes and gifts for the children attending; the first night features a special concert, performer to be announced.
Note: Lighting times vary throughout the duration of the holiday.
Manhattan's giant menorah is located at Grand Army Plaza Fifth Avenue and W. 59th Street. Shining gold and standing 32 feet-tall, 28 feet-wide and weighing 4,000 pounds, the impressive steel menorah was designed by Yaacov Agam and has been lit each year since the late 1970s. We have not been able to confirm there will be a public lighting for 2020.
Go On a Holiday Adventure at the Liberty Science Center
New Jersey's Liberty Science Center is bringing the cheer (and the STEM) for the month of December. Navigate your way through the Snowflake Maze outside, where you’ll learn amazing facts about the science of snowflakes; take a spin indoors on the Sock Skating Rink – an ice rink made of synthetic ice— then challenge a friend or family member in the Gift Stacking Face-Off.
Then hit a Holiday Dance Party, experiment with phosphorescence by leaving your shadow on our glow-in-the-dark Shadow Wall, and Play a Snowman Riddle Scavenger Hunt game for a chance to win a prize. Then catch Laser Wonderland: A Holiday Lights and Music Show, with songs from Mariah Carey, Alvin and the Chipmunks, Frozen and more!
Liberty Science Center
222 Jersey City Blvd.
Liberty State Park
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Head to a Holiday Market
Yes, some have been sidelined by Covid, but many have not! Here's where to find unique gifts from local makers throughout NYC!
Hop On the Catskill Christmas Express
Covid-19 has put the kibosh on most "Polar Express" experiences, but the Catskill Mountain Railroad is offering an alternative for the times, the Catskill Christmas Express! This modified version of a holiday train ride invites passenger onto open-air trains for a 60-minute journey to Santa's Workshop at the North Pole. Passengers get a cookie from the local bakery, and a wave from Santa as the train passes. Kids also get a small gift after the North Pole is reached.
Tickets: $29/adults; $23/kids
Nov. 27-Dec. 20
55 Plaza Rd.
Do Fondue at The Greens
Get cozy in one of the 28 rooftop cabins at the Seaport District's The Greens. With floor-to-ceiling views, virtual fireplaces, room for 10 and real heat, the cabins aim to offer a little bit of "Upstate downtown." Beyond fondue, cocktails by Dante are available, and you can even get a candy apple for the kids. Lots of Covid-19 precautions are in effect here, including sanitizing between parties. Reservations open every Monday at 10 a.m., with a portion of proceeds going to charity.
89 South St.
Or Dine in a Fabulously Festive Restaurant
Cozy, kitschy, classic—NYC has a holiday dining experience no matter what your style! (Gramercy's famous Rolf's is shown here.)
Click here to see NYC's most festive food spots!
"Find Waldo-Crane" On the Origami Tree at the American Museum of Natural History
The theme of this year's 13-foot tree is "Cranes and Colors", featuring one thousand brilliantly-colored origami cranes presented as symbols of peace and good wishes. The theme also draws inspiration from The Nature of Color, the Museum’s special exhibition that explores color in the natural world and in ourselves. The tree—which is the 49th Origami Holiday Tree— also features hundreds of other models, including a remarkably-detailed T. rex tree topper and a single Where’s Waldo?-inspired crane, complete with glasses. The tree is located in the Grand Gallery on the first floor of the museum. (Tickets to the museum must be reserved in advance.)
Nov. 25, 2020-Jan. 10, 202`1
American Museum of Natural History
Central Park West & 79th St.
Upper West Side
Visit the Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park
Home to a free ice-skating rink, a holiday market curated by Urbanspace, and The Lodge, where you can snack and drink rinkside, the Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park brings the holiday cheer in the heart of Midtown. (If you need skates, there is a rental charge.) This festive spot is open through March 7, 2021!
Learn to Dance Like a Rockette, From a Rockette!
Huge bummer: the Radio City Christmas Spectacular featuring the Rockettes is not happening in 2020.
But, the world-famous dancers are offering dance lessons every Wednesday on Instagram at 3 p.m. from Nov. 18 - Dec. 23.
Classes feature dances from the Christmas Spectacular, including the iconic "Parade of the Wooden Soldiers" (Nov. 25).
See Model Trains at the New-York Historical Society
This annual favorite returns to The New-York Historical Society on November 27. The museum's celebration of trains, Holiday Express: Toys and Trains from the Jerni Collection showcases an impressive collection of toys, trains, figurines and miniature models alongside fun facts and animations on screens nearby. The show includes toy train stations dating from the turn of the 19th century to the WWII era, showcasing the evolving designs of American and European toymakers and runs through February 21.
New York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
Upper West Side
Get an Exclusive Look at the New York Botanical Garden Train Show
This train show features model trains zipping through an incredible display of famous New York landmarks such as the Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge, Rockefeller Center, all rendered in natural materials such as birch bark, acorns and cinnamon sticks!
Now in its 29th year, the show is only open to members, patrons and corporate members due to social distancing and capacity considerations. (So if you must see it, now's the time to sign up!) Tickets must be reserved in advance.
Nov. 12, 2020-Jan. 31, 2021
2900 Southern Blvd.
Take a Ride on the (Virtual) Nostalgia Train
The annual tradition continues, albeit online. Hop on here, and head back to the New York Transit Museum site for more train show fun starting December 7!
Hit One of New York City's Best Ice Skating Rinks
Choose from iconic rinks in the center of Manhattan to less-crowded ones for quality skate time.
Small and local businesses need our support more than ever. We rounded up our favorite gifts for kids, foodies, hard core New Yorkers and more. Click here to see our picks!
Head to DUMBO for Holiday Fun
A lot is happening in this neighborhood!
Check out the Dumbo Countdown to 2021 clock on Insta-famous Washington Street. Enjoy live music and shop the Brooklyn Flea holiday market in the Dumbo Archway and in the Pearl Street Triangle on Saturdays from 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. through December 19.
See the giant decorated tree in the Pearl Street Triangle, winter lights in the Dumbo Archway and then walk through the Westville Courtyard, which has been transformed into a forest of evergreens. (You can buy one of the organic, Vermont-grown Christmas trees to take home.) Don't forget to grab a hot cocoa from Jacques Torres—the shop is celebrating 20 years in Dumbo this year!
Stop By American Dream in New Jersey
This entertainment and shopping complex is decked out for the holidays. In addition to Angry Birds no so mini golf; Big SNOW, an indoor ski slope; DreamWorks Waterpark and retail shops, its indoor amusement park Nickelodeon Universe will become "Nickmas Universe" for the holiday season.
Expect stilt walkers dressed as Toy Soldiers, in Nutcracker-esque costumes, as well as Nickelodeon characters. Plus, entrance to the park decorated in orange and green trees and colorful décor, to add to the festive feel.
Make Some Noise on Unsilent Night
Composer Phil Kline started this free event way back in 1992, and now sister events happen all over the world! (It's usually a parade downtown with people blasting a Kline composition from "boom boxes.") This year, it's socially-distant for safety. Download the tracks and have your own small Unsilent Night.
Dec. 20, 6 p.m.
Visit the Museum of Ice Cream, Holiday Edition
The Museum of Ice Cream gets festive this time of year with "Pinkmas," a limited-time wonderland of holiday- themed spaces and installations. Enjoy special treats, festive surprises, and a whimsical shop with exclusive seasonal merchandise. (Read our full review of MOIC from when it opened, here.)
The Museum of Ice Cream
Grab a Cup of Hot Chocolate
Warm up with one of the best cups of hot chocolate in NYC. Click here for our favorite spots!
Go On a High-Tech Reindeer Scavenger Hunt
Santa needs your help! Christmas Eve is approaching, and all of his reindeer have run off. Search Brookfield Place for snowflakes, scan them with your phone to reveal reindeer, and when you've found nine, you get a prize! (See Concierge for free gift.)
Concierge Hours: Mon. – Sat., 10 a.m. - 8 p.m.; Sun. Noon- 6 p.m.
230 Vesey St.
Battery Park City
Relax Runway-side at the TWA Hotel
Book a retro, design-forward staycation at the TWA Hotel at JFK airport, where you can relax in the warmth of a jacuzzi infinity pool and watch the jets take off and land. (Be sure to check out the cool exhibits curated by the New-York Historical Society that look at the history of TWA, the Jet Age and the midcentury modern design movement.)
John F. Kennedy International Airport
One Idlewild Dr.
Pay your good fortune forward by volunteering with the kids this season. Click here for ideas on how you can do that from home and stay safe!
Skate on a Rooftop at Vale Rink
The William Vale in Williamsburg has once again transformed the 23rd floor outdoor rooftop of the hotel into a skating rink. Skate on "Glice"—a sustainable synthetic ice—as you take in the Manhattan skyline. Guests are required to make reservations for a 50-minute session in advance, and all customers will be asked to wear masks at all times during their visit.
Tickets: $20/adults; $12/kids 12 and under (skate rental included)
Wed. - Fri., 2 - 10 p.m.; Sat. & Sun. Noon-10 p.m.
111 N 12th St. (23rd Floor Outdoor Rooftop)
See the Luminaries at Brookfield Place
Make a wish at this interactive light display!
Visit Industry City for Two Kinds of Skating & Holiday Fun
Yes, the outdoor ice rink is back for the 2020 holiday season at Industry City in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. But this year, you can also roller skate at the complex thanks to Lola Star's Dreamland Roller Disco. Plus, the courtyards will be heated and decked out with festive decorations, with food and drink for sale to fuel you.
Officially known as The Industry City Ice Skating Rink Powered by Volvo Car USA, the uncovered rink features an outdoor bar operated by Frying Pan Brooklyn serving hot cocoa and snacks.
Find it in courtyard 5/6, where you can skate Thursday through Sunday.Tickets are $12/person, and skate rentals are $10/person. Buy tickets on site at Industry City or online.
The Dreamland Roller Rink is on the Factory Floor of Building One, and will be open from December to March 1. The rink has family-friendly skate blocks throughout the week including Toddler Skate Party (Saturday 10-11 a.m.; Kids Skate Class (Sat. 11 a.m.–Noon); Family Skate Extravaganza (Sat. Noon-3p.m. and Dreamland Discoteque – Roller Disco Brunch Party (Sun. 1:00–4p.m.)
Tickets are $12 – $28 per person with skate rentals included with admission. Tickets can be purchased on site at Industry City or online.
Take a Break in A Cozy Cabin
We found lots to choose from. Click here to check them out!
Grab a Sled and Hit the Hills
At some point, it's going to snow.
Need to Warm Up (or need a vacation week getaway)?
Check out indoor waterparks near NYC, where it's always bathing suit weather!
Feature photo: Bob S. via Yelp