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! 

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
Rockefeller Center
212-588-8601
Online: rockefellercenter.com

photo: Macy's

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! 

photo: iStock

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!) 

photo: Mimi O'Connor

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
718-347-3276
Online: queensfarm.org

photo: Central Park Conservancy

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.

Online: centralparknyc.org

Celebrate Chanukah

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.

Online: chabadparkslope.com

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. 

photo: Liberty Science Center

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
201-200-1000
Online: lsc.org

 

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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. 
Kingson, NY 
845-332-4854
Online: catskillmountainrailroad.com

photo: Giada Paoloni on behalf of the Howard Hughes Corporation

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.

Pier 17
89 South St.
Seaport District 
Online: thegreens.pier17ny.com

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!

photo: AMNH

"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 
212-769-5100
Online: amnh.org

photo: Colin Miller

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!

Click here for more info!

photo: Radio City Music Hall

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). 

Online: instagram.com

photo: New York Historical Society/Glenn Castellano

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. 

Click here for more info!

New York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
Upper West Side 
 212-873-3400
Online: nyhistory.org

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.
718-817-8700
Bronx
Online: nybg.org

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! 

photo: Lefrak at Lakeside

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.

Click here to see our favorites!

Shop Local!

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!

photo: DUMBO BID

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! 

Click here for more info! 

photo: American Dream

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.

photo: Unsilent Night

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.
Online: unsilentnight.com

photo: Museum of Ice Cream

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.)

Tickets: $39
The Museum of Ice Cream
558 Broadway
SoHo
Online: museumoficecream.com

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.

Brookfield Place
230 Vesey St.
Battery Park City
212-978-1698
Online: brookfieldplaceny.com

photo: Xhibition

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. 
212-806-9000
Online: twahotel.com

photo: iStock

Give Back

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! 

photo: The William Vale

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)
Williamsburg
Online: thewilliamvale.com

 

photo: Brookfield Place

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. 

Ice Skating 
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

Roller Skating
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.

photo: Airbnb

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.

Here's where to head when the snow flies!

photo: Kalahari Resorts

Need to Warm Up (or need a vacation week getaway)?

Check out indoor waterparks near NYC, where it's always bathing suit weather!

—Mimi O’Connor

Feature photo: Bob S. via Yelp 

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