Best NYC Christmas Things to do with Kids in the Winter

Best NYC Christmas Things to do with Kids in the Winter

New York City is an amazing place to spend the Christmas holiday with kids. This blog will tell you everything you can do with kids this winter.

Welcome to the magical wonderland of New York City during the Christmas holiday season! If you’re planning a family trip to the Big Apple, you’re in for a treat. The city comes alive with festive cheer, dazzling lights, and a plethora of activities that are sure to create lasting memories for you and your children.

With so much to see and do, it’s essential to have a curated list of the top family-friendly attractions and experiences. From ice-skating in iconic locations to visiting enchanting holiday markets to seeing the famous train show, New York City offers a wealth of options that cater specifically to kids during this joyous time of year.

This blog contains occasional affiliate links, where I receive a small commission on sales of the products/hotels that are linked at no additional cost to you. In addition, as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Why Should You Visit New York City During the Christmas Holiday?

Visiting New York City during the Christmas holiday season is an experience like no other. The city comes alive with a magical ambiance that is truly enchanting.

New York City is renowned for its extravagant holiday decorations. From the towering Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center to the breathtaking window displays along Fifth Avenue, the city sparkles with festive lights and ornate decor.

The city’s ice-skating rinks take on an extra layer of charm during the Christmas season. Whether you choose to glide across the ice at Rockefeller Center, Central Park’s Wollman Rink, or Bryant Park’s Winter Village, you’ll be surrounded by a festive atmosphere and stunning backdrops.

New York City’s holiday markets offer a delightful shopping experience. Stroll through the charming stalls of the Union Square Holiday Market, Columbus Circle Holiday Market, or the Winter Village at Bryant Park. These markets showcase a wide array of unique gifts, handcrafted goods, and delectable treats, allowing you to find the perfect holiday presents

Is New York City Kids Friendly During the Christmas Season?

New York City is a very kids-friendly destination during the Christmas season. The city goes above and beyond to create a welcoming and exciting atmosphere for families with children.

The city offers a wide range of family-friendly attractions that are specifically designed to delight children during the holiday season. From beautiful Christmas trees to dazzling light displays, the festive attractions throughout the city captivate young minds and ignite their sense of wonder.

Broadway shows during the Christmas season often include family-friendly productions that appeal to children of all ages. From fun musicals to magical performances like the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, there are plenty of options that will leave kids in awe.

New York City’s world-class museums offer engaging exhibits and interactive experiences tailored to children’s interests. Museums like the American Museum of Natural History, the Children’s Museum of Manhattan, and the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum often have special holiday-themed exhibits and activities that combine learning and entertainment.


Best Things to do with Kids in New York City during the Christmas Holiday

See the Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center

This is probably the No.1 thing people come to New York City for during the winter holiday months. Kids love the giant Christmas tree especially at night!

Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree New York

But to make things even more family friendly, there are these pop up cabins with view of the iceskating rink and Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center.

free private cabins at Rockefeller Center during Christmas holiday in December

However in 2023 I believe you need to book these cabins in advance. In the previous years you could just buy a drink and get the cabin to yourself for 20 minutes.

Holiday Train Show at the New York Botanic Garden

Date: Mid November to late January
Opening Time: 10am to 6pm
Price: $32 for adults, $18 for children (2-12), free for children under 2

The holiday train show at NYBG is almost like an annual tradition (at least for the past 30 years). While the city is freezing cold outside, you and your family can enjoy a miniature version of NYC in the warm Conservatory at the New York Botanic Garden.

You will see more than 175 famous New York landmarks (such as Rockefeller Center, Brooklyn Bridge, Status of Liberty, the Yankee Stadium, etc) and more than 25 G-scale model trains and trolleys running along a half mile track. It’s probably one of the most festive activities you can enjoy with your kids.

You should purchase tickets with the designated time slot in advance. Children under 2 is free of charge.

Note: strollers not allowed inside, so you will need to carry a younger child. Generally it’s recommended for slightly older children to fully enjoy the display.

NYBG Glow

Dates: Nov 24th to Jan 22th (not everyday)
Opening time: 5-10pm
Price: $35 for adults; $20 for children (2-12), free for children under 2. You can buy combo tickets with the train show for $49 (adults), $34 children between 2-12

Besides the holiday train show, the New York Botanic Garden also has an outdoor illuminated light show featuring all of its historical buildings. So you can visit the train show first and do the Glow event afterwards at night! There will be 1.5 miles of displays to explore with this after dark experience. Your little ones will love this experience. There will also be vendors selling snacks and hot drinks and music and ice carving activities.

Note: you can actually see some of this light display when you go to the train show.

Visit FAO Schwarz at Rockefeller Center

Dates: Everyday
Opening Time: 10am to 8pm

If there is one toy store to visit in New York City then it is the FAO Schwarz at Rockefeller Center. This store is the most magical during Christmas and the holiday season!

There are multiple stories at FAO Schwarz and you can basically find anything and everything in there! Even as an adult I thought some of the toys were super cool.

But do keep in mind that FAO Schwarz is crazy busy during the holiday season as you can imagine and you most likely have to wait in line OUTSIDE of the store when you visit so I suggest going as early as possible.

Bronx Zoo Holiday Light Show

Dates: Mid November to early January on selected dates
Opening Time: 3-8pm
Price: $39.95 for adults, $24.95 for children (3-12), free for children under 3

New York City has a lot of holiday light shows for families, but if you wish to see some animals during the day and see a fantastic light show at night, Bronx Zoo is a good choice.

On selected dates between mid November to early January, the zoo will have holiday light displays, custom-designed animal lanterns and animated light shows. There are more than 250 lanterns representing animals and plants for this program.

There will also be outdoor entertainment, snacks, hot drinks, seasonal treats and holiday music. Note that advanced ticket booking is required and the program does not include animal exhibits. Kids under 3 can enter for free.

Visit SUMMIT One Vanderbilt with Kids

Dates: Everyday except Tuesday
Opening Hours: 9am – 12am
Cost: book your tickets here

SUMMIT One is one of the best observation decks in New York City and I say it is the most kids friendly.

SUMMIT One Affinity room balloons

If you haven’t heard of SUMMIT One, it is the newest observation deck in New York City featuring multiple levels and rooms. It is best known for its mirror rooms as well as the room full of balloons.

The entire space is stroller friendly and the balloon room is of course the favorite part for any kids. If you have to choose one observation deck to visit in New York City with kids this is the one!

You can read my detailed guide on visiting SUMMIT One Vanderbilt.

Lightscape at Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Dates: Mid November to early January
Opening Time: 5 – 8:30pm
Price: $34 for adults, $18 for children (3-12), free for children under 3

Not a fan of animals? No problem! The beautiful Brooklyn Botanic Garden has its own after-dark illuminated event called Lightscape. It’s a trail full of beautiful LED lights with holiday music. You may recognize the light tunnel that’s all over instagram, but there are also lots of other beautiful displays that your whole family can enjoy.

Tickets needs to be purchased in advance for a designated time slot. You will have 15 minutes to enter during your time slot. Kids under 3 can enter for free.

Visit other light festivals and displays

If you don’t think New York has enough illuminated holiday displays already at Brooklyn Botanic or the Bronx Zoo or the New York Botanic Garden, let me give you two more options in Queens, Staten Island and Long Island.

LuminoCity

Date: Nov 12 – Jan 9
Time: 4:30 – 8:30pm
Location: Whitney Pond Park, Long Island
Price: $38 for adults, $27 for kids (3-12), free for kids under 3

LuminoCity is a winter pop up festival featuring luminescent cultures. It’s an immersive outdoor holiday experience with light sculptures and art installations. There are light tunnels, animal figures, and plenty of photo opportunities for the entire family. For those who are based in Queens or Long Island that don’t want to travel far, this may be the perfect winter evening event for you and your little ones.

Winter Lantern Festival

The Winter Lantern Festival is not one but THREE separate events in Long Island, Queens and Staten Island. Most of the events happen between end of October to January 9th. The unique thing about the Winter lantern festival is that there is a drive through option in Long Island. You don’t even need to get out of the car in the cold to enjoy the festivity.

The one in Queens is at the Queens County Farm, which features festive holiday lights and handmade lanterns that look like flowers, tractors and farm animals.

You can purchase tickets in advance online on the official website above.

Santaland at Macy’s

Dates: Nov 26 to Christmas Eve
Opening time: 7am to 9pm (depends on the date)
Price: free but reservation required

Every year Macy’s flagship store at Herald Square offers the opportunity for families to take photo with Santa Claus between end of Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve. You don’t only get to take photos with Santa but can also enjoy the magical holiday decorations at Santaland with your little ones on the 8th floor of Macy’s. There will also be Santa souvenirs for sale.

Admission to Santaland is free. There are professional photos available for purchase but it’s not required.

Time slots range from 10am to 8:30pm and you can book 5 days in advance starting at 6:30am local time. If your child has specific vision of what Santa looks like, you can request that during your reservation.

Read my complete guide to Macy’s Santaland so you know what to expect.

Ice skating with Santa at Brookfield Place

Dates: Dec 4 to Dec 18
Opening Time: 10:15am – 3pm
Price: $17 for each skating session (1 hour) + $5 for Skate rental

Inside of Brookfield Place

Want to ice skate with Santa? Look no further than the Rink at Brookfield Place in the Financial District. For limited time in December on the weekend, Santa will be on the ice skating with you + having solo performances at the Rink.

There are also free hot chocolate during the event. Be sure to sign up ahead of time to skate with Santa.

While you are at Brookfield Place, be sure to check out the luminaries (colorful lanterns) from the end of November to early January.

Enjoy other outdoor Ice Skating Rinks in NYC

Dates: Mid November to January

Aside from ice skating with Santa at Brookfield Mall, there are a number of other fantastic outdoor ice skating rinks during the holiday season in New York City.

If you are looking for a free rink, then you have to head to Bryant Park’s Winter Village. This rink is completely free but you have to pay for rentals and storage (you can also bring your own skates). You need to reserve a time slot online ahead of time.

Christmas in New york Bryant Park Ice Skating Rink

Other ice skating rinks that are popular in Manhattan are the Wollman Rink at Central Park ($14 for adults, $6 for kids 11 and younger) and the rink at Rockefeller Center (open till midnight, starting at $20 for 6 year old+, $8 for children 5 and under) . Pier 17 used to have an outdoor ice rink but currently it’s on hiatus, perhaps it will be back next winter!

Rockefeller-Ice-Skating-Rink
Rockefeller Rink
Central park ice skating rink
Central Park

Starting in 2021, a new outdoor rink opened near Hudson Yards called One Manhattan West. You have one hour skating sessions at this rink and there are private and semi-private skating lessons. Price is $20 per adult and $5 for rentals.

Afternoon Tea with Santa Claus at the Plaza

Dates: End of November to Christmas Eve (on Sundays)
Time: 4pm to 7pm (9-10am on Dec 19 and 24th)
Website: https://www.theplazany.com/holidays-at-the-plaza/

Plaza hotel NYC christmas tree

Fancy having afternoon tea with Santa? Now this dream can come true at the Plaza hotel in New York. From end of November to Christmas Eve on selected Sundays, you will have an opportunity to have afternoon tea with Santa in the Palm Court.

There are also story time with Santa for hotel guests only at the Plaza. In addition, there are many other events at the Plaza during this festive time. Even if you don’t participate in any of these events, the Plaza is super festive with lovely Christmas decorations throughout the hotel.

Holiday Time in Paleyland (Photo with Santa)

Dates: Dec 4 to January 6
Location: 25 W 52nd St. New York, NY 10019
Price: $20 for non-members ($10 extra for photo with Santa); free for members and children 12 and under

The Paley Center for Media is a nonprofit organization located in midtown Manhattan. It was formerly known as the Museum of Televion & radio and the Museum of Broadcasting.

During the winter holiday season, the Paley Center is transformed into a winter wonderland called Paleyland featuring a number of festivities such as Photo with Santa Claus, holiday character meet-and-greets, gaming stations, screening, Christmas carols, etc.

For more information on the schedule and activity calendar, see the official website.

After visiting Santa, be sure to go to the 7th floor of Macy’s to check out the large Toys R Us store. There is a play area with slides and New York City Yellow Taxi kids can ride in and there are tons of sample toys kids can play with!

Catch a show at Radio City

Dates: Early November to Jan 2
Time: 3-4 shows a day in December (1 show a day in November)
Price: $45 – $600 depends on the date and time and seats

The Radio City Christmas Spectacular show is the symbol of Christmas in New York City with almost a century of history. The 90 minute show features more than 100 performers with singing, dancing and holiday decorations.

Tickets should be purchased in advance online.

Visit a Christmas Market with Kids in NYC

Every winter a number of holiday markets pop up all over New York City. These markets offer souvenirs, toys, arts and crafts, holiday decorations, jewelry, clothings, and hot chocolate and other food. It’s always a nice family friendly activity to walk around these holiday markets and enjoy the holiday spirit.

Christmas Markets in NYC at Columbus Circle

For more details on these holiday markets, check out my blog on what to eat and buy at Bryant Park Winter Village and Union Square Holiday Market. Alternatively if you don’t want to have to navigate the city by yourself, take a Christmas market walking tour!

Top-Christmas-Markets-in-Manhattan NYC

Book a holiday movie site bus tour in NYC

Time: 6pm
Length: 2.5 hours
Price: $58 for adults, free for children under 6

Love holiday movies? Don’t miss the holiday movie site bus tour in New York! Regardless of how cold it is outside, you can experience a festive light and movie site bus tour to see places where some of the most famous holiday movies are filmed.

Some of the highlights includes:

  • Rockefeller center where Macaulay Culkin reunited with his mom in “Home Alone 2”
  • Holiday windows at Macy’s from “Miracle on 34th Street”
  • Learn where Bill Murray found out his taxi driver was the Ghost of Christmas Past in “Scrooged”
  • See the apartment where Buddy the Elf stays with his dad in Elf

Marvel at the Christmas Decorations in Dyker Heights

Dyker Heights Christmas decorations

Dyker Heights is known to have lavish Christmas lights displays and it’s a super instagrammable place NYC during the holidays. The best places to check out the Christmas displays at Dyker Heights are located between 11th to 13th Avenue from 83rd to 86th street.

Dyker Heights is quite far from public transportation so research beforehand for the best way to get there. If you want to visit without worrying about driving or taking the public transit, then this is the perfect tour for you.

But you can totally visit Dyker Heights without a tour. Be sure to read my complete guide on what to see and how to get to Dyker Heights on the subway.

The best time to visit Dyker Heights is mid December when all the lights are up. If you visit earlier than that you may not see all the lights and decorations.

Visit the Gingerbread Lane at Long Island Children’s Museum

Dates: Black Friday to Jan 2
Opening time: 10am – 3pm (10am – 5pm on the weekend)
Price: $14 per person
Other Restrictions: adults will not be permitted in the museum without children; Masks required for anyone aged 24 months+

GingerBread Lane is a seasonal displace of handmade gingerbread village. There are nearly 700 gingerbread houses and storefronts on display and they will include Long Island landmarks. The exhibit also features an interactive house complete with a cooking area for children to practice “mixing, baking and decorating”. If your child has a sweet tooth, they would love this exhibit.

Tips on Getting Around NYC In the Winter with Kids

If you are visiting New York City with kids this winter, there are a few tips to help you get around easily with kids!

  • Bring an umbrella stroller instead of a full size one. You don’t need that Uppababy Vista stroller in New York City! If you are planning to take the bus or subway, that full size stroller is really a pain to get up and down the stairs. Instead, bring a foldable lightweight stroller!
  • If you do take the subway, you should absolutely use Google Maps or City Mapper app to get around. The subway seems intimidating but it’s actually pretty easy as long as you follow directions and knows how to read the signs. It’s a good way to get around with kids since you can just bring the strollers on the subway
  • If you absolutely do not want to take the subway, I would recommend getting a yellow taxi to get around with kids in NYC. Yellow Taxis do not legally require a child carseat, so you don’t have to carry around 1 or 2 carseats all the time.

Read Next: What to Wear and Pack for Winter in NYC

Best Hotels to Stay with Kids in NYC

New York City hotels are notorious for being expensive and small, so if you are traveling with kids you probably will be spending more energy trying to get a good hotel with larger room.

I have a few hotel recommendations for families traveling to New York City with kids.

  • Fifty Sonesta: located on a quiet street near Grand Central in midtown East, Fifty Sonesta is known for its larger rooms and friendly staff. People especially loved the kitchenette in the room.
  • Hilton Midtown: Located only a few blocks from Central Park and Times Square, the Hilton Midtown is known for its view of the city and large rooms; in fact it is one of the largest hotels in New York City.
  • Radio City Apartments: Pretty much next door to Rockefeller Center and a few blocks from Times Square, Radio City Apartments offers suites so you can stay in separate rooms from your kids! There is also a small kitchenette in case you want to heat up food.

Additional NYC Resources

If you want to check out other cool things to do and see in NYC here are some other articles that may interest you!