Christmas in New York: A Travel Guide
Reading time: 8 Minutes
November 24th, 2023
As arguably the cultural, commercial, and entertainment capital of the world, there's never a shortage of things to do and places to visit in New York City. Especially during the holiday season, when snow begins to fall, skating rinks start popping up around town, and there are even more lights than usual on display outside homes and businesses. New York City can be magical this time of year, and an NYC Christmas is like no other.
But if the idea of navigating a city of more than 8 million people seems daunting, don't worry. Here's a quick guide to some of the biggest must-visit holiday experiences for an unforgettable Christmas in New York.
1. The Rockefeller Christmas Tree
Since 1933, a massive Norway spruce (usually between 69 and 100 feet tall) has been placed annually at Rockefeller Center® in Midtown Manhattan. Adorned with roughly 50,000 multicolored LED lights and a Swarovski crystal star that weighs 900 pounds and is worth more than $1.5 million dollars, the Rockerfeller Christmas Tree becomes the pride of New York during December and the unofficial center of holiday celebrations in the city, attracting an estimated 125 million people each year. If you're in the city the Wednesday after Thanksgiving, don't miss a special lighting ceremony for the tree followed by live entertainment. But don't worry if you miss it; there are a variety of festive events and activities held around the tree throughout the month, such as ice skating around The Rink at Rockefeller Center.
2. The Radio City Christmas Spectacular
New York City's Radio City Music Hall® is the largest indoor theatre in the world (the marquee alone spans an entire city block) and each year during the holidays, the Rockettes dance troupe presents a musical stage show celebrating the season. The Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes is a 90-minute show that features more than 140 performers and combines singing, dancing, and humorous scenes with an original musical score. Since the Christmas Spectacular's debut in 1933, it has become a Christmas tradition in New York City.
3. Macy's Santaland
During the holidays, Macy's® in New York City may be best known for their annual Thanksgiving Day Parade. But step inside the department store's flagship location at Herald Square the day after Thanksgiving and you'll be transported to Santaland, a 13,000-square-foot Christmas village complete with immersive holiday scenes, fake snow, giant toy soldiers, puppet theatre, model train sets, and decorated trees. Here, families can take a photo with Santa Claus and his elves, a tradition that dates back to 1861 and made famous by the film Miracle on 34th Street. It's free to explore Santaland, although reservations are required and photos with Santa are available for purchase.
4. The Nutcracker Ballet
You may have seen performances of The Nutcracker or heard songs from the famous score by the composer Tchaikovsky. But you've likely never experienced George Balanchine's The Nutcracker®, which stars 90 dancers, 62 musicians, and more than 125 children in one of the most complex staged ballets in the country. Held annually at Lincoln Center—home to the New York Philharmonic, the Metropolitan Opera, the New York City Ballet, and Juilliard School—the New York Nutcracker is a theatrical marvel, featuring a Christmas tree that grows from 12 feet to 41 feet tall (and weighs a literal ton) and the 9-foot wide, 85-pound comic figure of Mother Ginger that requires handling by three people. Not to mention the roughly 200 pounds of paper “snow" used to create a blizzard on stage for each show.
5. Union Square Christmas Market
More than 100 booths operated by local craftspeople and artists fill Manhattan's Union Square Park for its alfresco holiday market each year. Vendors offer everything from handcrafted gifts, such as jewelry, home goods, and artwork, as well as freshly baked snacks, chocolates, candies, and other seasonal offerings.
6. Brooklyn's Dyker Heights
In the historic Dyker Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn—where many of the area's opulent, 100-plus-year-old houses have at least two or three floors—homeowners have become known for seriously getting into the spirit of the season: More or less this entire community covers their residences in the brightest and most lavish holiday decorations imaginable, from life-size Santas and sleighs on rooftops to an army of snowmen and nutcrackers on lawns. Visitors of all ages flock to Brooklyn each season to wander down the various blocks and take it all in.
7. New York Botanical Garden's Holiday Train Show
The New York Botanical Garden hosts a holiday train show where model trains navigate through a half-mile of track that weaves its way across a miniature New York City. More than 175 landmarks, including the Statue of Liberty, Rockefeller Center, and the Brooklyn Bridge, have been painstakingly recreated out of natural materials, such as tree bark, pine cones, acorns, leaves, and twigs. This Bronx attraction may be the quickest way to see all of the Big Apple—at least, a miniature-sized one.
8. Fifth Avenue Window Displays
Similar to seeing the Rockefeller Christmas Tree, no visit to New York City during Christmastime is complete without a trip down 5th Avenue to view the department store windows that are decorated with elaborate seasonal installations. This holiday custom dates back to the early 20th century, when retail stores decked out their window displays to lure shoppers into their stores instead of competitors'. Today, there's no shortage of customers stepping into major 5th Avenue department chains, yet the tradition lives on; nearly 10,000 people will pass by a department store window on 5th Avenue every day during the holidays and each store will spend months designing that year's display. From moving animatronics to interactive video projections, the department store windows on 5th Avenue are not to be missed.
Whether you prefer the hustle and bustle of 5th Avenue, the extravagant theatricality of Christmas shows and ballets, or the solemn grandeur of regal homes dressed to the nines in festive lights, New York during Christmastime has something for everyone. Use this guide to some of the city's biggest holiday attractions to help plan your next memorable trip to the Big Apple. And, there's no need to wait to start planning! Your everyday purchases can help you earn HawaiianMiles® faster than ever. With the Hawaiian Airlines® Bank of Hawaii World Elite Mastercard® or the Bankoh Hawaiian Airlines® Visa® Debit Card, every purchase earns you HawaiianMiles—which never expire. Let's make that dream holiday trip a reality!
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