Ah, The Big Apple. The famous city that never sleeps. Which is good news for you, as it means theres an endless list of things to do in New York City in December! From iceskating, to site seeing, to casually eating your bodyweight in delicious American snacks (which explains why my jeans fit more snug on the way home, than they did on the way out!)
On a serious note, spending Christmas in NYC really is something special. It actually feels as-though you’ve stepped foot inside all your favourite Christmas films. The ones that you rewatch every single year without fail.
Holiday magic and Christmas cheer can be found on every corner. You’ll see traditional Christmas markets and dazzling light displays as far as the eyes can see. Which means New York City has to be one of the most magical places to spend the holidays!
With that said, heres my list of things to do in NYC during December (but some can be done no matter the season).
In this article...
1. Take a trip around New York City on ‘The Ride’
Our friends recommended this to us, and we’re so glad they did.
The Ride is a highly entertaining and interactive coach trip, which takes you around some of the touristy hotspots of New York City. Don’t picture a fuddy-duddy coach tour though. This one is far from the norm.
Let me explain.
Firstly, all the bog-standard twin coach seats have been removed (they just wouldn’t work for this experience- bear with, it’ll all make sense soon) The new layout is a cinema sort of configuration. Picture a coach, with three long rows of seats; assembled in tiers, all facing a large window which stretches the entire length of the bus.
Told you this wasn’t your average Joe bus tour.
Inside they have colourful lights, loud music, and the tour guides get everyone clapping & joining in with the songs. The lyrics are displayed on nifty little karaoke screens, all dotted around the coach too.
One moment the tour guides will be telling you some facts about the city. Then, the next thing you know, people on the street (who are mic’d up and are part of the ride) start doing little performances in amongst the crowds of people. I loved how passers-by didn’t even bat an eyelid at what was happening, I guess they have become accustomed to it!
There were break dancers, singers, and actors chucked into the mix. It’s good light-hearted entertainment & we had such a chuckle on this!
It’s quite hard to explain the ride, as it’s so unusual. But we gave it a 10/10 for something a little different to do.
It was also a good thing to do on our first morning in New York. We got to gain our bearings a little, and relax from our previous day of travelling here from the UK.
See & book available tickets here.
2. Walk over the iconic Brooklyn Bridge
This is a classic thing to do in NYC.
Probably one of the most iconic bridges in the world, and for good reason.
The views back across the city are absolutely stunning. There must have been something happening the day we ventured over Brooklyn Bridge, as It was the polar opposite of what i’d seen online. We certainly didn’t get the bridge all to ourselves, instead, we shimmied along with hundreds of others. Not that it mattered. I Just thought i’d mention it, as not everything is as it seems in those little Instagram squares.
It’s free to cross Brooklyn Bridge and you could spend quite some time up here admiring the towering buildings of New York. The pedestrian part of the bridge is higher than the road, so you can also look down and see all the beefy American cars driving by beneath you.
We took a photo perched up on the side of the bridge. Just be careful, some people were worrying more about getting the perfect Instagram shot than their own safety!
If it’s busy like it was when we went, do not walk in the cycle lane. Cyclists were getting rather lairy, shouting at people who were walking in the bike lane.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you!
3. Have a stroll around DUMBO
Once you’ve walked over the iconic Brooklyn bridge, you’ll find yourself in DUMBO.
DUMBO actually stands for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass, who knew!
We took a photo on Washington Street where you can see the impressive Manhattan Bridge peeping through in the background. This was definitely an Instagram hotspot, with numerous people queuing up for the exact same shot.
Whilst in the area, we walked around the corner into Time Out Market, grabbing the cheesiest mac ‘n’ cheese we’ve ever eaten. It must have been made with an entire ball of mozzarella, as it was extremely oozy and scrumptious.
This was a really unique place to stop for a bite to eat. Inside there are a whopping 21 different cuisine options, all of which have been hand-picked and personally taste tasted by local foodie experts. Their aim was to bring all the best bites of New York together in one big open plan room.
Just join the queue of the stand which takes your fancy and place your order. You’ll be given a little buzzer which will start flashing and vibrating once it’s ready to go and collect your food.
4. Take a ride on Jane’s Carousel
In the DUMBO area of Brooklyn Bridge Park, you’ll find the beautiful, Janes Carousel.
Situated near the riverbank, the merry-go-round is housed inside a pretty glass pavilion to keep it protected, and operational all throughout the year. This antique carousel was first built 100 years ago in 1922, and has undergone decades of refurbishments to lovingly restore it back to its former glory. Even though it was mostly children riding, it’s actually available for adults too. So, we bought ourselves a $2 ticket each, and hopped on one of the 48 intricately carved wooden horses.
Our ride was at dusk and the twinkly views back across the river were magical.
You can actually hire Jane’s Carousel for marriage proposals too! So, if you’re reading this and thinking about popping the question…
5. Head up the Empire State Building in NYC
During the 1930’s the Empire state building was the tallest building in the world, and quickly became a buzzing tourist attraction. It’s popularity certainly hasn’t changed over the last 90 years!
We went up the Empire State Building on Christmas Eve and understandably it was incredibly busy that night. The queue was spilling out down the street, once inside there wasn’t much room to move either. We were all shoulder to shoulder weaving our way through the building. I don’t imagine it’s always as busy as this, I think we just picked a really popular time to go. It was Christmas Eve after all.
The breath-taking view at the top was worth wriggling your way through though. It was a very magical & special place to spend Christmas Eve together, and we loved soaking in the glittering lights of New York City below.
Plus, when you come back down on the escalator, you’ll feel like you’re in a scene from one of the Home Alone movies.
6. Admire the Vessel
The 46-Meter-high Vessel first opened in March 2019, so it was fairly new when we visited that December. The Vessel is an interactive artwork structure that’s situated in Hudson’s Yard. Offering impressive 360-degree views of the city from varying heights. Once inside, you can walk along the interconnecting flights of stairs and soak in the vistas from a selection of 80 landings. It was a really unique place to explore.
Sadly, due to increased suicides happening here, they had to close the vessels doors in 2021. You’re no longer allowed to walk up it, but you can still admire its beauty from the ground. Let’s hope they can figure out a way to open it safely again in the future.
7. See the bright lights of Times Square
Even if you’re not interested in Times Square, you have to go just to experience it!
Yes, it’s crazy busy and at times you’re packed in like sardines. But the mental amount of brightly lit digital billboards and lights looks astonishing at night. It’s still an impressive place to visit during the day. However, I recommend saving this trip for once the sun has set. That’s when times square really comes alive.
Word of warning, watch out for the people dressed up as Disney characters, they will try and jump into your selfies and then demand money. Also, if you stand to watch the street dancers, be prepared. They will come around asking everyone in the crowd for donations. When we were there, they were asking for $20 from every single person.
As it is so busy here, keep your wits about you, embrace the New York City madness and enjoy the Times Square experience.
8. Soak in the views from The Top Of The Rock
Going up the Top of the Rock was probably my favourite New York City experience. We went up during the day, as we planned to do The Empire State Building at night. That way we got to experience aerial views of New York during different times of the day. That worked well, and I recommend doing the same if possible.
You’ll take the lift up to the observation deck, which travels up 850 feet in under a minute! Make sure you look up as they play a little elevator show for you to enjoy on route!
There are 360-degree views from the 3 spacious observation decks. Look south and there are breath-taking views of the city. You’ll be able to see the Empire State Building, one world trade and even as far down as the statue of Liberty. Look out north, and you’ll have a fantastic view of central park and beyond.
It was a beautifully sunny winters day, and we could see for miles up here. I also liked that there are multiple viewing platforms, so it never felt crowded as everyone could spread out.
You also get chance to recreate your own iconic beam photo. You know the famous photo of the construction workers dangling high above the city on their lunch break. We don’t usually get suckered into these overpriced photo opportunities, but for some reason they caught us, and we bought it. I blame the jetlag, but It’s a fun memento, I guess!
9. Glide along the ice at Central Park Ice-Rink
We didn’t end up going ice skating, but we did go and see Central Park ice-rink in all its festive grandeur. The Central Park ice-rink is huge, and it looked extremely impressive with a backdrop packed full of skyscrapers. Everyone was having such a lovely time gliding majestically along the ice, we did witness a few Bambi’s though!
There were a few little food stalls near the ice-rink which we took full advantage of. We warmed our bones with a delicious hot chocolate to go, and enjoyed sipping it on our mooch around chilly central park. Central Park is so much bigger than i had imagined. If you want to try and see lots of it, then I recommend hiring a bicycle to help you get around quicker.
If we make it to New York again, we will definitely make time for a spin on central park ice-rink.
10. Watch the Saks light show
Saks 5th avenue light show is just around the corner from the Rockerfeller center. So ideally, it’s worth doing these two activities on the same day.
The entire front of the building glows and dances with thousands, and I mean thousands of coloured LED lights telling a story. The impressive performance is synchronized to music and is something incredibly special to watch from the pavement.
The light show lasts 3-4 minutes and is repeated every 10 minutes. So, if you miss it, you won’t have to wait too long for the next viewing to start. Plus its something free you can do at Christmas time in NYC.
11. Visit the 9/11 memorial
The 9/11 memorial is such a somber place to visit. It’s hard to envision the vast scale of the twin towers until you’re stood at Ground Zero. Only then do you begin to appreciate the sheer size of their skyscrapers. The 9/11 memorial sits in the footprints of the former twin towers and consists of two pools, each nearly an acre in size. Both have a double waterfall and are encased with all 2,983 names of the people who were killed in 9/11 and the terrorist attack of 1993. The names include people who lost their life in the towers, the first responders, and the people who were on the hijacked planes.
There were lots of beautiful yellow roses popping out of some of the names. I believe this is for the veterans, and white roses for anyone who should have been celebrating their birthday.
The waterfalls help to make the space feel quite tranquil, but it’s certainly a very emotional place to visit knowing so many people sadly lost their lives here.
12. Explore the 9/11 Museum
Right beside the 9/11 memorial is the 9/11 museum. Here you’ll descend down underground into the cavity of the former twin towers site.
The museum is immensely moving. Even when it’s full of visitors, it’s remains almost silent inside with an indescribable feeling surrounding it.
Inside, there is a huge portion of the north tower slurry wall. A concrete wall that was built to hold back the close by Hudson River. Remarkably it remained in tacked after the 9/11 attack.
At one point, you’ll walk down some steps which sit right beside the original World Trade Center staircase. Luckily, this staircase helped hundreds of people flee to safety, as it remained an unobstructed exit. It’s known as the survivor stairs, and there is a photo at the bottom which shows what it once looked like.
There are rooms full of missing people photos, along with items of belongings which were later found in the wreckage. One room plays the heart-breaking voicemails of people trapped inside the twin towers to their loved ones. Along with the distressed last-minute voicemails of people on the hijacked planes. It’s painfully upsetting and will make you feel choked up.
The museum is full of artefacts, that you’ll want to allow a few hours to explore this place. I’d recommend having some tissues at the ready too.
13. Get festive at Bryant Park Christmas Markets
Is it even Christmas if you’ve not gone to a Christmas market? There are a few different ones dotted around New York City, but we went to the one at Bryant Park. It’s called Bryant Park Winter Village, and is open from late October till early March.
Instead of the traditional wooden huts, Bryant Park Winter Village has 170 little glass holiday shops. They all looked so pretty lit up at night, giving off a soft glow.
Not only can you purchase some beautifully handmade trinkets & jewellery from local artisans here. There is also a 17,000 square foot ice rink, which is free to use if you bring your own skates. Rather unlikely if you’ve flown here, so they are available to hire for a small fee too.
Although not as impressive as the Rockerfeller tree. Bryant Park has a stunning Christmas tree of its own which was wrapped up in blue & red lights. We bought a S’mores chimney cake from Stackery (one of the food stalls here) and enjoyed tucking into this marshmallow & Hersheys delight, right beside the twinkling Christmas tree.
A fine example of ‘eat your bodyweight in delicious American snacks’…
14. Be impressed by New York’s Rockefeller Christmas Tree
The biggest, most spectacular Christmas tree I’ve ever seen in my life. In 2019, the year we visited, the Rockefeller tree was a whopping 77 foot tall, and came from Florida, New York. The Norway spruce was wrapped in over 50,000 LED lights, and topped with the beautiful 900lb Swarovski crystal star.
This is also another place to do some ice-skating if you fancy. Don’t sit on the wall though, I got told off by the security man!
15. Have fun at Dyker Heights in December
This was on our list of things to do, upsettingly though we ran out of time to squeeze this one in.
Dyker Heights is in the southwest corner of Brooklyn. It’s about a 40 minute drive out of Manhattan, and is the ideal place to go if you enjoy extravagant Christmas light displays. We’re talking really extravagant displays, where every inch of your house and front lawn is covered!
This residential neighbourhood decks their houses out with a ridiculous number of lights, life size light up statues and all things festive. The photo’s of Dyker Heights look brilliant, and I’d love to make it there one day.
16. Walk along the New York City High Line
The New York City Highline is a beautiful public park/walkway that’s been converted from an old derelict railway line.
A long time ago this freight railway line was street level. Sadly, this caused lots of deaths, soon gaining the grim nickname ‘death avenue’. In 1924 they set out to remove the tracks and build a safer, elevated railway line instead. This new track cleverly cut directly through some of the buildings, making produce deliveries to the area incredibly efficient.
Over time the need for rail produce delivery dwindled. Parts of the highline were demolished during the 60’s and by the 80’s it wasn’t used at all. Sure enough the railway line became a derelict eyesore to some.
It wasn’t until 2009 that the first part of the highline was converted into what it is today. Now you can enjoy strolling the continuous 1.45-mile-long track that’s home to more than 500 species of plants. It’s a fabulous walk that changes design every time you enter a different zone. One section takes you to where trains once delivered flour to the National Biscuit Company building. That is where the good ‘ole Oreo cookie was invented!
17. Be impressed by Grand Central Terminal
Grand central terminal has the most beautiful gold celestial ceiling art, so don’t forget to look up when you walk inside. If you’re not rushing to catch a train, you can enjoy taking your time to walk around and admire all the detailed architecture this place has to offer. Make sure you take a look at the famous four-faced opal clock too.
I didn’t even know this when we visited, but there are 65 shops/stalls and 35 restaurants in here. Providing plenty of options to keep you occupied and a chance to warm up from the cold streets of New York City.
There is so much happening in this busy city that you wont be stuck with nothing to do over Christmas. We had such a fun festive time during out trip when we stayed at Hotel Hendricks.
I hope my list of 17 things to do has given you some ideas on how to spend December or Christmas in New York City. Remember to wrap up nice and warm, it’s pretty chilly!
Whats your favourite thing to do here in December?
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