Having lived in NYC and experienced the city in all 4 seasons, I can definitely say that winter is the most magical season in the city. I have loved visiting the city in all seasons, but in winter, especially around the holidays, there are so many unique things to see and do. In the winter in NYC, I often feel like I’m part of a famous Christmas movie or starring in (my favorite Christmas movie of all time) Elf. Even though the weather is quite cold in the winter, I think that there is so much charm throughout the entire winter season. NYC in December is magical.
If you’ve never been to NYC or are visiting for the millionth time, winter is definitely the time of year in which you should visit.
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*****Everything in this article is my personal opinion and experiences. Check your own resources and choose to do anything I discuss at your own risk. Some of the things in this post may be dangerous and not recommended for every body.
Planning Your Trip to NYC in December
First thing to decide when planning your trip to the city is how long to stay. NYC can be expensive when you take into consideration all of the accommodations, food, and activities, so budget can definitely play a part in deciding how long to stay. Planning the length of your trip also depends if you’ve been to the city before or have never visited before. If it is your first time to the city, there are so many things to see!
If you have been before and are coming to mainly do holiday-related activities like I mention in this post, I think a solid 3 days is a great amount of time for a December trip. This would give you enough time to see all of the holiday things and experience a little NYC magic.
How to get to NYC
There are many ways to get to NYC. I would recommend against driving if you have other options. Driving into the city can be VERY expensive and difficult to do. Traffic in the city can be wild and parking can be near impossible, especially in the midtown and downtown areas where you will likely be staying. Depending on your location, flying into JFK Airport or taking the train either to Grand Central Station or Penn Station are other great options.
If you are driving to the city, you can park your car outside the city in New Jersey and take a train into the city. Many areas nearby train stations that have trains that go into the city have parking garages nearby with much cheaper parking than in the city. (Parking in the city can cost upwards of $100 a day!)
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Where to Stay in NYC in December
There are many awesome parts of the city to stay in. However, each part of the city is very different and will have different lodging offerings for you.
If you plan on visiting most of the holiday locations mentioned in this post, I recommend staying in Midtown or near to Times Square. Most of the main holiday activities are located in between 34th St and Central Park 58th St, so I would recommend staying anywhere in between these streets. Staying near Times Square would be best if possible, but often times hotels in this area can be expensive, so it just depends what is in your budget.
There are so many different hotels depending on your budget and amenities needed. Booking.com and Google Hotels are both super helpful in finding cheap and safe lodging in the city. I prefer using Booking.com to book accommodation because there are often many reviews, options, and free cancellation.
10 Things you Must See in NYC in December
1. Bryant Park Winter Market
In Bryant Park, only a few blocks from Times Square and up against the New York Public Library is Bryant Park. Throughout the year, Bryant Park is a haven for locals and tourists alike. In the winter months, Bryant Park turns into a holiday haven. In the winter months there is a holiday market located in part of Bryant Park. Here you can find all types of unique and cute gifts either as souvenirs or gifts for family and friends.
2. Ice Skating
There are several options for ice skating in NYC in the winter, but my personal favorite is Bryant Park. Bryant Park has ice skating usually running from the end of the October to the beginning of March. Bryant Park is technically free to ice skate if you bring your own skates. But no worries if you don’t have ice skates! There are ice skate rentals available for a variable price depending on the time of day you visit.
What I love about ice skating at Bryant Park is that it is in the heart of all the holiday vibes— the ice rink is right in between the Bryant Park Christmas Market and the giant New York Public Library. There is always holiday music playing and Christmas decorations all around. It is absolutely gorgeous and every time we have went, I have felt like I was in a Hallmark Christmas Movie.
Reservations for ice skating at Bryant Park can be made on the NYC parks website.
3. Rockefeller Tree
The Rockefeller Tree is an absolute must see if you will be in NYC in the month of December. The tree tradition of the Rockefeller Tree began in 1931 and there has been a tree every Christmas since! A unique tree usually arrives mid-November and is lit in early December, remaining until after the turn of the New Year. The famous tree is always ginormous and usually has around 5 miles of colorful Christmas lights covering it! There is Christmas music playing all around and people ice skating below the tree. It makes for such a magical moment and is one of my favorite things to see at Christmas time in NYC.
4. Giant Christmas Ornaments around the Rockefeller Center
Near to Radio City and National Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Plaza, there are giant Christmas Bulbs and Lights displayed in front of some of the buildings. There is not much to do here as these are more things to just see, but it is definitely cool to see! I’ve never seen Christmas ornaments so big!
5. Hudson Yards
Hudson Yards is an area, not too far from Times Square, that has so much to see. At Hudson Yards, you can find The Vessel, which is giant piece of public art that is made of shiny copper-colored metal. It is reflective and beautiful. In the winter, Hudson Yards is decorated with millions of golden twinkly lights. The lights reflect off of The Vessel, making it illuminate and appear to glitter. The Hudson Yards Mall is also filled with golden twinkly lights which makes it feel magical just walking through all of the stores. The Edge, one of NYC’s newest observation decks, is also located in the Hudson Yards area. It is a great area that has a lot to offer, especially around the holidays.
6. Times Square
While Times Square is alive throughout the entire year, I feel that its a little more magical in the winter. December is so dark with very few hours of daylight, so its always nice to stop by Times Square and bask in the giant lights with advertisements themed for the holidays. You can also see the ball that will drop at New Years that is televised for the world to see. Times Square is only worth seeing when it is dark outside, so make sure you try to visit it sometime after 5 in the evening to have the full effect.
7. Union Square Holiday Market
At Union Square, you can find another Holiday Market in the winter months. The holiday market at Union Square is usually open around mid-November until Christmas. In 2021, it will open on November 18 and close on December 24. In the Union Square area, you can also pop into The Strand Bookstore, which is a NYC classic sporting 2.5 MILLION books.
8. Macy’s at 34th Street
Another classic place to stop at during the holidays in NYC is Macy’s flagship store at 34th St. This Macy’s is featured in many classic Christmas movies, including Elf. Outside of the Macy’s they always have exquisite holiday window displays with dazzling plots and moving components. Inside Macy’s you will find a wide array of holiday decorates and beautifully designed holidays chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. On the 8th floor, there is a Christmas Village and kids can visit Santa at Santaland.
Insider tip: Macy’s is a great place to go inside and browse if its cold outside. They also have free bathrooms, which if you’re in the city for long, you know free bathrooms are hard to come by.
9. FAO Schwartz
FAO Schwartz is a major toy store that is over 150 years old! It is a classic. I included it in things to do around the holidays because it is featured or alluded to in several Christmas movies. In the Christmas movie Home Alone 2, when the boy Kevin is lost in New York City, he visits Duncan’s Toy Chest, which is a fictional store inspired by FAO Schwartz. Around the holidays, there are a lot of beautiful displays and is in a similar area to many of the places on this list.
10. Radio City Rockettes
While I’ve never actually been to ta Rockettes show myself, it is one of those classic Christmas things to do. The shows are a bit expensive, so if you don’t want to actually see a show, you can still walk outside and see the giant Radio City Neon sign. The corner with the giant Radio City sign is super close to Rockefeller Center, so if you plan on visiting the Rockefeller Tree, it’s hard to miss.
There are so many things to see in NYC in December, but these are some of my very favorite! What do you think? Is there any place I missed? Let me know in the comments down below!
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