The season of the towering tree aglow with lights, the merry Santa that rolling into town on Thanksgiving, and the streets bustling with shoppers is upon us. Every year the magic of a New York City Christmas is brought to life in countless movies, books, and shows. It is a magical time to see any spot but New York is one of those special cities that everyone should see at least once.
Like most parts of the world, this is the season for joy and lights and twinkle on every corner and New York City is no exception.
We have been lucky enough to spend two holiday season in New York City for the holidays and the biggest problem is always narrowing down what to do.
If you are visiting for the first time then there are some things families must do in New York City but below are my holiday musts. You will probably notice that things like the Nutcracker (of which there are dozens of performances), the Rockettes, and several other traditional New York holiday spectaculars are not on the list.
This list is intended for families of children with young kids. These are things that I have personally done with 3 year olds and would work for most 2 and up kids.
5 New York City Christmas Events for Families with Young Kids
1. Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center
The tree is impressive to anyone, but especially for a small child. It’s grand scale towers above the center and everyone below. All of the decorations around this part of Manhattan are fun and exciting to explore for little ones. Take some time to see it through their eyes.
You can certainly watch the tree lighting on November 30 but be prepared for huge crowds. If you are visiting with young kids and want to see it lit up, note that it is lit every night after November 30 until January 7.
2. Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
While yes, not exactly Christmas – in my house growing up Santa arriving at Herald Square is what kicked off the Christmas season. It is the starting point.
If you are in New York City around this time of year with young children, it is not to be missed. We got super lucky and ended up with warm-ish weather and a beautiful sunny sky for our day at the parade. The Macy’s Parade is something worth seeing in person at least once.
3. New York Botanical Gardens Holiday Train Show
This is not just an holiday train display. The details were astounding. The grand scale of the show was amazing. My kids soaked up the details and were not ready to leave when it was over.
4. Enjoy Some Holiday Shopping
We did a little holiday shopping during our trip and there really is no better place than New York for Christmas shopping.
Two of my favorite spots were the Union Square Holiday Market and the Strand Bookstore during our trip. The Union Square Holiday Market is this darling outdoor market that makes you feel like you’ve stepped into a European Holiday Marketplace. It is filled with little shops holding all sorts of treasures. There is also a crafting spot for kids hosted by the Children’s Museum of Arts.
The Strand is just an amazing bookstore. The walls are lined with bookshelves and the second floor has a wonderful corner overflowing with picture book delights.
You can do a number of Christmas activities at Macy’s. With floor after floor of shopping, checking things off your Christmas list is definitely possible. You can also visit a magical elven land and see Santa. My recommendation is to make sure you take a little time to view the holiday window display.
The year we visited, 2015, Charlie Brown’s Christmas has come to life in the windows. Little episodes from the movie are re-created with moving puppets, text, and sound. It is truly a wonderful representation of one of my favorite Christmas movies. Around the corner you can also walk your way from window to window viewing the story of Letters from Virginia, another wonderful story.
Christmas in New York City is bustling and crowded, but it is also filled with delights. It places simple and magical touches on the holiday that are perfect for children young and old.