10 Things to do in New York in December

10 things to do in New York in December

Last year we spend a week in New York in December. I feel like this is something that is on many people’s bucket list as it is, at least from what Hollywood tells us, one of the most magical experiences you could possibly have. And that’s I guess why it was on our bucket list too. So, if you are planning to go to New York in December, here are some of the things we got up to and some tips we can give you to have the best trip possible.

Rockefeller Christmas Tree New York

Find Christmas decorations

I guess that one is quite obvious but also the biggest MUST DO. You can find decorations all over New York in December, ranging from sparkling trees to huge bows to even more huge Christmas trees. Just walk around the city and soak it all in.

Wall Street Christmas New York
Christmas Decorations New York

Visit the Rockefeller Tree

Technically the Rockefeller tree is part of the Christmas decorations, but as it is one of the most famous Christmas traditions in New York, we gave it its own category. The Rockefeller Tree is huge and very beautifully decorated with a tree topper that is actually made from 25.000 real Swarovski crystals and worth $1.5 million. The whole area around the tree is decorated too.

Fun fact: The first tree lighting ceremony was held in 1933 and the trees that are used as Christmas trees are usually 90 years old, which makes them older than the ceremony itself.

But unfortunately, due to its fame, it’s also no wonder that throughout the day this area is packed with people to a point where you almost can’t even walk properly, let alone get a decent photo.

So, here is where our jet lag came in handy. We naturally woke up every day around 6-7 a.m., so one day we made our way to the Rockefeller tree and well the whole area was empty. We shared this famous photo spot with only a handful of other people and everyone was kind enough to help the others take their photo.

Stroll around Christmas markets

There are many Christmas markets spread throughout New York in December. We visited the one in Bryant Park and on Union Square amongst others. The stalls offer a lot of crafted items such as Christmas decoration, jewellery, candles etc. We noticed tough that a lot of the stalls on the different Christmas markets were similar so there is no need to visit every single one.

Christmas Market New York in December
Christmas Market New York

Eat cookie dough

The Christmas markets also offer some interesting foods to try. We opted to try some cookie dough and it was truly delicious. Brings back childhood memories of all those times you preferably wanted to eat the dough instead of finishing the cookies but your mom wouldn’t let you, or is that just me? Well here you can eat it.

Go Ice skating

A lot of the Christmas markets come with ice rinks. Usually the ice rinks open as early as October and don´t close until March/April, so they are not only present in New York in December. The most famous one is the ice rink at Rockefeller Center, however, here you are very likely to wait quite some time before you can ice skate as they only let 150 people at once onto the ice. It’s also the most expensive one with a $25 admission fee and an additional $13 fee to rent the skates.

If waiting is not so much your thing then maybe check out the ice rink at Bryant Park (admission to the ice rink is actually free here but you still have to pay over $20 to rent skates) or at Central Park (Wollman rink, depending on when you go $12-19 admission and $10 rental). These are the most common options but of course there are many other options out there if you do a little research.

Rockefeller Ice Skating rink New York

Do some window-shopping on 5th avenue

If, like us, you just don´t have the money to shop at 5th avenue, you should still come here to window-shop as the shops here have some of the most beautiful Christmas displays in their windows. But again, in the afternoon fifth avenue gets very crowded so use the same trick as we did with the Rockefeller Christmas Tree – be there early. Because again we had the windows all to ourselves and no one pressured us so we were able take all the time we wanted to admire the little masterpieces.

Walk Central Park

If you want to escape the city for a little and wish to see a winter wonderland, head to Central Park and walk around for a little. We had no snow – so it was technically no winter wonderland- nonetheless the park was still very beautiful.

Central Park in WInter New York

Watch people shop

What we liked to do was just go to a shopping mall or to a Christmas Market, get a coffee and sit somewhere where we could watch all the busy people. New York is known to be this super busy city, so I guess as a tourist if you want to see the real New York, this should be part of your itinerary.


Now after admiring all those beautiful windows and watching all the other people shop, you can of course shop too. But maybe wait until after Christmas because, as we found out, after Christmas many shops have really great sales!

Another Tip: If you want to buy souvenir magnets of New York, do not buy them around Times Square, because you are likely to pay way too much. Instead head over to China Town, we found really good deals there!

Escape the tourists

And now last but not least, don’t be caught up too much with what Hollywood and all the tourism boards say your Christmas in New York should be like. Because otherwise you will spend most of your time in waiting lines or spend tremendous amounts of money on things that are not worth that much. Just because something is a MUST for Christmas in New York, doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to do it or that you will enjoy it. Just pick the things you know you will enjoy.

One of my favorite things we did while in New York was actually none of the Christmas things but simply walking along the riverbanks of New York and enjoying the outstanding views (even though it was freezing cold).

Take the Staten Island Ferry (Bonus Tip)

We actually did this by mistake, but it happened to be the best mistake we ever made. We were actually headed towards the ferry that would take us to the Statue of Liberty. But I guess due to some poor research on our part we found our-self inside the terminal of the ferry to Staten Island.

Even then we didn’t realize our mistake somehow, even though we were kind of surprised that we didn’t have to pay anything and that a policeman with a dog checked my bag. And just like that we got on the ferry and, well, drove past the Statue of Liberty all the way to Staten Island. The driving past the Statue of Liberty part is when we finally realized our mistake. You do have to get off the ferry at Staten Island, but you don´t have to leave the terminal. Just make your way back trough the terminal to the same ferry and you will be on your way back to Manhattan.

The views were incredible! We saw the New York skyline at sunset on our way to Staten Island and on the way back the skyline at night as it was already dark by then. And the best thing, it was absolutely free!

New York Skyline at sunset
Statue of Liberty at sunset New York

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