1. Marvel at the New York Botanical Garden’s Holiday Train Show
Forget your preconceptions about model trains: this train show is far from nerdy. Aside from the trains, the display features 175 mini replicas of NYC landmarks, all crafted from pieces of plants.
2. Have dinner at Rolf’s Restaurant
Rolf’s is what you wish your house looked like at Christmas. The whole restaurant is decked out from floor to ceiling in ornaments and lights. But be warned: the food there is pricey (probably to cover that electric bill at the end of the holidays).
3. See the Hip Hop Nutcracker at King’s Theatre
You’ve already seen The Nutcracker, but the Hip Hop Nutcracker brings some new life into this holiday classic. Not to mention, King’s Theater in Flatbush, Brooklyn is worth seeing, show or no show.
4. See the houses in Dyker Heights
Dyker Heights is hands-down the most Christmas-y neighborhood in the city. Recent years have been a little out of control with vendors and sightseers overrunning this usually tranquil Brooklyn neighborhood, but with the vendor ban this year, the light displays on the homes of Dyker Heights will hopefully prove to be a more peaceful experience.
5. Go window shopping
Some NYC stores really go all out to get you in the spirit of spending your money. For the best displays, head to Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s Herald Square, and Saks Fifth Avenue, which went above and beyond with their Frozen-inspired light show that covers the entire front of the building.
6. Experience the Winter Lantern Festival at Snug Harbor
One of the best things about Staten Island has become even better for the holiday season, with Snug Harbor’s beautiful botanical garden playing host to unique lantern displays.
7. Shop for the perfect gift at holiday markets
Personally, the shopping experience at NYC’s holiday markets beats shopping in a department store any day. And there are so many to choose from: Union Square and Bryant Park are mainstays. And if the stalls at the Columbus Circle holiday market aren’t enough for you, head indoors to Turnstyle Underground’s market for an element-free experience.
8. Be amazed by the Randall’s Island light display
It seems like just about every place in the city is competing to be the most Instagrammable holiday light show, including Randall’s Island. This recreational island wedged between Manhattan, the Bronx, and Queens has been transformed into LuminoCity, a holiday light and art festival.
9. See a Christmas Tree lighting
There’s something magical about seeing a tree light up for the first time. And in NYC, there is no shortage of tree lightings. In addition to the massive tree lighting at Rockefeller Center, each borough hall has their own ceremony. Also check out the ones at Lincoln Center and MetroTech Center.
10. See the world’s largest menorah
If Christmas tree lightings aren’t your thing, how about viewing a menorah lighting? NYC is home to the world’s largest menorah(s), with Brooklyn and Manhattan’s Grand Army Plazas competing for the world title. They’re both roughly 32 feet and 4,000 pounds each, so you be the judge.
11. Visit a toy store: FAO Schwarz
There’s no better time to tap into your inner child than the holiday season, so pretend you’re ten again and get lost in the toy and candy wonderland that is FAO Schwarz. The best times to go are right after it opens and an hour before it closes so you can avoid the crowds.
12. Spread the joy at Holiday Joy: Gospel Celebration at the Apollo Theater
Let in the (holiday) spirit at this year’s Gospel Celebration on December 21, featuring the legendary Yolanda Adams and Donald Lawrence.
13. Sing modern Christmas hits at XMAS Pop Sing-Along at Union Hall
Tired of listening to Christmas classics being sung by the old crooners of yesteryear? On December 13, sing along to holiday covers by your favorite pop stars like *NSYNC, Destiny’s Child, and Justin Bieber. Did I mention there will also be free milk and cookies?
14. Attend the Double Dutch Holiday Classic at the Apollo
On December 9, 2019, spend the afternoon watching the best double dutch teams in the country go toe to toe at the Apollo Theater.
15. Spend Christmas Eve caroling at Washington Square Park
Spread goodwill to all men as you belt out Christmas carols with other members of the eccentric Washington Square Park community on December 24.
16. Become a film connoisseur at the African Diaspora International Film Festival
From December 3 to December 15, this annual festival will be screening 60 films made by African filmmakers and directors from around the world. Venues range from Teachers College at Columbia University, MIST Harlem, and Cinema Village, so make sure to consult the festival’s website for times and locations.
17. Say hello to the Hello Panda Festival
During a season that’s all about tradition, here’s something new: Citi Field in Queens is hosting the first ever Hello Panda Festival, and it’s just as cute as it sounds! From December 6 until January 26, enjoy 52 days of giant lanterns, live performances, heated tents, international food vendors and more.
18. Go ice skating
There’s no shortage of places to go ice-skating in the city: Winter Village at Bryant Park, the rink at Rockefeller Center, and Wollman and Lasker Rinks at Central Park are the typical go-tos. But if you want to skate with a view (and with less tourists), try skating at The Standard Hotel near the High Line.
19. Take a tropical getaway at Brookfield Place
Rather be sipping mojitos on a sandy beach than freezing your buns off on a frigid subway platform? Visiting Brookfield Place’s Winter Garden might be the closest thing you’ll get to going on a tropical vacation. The aptly-named atrium is full of live palm trees and sand-colored tiles.
20. Take a Holiday Nostalgia Train Ride
All aboard the MTA’s vintage trains for the ride of your (past) life. Every Sunday in December until New Year’s Day, the MTA is hosting its annual nostalgia train rides where passengers ride through the tunnels in train cars from the 1930s.
21. Explore festive hotel lobbies
If you’re in need of some holiday decorating inspo or you just like hanging out in fancy places, go on a hotel lobby crawl. I recommend checking out the myriad of hotels bordering Central Park.
22. Find the next best hot cocoa place in NYC
Now that City Bakery is no more, New Yorkers will have to find a new go-to place for this cold-weather sweet treat. Of course Max Brenner and Jacque Torres are contenders, but see if you can find someplace unexpected.
23. Celebrate Kwanzaa at the Apollo Theater
The Apollo Theater is the place to be for every holiday this season, including Kwanzaa. On December 28, celebrate family, community, and culture with an evening of music and dancing.
24. Visit Santaland
Macy’s Herald Square location has been transformed into Santa’s NYC headquarters. Stop by the store’s eight floor to bask in the decorations and even meet Santa himself.