Christmas might be my absolute favorite season in New York City because this is when the magic is even more tangible. Also, there are so many things to do, so many things to see around Christmas. Many of those are surprisingly inexpensive. Here I have collected my 10 favorite inexpensive Christmas activities in New York City:
Rockefeller Center & Surroundings
I obviously have been deeply influenced by “Home Alone 1 & 2”, which I still rewatch every Christmas season – but there is no other tree than t h e Christmas tree. A few years ago I even took a day off from from work to go and see the tree lighting. I visit the tree as often as possible because I love it and the atmosphere there so much.
And once you already are at the Rockefeller Center, you should also watch the Saks Fifth Avenue holiday light show (it is on every day from 4.35 to 11.35 p.m., every 10 minutes) and have a look at their amazing window displays. It is also worth strolling to 6th Avenue because there are several holiday displays there.
When you enter the Hudson Yards, it looks as if a Christmas light bombshell dropped. After all, there are more than 2 million lights inside and outside. The highlight is the illuminated hot-air balloon in the entrance. I find the Hudson Yards most magical around sunset. It would be absolutely worth to walk up the Vessel, but, unfortunately, it is closed to the public right now.
I mean Central Park is beautiful on every single day of the year. During Christmas time you can enjoy the City all around you. It is my favorite thing to walk through the park when it snows. This year we haven’t been lucky yet, but, fingers crossed, the next snow storm will arrive eventually.
First of all, there is a great holiday market in Bryant Park. Plus they have an ice rink (see below). Bryant Park is super accessible and you have an excellent view at the public library and all the highrises close-by. Besides the typical Christmas things, they offer their usual program as well, e.g. juggling, story time for kids, caroling …
The one reason why I leave Manhattan during Christmas time and go to Brooklyn? The amazing, totally over-the-top Christmas displays in Dyker Heights. Take the D Train to 71st Street, and walk to 11th to 13th Avenues from 83rd to 86th Streets. And then just enjoy the displays.
I am always fascinated that this is individual people who decorate their houses and front yards so lavishly. What dedication! Once you are there, there are also little stores as well as ice-cream trucks (selling also hot chocolate) if you want/need anything.
We don’t go to the Wall Street area very often, but it is actually cute, too. There is a big tree in front of the stock exchange, for example. I even more recommend going through the Oculus to Brookfield Place. They do not only have a pretty light show inside, but also an ice-rink outside. Plus you are right at the Hudson River and can also enjoy views at Jersey City. Or you could take a ferry to Jersey City, which is the best during sunset in my eyes.
Union Square Holiday Market
Union Square is always worth a visit, but even more so during Christmas season. Their holiday market is what comes the closest to European Christmas markets, and it is pretty big. You can stroll around the market and look at everything the little stalls have on offer. Afterwards, you can sit down in the park and enjoy a little snack (cheaper if you bring it from home) or go to Max Brenner on Broadway for excellent hot chocolate.
Columbus Circle Holiday Market
The Columbus Circle Holiday Market is similar to the one in Union Square. I would say it is not as crowded and it might be worth visiting if you plan on taking a nice walk through Central Park immediately after. Also, once you are already there, go to the shopping center and enjoy their giant star display.
Radio City Christmas Spectacular
The Rockettes in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular show are my favorites. I hope that we make it a tradition to go and see the show every single year. While tickets are not exactly cheap, you can find them at a good, reduced price if you a) go in November, b) check TKTS and get your ticket on the day from their booth in Times Square, or c) check Groupon. Initially, I wanted to buy our tickets for this year’s show on Ticketmaster, but their ticket fees are incredibly high. So I instead chose Groupon and we paid $130 for 2 great seats (side orchestra). If you are flexible, you can get cheaper tickets.
I re-discovered my love for ice skating last winter. The Bryant Park ice rink is the cheapest: if you bring your own skates and reserve a time in advance, you can skate for free. I loved going early in the morning when the rink was quite empty (this year I don’t dare to go because I think I can’t hold my balance as well, now that I am highly pregnant). As far as I am aware the ice rink in Bryant Park is the only one that offers free tickets.
But there are of course other ice rinks that also look fun: at the Rockefeller Center, Wollman Rink in Central Park, the rink at Brookfield Place, or the indoor Sky Rink at Chelsea Piers.
Other Ideas for Cheap Christmas Activities in New York City
Besides these 10 ideas, I highly recommend walking around the City and paying visits to:
- Grand Central – it is beautiful from the in- and the outside with plenty of decorations and lights
- Washington Square Park – they have a big tree under the arch every year
- Macy’s – they decorate their windows, and strolling through the inside of the giant department store with all its Christmas decorations is magical
You should also take a ferry on the East River and enjoy the illuminated City.
The MET has also put up Christmas decorations and a few exhibitions that fit the season. As a New York State resident, you pay as much as you can/want to for a ticket.