Top 5 Christmas attractions in New York City

Updated December 2012

There’s no argument: Christmas is the perfect time to visit New York City. The Big Apple is bursting with holiday cheer, and many of the city’s classic Christmas attractions are free and don’t require any advance planning. Read on for our top 5 holiday picks.

#5. Window shopping

Holiday time in #NYC means Christmas window displays!
Department store windows appeal to New Yorkers’ two main passions: art and shopping. Head to posh Fifth Avenue in midtown for the highest concentration of creative window displays– and don’t forget to stop at Macy’s flagship store on 34th Street to snap a photo of their “believe” sign.

Window shopping is 100% free, although you might be tempted to duck into the store afterwards to shop for last-minute Christmas gifts. For a full listing of Manhattan window displays, check out CBS New York’s  NYC holiday window guide.

#4. Visiting Santa at Macy’s

If you’ve grown up in the United States, you’ve probably seen the classic film Miracle on 34th Street (1947) a dozen times. This uplifting tale features a Macy’s department store Santa Claus who turns out to be– spoiler alert– the real St. Nick!

Visiting Santa Claus at Macy’s flagship Herald Square store has become a tradition for many New York City families.

For a glimpse into Macy’s Santaland– which includes animatronic Christmas displays and a mailbox where you can post your Christmas wish list– check out Girl Gone Travel‘s family trip to Santaland.

#3. Ice skating

Outdoor skating is a classic New York City experience and shouldn’t be missed. In fact, you might have seen one of Manhattan’s popular ice skating rinks in a Hollywood film. From a chase scene in Limitless to a romantic moment in King Kong, Central Park’s Wollman rink is the go-to choice for filmmakers shooting in New York City.

Wollman Rink

>> Photo: Wollman Rink in Central Park (Credit: korobokkuru/Flickr)

However, ice skating in Rockefeller Center– under the giant Christmas tree– is the ultimate Christmas experience. For more information on the city’s ice rinks, read our guide: The Best Places to Ice Skate in New York City.

#2. Seeing the Rockettes

New York’s famous kickline, the Rockettes, are the main reason for catching the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. Their high kicks and tap dancing to beloved Christmas carols will make you feel like you’ve gone back to the roaring 1920s.

Radio City Christmas Show - Rockettes-2

>> Photo: The Rockettes perform during the Christmas Spectacular (Credit: Bob Jagendorf/Flickr)

Comedy fans will recognize the show from A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas, which showed Neil Patrick Harris singing and dancing with the Rockettes. The Radio City show is a catch-all of Christmas traditions, from secular Santa to a religious reenactment of camels and wise men visiting the baby Jesus. (The latter drew wild cheers from the audience when I attended a show).

The Christmas Spectacular runs through January 2nd and tickets start at $55. However, check discount websites for deals; in past years Travelzoo has sold individual tickets for $39.

#1. Visiting Rockefeller Center’s Christmas tree

Don’t visit New York City this winter without stopping by Rockefeller Center to snap a photo of their enormous Christmas tree. It’s a Christmas tradition that draws tourists and locals alike.

Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree

>> Photo: Visiting Rockefeller Center’s Christmas tree is a holiday tradition. (Credit: Kimberlykv/Flickr)

The 2011 tree was a 74-foot-tall Norway Spruce brought in from Pennsylvania. It was covered in 30,000 “environmentally friendly” LED lights and was topped with a Swarovski crystal star. The 2012 tree was also a Norway Spruce, but an even taller 80-footer. Hailing from New Jersey, the tree survived Hurricane Sandy before being chopped down for the annual Christmas display.

Rockefeller Center is free and open to the public; it’s also conveniently located near the Top of the Rock observation deck, Central Park and upscale shopping on 5th Avenue.

Your favorites

What’s your favorite New York City holiday attraction? Share your tip with other readers by leaving a comment below!

About Leslie Koch

I'm a New Yorker with a passion for travel and art. I founded after returning from a year-long backpacking trip around the world. Find me on Twitter at @leslietravel.