Ultimate Guide to Christmas in New York City + NYC Winter
Table of Contents
New York City in Winter, especially during Christmas, is the most magical time to visit! The days between Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years Eve in NYC are the most busy, but so much fun.
The Christmas seaon officially kicks off with Thanksgiving and Black Friday which rolls right in to the Christmas tree lighting at Rockefeller Center. By the time the Rockefeller Tree is lit, Christmas Markets, Ice skating, and Holiday parties are popping up everywhere. Check out this full New York Winter + Christmas Guide so you know what to expect!
What’s the Weather like?
The coldest months of the NYC winter are December, January and February so make sure you’re prepared! Temperatures can drop below freezing and you may even get some snow! Of course you should check the forecast before you go but these are the average temperature high and lows:
- December : 44° /33°
- January : 39° /26°
- February : 43° //29°
- March : 50° /35°
Why you should visit in January
If you are looking for the cheapest time to visit, January is it! The Christmas season is over and most of the tourists have left, making museums easier to visit and popular restaurants easier to get a reservation.
Hotel prices are at an all time low and you’ll be able to grab travel deals on things like flights and activities. You’ll also have the chance to experience NYC Restaurant Week, which is usually at the end of January.
Some Holiday markets will linger into the beginning of January, but it won’t have quite the same buzz as visiting in November or December.
Though it is the cheapest, it’s also the coldest month in the city so I wouldn’t recommend it for those with low tolerance for the cold.
What to Wear: Packing List for a Trip to NYC in Winter
These items are packing list essentials for anyone experiencing the New York Winter. If you have to go back to your tiny hotel room because you’re too cold, you won’t be happy.
Thankfully, if you do forget something on this list, there are shops and street vendors on every corner to pick one up!
- Multiple layers
- Thick socks
- A sturdy Winter jacket (preferably waterproof)
- Earmuffs or a hat
- A scarf
- A pair of gloves
If you’re going for more than a couple of days you may even want multiple of the accessories in case they get wet.
Things to do in NYC Anytime of the Year, Even Winter
There are some things you just have to see, no matter the season! Central Park looks totally different in each season so really the views there don’t get old.
For a full guide on how to see NYC in 4 Days see my NYC Itinerary. I grew up just 50 miles from NYC and have been a full resident for over a year now. Included on the guide are some of these major attractions listed below plus plenty more! My NYC itinerary gives you tips on everything from getting around to where you should stay and what to do in the evening.
These are the top things do in New York City no matter the time of year.
- Walk through Central Park.
- Go to the Top of the Rock or the Empire State Building.
- Walk around the Financial District and Wall Street.
- Visit the many Museums like the MET or the Natural History Museum.
- Take a trip out to the Statue of Liberty. (This will be very cold to do in winter since you get there on a boat!)
- Take pictures at the most Instagrammble places in NYC.
- Try the best pizza and bagels of your life!
- Find a cute cafe to get your caffeine fix.
- Walk through Grand Central Station and grab a drink at one of the iconic bars inside.
Holiday Events & Pop Ups
There are plenty of fun events in NYC in Winter so make sure you do your research and book in what you don’t want to miss.
Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
The famous parade starts at West 77th Street & Central Park West at 9AM but there is limited public views here. Early risers camp out starting at 6AM on the west side of Central Park West from West 75th to West 59th Streets. The parade follows the edge of the park South until Colombus Circle where it goes east to then head down 7th Avenue. It all ends at the famous Macy’s at Herald Square!
*Avoid watching on 6th Avenue between West 34th and West 38th Streets & on West 34th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues. The national television broadcast limits viewing here.
I feel like this is the event that says : The Christmas season has commenced!! The 2019 tree will be lit for the first time on Wednesday, December 4 on Rockefeller Plaza. Each year, thousands crowd the sidewalks for the event and millions watch the live broadcast. The tree will remain lit and on display on the plaza between West 48th and 51st Streets and Fifth and Sixth Avenues through Friday, January 17, 2020.
Sadly, this event is no longer frequented by my friends. Apparently, it’s looked down upon to go to Santacon if you are pushing 30. Hell, I may still attend this year anyway! Everyone dresses up as a Christmas persona like Santa, a reindeer or an elf and participates in a massive day bar crawl through the city starting at 10am. SantaCon is FREE to attend, however, to get into all the big venues you MUST make charitable contribution of $13 on the authorized Eventbrite ticket page The start location is always disclosed to all people who make donation, on Santacon.nyc and on @Santacon Twitter the night before.
Hockey is my ultimate favourite sport to watch live! It’s so fast paced and exciting and with Madison Square Garden at the centre of Manhattan its a no brainier.
New York’s Premier Winter Wine Event to transport you out of the city into the wine regions of the world.
Places to go Ice Skating
The classic rink which you can look down on to from ground level. Hopefully I will make this year my first year skating there! Their general admission is first serve unless you book a special skate package.
At the bottom of Central Park is Wollman’s Rink. It’s got an amazing view of the buildings on Central Park South. Twilight is a magical time at this location.
This is NYC’s only admission free skating rink! It’s open daily 8am to 10pm and is surrounded by the Winter Village Market. Although admission is free you still need to pay for locker or skate rentals.
The best Window “Shopping”
Even if you can’t afford whats inside it’s nice to look! View the beautiful window displays at iconic stores like Sak’s, Macy’s, Cartier. All of these shops are relatively close together so it’s pretty easy to see them all. Saks Fifth Avenue, Cartier, Bergdorf Goodman, Barney’s and Bloomgindales are all within a square mile. Macy’s is just a bit south in Herald Square.
I just love how classy the Cartier bow looks!
Christmas Light Shows/Tours
( Nov. 20th, 2019 to Jan. 12th, 2020) In it’s second year, the NYC Winter Lantern Festival is on Staten Island and consists of hundreds of beautiful lanterns. They also have food vendors serving yummy snacks and hot drinks.
(Nov. 23-Jan. 5) An Immersive Wonderland of Lights on Randall’s Island Park.
Saks Fifth Ave Holiday Light Show
(begins Nov. 25) Gorgeous window display and evening light show. Across from Rockefeller Center.
*Saks will hold an immersive experience inside the store titled “Disney’s Frozen 2 Enchanted Forest Experience,” from November 26 through December 24
Many people hang their lights in this area of Brooklyn the weekend after Thanksgiving. You’ll see breathtaking light displays from 11th to 13th Avenues (also known as Dyker Heights Blvd) from 83rd to 86th St in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn. (Photos from this location coming soon!)
The Top Christmas Shows
It’s always nice to see a classic Christmas show to get you in the spirit! These are the top 3.
- The Christmas Spectacular featuring: The Rockettes : Radio City Music Hall // Nov 18, 2019 — Jan 5, 2020
- The Nutcracker : Lincoln Center // Nov 29, 2019 — Jan 5, 2020
- A Christmas Carol : Lyceum Theatre // Until Jan 5 2020
The Best NYC Winter Markets
Markets are the best for shopping and eating at the same time. You know I do love my food! Popups are always so much fun and it’s ideal having a hot chocolate or mulled wine in hand while buying Christmas presents. All of the markets are filled with artisan gifts and tasty treats.
- Winter Village at Bryant Park (October 31 through January 5. Monday – Friday from 11am – 8pm & Weekends from 10am – 8pm)
- The Lodge by Urbanspace at Bryant Park (October 27th – March 3rd, 8:00am – 10:00pm)
- Grand Central Terminal Holiday Fair (November 18 through December 2. Mon- Fri from 10am – 8pm. Weekends from 11am – 6pm)
- Columbus Circle Holiday Market (December 4 through December 24. Mon – Fri: 10am – 8pm. Saturday: 10am – 8pm / Sunday: 10am – 7pm)
- Union Square Holiday Market (November 21 through December 24. Mon – Fri: 11am – 8pm. Saturday: 10am – 8pm / Sunday: 11am – 7pm)
- Smorgasbug Winter Market + Brooklyn Flea (Every Saturday + Sunday 10am-6pm) 25 Kent Ave. – 8th Floor in Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Where to Eat during the Holidays: Best Restaurants and Bars
Who doesn’t love an Alpine or Christmas themed bar or restaurant during the Holidays!?
Rolf’s – (located in Gramery Park) A German restaurant who’s Christmas Decor reigns supreme! We love meeting friends here during the holidays. They keep the Christmas decorations up until May.
230 Fifith Ave. – Igloos on the roof at 230 Fifth Ave. keep you cozy so you can still have your view of the Empire State building.
Eataly Birreria : SERRA ALPINA – (inside Eataly Flatiron) This rooftop looks good no matter the time of year. Each season it has new decor and a new Italian menu to match. Enjoy rustic Italian food in a winter wonderland.
Winter Garden at The Standard – (East Village) The perfect, and possible only place in the city to get cozy in heated alpine yurts with spiked hot chocolate, gooey fondue and freshly baked cookies. Great for groups!
The Lodge at Gallow Green – (McKittrick Hotel in Chelsea) Known for bringing the drama, I can’t wait to see what Gallow Green has in store for it’s winter lodge this year.
Tiny’s – (Tribeca) Located in a historic cute pink townhouse, Tiny’s is a NYC gem. A super cozy spot to warm up with friends.
Tip: Peak hours will be extremely busy. It’s best to make reservations if you can ahead of time.
Trees you Must See!
Christmas Trees are scattered all across the city with the most famous one being at Rockefeller Center. The trees make for gorgeous photo along with the many other Christmas Photo Spots in New York.
- Rockefeller Center
- Lotte New York Palace
- Seaport District
- Madison Square Park
- Wall St. New York Stock Exchange
- Washington Square Park
Where to Stay in New York City
People love to ask for recommendations for a “cheap” hotel, but those really don’t exist and if they do you probably don’t want to stay in them! However, there are some budget options.
If you’re in New York to enjoy the Holidays, you’ll probably be spending most of your time in Manhattan. Here are some popular hotels in Manhattan by price range:
- Budget $
- Soho 54
- Pod 51
- Pod Times Square
- The Jane Hotel
- Mid Range $$
- Freehand Hotel
- Luxury $$$
- The Nomad Hotel
- The Plaza
- Gramercy Park Hotel
Is New York Better in Winter or Summer?
It depends on who you ask.
It really is a personal preference and depends on whether you’d rather drink hot chocolate and admire the Christmas decorations or sip cocktails on rooftops and watch the sun set as late 8:30pm.