Nowadays, New York City goes from Halloween to Winter Holidays faster than you can say "cornucopia" (seriously, what happened to Thanksgiving cheer?). We adore Christmas songs, and the ubiquitous holiday lights truly do light up our hearts. So, here is a list of some of our favorite holiday activities. Most of these have become holiday traditions for us. Either way, they are great items to add to your holiday bucket list! We start in Staten Island then go from midtown to downtown. And, don't forget to follow along on Instagram as we embark on more holiday adventures!
1. NYC Winter Lantern Festival, Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden, Staten Island
This is the Great Jack O'Lantern Blaze of the holiday season. There are seven themes including a light tunnel, sea world, and animal kingdom. Each and every lantern display was enchanting! G also enjoyed the kids’ section which was comprised of glowing circles on the ground that changed colors as the kids jumped from circle to circle, chasing the colors. After touring the lanterns we grabbed some delicious Cousins Maine Lobster lobster bisque and clam chowder and watched the free nightly performance from the food truck area. Tickets are $15 for children under 12 and $23 for adults. Tickets can be purchased online, and the festival will continue through January 12th. This year, two additional lantern festivals (Luminocity now in progress and the Hello Panda festival starting December 6th) have been added to the NYC holiday roster. Check out our posts on them on Instagram.
Midtown / Fifth Avenue
2. Bloomingdale's flagship store, Midtown East
Bloomingdale's outdid itself last year with holiday delights. In a nutshell, there was ice skating, free hot cocoa, giant snow globes, a virtual reality sleigh ride, a gingerbread house, and more! This year, they are featuring an ice bar in the Polo Men's Department, a new giant snow globe on the second floor, and a space themed virtual reality activation! And, FYI, the Santa is pretty great because there is no line on the weekdays and you can snap photos on your phone in addition to the professional photos for purchase.
3. Bloomberg Tower Christmas trees, across the street from Bloomingdale's on East 58th Street or 59th Street between 3rd and Lexington Avenues
This is my personal favorite. I love this tree. G calls it the spectacular tree (probably because I told her that it was the “spectacular tree” when she was 1.5 years old). Anyway, this tree makes us so happy, and one year John Legend performed at the lighting. And then they never did anything like that again. I really wish they would. But. We still love this tree nonetheless. We stopped here on the way home from a holiday party at the plaza earlier this week, and sang Christmas carols. It's posted on our Facebook page.
4. The Nutcracker, Florence Gould Hall, Midtown
Last year we saw Keith Michael’s The Nutcracker at Florence Gould Hall. It was an hour long and beautifully staged. It was just perfect for toddlers. This year we are going full throttle and going to the George Balanchine version at Lincoln Center, next year but highly recommend the performance at the Florence Gould Hall as an entry point for the youngest theater goers.
5. Christmas Spectacular starring the Radio City Rockettes, Radio City Music Hall, Midtown My parents took me to see this when I was a child and I still remember loving it. We took Curious G to see it last year and she is still talking about it! Needless to say, it’s kind of a timeless hit. Radio City Music Hall is also a timeless NYC treasure.
6. FAO Schwarz, Rockefeller Center, Midtown FAO Schwarz came back with a big bang last Fall with it's reopening in Rockefeller Center. The holiday crowd is manageable. Curious G is instantly drawn to the supermarket section. She also loves the giant foot piano, Discovery Kids Science mini lab, the stuffed animals, and the Hatchimal area.
7. Saks Fifth Avenue, Midtown If you happen to be around Rockefeller Center for your pilgrimage to FAO Schwarz, you might as well stick around to catch the magical holiday light show at Saks Fifth Avenue. The kick-off event takes place on November 25th with a Frozen musical performance. It truly is magical and the looks on your kids’ faces will light up your heart. The shows start around 4:30 pm (sundown) and last 5 minutes. They start up every 10 minutes until 11:30pm. They are accompanied by a stirring soundtrack to boot!
8. Grand Central, Midtown East Grand Central is such a grand NYC icon and during the holiday season we always stop by the Annual Holiday Train Show. It’s a very abridged version of the popular NYBG holiday train show, but G loves it and we like to stop in the Great Northern Food Hall for a snack and browse the holiday fair after.
9. Winter Village at Bryant Park, Midtown The Winter Village in Bryant Park is full of delectable holiday treats, and admission to the ice skating rink is free! Skate rental information, as well as class and event information can be found here. This year the Lodge by the skating rink includes a cozy bar and other food options includingThe Stackery (famous for their chimney cakes). The holiday market is full of fun gifts, including Silly Puppets .
Gramercy / Union Square
10. Rolf’s German Restaurant, Gramercy
Rolf’s is a NYC bucket list item, and I can finally check it off after 22 years of living in the Big Apple! The holiday decor is quite singular, and people make reservations months ahead to get a table. They are currently booked through December but you can go during the week,on the early side (before 5 pm), to grab a spot at the bar. The decorations stay up through May, so a post holiday trip may be worth your while. However, keep in mind that the food is not the selling point here (although we LOVED the light and airy funnel-cakey potato pancakes), and the portions are colossal.
11. Urbanspace Union Square Holiday Market , Union Square I’ve actually purchased a few gifts and a few things for myself here over the years (most recently some decorative pillows for G’s room from Kharma Living), and this year the market features a tent run by one of our favorite museums. Children's Museum of the Arts is hosting free arts and crafts projects every day.
12. Lillie’s Victorian, Union Square After visiting the Union Square Holiday Market last year, we had dinner at Lillie’s. Reservations are highly recommended because it gets very crowded during this time of year. Why the crowds? The pub fare is pretty tasty (the chicken pot pie is yummy), the drinks are delightful, and the exterior and interior holiday displays are a sight for sore eyes!
Battery Park City / FiDi
13. Brookfield Place, Battery Park City A visit to Brookfield Place became a holiday tradition for us when G was 10 months old, and we took her to see the Luminaries light display. We still love it three years later. We have also caught the free Nutcracker performance they host annually and ice skated in years past. This year, we had the pleasure of getting some fabulous photos of G and some friends in Santa’s sleigh! The Santa lounge is a fun space where kids can hang out and color while waiting to meet Santa. All of these holiday bonuses are presented on top of all the great shopping and abundant food options that Brookfield Place has to offer! Brookfield Place also made it to our Indoor Fun guide, which you can read about here.
14. The Oculus (Westfield World Trade Center), FiDi Another venue that made it to our indoor fun guide is right across the street from Brookfield Place. You can find more holiday displays and shopping at the Oculus. There is a Holiday Market as well as an adorable snowman scene that’s prime for picture taking.