15 Actually Cool Things to Do in NYC This Holiday Season
Ring in the merriest time of year with light shows, holiday markets, and a boozy bar crawl.
Dust off those puffer jackets and pull on your beanies, it’s officially winter in NYC. But even with the sun setting promptly at 5 pm daily, along with a not-so-subtle cold snap in the weather comes something to brighten our days: the holiday season. Thinking back to this time last year, we can all appreciate the way the city has opened back up again (with over 80% of New York City adults fully vaccinated). So whether you’re looking to celebrate Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, or just seeking out general merriment, the city’s packed full of cheerful ways to make the most of December (and we’re not just talking about the usual boozy bender at Rolf’s).
Slide across an ice skating rink, sip holiday-inspired cocktails, or shop around for gifts from Black-women owned small businesses. Whatever mood strikes you this month, we’ve got you covered with 15 actually cool things to do in NYC this holiday season.
Grand Army Plaza
In the heart of Grand Army Plaza at Prospect Park, a 36-foot, 4,000 pound menorah stands tall to help celebrate the eight days of Hanukkah. Using a 60-foot boom lift, local rabbis, community leaders, and philanthropists are elevated into the sky for each night’s lighting. During the week lightings will occur at 6 pm; 3:30 pm on Friday, December 3; 7:15 pm on Saturday, December 4; and 7 pm on Sunday, December 5. After each night’s event, onlookers often celebrate, eat latkes, and enjoy musical performances together, so be sure to join in the holiday merriment.
During Hanukkah, the city is especially full of spots to grab delicious orders of golden and flaky latkes. With restaurants cooking the dish up year-round to some sporting specials for the season, there’s a range of choices from traditional to twists on the original recipe. Stop by stalwarts like Kat’s Delicatessen and Russ & Daughters in the Lower East Side or try out West Village’s Empellón Taqueria and Crown Heights’ recently opened Agi’s Counter to get your fill of latkes.
Saturdays, December 4, 11, and 18
If this year’s gift giving is proving to be a bit difficult, head over to The Buy From a Black Woman Holiday Market in Times Square presented by H&M USA. Featuring a wide range of goods from locally- and Black women-owned small businesses, the market will be open for the next three Saturdays (December 4, 11, and 18). Peruse herbal teas from Ivy’s Tea Co.; scented candles and body butters from Oasis Soul Scent Co.; colorful accessories and home décor from Rochelle Porter Design; and more.
When the holidays roll around, Dyker Heights in Brooklyn transforms into a sea of lights, inflatables, and music. With almost every house joining in on the festivities, a (warmly-dressed) stroll around the area will have you seeing homes completely covered in sheets of twinkling lights and inflatable Santas (complete with the reindeer and a sleigh) while holiday tunes are blasted from speakers. If staying toasty is a priority, tickets for heated bus tours are available as well.
Cost: Free; bus tour tickets from $55
Sunday, December 26
Brooklyn and Harlem
Hosted by Kerry Coddett and Krystal Stark, this year’s Kwanzaa Crawl aims to fuel social togetherness and facilitate Black-owned economic empowerment. Filled with spirited singing, dancing, and group fun, join this bar crawl on the first day of Kwanzaa as it moves along a predetermined route of Black-owned bars with a starting location of either Brooklyn or Harlem, where festivities kick off at either 1:30 or 2:30 pm (depending on location). Recommendations for optimal enjoyment include having cash; bringing your ID and vaccination proof; wearing comfortable shoes; packing a phone charger; and dressing warmly since there’s no coat check.
Cost: Tickets start at $43; group discounts are available at checkout
Through January 2, 2022
Upper West Side
After a long pandemic pause, The New York City Ballet has ended their hiatus just in time to add to our holiday cheer. Returning with performances of The Nutcracker (which hasn’t been performed since 2019), the production features over 90 dancers, 42 musicians, gorgeous costumes, and a 41 foot-tall Christmas tree, all of which will leave you in awe of our city’s artistic capabilities. With shows going through to January 2 of the new year, there’s plenty of time to snag a ticket.
Cost: Tickets start at $45
Through January 2, 2022
A tried and true NYC tradition is that of The Christmas Spectacular featuring The Radio City Rockettes. Known for precision dancing and sky-high kicks, the Rockettes continue on a tradition that began in the ‘20s. Held at the Radio City Music Hall, the 90-minute performance features dancing, comedy, music, and holiday-filled ambiance. Although it might be seen as a bit of a tourist attraction, it’s hard to not bounce along to the beats of the can-can while gazing out at the blurs of sequins and tulle.
Cost: Tickets start at $45
Through January 3, 2022
For the 15th year, The Apollo Theater returns for Kwanzaa: A Regeneration Celebration. In celebration of the holiday and with a mission to bring together families and strengthen community bonds, this virtual experience will showcase renowned New York-based dance company Abdel Salaam’s Forces of Nature Dance Theatre along with performance by Apollo New Works artists Soul Science Lab with Chen Lo and Asante Amin. The show, hosted by radio-host Imhotep Gary Byrd, will feature a mix of music, dance, and poetry centered on the Nguzo Saba (seven principles of Kwanzaa). The performances will be available to watch on demand through to January 3.
Cost: Tickets are pay-what-you-wish
Through January 9, 2022
Upper West Side
Marking its 50th anniversary is the annual American Museum of Natural History’s Origami Tree. Channeling a different motif each year, the theme of this tree is Gems of the Museum to honor this recurring tradition along with the museum’s most popular attractions. The craft of the work is awe-inspiring, with more than 1,000 hand-folded paper ornaments. The origami adorning the tree pays homage to the dazzling Hall of Gems and Minerals, special exhibit Sharks, and popular museum stops like the blue whale and dinosaurs.
Cost: General admission is $23, free (with choice of donation) for New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut residents
Through to mid-January 2022
Channeling merriment and the holiday spirit is The Garret Coctelería’s holiday pop-up Feliz Coctelería in Nolita. The space has been decked out in twinkling lights, paper snowflake chains, gift-wrapped tables, menorahs, and dreidels floating from above. On the specialty drink menu, expect to find takes on holiday classics with Latin influences. Try out a Rose & Lenny (coconut cream, clove, cardamom, babka-infused plum spirit); Rocco’s Hot Cocoa (rice milk latte, chipotle powder, chocolate, mezcal); or A Lump of Coal (blackberry, mint, mango butter, egg white, tequila).
Cost: Cocktails start at $13
Through January 2022
Upper East Side
At the Upper East Side’s 114-year-old The Jewish Museum, explore the expansive exhibit Accumulations: Hanukkah Lamps, featuring more than 80 Hanukkah lamps. Displaying a wide variety of style, techniques, and materials, the lamps open the door to discovering more about the history of their Jewish creators throughout the course of six centuries. Travel through the exhibit to catch sight of silver, copper, wood, and clay lamps from the Netherlands, Germany, North Africa, Morocco, and more.
Cost: Tickets are $18
Watch the city light up at special illumination holiday events
During these chillier months, the city pulls us out from our beds with the promise of stellar twinkling light shows. Sidle on over to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Lightscape which features over one million lights cascading along an illuminated trail through the 52-acre ground, with showstoppers like the cathedral tunnel and warm-hued fire garden display. In the Bronx, the New York Botanical Garden welcomes visitors to the NYBG GLOW, a 1.5 mile walk around the grounds featuring whimsically lit plant installations and colorful pathways. Holiday Lights at the Bronx Zoo is another family-friendly option, with more than 260 animal-themed illuminated lanterns, ice carving demonstrations, and an after-dark train ride through the grounds. The NYC Winter Lantern Festival has also kicked off with locations in Long Island, Staten Island, and Queens. With the option to drive or walk through, gaze up at a wide collection of handmade lanterns and luminescent LED light shows.
Cost: Lightscape tickets from $34; NYBG GLOW from $35; Holiday Lights from $31; Winter Lantern Festival from $17
Through January 22, 2022
As far as traditions go, the lighting ceremony and Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center is a classic. With millions of visitors paying a visit to stand in awe of the immense 79-foot tall tree decked with glittering lights, Rockefeller Center gets quite a bit of traffic this time of year. If you can’t make it in person for the 2021 Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting (Wednesday, December 1), catch the live broadcast on NBC starting at 7 pm. And don’t fret, the tree will stay up until Sunday, January 22, 2022, so there’s plenty of time to make your way over to snap a pic and get in a quick ice rink session.
Cost: Free to see the tree, ice skating general admission starts at $20
So we know when temperatures drop below forty, the city collectively tries to spend as little time exposed to the cold as possible. That being said, there’s one ever-classic holiday activity that seems to always pull us out into the elements: ice skating. Scattered throughout the boroughs are a mix of indoor and outdoor rinks fit for both the practiced and novice skaters among us. Hit up the indoor Staten Island Skating Pavilion, the outdoor LeFrak Center in the heart of Prospect Park, or get in a quintessential NYC moment at Central Park’s Wollman Rink.
Through March 6, 2022
Returning for its 20th season, is popular shopping and hangout spot Bank of America’s Bryant Park Winter Village. The open-air market is now open daily from 11 am-8 pm on weekdays (and until 10 am on weekends). With over 170 new and returning merchants, there’s plenty to explore like vintage clothing, plants, artwork, beauty and health goods along with food and drink stands. Before you line your arms with shopping bags, take a spin around the ice rink or practice your curling skills at the ice-less lanes. If you’re looking for an intimate (and warm) dining experience, book a heated glass cabin for sipping on mulled wine and munching through a charcuterie board.
Cost: Free entry; skate rentals $15-45; Curling Café packages from $250; cabins from $200