Start Some New Traditions This Year with the Best Holiday Events in NYC

The ultimate guide to the best events, pop-up bars, and holiday markets in NYC this season.

Holiday Markets in NYC
Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park | Photo credit: Colin Miller, photo courtesy of Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park
Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park | Photo credit: Colin Miller, photo courtesy of Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park

Once again, it’s that time of year when everyone is dreaming about PTO, spiked beverages, and fun ways to spread holiday cheer with loved ones.

There’s no place more magical to do this than New York City, and we've rounded up all the details on the top events and activities to choose from. From classic traditions or a boozy Christmas boat brunch to bedazzled neighborhoods and illuminated light festivals, here are the best holiday markets in NYC and more fun things to do throughout the festive season.

Holiday Markets in NYC
Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park | Photo credit: Colin Miller, photo courtesy of Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park

Holiday Shopping in NYC

Holiday Markets in NYC (and Skating Rinks)

An essential seasonal activity is open-air holiday markets like the 150+ vendors at Union Square Holiday Market that’s popular for artisan accessories and locally made holiday treats. Another al fresco must-visit spot is the Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park—while there, be sure to glide on the ice skating rink and take photos under the Christmas tree. For the same level of fun but with indoor heating, Westfield Shops & Dining at the Oculus will hold its first-ever Winter Whirl roller rink starting on November 24 with plenty of festive programming like live music. Nearby is also Brookfield Place for Luminaries (begins November 24), free performances of The Nutcracker by New York Theatre Ballet, and return of The Rink. For more ice skating, Wollman Rink at Central Park never goes out of style.

Fifth Avenue between 47th Street and 60th Street
Since inflation is really inflation-ing right now, plan for all of the free and affordable activities available throughout the iconic thirteen block stretch of Fifth Avenue. First, start at Pulitzer Fountain for Christmas decorations and a Menorah; walk south down the avenue for lit holiday street art like a dreidel and a NYC yellow cab (designs change annually). The holiday traditions at Rockefeller Center include its iconic Christmas tree and ice skating rink just as you wait for the Saks Fifth Avenue Christmas lights across the street to flash every ten minutes. Feast your eyes on the myriad of iconic haute couture holiday windows at Bergdorf Goodman, plus the annual Louis Vuitton Christmas mural and many more festive scenes.

Holiday Markets in NYC
Mariah Carey, the Queen of Christmas | Photo by Terence Patrick/CBS via Getty Images

Holiday Music in NYC

December 9 & 17, 7:30 pm
Madison Square Garden; tickets start at $220
It’s time! If all you want for Christmas is the Queen of Christmas serenading you—alongside thousands of fellow Lambs—book your tickets immediately. Carey’s 13-date holiday tour kicks off on November 15 in California before making its way to the Big Apple in December. Over two NYC performances, hear her dulcet voice and whistle tones in action and help commemorate the last year of “All I Want for Christmas Is You” in its thirties ahead of its 40th anniversary next year.

Holiday Markets in NYC
'Lightscape' at Brooklyn Botanic Garden | Photo courtesy of Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Holiday Events in NYC

Starting November 17, 9 am–12 am
Prospect Park, tickets are $34
This annual tradition at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden is one of New York City’s top festive illuminations to hit up. Lightscape is an immersive experience featuring an after-dark lit trail of decor and art with light bites and holiday music under the moonlight. Ticket prices vary according to peak and off-peak days, so plan ahead in advance. When it comes to the best selfie spots, head to the brighter illumination rather than areas with orange or green.

Starting November 17
Floral Park, tickets prices vary
The Winter Lantern Festival is an illuminating walk-through experience with over 1,000 Chinese lanterns of various colors, designs, and animatronics. Additional interactive programming includes a bounce house and sugar paintings, as well as light swings and tunnels.

Starting November 29
Hell’s Kitchen; tickets start at $42
Every December, heading to Hell’s Kitchen for Alvin Ailey’s holiday programming is a can’t-miss tradition. The iconic institution rooted in African-American culture and modern dance dates back to 1958, and their classic Revelations especially gets the audience clapping, singing, and dancing on their feet. In addition, there are old favorites and new numbers such as Reflections in D and Pas de Duke in either the matinee or evening shows.

December 112
Times Square; prices vary
Santa Claus is coming to… Times Square. 12 Days of Festive Fun at the New York Marriott Marquis launches with Holiday High-Kickers and culminate on the twelfth day with Cookie Decorating with Mrs. Claus. Sprinkled within this festive week are a scavenger hunt, holiday movies and trivia, carolers, and much more. Choose your fave(s) to experience or do all twelve festive days to really get into the Christmas spirit.

December 2, 3, 9 & 10
Queens County Farm Museum; tickets start at $38
Ever thought about crafting your own door wreath for Christmas or any festive holiday? Now is your chance to flex your creative thumb with this themed class at Queens County Farm Museum. The experience in Floral Park has been a local tradition for over three decades. A ticket includes accoutrements required for a wreath, except a pair of shears, so bring your own.

Starting December 7
Meatpacking District
In its third year of festive illumination, the Meatpacking District's holiday lights display, Lights on the Cobbles, is returning with seasonal planters, embellished snow people, an illuminated colonnade, and many more lit holiday designs on the cobblestones of Gansevoort Street. The best time to see them and get those coveted insta photos against the backdrop of the Gansevoort Hotel, is evening time when the night sky provides the perfect canvas for the sculptures' and other designs' illumination.

December 8, 6:30 pm–7:45 pm
Battery Park
For Hanukkah, join the City Congregation for Humanistic Judaism for a secular celebration of the Festival of Lights, with singing, trivia, candle lighting, and readings. The City Congregation is a diverse Jewish community with members from various backgrounds who were raised secular or unaffiliated. All are welcome to the event, full stop.

December 30, 2 pm and 7:30 pm
Harlem, tickets start at $25
Celebrate Kwanzaa at the historic Apollo Theater with Forces of Nature Dance Theater, a renowned New York dance troupe. The group honors the principles of Kwanzaa through family, community and culture, by integrating dance styles from across the African diaspora in this spectacular performance. Tickets are half off for Harlem residents, employees, students, and business owners.

Holiday Wellness in NYC

Upper East Side; $50 for 30 minutes
Are you one of those New Yorkers without a tub (or too many roommates) but you crave a relaxing soak as a treat this festive season? Fret not, as the Lexington Avenue branch of LUSH has opened a spa with a tub experience and other services. Envelop yourself in an indulgent and self-led bathing experience paired with LUSH Snow Fairy seasonal collection, a Fresh Face Mask tailored to your skin, and a silky vegan hot chocolate to end the relaxing experience.

Holiday Markets in NYC
Santa’s Winter Wonderland at Watermark | Photo courtesy of Winter Wonderland at Watermark

Holiday Drinks in NYC

Starting November 10, 5 pm–9 pm
The Seaport; tickets start at $19
Have a whimsical waterfront evening at the Seaport with Christmas activities, decor, and games for all ages. Programming includes glasshouse chalets with scenic nighttime views of the Brooklyn Bridge; gifts from Mrs. Claus’ Candy Bar; a festive photo opportunity with Santa; and complimentary spiked hot chocolate and toasted s’mores to warm you up. And be ready to take the ultimate holiday squad photos at Santa’s sleigh and other festive installations.

Starting November 30
Fifth Avenue
The Peninsula New York is a Manhattan staple that has hosted generations of families for its iconic Christmas festivities. Begin the Christmas season on November 30 with a tree lighting ceremony at the Salon de Ning rooftop terrace with holiday drinks, light bites, and string music from Sterling Strings. At the Festive Afternoon Tea, a portion of proceeds will go towards The New York Center for Children. Lastly, swing by for Victorian carolers in the lobby on Fridays and Saturdays from 5 pm on November 24 until December 23.

Turtle Bay
This Art-Deco inspired cocktail lounge at the top of the Beekman Tower transforms its rooftop bar into a shimmering snow globe in the sky, dripping with crystals and sparkling snowflakes for the holiday season. Dive into their exquisite bites like French Onion Sliders, Duck Confit Spring Rolls, and champagne. This installation is a fun and festive spot in the city perfect for after-work vibes or weekend cocktail brunches. Their cocktail brunch experience happens on Sundays from 12 pm–4 pm.

December 24, 12 pm
Chelsea Piers; tickets start at $105
If you didn’t know, dinner cruises are cool again. This Christmas Eve, sail away on the New York Harbor on City Cruises with the classic skyline of the Freedom Tower, Hudson Yards, and Pier 17 behind you. With live entertainment, chef-prepared meals, holiday decor, bottomless mimosas, and non-alcoholic beverages, these two-and-a-half hour cruises are a relaxing change from the hours long prepping, cooking, and cleaning we’ve been forced to partake in our entire lives.

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Kemi Ibeh is a Thrillist contributor.