For anyone planning a holiday trip to New York City, a fully packed schedule awaits. New York’s holiday celebrations number in the hundreds, and include everything from world-famous events, like the Times Square ball drop or the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, to Christmas shows and community concerts. The following 10 events are some of our favorites, but to see a more complete list of seasonal activities in the Big Apple, check out the NYC.gov Event Calendar.
Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade marks the start of New York’s holiday celebrations. The parade, which marches in on November 24, features bunches of fantastical balloons, dozens of mega-floats and performers strutting down the streets of Manhattan. To get the best views of the parade, book a hotel room facing the street on Central Park West or Broadway (these rooms fill up well in advance, so make reservations early). If it’s too late to snag a room with a view, you can always wake up early and stake out a spot on the street where the parade comes through.
Grand Central Terminal Holiday Fair
For the 12th consecutive year, Grand Central’s beautiful Vanderbilt Hall will convert into a bustling holiday fair this season. This urbane market isn’t exactly your local holiday bazaar selling pine cone wreaths in the elementary school gym. The fair, presented by the New York Times, features 76 unique vendors offering tasteful, eclectic gifts, from hand-crafted jewelry to fine art and photography. Shops are open daily from November 15 through December 24 (with the exception of Thanksgiving Day).
Radio City Christmas Spectacular
The Rockettes kick-start the season with a colorful, eye-popping musical extravaganza featuring dancing armies of Santas, festive holiday tunes and a living nativity scene with real animals. The G-rated performance is popular with families with young children, but the show works for anyone who isn’t too old to enjoy Christmas songs and sky-high leg kicks. Performances are going on now and run through the end of December.
On December 12, the second night of Hanukkah, Town and Village Synagogue at 334 East 14th Street will host a sing-along Hanukkah concert with a reception to follow. The concert includes a Hanukkah candle lighting, and everyone is invited to sing along to traditional Jewish folk songs.
New York Botanical Garden Holiday Train Show
From November 20 through January 9, the New York Botanical Garden exhibits a charming half-mile train track with G-scale model trains and more than 100 hand-constructed mini-New York City landmarks, which are all crafted of plant materials. Grab some hot chocolate and ginger snaps in the Botanical Garden Cafe and spend an afternoon exploring the festive 250-acre display.
George Balanchine’s “The Nutcracker”
The New York City Ballet’s world-famous “The Nutcracker” performance has been a New York holiday tradition since the 1950’s. Stunning costumes, an iconic score and even a massive one-ton Christmas tree transport viewers to a dreamy fairy-tale world in which toys dance and reindeer fly. There are roughly 45 “The Nutcracker” performances each year between November 26 and January 2, and it’s best to book your tickets early to snag prime seating.
On November 30, thousands will gather to witness the lighting of Rockefeller Center’s iconic Christmas tree. There will be special musical performances during the lighting ceremony (this year Susan Boyle, Mariah Carey and other celebrities will be putting on a good show), but if you can’t make it on that day, it’s always fun to rent some skates and take a spin on the Ice Rink at Rockefeller Center next to the sparkling tree.
The Pond at Bryant Park
Waiting for a ticket to get into the Ice Rink at Rockefeller Center can take an hour or longer, as only 150 people are allowed on the rink at a time. A nice, less touristy and free (that’s right — admission is free!) ice skating alternative is the Pond at Bryant Park. The outdoor rink stays open from the end of October through the end of February, and skate rentals are available on site.
The World’s Largest Menorah
The lighting of the biggest menorah in the world — the monument is 32 feet tall — happens at 4 p.m. on December 11 at the Grand Army Plaza in Manhattan (Fifth Avenue at 59th Street). The ceremony will include dancing, Jewish foods and performances by folk singers. Admission is free.
New Year’s Eve in Times Square
Okay, this one’s obvious. The Times Square New Year’s Eve ceremony pretty much marks the end of the city’s holiday festivities — and it’s the world’s most famous New Year’s Eve party — so we had to give it a mention. If you want to get in the action, you’ll have to arrive in the square pretty early on December 31 to stake out a good spot. No public restrooms are available, and there are no food or drink vendors, so make sure to do your business before you head to the square, and pack a snack.
For more information on the Big Apple, don’t miss our Top 25 Ways to Save on New York City Travel.
–written by Caroline Costello