People Ice Skating in the Park Near High Rise Buildings

The Ultimate Guide To Your First Christmas in New York


As a Christmas enthusiast, I always said that I must spend Christmas in New York at least once in my lifetime. Thankfully, it finally happened in December 2022. The glistening lights, the festive decorations, and the infectious Christmas spirit in New York City? Absolutely undeniable! In the city that never sleeps, the holiday season is an unforgettable experience that will leave you with incredible memories. Whether you’re an avid traveler or you’re simply seeking to bask in the festive spirit, this blog is your guide to embracing the joy of a New York Christmas. If you’re planning to spend Christmas in New York sometime in the future, this guide is for you. Keep on reading to learn more about the holiday cheer of the empire state and how you can make the most of your trip!

Why New York?

New York is a city that needs no introduction. Its iconic skyline and lively streets make it one of the most famous and loved destinations in the world. But beyond its well-known landmarks and tourist attractions, New York comes alive in a unique way during the Christmas season.

The city’s energy takes on a new dimension as the streets transform into a winter wonderland – literally. Iconic locations like Fifth Avenue become decorated with sparkling lights and festive decorations that are not like what you’ll see in your average city. At least not for me, being from Calgary, Alberta (no shade! I love my city but we definitely could step it up during the holiday season). 

Times Square and various streets downtown become filled with street performers and carolers that significantly contribute to the holiday cheer. Let’s not forget the shopping! Well known stores like Macy’s and Saks Fifth Avenue reveal incredible window displays and of course, there’s the exclusive sales as well.

What I truly enjoyed about the city is the sense of community and inclusivity that I felt while I was there. Whether you’re admiring the Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Centre, ice skating at the rink, or joining the large crowds for the Dyker Heights lights tour, you’ll feel like you’re celebrating the holiday with a community. It’s the one time of the year that everyone collectively embraces being joyful, and you can definitely feel this spirit in New York. 

Know Before You Go

Here are some essential travel tips and insights to help you plan your trip to NYC for the holiday!

  1. Best time to visit (for the holiday):
    • As this is a peak tourist season, be prepared for larger crowds and higher prices. If you prefer a quieter visit, consider late November (after US thanksgiving) or early December before the holiday rush truly begins.
  2. Transportation:
    • New York offers an extensive transportation system, including subways, buses, taxes and rideshare services. The subway system is the most cost-effective, which is a great way to save money considering that you’ll be there during the most costly time of the year. I used rideshares and taxis to get around, but if you are doing this, it’s important to note that you CANNOT underestimate the city’s traffic! It is just as intense as what you see in movies and tv shows, so be sure to allow time for delays when you plan your transportation.
  3. Safety:
    • New York City is generally safe for tourists, but like any major urban area, it’s important to stay aware of your surroundings and also take common-sense safety precautions. Keep a close eye on your belongings, use credible transportation services, and remain aware in crowded places.
  4. Currency and money matters:
    • The currency used in New York is the United States Dollar (USD). Credit and debit cards are widely accepted, but it’s a good idea to carry some cash for small purchases, especially if you plan on a visit to any of the many Christmas markets. Also, be aware of potential foreign transaction fees on your cards and exchange rates. The exchange rates on credit cards differ and are normally a bit higher than what you will see on a Google search.
  5. The New York City Pass
    • To save money on sightseeing and attractions, I’d highly recommend that you get the New York City Pass. Christmas in New York includes various seasonal activities, so it would be in your best interest to take advantage of this pass during this period. Also, buying a pass will most likely cost less than purchasing individual attraction tickets and if it turns out that it doesn’t, they will actually refund you the difference!
  6. Packing Tip
    • In addition to everything you would normally pack for a trip, don’t forget your appropriate winter clothing. New York is COLD in December! Even if you think your hometown has seen the worst when it comes to winters, still come very prepared because most of the seasonal activities require you to be outside for long periods of time. So, you want to be comfortable and have a good time. Some essentials include warm clothing, a heavy coat, scarves, gloves, and thermal layers.
  7. Other December Tourism Tips
    • Be prepared for long lines: Because December is a peak season in New York, the city will be crowded and there will be a high the demand for both seasonal and regular activities. This means there will be long lines everywhere! Be sure you know the activities that you’re actually interested in, and prioritize those. This is the best way for you to make the most out of your days there. I spent over an hour in line at Edge NYC, and when I finally got in, I was there for only about 15 – 20 minutes. The views were great, but I could’ve seen a lot more of the city using that time that I spent in line.
    • Anticipate transportation delays: The traffic in New York is exactly what you’ll see in movies and TV shows – chaotic! This means long transportation times, especially if you’re planning on taking taxis and/or rideshares. Make sure that you’re allowing for time delays, especially if you’re heading to an activity that you booked for a specific time.
    • Make reservations: If you’re planning on visiting well known restaurants and bars, you’re not the only one who knows about them! With the city being busy, be sure to book ahead of time to secure your spot and to avoid being turned around at the door.
Things to Do in New York in December

For context, while I wanted to enjoy the holiday spirit of New York, because this was also my very first time visiting the city, I wanted to do other activities that were highlights of being in the Big Apple. Therefore, this list includes both Christmas activities and regular activities that the city is well known for. 

Explore Times Square

Times Square is essentially the heart of Manhattan. It’s known for its bright lights, Broadway theaters, and a vibrant atmosphere that’s active day and night. Exploring Times Square means being in the middle of New York City’s entertainment, shopping, and dining scene. While I’m often not a fan of crowded spaces, I enjoyed the lively atmosphere of Times Square because it was simply lovely to see everyone in good spirits. It serves as a gathering place for several communities, for example, I saw dance groups who were putting on a show for the crowd, and also because we were there during the 2022 world cup, I got to witness Argentinians who gathered at the square to celebrate their win. 

MOMA (Museum of Modern Art)

The Museum of Modern Art, or MoMA, is an incredible spot for art lovers. It has an impressive collection of modern and contemporary art, including famous works by Picasso, Van Gogh, Warhol, and many more. A visit here will feel like taking a journey through the art of the last century. I particularly enjoyed the various themes and the distinct styles of art throughout the room. As someone who isn’t too fond of museums, this particular museum was pleasant to be in because each room and exhibition felt like a unique surprise, with something new to explore. I’m Nigerian to the core and I love being Nigerian, so seeing the Lagos exhibit at the museum was the highlight of my experience there.

MoMA | Lorna Simpson
MoMA | James Rosenquist
Madame Tussauds

Madame Tussauds, the famous wax museum, is where you can take pictures with incredibly lifelike wax figures of celebrities, historical figures and pop culture icons. Some of the figures look incredibly realistic, which I thought was quite impressive. This museum is definitely a fun and interactive experience for all ages.

Edge NYC

Edge NYC is one of the many places where you can get incredible views of the city’s skyline. It’s located in the Hudson Yards neighborhood of Manhattan. The main attraction is the outdoor Skydeck, which has a glass flooring and makes you feel like you’re floating above the city. What I liked about Edge is that your experience isn’t limited to the sky deck alone. Inside the building, there are interactive exhibits and informative displays about the city’s culture. 


Brooklyn offers a taste of authentic New York life, with a wide range of food, art, and entertainment. Whether you’re into street art, artisanal food, or scenic waterfronts, Brooklyn has it all. And of course, you can’t forget to visit the Brooklyn Bridge while you’re there.

Dyker Heights Christmas Lights Tour

Dyker Heights in Brooklyn is known for its over-the-top Christmas light displays. Taking a tour here exposes you to beautifully decorated homes in the neighborhood, and it truly captures the festive spirit of the holiday season. You can choose to tour the neighborhood on your own, but I would recommend booking a guided tour. The tour guides know where to find the best gems in the area and share interesting stories behind the unique displays. You can book your Dyker Heights tour here.

Wall Street

Wall Street is where the global financial action happens. As you walk around the Financial District, you’ll come across several historic sites, including the famous Charging Bull sculpture. If you’re particularly interested in the bull sculpture, be prepared to stand in line to take a photo with it! 

New York Stock Exchange
Charging Bull (Bull of Wall Street)
One World Trade Centre

The rebuilt World Trade Centre complex is where you will find the One World Observatory, a moving 9/11 memorial and Museum, and the Oculus transportation hub. I found it to be a place to reflect on history and pay my respects.

One World Trade Center
Classic Harbor Line Holiday Cruise

A Classic Harbor Line Cruise is a relaxing way to escape from the city’s busy streets. You’ll enjoy breathtaking views of Manhattan’s iconic skyline, the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and the Brooklyn Bridge while cruising along the city’s waterways. If you book the seasonal cruise, you’ll be entertained with live Christmas carols, along with some festive treats. I booked this experience here.

Tip: I booked my cruise in the evening time and was treated to stunning sunset views behind the various NYC landmarks. It was a dreamy sight that seemed like it was straight out of a movie! 

Classic Harbor Line Cruise
The Rockettes Christmas Spectacular

The Rockettes Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall is known to be a popular holiday tradition in the city. The show features the world-famous Rockettes dancers and just like any other Broadway-style production, you can expect a mix of music and dance, but with the holiday magic. This experience has the perfect title because it truly was spectacular and I was beyond impressed with the live show.

Radio City Music Hall
Radio City Music Hall
Rockefeller Center

It won’t be a Christmas in New York if you don’t visit the Rockefeller Center at least once! Ever since I saw the Rockefeller Center in the Home Alone movie, I’ve wanted to see it in person, especially the gigantic Christmas tree. I can confirm that the reality definitely fits the grandeur that I saw on screen. The moment you arrive at the Rockefeller Center, it’s clear that it’s the epicenter of holiday festivities in New York City. You can go ice skating at the famous rink, see the famous towering Christmas tree, and enjoy a variety of seasonal attractions. Visiting Rockefeller Center during the holiday is a great way to take in all of the city’s festive atmosphere.

Rockefeller Center
Rockefeller Center
Saks Fifth Avenue

If you’re interested in a spectacular Christmas lights show, then you have to visit Saks Fifth Ave. During the holiday season, it’s not just a luxury department store, but it’s also the site of an incredibly creative holiday window display. The light show is made up of thousands of LED lights, synchronized to holiday music. The show goes on from late November to Early January and occurs between 5pm-9pm every night. It usually occurs every ten minutes, and lasts for three to four minutes.

Knicks Game

Whether you’re a sports fan or not, the Knicks Game is an experience that cannot be missed while you’re in New York. It takes place at Madison Square Garden, which is one of the world’s most famous arenas. What I loved about attending a Knicks game is that wasn’t not just about the sport itself; it was an experience that was filled with a lot of energy and enthusiasm. This can keep anyone entertained, even if you don’t understand basketball. As a bonus, you might spot your favorite celebrity while you’re there because these games frequently draw in famous faces.

Day To Day Itinerary
Day One
  • Explore Times Square
  • Museum of Modern Art
  • Madame Tussauds
  • Summit One Vanderbilt
Day Two
  • Empire State Building
  • The Rockettes Christmas Spectacular
  • Rockefeller Center
  • SAKS Fifth Avenue
Day Three
  • Wall Street
  • Brooklyn | Bridge, Prospect Park, Botanic Garden, Dumbo
  • Dyker Heights Tour
Day Four
  • Central Park
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • Belvedere Castle
  • Knicks Game
Accommodation Recommendations

There are several places to stay in NYC, and here is a breakdown of each place as well as a brief description:

  1. Times Square: Central location for exploring many iconic attractions.
  2. Midtown Manhattan: Home to landmarks like the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center, and Central Park.
  3. Theater District: Ideal for those interested in catching a Broadway show and it’s close to Times Square
  4. Lower Manhattan: Includes the Financial District and the historic sites like the 9/11 Memorial and Wall Street. It’s a good choice for those who want to explore the city’s history.
  5. Chelsea: Known for its art galleries, High Line Park, and its Boutique hotels.
  6. Upper West Side: Located near Central Park and has a quieter atmosphere.
  7. Upper East Side: Known for its museums, including The Met and the Museum of Natural History. Has more upscale hotels.
  8. Greenwich Village: Known for its Bohemian history and boutique hotels.
  9. Williamsburg, Brooklyn: Has a thriving arts and food scene and it’s just a short subway ride away from Manhattan.
  10. Long Island City, Queens: Located across the East River from Manhattan, has more affordable accommodation options with easy access to Manhattan.

I stayed at Even Hotel – Midtown East. Its location was a highlight, as it’s conveniently close to several popular tourist attractions. However, it’s worth noting that this hotel falls on the pricier side. The downside was the relatively small room size and limited space in the common areas. While it wasn’t the most exceptional hotel experience, it served as a decent place to stay during my visit.

Final Thoughts

From the dazzling lights of Saks Fifth Ave to the Rockettes Christmas Spectacular, NYC’s holiday spirit was everything I expected it to be. Despite the large crowds and long lines, spending a little bit Christmas in New York was still an experience that I genuinely enjoyed. The city’s Christmas magic is an experience that all Christmas enthusiasts should have at least once in their lifetime! I hope this guide helps you to plan the perfect festive trip for your holiday!

Happy travels 🙂