Visiting New York in December? These travel tips include where to stay in NYC for first-time visitors, the best things to do in New York around Christmas, romantic things to do, and more.
Ever since I watched Home Alone 2: Lost in New York as a kid, I wanted to visit New York City in December.
From the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center to the luxury lobby at the Plaza Hotel – I wanted to see everything this magical city had to offer!
Celebrating New Year’s Eve in the city doesn’t have to be expensive. There are plenty of free things do in NYC.
For example, Central Park puts on a fantastic fireworks display. Make sure to dress for the weather though, because many of these free events take place outdoors.
If you’re on a tight budget, consider what your must-do activities are when visiting NYC during the holidays and budget for those. This can help you save money and prioritize your sightseeing.
We saved money on both our accommodation and transportation (we drove instead of flying), so we decided set aside more money to spend on entertainment and meals.
Spending the holidays in New York City was on my bucket list since I was a kid. We recently spend the past couple of New Year’s in NYC.
Table of Contents
What are the best hotels to stay in New York during Christmas?
Below are some of the best festive hotels to stay at in New York in December.
- Lotte New York Palace
- The Plaza
- Thompson Central Park – New York
- The Peninsula New York
- The Standard – East Village
- The St. Regis New York
- The Ritz-Carlton New York, Central Park
- The Pierre, A Taj Hotel, New York
- Dream Downtown
- Four Seasons Hotel New York Downtown
Ready to plan your NYC vacation? See what hotel deals are available in the area thanks to Booking.com
Should you stay in Manhattan or outside of New York?
Should you stay in NYC or outside of the city? It depends…
When choosing accommodations outside of the city, you’ll want to consider the cost of transportation and commute length. This will help you determine if it’s worth your time and money.
For our first New Year’s in NYC, I stayed at my brother-in-law’s apartment in New Rochelle.
We took the metro into the city every day. This saved us a lot of money on accommodation costs.
However, when we wanted to take a break during the day (or change before going out in the evening) this was difficult because it was a 40-minute train ride back to New Rochelle.
For our second Christmas in NYC, we decided to stay in Manhattan, which was more convenient. Accommodations were more expensive, but we booked in advance to get a good rate.
If you can afford to do so, I would highly recommend staying in the city.
Best things to do in New York City in December
The holiday season is one of the most beautiful and romantic times to visit New York. Below are the top things to do in the city for Christmas!
This annual musical holiday stage show at Radio City Music Hall is famous for the femeal dance group, The Rockettes.
If you love music, there are also many holiday concerts happening throughout the city.
This a festive way to celebrate the holidays in NYC.
Enjoy a beautiful view of the New York skyline on a boat decked out in Christmas decorations. Warm up with cocoa and cookies as you listen to live entertainment and carols.
Stay warm inside one of NYC’s many museums
See the famous Dyker Heights Christmas lights
This neighborhood in Brooklyn is worth checking out to see an unbelievable display of Christmas lights.
You can do a self-guided tour or make it even more special with this Dyker Heights Holiday Bus Tour.
See a Broadway show
Broadway is always a great way to warm up indoors. Some of the most popular shows include Aladdin, The Lion King, Moulin Rouge! The Musical, Chicago, MJ on Broadway, The Phantom of the Opera, and Blue Man Group.
See the Rockefeller Center Chrsitmas Tree
This is the most popular Christas tree in NYC. The tree lighting ceremony takes place the Wednesday after Thanksgiving.
Ice skating in New York City
Bryant Park, Rockefeller Center, and Woolman in Central Park are of the most popular ice skating rinks. The ice rink will open for the season in November where you can rent skates or bring your own.
New York City Christmas Markets
There are tons of different winter and holidays markets around the city, including the Union Square holiday market, Columbus Circle Holiday Market, Grand Central Holiday Fair, and Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park.
Try to stop by and check out all the festive holiday pop-ups. There is also a great cocktail bar called Miracle on 9th which serves Christmas drinks.
New Year’s Eve in Times Square
This is where you can experience the ball drop live in the middle of Times Square. In order to get the best view, make sure to arrive no later than 3 PM.
This tour provides round-trip transportation by bus from Manhattan to see the Christmast lights of Dyker Heights and Bay Ridge district of Brooklyn.
Holiday Train Show at New York Botanical Gardens
This is perfect for those who like to build railroad and train models.
During December in New York, you can make a reservation to check out Santaland.
This is a free annual winter village on the eight floor at Macy’s Herald Square. Perfect for kids and kids at heart.
Enjoy the holiday window displays
One of the best free holiday attractions in NYC is to check out the window displays at its department stores in Herald Square and Fifth Avenue.
Some popular ones include Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Bergdorf Goodman. They usually remain on display until January 1st.
See the world’s largest Hanukkah Menorah
At the end of December, the Jewish Festival of Lights starts with the lighting of the world’s largest Menorah.
Check it out in front of the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan and at the Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn.
If you’re planning to visit New York City for the holidays, below are some helpful tips to make the most of your trip!
Experience George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker
This is one of the quintessential New York things to do in December. A highlight of the performance is the gian Christmas tree which grows to a full height of 41 feet and weighs 1 ton.
- Travel tips for first-timers in New York City
- 3 days in New York City itinerary
- 5 days in New York City itinerary
1. Save money on attractions with the New York Pass
New York is a big city and there’s lots of fun things to do and see.
The first time I went to New York in December, I didn’t book anything in advance. This was a BIG mistake because many of the attractions I wanted to see were fully booked.
That’s why the second time I visited during the holidays, I used the New York Pass, which helped me easily plan my itinerary and visit all the top attractions in the city.
With the New York Pass, I saved time, money, and enjoyed stress-free sightseeing.
PRO TIP: Buy the pass online to save time and hassle. Plus, you’ll save extra money off the retail price. To buy the New York Pass, click here to go to the official website.
Here’s what’s included in the New York Pass:
✓ Pick from over 100 NYC attractions
✓ Valid for up to 10 days
✓ Save up to 70% compared to purchasing tickets at each attraction
✓ Visit unlimited amount of NYC attractions each day
The New York Pass is a prepaid sightseeing card that can be used to get FREE entry to the city’s top tourist attractions, including Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour, Empire State Building, and the Top of the Rock Observatory.
Plus, you can use the New York Pass to get free entry to 100+ other attractions, museums, and tours in the city.
Once you’ve bought the New York Pass, you can visit as many attractions as you want. The more sights you visit, the more money you save!
The New York Pass currently has a TrustScore rating of 8.2/10 on Trust Pilot, which makes it one of the highest rated sightseeing passes.
Over 3.5 million travelers have used the pass and 9 out of 10 customers recommend the New York Pass to their friends.
HURRY! Save up to 27% off the New York Pass. Offer ends September 28th! You have 2 years to activate the pass.
How to get your New York Pass:
STEP 1: Choose which pass duration you want to buy (1, 2, 3, 5, 7, or 10-day). You can click here to purchase your New York Pass from their official website.
Why you should consider buying the pass online:
- When you buy the pass online, you can take advantage of online discounts.
- They offer a 365-day money-back guarantee, so you can get a full refund just in case your plans change.
- You can activate your pass anytime within two years from the date of purchase.
STEP 2: Download your mobile pass instantly using the New York Pass app.
If you prefer a physical pass, simply print your pass and guidebook at home. Links and easy-to-follow instructions for both options will be in your confirmation email.
STEP 3: You now have FREE access to any of the 100+ top NYC attractions included for the duration of your pass.
How to activate the pass: It will activate once you visit your first attraction and can then be used on consecutive calendar days for the number of days purchased.
Tips for saving money in NYC during December:
Get discounted attraction tickets – New York is an expensive city, especially at Christmas time. Save money with a New York city pass.
The most popular one is the New York Pass, which I recommend.
Eat and drink during happy hour – There are happy hour specials available all around the city. This is an excellent way to save money on food and drink costs.
Check out free things to do in NYC – While the New York is home to some of the best attractions in the world, such as the Metropolitan Museum and the Empire State Building, there is plenty of free ways to have fun in NYC.
Walk through Central Park, ride the Staten Island Ferry and check out the High Line. Just make sure to dress warm because it can get chilly in the winter.
Read Next: 10 ways to visit New York on a budget
What to wear in New York in December?
If you want to have a great trip to NYC in December, it’s important to dress approprioately for the winter weather.
Below are some of my must-haves for staying warm when visiting New York City in December:
- Thermal top to wear under your shirt or sweater.
- Fleece-lined tights to wear under your pants or jeans.
- Cozy sweater or hoodie. Something easy to adjust your layers if you get too hot when inside sightseeing.
- Waterproof boots. This is essential for keeping your feet comfortable when walking around NYC.
- A winter parka jacket. I like long ones to keep my legs toasty warm.
- Scarf, gloves, beanie. This is great for keeping your hands, neck and head warm.
2. Some NYC attractions require advance reservations
If you’re traveling to New York City in December and plan to visit some of the city’s popular attractions, I HIGHLY recommend making reservations as soon as possible.
Some of the popular attractions, such as the Empire State Building, may sell out or require a wait for the next available entry.
If you’re using a sightseeing pass, such as New York Pass, New York CityPASS, New York Sightseeing Pass, or the Explorer Pass, you’re already one step ahead of everyone else because you can skip the long ticket lines.
Then once you’ve planned your New York itinerary, you can make your reservations through their website after purchasing your pass.
Below are some popular attractions that require or recommend advance reservations:
- Empire State Building
- American Museum of Natural History
- Top of the Rock observation deck
- Guggenheim Museum
- Ferry Access to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island
- Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises
- 9/11 Memorial and Museum
- Edge Observation Deck
- One World Observatory
3. The city is packed with tourists
I live in Toronto so I am used to big crowds. I have also been to other large cities around the world, such as London and Seoul.
BUT – I wasn’t ready for the mass of people in New York during the holidays. This was crazy busy!
When visiting the popular tourist areas in NYC during the holidays, expect crowds. I recommend arriving to museums early.
We wanted to visit all the major tourist spots while we were in town, but we found it busier than normal.
SIDE NOTE: I have been to New York several times during the summer, spring, fall and winter months.
Between Christmas and New Year’s Eve is one of the most EXCITING times to visit New York… but it’s also the busiest time to travel.
Planning ahead and allotting more time to visit each spot helped us when putting together our sightseeing itinerary.
Photo of the entrance in The MET
At one point I felt like cattle walking along Fifth Avenue in Midtown. This is where many people like to go because it’s nicely decorated here for Christmas.
After capturing some photos and enjoying the sights, I tried to avoid this area for the rest of my trip.
PRO TIP: I recommend avoiding the main touristy sights or arriving early to see them when they are less crowded.
This is another reason why I love using the New York Pass. You don’t have to waste time waiting in long lines.
Simply show your New York Pass and get Fast-Pass Entry at the city’s most popular attractions, including the Top of the Rock and the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA).
PRO TIP: If you want to experience a less crowded New York City, I suggest hanging out in Lower Manhattan, Lower East Side, the West Village, SoHo, and Greenwich Village area. These are some of my favorite neighborhoods to walk around in NYC.
For special events such as shows and theatre, you’ll want to book your tickets in advance. Many of the city’s popular shows sell out in the weeks leading up until Christmas.
You can always try your luck at one of the TKTS Ticket Booths in New York. Here you can grab last-minute Broadway and Theatre tickets at a discount. This can be a great way to save money!
Tips for managing crowds in NYC:
Make reservations – If you want to dine at a popular restaurant, you’ll want to make reservations.
If the establishment doesn’t accept reservations, I recommend visiting at off-peak hours. Perhaps have lunch or do an early dinner.
Start your day early – If you want to avoid crowds and people in your photos, I recommend waking up early to take photos.
Be patient and give yourself plenty of time when traveling around the city. Everything will take longer during the Christmas rush.
I recommend using New York’s public transit system. It’s the fastest and most cost-effective way to get around the city.
My favorite NYC travel guide books:
Click the product to shop
4. If you’re celebrating New Year’s Eve at Times Square, you MUST get there early
By early, I mean you should plan to arrive between 1:00 and 3:00pm. This is when they start closing off the streets around Times Square and start letting people into the gated areas.
You know those people you see at Times Square on TV at midnight on New Year’s Eve? They have probably been standing there since 1:00pm!
When I arrived at 3:00pm to check out the festivities, I couldn’t believe how busy it was already. By 3:15pm, it was packed all the way up past 50th Street!
Tips for celebrating New Year’s Eve in Times Square:
1. Get there early
This is a no-brainer. If you want to get the best spot, you MUST arrive early. Arrive no later than 3:00 PM.
2. Dress warm
It can get quite cold in NYC and there is little room to move around, which can make it feel even colder. I recommend wearing a warm jacket (look for one with PrimaLoft insulation), a scarf, a hat, warm socks, and mittens.
3. Eat before you arrive and bring snacks with you
Unless you plan to pay a pretty penny to eat at one of the restaurants in Times Square and watch the ball drop from inside, you need to eat before you arrive.
There won’t be any food vendors open. Most cafes and small businesses close in the afternoon on December 31st.
I recommend bringing a protein bar or two with you as well, in case you get hungry in the evening.
4. Take the train
Driving will be hectic, so you’ll want to take the train. But not to the Times Square stop, because you won’t be able to exit the station.
You’ll have to get off a few stations before, so bring comfortable walking shoes in case you have to walk several blocks to reach a good vantage point.
5. Leave your bags at home
Large bags are not permitted and all bags will be searched by police before entering the gated area. It’s best to just bring yourself and carry what you need in your jacket pockets.
6. Make sure to use the bathroom before you arrive
There are no portable restrooms in Times Square and many businesses close early, so you’ll need to use the bathroom beforehand – otherwise hold it for the night (or wear a diaper).
I’m not kidding, there are lots of people who wear adult diapers if they are celebrating in Times Square.
Also, keep in mind that you’ll lose your spot if you leave.
7. Leave the alcohol at home
Alcohol is not permitted in Times Square.
8. Be friendly
If you’ve been standing in Times Square since the afternoon, it’s a good idea to keep a positive attitude and be friendly to the people around you.
Have conversation topics ready and don’t be afraid to make friends with strangers because it’s going to be a long night!
Celebrating the holidays in New York City was a dream come true and I absolutely enjoyed it both times.
I wanted to be upfront and honest with you though about how busy it can be in the city during Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
The more transparent I am, the better this can help you prepare for a fun-filled trip to New York City!
Ready to plan your NYC vacation? See what hotel deals are available in the area thanks to Booking.com
New York City in December FAQs
Is December a good time to visit New York?
November and December are great times to visit New York because that’s when the city is most festive for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve. December is also one of the busiest times to visit New York, so keep this in mind if you prefer to avoid crowds.
Is New York worth visiting in December?
If you’re interested in holiday events, such as ice skating at the Rockefeller Center or exploring Christmas markets, then December can be a fun and exciting time to visit New York City. This is also a great time to see the city lit up for the holidays.
Is it cold in New York in December?
While the weather in December is not as cold as January or February, it’s important to dress appropriately. On average the daily high and low temperatures in New York City in December are 45°F / 32°F (7°C / 0°C).
Is Christmas in New York expensive?
Spending Christmas in New York City is not too expensive. Most tourists visit during the first week of December and on New Year’s Eve – which is when hotel prices skyrocket. The week of Christmas is the least expensive time to visit New York in December as most people stay close to home for the holidays.
Romantic things to do in NYC in December:
Ice skate in Central Park
Walk the High Line
Visit a museum (I highly recommend The MET)
See the NYC Christmas spectacular starring the Radio City Rockettes
Enjoy a holiday yacht cruise with jazz, cocoa, and carols
Take a 60-minute boat cruise around the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island
Take a NYC helicopter tour
What’s the average temperature in New York in December?
In December, the average daily high temperatures in New York are 42°F. It is usually overcast or mostly cloudly half of the time.