New York City is a special place during the holidays–even for a slightly cynical person light me. It’s the one time of year I jump for joy to go to all the touristy areas of the city, like Rockefeller Center, Times Square, and 5th Avenue. Luckily, there’s plenty to do here in December. If you don’t do at least three of the following while you’re here, I’ll have to fight you.

Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree NYC in a Day

1. Holiday Lights Displays

I don’t care how young, old, or young you think you are. Everyone is the perfect age to see grown-ass people cover up seemingly innocuous buildings in so many twinkly lights you think the grid is going to go down.

For one month, the lights in New York City burn even brighter. Some of my favorite holiday lights include:


Rockefeller Center Tree

The City of New York has been chopping down pine trees from all over the country and lighting them up since 1929. Okay, there were a few times we didn’t light the tree (including during World War II), but it’s still the most famous Christmas tree in all of America. Even Buddy the Elf was impressed by it, and that guy has seen a lot of Christmas trees.


5th Avenue Lights

5th Avenue has the largest concentration of holiday window displays (see below) and one of the largest concentrations of holiday lights in Midtown. Some of the most impressive lights include: a giant Swarovski crystal hanging outside of Tiffany’s and the world’ largest menorah at Grand Army Plaza.


Dyker Heights Lights

This Brooklyn neighborhood’s kitschy holiday lights spectacular has gotten more and more famous each year. Popularized by the documentary Dyker Lights as well as networks like the Travel Channel, Dyker Heights draws over 100,000 visitors each December.

Today, dozens of homeowners decorate their homes for the holidays, each hoping to win the prize for best decorations. Streets are closed, a DJ spins records, and kids sell hot cocoa and cookies for charity.

Just to be clear, these homes are seriously decorated. Seriously. They put the Griswold family to shame.


Holiday Markets NYC in a Day

2. Shopping at Holiday Markets

I have a love/hate relationship with holiday markets in NYC. On one hand, I love the consistency of them. The arrive every Thanksgiving, like clockwork. They disappear after Christmas. There’s also something very European about bundling up for the chilly weather to shop in brightly lit booths at night, hands clutching cups of hot cocoa (see below).

The only downside is that these guys get ridiculously crowded. You really need to avoid them at all costs on the weekends and after work. Which doesn’t leave a whole lot of time for shopping.

Yet if you can get over the hoards of people, you’ll have a great time. Plus, you’ll be supporting small businesses (which let’s face it, isn’t always easy in NYC). Some of the most popular holiday markets include:

Union Square Holiday Market

One of the largest holiday markets, Union Square’s seasonal market is located at the southern edge of Union Square park right outside the subway station.

Grand Central Terminal Holiday Market 

If you love holiday markets but can’t stand the cold, head to Grand Central Terminal for an indoor market.

Bryant Park Holiday Market

As a double bonus, this holiday market is located right next to the Bryant Park Christmas tree and ice skating rink.


Nutcracker Ballet NYC in a Day

3. See a Holiday Show

You just can’t come to New York City without seeing a show. You can’t. We won’t let you. It’s in your contract. Luckily, there’s plenty of holiday-themed shows in the city each year.

The Rockettes Christmas Specatular

Everybody’s favorite, hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers and millions of tourists come to see the Rockettes high kick their way into everyone’s hearts each year. Founded in 1925, they are most associated with Radio City Music Hall in Rockefeller Center. Yet, everyone knows—like all good show kids–they aren’t from here.  They just arrived here from the Midwest with big dreams and sparkly outfits. (They’re from St. Louis, MO.)

The New York City Ballet Presents the Nutcracker

The New York Ballet’s Nutcracker is a tradition for all upper-middle class girls in New York City and the Tri-State Area. It’s also one of the most famous productions of the ballet in the United States. Throw on your shiniest pair of Mary Janes, and head uptown to Lincoln Center for a matinee and then downtown to Dominique Ansel for Cronuts and hot cocoa.

Christmas Queens

RuPaul’s Christmas Queens is a tradition for all upper, middle, and lower-class boys who want to be girls in New York City. Just kidding–it doesn’t happen every year, so you should try to see it this year if it’s on your wish list. There also plenty of drag queen themed holiday shows throughout the city each year, so you’re sure to find one that floats your boat.


Brooklyn Museum NYC in a Day

4. Eat Your Heart Out at the Latke Festival at the Brooklyn Museum

Latkes are made of potatoes, and potatoes are made out of carbs. So I love latkes. You can eat as many as your heart desires and your arteries will allow you at the Latke Festival each year. But these aren’t your Bubbe’s potato pancakes. These latkes are elevated the nth degree. We’re talkin’ falafel latkes, southern sweet potato latkes, and a Great Gatsby latke sprinkled with caraway seeds. (It took me a minute to figure out what caraway seeds had to do with the Great Gatsby too.)


Infinity Mirrors NYC in a Day

5. Get Instagram-able at Infinity Mirrors

If you haven’t seen photos of the Infinity Mirrors displays, you’re probably not on Instagram or Facebook. Two hours of line standing to get two minutes in the David Zwirner Gallery’s installation of Yayoi Kusama’s famous mirrors and tiny lights in a dark room. It sounds like a scam, but it’s totally worth it. Plus, it’s free.

Check back for Part 2 of the 10 Best Things to Do During the Holidays in New York City and the 10 Best Ways to Do New Year’s Like a Local in New York.

What are your favorite things to do in New York City during the holidays?

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