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Your guide to the can't-miss holiday happenings in New York City

November 22 2021
10 min read
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New York City is an incredible place year-round, but there's something extra special about the city during the holiday season. From open-air holiday markets to rooftop ice rinks and spectacular light shows, there's something for everyone.

While it's impossible to see and do everything (even if you live here), it's always fun to try. So, we've put together a round-up of all the can't-miss New York City holiday happenings.

Just keep in mind that some events are still closed because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, and that to participate in many indoor activities, you'll need to show proof of vaccination.

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Holiday markets

Christmas shopping, lights, ice skating and festive food and drinks all in one spot? Talk about a holiday dream come true. Here are our favorite holiday markets in New York City.

Winter Village at Bryant Park

This European-inspired holiday market showcases talented sellers from all over the world. The Winter Village is already open and will remain so until Jan. 2, 2022. You can visit Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and 10 a.m. until 8 p.m. on the weekends. After Thanksgiving, those hours will be extended to give people even more time to shop.

You can also go ice skating, check out the Christmas tree lights and grab food and drinks throughout the open-air market.

Union Square Holiday Market

(Photo by L. Toshio Kishiyama/Getty Images)

Not far from TPG's New York City headquarters is the Union Square Holiday Market. It's a go-to spot for local artists to sell their work, and it's a prime place to get some holiday shopping done. This year, you can also expect a Kid's Arts Studio, new live music and food and beverage booths (plus a warming station and lounge sponsored by Citi for when it gets colder out).

The Union Square Holiday Market is open from Nov. 18 through Dec. 24, from 11 a.m. until 8 p.m. on Monday through Saturday and until 7 p.m. on Sundays. The market will be closed on Thanksgiving Day and closes early at 4 p.m. on Christmas Eve.

Columbus Circle Holiday Market

Farther north is the Columbus Circle Holiday Market, located at 59th Street and Central Park West. This market has been around for more than 15 years, and each year you'll find an endless selection of market sellers offering crafts, jewelry, artwork and more at their booths.

The Columbus Circle Holiday Market is open from Nov. 27 through Dec. 24, Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. until 8 p.m. and 11 a.m. until 7 p.m. on Sundays. Note, the market does close early on Christmas Eve at 4 p.m.

Holiday shows

New York City also has ample opportunities to see theater, ballet and musical performances — from classics to modern takes on those classics to entirely unique shows all their own.

Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes

(Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Empire State Realty Trust)

Watching the Rockettes perform their Christmas Spectacular at Radio City is perhaps one of the most iconic shows of the season. The show is famous for its kick line and stellar costumes. It truly is a New York City holiday rite of passage and should be at the top of anyone's list if you've never seen the show before.

This year, the performance is showing through Jan. 2.

Related: How to save money on Radio City Christmas Spectacular tickets

A Christmas Carol

There's no shortage of "A Christmas Carol" shows to see during the holiday season.

You can watch a musical adaptation at the West Village's Players Theatre in Greenwich Village (showing from Nov. 28 to Dec. 30), or you can catch a classic rendition at the Merchant's House Museum in Noho (showing the entire month of December). There's also a unique version of the Dickens story in Long Island City where J. Max Baker plays more than 30 characters in a solo rendition of the story: One Christmas Carol.

Sherlock fans can also watch A Sherlock Carol in Hell's Kitchen, a crossover where Sherlock Holmes investigates the demise of Scrooge (showing until Jan. 2).

The Nutcracker

It just isn't the holiday season in New York City without going to see at least one version of "The Nutcracker."

Of course, there's the iconic New York City Ballet show of George Balanchine's The Nutcracker (showing Nov. 26 to Jan. 2). The New York Theatre Ballet puts on its own limited performance of Keith Michael's The Nutcracker (only showing Dec. 10 to Dec. 12).

For more unique and modern takes on the classic ballet, check out the Brooklyn Ballet's The Nutcracker, choreographed by artistic director Lynn Parkerson, that focuses on cultural diversity (think: street dance, belly dancing, hip-hop and more converging into one show) and the Hip Hop Nutcracker that features a remixed version of the Tchaikovsky score. The Hip Hop Nutcracker will only have two shows this year: One at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark on Dec. 18 and then another at Brooklyn's Kings Theater on Dec. 19.

Ice skating

Whether you're a skating pro or a novice (like me), ice skating is such a fun winter activity. There are outdoor rinks all over the city you can visit throughout winter.

Rockefeller Center

(Photo by Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket/Getty Images)

Rockefeller Center is one of the more famous holiday spots in New York City, with its massive Christmas tree and ice skating rink. While this rink is definitely smaller and more crowded than many of the other rinks in the city, it's still a top spot for tourists. It's one of those activities that's worth checking off your list at least once (even if you hit up a different rink on this list the next time you want to dust off your skates).

You'll sign up for a specific date and time when you purchase tickets online. Tickets start at $20, but pricing does vary. Booking in advance will be your friend, especially the closer we get to Christmas.

Bryant Park

If you're hoping to hop on the ice for free, Bryant Park's Winter Village is the place to go. It's the only free admission rink in New York City (though if you aren't bringing your own skates, you'll have to pay to rent a pair), open now through March 6, 2022.

To skate, you will need to make a reservation online first. Skate rentals start at $15, but Bank of American cardholders save 10% on rentals.

Central Park

Central Park's famous ice skating rink is under new management and has undergone updates for this season, including the addition of a cafe that serves handhelds such as hot dogs, burgers and more. Skating here may mean contending with more tourists, but there's truly nothing like skating surrounded by Central Park.

The rink is open from Nov. 14 for the winter season, and keep in mind that it's significantly cheaper to skate during the weekdays ($14 compared to $23, plus $11 per skate rental).

Prospect Park

(Photo by Shawn Waldron/Getty Images)

The LeFrak Center in Brooklyn's Prospect Park has a massive double rink — half covered and half uncovered. In the summertime, it's a roller rink, but winter brings the annual switch to an ice skating wonderland. You'll skate surrounded by Prospect Park (which is beautiful year-round), and the rink offers a number of ice sports activities such as figure skating, hockey and even curling.

Skating starts at $12 for a 90-minute session, and you can rent skates for under $10.

Lights and sights

New York City is known for more than its holiday shows, markets and outdoor skating options. The city lights up during the holiday season — literally. And there are so many ways to get into the holiday spirit throughout the city.

Fifth Avenue

When you take a stroll down Fifth Ave, you’ll get to see some of the most beautifully decorated window displays in the city. It’s always fun to see how creative the stores can get with their products and themes. One of the most iconic and must-see displays is the Saks Fifth Avenue Holiday Light Show.

The light show will run on a nightly basis from 4:30 p.m. to 11:35 p.m. throughout the holiday season. For prime viewing, head across the street to get the full view of the 10-story display. Fifth Avenue gets extremely busy around this time of year, so if you want front-row viewing, you’ll have to arrive early and stand your ground.

30 Rockefeller Plaza

(Photo courtesy of Julienne Schaer / NYC & Company)

I think it’s safe to say that 30 Rock is basically the epicenter of Christmas here in New York. You can do it all — from seeing the world-famous Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, to skating around The Rink, browsing the toy selection at FAO Schwarz or heading over to Radio City Music Hall to see The Rockettes. There are even some fun surprises like a pop-up igloo bar from City Winery where you can warm up after hitting the ice.

If you want to see the Rockefeller Tree all lit up, you’ll have to wait until Dec. 1, 2021, when live performances will precede the tree lighting at 8 p.m. This year, guests include Carrie Underwood, Harry Connick Jr., Alessia Cara, the Radio City Rockettes and more.

Hudson Yards

Shine Bright Only at Hudson Yards (presented by Wells Fargo) launched Nov. 15. More than 2 million lights illuminate the area, and events happen here throughout the holiday season. This is definitely one of the most Instagram-worthy spots in New York during the holidays, and it's relatively new, so it doesn't draw quite the same level of crowds as some of the other more iconic holiday season events.

You can also buy tickets to Santa's Secret to explore the North Pole through a series of six immersive holiday installations, from live gingerbread to lumberjacks to life-sized snow globes. The full experience ends with access to a secret speakeasy playing live music and serving Christmas-time cocktails.

Related: Book this, not that: New York City hotels edition

Santa at Macy's

If you’re a family visiting the city, you’ll probably want to stop by and visit Santa at Macy’s Santaland. However, be sure to make reservations in advance as they are required.

(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

Reservations are free and open up starting Nov. 26. This year, you'll have the option to reserve a slot to meet Santa in store or online. Note that the slot you're given is not the time you will get to see Santa, but the time that you can get in line. The wait time depends on the day of the week and how close it is to Christmas. Macy’s elves suggest visiting Monday through Wednesday earlier in the season to minimize your wait.

Additional reporting by Liz Hund.

Featured photo by Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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