Things to Do Over Holiday Break with NYC Kids 2012
Ever since my son started elementary school, I find that there just isn't enough free time for us to enjoy all of the great things New York City has to offer. That's why we love holiday break. We never leave town—instead, we fill our schedule with awesome museum outings, live stage shows, cool movies and magical holiday experiences. Call me crazy, but we even brave the crowds at the New York Botanic Garden's Holiday Train Show, the Rockefeller Center tree and the department store holiday windows.
If you're looking for entertaining and enriching things to do with your kids over holiday break in New York City, we have lots of ideas—more than 35 of them in fact, many free or inexpensive. You can find even more seasonal activities in our Holiday Fun Guide.
Special Museum Programs for Kids
While it's great to head to a museum at any time of year, the following culture spots are hosting special family activities during holiday break.
Whimsical Puppet Creatures – Upper East Side
The Jewish Museum, 1109 Fifth Avenue at 92nd Street
Monday, December 24, Thursday, December 27, Friday, December 28 and Sunday, December 30 1-4pm
Free with admission: $12 for adults, free for children under 12
During these drop-in art workshops, kids can create colorful puppets from paper, paint and wire inspired by the current Bodleian Manuscripts exhibit. The museum is also open on Christmas Day and hosting three concerts by kid rockers The Macaroons. Tickets are $20 for adults, $15 for children under 12.
Kwanza Celebrations – Crown Heights
Brooklyn Children’s Museum, 145 Brooklyn Avenue at St. Marks Avenue
Wednesday, December 26-Sunday, December 30 times vary, Visit the website for the complete schedule.
Free with admission: $9
The interactive tot spot celebrates Kwanza throughout the week. The preschool set can make holiday-themed crafts, and on Saturday, school-age kids can learn about Nguzo Saba, the seven principles of Kwanza.
12 Days of Science – Jersey City
Liberty Science Center, 222 Jersey City Boulevard
Friday, December 21-Tuesday, January 1 times vary. Visit the website for the complete schedule.
Most activities are free with admission: $16.75 for adults, $12.50 for children ages 2-12
LSC may not be in NYC but it's literally just across the Hudson River and easily accessible via public transportation. If you've never been, holiday break is a great time to make the trip since the museum is hosting its annual 12 Days of Science extravaganza. In addition to all of its usual attractions, there will be a slew of winter-themed activities, including live animal presentations, science experiments like making snow and liquid nitrogen ice cream, science-themed arts and crafts, and more.
Re-Make the Holidays – Corona
New York Hall of Science, 47-01 111th Street
Thursday, December 27-Sunday, December 30 noon-4pm
Most activities are free with admission: $11 for adults, $8 for children 2-17
Of course we also have our very own science museum here in NYC. Over break, kids can enjoy hands-on fun like working on an giant collaborative light-bright board, transforming everyday items into new creations, make LED-lit terrariums, ice sculpting and other offbeat activities. Afterward, hit the adjacent Flushing Meadow Corona Park to check out the Unisphere and other sights.
Needlecrafts – Prospect Lefferts Gardens
Lefferts Historic House in Prospect Park, use the Willink Entrance at the intersection of Flatbush and Ocean Avenues and Empire Boulevard
Wednesday, December 26-Wednesday, January 2 1-3pm
Families can hit the 19th-century house for old-school fun like needlepoint or writing with a quill and ink.
Holiday Open House – Glen Oaks
Queens County Farm Museum, 73-50 Little Neck Parkway
Wednesday, December 26-Friday, December 28 noon-4pm
NYC's only historic working farm wraps up the year with tours of its festively decorated farmhouse, crafts for kids and mulled cider.
Holiday Family Programs – Upper East Side
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Avenue at 82nd Street
Wednesday, December 26-Friday, December 28 times vary. Visit the website for the complete schedule.
Free with suggested admission: $25 for adults, free for children under 12
Families can hit the museum for sketching and discussion programs throughout the week.
Family Festival at the Cloisters: The Medieval Court: – Washington Heights
99 Margaret Corbin Drive
Friday, December 28-Saturday, December 29 noon-4pm
Free with suggested admission: $25 for adults, free for children under 12.
At the Met's uptown outpost, kids can hobnob with the knights, ladies, courtiers, cooks and jokers of the medieval court, learn about their lives and pastimes, play period games, and enjoy live music and performances. There will also be art workshops and self-guided scavenger hunt-style gallery tours.
Children's Museum of Manhattan – Upper West Side
212 West 83rd Street between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue
Wednesday, December 26-Monday, December 31 times vary. Visit the website for the complete schedule.
Free with admission: $11.
The tot spot offers special programming all week in conjunction with its interactive Grinch's Holiday Workshop. Families can watch celebrity chef Jehangir Mehta share Whoville-inspired recipes, craft holiday cards and flip books, and enjoy Dr. Seuss storytimes. There will also be performances by Mil's Trills and the Seventh Principle and the Tap City Youth Ensemble.
December Break Family Fun – Upper West Side
New York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West at 77th Street
Thursday, December 27-Tuesday, January 1 10am-6pm
Free with admission: $15 for adults, $5 for children 5-13
The society's DiMenna Children's History Museum is hosting a variety of activities inspired by the current WWII & NYC exhibit. Families can explore how the war affected NYC, learn cryptography (a.k.a. how to write and decipher secret code), play WWII aircraft bingo and try popular period dances. There will also be scavenger hunts at the Holiday Express train exhibit throughout the week.
Claymation Creatures Workshop – Astoria
Museum of the Moving Image, 3601 35th Avenue between 36th and 37th Streets
Monday, December 24-Tuesday, January 1 at 2:45 and 3:45pm
Free with admission: $12 for adults, $6 for children ages 3-12 plus a $10 materials fee
After watching a DreamWorks animated film for inspiration, children ages 9 and up can create their own 3D monster, fairy, alien or other creature, and learn how to animate it in these daily film workshops. Kids under 9? No problem. Younger children can explore The Art of Rise of the Guardians exhibit or catch screenings of other DreamWorks movies like Monsters vs. Aliens and Puss in Boots.
Hands-on Holiday Activities – East Harlem
Museum of the City of New York, 1220 Fifth Avenue at 103rd Street
Wednesday, December 26-Friday, December 28 10:30am-3:30pm
Free with suggested admission: $10 for adults, free for children under 13
Families can explore the Currier & Ives and Other Winter Tales exhibit, and then create collages inspired by the artwork. There will also be an architecture-themed scavenger hunt through the beautiful building, followed by model making.
December Vacation Fun – Brooklyn Heights
New York Transit Museum, Boerum Place and Schermerhorn Street
Wednesday, December 26-Friday, December 28 11am-3:30pm
Free with admission: $7 for adults, $5 for children 2-17
The underground museum offers a pair of daily programs for tots. During Subway Safari, kids can listen to stories and make animal-themed crafts. In the afternoons, children can create one-of-a-kind NYC subway maps.
Harry Potter: The Exhibition – Midtown West
Discovery Time Square, 226 West 44th Street between Broadway and Eighth Avenue
Saturday, December 22-Tuesday, January 1 9am-7pm
$27 for adults, $19.50 for children ages 4-12
Muggles will love this installation showcasing costumes and props from the seven Harry Potter films. Walk right into Hagrid's Hut, the Great Hall at Hogwarts and even try on the sorting hat; see duds worn by Harry, Ron, Hermione and their professors, and peruse props like the Hogwarts Express, Professor Dumbledore's phoenix Fawkes, the Nimbus 3000, Harry and Ron's dormitory beds, the Marauders Map and Voldemort's wand. My son and I went a few weeks back and loved it! Make sure you read our tips about visiting before you go.
Although the American Museum of Natural History doesn't have any special holiday break activities, you can check out the soon-to-close exhibits Creatures of Light and Spiders Alive!, and celebrate at the annual Kwanza bash on Saturday, December 29.
After being closed due to damage sustained during Hurricane Sandy, the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum reopens on Saturday, December 21 and is offering buy-one-get-one-free admission during the holidays and beyond.
And of course the Children's Museum of the Arts is always a great place to pop into for hands-on art projects.
Family-Friendly Stage Shows
As always, there are a slew of high-priced seasonal spectacles playing around town like the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, Dr. Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical, A Christmas Story the Musical, Mummenschanz and the Big Apple Circus. While you can find discounts to most of them on BroadwayBox.com, there are also less expensive but equally festive family shows to consider.
The Three Bears Holiday Bash – Upper West Side
Central Park's Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre, enter at 79th Street and Central Park West
$8 for adults, $5 for children under 12
Saturday, December 22, Sunday, December 23, Wednesday, December 26-Sunday, December 30 times vary. Visit the website for the complete schedule.
The three bears and all of their fairy-tale friends return for their annual holiday variety show. This spirited puppet performance celebrates Christmas, Kwanza and Hanukkah.
Nutcracker Sweets & The Steadfast Tin Soldier – Park Slope
Puppetworks Theater, 338 Sixth Avenue at 4th Street
Saturday, December 22, Sunday, December 23, Wednesday, December 26-Sunday, December 30 times vary. Visit the website for the complete schedule.
$9 for adults, $8 for children under 12
The decades-old Brooklyn puppet theater mounts a holiday double feature. Nutcracker Sweets is an adaptation of Tchaikovsky's Land of Sweets dances and The Steadfast Tin Soldier is inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s famous fairy tale.
The Velveteen Rabbit – Union Square
DR2 Theatre, 103 East 15th Street between Union Square East and Irving Place
Saturday, December 22, Sunday, December 23, Wednesday, December 26-Monday, December 31 times vary. Visit the website for the complete schedule
We loved this hour-long adaptation of the beloved children's book. It's clever, funny and very moving, and best suited for children ages 3 and up. Bonus: Save $10 on tickets by using this discount code.
The Paper Bag Players: Saddles and Sunshine – Midtown East
New York Public Library, Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street
Wednesday, December 26 at 2pm
The troupe's brand-new Western-themed show features comical musical skits about bowling pins, being a good neighbor, sleeping babies and other whimsical topics. Tickets are first come, first served so arrive early. The Paper Bag Players have an avid following.
The Amazing Max and the Box of Interesting Things – Midtown West
MMAC Theater, 248 West 60th Street between Amsterdam and West End Avenues
Wednesday, December 26-Friday, December 28 at 1 and 3pm; Saturdays, December 22 and 29, and Sundays, December 23 and 30 at 1pm
An intentionally lowbrow show, Amazing Max features lots of potty humor along with slick tricks. I took my son last year and he turned red from laughing so hard. There's a ton of audience participation—in fact, Max chooses a young viewer for almost every act. Bonus: Snag $20 tickets by using this discount code.
Circus Oz Holiday Show – Midtown West
New Victory Theater, 209 West 42nd Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues
Saturday, December 22, Sunday, December 23, Wednesday, December 26-Sunday, December 30 times vary. Visit the website for a complete schedule.
Families will enjoy the acrobatic feats of this Australian circus troupe. The show features a live rock band and a sassy sense of humor along with original acts. Save money by using the BroadwayBox discount code
Holiday Circus – Brighton Beach
Millennium Theatre, 1029 Brighton Beach Avenue between Brighton 11th Street and Ocean Terrace
Friday, December 21-Sunday, December 30 times vary. Visit the website for a complete schedule.
More circus fun! This show mixes circus skills with seasonal spirit. Santa himself hosts the show, which features acrobats, jugglers, animal acts and a trio of kooky clowns. Arrive an hour early to enjoy the pre-show dance party. Save money by using the BroadwayBox discount code.
Handsome Little Devils in The Squirm Burpee Circus – Flushing
Queens Theatre, 14 United Nations Avenue South in Flushing Meadows Corona Park
Thursday, December 27-Monday, December 31 at 2 and 7pm
$32, family four-pack $99
My son and I saw this hysterical vaudeville-style show when it played the New Victory Theater a few years back, and we just loved it. Cool circus acts and wild contraptions are woven into a romantic story about two brothers, a sweet ingenue and an over-the-top villain.
Outdoor Fun for Families
New York Botanical Garden Holiday Train Show – the Bronx
The New York Botanical Garden, 2900 Southern Boulevard
Saturday, December 22-Monday, December 24, Wednesday, December 26-Tuesday, January 1 10am-7pm
$25 for adults, $15 for children ages 2-12
This amazing display of NYC landmarks created out of natural materials complemented by model trains is one of my family's favorite seasonal sights. The garden also offers other seasonal fun like Gingerbread Adventures and The Little Engine that Could puppet show at no additional cost.
Ice Carving Week – the Bronx
The Bronx Zoo, 2300 Southern Boulevard
Wednesday, December 26-Sunday, December 30 11am - 4pm
Free with general admission: $16.95 for adults, $11.95 for children ages 3-12
Bundle up for frosty fun. Renown carvers will transform blocks of ice into wintry animal statues in daily demos. The zoo is also reviving its arctic play land, complete with a 25-foot marine life-themed ice slide and giant ice throne shaped like a walrus.
The Staten Island Zoo is hosting a kids fun day on Wednesday, December 27 1:30-3:30pm. Drop in for a family film, arts and crafts, and more. Free with admission: $8 for adults, $5 for children 3-14.
Even More Holiday Break Ideas
Take a DIY tour of NYC's incredible department store holiday windows.
Or skip the crowds and gaze at one of NYC's other stunning Christmas trees.
Take a stroll in one of NYC's stunning parks.
Get all dressed up and enjoy a multi-course afternoon tea.
Enjoy one last ride on an MTA Nostalgia Train.
See how many seasonal activities you can tackle on our list of 45 favorite holiday traditions.