Few places rival New York City for holiday activities, and the holiday school vacation break offers parents and kids a chance to sample them all.
We’ve rounded up 35 of our favorite seasonal activities that can be accessed with the ease of a MetroCard. There's no need to leave town. Instead, fill your schedule with awesome museum outings, live stage shows, fancy meals and magical holiday experiences. Our family even braves the crowds at popular tourist attractions such as the New York Botanical Garden Holiday Train Show, the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree and all the department store holiday windows.
The 2015-16 NYC winter school break runs from Thursday, December 24 through Friday, January 1, leaving parents plenty of hours to fill. Hope you enjoy our holiday gift to you.
Be sure to click through to the links for all the details, including locations, dates and prices. Remember, sign up for our FREE newsletters to get posts like this delivered to your inbox.
You can find even more fun things to do over break in our Holiday Fun Guide and our Event Calendar.
1. See Santa at Macy's or elsewhere before he rides away in his sleigh on Christmas Eve.
2. Go Christmas caroling on Christmas Eve in Washington Square Park. FREE
3. Celebrate with New York Jews on Christmas: The Jewish Museum, the Museum at Eldridge Street and the Museum of Jewish Heritage are open and throw festive parties.
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The annual train show at New York Botanical Garden always impresses. Photo by Ben Hider/courtesy NYBG.
4. Watch miniature electric trains whiz by NYC landmarks made from acorns, twigs, bark and leaves at the New York Botanical Garden Holiday Train Show.
5. Or check out the more modest Holiday Train Show at the New York Transit Museum Gallery Annex in Grand Central Terminal. FREE
6. More train fun: Enjoy choo-choo-themed crafts and a gallery scavenger hunt at the New-York Historical Society's seasonal Holiday Express exhibit.
7. Marvel at stunning department store holiday windows and other awesome seasonal sights in midtown Manhattan. FREE
8. Or hit the outer boroughs to check out over-the-top holiday light displays such as the decked-out houses in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn. FREE
9. Need more lights? See additional dazzling Christmas displays in the lower Hudson Valley, New Jersey and on Long Island. FREE
10. Pose for a photo in front of a giant Christmas tree—Rockefeller Center isn't the only one. You can find lovely large trees in Bryant Park and at South Street Seaport, plus a flotilla of illuminated firs on Central Park's Harlem Meer. FREE
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Nothing says holiday like a cup of hot chocolate. Photo courtesy of Jacques Torres.
11. Warm up with a frothy, chocolaty cup of goodness at one of Manhattan's best hot chocolate spots.
12. Visit the Museum of the City of New York for its awesome family programs, which include snow globe making, journal creating and family-friendly scavenger hunts. The museum is even giving away FREE Blue Marble ice cream December 26-January 3!
13. See one of the big Hollywood holiday releases such as Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip, The Peanuts Movie, Disney's The Good Dinosaur or the latest installment of The Hunger Games.
14. Or head to the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria for free-with-admission screenings of Shaun the Sheep each day. Use the film for inspiration when you join its Claymation Creatures Workshop, which costs an extra $5 in materials fees.
15. Celebrate Kwanzaa at the American Museum of Natural History's 37th annual festival on Sunday, December 27. While there, check out its interactive installation on the human body.
16. Head to Queens' New York Hall of Science to ReMake the Holidays with a host of hands-on projects and activities.
17. Indulge in a fancy afternoon tea at the Russian Tea Room, the Plaza or another high-end eatery. Preschoolers might enjoy tea with a Teddy Bear instead!
18. Splurge on high holiday culture at Lincoln Center with George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker and the Metropolitan Opera's family-friendly The Barber of Seville.
19. Or catch less highfalutin holiday spectacles such as The Commedia Rapunzel: Holiday Extravaganza Pumpkin Spice Latte Edition, Fancy Nancy Splendiferous Christmas and the Radio City Christmas Spectacular.
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The SeaGlass Carousel extended its hours for the holiday break.
20. Play tourist in lower Manhattan by taking in the view from the One World Observatory or visiting the Statue of Liberty. Twirl on the SeaGlass Carousel, which extended its hours to 10am-10pm from December 21-January 2 (check the website for weather updates).
21. See handcrafted marionettes in action at Puppetworks' Steadfast Tin Solider & Nutcracker Sweets and The Three Bears Holiday Bash at Central Park's Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre.
22. Head underground for hands-on activities at Brooklyn's New York Transit Museum.
23. Run away and see the circus: Big Apple Circus: The Grand Tour at Lincoln Center and Cirque Mechanics' Pedal Punk at the New Victory Theater both play throughout the holidays.
24. Head to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) to ponder Picasso's sculptures and make art in MoMA's Art Lab. Admission to the Museum of Modern Art is FREE on Friday nights.
25. Gawk at gingerbread houses at the massive GingerBread Lane at Queens' New York Hall of Science.
26. Find out what it takes to run the Queens County Farm Museum at its annual three-day holiday open house. FREE
Glide on the ice at rinks all across New York City, both indoors and out.
27. Hit the ice at one of NYC's outdoor skating spots.
28. Too cold for you? Indoor rinks have public skating hours throughout the holidays, too.
29. Grab your IDNYC Card and sign up for as many FREE museum memberships as possible before that benefit expires at the end of 2016.
30. Take a trip to the Staten Island Zoo for Kid Fun Days, where you can enjoy animal presentations, special tours and craft sessions and learn about warm-weather animals indoors.
31. Ring in the New Year with a bang without spending a buck with no-cost fireworks in Prospect Park, Central Park, New York Harbor and Coney Island. FREE
32. Ask yourself, "How on Earth did they do that?" over and over during the Vegas-style magic revue The Illusionists on Broadway.
33. We're unlikely to get an early snow with this unseasonably warm weather, but scope out the nearby slopes to plan your upcoming snowboarding, skiing and other outdoor winter sport activities.
34. Visit the newly opened Whitney Museum of American Art in Chelsea. Grab a sweet treat at one of our favorite nearby doughnut spots.
35. And on New Year's Day ... well, how many activities haven't you done on this list? If you're finished, you can start on our roundup of 100 things to do with kids in NYC—most of the suggestions are good year-round.
All photos by Mommy Poppins unless otherwise noted.
This post, originally published in December 2012, is updated annually.