35 Fun Things To Do Over Holiday Break in NYC With Kids

Tip Toe's journey is laid out storybook-style in Macy's holiday windows display. Photo  by the author
Tip Toe's journey is laid out storybook-style in Macy's holiday windows display. Photo by the author

Few places rival New York City for winter holiday activities and the upcoming school holiday break offers families plenty of free time to sample them all. We’ve rounded up 35 of our favorite winter break activities, most of which can be accessed with the swipe of a MetroCard. Fill your vacation with awesome museum outings, live stage shows, fancy meals, and magical holiday experiences. My family even braves the crowds at popular tourist attractions like the Rockefeller Center tree and department store holiday windows.

NYC public school students are on winter break from Friday, December 24, 2021, through Sunday, January 2, 2022. If you need more fun things to do over the holiday break, bookmark our Family Activity Calendar, which is continuously updated as we learn about new, kid-friendly happenings.

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1. Go to Governors Island

See Governors Island in a whole new season and explore the brand new Win­ter Vil­lage, with festive activ­i­ties including a 5,000-square-foot ice skat­ing rink, lawn games, fire pits, sled and bike rentals, a hol­i­day lights dis­play, and cozy food and drink options.

2. Make it a Muppet Christmas

Join puppets Emmet Otter and his Ma as they enter a Christmas Eve talent contest in this stage adaptation of Jim Henson’s Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas family special. Or catch another show, like Winnie the Pooh: The New Musical Adaptation, or the picks from our list of the best holiday shows for families in 2021.

RELATED: Revitalized Wollman Rink Reopens in Central Park

origami tree american museum of natural history 35 Fun Things to Do with Kids in NYC Over the Holiday Break
This year’s origami Christmas tree at the American Museum of Natural History celebrates its golden anniversary with 50 metallic-hued origami ornaments. Photo by D. Finnin/AMNH

3. Snap a Photo Beneath a Christmas Tree

Rockefeller Center isn't the only go-to spot. You can find a stunning tree in Bryant Park and the lovely origami tree at the American Museum of Natural History featuring 50 specially created gold-colored ornaments to commemorate the tree's “golden anniversary” this year. FREE

4. Sing Your Holiday Heart Out

Go Christmas caroling on Christmas Eve in Washington Square Park, where The Rob Susman Brass Quartet leads a traditional sing-along. FREE

5. Stroll the Windows

Take a holiday windows walk and marvel at stunning department store holiday windows and other awesome seasonal sights in Midtown Manhattan. FREE

6. Take in a Train Show

Though the New York Botanical Garden's Holiday Train Show is the main event; you can also see trains at the New-York Historical Society.

7. Be Enchanted by The Nutcracker

Catch the live performance of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker at the David Koch Theater at Lincoln Theater.

RELATED: 35 NYC Holiday Activities Every Kid Should Try Once

Lightscape is a fun thing to do over holiday break
Enjoy the illuminated tunnel at Lightscape. Photo by Ros Muggeridge

8. Be Bright at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden

The BBG's first holiday illumination, Lightscape, shines brilliantly with dazzling installations like the Winter Cathedral, Fire Garden, and the animated grand finale, Sea of Light.

9. Stage a Family Movie Night

Cozy up on the couch with the whole family to watch one of the 30 best kids' holiday movies.

10. Say Cheese With Santa

Snap a photo with the big guy at one of these in-person Santa photo-ops. You can also hang with St. Nick at one of these 25 awesome Santa activities for NYC kids.

11. Hit the Stacks

Explore Brooklyn's fabulous new Adams Street Library or check out the rooftop views at the revamped Midtown Manhattan branch, and check out some books while you're there. FREE

12. Head to Hawkins

Act now to book your reservations for the Stranger Things pop-up, which has found a home in Times Square through January 2, 2022. FREE

RELATED: Best High Tea Spots in NYC to Enjoy a Cup With Kids

NYC Winter Lantern Festival is a good winter break activity
Come nose-to-nose with larger-than-life lanterns at snug Harbor's Winter Lantern Festival. Photo by Yuliya Marks

13. See Snug Harbor All Lit Up

Admire the dazzling sights at the NYC Winter Lantern Festival: Escape. Stroll through the Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden to view LED installations that stretch up to 30 feet tall. Families can also pick a wish lantern from the field of lights, decorate it, and take it home.

14. Be Dazzled in Dyker Heights

Take a trip to the outer boroughs to check out over-the-top holiday light displays, such as Brooklyn's famously decked-out houses in Dyker Heights. FREE

15. Watch the Animals Shine

Visit the animal-inspired lanterns at the Bronx Zoo. The much-loved holiday tradition returns to the zoo, lighting the grounds with wildlife-themed LED displays, custom Asian lanterns, and animated light shows.

16. Drive Through Some Holiday Lights

Load up the car and go for a drive through one of these holiday light shows glittering across the tristate area.

17. Peep Some Public Art

Walk through interactive archways that are activated by color-coded sensors and see light displays and musical compositions by local artists at the Flatiron Public Plaza's newest public installation, Interwoven. FREE

RELATED: Where to See The Nutcracker in NYC in 2021

Visit the Statue of Liberty during your holiday break
An off-season visit to Lady Liberty affords you a less-crowded experience. Photo by author

18. Play Tourist

Even though many of the tourists are back, it's still worth the trip to see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. The Statue of Liberty Museum, which opened in 2019, is worth the visit alone. Pro tip: Head there straight from the boat while everyone else beelines for the statue, and you'll have the run of the place.

19. Catch Some Culture (For Free!)

Reacquaint yourself with a favorite or discover somewhere new when you use your library card to get into 66 NYC museums and gardens free of charge.

20. Climb to New Heights

Brave the lines at the Empire State Building or get a different perspective and gaze at the city from Edge, the observation deck in Hudson Yards. The daring might appreciate tickets to City Climb or a ride in the glass elevators at Summit One Vanderbilt.

21. Shop and Play

Explore CAMP, which now has three city locations; its flagship Flatiron store, plus outposts at the Hudson Yards, which is currently hosting an interactive Paw Patrol Experience, and City Point in Brooklyn where you can blast off at Cosmic CAMP.

22. Go to the Park

Take the 1 train to the end of the line and explore Van Cortlandt Park, which offers plenty of all-seasons fun. FREE

RELATED: 101 Christmas Activities for Kids: Christmas Crafts, Christmas Decorations, and More

Powerhouse Books thing to do with kids over Holiday Break
Powerhouse@IC offers a diverse range of books for kids. Photo by the Diana Kim

23. Catch up on Your Reading

Browse the stacks at Powerhouse@IC to pick up some reading material to cozy up with during the break. While you're there, explore everything Industry City has to offer.

24. Explore NYC's Only Farm

Visit the Queens County Farm Museum and check out the new nature-inspired light display, Illuminate the Farm.

25. Day Trip to American Dream

Dedicate a day to exploring the massive American Dream Mall in New Jersey, with kid-friendly destinations like a Sea Life Aquarium, Legoland Discovery Center, and even a theme park and water park.

26. Visit Your Local Rec Center

If you're looking to jump-start your New Year's resolutions, set aside some time to explore your local rec center and sign up for a FREE 1-year membership before 2022 hits.

27. Visit the Drive-In

Watch family-favorite movies in your car at Skyline Drive-in, which is playing plenty of holiday favorites.

RELATED: Rockefeller Center: 15 Fun Things To Do This Season Besides the Christmas Tree

leFrak Fun Things to Do with Kids in NYC Over the Holiday Break
Glide through the holiday break on the ice at the LeFrak Center in Prospect Park. Photo courtesy of The Prospect Park Alliance

28. Hit the Ice

Check out one of NYC's outdoor ice skating spots, including the revitalized Wollman Rink in Central Park.

29. Visit the City's Newest Rink

Spend the day at the Brooklyn Children's Museum, and hit the ice at its rooftop installation, Art Rink.

30. Catch a Concert

For an all-new spin on the holiday classics, check out the rocking, Anime-inspired, rock-and-roll-tinged Animazing Christmas concert playing daily through Thursday, December 30.

31. Get Your Ski On

Now's the time for a quick snow tubing, snowboarding, skiing, or other winter sports adventure.

32. Make it a Longer Trip

If you're craving an extended escape, consider these weekend getaway destinations.

RELATED: Best Things To Do in NYC This December

The Sloomoo Institute offers plenty of sensory fun. Photo by the author

33. Have a Slimy Good Time

Get ready to get messy during a visit to the Sloomoo Institute in Soho for an over-the-top sensory experience.

34. Check Out a Museum Exhibit

There are plenty of new exhibitions to explore. We were smitten with the Disney-and-pop-culture mash-up at The Met, inspired by Notorious RBG at the New-York Historical Society, and excited by Sharks at AMNH.

35. Make Some Memories

Start working through our roundup of 100 (mostly year-round) Things To Do in NYC With Kids Before They Grow Up.

This article, originally published in December 2012, is updated annually.

Holiday Nostalgia Rides
Subway Line 1 - 10:00 AM Pick
Annual Santa Rescue
New York City Fire Museum - 11:30 AM Pick
Conference House's Annual Grand Illumination
Visitor Center in Conference House Park - 11:00 AM Pick
Winter Wonder at the Queens Botanical Garden
Queens Botanical Garden - 12:00 PM Pick
Neighborhood Guides
Activity Guides