35 Fun Things to Do with Kids in NYC Over the Holiday Break
Few places rival New York City for winter holiday activities, and the school 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 such as the Rockefeller Center tree and rink and department store holiday windows.
Remember, after a scheduling snafu the DOE added an extra day to the holiday break, meaning NYC public school kids are out from Saturday, December 21, 2019 through Wednesday, January 1, 2020. If you need more fun things to do over the 2019-2020 winter break, check out our December GoList, free December fun, and our daily Event Calendar.
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There are plenty of places to see Santa in NYC, but nothing beats Macy's Santaland. Photo by Matthew Nighswander
1. Visit Santa Claus
2. Go Christmas caroling
Carolers gather every year on Christmas Eve in Washington Square Park for a traditional, everybody's-invited singalong. FREE
3. Celebrate Hanukkah
Hanukkah runs from December 22 through 30 this year; participate in celebrations and family activities at one of NYC's Jewish institutions. The Jewish Museum, the Museum at Eldridge Street, and the Museum of Jewish Heritage are all open.
The New York Transit Museum's Holiday Train Show at Grand Central is a beloved winter tradition. Photo by Janet Bloom
4. See a holiday train show
Stroll through the New York Botanical Garden Holiday Train Show to see model trains and replicas of NYC landmarks painstaking handcrafted out of plants. Taking center stage this year is Central Park. You can also check out the more modest train shows at the New York Transit Museum Gallery Annex in Grand Central Terminal, the New-York Historical Society, and at Bryant Park's Southwest Porch.
5. Take a holiday windows walk
Marvel at stunning department store holiday windows and other awesome seasonal sights in midtown Manhattan. FREE
6. Be amazed at the new MoMA
Explore the newly re-opened (and remodeled) Museum of Modern Art.
7. Get dazzled in Dyker Heights
8. Snap a photo beneath a Christmas tree
Stand beneath a giant illuminated Christmas tree and snap a keepsake holiday photo. Rockefeller Center isn't the only go-to spot. You can find lovely Christmas trees in Bryant Park and at South Street Seaport's Pier 17, plus a flotilla of illuminated firs on Central Park's Harlem Meer. FREE
Featuring over 120 large lantern exhibits, the first-ever Hello Panda Festival is a feast for the eyes. Photo by Raven Snook
9. Walk through a holiday lantern festival
Admire the dazzling sights at one of the holiday lantern festivals popping up in four of our five boroughs.
Experience an amazing virtual Coral Reef at the Ocean Odyssey. Photo courtesy of National Geographic
10. Embark on an oceanic expedition
Enjoy a virtual underwater experience at Ocean Odyssey in Times Square. The scientific minds at National Geographic joined forces with CGI experts to bring this interactive aquatic adventure to life.
Transform into a colorful, glittery Troll at The Trolls: The Experience. Photo by Jody Mercier
11. Transform into a Troll
It's your last chance to transform your little ones into high-hair trolls at Midtown's Trolls: The Experience, where you're sure to have the Best Day Ever! with Poppy and pals. The experience closes January 5!
12. Play all day...for free
13. Catch a holiday movie
Catch one of the big Hollywood holiday movie releases, including Jumanji: The Next Level; Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker; Cats, and Little Women. Extra fun points for seeing a flick at one of NYC's dine-in movie theaters.
Enjoy Slimey fun at the Sloomoo Institute. Photo by Jody Mercier
14. Visit a pop-up museum
15. Go on a hot chocolate crawl
Warm up with a cup of frothy, chocolatey goodness at one of Manhattan's best hot chocolate spots.
16. Stay in and snuggle
Forget going out in the cold; snuggle up under a blanket for a family-friendly Christmas movie marathon.
Book your ice bumper cars session at Aviator Sports. Photo by Siobhan Adcock
17. Bash around in an ice rink bumper car
18. Escape into virtual reality
19. See an amazing magic show
Another option sure to amaze big kids? The Illusionists: Magic of the Holidays on Broadway.
20. Daytrip at American Dream
Dedicate a day to exploring the massive new American Dream Mall in New Jersey.
Take a stroll down GingerBread Lane. Photo courtesy of New York Hall of Science.
21. See the city's biggest gingerbread village
As an antidote to the excess of the season, craft with recycled goods at ReMake the Holidays at the New York Hall of Science. While you're there, gawk at gingerbread houses in the massive GingerBread Lane exhibit and try building your own at the museum's GingerBread Lane House-Building Workshops from December 27–30.
22. Build with bricks at NYSCI
A visit to NYSCI's special Art of the Brick Lego exhibit is worth a separate trip all its own!
23. Play tourist for a day at the Empire State Building
Be one of the first to see the revamped visitors' experience at the Empire State Building.
24. Be enchanted by The Nutcracker
There are lots of nutcrackers dancing through NYC, but the biggest, most impressive holiday splurge is George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker at Lincoln Center.
25. See mechanical marvels
Little kids will appreciate the magic of a trip to the New Victory Theater to see 42FT—A Menagerie of Mechanical Marvels from Vegas-based troupe Cirque Mechanics.
The Big Apple Circus is always a hit. Photo by Jody Mercier
26. Cheer for NYC's homegrown circus
Another high-flying fun show: The Big Apple Circus.
27. Get underground at the Transit Museum
Explore Brooklyn's underground with hands-on activities at the New York Transit Museum.
Celebrate Kwanzaa beneath the blue whale at AMNH. Photo by R.Mickens for the museum.
28. Celebrate Kwanzaa
Celebrate Kwanzaa at the American Museum of Natural History's 41st annual festival on Saturday, December 28.
29. Enjoy a puppet show in Central Park
See handcrafted marionettes in action at Central Park's Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre in Yeti, Set, Snow.
Glide through the holiday break at LeFrak in Prospect Park. Photo courtesy of The Prospect Park Alliance
30. Skate with a view...
Hit the ice at one of NYC's outdoor ice skating spots.
31. ...Or skate indoors!
Toes getting numb? Indoor rinks have public skating hours through the holidays.
32. Get out of town for some snow
33. Party like it's noon year's eve
34. Ring in 2020
35. Explore the best city on Earth
If you've checked all the items off this list and still have a few days of vacation to fill, start working on 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.