35 Fun Things To Do Over Holiday Break With NYC Kids
Even in a pandemic, few places rival New York City for winter holiday activities, and the school holiday break offers families plenty of free time to sample them all.
We’ve rounded up 35 activities to enjoy during this year's winter break. Our picks combine exciting virtual happenings and fun, in-person events and destinations. So, fill your holiday vacation with these fabulous museum outings, streaming shows, and magical holiday experiences.
NYC public school students are on winter break from Thursday, December 24, 2020, through Sunday, January 3, 2021. If you need more fun things to do over the holiday break, bookmark our Event Calendar, which is continuously updated as we learn about new, kid-friendly happenings.
Editor's note: While we are trying to promote safer activities that occur outdoors or with social distancing guidelines in place, please keep your family and others safe by always wearing a mask and maintaining an appropriate distance. If you arrive at an event that appears too crowded, try using the "nearby" search feature on our Event Calendar to find something else. Keep in mind, reservations are required for many of these events, so plan your outings in advance, and be sure to click through to our listing for all the details, including address, time, and pricing.
Awaken the goodwill and magic of the Christmas spirit with a virtual visit with Santa.
Can't-Miss Seasonal Fun to Enjoy Over Holiday Break
2. If you want to see the big guy in person, you can take a contact-free photo with Santa and his elves at several city spots.
3. Go virtual Christmas caroling on Christmas Eve in Washington Square Park, where The Rob Susman Brass Quartet leads a traditional sing-along. FREE
Bloomingdale's holiday windows showcase a happy rainbow of displays inviting visitors to "Give Happy" this holiday season. Photo by Jody Mercier
4. Take a holiday windows walk and marvel at stunning department store holiday windows and other awesome seasonal sights in Midtown Manhattan. FREE
5. Through the New York Botanical Garden's Holiday Train Show is limiting tickets; you can see the train show at the New-York Historical Society or stream the Holiday Train Show at Grand Central Terminal.
Take a stroll through Central Park to see the holiday lights on the Harlem Meer. Photo by Julienne Schaer
7. Snap a photo beneath a Christmas tree. Rockefeller Center isn't the only go-to spot. You can find lovely Christmas trees in Bryant Park, plus a flotilla of illuminated firs on Central Park's Harlem Meer. FREE
8. Admire the dazzling sights at LuminoCity Festival on Randall's Island.
9. Or, see the animal-inspired lanterns at the Bronx Zoo.
This year’s origami Christmas tree at the American Museum of Natural History features 1,000 paper cranes. Photo by D. Finnin/AMNH
10. Be awed by an origami-filled Christmas tree at the Museum of Natural History. Its 13-foot-tall origami Christmas tree is a 40-year old New York tradition.
11. Be enchanted by The Nutcracker, which you can catch virtually, including George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker.
12. Load up the car and go for a drive through one of these holiday light shows glittering across the tri-state area.
Enjoy the exhibits in uncrowded galleries at the Brooklyn Museum. Photo by Ros Muggeridge
Explore NYC's Culture Spots Tourist-Free This Winter Break
13. Peruse favorites old and new at the Brooklyn Museum, which is operating at reduced capacity.
14. Be amazed at MoMA. The newly remodeled and reopened Museum of Modern Art offers plenty of family-friendly sights.
RELATED: Outdoor Art Day Trips Near NYC
Get lost in a galaxy of Classic Blue light projections at Artechouse. Photo by Jody Mercier
15. Have a unique art experience and immerse yourself in the world of Classic Blue at Artechouse's newest art installation, Celestial.
16. Take a virtual museum field trip. While some museums have reopened, you can still explore many of NYC's cultural institutions online.
17. Visit a pop-up museum. Enjoy some slimy fun at the Sloomoo Institute in Soho or the Museum of Ice Cream, which is conveniently right across the street! Be sure to book your tickets for both in advance.
Take advantage of the tourist-free city with an uncrowded view of Lady Liberty, the Statue of Liberty Museum, and Ellis Island. Photo by author
18. While the crown and pedestal of the Statue of Liberty are closed, you can still tour Liberty and Ellis Islands. When we visited, there was plenty of room to spread out. The 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.
Holiday Break Fun in Stores and Kid-Friendly Destinations
Edge, at Hudson Yards, gets you above the crowds for stunning, unobstructed views. Photo by author
20. Climb to new heights at the Empire State Building or get a different perspective and gaze at it from Edge, the city's newest observation deck in Hudson Yards, which is also the highest outdoor observation deck in the Western Hemisphere.
21. Warm up with a cup of frothy, chocolatey goodness at one of Manhattan's best hot chocolate spots.
Powrhouse@IC is newly opened and offers a diverse range of books for kids. Photo by the Diana Kim
23. Browse the stacks at the newly opened Powerhouse@IC.
24. Embark on an adventure at Ripley's Believe It or Not!
Glide through the holiday break at LeFrak in Prospect Park. Photo courtesy of The Prospect Park Alliance
Outdoor Destinations for Winter Break
25. Hit the ice at one of NYC's outdoor ice skating spots.
26. Visit the High Line and see the fusion of art, nature, and design.
28. Take the 1 train to the end of the line and explore Van Cortlandt Park, which offers plenty of all-seasons fun.
29. Watch family-favorite movies in your car at Skyline Drive-in, which is playing plenty of holiday favorites.
Day Trip and Weekend Escape Destinations for Holiday Break
31. Dedicate a day to exploring the massive American Dream Mall in New Jersey.
33. If you're craving an extended escape, consider these weekend getaway destinations.
When is the last time you rode on an empty–and clean!—subway car? Photo by author
Explore the Greatest City on Earth
34. Conquer a few of the activities on this list of 20 things to enjoy in the (relatively) quiet city streets.
35. 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.