35 Fun Things To Do Over Holiday Break in NYC With Kids
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.
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
7. Be Enchanted by The Nutcracker
Catch the live performance of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker at the David Koch Theater at Lincoln Theater.
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
11. Hit the Stacks
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
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
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
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
Powerhouse@IC offers a diverse range of books for kids. Photo by the Diana Kim
23. Catch up on Your Reading
24. Explore NYC's Only Farm
25. Day Trip to American Dream
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.
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
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
32. Make it a Longer Trip
If you're craving an extended escape, consider these weekend getaway destinations.
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.