Few places rival New York City for winter holiday activities, and the school break offers families plenty of free time to sample them all.
There's no need to leave town: We’ve rounded up 35 of our favorite seasonal 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. Our family even braves the crowds at popular tourist attractions such as the Rockefeller Center tree and rink and department store holiday windows.
Be sure to click through the links for details, including locations, dates, and prices.
Remember, the NYC public school kids don't go back to school until Tuesday, January 2, so if you need more fun things to do over break, check out our December GoList, free December fun, and our daily Event Calendar.
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1. See Santa at Macy's Santaland (or elsewhere) before he sails away in his sleigh. FREE
2. Go Christmas caroling on Christmas Eve in Washington Square Park. FREE
3. Spend Christmas Day at one of NYC's favorite Jewish institutions: The Jewish Museum, the Museum at Eldridge Street, and the Museum of Jewish Heritage are all open.
See a miniature NYC at the New York Botanical Garden Holiday Train Show. Photo by Jody Mercier
4. Stroll through the New York Botanical Garden Holiday Train Show to see model trains and a miniature NYC, including a brand new scene highlighting Midtown's most iconic skyscrapers. Or check out the more modest train shows at the New York Transit Museum Gallery Annex in Grand Central Terminal or at the New-York Historical Society's Holiday Express, which comes with hands-on activities (like a scavenger hunt!) for the kids this vacation week.
5. Marvel at stunning department store holiday windows and other awesome seasonal sights in midtown Manhattan. FREE
6. 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
7. 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
Experience an amazing virtual Coral Reef at the Ocean Odyssey. Photo courtesy of National Geographic
8. Enjoy an underwater experience at the newly opened Ocean Odyssey in Times Square. The scientific minds at National Geographic joined forces with CGI experts to bring this interactive aquatic adventure to life.
9. Visit the Museum of the City of New York to take advantage of its awesome seasonal family programs, which include a Kwanzaa celebration and crafting snow globes. FREE with admission
10. Catch one of the big Hollywood holiday movie releases, such as Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Ferdinand, The Greatest Showman, Coco, or Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.
11. Warm up with a cup of frothy, chocolatey goodness at one of Manhattan's best hot chocolate spots.
12. Or head to Astoria's Museum of the Moving Image for daily screenings of The LEGO Batman Movie. Use the film for inspiration at the museum's Super Hero workshop and see the new Jim Henson exhibit. FREE with admission
13. An antidote to the excess of the season, craft with recycled goods at ReMake the Holidays at the New York Hall of Science.
Take a stroll down GingerBread Lane. Photo courtesy of New York Hall of Science.
14. While you're there, gawk at gingerbread houses at the massive GingerBread Lane exhibit and try building your own at the museum's GingerBread Lane House-Building Workshops on December 23 and December 27–30.
15. Got tweens or teens to entertain? Check out the nearly new VR World for some immersive gaming fun.
16. Indulge in a fancy afternoon tea at the Russian Tea Room, the Plaza, or another high-end eatery.
17. Splurge on high holiday culture at Lincoln Center with George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker.
18. Or opt for a less-highfalutin holiday show, such as A Charlie Brown Christmas, or The Snow Queen.
19. Run away and see the circus, as the Big Apple Circus makes its triumphant return under new management.
20. Explore Brooklyn's underground with hands-on activities at the New York Transit Museum.
Celebrate Kwanzaa beneath the blue whale at ANMH. Photo by R.Mickens/courtesy of the museum.
21. Celebrate Kwanzaa at the American Museum of Natural History's 39th annual festival on Saturday, December 30.
22. Let the kids burn off energy at a new-to-you indoor playground or sports center.
23. See handcrafted marionettes in action at Central Park's Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre in The Three Bears Holiday Bash.
24. Blow bedtime to explore some amazingly lit public art at the interactive Sea of Light at the South Street Seaport, Erwin Redl's Whiteout in Madison Square Park, and the ever-popular Luminaries at Brookfield Place. FREE
25. Boogie on over to the Children's Museum of Manhattan to enjoy all the Hip Hop Holidays-inspired programming, with live dance performances, fashion workshops, and more.
Glide through the holiday break at LeFrak in Prospect Park. Photo courtesy of LeFrak Center.
26. Hit the ice at one of NYC's outdoor ice skating spots.
27. Toes getting numb? Indoor rinks have public skating hours through the holidays.
28. Brave the post-holiday crowds at Rockefeller Center to visit the brand-new American Girl Place. Time your trip for New Year's Day and be among the first to meet 2018's Girl of the Year.
29. Now's the time for a quick snow tubing, snowboarding, skiing, or other winter sports adventure.
30. Escape the city—and the holiday hubbub—on a winter day trip; our guide includes everything from indoor water parks to wolf-watching and art exhibits.
31. Even better? Plot that mid-winter weekendlong escape from NYC with these inexpensive family destinations.
There's a massive brand-new Michelangelo exhibit at the Met. Photo by Jody Mercier
32. Take the big kids to soak up some old-world masterpieces at Michelangelo: Divine Draftstman & Designer at The Met. Check out the daily tree lightings while you're there.
33. Ring in the new year with a midday party at the Children's Museum of Manhattan or the Staten Island Children's Museum.
34. Older kids who can stay up will appreciate ringing in the New Year with a bang while watching midnight fireworks in Prospect Park and Central Park. FREE
35. 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.
Top photo Sea of Lights at the South Street Seaport Photo by J. Kratochvil for the Sea of Lights