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

Saks Fifth Avenue's nightly light shows add to the holiday magic at Rockefeller Center. Photo by Jody Mercier
Saks Fifth Avenue's nightly light shows add to the holiday magic at Rockefeller Center. Photo by Jody Mercier

Rockefeller Center is usually the most crowded place in New York City during the holidays. While the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree is the pièce de résistance, there is actually quite a bit for families to do in the area. Rockefeller Center is a great holiday destination with plenty of shopping, dining, and culture for kids of all ages. Include it as part of a holiday windows walk and grab a bite at one of the family-friendly restaurants nearby.

Read on for our picks for the best things to do at Rockefeller Center this winter.

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Ice skating rink at Rockefeller Center
Hit the ice at the famed Rockefeller Ice Skating Rink. Photo courtesy of the Patina Restaurant Group

1. Hit the Ice

Take a twirl on the most famous ice rink in the city. This is an essential NYC holiday experience. Go early in the season (or after the holidays) and early in the day to avoid the lines. The Rink is operating at a limited capacity to allow for social distancing, skate times are limited to 50-minutes, and reservations are recommended.

2. Grab Your Own Christmas Tree Bauble

Get an up-close view of the giant Swarovski crystal star that graces the top of the Christmas tree. The real star weighs hundreds of pounds and sports millions of crystals, but you can get a miniature ornament-sized one for your own tree at the Swarovski shop. Another fun Rockefeller Center tree fact: The 45,000 multi-colored lights adorning the big tree would amount to five miles worth of lights if unwound and stretched across the streets of NYC.

RELATED: Guide to Christmas and Holiday Events for NYC Families

The Lego Store in Rockefeller Center has plenty of NYC charm.
The Lego Store in Rockefeller Center has plenty of NYC charm. ​Photo by Jody Mercier

3. Play With Legos

Visit The Lego Store for a little playtime. This brand new flagship shop offers two levels of fun, plenty of cool Lego creations, and vignettes of familiar NYC scenes. It's moved from its Channel Gardens location to a prime corner spot on Fifth Avenue and 51st Street.

4. Do Your Holiday Shopping

Hit the other stores for some retail therapy or holiday shopping. There are more than 100 shops to choose from, selling everything from toothpaste to Tumi luggage.

RELATED: Must-do Holiday and Christmas Events for New York City Kids in 2020

American Girl Place offers plenty of diversions
Visit American Girl Place for some holiday cheer. Photo by Jody Mercier

5. Explore the American Girl store

Duck into the glittering American Girl Place on the northern edge of Rockefeller Plaza. There are loads of opportunities for interactive play, including a doll "hospital" and hair and nail salon. The cafe has reopened for in-person dining, and you can reserve the party room for a special package, including a custom doll hairstyling session, cake and ice cream, crafts, and a goody bag. Reserve in advance.

6. Learn About the FDNY

Learn about fire safety at the FDNY Fire Zone. The store occupies a brand new home on 48th Street, just east of Sixth Avenue. General admission is FREE at this fire-safety learning center, where kids play with interactive exhibits, climb aboard a fire truck, and meet a real firefighter.

RELATED: Best Ice Skating Rinks in NYC for Kids and Families

Top of the Rock offers panoramic city views
A quick elevator ride to the Top of the Rock offers one of the best city views. Photo by Steve Gardner via Flickr.

7. Take in the Best Views of NYC

Head to the Top of the Rock observation deck to experience breathtaking views of the NYC skyline. Don't forget your camera. These are some of the city's best views.

8. Visit a Gamer's Paradise

Game your heart out during a visit to Nintendo NYC. Entry is on a first-come, first-served basis, and shopping time is limited to 20 minutes currently.

RELATED: Free Holiday and Christmas Events for NYC Kids

Stop for photos and hot chocolate as you take in the holiday sights. Photo by Sara M.

9. Take Some Insta-worthy Photos

Strike a pose—the office buildings on Sixth Avenue abound with festive outdoor holiday displays. There's always something to see in this neighborhood!

10. Go on a History Tour

Take a tour for an inside look at Rock Center's art, architecture, and history. Prefer to do it yourself? See how many of these pieces of art you can spot along the way.

RELATED: See Midtown Manhattan's Iconic Christmas Displays

Magnolia Bakery's colorful cupcakes
Banana pudding, cupcakes, and other delicious treats are worth the wait at Magnolia Bakery. Photo courtesy of the bakery

11. Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth

Be sure to try the banana pudding at Magnolia Bakery. It is not to be missed and a great end-of-the-day treat! A newcomer we're crushing on: Chip City, which slings oversized, ooey-gooey cookies in flavors like vanilla dulce crumble, pumpkin spice latte, and traditional kid-pleasing chocolate chip.

12. Grab a Bite

There's a handful of fast-casual eateries in the concourse level, and you can find more family-friendly eats at these Rockefeller Center area restaurants.

RELATED: All You Need to Know About the Rockefeller Tree in 2021

FAO Schwarz's giant piano is great fun
Play a tune on the giant piano at FAO Schwarz. Photo by Janet Bloom

13. Revel in Toys Galore

At renowned toy emporium FAO Schwarz, greet the iconic toy soldiers at the door and take a whirl on the giant piano before you stock up on amazing holiday gifts. There's even a Build-A-Bear workshop on-site.

14. See the Rockettes

The beloved precision dance troupe is back to its high-kicking ways with multiple Radio City Christmas Spectacular performances from now through Sunday, January 2, 2022, so book your tickets soon. Even when the Rockettes aren't on stage, the historic theater is destination-worthy in its own right

St. Patrick's Cathedral near Rockefeller Center
Visit the iconic St. Patrick's Cathedral. Photo by Mommy Poppins

15. Enjoy the Holiday Windows

Check out the festive windows across Fifth Avenue, or visit the nearby, refurbished St. Patrick's Cathedral, which offers a self-guided audio tour.

This article was first published in November 2010; it is updated annually.

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