Rockefeller Center at the Holidays: 17 Fun Things To Do This Season Besides the Christmas Tree

Photo-ops abound at Rockefeller Center during the holidays from larger-than-life candy canes, to stunning holiday windows, and the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree itself.
Photo-ops abound at Rockefeller Center during the holidays from larger-than-life candy canes, to stunning holiday windows, and the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree itself.
12/5/22 - 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 and finish off your visit with a sweet treat from Magnolia Bakery in Rockefeller Center.

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


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Rockefeller Center: Ice skating
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. Skate sessions last one hour, 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 in NYC for Families

Rockefeller Center: The Lego Store
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 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 in New York City for Kids in 2022

Rockefeller Center: American Girl Place
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 on-site cafe offers a special sit-down meal for girls and their dolls on select dates. Reservations are required.

6. Learn About the FDNY

Learn about fire safety at the FDNY Fire Zone. The store occupies a 48th Street storefront, 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: 13 Outdoor Ice Skating Rinks in NYC: Bryant Park, Rockefeller Center, and More

Rockefeller Center: Top of the Rock
A quick elevator ride to the Top of the Rock offers one of the best city views. Photo courtesy of Tishman Speyer

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 currently limited to 20 minutes

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 Window 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. Nosh on a Magnolia Bakery Cupcake and Other Sweet Treats

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 a traditional kid-pleasing chocolate chip.

12. Grab a Bite

There's a handful of fast-casual eateries on 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 2022

Meet the resident animals of FAO Schwarz. 

13. Revel in Toys Galore

At the 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 Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes performances through Monday, January 2, 2023, so book your tickets soon. Even when the Rockettes aren't on stage, the historic theater is destination-worthy in its own right

RELATED: Free Holiday and Christmas Events for NYC Kids

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

15. See St. Patrick's

The seat of the Catholic Archdiocese of NYC, the soaring, gothic St. Patrick's Cathedral has served the masses since its opening in 1869. Stop by for a service or enjoy a self-guided audio tour of the beautiful, newly restored church.

16. Get on TV

The Today Show calls Rockefeller Center home. Rise early enough and you can line the plaza outside its studio for a chance to rub elbows with its anchors and try to get your face on TV to share holiday greetings with those near and far.

Rockefeller Center: Saks Fifth Avenue's Light Show
Saks Fifth Avenue's nightly light shows add to the holiday magic at Rockefeller Center.

17. See the Windows and Saks' Light Show

Peek at the Elton John-inspired window installations at Saks Fifth Avenue, and then high-tail it across the street to catch the light show on the store's facade, which gets a whole new look and Rocket Man-inspired soundtrack this season.

This article was first published in November 2010; it is updated annually.Stephanie Ogozalek contributed additional reporting.

Unless noted, photos by the author

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