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