25 Free Holiday Events for Families and Kids in NYC

Free Family Holiday fun in New York City: Tree Lightings, Thanksgiving Parade, New Year's, and More for NYC Kids

It's the most wonderful time of the year and New York City is gearing up for a magical holiday season. There's just something about the sheer delight and excitement in kids' faces that can make even dodging tourists and taxis fun.

While there's no shortage of things to do around the holidays in the Big Apple—annual train displays have begun and we're looking forward to exciting holiday events, cozy brunches with Santa, spectacular Nutcracker productions, and more—we know FREE fun can often be the best kind, especially with kids in tow. So we've rounded up 25 holiday activities for the family to enjoy gratis now through New Year's Eve. Consider it our holiday gift to you. For more seasonal fun, be sure to check out our Holiday Guide.

1. Enjoy a gratis model train show at Grand Central before hitting the annual holiday fair. Dodge commuters and tourists to gaze up at that the famous constellation ceiling and check out these other family-friendly finds.


Sonic the giant balloons of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Photo by Anthony Quintano via Flickr.

2. See the balloons inflate the night before, then wake up and enjoy the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade! As the saying goes, "Only in New York, kids!"

3. Bring your own skates to the Bryant Park Winter Village rink—the only ice rink in NYC with FREE admission! (There is a charge to rent skates; hot chocolate is extra, too.)

4. Catch free Broadway mini shows at the Shops at Columbus Circle with Broadway Under the Stars, running through December 11.

5. Enjoy performances by musicians and entertainers like jugglers and stilt-walkers at Winter's Eve (November 27), New York's largest holiday festival, and one of our 2017 holiday must-dos.

RELATED: 10 Picture-Perfect Holiday day Trips for NYC Families


Give Santa your wish list for free at Macy's Santaland. Photo by SLCG via Flickr

6. Ho, ho, ho! Whisper in Santa's ear at Macy's Santaland for FREE (photos available for purchase, but not required), or one of these other NYC Santa experiences.

7. Blow bedtime to brave the crowds at the Rockefeller Center tree lighting on Wednesday, November 29, or enjoy another more mellow neighborhood tree event.

8. Sing carols, drink cocoa, and watch live ice carving demonstrations at the 21st Annual Central Park Tree Lighting on Thursday, November 30.

9. Watch a free, hourlong performance of that famed Nutcracker just for kids at Brookfield Place, December 1 or 2.

10. Indulge in a sweet holiday treat at the Taste of Christmas Cookie Walk at St. Nicholas Orthodox Church. There will be FREE cookie decorating for kids, but adults will have to purchase cookies if they want to indulge. There's an on-site "Tinseltown" gift market and hot-chocolate bar, too.

11. Gawk at the artistic holiday windows at Midtown's major department stores with a winter walk. (Peek at last year's displays to get you in the holiday spirit.)

12.  Immerse yourself in free holiday art when Luminaries returns to Brookfield Place on Tuesday, November 28.

RELATED: 21 NYC Holiday Activities Every Kid Should Try Once


The over-the-top Dyker Heights, Brooklyn, displays are one of a kind. Photo courtesy of imprintmytravel.com.

13. Tour the spectacular holiday lights in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn, or some of these other spots around the five boroughs.

14. Cheer as the Christmas tree is lit, and make your very own ornament at the craft table at Holiday on the Hudson on Saturday, December 9.

15. Watch free holiday flicks like How the Grinch Stole Christmas, plus visit with Santa, at the Paley Center for Media select dates beginning Saturday, December 9.

16. Catch a classic Christmas tale with Scrooge and Marley at LaGuardia Performing Arts Center, Saturday, December 9.

17. Listen to some of the best storytellers bring holiday fairy tales and fantastic Scandinavian tales to life on Saturday, December 10.


Watch this massive menorah lighting each night of Hanukkah at the southeast edge of Central Park. Photo by Daniel Avila/courtesy of NYC Parks.

18. Celebrate Hanukkah with the lighting of massive, 32-foot-high menorahs (both known as the World's Largest Menorah) in Brooklyn's Grand Army Plaza and on 59th Street in Manhattan, from Tuesday, December 12 through Tuesday, December 19.

19. Take your budding ornithologist to the Christmas Bird Count on Saturday, December 16.

20. Grab your boombox and join the musical procession, Unsilent Night, on Sunday, December 17. (Pre-downloading the music is suggested.)

21. On Sunday, December 17, listen to the 44th Annual Merry Tuba Christmas at Rockefeller Center! (Anything that reminds us of John Candy's polka band in Home Alone gets us in the holiday spirit.)

22. Speaking of the iconic holiday flick, the set-in-New York sequel celebrates its 25th anniversary this holiday season, and The Plaza Hotel is reminding us all with an exhibit and photo ops in the Todd English Food Hall (and not-so-free room packages).

23. Carol (or listen in) through Washington Square Park on Christmas Eve.

24. Join the Queens County Farm Museum for its Holiday Open House, Tuesday, December 26 through Friday, December 29. Enjoy themed crafts, cider, and more.

25. Ring in the New Year with music and fireworks in Prospect Park with your tweens and teens on Sunday, December 31.

Top image: Saks Fifth Avenue Christmas Display seen from Rockefeller Center. Photo by Salon NYC via Flickr.

location: 
Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade Balloon Inflation
Central Park West and 79th Streets
10024 New York , NY 40° 46' 55.362" N, 73° 58' 18.1596" W
New York
Grand Central Terminal - Train Show and Holiday Fair
89 E 42nd St
10017 New York , NY 40° 45' 8.9856" N, 73° 58' 38.2872" W
New York
Winter's Eve at Lincoln Square
Broadway and 65th Street
10023 New York , NY 40° 46' 23.0592" N, 73° 58' 56.3412" W
New York
Bryant Park Winter Village
42nd between 5th and 6th Avenues
10018 New York , NY 40° 45' 19.1592" N, 73° 59' 35.8332" W
New York
Macy's Santaland
151 W 34th St
10001 New York , NY 40° 45' 2.8512" N, 73° 59' 22.2936" W
New York
Santa HQ at the Queens Center
90-15 Queens Blvd
11373 Elmhurst , NY 40° 44' 5.2908" N, 73° 52' 10.4412" W
New York
Broadway Under the Stars
59th Street and Broadway
10023 New York , NY 40° 45' 5.3964" N, 73° 54' 9.8964" W
New York
Rockefeller Plaza Christmas Tree Lighting
45 Rockefeller Plaza
10111 New York , NY 40° 45' 33.3216" N, 73° 58' 40.0728" W
New York
20th Annual Central Park Christmas Tree Lighting
110th Street between Lenox and Fifth Avenues Charles A. Dana Discovery Center
10029 New York , NY 40° 47' 29.9076" N, 73° 56' 41.2764" W
New York
Holiday Event at Evergreen Cemetery
1629 Bushwick Ave
11207 Brooklyn , NY 40° 40' 50.5344" N, 73° 54' 9.4896" W
New York
Holiday on the Hudson
125th St West Harlem Piers Park
10027 New York , NY 40° 48' 38.8224" N, 73° 57' 9.3348" W
New York
BRIC FamJam
647 Fulton Street BRIC House Ballroom
11217 Brooklyn , NY 40° 41' 19.3884" N, 73° 58' 44.7744" W
New York
Unsilent Night
Washington Square North and 5th Avenue Washington Square Arch
10003 New York , NY 40° 43' 53.0832" N, 73° 59' 49.146" W
New York
Christmas Bird Count
101 East Drive Audubon Center
11225 Brooklyn , NY 40° 39' 38.9592" N, 73° 57' 54.8784" W
New York
World's Largest Menorah Lighting
661 Warren Street Grand Army Plaza
11217 Brooklyn , NY 40° 40' 49.6668" N, 73° 58' 41.3256" W
New York
Queens County Farm Museum
73-50 Little Neck Parkway
11004 Floral Park , NY 40° 44' 53.43" N, 73° 43' 16.4604" W
New York
JCC
344 Amsterdam
10023 New York , NY 40° 46' 53.49" N, 73° 58' 47.6004" W
New York
Paley Center for Media
25 W 52nd St
10019 New York , NY 40° 45' 38.1708" N, 73° 58' 39.3564" W
New York