Must-Do Christmas Events and Holiday Activities in New York City for Kids

Astra Lumina is an illuminated, mile-long night walk through the Queens Botanical Garden. Photo courtesy of  Moment Factory
Astra Lumina is an illuminated, mile-long night walk through the Queens Botanical Garden. Photo courtesy of Moment Factory
11/5/23 - By Jody Mercier

When it comes to holiday activities in NYC, locals know that even though there's a week of Kwanzaa, eight nights of Hanukkah, and 12 days of Christmas, the holiday season in NYC really lasts from early November through New Year's Eve. That's almost two months of only-in-NY holiday activities and special Christmas events.

Of course, not all Christmas events and holiday activities are created equal. That's why we've rounded up the absolute best ways to get into the spirit of the season. Here is our curated list of must-do holiday activities and Christmas events in NYC in 2023. Consider this seasonal bucket list our gift to you. Below, we're detailing a dozen Christmas events and holiday activities sure to give your family a season of happy memories.

Our picks for New York City's top holiday activities are a mix of classic favorites, like the star-studded Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, and newcomers, including Luna Park's Frost Fest, which transforms the amusement park into a winter wonderland. You'll find plenty more family-friendly seasonal celebrations in our New York City Holiday Guide, which includes picks for everything from holiday day trips to the best Nutcracker ballets for kids, and more sweet seasonal treats.


If an event piques your interest, click through to our listing for all the details, including address, time, and pricing. And keep in mind: In NYC, really cool things to do often get booked up quickly. So buy your tickets ASAP, or, in the case of FREE events, arrive as early as possible to try to beat the crowds.

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1. Holiday Train Show at Grand Central – Midtown East

Daily from Thursday, November 16-Sunday, February 25, 2024
Located in the New York Transit Museum's Grand Central Annex, this small-but-mighty holiday train show makes a triumphant return for the first time since 2019. Guests can marvel at model trains as they depart from a Grand Central Terminal in miniature and wind their way past famed NYC sites en route to the home of the one and only Santa Claus. A change from years past: Tickets are now required, cost $5, and must be booked online in advance. While you're there, check out the rest of the fun at Grand Central Terminal, including its Holiday Fair, FREE gift wrapping, and our favorite family-friendly things to do at Grand Central Terminal.

RELATED: Polar Express Train Rides near NYC

Christmas events and holiday activities in NYC: NYBG Glow
Discover the beauty of the New York Botanical Garden after dark this holiday season. Photo courtesy of NYBG

2. New York Botanical Garden Holiday Train Show and NYBG Glow – Bronx Park, the Bronx

Train show: Friday, November 17-Sunday, January 14, 2024; NYBG Glow: Select dates from Friday, November 17-Saturday, January 13, 2024
While there are other holiday train displays in and near NYC, none compare to NYBG's annual show, which debuts a brand-new outdoor display in 2023. Of course, you'll see motorized trains zip past nearly 200 well-known NYC landmarks inside and out. More than 25 model trains, including Thomas the Tank Engine, go whizzing by the botanical architectural wonders painstakingly crafted from acorns, twigs, bark, berries, and leaves. Book your tickets for this Christmas activity in advance—and take note, if you time it right, you can enjoy the enchanting outdoor holiday lights exhibition NYBG Glow, which returns for a third season setting the grounds ablaze in an enchanting light display that plays off the beautiful architecture and landscape of this NYC landmark.

3. Frost Fest at Luna Park – Coney Island

Select dates from Saturday, November 18-Sunday, January 7, 2024
NYC's favorite seaside amusement park takes on a shimmering winter glow when Frost Fest transforms the grounds of Luna Park for a whole new season of fun. Guests can hit the ice on a brand-new ice skating rink, enjoy some high-flying fun on select rides, and pose for fun seasonal photo-ops with holiday decor and the seasonal celeb, Santa Claus. Enjoy a holiday market and plenty of festive food options, too.

RELATEDWhy Seeing the Radio City Rockettes is a Holiday Favorite

Christmas events and holiday activities in NYC: The Gingerbread City
The Gingerbread City debuts at the South Street Seaport this holiday season. Photo by Luke O'Donovan

4. The Gingerbread City – South Street Seaport

Saturday, November 18-Sunday, January 7, 2024
This transport from across the pond pops up at the South Street Seaport for a season-long stay courtesy of the Museum of Architecture. Visitors will tour an entire city crafted from gingerbread, candy, and frosting. Moving trains zoom by and bits and pieces of buildings move to bring this sweet metropolis to life. A must-visit for lovers of confections and city planning, it provides an insider's education on how cities are built. If you want a hands-on lesson, daily workshops are offered for an additional fee and might just be worth the sweet holiday splurge.

RELATEDHow To Find Free Toys for Kids this Christmas and Holiday Season

Christmas events and holiday activities in NYC: Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade
Greg Heffley takes flight in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Photo courtesy of Macy's and Abram Books

5. Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade & Balloon Inflation – Upper West Side to Midtown West

Balloon inflation: Wednesday, November 22; Parade: Thursday, November 23
We definitely don't need to sell you on this world-famous NYC tradition, which turns 97 this year! The only thing that isn't family-friendly about this procession of pop-culture-inspired floats and giant balloons is the fact you need to arrive around 6am to stake out your spot. Unfortunately, there is no secret to snagging a good viewing location unless you're willing to splurge on a hotel room overlooking the route (and by now, they're probably sold out!). Plan to arrive early or watch from way in the back. You'll still see something. Or find a friend (or a friend of a friend) who lives on the route. Wherever you watch from, expect a thrilling lineup of celebrities, marching bands, colorful floats, kooky clowns, and massive balloons, from old favorites, such as Pikachu, to new additions like Beagle Scout Snoopy. FREE

6. Bronx Zoo Holiday Lights – Bronx Park, the Bronx

Friday, November 18-Sunday, January 8, 2023
See the Bronx Zoo in a whole new light when the Bronx Zoo's holiday lights return for another after-dark safari. We love this charming holiday display that's a mix of colorful, oversized lanterns, twinkling tunnels, and one spectacular animated tree on Astor Court. Special extras like s'mores kits, hot cocoa, and an enchanting train ride make an evening out at the Bronx Zoo a perfect holiday tradition to start now. Don't sleep on the ice-carving demos, either! It's so fun to see these artisans at work and how quickly they can transform a simple block of ice into a magnificent creature.

7. The Santa Clauses Winter Wonderland – South Street Seaport

Wednesday, November 22-Friday, January 5, 2024
It's up, up, up the escalator to the rooftop at Pier 17 where the North Pole is revealed. Bucket Listers and Disney+ team up to bring this wintertime experience to life at the 65,000-square-foot venue. Manhattan's only rooftop ice skating rink awaits, plus there's plenty of seasonal fun to enjoy. Step into Santa's living room and snap a picture by his fireplace, stroll down the candy-cane-lined hallways, pose under the giant Christmas tree, peek into his bustling workshop, fill up your stockings at Mrs. Claus' candy bar, and even meet Santa on select dates. Of course, seasonal treats, including hot chocolate, naughty-or-nice eggnog, s'mores, and more are all available for purchase.

8. Astra Lumina at Queens Botanical Garden – Flushing, Queens

Select dates from Friday, November 24-Sunday, December 31
Go on an otherworldly adventure courtesy of this new light installation at the Queens Botanical Garden, which aims to transport visitors to the world of the stars. A mix of lighting, choreographed to astral songs, aims to take visitors on an enchanted walk after dark through the garden's grounds. The installation is conceived and executed by Moment Factory, which is behind installations at Moynihan Train Hall, Penn Station, and even a scene in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. Astra Lumina is the 19th installation in the Lumina Night Walks series and promises to be a beautiful new way to celebrate the season and the QBG's beautiful grounds.

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Christmas events and holiday activities in NYC: Macy's Santaland
Seeing the one and only Santa (in our eyes, at least!) at Macy's Santaland is a beloved family tradition. Photo by the author

9. Santaland at Macy's Herald Square – Midtown West

Friday, November 24-Sunday, December 24
Yes, there are lots of places to hang with Kris Kringle in the Big Apple. But for an immersive seasonal spectacle, you can't beat Macy's Santaland. The famed store mounts a 13,000-square-foot North Pole Christmas village complete with live elves, an enchanted forest featuring animatronic toys, and a train display. At the end, of course, you get to visit with the one true Santa. Visits with the big red guy are by reservation, so be sure to go online to choose a time slot up to five days in advance. FREE unless you buy a photo package (and who can resist?).

RELATEDBest Family Resorts That Will Sell Out for the Holidays

Holiday at Hub at City Point
The Holiday Hub at City Point delivers three weekends of FREE fun. Photo by Ric Sechrest for City Point

10. Holiday Hub at City Point – Downtown Brooklyn

Weekends from Saturday, December 2-Sunday, December 17
Mommy Poppins teams up with our friends at Brooklyn Bridge Parents and City Point to host three weekends filled with family-friendly fun. Geared toward families with kids ages 10 and under, guests at the Holiday Hub can enjoy Santa photos, menorah making, cookie decorating, elfie selfies, holiday crafts, and more depending on the date. While the activities rotate, one thing is constant: All this family-friendly fun is completely FREE. While you're there, be sure to check out The Makers Show pop-up market, which highlights the work of local small businesses.

11. Hanukkah Family Day – Upper East Side

Sunday, December 3
The Jewish Museum hosts this family-friendly celebration of the Festival of Lights the weekend before its start. Enjoy fun in the galleries, including building a holiday sculpture inspired by the art of Marta Minujin and the museum's collection of menorahs. Mister G performs a family-friendly concert to round out the day of fun.

RELATED: Best Bakeries in NYC for Seasonal Holiday Sweets

Christmas events and holiday activities in NYC: Cirque du Soleil 'Twas the Night Before
Cirque du Soleil returns with its holiday show in December. Photo by Brandon Todd/MSG Entertainment

12. Cirque du Soleil: 'Twas the Night Before – Midtown West

Select dates from Thursday, December 7-Thursday, December 28
The famed circus troupe returns to the stage at The Theater at MSG with this reimagined take on the classic holiday story. If the holiday hype has you feeling as jaded as the show's protagonist, you'll go on a wild ride that's sure to renew your spirit of the season. Enjoy awesome stunts and artful performances in the first Cirque du Soleil show to take on the magic of the Christmas season.

A version of this post was first published in 2015; it is updated annually.

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