Santa in the City: 25 Awesome Santa Activities for NYC Kids

Head to The Plaza for a classic holiday tea, and a memorable visit with the season's biggest celebrity. Photo by author
Head to The Plaza for a classic holiday tea, and a memorable visit with the season's biggest celebrity. Photo by author

Christmas in New York is nothing short of magical. From fabulous holiday windows to dozens of tree lightings, spectacular seasonal shows, and multiple iterations of The Nutcracker, New York is the place to be during the holiday season. The biggest star of all is, of course, Santa Claus himself. And as it turns out, the man of the hour is pretty busy in NYC in the days leading up to Christmas. There are plenty of spots to take a photo with Santa or even have a special meal with Mr. Claus, plus dozens more ways to share a special holiday moment with the big guy in the big city, from ice skating with Santa to gawking at the zaniest parade of Santas.

So grab a hot cocoa and read on for 25 awesome Santa-in-the-city experiences to enjoy before he takes flight from the North Pole on Christmas Eve.

Subscribe to our newsletters to get stories like this delivered directly to your inbox.

1. Belt Out Some Tunes

Santa and Mrs. Claus lead a sing-along on Theatre Row—only through the crowd's joyful noise can Santa's reindeer take flight. Sing-alongs are held from Saturday, December 18-Thursday, December 23.

2. Washington Square Park Tree Lighting

Sing carols along with Santa, then help him count down to the tree lighting in Washington Square Park on Wednesday, December 8. FREE

3. Say Cheese

Book a holiday-card-worthy session with Santa at Big Apple Portraits, which is currently offering only outdoor sessions.

RELATED: When and How to See Santa at Macy's Santaland in 2021

Meet Santa while cruising! Photo courtesy of Event Cruises

4. Cruise With Santa

Sail away with Santa aboard a Santa Fun Cruise every weekend through Sunday, December 26. You'll get kid-friendly eats and time to visit with jolly old St. Nick. Brunch cruises are also available.

6. Enjoy a Christmas Xtravagazna

Get ready for the holidays by heading over to a two-day holiday extravaganza hosted by community nonprofit NYC Arts Cypher on Staten Island. There'll be plenty of shopping, music, raffles, giveaways, and photo-ops with Santa on Saturday, December 11, and Sunday, December 12

7. Enjoy a Winter Wonderland

Celebrate the magic of winter at the Willamsbridge Oval Recreation Center's Winter Wonderland Party on Saturday, December 11, where Santa is on hand, along with crafts, games, and (of course!) hot cocoa. FREE

8. Holiday Party in Harlem

Celebrate the holiday season with community org NYSoM and East Harlem Tutorial Program as they host Santa and his crew alongside plenty of other seasonal characters and activations. FREE

9. Croon a Tune

You may not see Santa himself during this Greenwich Village Caroling Walk on Saturday, December 18, but Santa hats and plenty of cheer are practically guaranteed.

10. Holiday at the Plaza

Santa strolls through this iconic NYC hotel where you can enjoy tea time and breakfast alongside your visit. For an indulgent splurge, book a stay, which grants entree to special story times and meet-and-greets.

11. See Santa in PaleyLand 

Catch a holiday show with the star of the season at the Paley Center, which hosts Holiday Time in PaleyLand with Santa visits on select dates. Classic holiday shows are screened and Santa takes requests and says cheese.

12. Brunch with Santa

Dress your daughter and her favorite doll in their holiday best then head to the American Girl Store for a Santa brunch in the on-site cafe, Sundays through Sunday, December 19.

13. Santa at Bloomingdales

Bloomingdale's mounts its own Santa experience where the big guy poses and takes requests daily until Friday, December 24.

14. Skate with Santa

Meet Santa on the ice at Brookfield Place each Saturday through December 18. He'll skate solo for two performances each day, but in between, visitors can hit the ice with the jolly old St. Nick and snap a unique Santa pic to share.

RELATED: You're Invited to Join the Mommy Poppins Operation Santa Project

Nothing quite beats Macy's Santaland. Photo by Diana Kim

15. Macy's Santaland

The one true Santa (in my kids' eyes anyway) resides at Macy's Santaland. Be sure to book your reservation to meet the big guy in advance before he hops on his sleigh Friday, December 24!

16. Dine With Santa

If a picture isn't enough, Santa is taking reservations at Stella 34 Trattoria through Friday, December 24. You'll get a tasty meal, takeaway treats, and a bit of extra time to share your list, plus an iconic Santaland photo.

17. See Santa in Lights

Trek to Dyker Heights, Brooklyn this month to play Santa I-Spy. How many glowing St. Nicks can you spot among the extravagant decorations? FREE

RELATED: Christmas Tree Lightings in New York City for Christmas 2021

Rolf's, the Gramercy Park bar and restaurant, is famous for having the most Christmas decorations of any bar in NYC. Photo courtesy of Rolf's

18. Eat at Rolf's

Another spot full of over-the-top decor perfect for Santa spotting? Rolf's Restaurant near Gramercy Park.

19. Opt for the Classic Mall Santa

Visit an outer-borough mall for a Santa photo-op. This month he's holding court at Bay Plaza, the Bronx; The Queens Center Mall; Kings Plaza in Brooklyn; and the Staten Island Mall, plus Empire Outlets.

20. See a Dancing Santa

With apologies to The Rockettes, doesn't everyone visit Radio City to catch Santa doing his best high-kick? Radio City Christmas Spectacular tickets are available through Sunday, January 2.

21. Find Santa on a Double-Decker Bus

What Santa trains are in the 'burbs, this Midtown tour aboard the North Pole Express is for city kids. Sessions run daily through Sunday, January 2, and include face time with Santa, cookies, hot cocoa, and plenty of seasonal photo-ops.

22. Pose With Santa Cop

Estuary, on the Brooklyn waterfront, welcomes Santa, who arrives in a decorated police car for socially distant photo-ops on Sunday, December 12. Sip hot chocolate while you wait your turn to strike a pose.

23. Yuk it up With Santa

Broadway Comedy Club hosts its annual Santa breakfast with Elfpov on Saturdays through December 18. It's BYO food and a selfie stick for this silly early morning event.

24. Meet Santa at the Essex Market

Santa's holding court in the mezzanine on Saturday, December 11. After you've snapped your FREE pic, stick around for holiday-themed arts and crafts. Be sure to scoop up some yummy eats while you're there.

25. SantaCon

For the most outrageous, un-PC, question-inducing Santa experience, venture out during SantaCon on Saturday, December 11 when twenty-somethings embark on a day-long bar crawl in their classiest Santa attire. The route isn't announced until the night before, but no matter where you go that day, you're likely to run into some especially festive Santas. Don't say we didn't warn you!

Still not enough Santa fun for you? Keep an eye on our packed Activity Calendar, which is updated continually as we learn of new, fun St. Nick sightings.

This post was first published in 2018.

Neighborhood Guides
Activity Guides