Best Things to Do with NYC Kids: December GoList

Holiday Events and Activities in New York City for Children and Families | December 2016

Santa isn't the only one making a list and checking it twice. Our carefully curated December GoList is packed with the absolute best things to do with kids in NYC throughout the month. Our top picks include holiday traditions like the Holiday Sing-Along with Dan Zanes and Friends and the quirky Unsilent Night musical procession in Greenwich Village; great holiday theater; and cool cultural offerings such as Kwanzaa 2017 at the American Museum of Natural History and Bagels From Benny and just plain magic at Jason Bishop's popular new show at the New Victory Theater.

It's also worth rereading our November GoList since many of those festive picks continue through December, including the Dyker Lights holiday displays, Macy's Santaland, and the New York Botanical Garden Holiday Train Show—and various Nutcracker performances around the city.

As always, keep checking our Event Calendar and Holiday Guide for the most up-to-date celebrations, including tree lightingsSanta sightings, and totally FREE holiday events for NYC kids.

 And be sure to sign up for our FREE newsletters so you can get our picks delivered directly to your inbox.

If an event piques your interest, click through to our listing for all the details, including addresses, times, and prices. And remember, really cool things to do with kids in NYC book up quickly, especially during the holidays. Buy your tickets ASAP or, in the case of FREE events, arrive as early as possible to beat the crowds.

Now get your calendars ready! Here are the top 13 things to do with kids in New York City this December, five of which are FREE.

Take a step back in time in one of the MTA's Shoppers Special vintage trains. Photo courtesy of the MTA.

MTA Shoppers Special Vintage Subway Trains — Citywide
Sundays, November 26-December 31
With a swipe of your MetroCard, you can take retro rides on vintage R1/9 subway trains that date from the 1930s through the 1970s, all meticulously maintained by the New York Transit Museum. Marvel at the old-school details, including rattan seats, ceiling fans, incandescent bulbs, and authentic vintage advertisements (some quaint, others downright funny). In celebration of the one year anniversary of the Second Avenue Subway, this year’s Holiday Nostalgia Train will run along the F line between 2nd Av and Lexington Avenue / 63rd Street and via the Q line between Lexington Avenue / 63rd Street and 96th Street on the Upper East Side. Bonus: Starting December 4, on weekdays you can hop on retro buses from the 1950s through the 1980s running on the M42 line (aka the 42nd Street crosstown). FREE with your MetroCard

RELATED: Best Places to See Santa in New York City

Jason Bishop's magic show returns to the New Victory Theater. Photo courtesy of the production

Jason Bishop: Believe in Magic — Midtown West
Friday, December 1-Saturday, December 30
For the past few years, the New Victory has presented circus spectacles to celebrate the season. But this year, the theater takes a turn toward the magical with illusionist Jason Bishop. His act was a big hit at the New Vic last year, and he's devised some brand-new tricks for this holiday run, including a jaw-dropping onstage disappearance and an indoor snowstorm. Now that's a magical celebration.

Winter Family Fair — Murray Hill
Sunday, December 3
Enjoy an old-fashioned celebration at the Morgan's Victorian era-style holiday fete for families in conjunction with its annual display of Charles Dickens' original A Christmas Carol manuscript. Meet Scrooge, Bob Cratchit, the famous ghosts, and the author himself as portrayed by members of the Grand Falloons troupe. Kids also can enjoy holiday movies; strolling magicians, musicians, and other entertainers; art projects led by educators; and dressing up in period costumes for retro photo shoots. The afternoon closes with a festive concert of Christmas carols. Free with museum admission.

RELATED: Best Nutcracker Shows Around NYC for Kids and Families

Catch the New York Theatre Ballet’s Nutcracker at Brookfield Place for FREE December 2-3. Photos by Rachel Neville/courtesy of New York Theatre Ballet.

Month-Long Holiday Destination: Brookfield Place — Battery Park
With its picturesque plaza on the Hudson River, high-end Hudson Eats food court, frequent art installations, special events, and proximity to fabulous playgrounds, Brookfield Place is a great destination for families year-round. But it's particularly magical in December thanks to its festive holiday programming. For the third year in a row, its Luminaries installation offers a colorful light show synced to holiday standards every half hour in the atrium from Wednesday, November 29 through Sunday, January 28. On Friday, December 1 and Saturday, December 2, catch a FREE, hour-long performance of The Nutcracker by New York Theatre Ballet. Santa will be on site from Friday, November 24 through Christmas Eve to hear wish lists and pose for pics with little ones. And there's an outdoor ice skating rink that offers lovely views of Lady Liberty. Who needs Rock Center when Brookfield Place offers all of this? Mostly FREE

Bagels from Benny — Upper East Side
Friday, December 8-Sunday, December 17
Inspired by Aubrey Davis' picture book of the same name, Bagels from Benny is a heartwarming Jewish tale for those who celebrate Christmas with Chinese food and a movie. Aimed at the sippy-cup set, this interactive musical at 92Y is about Benny, a little boy who loves the bagels at his grandfather's bakery. One day his grandpa tells Benny he should thank God for the carb-loaded treats, which inspires the child to leave a bagful of bagels in the synagogue every week. Could it really be God who's eating them all? And to think Santa only gets cookies one night a year!

Holiday Sing-Along with Dan Zanes and Friends — Tribeca
Sunday, December 10
For the seventh year in a row, the Grammy-winning family rocker celebrates the holidays at City Winery with a sing- and dance-along show. Enjoy catchy tunes from the legendary performer's genre-busting, parent-approved albums, including songs from his 2012 release Christmas in Concord. Zanes does this intimate holiday concert every year and it always sells out, so be sure to buy your tickets ASAP.

RELATED: 21 NYC Holiday Activities Every Kid Should Try Once

The Hip Hop Nutcracker infuses a new energy into an old favorite. Photo courtesy of the production

The Hip Hop Nutcracker — Washington Heights and Flatbush, Brooklyn
Thursday, December 14 and Saturday, December 16
Want to introduce the brood to The Nutcracker but worried they won't stay awake for the big one at Lincoln Center? Well start dancing like a Sugar Plum Fairy, because we've got a great alternative for you. Tchaikovsky’s iconic ballet is given a modern urban makeover in this high-energy show, which performs at Manhattan's United Palace Theatre on Thursday, December 14 and Brooklyn's Kings Theatre on Saturday, December 16. Set on New Year's Eve in Washington Heights, this Nutcracker features a dozen hip-hop dancers, digital scenery, a deejay, and the legendary Kurtis Blow as special MC doing an opening set of old-school classics. What Hamilton did for musicals, this Nutcracker is doing for ballet.

Reading of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas — Washington Heights
Sunday, December 17
Get into the holiday spirit old-school-style at the Church of the Intercession. For the 107th year in a row, Clement Clarke Moore’s ode to Christmas will be read aloud. Afterward, enjoy caroling, a lantern-lit procession to the poet's grave at nearby Trinity Cemetery, a commemorative wreath laying, and complimentary hot cocoa. FREE

Phil Kline's Unsilent Night rocks New York on December 17. Photo by Taylor Davidson/courtesy of the event.

Unsilent Night — Greenwich Village, East Village
Sunday, December 17
An offbeat alternative to traditional Christmas caroling: Help create a "sound sculpture" by blasting the music of avant garde composer Phil Kline. Participants broadcast one of the four parts of Kline's "Unsilent Night" score on boom boxes, smartphones, or MP3 players as they parade from the West Village to the East Village. Download the music online, get the free app, or show up early to snag a free CD or cassette tape (remember those?). Participants should arrive at least 15 minutes before the kickoff. If you don't want to march you can always listen from the sidelines. FREE

Make Music Winter — Manhattan and Brooklyn
Thursday, December 21
Mark the winter solstice with a series of FREE, interactive, outdoor concerts. Inspired by the success of the original Make Music event, which takes place June 21 each year, in 2011 the founders launched a similar (if smaller) edition on December 21, with a baker's dozen of musical parades taking place in Manhattan and northern Brooklyn. The updated 2017 schedule hasn't been posted yet on the website, but in the past, best bets for families included sonic cycling near the Staten Island Terminal, a bell procession around the East Village, and a high-tech soundscape on the High Line that involves an app on your smartphone. We'll update when the schedule is released. All of these participatory experiences are FREE. Just show up and make some noise.

Kwanzaa 2017 — Upper West Side
Saturday, December 30
Celebrate the seven guiding principles of Kwanzaa at this vibrant annual festival at the American Museum of Natural History. The famed, 55-year-old a cappella troupe The Persuasions will perform, and there will be an international marketplace stocked with traditional gifts and holiday treats. Don't forget to check out the seasonal origami tree while you're there! Free with suggested museum admission.

Ring in the new year in Prospect Park with fireworks and music. Photo courtesy of the event

Prospect Park's New Year's Eve Fireworks — Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn
Sunday, December 31
Prospect Park turned 150 in 2017! To celebrate the beginning of its 151st year, join revelers at 11pm at at Grand Army Plaza for sparklers in the sky, live music, and more. FREE, but it's best to RSVP to if you plan to attend.

All Aboard with Thomas and Friends – Bronx Park
New York Botanical Garden, 2900 Southern Boulevard
Weekends, December 30–January 21 and January 1–5
If you've got a Thomas fan in your house, this live-action mini-show, held at the New York Botanical Garden, is a must see. Thomas and Driver Sam lead a fun-filled, interactive, sing-along adventure as everyone's favorite blue engine learns the secret to making his garden grow. Included in the price of admission is a visit to the aforementioned Holiday Train Show onsite, giving you two thrilling train adventures for one price!

Honorable Mentions

NYC always has so many incredible things going on, especially around the holidays, that it's difficult to include all the options. So here are 16 more cool events that are worth considering for your December calendar.

Spend your weekdays in nature: Brooklyn Botanic Garden offers FREE admission Monday through Friday from 10am to 4:30pm.

Gawk at some of NYC's most spectacular holiday homes in the outer boroughs. FREE

Geek out at the Queens comic book and sci-fi convention WinterCon on Friday, December 1 to Sunday, December 3.

Give to a great cause and go to a party: A $100 donation to the New York Public Library snags you two invites to its festive holiday open house, featuring caroling, puppet shows, and crafts on Sunday, December 3.

Enjoy Christmas in the Garden with Santa, wreath-making, and caroling at the Queens Botanical Garden, Sunday, December 3.

Catch Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas: In Concert Live-to-Film at Barclays, Wednesday, December 6 to Thursday, December 7.

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.

All aboard for Historical Train Weekend at the New-York Historical Society on Saturday, December 9 and Sunday, December 10, inspired by its Holiday Express: Toys and Trains from the Jerni Collection display. Included in museum admission.

Launch objects 20 feet in the air with a seismic accelerator, walk on water, topple seven-foot tall dominoes, and more cool science stunts at the City of Science Festival on December 10 at the Park Slope Armory YMCA. FREE

Celebrate the Festival of Lights at the 92nd Street Y's Chanukah Festival on Sunday, December 10.

Laugh as a family at the antics of Elf the Musical, from Wednesday, December 13 to Friday, December 29.

Hear holiday tunes in a whole new way at the annual Tuba Christmas concert at Rockefeller Center on Sunday, December 17. FREE

Singers of all faiths can enjoy caroling under the arch in Washington Square Park on Christmas Eve. FREE

Not celebrating Christmas? Head to the Eldridge Street Museum's all-afternoon bash on December 25 for synagogue tours, scavenger hunts, art activities, and Yiddish music.

Hit the Queens County Farm Museum's annual holiday open house for tours, crafts, and freshly mulled cider from Tuesday, December 26 to Thursday, December 28. FREE