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 quirky Unsilent Night musical procession in Greenwich Village; great holiday theater like the Cirque Dreams Holidaze; and cool family activities like PaleyLand, screening classic holiday television shows and movies all month.

Many festive picks from our November GoList continue through December too, including the Dyker Lights holiday displays, Macy's Santaland, and the New York Botanical Garden Holiday Train Show—plus various Nutcracker performances around the city.

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.

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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 14 things to do with kids in New York City this December, half of which are FREE.

Take a step back in time in one of the MTA's Holiday Nostalgia Trains. Photo courtesy of the MTA.

Holiday Nostalgia Trains — Citywide
Sundays, November 25 through December 30
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). This year’s Holiday Nostalgia Train will run along the F line between 2nd Avenue and Rockfeller Center and via the Central Park West line between Columbus Circle and 125th Street. Plus, starting December 3, on weekdays you can hop on retro buses from the 1950s through the 1980s running crosstown on 42nd Street. FREE with your MetroCard.

RELATED: 30 Free Holiday Events for NYC Kids

The Winter Lantern Festival lights up Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden through January 2019. Photo courtesy of JMT Media

NYC Winter Lantern Festival —Snug Harbor, Staten Island
Wednesday, November 28 through Sunday, January 6, 2019
Seven acres of Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden are lit up by 40 LED installations that stretch up to 30 feet tall. The lanterns are accompanied by live performances of traditional Chinese dances and art, and a variety of holiday vendors, to create a magical and unique holiday season experience.

Cirque Dreams Holidaze — Flatbush, Brooklyn
Thursday, November 29 through Sunday, December 2
Head to Brooklyn's historic Kings Theatre to celebrate the season at this over-the-top circus featuring hundreds of sparkly costumes, 20 jaw-dropping acts, and lots of holiday touches such as snowmen, penguins, reindeer, toy soldiers, gingerbread men, and even Santa.

RELATED: Best Places to See Santa in New York City

Catch the New York Theatre Ballet’s Nutcracker at Brookfield Place for FREE November 30-December 2. Photos by Rachel Neville for the New York Theatre Ballet

The Nutcracker at Brookfield Place — Battery Park
Friday, November 30 through Sunday, December 2
Brookfield Place is a great destination for families year-round, but it's particularly magical in December thanks to its festive holiday programming. This year, its Luminaries installation returns with a colorful light show, and there's an outdoor ice skating rink with lovely views of Lady Liberty. And Friday, November 30 through Sunday, December 2, catch NYC's only FREE performance of The Nutcracker in the Winter Garden, an abridged one-hour version by the acclaimed New York Theatre Ballet. Perfect for ages 3 and up! (Please note, seating for these popular performances is first come, first served and early arrival is strongly suggested.) FREE

RELATED: Best Nutcracker Shows Around NYC for Kids and Families

Circus Abyssinia is the first circus created by Ethiopian artists. Photo by Che Chorley

Circus Abyssinia: Ethiopian Dreams — Midtown West
Friday, November 30 through Sunday, December 30
More seasonal circus fun! Hit the New Victory Theater to see this Ethiopian troupe, featuring juggling, contortion, balancing, pole climbing, and tumbling backed by catchy African beats. Note: an autism-friendly performance will be offered on December 14.

Join in the biggest Chanukah party in the city!  Photo courtesy of Chanukah on Ice

Chanukah on Ice — Central Park
Monday, December 3
Live music, kosher food, and a giant, hand-carved ice menorah. What's not to love? This annual celebration on Wollman Rink is a prime example of a holiday season event you need to sign up for ASAP, as it always sells out.

Holiday Time at PaleyLand — Midtown West
Saturday, December 8 through Sunday, January 6
Watch FREE screenings of holiday TV classics from the Paley Center for Media's historic archive, including A Charlie Brown Christmas, Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas and many more. Other family-friendly activities on offer include holiday crafts and a Candy Cane forest, and interactive VR games—plus weekly visits from Santa. FREE

Kick off the holiday season with your family at the Winter Family Fair! Photo courtesy of the museum

Winter Family Fair — Murray Hill
Sunday, December 9
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.

Phil Kline's Unsilent Night rocks New York on December 16. Photo by Taylor Davidson for the event

Unsilent Night — Greenwich Village, East Village
Sunday, December 16
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

Reading of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas — Washington Heights
Sunday, December 16
Get into the holiday spirit old-school-style with this century-old Christmas tradition at the Church of the Intercession, where Clement Clarke Moore’s famous 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

Make Music NY Winter Solstice Procession — Citywide
Friday, December 21
Celebrate the winter solstice and the first day of winter at one of many free, outdoor music-making celebrations. For the eighth consecutive season, Make Music Winter welcomes New Yorkers to sing, play, dance and march their way across the streets, plazas and parks in twelve participatory parades across all five boroughs of the city. Gather family and friends and head out to Columbus Circle, Astor Place, Prospect Heights, and more. There's even a mobile Hallelujah Chorus traveling around town! All of these participatory experiences are FREE. Just show up and make some noise.

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 — Flatbush, Brooklyn
Sunday, December 23
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 at the beautiful Kings Theater. 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. (Brooklyn peeps also love BAM's annual performances of the modern Nutcracker The Hard Nut, which runs December 14-23.)

Kwanzaa 2018 — Upper West Side
Saturday, December 29
Celebrate the seven guiding principles of Kwanzaa at this vibrant annual festival at the American Museum of Natural History. This year, Oyu Oro Collective performs music and dance from Afro-Cuban traditions, 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
Monday, December 31
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.

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.

Catch the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theater's latest original production, Yeti, Set, Snow! through February, 24, 2019.

Hear Isaac Mizrahi narrate the tale that inspired Prokofiev's seasonal classic Peter and the Wolf at the Guggenheim, Saturday, December 1 through Sunday, December 9.

Geek out at the Queens comic book and sci-fi convention WinterCon from Saturday, December 1 to Sunday, December 2—kids under 5 are FREE.

Gather around the 32-foot-high World's Largest Hanukkah Menorah, across the street from The Plaza Hotel, for nightly lightings from Sunday, December 2 through Sunday, December 9.

Enjoy Christmas in the Garden with Santa, wreath-making, and caroling at the Queens Botanical Garden, Sunday, December 2.

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 Sunday, December 2 in Jamaica, Queens. FREE

See everyone's favorite pirouetting mouse save the day in the charming Angelina Ballerina: A Very Merry Holiday Musical on the Upper East Side, Saturday, December 8 through Sunday, January 6. 

Let your heart grow a few sizes at Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas: The Musical, at Madison Square Garden Thursday, December 13 to Sunday, December 30.

Hear holiday tunes in a whole new way at the annual Merry Tuba Christmas concert at Rockefeller Center on Sunday, December 16. 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 in front of the fireplace from Wednesday, December 26 to Friday, December 28. FREE

If you've got a Thomas fan in your house, All Aboard with Thomas and Friends, a live-action mini-show at the New York Botanical Garden, is a must see, running weekends starting December 29.

A version of this post was published in 2017; it is updated annually.