Struggling to plan what to see and do for your upcoming Christmas trip to NYC with the kids? we’ve got you covered. There are so many sights NYC has to offer that it is hard to narrow down your list. Let me help by giving you a list of activities that made our recent Christmas trip to NYC a big success.
1. Macy’s Santaland (best for 10 and under)
- 1. Macy’s Santaland (best for 10 and under)
- 2. Grand Central Terminal Train Display
- 3. Bryant Park Holiday Shops at Winter Village.
- 4. Saks Fifth Avenue Light Show
- 5. Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree
- Beware of going to NYC on a weekend at Christmas.
- More Things to do in December
The best thing about Macy’s Santaland is that it is FREE. Macy’s now requires making your reservations online in an effort to reduce wait times.
Before we visited Santaland, I was unclear as to exactly what it was. I envisioned an entire floor of Macy’s decorated as a Winter Wonderland with the option to see Santa Claus somewhere along the way.
Since that was my expectation I was originally disappointed to realize that Santaland is just a small portion of the 8th floor and is essentially a very elaborately decorated line to visit Santa.
Since most of my children have outgrown the desire to sit on Santa’s lap, this experience for them was just okay. Despite having made reservations there is still a good amount of standing in line and my older kids got restless.
That being said, if you have younger children and sitting on Santa’s lap is a yearly tradition, you’d be hard pressed to find a better Santa experience than Macy’s! For that reason Macy’s Santaland remains on my list.
2. Grand Central Terminal Train Display
Grand Central Terminal is a sight to see in and of itself. As one of NYC’s most iconic landmarks it is a true architectural masterpiece. Located in mid-town Manhattan it is decorated beautifully for Christmas and will definitely get your crew in the holiday spirit.
To see the Annual Holiday Train show you will want to head down the main staircase to the Shuttle Passage where you will find a magical little store that houses the train display.
You will see many iconic NYC landmarks and cityscapes including a miniature Grand Central Terminal. My little ones favorite part was seeing the subway trains zip around track.
3. Bryant Park Holiday Shops at Winter Village.
This is the one activity that we ran out of time for and I was so disappointed! We walked past the open air market on our last day and it looked absolutely charming. It was also much larger than I expected! There are apparently over 150 vendors.
Not only does the Bryant Park Holiday Market offer an incredible selection of vendors but also an outdoor ice skating rink. It’s just like the one at Rockefeller Center, except FREE! Just bring your own skates (or rent onsite for $20) and you are set to go!
To get a complete list of vendors participating in this year’s Winter Village check here.
4. Saks Fifth Avenue Light Show
Right near Rockefeller Center is the amazing Saks Fifth Avenue Light Show.
This was our daytime view of Saks Fifth Avenue. The greenery is part of an elaborate light show that the high end department store puts on every year.
After the sun sets Saks puts on their spectacular light show to music every 10 minutes!
5. Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree
You can’t go to NYC at Christmas and not see the giant Rockefeller Center Christmas tree and skating rink. This is the heart of Christmas in the city!
Home of the Today Show, Top of the Rock, Radio City Music Hall and The Lego Store, you’ll want to get off at this stop to take some time and explore all Rockefeller Center has to offer. Check out the Rockefeller Plaza where the Today Show films and where the iconic Rockefeller Christmas tree and ice rink are in full display during the winter. Be sure to take your picture in front of the iconic Radio City Music Hall, and even schedule a behind the scenes tour for the chance to meet a real, live Rockette. If you’ve got kids you’ll want to walk through the awe inspiring Lego Store and stop by the American Girl Place. These stops are sure to be a hit with the kids.
We visited during the day because that’s what our schedule allowed, but Rockefeller Center is best after the sun sets, when the tree and the iconic skating rink really shine in all their glory.
While you’re in Rockefeller Center be sure to check out the Lego Store with your kids! That was our plan but because we hit Rockefeller on a Saturday it was packed and there was over an hour wait just to get in the store!
My two little guys were so disappointed to miss it because of the wait, which brings me to my final point.
Beware of going to NYC on a weekend at Christmas.
Weekends in December are the busiest time of year to visit NYC, so be aware.
We arrived in the Big Apple on a Thursday evening and left on a Saturday evening. The difference between the amount of visitors on Thursday versus Saturday was remarkable.
Walking on the streets and window shopping was no problem our first two days. By Saturday many of the streets (especially around Rockefeller Center) were so packed you could barely move. We were shoulder to shoulder with people.
On Thursday and Friday we were able to easily pick a restaurant and there was no wait. On Saturday finding a place to eat was a nightmare. Every place was packed with people and had long lines. I gotta say that the Christmas spirit can fade quickly when you’ve got tired and hungry kids (and adults).
For all the above reasons and more, I strongly recommend taking the day off work and pulling the kids out of school so that you can enjoy all the Christmas fun NYC has to offer without fighting the massive crowds.
More Things to do in December
A visit to New York City is on the bucket list for many families. And for good reason! There is no city like it in the world. However the scope and variety of what NYC has to offer is almost endless and can quickly get overwhelming. Only have a day to visit NYC but want to see it all? Try this itinerary to see the best of NYC in just one day.
Double Decker Bus Tour
Start by booking your tickets for a NYC double decker bus tour. The key to being able to see as much of NYC as possible is this tour! What would take days to cover by foot, you can do in a matter of hours on the double decker tour bus.
Plus it’s fun! You get a unique perspective of the city from high atop the bus, with completely unobstructed views. And if your bringing kids with you? This tour is worth it’s weight in gold. Kids (and adults!) quickly tire of walking, no matter how fascinating the sights. Riding the bus is a fun adventure and allows the whole family to see a much larger area versus walking.
All of the bus tours offer headphones so that you can hear either a live tour guide or a prerecorded narration. Humorous stories and interesting facts are given and it’s a great opportunity to learn the history of what you are seeing.
The bus tour is especially convenient as it is hop on-hop off. This means when there is a destination you want to explore further you can get off, take as much time as you’d like sightseeing and then hop back on the next bus.
With buses arriving and departing each stop every 30 minutes it is makes it very easy to see the city. No worries about calling a taxi or uber, everything is included in the price you pay upfront.
One World Observatory
Once you’re on your bus tour, hop off at the stop that serves (City Hall/World Trade/Brooklyn Bridge/ 911 Museum) Be sure to check out the One World Observatory at the top of the World Trade center. Tickets can be purchased in advance here or bought onsite. We highly recommending pre purchasing tickets so you can reserve the time that suits your schedule and you don’t have to waste time waiting.
The One World Observatory offers much more than just an amazing view from the top. Once you clear security you are led to your sky pod (elevator) for a one of a kind experience. As the elevator ascends 102 stories you view NYC as it has changed and been developed over the years. It starts with a view of NYC in 1500’s with wide open spaces and only a few homes. You continue on a visual journey until you reach the top and see New York City as it looks today.
The large observatory at the top offers stunning vistas of the city. There is an option to rent an iPad that you can point at any building or location and be given a detailed description about what you are looking at. For only $15 our family found it a great tool to really appreciate what we were seeing.
When you’ve finished the Observatory you can walk a short distance to the 9/11 memorial. The memorial is free to all and is located outdoors. This moving water tribute to the thousands who lost their lives is a powerful way to remember that tragic day in our nation’s history.
The 9/11 Tribute Museum is also located at this stop. Tickets can be purchased here.
You can’t come to the Big Apple and not take in the spectacle that is Times Square! Nothing can quite prepare you for the hustle and bustle and general madness of this top NYC tourist destination. You’ll be mesmerized by the giant billboards covering every inch of the buildings and the stores to visit are to numerous to mention.
End your epic day in NYC with a sunset cruise. After all, the only thing better than riding the streets of NYC is seeing the Big Apple from the water! Our tour operator, CitySightseeing included a ferry tour as part of the tour package deal we purchased. We boarded a large boat at Pier 78 and spent a magical 90 minutes touring the NYC harbor.
This was far and away my favorite part of our trip. I highly recommend timing your ferry tour so you can be on the water at sunset. Our visit was in December so we took the 4:00 ferry and it worked out perfectly to see the sun set behind the Statue of Liberty. NYC at night from the water is spectacular.
There are several double decker bus operators that run NYC tours. I chose CitySightseeing based primarily on price and services offered. If you’re looking for a fancier bus or the weather forecast looks questionable, The Ride is completely enclosed and looks like it would be an amazing experience as well.
This is the itinerary my family enjoyed, but the great thing is, with a bus tour you can completely customize which stops you are interested in. Study the route map provided online here, and decide ahead of time where you will stop and when.
Preparing in advance and having a specific plan will go a long way to ensuring you have an enjoyable and epic day in New York City!