It’s Christmas Time in the City
To borrow a line from the classic Silver Bells, it is Christmas Time in THE city! So many of the sights, sounds, and activities we associate with the season are right in Manhattan, from Miracle on 34th Street to the iconic Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree. So we got our handy map out, braved the cold, and snapped some photos of our favorite Fun & Free “Must Do” Christmas in New York sites!
Updated: December 2020
This is really four (or more!) in one, because New York has several Christmas Markets, large and small. Right in Central Manhattan, you can visit Holiday Markets at Union Square, Columbus Circle, Grand Central Terminal, and Bryant Park (more on that spot later). Visit one, or visit them all – you won’t be disappointed.
Note: Due to the ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic, the Holiday Markets at Colombus Circle and Union Square have been cancelled for 2020, but the Shops at Bryant Park will be open. Another favorite, the Grand Central Holiday Fair has gone virtual for 2020, which means it’s technically open 24/7 until Christmas!
Three Top Tips
- Go during the week, because they are crazy crowded on the weekends!
- If you’re pressed for time, the holiday markets at Columbus Circle and Union Square are both products of Urban Space NYC, so they are very similar.
- When the weather outside is frightful, the Holiday Fair at Grand Central Terminal is indoors, where it’s delightful.
Updated with the most recent COVID-19 impacts from Macy’s.
Did you know the seminal holiday movie Miracle on 34th Street was filmed at Macy’s Herald Square store? What better place to meet the Jolly Old Elf himself than “the Home of Santa Claus,” a title Macy’s has used to draw millions of visitors since 1860?
Unfortunately, Santa’s home village, Santaland at Macy’s on Herald Square (and the flagship stores in Chicago and San Francisco) will be closed for 2020 due to COVID-19 concerns. Instead, St. Nick’s workshop goes virtual at Macy’s Santaland, starting the day after Thanksgiving. Kids of all ages will enjoy a personalized virtual visit to the North Pole, and will still have a chance to deliver those Christmas lists to Santa! You’ll even get a virtual selfie with Santa…from a socially safe distance.
As of this update, Macy’s at Herald Square will still be open during the holidays. So, while you’ll miss past holiday treats like free showings of Miracle on 34th Street, and Santaland, you can do some Christmas shopping in the biggest store in the country! (Seriously, it’s huge. We got lost. Twice.)
Winter Village at Bryant Park
We mentioned Bryant Park earlier, because of the Winter Village Christmas market. There’s more to this destination than unique gifts and spiced cider, though. Bring your wish list and visit Santa’s Corner, then enjoy New York’s only free public skating rink. (Bring $20 if you need to rent skates.) Afterwards, grab a bite or cocktails at the rink-side Public Fare. While you’re in the neighborhood, stop at the New York Public Library next door to see one of the best and brightest Christmas trees in the city.
Speaking of iconic stores, the New York institution known as FAO Schwarz is back! Once billed as The World’s Largest Toy Store, the flagship location was featured in the Tom Hanks film Big, and in the dreams of kids of all ages. With the rise of online shopping and retail rental rates in New York, the store fell on hard times. It was eventually purchased by Toys-R-Us (which fell on hard times itself), and the flagship New York store was closed in 2015.
That was then. This is now, when all things retro and iconic are cool again, including shopping in a real-life store! Fortune shone on us all as FAO Schwarz returned for the 2018 holiday season, and it’s been going strong ever since. The flagship store – complete with the giant piano you can play with your feet – is right in Rockefeller Plaza another must-see Christmas sight in Manhattan. FAO Schwarz is open daily except Tuesdays, but check ahead for reduced hours due to the COVID-19 Pandemic.
Just remember: Looking is free. Playing is free (and encouraged). Shopping? Not so free. (But totally worth it!)
“Back in the day,” as they say, the well to do would spend a pretty penny on their Christmas shopping in the stores up and down Park Avenue (and 5th and 6th Avenue, too). Stores would try to one-up each other to get customers in the door with fantastic window displays. Before long, those displays became attractions themselves, from (the now defunct) Gimbels and their arch rival Macys, all the way to Tiffany & Co. Today’s best windows – and a literal highlight of Christmas in New York – are at Saks Fifth Avenue. A fantastic light show plays throughout the night above designer showcase store windows.
It’s really not Christmas in New York without a stop at Rockefeller Center. Conveniently just across the street from Saks, the stunning decorations and iconic ice rink are the city’s star. Expect big crowds, especially on the weekend, and expect to pay if you’d like to skate or head to the Top of the Rock. You can also dine rink-side at the Rock Center Café, and do some shopping. This is Christmas in New York, after all, and Tiffany & Co. is right there. Who wouldn’t love to find a trademark Blue Box under the tree?