A Christmas tree the size of a small building at Rockefeller Center, ice-skating rinks and hot cocoa stands in Central Park, and beautifully decorated window displays at Macy’s Herald Square can only mean one thing: holiday season in New York City! From roughly November 15th to January 2nd, the city of New York is turned into one big celebration of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Though the days get shorter and the weather turns colder, it’s never been as cozy and fun to be in the Big Apple.

From holiday markets in Brooklyn to the Radio City Christmas Spectacular in Manhattan, you’ll get into the holiday spirit wherever you are in the city. In this article, we’ll show you some of our favorite holiday activities, so you’ll be able to make the absolute most of your stay in New York City during the holiday season of 2013!

Holiday Markets in New York City

Picture of New York City’s Union Square Holiday Market
The Union Square Holiday Market in New York City
You can’t visit New York during the holiday season without going to one of the many great holiday markets in the city. Whether you’re looking for the perfect holiday gift or the best hot cocoa in town, these markets have got you covered!

  • Brooklyn Flea’s Gifted Holiday Market is hosted in a spectacular location: the art deco Skylight One Hanson, located in the famous former Williamsburg Savings Bank Clock tower. The holiday market features over 100 vendors and takes place across three floors. This is the place to pick up original gifts for the holidays: you’ll discover anything from vintage finds, interesting art pieces and homemade gifts.
  • The Union Square Holiday Market brings the charm of European Christmas markets to Manhattan. Starting November 21st, this open-air market will get you in the holiday cheer in no time. Peruse the different stalls for gifts, and don’t forget to enjoy the food and drinks at the market! Taste real Belgian waffles at Wafels & Dinges or try one of the many homemade hot apple ciders.
Image of Manhattan’s Holiday Shops at Bryant Park
A beautiful Christmas tree at the Holiday Shops at Bryant Park in Manhattan
  • The Holiday Shops at Bryant Park are beautifully designed, and range from small boutique stores to designer shops. The shops will be open to the public starting November 1st. Walk around the pond in the park with a hot cocoa in hand and enjoy the holiday spirit!
  • The Columbus Circle Holiday Market is ideally located on the southwestern point of Central Park. Starting December 4th, the stalls at this market sell anything ranging from jewelry, soaps, handmade products and toys. There’s also a great selection of chocolates and other candy.

New York City’s Ice-Skating Rinks

One of our most favorite activities during holiday season has to be ice-skating! There are several amazing outdoor ice-skating rinks in the city. Even if you don’t want to try ice-skating yourself, it’s still wonderful to drink a hot cup of cocoa while standing beside an ice-skating rink, watching the skaters glide by.

  • The Rockefeller Center Ice Skating Rink is one of the most famous rinks in the city, and will open in October. Located right beneath the beautiful Rockefeller Christmas tree, this rink can get quite crowded. There are several nice cafes and restaurants around the rink where you can warm up and get a great view of the skaters.
  • The Ice-Skating Rink at Bryant Park is completely free to visit, but if you don’t bring your own skates you’ll have to pay $14 to rent a pair. Starting on November 1st, the rink is open until 10 pm on weekdays and until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays, so bring a date and skate the night away under the glittering lights of the Midtown skyscrapers.
Picture of Central Park’s Wollman Ice Skating Rink
The Wollman Ice Skating Rink in Central Park, New York City
  • The Wollman Ice-Skating Rink in Central Park is a lot bigger than the previous two rinks. It’s also often a lot less crowded, so if you’re lucky you won’t have to wait in line at all. The rink offers beautiful views of the park and Midtown Manhattan skyscrapers, truly turning into a magical place during snowfall.
  • The Sky Rink at Chelsea Piers is the only indoor and year-round ice-skating rink on the list. The Sky Rink on Pier 61 has two big ice-skating rinks, where you can enjoy indoor skating with a view of New Jersey across the Hudson River. It’s also possible to take lessons at the Sky Rink.

Annual Holiday Season Events in New York City

Image of Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade in New York’s Times Square
Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade in Times Square, New York
It doesn’t matter if you visit New York in November, December or January: there are several amazing holiday events held throughout the holiday season.

  • One of the first events of the season is Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Every year, Macy’s organizes a parade with gigantic balloons that runs through Manhattan on Thanksgiving Day. This year Thanksgiving will be on November 28th. You can watch the balloons being inflated the night before, and also enjoy performances by cast members of Broadway shows on Thanksgiving itself. For more information about celebrating Thanksgiving in New York, check out the 2012 guide for Celebrating Thanksgiving in New York City!
  • The day after Thanksgiving is known in New York as Black Friday: the unofficial start of the Christmas shopping season. On November 29th many stores in New York City organize major sales. Brave the crowds and hunt for bargains in New York’s best and biggest stores.
Picture of the gigantic Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center, Manhattan
Rockefeller Center’s huge Christmas tree in Midtown Manhattan
  • If Black Friday marks the start of the Christmas shopping season, then the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting marks the real start of the Christmas holiday season. The tree lighting ceremony is a huge televised event with musical performances, and will take place on December 4th this year.
  • The last big event of the holiday season is of course the New Year’s Eve Ball Drop in Times Square. Every year on New Year’s Eve, one million people gather in Times Square to watch the ball drop and celebrate the New Year. You can attend the event for free, but it does take some preparation. For more information about the ball drop event, see New Year’s Eve in New York City.

Celebrate the Holiday Season with your Family in a New York City Apartment

If you’re traveling to New York City with your family during the holiday season, staying in a New York vacation rental apartment can be a real blessing. Namely, you’ll have access to a fully equipped kitchen! You’ll be able to have the quintessential family holiday experience by cooking your own Thanksgiving dinner or Christmas meal with your family. Besides a kitchen, you’ll also have a real living room that you can decorate and where the kids will have enough space to play!

If you’re thinking about staying for a longer period, you can also choose to rent a furnished apartment in New York. Here you can really feel at home, and fully experience the holiday cheer by getting your own Christmas tree!

Things to See & Do in New York City during the Holiday Season

New York has always been a city of great attractions. Year-round, you can visit the famous landmarks and indulge in the many cultural activities the city has to offer. During the holiday season, New York City boasts some extra special events!

  • Ever year during the holiday season, the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx hosts the Holiday Train Show. This exhibition features over a dozen model trains that travel through a scale model of New York City, made out of natural materials. There’s even a miniature Empire State Building! This exhibition will run between November 16th and January 12th, and is a great activity for the whole family.
Picture of Radio City Music Hall, where the Christmas Spectacular is performed each year
The Rockettes perform the Christmas Spectacular in Radio City Music Hall
  • If you want to see a show in New York during holiday season, be sure to get tickets to the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. This year marks the 85th anniversary of the The Rockettes in New York, so it’s sure to be a fantastic show!
  • For ballet fans, George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker is sure to be one of the highlights of the holiday season. The amazing production by the New York Ballet can bee seen at the David H. Koch Theater at the Lincoln Center.
  • At the Metropolitan Museum of Art, you can admire the Christmas Tree and Neapolitan Baroque Crèche. This beautiful display in the Medieval Sculptures Hall is made up out of over two hundred 18th Century Neapolitan Crèches figures and an amazingly decorated Christmas tree.
  • Our last attraction on the list is very typical for American Christmas celebrations: the Holiday Lights in Dyker Heights. Every year, the houses in the Dyker Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn are decorated with holiday lights and elaborate Christmas displays. You can discover the amazing decorations on foot, or take a bus tour past the most beautiful displays in the neighborhood.

We hope you’ve enjoyed our guide to the holiday season in New York City! What’s your favorite holiday?