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Things to do at Christmas in NYC with kids

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New York City is one my favorite places ever. EVER. I love the sights and the sounds and the smells (well…some of the smells…) and the feeling of excitement I get as soon as I step onto the streets in the morning. But the only thing I love more than NYC, is Christmas in NYC with kids!

I thought I’d write a post with some of the best things we did on our last trip to NYC at Christmas, and some things we are planning to check out on future trips, plus check out my list of travel essentials when visiting Christmas in NYC with young kids at the bottom of the post.

Disclaimer: this post contains affiliate links, which means that if you purchase an item after clicking on the link, I will receive a small commission from the sale. This is at no extra cost to you, and as always, all opinions and recommendations are my own.

Christmas in NYC with kids

The Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center

When I was younger, I always used to watch the Home Alone movies at Christmas. I remember watching Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, seeing the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center for the first time, and being blown away!

We didn’t have Christmas trees like that in the little English village that I’m from, and the first time I saw it in person, I actually cried.

When we took Harrison to NYC at Christmas, he absolutely loved looking at the lights, and I could have stood there for hours. The tree lighting ceremony typically occurs at the end of November/beginning of December (in 2019, the tree will be lit on December 4th) so if you are there in December, chances are you will get to see it.

The tree itself can be found in Rockefeller Plaza, right next to ice rink – and surrounded by lots and lots of people! The later you go, the less people there will be, but obviously if you have kids this might not be an option.

It’s absolutely worth braving the crowds to get to see this beautiful sight though, and it’s on the itinerary for the first night we’ll be in NYC this December! Find out more by visiting the Rockefeller Center’s Official website.

Christmas in NYC with kids

Christmas windows on Fifth Avenue

In December, many of the stores along Fifth Avenue create incredible window displays celebrating the holidays. These displays have a theme and the designers usually go all out for them.

Some of the stores that participate are Barneys, Bloomingdale’s, Lord & Taylor, and Macy’s. The window displays are not only eye-catching, they actually make you stop and stare to take in all the details.

There are often moving parts to the displays, and Harrison really got a kick out of them.

Christmas in NYC with kids

Ice skating in Central Park

There are numerous opportunities to ice skate in NYC over the holidays, with the most popular option being the rink in Rockefeller Plaza. We’re planning on skipping this one though, and heading to Central Park instead.

The Wollman Rink can be found on the east side of the park, near to the Central Park Zoo (enter the park at 59th and 6th) – and is a beautiful location to skate.

The hours vary, as do the prices, and it is always cheaper and less crowded to skate during the week (bear in mind the rink only accepts cash as a form of payment) and you can get information on the upcoming season at Wollman Rink’s website.

This is also a great opportunity to explore the rest of Central Park. We love the Heckscher Playground, which is a short walk from the Wollman Skating Rink.

The playground has lots of space to run and explore, and if the weather cooperates, it’s a great place to let little ones run off some energy. The park is also absolutely beautiful in the snow!

Read through this post for more things to do in Central Park with kids.

Christmas in NYC with kids

Max Brenner’s Chocolate Bar and Restaurant for brunch

Since Christmas is a time of indulgence, you might as well go big or go home by visiting Max Brenner’s Chocolate Bar and Restaurant at 841 Broadway. We usually hit this place up for brunch, and manage to put away enough calories to last several days.

It has the most incredible brunch menu, including Illegal Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate pancakes and White Chocolate Cream French Toast, but the real reason we love it in the winter is the hot chocolate.

Oh my goodness, that hot chocolate will be the best you’ve ever had! There is hot chocolate with marshmallows, with peanut butter, with vanilla cream – and any of them can be made with either white, milk, or dark chocolate.

It is thick and smooth and absolutely decadent. It comes in a hug mug, which is specifically designed to fit perfectly in your hands for when you come in out of the cold and need to warm up. I cannot say enough good things about this place, it is just divine…now excuse me while I wipe the drool from my laptop…

Christmas in NYC with kids

Staten Island Ferry

Every time we go to NYC we say we’ll take the boat over to the Statue of Liberty and every time, we end up bailing because it’s too far to go downtown, or the timing doesn’t work out, or we don’t want to spend the money if the kids will have no interest in it.

This year we are compromising by taking a trip on the Staten Island Ferry. It’s free, you can go whenever you want, and you get a great glimpse of Lady Liberty without actually getting off the boat and walking around.

If you think you might want to take the actual boat over to the Statue of Liberty, I’d recommend checking out one of the New York City passes to save some money; these will also work with a lot of the museums in the city. While downtown, be sure to walk around a little if the weather isn’t too cold; the view over the water is truly stunning.

Christmas in NYC with kids

The High Line

The High Line is one of my favorite places to go in NYC, but somewhere you might not even know exists unless you actually go and look for it. The High Line is a park built on what used to be a freight railroad above the streets of the West Side of Manhattan.

It runs from Gansevoort Street up to West 34th Street, and you can get on or off at a number of places in between, either by stairs of by elevator (something to keep in mind if you have a stroller is that not every entrance/exit on to the High Line has an elevator, some are stairs only).

There are also two restrooms along the way, found at the beginning at Ganesvoort Steeet and at 16th Street.

It’s so nice to be able to just stroll along at leisure, maybe stop to sit on a bench and overlook the city, and just get away from the hustle and bustle of the streets for a while. When we visited NYC in June of this year, Harrison loved walking along the tracks and pretending to be a train!

It’s actually pretty stroller friendly as long as it’s not too crowded, and we saw a number of families walking along with little ones. Find out more by visiting the Friends of the High Line website.

Christmas in NYC with kids

Macy’s to meet Santa

Harrison’s first Christmas was when he was two weeks old, so we waited until his second Christmas to take him to see Santa at our local mall. Oh, it did not go well! There were tears and screams and poor Santa looks horrified in the photo.

This was a couple of weeks before our Christmas NYC trip, so we had no plans to go to Macy’s to see Santa. But that it definitely on our list of things to do this year!

As I understand it, lines for Macy’s can get to Disneyland-sized lengths, and the best bet is to go during the week and go early. I’m planning on bringing snacks and a few quiet activities to keep Harrison occupied – and we’re prepared to bail with the baby if necessary!

Christmas in NYC with kids

Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes 

I feel like this is totally one of those touristy things that an actual New Yorker would never do! But we’re planning on doing it anyway! I’ve wanted to see this show since watching it on the TV the first year I moved from England to the U.S., and I’m beyond excited to see that this year!

The Radio City Music Hall is all lit up for the holidays, and there is a general air of excitement around as people line up to watch the show.

This will be a mommy/son date since Grayson will still only be eight-months old, and I’m so excited to share something with my son that I know he will absolutely love! Find out more about the show be visiting the official website.

Christmas in NYC with kids

My top five must-have items to take to New York City when visiting at Christmas with  a baby or a toddler:

  1. A baby carrier – NYC can be tricky to navigate with a stroller, and a good carrier will keep baby nice and cozy. We’ve tried a couple over the years and always come back to the Ergo Original Carrier; it’s comfortable for you and for the baby, and will keep your little one nice and snug.
  2. A warm snow suit – whether your baby is in a carrier or a stroller, warm clothing is essential. My baby loves to kick blankets off, no matter how tightly they are tucked around him, so we’ve bought him a snow suit for our Christmas trip this year. It will keep him all snug, and can be easily taken off once we get inside somewhere warm. This one is so adorable, and comes in a wide variety of colors.
  3. A stroller cover – if you decide to take a stroller, then a cover is a must! It will protect baby from the rain, the snow, even the cold wind. I have this one, and it’s lasted us nearly four years!
  4. A warm hat – keeping a hat on a baby can be a challenge when it’s just SO hilarious for them to keep pulling it off and throwing it on the floor! I have this one, and I love it because 1) it has chin straps to keep it firmly in place, 2) it has ear flaps to keep baby’s ears nice and warm, and 3) it has cute little bear ears, and I take any opportunity to dress my little one up!
  5. A stroller organizer – you’ll need to have a hot cup of coffee if you’re strolling the streets of Manhattan in December! I love this one; it has room for a cup of coffee and a bottle or a sippy cup, a place to keep your cell phone, and a whole bunch of other pockets for easy access to things like tissues and credit cards so you don’t have to go rooting around in a diaper bag stood out in the cold. Best of all, it fits pretty much every stroller.
     

Christmas NYC young kids

Have you been to NYC at Christmas with kids? What were your favorite things to do? Tell me in the comments below!

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Jenna

Saturday 14th of July 2018

I know you said the Christmas decorations go UP the end of Nov/beginning of Dec, but do you know when they take them all down? We are planning to go between Christmas and New Year and I'm hoping the decorations will all still be up! Thanks!

Kate

Monday 16th of July 2018

They typically start taking the decorations down in the first few weeks of January, so you will definitely get to see everything between Christmas and New Year!

Lindsey

Sunday 18th of December 2016

We are taking our three young children (under 4 years old) to NYC in January. We live in a warm climate so I'm wondering how bearable it was in the winter to be outside? We want to be able to spend our time walking around and touring the city with them without them freezing to death.

Kate

Sunday 18th of December 2016

Coming from Florida, I definitely understand your concerns! Honestly, it's not unbearable as long as you're dressed for cold weather. If you have a baby under about 18-months, I would recommend an all-in-one snow suit, and make sure the kids have hats, scarves, gloves/mittens, and warm coats. As long as you're wrapped up warmly, you should be fine.

Joana

Sunday 30th of October 2016

Well, I've never been to New York, but I would love to spend a Christmas there, it looks so magical! And after this post, oh my! I wish I could pack and go! Totally saving this post and all your amazing tips to read again when I finally visit NYC! Love from Portugal, Joana

Kate

Sunday 30th of October 2016

Thank you for such a sweet comment! If you ever make it to New York City, Christmas is the most wonderful time to go! It's worth braving the freezing cold temperatures to take in the city all lit up for the holidays!

Diana

Sunday 30th of October 2016

I haven't yet been to NYC but I am planning to go for this Christmas. Your guide has gotten me super excited for it, especially for the Giant Christmas tree!!! Cheers, Diana | www.footloosegirl.com

Kate

Sunday 30th of October 2016

Oh my goodness, how exciting! I hope you have the most wonderful time - and yes, the tree at Rockefeller Center is an incredible sight!

Jamie

Sunday 30th of October 2016

I must say, I am not a fan of NYC! I however LOVED NYC at Christmas, too! Going to Rockefeller was my favorite!! :-) Also I'm so happy I found this post because I had no idea the Staten Island ferry was free!! How cool is that! Thanks so much, dear! xx

Kate

Sunday 30th of October 2016

Yes anything free in NYC is a good thing! It's fantastic, the ferry goes right past the Statue of Liberty and you get a great view - all for free!

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