Christmas and New York City go together like fluffy white beards and Ho! Ho! Hos! This is the stuff holiday memories are made of! If you are planning to take your family to do Christmas in NYC, you’ll certainly be looking for things that keep you busy and make great memories — especially the ones that are free.
Here are a few things definitely worth doing if you’re watching your budget but still looking for that signature Christmas feel.
Christmas in NYC: The Must-Do Free Activities List
To get warmed up, go for a walk in the park. The moment you hear the jingle bells on a horse-drawn carriage, you’ll know Central Park is full of Christmas spirit this time of year. Go for a stroll, see carriages in their full holiday decor, shop trinkets being sold by street vendors, tip a musician playing holiday tunes on an old saxophone and when you’re ready, wander out and into the city. The temporary Christmas tree stands are set up on nearly every corner this time of year. They smell wonderful and are charmingly festive in a way only NYC can be.
Now that you’re out and about, there are a handful of free things you must do if you’re in New York City at this time of year. Christmas in NYC isn’t just promoted by these free things, together, they pretty much embody this most festive holiday season. Here’s a short list of the things you absolutely have to do to properly celebrate Christmas in NYC.
5) Take in the MoMA or the Guggenheim
Yes, both of these museums host free admission hours at other times of the year, but if you’re visiting the city you’d be hard pressed to find anything more fun than a free visit to either the Museum of Modern Art or the Guggenheim, which is currently hosting an exhibit of Picasso’s black and white work spanning his entire career. I had the good fortune to check it out this weekend. (Don’t rush pass his classic Woman Ironing in your rush to get up the ramp.) The Guggenheim is “Pay What You Wish” on the 15h, 22nd and 29th of December, as well as January 5. The MoMA is free every Friday between 4pm and 8pm.
4) Visit Rockefeller Center
If there’s an epicenter of Christmas in NYC, it’s most certainly Rockefeller Center, spot of the city’s annual Christmas tree, the signature skating rink and, occasionally, the Rockettes. Visiting this historic Christmas icon is probably enough, though you might be tempted to ice skate. That costs a pretty penny, however, at $21 plus a $9 rental. And the wait can last for hours just to get on the ice. If you want to ice skate in NYC for Christmas, check out the slightly cheaper but bigger Wollman Rink in Central Park.
3) Peruse the Window Displays
If you’re looking to be vaulted back in time or thrust into the future of Christmas — if you’re looking for a place where some of the most creative people in the city are expressing the holiday spirit — then you absolutely have to check out the windows on 5th Avenue and a few other streets surrounding Rockefeller Center. This year, my personal favorites were the Macy’s windows, which include an evocative video display some of my friends - local artists Kyoko Fukuma and John-Paul Cannucciari – had a hand in. But be sure to check out Lord and Taylor, Saks, Bergdorf Goodman, Barney’s and Bloomingdales as you head North and West from Macy’s.
2) Visit FAO Schwarz
It must be the most famous toy store in the world. The icon of Christmas joy known as FAO Schwarz is the oldest toy store in America, and has been featured in countless films including Home Alone 2: Lost in New York and BIG, with Tom Hanks. You’ll be sure to recognize the floor piano and the life-size stuffed animals right away. Like the window displays or Rockefeller Center, this is a major tourist attraction, so going when it opens or on a weekday are your best bets to get in without (much) of a wait. Still, seeing this place for yourself is totally worth it.
1) Take in Macy’s Santaland
If you’ve ever ready any of David Sedaris’ award-winning books and essays, you might have heard of Santaland. This magical place has earned its stripes as one of the staples of Christmas in NYC. Think of the scene in A Christmas Story when the boys go to see Santa? That’s a lot like what you’ll find at Macy’s Santaland. The tradition of Santaland even extends to the film Miracle on 34th Street — Santaland set the scene! Don’t go on the weekends or in the afternoon during the week. If you get there when it opens at 9am, you’ll have no trouble getting right in, but time it wrong and you’ll end up with Christmas music permanently tattooed on the inside of your head and kids with tired legs wondering how the heck Santa gets anything done with so many people wanting to see him. If you don’t feel like getting there early, there are always other ways to see Santa in NYC.
What do you think are the best free things to do in order to have the perfect Christmas in NYC? Share your tips below.