As a native New Yorker, I admit I’m totally biased when I say that this is one of the most magical places for a family to be over the holidays. Because I get so many emails each year from readers and out-of-town friends asking me about must-do family fun, I figured this would be a great place to answer all of you.
From the traditional stuff that’s famous for a reason, to some off-the-beaten path activities, here are my picks for my own family’s favorites of the awesome seasonal events that New York City has to offer.
THE ROCKEFELLER CENTER TREE
Yes it’s horribly crowded, and yes the ice skating is a fortune with lines that last forever. But your kids will fall down in love the first time
they see that ginormous tree up close. Beware of the “friendly” guys dressed in bad Sponge Bob costumes who will take a picture with your
kids–it’s not free.
If you’re in from warmer climes, nothing beats an hour of ice skating until your ankles hurt. Mommy Poppins lists the 8 best NYC ice skating rinks, because Rock Center isn’t the only game in town. In fact, the Bryant Park Rink, shown above, is free!
THE RADIO CITY CHRISTMAS SPECTACULAR
It is not edgy. It is not secular. But it is astoundingly well-done, it’s got the Rockettes, and everyone is so gosh-darn nice at Radio City, you’ll almost forget you’re in New York.
THE HOLIDAY WINDOWS
Mommy Poppins also has a great round-up of the windows. I find Saks 5th Avenue to be the most traditional, while Barney
is the most outrageous–this year it’s a hilarious Food Network theme with Mario Batali and Jamie Oliver made out of paper machier. Dylan’s Candy Bar now has decorated windows too but be warned…your kids won’t be content until they’re on the other side of them.
There’s nothing like watching that tree grow live and in person–but kids under five are not ready to sit through this adult-length show by the NYC Ballet. Save it for older ballet fans. Another option: The American Ballet Theater Nutcracker at BAM, which is way more affordable. We’ll be there the day after Christmas!
Your kids will kill you if you don’t.
WINTUK AT MADISON SQUARE GARDEN
This is the last season of this Cirque de Soleil Show—kids will adore the circus performances without all the creepy tiger-taming stuff. And their faces as they jump through the confetti snow that falls from the ceiling makes it well worth the price of admission. Which, by the way, is 30% off right now for kids under 12, and if you go on Sundays, there’s a free family day party for an hour before hand. Ooh- face painting.
NEW YORK BOTANICAL GARDEN TRAIN SHOW
My kids flip for this show every year which combines model trains chugging past incredible floral displays; think a whole Manhattan skyline made
out of twigs and leaves. For a smaller (and free) train display, check out the annual Holiday Train Show in the MTA Transit Museum in Grand Central Station.
MADELINE TEA AT THE CARLYLE
Save your pennies. And your hundreds. But boy it’s sweet watching those girls sing around the piano.
GINGERBREAD DECORATING WORKSHOP AT CHURCH STREET SCHOOL OF ART
I’ve never been myself, but it comes highly recommended. (Thanks Marinka) Before you die at the cost, remember it’s a fundraiser for the school. And you get to eat your work. Okay, now die at the cost.
THE ORIGAMI CHRISTMAS TREE AT THE AMERICAN MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY
While you’re there seeing all the awesome exhibits, don’t miss this super cool tree featuring 500 hand-folded ornaments that they’ve worked on
since July. There’s a more traditional Baroque tree at the Metropolitan Museum too.
THE HOLIDAY MARKETS AT UNION SQUARE, GRAND CENTRAL AND BRYANT PARK
Great for last minute shopping, and you’re supporting lots of small businesses and crafters. Our kind of stuff! There are also great holiday fairs throughout the city brought to you by schools, churches, and synagogues–Time Out NY Kids is a great place to keep up with them all.
HANSEL AND GRETEL AT THE MET
Think your kid are too young for opera? I adored this as a kid and it’s still going strong. The restaurant there also has a prix fixe $18 kids Hansel
and Gretel lunch menu.
This terrific performance arts center has a whole series for kids this winter, including performances by CMP faves Gustafer Yellowgold, Elizabeth Mitchell and Lunch Money. If you’re a local, grab a Just Kidding subscription of four or more Saturday events at nice savings to get you through the winter weekends.
BOOKS OF WONDER
This is the one pick that isn’t seasonal exactly, but this amazing indie bookstore is a NYC parent favorite, with cool events and readings every
weekend. It’s a great place to find some great holiday book gifts while supporting the little guy. Good cupcakes too.
THE CRAZY CHRISTMAS LIGHT DISPLAYS
Every year, there are houses in the 5 boroughs and beyond that do nutty things with electricity and animatronics, all in the name of Christmas.
My favorite used to be up in Montrose, about an hour north of the city before it shut down, but Mommy Poppins details a few more that are worth a trip to Brooklyn and beyond.
Don’t fear the boroughs! It’s an easy train ride to the Brooklyn neighborhood of DUMBO (Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass) and it’s a great neighborhood for families. Pack a thermos of hot chocolate and it’s essentially free, or grab yours from Jacques Torres on Water St which is about the best you’ll ever have. Then grab your cobblestone-friendly stroller and head to Brooklyn Bridge Park for a kid favorite playground with a spectacular view of downtown Manhattan.
For more great NYC resources visit my favorite local blogs and websites:
Mommy Poppins which has their own comprehensive New York Holiday Fun Guide
A Child Grows in Brooklyn
Time Out NY Kids
New York Family
NY City Mama
Any of your own holiday favorites in NY? I’d love to hear them!