The holiday season is a magical time to visit New York City. While Rockefeller Center is a must-see, thanks to its famous Christmas tree and ice skating rink, Manhattan has many other spots for taking in holiday lights and festivities.
New York City’s other boroughs also have their share of seasonal wonders.
Here is a complete guide to what to see and do in the city.
Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s ‘Lightscape’
2023 marks the third year of “Lightscape,” an after-dark, mile-long illuminated trail leading past the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s landscapes. This nighttime showing brings attendees through 18 installations created by international light artists and design collectives.
It is on view now through January 1, 2024. For tickets and more information, visit this link.
Installations include “Supernova,” a 24-foot-high illuminated Moravian star by Studio Vertigo; and “Sea of Light,” by Ithaca Studio, which illuminates BBG’s Cherry Esplanade, a broad green lawn aligned with green and red oak trees, with a moving sequence of light.
Lightscape will be accentuated by music with a curated playlist featuring songs by Taylor Swift, Elton John, Philip Glass and Viter Ukrainian Folk. The compilation will also recognize the 50th anniversary of hip-hop—which originated in The Bronx—with tracks from artists including Mos Def, MC Lyte and Digable Planets. Pop-up dining areas will sell seasonal treats and warm beverages.
‘Holiday Nostalgia Train Rides’ and A ‘Holiday Train Show’
The New York Transit Museum will have two special events this holiday season.
First, the museum will hold their “Holiday Nostalgia Train Rides” on Saturdays in December. With just a swipe of the cost of subway ride, this museum tradition involves the operation of the museum’s 1930s R1/9 train cars between 2nd Avenue on the uptown F line platform and 145th on the downtown D line platform.
The route includes certain uptown and downtown stops on the F line; some intersect with the D line and other subway lines. It’s also possible to set conductors and passengers dress up in attire from a bygone era. Visit the museum’s website for a complete schedule.
At their Grand Central Gallery at Grand Central Terminal, the museum’s Holiday Train Show will present their first show since 2019 with an intricate display of model trains departing from a miniature replica of the terminal. The collection of model train sets will amaze children and adults alike as they make their way past New York landmarks and on to the North Pole! This year, the show runs now through February 2024. Visit this link for tickets and more information.
During the holiday season, the Brooklyn neighborhood of Dyker Heights goes by another name – “Dyker Lights.” Initiated by one of Dyker Heights’ residents in the eighties, who completely decked out her home in Christmas decorations, “Dyker Lights” has much of the neighborhood’s houses adorned with holiday lights and life-sized Santa Clauses, candy canes, snowmen and reindeer. This extravaganza happens usually from December until the first week of January.
It’s best to go after dark when everything is lit up, but note that this area can get a lot of traffic. There are companies offering escorted tours of “Dyker Lights” but many often walk around on their own. They can be seen from 11th to 13th avenues and from 83rd to 86th streets.
While it is probably best to use Google Maps for directions, the nearest subway stops to Dyker Heights are on the R line at 86th St. (Bay Ridge) or the D line at 79th St. (Bensonhurst).
‘Gingerbread NYC: The Great Borough Bake-Off’
This museum in Manhattan’s East Harlem neighborhood introduced their “Gingerbread NYC: The Great Borough Bake-Off” in late 2022.
Now in its second year, this gingerbread competition features professional and independent bakers from across all five boroughs. They are given the challenge of creating installations reflecting their respective neighborhoods. Their gingerbread designs can consist of iconic NYC landmarks or local places or things that also mean a lot.
Entries must be inspired by the theme, “Iconic New York.” Judging is done by the city’s top bakers, curators and restaurant owners.
Prizes for these submissions will be awarded in various categories, and visitors are encouraged to vote for their favorites through scanning a QR code.
“Gingerbread NYC: The Great Borough Bake-Off” is on view at the Museum of the City of New York now through January 15, 2024.
New York Botanical Garden’s ‘Holiday Train Show’ and ‘NYBG Glow’
The New York Botanical Garden is known for their annual “Holiday Train Show” but in recent years the public garden introduced an onsite, holiday lights show on the Conservatory Lawn.
NYBG’s “Holiday Train Show” is back for 2023 with a new outdoor train display but also has its traditional displays within the Conservatory. Inside this venue, see nearly 200 scaled versions of famous New York City buildings constructed from natural materials including bark, seeds and leaves. Model trains and trolley pass by them on an about half-mile track.
“NYBG Glow” is an outdoor presentation of tons of choreographed lights and illuminations and synchronized sounds. Visitors can also get something to eat or drink from an outdoor bar or a special holiday pop-up by the Bronx Night Market.
The “Holiday Train Show” is on view now through January 15, 2024 and “NYBG Glow” can be seen on select nights from now through January 14, 2024.
Both events have coinciding programs and classes. For tickets and more information, visit this link.
The Bronx Zoo’s ‘Holiday Lights’
The Bronx Zoo is bringing back their after-dark program of immersive light displays, custom-designed animal lanterns and animated light shows.
The 2023 edition of “Holiday Lights” will welcome new lantern displays highlighting the wildlife of New York’s ocean waters and wetlands, plus a new interactive experience celebrating bioluminescent creatures.
The Bronx Zoo’s “Holiday Lights” is on view now through January 7, 2024. For tickets and more information, visit this link.
‘The Gingerbread City’
The London-based Museum of Art has brought over its exhibition, “The Gingerbread City,” to The Seaport in Lower Manhattan for a run now through January 7, 2024.
The exhibit features a whole city constructed entirely of gingerbread, candy and frosting, with moving parts constructed by more than 50 architects and designers. Visitors can learn how to build their own creations, too. There will be daily gingerbread house-making workshops with gingerbread made by Balthazar, a SoHo restaurant.
For tickets and more information, visit this link.
NYC has many places to shop from but its holiday marketplaces bring out the best of local and regional businesses. Most run the length of the holiday season, but some may be for a weekend or so.
The Brooklyn Navy Yard’s “Sixth Annual Wallabout Wonderland Holiday Market!” happens on Saturday, Dec. 2 and Sunday, Dec. 3 at the venue’s Building 293. It’s free to attend but it’s recommended to RSVP through Eventbrite.
Other weekend-only markets include the Astoria Market at Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden (December 10 and 17, 2023); The Makers Show at City Point in Brooklyn (Now through December 17, 2023 from Friday-Sunday),;and Crafts at the Cathedral at St. John the Divine in Manhattan’s Morningside Heights (December 1-3, 2023).
Ongoing holiday markets include the Grand Central Terminal’s 2023 Holiday Fair Within its Vanderbilt Hall, this year’s curated fair features 36 vendors—from local businesses to artisan merchants—selling homemade bath products, knitwear, jewelry and art prints, gender-neutral accessories, ornaments and homeware. It is open now through Christmas Eve.
The Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park holds an open-air holiday market by Urbanspace that’s open through January 2, 2024. Within jewel-box kiosks, find a mix of crafts, artisan provisions and specialty gifts.
This winter village also has an outdoor ice skating rink along with The Lodge, a rinkside bar and food hall. Skate rentals are available now through mid-January 2024.
Other holiday markets by Urbanspace include ones at Columbus Circle (November 28 through December 31, 2023) and Union Square (now through December 24, 2023).
‘Santa’s Winter Wonderland at Watermark’
Head to the North Pole, or more so to The Seaport, to visit a winter wonderland near the waterfront. This open-air attraction is surrounded by Christmas trees, games, and activities for kids and kids at heart!
Attendees to Santa’s Winter Wonderland at Watermark can choose from various admission levels providing special goodies along with the opportunity to make your own s’mores. Or splurge and book a reserved seating within an illuminated and heated glasshouse and indulge in a curated holiday menu.
Santa’s Winter Wonderland at Watermark is open now through December 30, 2023, with tickets available online.
‘Winter Bar at the Palace’
Lotte New York Palace is known for its splendid outdoor holiday tree, but the grand hotel has unveiled a seasonal courtyard bar, “Winter Bar at the Palace,” that will be open Wednesday through Sunday, from 3 to 9 p.m.
“The Winter Bar at the Palace” will be situated adjacent to the hotel’s Christmas tree and open to the public. The bar will offer expertly crafted seasonal libations and classic favorites, along with non-alcoholic options and sweet holiday treats.
Orders will include Royal Hot Chocolate, with Madagascar dark chocolate; Mexican Mint Hot Chocolate, with Patron Silver Tequila and Peppermint Schnapps; Hennessy Hot Toddy; and Hot Buttered Rum, with Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva Rum.
Walk-ins are welcome as the bar is in the courtyard of the palace.