Local Tip: Holiday Activities for Families in NYC

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By Kristy Jefferson

I may be biased, but there’s nothing more magical than Christmastime in New York. The lights, the decorations, all those cozy spots to stop in for a hot chocolate; it’s pure yuletide bliss. So if you happen to find yourself in our fair city, here are a few things you’ll definitely want to check out – besides the obvious (and wonderful) Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.

Head down to the Union Square area, and you’ll find lots of things to do. Every year Union Square plays host to a wonderful outdoor Holiday Market (right) to browse unique, often-handmade jewelry, ornaments, art, clothes and toys (cool toys!). After getting chilly in the markets, warm up with some hot chocolate at nearby City Bakery (their homemade marshmallows are enormous! And their pretzel croissants are delicious!) or Max Brenner(aka chocolate heaven). And if you’re still looking for some gifts to take home, stop by the famous Strand Books to choose from 18 miles of books or Forbidden Planet for the dedicated comic-book fanboy in your family.

See the city, get cold. City Bakery has this to keep you warm.

Further downtown, you’ll find the South Street Seaport (check out this NY1 article). The area was battered by Sandy and not all stores have reopened, but you’ll find carolers on Friday evenings and Saturday and Sunday afternoons. The area is typically really festive and beautifully decorated. While you’re there, take the kids to the South Street Seaport Museum and the Imagination Playground before checking out the familiar shops and restaurants in the Seaport and quirkier local places on  cobblestone streets around it.

While it may sound fairly obvious, the Rockefeller Center tree really is a sight to behold, and there’s a lotto do in the area. Here’s my favorite route: Start at Magnolia Bakery on 6th Avenue at 49th Street for some delicious treats to munch while admiring the tree and all of Rock Center’s holiday eye candy .

Ice Skaters at Wollman

After you’ve had your fill, walk up Fifth Ave, starting at Saks and ending at Central Park. Along the way you’ll pass window after shop window decked out with eye-popping displays, as well as vendors selling pretzels and roasted nuts. If you’re feeling saucy when you get to Central Park, make your way to Wollman Rink for some ice skating with skyline views! To warm up afterward, cut across the park to big and shiny Time Warner Center (top) to use the bathrooms, grab a very fancy hot cocoa from Bouchon bakery (right) and, if you’re lucky, catch one of the music-and-lights that begin daily at 5:00 pm.

Let’s face it, if you’re with your kids, and you’re in the city, and it’s Christmastime, you probably want to hit some toy stores. The no-brainer, must-do is FAO Schwartz (conveniently located at the top of your 5th Avenue walking tour!)

But we also like to window shop at some of the small independent stores, like Kidding Around in Chelsea, Boomerang Toys in Battery Park City, and the gorgeous Babesta (right) in Tribeca.

No matter what you do, you’re sure to catch some of that holiday spirit—it’s everywhere in NYC. So get to the city and get in the holiday mood!

Kristy Jefferson write for The Parent Maze, which offers NYC parents a fast and easy way to get trusted recommendations from their friends and neighbors on local services from  from doulas and sleep experts to music classes and party entertainers.  And introducing AskParentMaze.com, a new Q&A site where parents help other parents with advice, recommendations, and support. Subscribe only to the topics and stages that are relevant to you!


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8 Responses

  1. What a great list of holiday activities! We have been to NYC twice with our kids for New Year’s but I’d love to go prior to Christmas sometime and enjoy all the pre-Christmas activities. Love all your suggestions on where to get treats – haven’t tried any of them yet!

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  2. NYC is a magical city! The one time I was in town during the holiday season, I was lucky to have good weather which allowed me to sit in Bryant park enjoying hot chocolate. It was perfect!

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  3. Love NYC, and would definitely like to be there at Christmas to see the lights and hear the carollers.

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  4. I love NYC. Winter is the one season my wife and I haven’t been there. We will have to try City Bakery. I personally am not a fan of Magnolia though…

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  5. These are all great activities and such a wonderful resource. I haven’t been to NYC during the holidays but I would love to do the ice skating and see the tree and all those window displays. Thanks for all the treats list.

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  6. Wonderful list and pictures – Being in NYC during the holidays is something that’s on my “life list”

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  7. You must have been reading my mind! A few hours ago, I was thinking of a ring I bought at Bryant Park a few Christmases ago and trying to decide whether I should return there or check out Lincoln Square.
    You’ve reminded me of some other options. Thanks!

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  8. What a great page! Being a father of two little kids, i am constantly looking for fun activities in New York. Doesn’t matter if it’s summer or winter, New York is always happening!

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