Rockefeller Center Christmas
Rockefeller Center Christmas // Photo by Elias Andres-Jose on Unsplash

NYC Guide to the Holiday Season (on a budget)

New York during the holidays is magical. New York during the holidays is crowded. New York during the holidays can be miserable if you’re not careful. Avoid a New York Christmas nightmare with the right gameplan.

There’s nothing in the world like seeing the first snow of the season reflecting the lights of Manhattan. There’s also nothing like standing in line unnecessarily for hours in the cold.

After living here for 9 years, I still am enchanted by New York in December. I’ve also learned a thing or two about how to get around the massive crowds and massive prices that come with the holiday season.

Free activities

UNICEF Swarovski Crystal Snowflake above 5th Avenue
UNICEF Swarovski Crystal Snowflake above 5th Avenue // Source

Holiday Windows on Fifth Avenue

The holiday store windows keep getting better and better every year on 5th Avenue. Don’t miss: Saks Fifth Avenue, Tiffany’s, Barney’s, Bergdorf Goodman, and the giant UNICEF Swarovski crystal hanging above the street.

Macy’s on 34th Street

It’s free to walk around inside, of course, and see the New York Christmas spirit at its most extravagant. It will be massively crowded however! Don’t miss: the floor with the crazy amount of toys and candy.

Ice Skating at Rockefeller Center

It’s free to skate at the Rockefeller Center Ice Rink. Local tip: you have to pay $20 to rent skates if you don’t bring your own.


Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony
Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting // Source

Tree Lighting Ceremony

This year the tree lighting ceremony is on Nov. 30th. Like any New York Christmas event, people will start crowding to save a space early in the morning. Local tip: Make sure to show up early and claim your spot.


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Old school trains today at the 2nd Ave F stop #throwback #holidays

A post shared by Rosie Pringle (@mostlyoriginal) on

Holiday Historic Train Rides

During select Sundays on the F line, you can ride a vintage subway car decked in holiday cheer Trains start running at the 2nd Ave stop.

Grand Central Station

Grand Central Station is always free to enter, so don’t miss this New York Christmas classic while it’s decked out for the holidays!

There is even a special event where you can get three Christmas gifts wrapped with wrapping paper designed like the famous astronomical ceiling.

Holiday Markets


Check out our deep dive post on NYC’s holiday markets >



NYC Ballet Nutcracker Suite
NYC Ballet Nutcracker Suite // Source: NYCB

Nutcracker Christmas Ballet at the Lincoln Center

There is a special promotion called for viewers under 30, aptly called $30 for 30. Available only on the day of, and subject to ticket availability.


The bright orange TKTS booth in Times Square sells Broadway tickets up to 50% off on the same day as the show. Local tip: If you don’t feel like waiting in the giant line, there is another booth in Downtown Brooklyn.


Radio City Christmas Spectacular (Rockettes)

You can also score half price tickets to see the Rockettes at the TKTS booths.

Make sure to check any rewards or discount programs where you have a membership, such as credit card rewards points or AARP. Discounts can range from 20–50%.

Off-season is a better time to see the show as well, with tickets more in the $30–40 range rather than $100+.

There are low price rush tickets as well for seats with low visibility, such as behind pillars. Not great, but not shabby for only $10.

Celebrate Christmas and New Year’s Eve in NYC

Winter Garden in the World Financial Trade Center

This greenhouse puts on free holiday performances all December! Check out the schedule here.


Giant Ornaments on 6th Avenue
Giant Ornaments on 6th Avenue // Source


Statue of Liberty

It’s going to be insanely cold and windy to ride the boat out to the Statue, and you’ll be far removed from all the holiday celebration and cheer.

Top of the Empire State Building

It’s old, cold, and drafty. Check out the top of the Rock instead, which has amazing architecture inside and gives a beautiful view of the Empire State Building. There’s also large sheets of glass, which help buffer you from the icy NYC skyline winds.

Anywhere else you love to visit during the holidays? Have any more tips to share? Send me a comment!


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NYC on a budget: guide to the holiday season in the Big Apple

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Artist with a passion for travel.

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