Things to Do in New York City With Kids at Christmas

Rockefeller Center, New York City's unofficial holiday headquarters, is captivating at night.
Rockefeller Center, New York City's unofficial holiday headquarters, is captivating at night. (Image: Richard Semik/Hemera/Getty Images)

Several beloved family Christmas flicks -- from "Miracle on 34th Street" to "Home Alone 2" to "Elf" -- are set in New York City, and with good reason. From the country's most famous Christmas tree to ice skating amid postcard-worthy city scenery to store windows decked with decorations, everything about the holidays in the Big Apple is iconic and delightful for children -- whether they've seen the movies or not.

Visit the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree

Maneuvering through crowds is a quintessential New York City experience, and you'll do plenty of it to get a photo of your tot in front of the enormous Christmas tree that has been erected in Rockefeller Center every year since 1931. The reflection of the lights in your child's eyes as his fascinated gaze moves up the tree is worth any hassle. Stop by at least once during the day, but be sure not to miss the tree after dark, when it is at its most alluring; the lights stay on until 11:30 p.m. through Christmas Day.

Go Ice Skating

Gliding on the ice at the famous Rink at Rockefeller Center below the tree, with the iconic sculpture of Prometheus as a witness, is a memorable experience. Any child would justifiably become fidgety and restless, however, on the hours-long line you will surely encounter around Christmas time. You won't be sacrificing the view if you head instead to the equally picturesque Trump Rink in Central Park, a more economical alternative in terms of both time and money. Another option is the rink at Bryant Park's Winter Village. Admission is free, but like at the other rinks, you'll have to pay for skate rentals.

Enjoy a Live Show

When it comes to entertaining a child at Christmas time, it's hard to compete with Santa Claus and an army of toy soldiers dancing in synchronized fashion. That's exactly what you'll get if you take your child to see Radio City Music Hall's annual "Christmas Spectacular," with the Rockettes, synonymous with their high-leg kick chorus line. The 90-minute extravaganza is popular with locals and visitors alike -- it draws a million spectators each year -- so book your tickets early. For a more sophisticated but kid-friendly theater outing, take in a performance of the heartwarming holiday tale "The Nutcracker," by the New York City Ballet, the country's largest ballet company, at Lincoln Center.

Admire Department Store Displays

Equip your child with comfortable, weather-appropriate footwear, buy her a soft pretzel or roasted peanuts from any street corner vendor and take a walk along Fifth Avenue, where many flagship stores -- Saks Fifth Avenue, Henri Bendel, and Bergdof Goodman, to name a few -- mount lavish holiday window displays. If you can only visit one store, however, it should be the landmark Macy's at Herald Square, which features prominently in the movie, "Miracle on 34th Street." The world's largest department store dazzles with its annual Santaland attraction. Kids relish the chance to take a photo with Santa Clauseand pass along their Christmas lists. Get there when the store opens to avoid lines. Note that meeting Santa is free, but the portraits are not.

See the Holiday Train Show

It may be too cold in December to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, but your child can stroll under a replica made out of twigs at the endearing Holiday Train Show. For two months beginning in mid-November, the conservatory at the New York Botanical Gardens in the borough of the Bronx, accessible via subway or the Metro-North Commuter Railroad, hosts the annual exhibit, in which model locomotives chug past replicas of the city's most famous landmarks -- from Yankee Stadium to the Chrysler Building to the Statue of Liberty -- all painstakingly crafted out of plant parts.

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