December is my absolute favorite time of the year in New York City. Yes, it’s cold. And, yes, when it snows the Big Apple gets a bit slushy and messy. But regardless of your beliefs (or lack thereof), you really can’t ignore the festive cheer that fills the air every December in NYC.

The Big City offers so many romantic things to do to keep warm, and the holiday markets that pop up can’t be beat, but there are a few other things in December to keep in mind, especially when visiting the city with kids in tow. Here are some of our favorite things to do.

Ice skating

If you like ice skating in winter, New York is the place for you. The city has so many great rinks from which to choose. Some of them even are free!

Bryant Park’s Bank of America Winter Village has all the shops, but also boasts a really great rink. The rink doesn’t charge an entry fee, but you do have to pay for rentals. There’s something magical about skating there at night with the skyline popping up around you. I’ve seen my share of marriage proposals there, too. (My boys don’t care too much about those, but I rather enjoy them). Warm up with some hot coco right next to the rink and don’t miss family movie night.

The Rink at The Standard is smaller in comparison to other rinks, and it seems to be a favorite of parents with younger kids, though trendy adults like it for its late hours.

There’s also the rink at Rockefeller Center, which usually has huge lines; and Wollman Rink in Central Park, which charges a fee, even if you are not skating.

Other fun rinks to visit are at LeFrak Center in Prospect Park, Brooklyn; Sky Rink at Chelsea Piers; and City Ice Pavillion. These locations are open year-round, which means you don’t have to wait until December to enjoy them.

Viewfinder Tip: Avoid taxis if at all possible in winter. Traffic is chaotic during this season, and slick roads mean major delays. The best ways to get around New York still are by train (subway) and foot.

Museums and exhibits to note

The Jewish Museum welcomes families to celebrate Hanukkah Family Day with fun events and activities, and the Scandinavian House hosts a Swedish Christmas Children’s Workshop every year to teach some of the Nordic traditions of this festive holiday.

The Holiday Train Show at the New York Botanical Garden is a highlight for us, as far as holiday exhibits go, since my boys love trains.

All of the museums I mentioned charge for admission; others always are free. One of my faves: The New York Transit Museum Annex and Store, a great place to pick up a Lionel Train gift or any other transit memorabilia. Other great free museums are the Brooklyn Children’s Museum (free Thursday afternoons) and the Museum of Modern Art (Fridays afternoon).


The most popular “show” of the month is the lighting of the Rockefeller Center tree. That said, be warned: This spectacle is very crowded, and I can tell you it’s not something my kids have ever enjoyed standing in the cold for.

Shows even my kids would enjoy include “The Colonial Nutcracker” at the Brooklyn Center for Performing Arts, or the same organization’s music concert series. Other favorites are “Elf, The Musical” at the Madison Square Garden Theater, and the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, featuring The Rockettes.

The city is even brighter in the holidays

These are just a few organized activities you can plan with your family for December in New York. Honestly, my family and I have enjoyed just walking around the city at this time of year, people-watching and admiring the store fronts. We love getting hot chocolate from the holiday stands at the parks, or sitting down for warm treats at The Todd English Food Hall in The Plaza.

We also enjoy visiting Santaland in Macy’s on 34th Street, though we are often the very first ones there to avoid the lines. The kids love catching a holiday movie playing in any of the big screens in town.

You can spend a lot of money in the city, but you don’t really have to. Just make sure to wear comfortable shoes, dress warmly, and take deep breaths. New York City can be overwhelming, but there are few places as exciting or as fun in December. No matter where you’re from.

Where is your favorite city to spend the holiday months and why?