A trip to New York City in the winter is quite possibly the best time to visit and at Christmas, it truly is quite magical. Sure it’s quite crowded and a bit cold but it is also quite crowded in the summer, fall and spring! It’s NYC we have a lot of people and tourists here! To make the most of your holiday visit to enjoy Christmas in NYC, we have pulled together our top tips and favorite winter fun-time activities for small children to ensure you hit the most popular family destinations but don’t lose the magic due to overwhelming crowds and cold little fingers and toes.
How to dress for NYC in December
NYC gets quite cold in the winter with average highs in January in the upper 30s. A lightweight warm winter coat, hat, and gloves are a must for adults and kids alike as well as warm but comfortable walking shoes. More details below. Also, our go-to quick tip for keeping cold toddler cheeks and noses warm is a thin layer of Aquaphor or vaseline before going outside. Keeps moisture in and cold out!
Coats: We love our Patagonia jackets for the adults, and North Face for the kids. They are super lightweight for travel, great for layering, and keep you warm and toasty around the city. They can also be peeled off and smooshed into your bag when you enter a toasty subway car.
Footwear: If any item is more important than your coat, it is footwear! It’s a walking city so you want to ensure your little ones are fitted with warm but walkable footwear. Big heavy snow boots are okay for a few hours in a park but not for a day adventuring around Manhattan. Our kids wear their Saucony tennis shoes with wool socks most days in winter.
Gloves and Hats: If you aren’t from a location that gets cold you will quickly learn that regular gloves make using your phone impossible! You can go with fingerless gloves OR touch-screen friendly gloves. I tend to go cheaper on mittens for the kids since they lose 1-4 pairs each winter (I won’t name names on who looses 1 and who looses 4). Hats are likely of a fashion choice than function. We all love a big warm crochet hat from Nana but also have a stack of simple beanie caps from places like Homage.
Getting Around with Young Kids
Walking- Stoller vs. Baby Carrier
When the first snow flies parents of New York let out a collective moan. We used our strollers more than cars and pushing them through snow is no light work! We have an UppaBaby Vista that I have held onto exclusively for the snowy winter months and forging snowy sidewalks. This stroller is NOT usable on the subway since you would need working elevators at both ends. Unless of course you are seeking a workout and a second adult can carry the child while you carry the stroller. Then rock-on! If your child is quite young and babywearing is not an option, opt for a lightweight umbrella stroller with the largest wheels you can find! We love our Ergo 360 carrier and use it daily but especially if we are going any distance that the Vista can’t go.
By Subway and Bus
Download the CityMapper app to get directions around the city and take the subway or the bus! At $2.75/ ride, the train and bus are cheaper than a taxi but multiple day-rides will add up fast. If you anticipate more than 12 rides over 7 days, a 7-day unlimited pass is your best bet!
Strollers of any size must be folded up on city buses but can remain open on the subway.
Choosing your accommodations
Hotels in Manhattan will make travel to top destinations the shortest and easiest but come with a price tag. We don’t endorse any location in particular, but there are plenty of review sites for that and endless great options! Yelp or TripAdvisor are great places to start, the only location we suggest avoiding is Times Square.
But what about getting an Airbnb? There are strict city laws around apartment-leasing that make this a difficult if not impossible option. For the rental to be legal the owner must actively reside in the unit during the rental period. Renting an illegal place puts you at risk of a last-minute cancellation or worse, a mid-trip cancellation. Ensuring your location is legal is a legal rental is the only protection. Legal AirBnBs do exist! For families who would like the comfort of a larger accommodation looking into Brooklyn, Queens or New Jersey you may find larger homes and duplexes available. There are also some great hotels at more affordable price points in the outer-boroughs but you will be sacrificing some convenience for the added space.
What To Do and What To See:
Window displays and the tree
Even Brooklynites who never travel above 14th Street in Manhattan will make a trip to view the window displays. They are the most lovely in the evening so plan an early dinner, and then check-out the lights around dusk. Grab a cup of hot cocoa at Jaques Torres and peep in on the ice-skaters at Rockefeller Plaza and enjoy the tree before you tuck in for the night. You can still visit the displays if your trip runs after the Christmas holiday up until after the new year.
The famous Wollman Rink, while crowded, will give you those dreamy Central Park views as you skate. For 2019-2010 it will cost around $16-$30 per person for access + skate rental, check the hours and rates online before you go to confirm. They are cash only!
The skating at Bryant Park is also lovely and centrally located with terrific views. Admission is free but skates will cost you $20 to rent.
If you are feeling extra, well, extra, you can stand in the long lines for your 90-minute turn at Rockefeller Plaza. If you don’t book a package online ahead of time expect to wait in line for 1-2 hours and it will cost you $28-$46 for admission + skates.
The super adventurous and thrifty traveler can head to Brooklyn to skate at Le Frak, our local favorite for a cool $14-$17 per person.
Food for the Holidays in NYC
If you don’t splurge on a few great meals while enjoying the holidays in NYC, you didn’t do it right. Check out our full post on Kid Friendly Restaurants, but around the holidays we are especially sure to hit up an Udon Noodle Spot, our ultimate comfort food. Or venture over to Gyu Kaku.
You may have heard about them on TV and yes, the lights in Dyker Heights are worth the hike! If you come to Brooklyn for no other reason, but you should come for many other reasons, this dazzling display is quintessential holiday cheer unlike any other. The Dyker Heights Christmas Lights 2019 display will be up and running the weekend after Thanksgiving until New Years Day. For the very best experience, we suggest mid-to-late December.
We recommend checking it out by foot just after sunset which will first require a subway ride. You can take the Coney Island-bound D train to 79th/ New Utrecht Ave, it is about a 15-minute walk from there to the displays which run in the square of 11th to 13th avenues and 83rd 86th Streets (Dyker Heights, Brooklyn). If you wish to drive, give yourselves plenty of a cushion to find parking. Be prepared for 30-45 minutes or more circling the area for a spot that will really test your parallel parking skills.
For a detailed breakdown for seeing the lights and a bit more convincing to add this to your Christmas in new york itinerary, check out the Timeout New York article.
What are you most looking forward to during your Christmas in New York trip this year? Drop a comment or question below!