Holiday Magic in New York City

Few cities capture the holiday spirit quite like New York. From November through January, the Big Apple literally lights up in celebration of the most wonderful time of year. At every turn, you’ll find sky-high Christmas trees, dazzling window displays, holiday markets, ice skating rinks, and live performances by some of the biggest names in entertainment. 

Even during unconventional years like 2021, New York City has plenty of holiday cheer to go around. Embrace the city’s quintessential traditions and discover new ones with Independent Collection’s guide to the holidays in NYC.

Heads up! Holiday events and happenings may be scheduled to change. Check with individual event hosts for the latest updates and visitor guidelines.

Thank Heavens, and Helium

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s…Spongebob Squarepants? 

You know the holiday season is officially on when gigantic (and, ok, slightly terrifying) balloons take over 34th Street. A New York City tradition since 1924, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is back on November 25 with glittering floats, marching bands, giant balloons and, of course, Santa Claus. Early birds are invited to watch the parade in-person on Thanksgiving morning, though fashionably late risers can still catch a glimpse on Thanksgiving Eve during the unofficial “inflation celebration.”

In the evening, why not indulge in a Thanksgiving feast? New York City is home to some of the world’s best restaurants, from upscale lounges with James Beard-winning chefs, to mom-and-pop eateries serving home-cooked happiness. Gather the family and dig into a prix fixe Thanksgiving dinner like never before. And, if you dare, stay up late to get a leg up on Black Friday shopping. (Pssst…check out our top picks for shopping, dining and more in our latest NYC guide!) 

Famous Firs & Dazzling Displays

Legend has it that Edward Hibberd Johnson – an engineer, inventor, and business partner of Thomas Edison – requested specially-made Edison light bulbs to decorate his Christmas tree in 1882. Adorned with 80 hand-wired bulbs in red, white and blue, the tree was displayed in the window of Johnson’s NYC townhome, setting off a nationwide frenzy for electronically-lit trees. 

Our obsession with twinkling evergreens lives on, and New York City boasts some of the most dazzling displays around. Get into the holiday spirit with strolls past the city’s famous firs. In spite of seasonal crowds, Rockefeller Center’s grandiose tree is truly a sight to behold. For a more low-key, up-close viewing, visit Washington Square or the Seaport District. You might be surprised to find trees inside of city’s museums, too. Check out the 50th annual origami tree at the American Museum of Natural History, and the beautiful nativity scene on display at The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Not to be outdone by a measly ol’ tree, the New York Botanical Garden ups the ante with GLOW, an immersive holiday installation featuring thousands of LED lights. Grab a hot cocoa and wander through 1.5 miles of brilliant lights illuminating the Garden’s exotic plants and historic buildings. From November through January, GLOW will also present artistic ice sculpting, a foodie-favorite pop-up with Bronx Night Market, and a holiday gift shop with funky plants to surprise your green-thumbed friends. While you’re there, stop by the Garden’s famous Holiday Train Show, an unbelievable train display lined with iconic NYC landmarks like the Brooklyn Bridge, the Empire State Building, and the Statue of Liberty.

Throughout the city, you’ll see many public parks dressed for the season, too. Bryant Park’s Winter Village is a popular spot with free ice skating, rinkside restaurants, and dozens of local vendors. Similarly, Central Park offers not one, but TWO, ice skating rinks, plus kitschy holiday kiosks and a variety of food vendors. The nearby Columbus Circle holiday market is a hit among locals and travelers alike, as is Central Park’s steepest slope, Pilgrim Hill, where you’ll find sledders reveling in the snow. 

For a different kind of holiday display, look no further than Fifth Avenue, where luxury brands and department stores like Bloomingdale’s and Bergdorf Goodman transform their windows into extravagant works of art. Across town, Brookfield Place is another great spot for holiday shopping and festive events. Enjoy a romantic night of ice skating overlooking the Hudson River, wander through holiday-inspired art installations, and take advantage of complimentary gift wrapping, too! 

Spectacular, Spectacular

New York City’s performing arts are among the best in the world. During your holiday visit, treat yourself to brilliant performances the whole family will love. 

From November through January, the famous Rockettes are back at Radio City Music Hall for their beloved Christmas Spectacular. At Lincoln Center, watch the New York City Ballet perform a timeless classic, The Nutcracker, from November 26 through January 2. The Metropolitan Opera is staging a range of performances this year, from Puccini’s La Bohème to holiday-inspired adaptations of Cinderella and Mozart’s The Magic Flute. And at Carnegie Hall, enjoy your choice of symphonies, cello performances, holiday chamber music and much more. 

Broadway is finally back for in-person shows, and this year’s season boasts serious heavy hitters like Moulin Rouge!, winner of the 2020 Tony Award for Best Musical, and Jagged Little Pill, a Tony and Grammy Award-winning production inspired by Alanis Morissette’s album by the same name. Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater also makes its much-awaited return to the stage on December 1 with a three-week season full of new works and fan favorites. 

After the holidays, stick around for National YoungArts Week (January 9-15) to experience America’s brightest up-and-coming talent across a range of disciplines.


“The City that Never Sleeps” is perfectly suited for an over-the-top New Year’s Eve celebration, don’t you think? 

Throughout the five boroughs, you’ll find tons of NYE events for every party-goer: rooftop bars with A-list DJs, glamorous ballroom galas, artsy warehouse parties, and everything in between. At Brooklyn’s House of Yes, a famously LGBTQ+ friendly night club, don your craziest costumes and dance the year away with circus performers, drag queens and cabaret dancers. If your style is more black tie than burlesque, make a reservation at Cipriani for their annual New Year’s Eve affair. 

For the quintessential New York City rooftop experience, plan to stay at the Aliz Hotel – an Independent Collection hotel in the heart of Times Square – where you’ll find Dear Irving on Hudson, a swanky cocktail parlor with sexy decor and 360-degree views of Manhattan. 

Of course, some years you just want to keep things simple. Pick up a to-go cocktail kit from one of New York City’s award-winning bars and find your spot overlooking the East River. When the clock strikes 12, look up to the skies for an incredible fireworks show for the ages. 

Cheers to the New Year and all of the adventures that lie ahead!

Book Your NYC Holiday!

Ready for a magical holiday in New York City? Now is the time to start planning! Check out Independent Collection’s portfolio of boutique hotels across Brooklyn, Times Square, and Midtown Manhattan.