Skip to Content

Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree: And Other Best Things to Do in NYC (2023)

Welcome to the heart of New York City! This is where the iconic Rockefeller Center’s dazzling Christmas tree stands as a symbol of holiday magic. While the tree steals the spotlight, there’s a trove of extraordinary experiences tucked away. Let’s head out to the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree and other best things to do in NYC!

Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting in NYC
Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting, NYC

We’re here to uncover a host of epic activities that will make your Rockefeller Center visit unforgettable. This guide is all about the city’s gems and unique adventures that will make your visit to this beloved New York City landmark truly special. 

So, grab your boots, and let’s embark on a Rockefeller Center adventure. It will be easy to see why we named NYC one of the Best Places to Spend Christmas in 2023!

Epic Activities to Do When Visiting the Tree at Rockefeller Center

1. Stroll through the Rockefeller Center Gardens

Rockefeller Center Channel Gardens with angels blowing trumpets, snowflakes lights and greenery at night

The Rockefeller Center Channel Gardens are a Christmas paradise this time of year. The holiday decorations on the enormous tree overflow into the gardens, providing the perfect backdrop for photos.

Man and woman taking picture in front of Rockefeller Christmas Tree

You’ll see bigger than life wreaths and sparkling oversized ornaments amid the greenery, and feel surrounded by the Christmas spirit. Done up in a unique theme every Christmas, these gardens are holiday gold. 

The gardens are between Rockefeller Center and Radio City Music Hall. Their central location makes them an ideal starting point for exploring other legendary holiday attractions nearby.

To give you a head start, NYC has a “CityPASS” which we highly recommend anyone purchase if you’ll be hitting up even a few of these recommendations. The CityPASS is reasonably priced, at the time of our visit under $140, and includes entrance to 5 of the cities top attractions. You can read more about it and purchase one here.

2. Visit the Top of the Rock Observation Deck

Visiting the Top of the Rock Observation Deck should be on your list for many reasons. Located right at Rockefeller Center, the famous observatory offers a unique opportunity to witness the city’s non-stop energy from a spectacular vantage point. And at Christmas, the views are magical.

Overlooking New York City from Rock Observation Deck at night
City lights
Overlooking New York City from Rock Observation Deck

You’ll be able to spot some of New York’s most famous landmarks like Central Park, the Empire State Building, and Times Square. And they’re all lit up for the season.

When you step onto the Top of the Rock, you’re not just getting a view but becoming part of a century-long tradition of people. People from all over the world come for this spectacular view of NYC from above. They sell out quickly, so get your ticket in advance, especially if you want a choice of time.

Tip: Consider a New York Helicopter Tour if you love views from up high. These are widely popular, and for good reason: it is an incredible experience! Fly above the Big Apple and see all the iconic NYC landmarks. These flights are ongoing, so are easy to book, but it’s still wise to book ahead for the best times.

3. Go ice skating at The Rink at Rockefeller Center

Ice skating at The Rink is a quintessential New York City winter activity, especially at Christmas. You can lace up your skates and join in on a shared sense of seasonal joy. 

Ice rink with skaters at Rockefeller Center, NYC at Christmas. Rockefeller tree in the background
Ice rink at Rockefeller Center, NYC at Christmas

The Rink has been a beloved attraction since its initial introduction as a temporary fixture in 1936. Over time, it has transformed into a symbol of the city’s festive spirit, and a destination you can’t miss out on during the holiday season.

As you glide across the ice, you’ll be joining the ranks of famous figures like Truman Capote, Ethel and Robert F. Kennedy, Serena Williams, and Olympian Kristi Yamaguchi who have all taken a turn on the ice here. 

4. See a show at Radio City Music Hall 

When visiting the tree at Rockefeller Center, don’t miss your chance to experience a performance. As Radio City is a part of Rockefeller Center, it’s practically a crime to not enjoy a show after visiting the tree. Or before. Or both!

This world famous theater, known famously as the “Showplace of the Nation”, is home to the supreme Rockettes and a variety of Broadway productions.  It hosts the annual “Christmas Spectacular” starring the Radio City Rockettes. 

Outside Radio City Music Hall, Rockettes at Christmas time in New York. Building with lit Christmas tree up top in the evening
 Radio City Music Hall, Rockettes at Christmas time in New York

The Spectacular features the Nutcracker, Santa Claus, and the nativity scene. Beginning in early November, the show is presented several times each day, giving you many chances to catch it.

Sitting in the plush seats of the auditorium and soaking in the festive atmosphere, you feel like you’re a part of the city’s rich tradition and holiday spirit. Book early to get your choice of day and time. Check ticket prices here. You may also want to consider a stage door tour that gets you behind the scenes!

Your visit to the tree at Rockfeller Center in NYC It will make you wish it was Christmas all year round!

5. Take a tour of NBC Studios

Outside NBC Studios in New York City
NBC Studios Sign
Outside NBC Studios in New York City

If you’re a fan of TV shows like Saturday Night Live and The Today Show, your Rockefeller Center adventure isn’t complete without a tour of NBC Studios. Found right at the buzzing heart of Rockefeller Center – aka. 30 Rock – these studios offer an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at some of our most beloved TV shows. 

The tour is led by NBC Pages, guides in the know, who share hilarious anecdotes, little-known facts, and the history of the studios. Aside from exploring the production sets, you may even get a chance to spot some of your favorite TV celebrities. So, keep your eyes peeled and your camera ready!

It’s your chance to see where television history is made every day!

New York Food Tours

Hot Chestnuts being sold on the street with a pretzel-wrapped bottom  on New York City Street
Hot Chestnuts on New York City Street

One of the many things we love when going into the city is the food! There are two tours we like. You should consider trying at least one on your visit.

  • The Chelsea Market and High Line Food Tour is widely popular and sells out quickly. This is a food and history tour led by a professional and very entertaining local guide. The tour lasts about three hours. Check on availability here.
  • The Greenwich Village Walking and Food Tour is another favorite. This tour is also led by a local guide where you’ll get the best of the best tastes of New York (yes, pizza is one! You also get to see the iconic ‘Friends’ apartment. You can check availability and book here.

6. Visit the LEGO Store Rockefeller Center 

Who doesn’t love Lego?! The flagship LEGO Store at Rockefeller Center is all about creativity and fun. This enormous store is much more than a shopping destination, it’s an interactive experience that transports you into a world made entirely of LEGO bricks. 

LEGO store at Rockefeller Center in New York
Dragon made of LEGOS wrapped around a wall
LEGO store at Rockefeller Center in New York

When Christmas time rolls around, the LEGO Store transforms into a festive wonderland. The window displays become snowy LEGO winter scenes, featuring Santa, reindeer, and other holiday characters. 

Inside, limited-edition holiday sets become available, perfect for gifting or building your own festive LEGO landscape. 

It’s a kids – or kid at heart’s – Christmas dream!

7. Explore the American Girl Store

This store is a must-visit for fans of American Girl dolls at any time of the year. But during Christmas, it takes on a certain glow, transforming into a festive paradise that will leave you speechless.

The store is perfectly decorated with holiday decor, twinkling lights, and Christmas displays that will transport you straight into a holiday storybook.

Inside the American Girl Doll store showing a large display of American Girl dolls

Book a styling session for your doll at the Doll Hair Salon and get a Christmas makeover and in a holiday-themed style. You can also explore the matching holiday outfits for girls and their dolls, an ideal Christmas gift with a personalized touch.

Even if you have no interest in dolls, you should consider experiencing this if you’re in New York. The dolls, the displays, the tea room, it is a sight to be seen!

You can even dine in the American Girl Cafe, which offers a special holiday menu. In December, the cafe hosts a special Holiday Tea event with festive treats and a doll-themed discussion. 

It’s more than just a store – it’s a treasured part of the holiday traditions in Rockefeller Center.

8. Meet the resident animals at FAO Schwarz 

This FAO Schwarz is a beloved symbol of NYC. You can’t miss a visit here, especially during the holiday season. 

FAO Schwarz, Christmas time in New York City
Escalators with stuffed animals surrounding and Christmas decorations
FAO Schwarz, Christmas time in New York City

The classic toy store is an absolute spectacle, decked out in festive decorations. As soon as you step inside, you’ll be greeted by a safari of resident stuffed animals sporting festive getups. The life-sized plush animals are dressed for the occasion, with penguins in Santa hats and monkeys swinging from garlands.

Even the parrots squawk holiday tunes. It’s a magical zoo that perfectly captures the spirit of FAO Schwarz and the holiday season.

FAO Schwarz, Christmas time in New York City. People looking at the piano from the movie BIG
Piano from the BIG in FAO Schwarz

But the highlight of the store might be the giant floor piano, made famous by the movie “Big”. During Christmas, the piano tunes shift to holiday melodies helping create a festive ambience. 

The joyful atmosphere along with the childlike wonder makes FAO Schwarz at Christmas an unforgettable stop in your Rockefeller Center holiday adventure.

9. Visit the iconic St. Patrick’s Cathedral

This gothic revival cathedral on Fifth Avenue, right across the street from Rockefeller Center, is one of the largest cathedrals in the United States. And during Christmas, it transforms into a magical symbol of peace and tranquility amid the city’s flurry of energy. 

The interior is adorned with festive decorations, including a towering Christmas tree and a life-sized nativity scene. The Cathedral’s grand organ plays and the music fills the church. 

Exterior of St. Patrick's Cathedral, New York
St. Patrick’s Cathedral, New York

If you’re lucky enough to be able to attend the midnight mass on Christmas Eve, or a Christmas Day service, you’ll find it a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It will connect you with the spiritual essence of the holiday season in a way nothing else can. 

But even if a mass isn’t for you, don’t miss the chance to appreciate its art and history. The stained glass windows, sculptures, and the magnificent high altar all tell their own stories.

The spectacle of St. Patricks at Christmastime draws visitors from all over the world to partake in this special holiday tradition.

Tip: If you’d like to explore a little more of this iconic city, we have a great Week in New York Itinerary planned, or if you love the city but want to venture a little further, be sure to check out the Best Day From Trips From New York City.

10. See the Saks Fifth Avenue light show

The Saks Fifth Avenue light show is undoubtedly one of the highlights of the holiday season in New York City. If you’re visiting the tree at Rockefeller Center, then you’re already there – Saks is on 5th Avenue, right across the street.

Saks Fifth Avenue light show at Christmas time in the evening
Saks Fifth Avenue light show

Every year beginning just before Thanksgiving, the light show will begin each night at 5pm. Right up until midnight, the elaborate light displays transform the street with its symphony of colors and patterns. 

The entire front of the building is illuminated, and the lights keep time with the holiday music. The shows are quick, lasting around 3-4 minutes, and take place every 10 minutes. You can’t miss it!

The show continues through early January, and will be an unforgettable part of your time in the city.

To make the most of your visit to the Saks Fifth Avenue light show, arrive a little early to secure a good viewing spot. The sidewalks can get crowded, especially closer to Christmas. 

11. See a show at the St. James Theatre 

For any visitor to New York City, especially during this festive season, your trip wouldn’t be complete without catching a show at the renowned St. James Theatre on Broadway. Just a 15-minute walk from Rockefeller Center, this historic theatre is a testament to the city’s unbeatable arts scene. 

Outside St. James Theatre on Broadway
Signage displaying upcoming shows
Outside St. James Theatre on Broadway

During the Christmas season, the theatre has a special kind of enchantment, Broadway style. The lobby is adorned with holiday decorations, and the air is filled with the anticipation of a remarkable performance. Even the theater’s marquee seems to twinkle in a special way. 

The St. James Theatre is known for hosting a montage of shows, running the gamut from heartwarming musicals to dramatic plays. It’s been the launchpad for many famous productions.

The festive season often showcases limited-run, holiday-themed performances as well, that are bound to dazzle you.

12. Visit the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

Be sure to carve out some time for the Museum of Modern Art, affectionately known as the MoMA. Don’t be fooled by its modernist architecture’s crisp, clean lines. Inside, it’s filled with an extraordinary warmth and glow that only comes with the holiday season.

Entrance to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York

As you navigate the museum’s collection of modern and contemporary art, you’ll find yourself in awe of the creativity and artistic expression. MoMA’s collection covers a wide range of art forms, from paintings and sculptures to photography and film. 

Andy Warhol's Marilyn Monroe at MoMA
Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe at MoMA

And while Picasso, Van Gogh, and Warhol may be the marquee names, the museum also displays thought-provoking exhibits from emerging artists. Tickets for the museum are timed entry, so plan for your visit beforehand.

At this time of year, these exhibits often take on a holiday flavor, with installations and artwork that reflect on the spirit of the season in innovative ways. MoMA often hosts special holiday-themed events, lectures, and exhibitions as well, that provide an extra layer of meaning to your visit. 

The last entry is one hour before closing. And be aware – the museum is closed on Christmas Day.

13. Take a walk through Central Park

The Christmas season is the ideal time to wander through Central Park. Chances are good that snow will have transformed the park into your very own snow globe.

Gapstow Bridge in Central Park, covered in snow, Ducks in the water.
Gapstow Bridge in Central Park, covered in snow

The chimes of the Delacorte Clock playing holiday tunes provide the soundtrack for your stroll. During December, the clock’s animal band plays seasonal favorites such as Jingle Bells and Chanukah, Oh Chanukah.

You can stop in at Merchants’ Gate Plaza winter market and browse their selection of gifts and jewelry from local designers. The Columbus Circle Holiday Market, a fixture here for over 10 years, is also open daily throughout December.

Ice Angel statue in Central Park
Ice Angel in Central Park

Further into the park, you’ll find the Swedish Cottage, home to one of the last public marionette companies in the country. You can even head to one of the park’s ice skating rinks. Or, if you’re looking to learn more about the park and its history, consider joining an official Central Park tour.

Round off your visit by warming yourself up with a cup of hot cocoa at one of the markets. The park is a hub of activity during the season, offering an irresistible blend of sights, sounds, and experiences.

14. Visit the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum 

Located about a 30-minute walk or 15-minute subway ride, the Intrepid Sea Air & Space Museum sits on the Hudson River. This floating museum takes you from World War II to space exploration. 

And during the holidays, it transforms into a ship of lights against the New York City skyline, offering you a unique holiday experience.

You’ll find a treasure trove of history, technology, and interactive displays. Climb aboard the Intrepid and marvel at the ship’s mechanics. You can even arrange to spend the night aboard the ship.

USS Intrepid Floating Museum on the Hudson River, New York
USS Intrepid Floating Museum on Hudson River, New York

Visit the Space Shuttle Pavilion and climb inside the space shuttle Enterprise. Tour the Cold War-era submarine Growler and so much more.

A highlight is the interactive Exploreum. You can play with the hands-on exhibits, ride a virtual roller coaster, pilot a model drone, watch 3D films, and join guided tours.

Finish up on the fantail and the view of the Hudson River and New York City skyline, sparkling with holiday lights.

Be aware – the museum is closed on Christmas Day.

15. Take a ride on the Staten Island Ferry

The Ferry is a hidden gem of New York City’s transportation system. With panoramic views of the Manhattan skyline, the Statue of Liberty, and Ellis Island, this ride rivals the expensive harbor tours. It’s absolutely free and takes about 30 minutes.

Staten Island Ferry moving across the river with Statue of Liberty in the background
Staten Island Ferry and Statue of Liberty

The ferry runs on its weekend schedule on Christmas Day, but you’ll have no shortage of opportunities to ride. As there’s not much to see on the other end, you can stay on the boat, and enjoy the ride back.

Seeing the Statue of Liberty against the backdrop of the Manhattan skyline, sparkling for the holidays, is an unforgettable sight. It’s an experience that captures the spirit of New York and the magic of the season. Don’t miss this one!

Catch the ferry at the Whitehall Terminal, just 30 minutes from Rockefeller Center by subway or cab.

Tip: If you’re looking for something different, book a Holiday Yacht Cruise. It is as neat as it sounds!

The cruise lasts about 1.5 hours. You’ll cruise around Manhattan on a boat decked out for Christmas while warming up with cocoa and cookies! There is also live entertainment and carols.

16. Visit the Brooklyn Bridge

The famous bridge is a great place to walk or bike across the East River. Reach it by taking a 30 minute cab or subway ride from Rockefeller Center, and you’ll find bicycle lanes and walkways rising above the endless traffic. It’s a safe and exciting route to explore.

Brooklyn Bridge, New York City
Sunset in the winter
Brooklyn Bridge, New York City

During the holiday season the twinkling lights of the surrounding cityscape reflect off the water, and if you listen closely, you might catch the distant sounds of carolers from the Brooklyn neighborhoods. Just remember to bundle up, as the wintry river breeze can be sharp!

Bright and colorful Dyker Heights Christmas Lights
Santa, reindeer, elves and presents
Dyker Heights Christmas Lights

Halfway across, take a moment to pause and enjoy the sights, with the Manhattan skyline on one side and Brooklyn on the other.

Once you reach the other side, the cozy cafes and unique shops of the Brooklyn neighborhoods are definitely worth a look. You’ll find perfect places to warm up with a cup of hot cocoa or do some last-minute holiday shopping. 

The streets are cheerful with decorations and twinkling lights, creating a postcard-worthy scene that captures the spirit of the season.

17. Visit the 9/11 Memorial & Museum

The Memorial is a moving tribute to lives lost during a defining moment in American history. Just a 20-minute subway ride from Rockefeller Center are the twin reflecting pools, around which are etched the names of every person who died in the attacks.

Inside the 9/11 Memorial & Museum in New York
9/11 Memorial & Museum

A visit here is a poignant experience that leaves an indelible impact. Despite the sorrow, you’ll leave with a renewed appreciation for life and the human spirit’s ability to endure, heal, and rebuild. 

This perspective is particularly profound during the holiday season, a time associated with hope, giving, and new beginnings.

18. Take a walk through Chinatown 

A visit to Chinatown in lower Manhattan is another classic New York experience. Home to a variety of shops, restaurants, and temples, it’s full of interesting and historical things to see.

It’s also THE place to find some great food on Christmas Day. Find it just a 30 minute cab or subway ride away from Rockefeller Center

Shops in China Town with Chinese lantern decorations
Shops in China Town with Chinese lantern decorations

You’ll be able to spot a lot of bargain shopping opportunities in Chinatown. Narrow shops and crowded stalls lining Canal Street offer an assortment of items. You can find everything from fun little trinkets to designer knock-offs. 

If you’d like to familiarize yourself with some of the local history, explore Mott Street, where Chinatown was founded in 1870.

Do take a moment to visit the temples, each a placid world unto itself, in contrast to the neighborhood’s busy streets. A stroll through Chinatown is an experience of a blend of traditions, lively culture, and heritage. And still, essentially New York.

19. Attend One of Great Gatsby’s Notorious Parties

Lose yourself in the Jazz Age with this immersive show! After playing to record breaking crowds in the U.K, the immersive The Great Gatsby has arrived in New York. 

Man and woman dressed up for Great Gatsby party

Located at the historic Park Central Hotel New York, this show is ideal for first-time immersive theatergoers. You can enjoy a unique blend of live theater and audience interaction that brings the Roaring Twenties world of Jay Gatsby to life.

You’ll have the opportunity to meet Daisy Buchanan, have a drink with Nick Carraway, and perhaps even cross paths with the mysterious Jay Gatsby himself. 

The beauty of this immersive show is that you can engage at your own pace. You’re free to join in the Charleston, or just sit back and watch the story unfold. Remember to dress to the nines in your best flapper dress or sharp suit and tie, or risk being mocked by the man himself. 

In the city that never sleeps, The Great Gatsby offers the perfect escape from the modern world, a journey back to a time of extravagance, romance, and a dash of mystery.

Find it just a 15 minute walk from Rockefeller Center!

20. Take Part in Shakespeare’s Scottish Tragedy

For another immersive, boundary-pushing theater experience, try Sleep No More at the McKittrick Hotel action.

A scene from Shakespeare's Macbeth 

Sleep No More tells Shakespeare’s Macbeth with a twist. You’re transported into a film noir world through intricate choreography and an atmospheric jazz soundtrack.

As a masked, silent observer, you’ll follow the story from room to room, deciding your path as you go. It’s like stepping into a dream where every turn uncovers a new curiosity.

The show lasts up to three hours, but the freedom to explore the McKittrick’s densely decorated rooms may make you lose track of time. 

In Conclusion – 20 Unique Activities to Do When Visiting the Tree at Rockefeller Center

Once you’ve experienced the magic of the tree, New York City continues to shine with its variety of attractions. From ice skating at The Rink to exploring the streets of Chinatown to witnessing the moving 9/11 Memorial and Museum, the city offers an amazing range of experiences.

Each of these adventures offers a unique perspective on the city, building your Christmas spirit long after the Rockefeller Christmas tree fades from view. Let these experiences guide you on a grand journey through the city.

The one-of-a-kind holiday spirit that blankets this distinctive city will provide you with an unforgettable holiday adventure.

Happy Holidays!

– contributed by Deb Hendricks