Dust off those puffer jackets and pull on your beanies, it’s officially winter in NYC. But even with the sun setting promptly at 5 pm daily, along with a not-so-subtle cold snap in the weather comes something to brighten our days: the holiday season. Thinking back to this time last year, we can all appreciate the way the city has opened back up again (with over 80% of New York City adults fully vaccinated). So whether you’re looking to celebrate Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, or just seeking out general merriment, the city’s packed full of cheerful ways to make the most of December (and we’re not just talking about the usual boozy bender at Rolf’s).
Slide across an ice skating rink, sip holiday-inspired cocktails, or shop around for gifts from Black-women owned small businesses. Whatever mood strikes you this month, we’ve got you covered with 15 actually cool things to do in NYC this holiday season.
Through Hanukkah Grand Army Plaza In the heart of Grand Army Plaza at Prospect Park, a 36-foot, 4,000 pound menorah stands tall to help celebrate the eight days of Hanukkah. Using a 60-foot boom lift, local rabbis, community leaders, and philanthropists are elevated into the sky for each night’s lighting. During the week lightings will occur at 6 pm; 3:30 pm on Friday, December 3; 7:15 pm on Saturday, December 4; and 7 pm on Sunday, December 5. After each night’s event, onlookers often celebrate, eat latkes, and enjoy musical performances together, so be sure to join in the holiday merriment.
Through Hanukkah Various locations During Hanukkah, the city is especially full of spots to grab delicious orders of golden and flaky latkes. With restaurants cooking the dish up year-round to some sporting specials for the season, there’s a range of choices from traditional to twists on the original recipe. Stop by stalwarts like Kat’s Delicatessen and Russ & Daughters in the Lower East Side or try out West Village’s Empellón Taqueria and Crown Heights’ recently opened Agi’s Counter to get your fill of latkes.
Saturdays, December 4, 11, and 18 Times Square If this year’s gift giving is proving to be a bit difficult, head over to The Buy From a Black Woman Holiday Market in Times Square presented by H&M USA. Featuring a wide range of goods from locally- and Black women-owned small businesses, the market will be open for the next three Saturdays (December 4, 11, and 18). Peruse herbal teas from Ivy’s Tea Co.; scented candles and body butters from Oasis Soul Scent Co.; colorful accessories and home décor from Rochelle Porter Design; and more.
Through Christmas Dyker Heights When the holidays roll around, Dyker Heights in Brooklyn transforms into a sea of lights, inflatables, and music. With almost every house joining in on the festivities, a (warmly-dressed) stroll around the area will have you seeing homes completely covered in sheets of twinkling lights and inflatable Santas (complete with the reindeer and a sleigh) while holiday tunes are blasted from speakers. If staying toasty is a priority, tickets for heated bus tours are available as well. Cost: Free; bus tour tickets from $55
Sunday, December 26 Brooklyn and Harlem Hosted by Kerry Coddett and Krystal Stark, this year’s Kwanzaa Crawl aims to fuel social togetherness and facilitate Black-owned economic empowerment. Filled with spirited singing, dancing, and group fun, join this bar crawl on the first day of Kwanzaa as it moves along a predetermined route of Black-owned bars with a starting location of either Brooklyn or Harlem, where festivities kick off at either 1:30 or 2:30 pm (depending on location). Recommendations for optimal enjoyment include having cash; bringing your ID and vaccination proof; wearing comfortable shoes; packing a phone charger; and dressing warmly since there’s no coat check. Cost: Tickets start at $43; group discounts are available at checkout
Through January 2, 2022 Upper West Side After a long pandemic pause, The New York City Ballet has ended their hiatus just in time to add to our holiday cheer. Returning with performances of The Nutcracker (which hasn’t been performed since 2019), the production features over 90 dancers, 42 musicians, gorgeous costumes, and a 41 foot-tall Christmas tree, all of which will leave you in awe of our city’s artistic capabilities. With shows going through to January 2 of the new year, there’s plenty of time to snag a ticket. Cost: Tickets start at $45
Through January 2, 2022 Midtown A tried and true NYC tradition is that of The Christmas Spectacular featuring The Radio City Rockettes. Known for precision dancing and sky-high kicks, the Rockettes continue on a tradition that began in the ‘20s. Held at the Radio City Music Hall, the 90-minute performance features dancing, comedy, music, and holiday-filled ambiance. Although it might be seen as a bit of a tourist attraction, it’s hard to not bounce along to the beats of the can-can while gazing out at the blurs of sequins and tulle. Cost:Tickets start at $45
Through January 3, 2022 Harlem For the 15th year, The Apollo Theater returns for Kwanzaa: A Regeneration Celebration. In celebration of the holiday and with a mission to bring together families and strengthen community bonds, this virtual experience will showcase renowned New York-based dance company Abdel Salaam’s Forces of Nature Dance Theatre along with performance by Apollo New Works artists Soul Science Lab with Chen Lo and Asante Amin. The show, hosted by radio-host Imhotep Gary Byrd, will feature a mix of music, dance, and poetry centered on the Nguzo Saba (seven principles of Kwanzaa). The performances will be available to watch on demand through to January 3. Cost:Tickets are pay-what-you-wish
Through January 9, 2022 Upper West Side Marking its 50th anniversary is the annual American Museum of Natural History‘s Origami Tree. Channeling a different motif each year, the theme of this tree is Gems of the Museum to honor this recurring tradition along with the museum’s most popular attractions. The craft of the work is awe-inspiring, with more than 1,000 hand-folded paper ornaments. The origami adorning the tree pays homage to the dazzling Hall of Gems and Minerals, special exhibit Sharks, and popular museum stops like the blue whale and dinosaurs. Cost:General admission is $23, free (with choice of donation) for New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut residents
Through to mid-January 2022 Nolita Channeling merriment and the holiday spirit is The Garret Coctelería‘s holiday pop-up Feliz Coctelería in Nolita. The space has been decked out in twinkling lights, paper snowflake chains, gift-wrapped tables, menorahs, and dreidels floating from above. On the specialty drink menu, expect to find takes on holiday classics with Latin influences. Try out a Rose & Lenny (coconut cream, clove, cardamom, babka-infused plum spirit); Rocco’s Hot Cocoa (rice milk latte, chipotle powder, chocolate, mezcal); or A Lump of Coal (blackberry, mint, mango butter, egg white, tequila). Cost: Cocktails start at $13
Through January 2022 Upper East Side At the Upper East Side’s 114-year-old The Jewish Museum, explore the expansive exhibit Accumulations: Hanukkah Lamps, featuring more than 80 Hanukkah lamps. Displaying a wide variety of style, techniques, and materials, the lamps open the door to discovering more about the history of their Jewish creators throughout the course of six centuries. Travel through the exhibit to catch sight of silver, copper, wood, and clay lamps from the Netherlands, Germany, North Africa, Morocco, and more. Cost: Tickets are $18
Watch the city light up at special illumination holiday events
Throughout December Various locations During these chillier months, the city pulls us out from our beds with the promise of stellar twinkling light shows. Sidle on over to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden‘s Lightscape which features over one million lights cascading along an illuminated trail through the 52-acre ground, with showstoppers like the cathedral tunnel and warm-hued fire garden display. In the Bronx, the New York Botanical Garden welcomes visitors to the NYBG GLOW, a 1.5 mile walk around the grounds featuring whimsically lit plant installations and colorful pathways. Holiday Lights at the Bronx Zoo is another family-friendly option, with more than 260 animal-themed illuminated lanterns, ice carving demonstrations, and an after-dark train ride through the grounds. The NYC Winter Lantern Festival has also kicked off with locations in Long Island, Staten Island, and Queens. With the option to drive or walk through, gaze up at a wide collection of handmade lanterns and luminescent LED light shows. Cost: Lightscape tickets from $34; NYBG GLOW from $35; Holiday Lights from $31; Winter Lantern Festival from $17
Through January 22, 2022 Midtown As far as traditions go, the lighting ceremony and Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center is a classic. With millions of visitors paying a visit to stand in awe of the immense 79-foot tall tree decked with glittering lights, Rockefeller Center gets quite a bit of traffic this time of year. If you can’t make it in person for the 2021 Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting (Wednesday, December 1), catch the live broadcast on NBC starting at 7 pm. And don’t fret, the tree will stay up until Sunday, January 22, 2022, so there’s plenty of time to make your way over to snap a pic and get in a quick ice rink session. Cost: Free to see the tree, ice skating general admission starts at $20
Throughout winter Various locations So we know when temperatures drop below forty, the city collectively tries to spend as little time exposed to the cold as possible. That being said, there’s one ever-classic holiday activity that seems to always pull us out into the elements: ice skating. Scattered throughout the boroughs are a mix of indoor and outdoor rinks fit for both the practiced and novice skaters among us. Hit up the indoor Staten Island Skating Pavilion, the outdoor LeFrak Center in the heart of Prospect Park, or get in a quintessential NYC moment at Central Park’s Wollman Rink.
Through March 6, 2022 Bryant Park Returning for its 20th season, is popular shopping and hangout spot Bank of America’s Bryant Park Winter Village. The open-air market is now open daily from 11 am-8 pm on weekdays (and until 10 am on weekends). With over 170 new and returning merchants, there’s plenty to explore like vintage clothing, plants, artwork, beauty and health goods along with food and drink stands. Before you line your arms with shopping bags, take a spin around the ice rink or practice your curling skills at the ice-less lanes. If you’re looking for an intimate (and warm) dining experience, book a heated glass cabin for sipping on mulled wine and munching through a charcuterie board. Cost: Free entry; skate rentals $15-45; Curling Café packages from $250; cabins from $200
As spring makes its way through New York City, not only do we get to enjoy beautiful weather, stunning cherry blossoms, and cool activities priced at $Free.99, but it’s also the perfect time for some limited-edition desserts.
With Easter fast approaching, bakeries are filling their shops with tons of chocolate eggs, carrot cake-flavoured everything and all types of flavours that offer both nostalgia and innovation within the city’s dessert landscape. After you’ve picked up a cake from the city’s best new bakeries, from Easter Bunny Churros to Carrot Cake Macarons, here are 8 Easter desserts to try in NYC right now.
Throughout April Various locations
There’s great news for devotees of Magnolia Bakery’s Classic Banana Pudding: For Easter, the spot is mixing up the iconic dessert’s vanilla pudding with some carrot cake. The Carrot Cake Pudding is filled with freshly grated carrots, coconuts, pineapples, raisins, and walnuts. And if both bananas and carrots aren’t your thing, they’ll be offering their Classic Vanilla Cupcakes in pastel colours with a Cadbury chocolate egg hidden inside.
Through Easter Sunday NoHo and Seaport
Known for their celebrity face and meme-worthy decorated cookies, fans of Funny Face Bakery know that a new fun design is always just around the corner. For Easter, they’ve created the adorable Hoppy Easter decorated cookie that resembles a classic box of marshmallow Peeps. Along with that, they also have the return of their fan-favourite Caramel Pretzel Chip cookie flavour, plus a set of three mini-decorated cookies perfect for gifting.
Friday, April 7 through Easter Sunday West Village
With the ever-changing flavours at The Doughnut Project, it’s super easy to miss out on trying out a new debut. But this Easter weekend, there will be two new flavours available. One is of course, a carrot cake doughnut topped with a cream cheese glaze, and the other is known as the Doughnut Nest-a French cruller “nest” with a cream-filled doughnut hole “egg” in the centre.
Wednesday, April 5 through Easter Sunday East Village
For stellar vegan desserts this holiday, head to The Fragile Flour, a plant-based bakery and dessert wine bar. They’re known for going all out for each holiday with a variety of new pastry options that you can pair perfectly with a glass of wine. This Easter, they’ll have a whole dessert menu that’s both delicious and gorgeous for posting on IG. The menu includes Stuffed Carrot Cake Cookies, a Lemon Cake (whole or by the slice), some festive cupcakes, and specialty macarons.
Through mid April Midtown
For a luxurious take on Easter chocolates, browse the selections available at Kreuther Handcrafted Chocolate. You can even pick the Easter Signature Chef’s Selection for a special box curated by award-winning chefs. For something other than chocolate, choose between the Carrot Cake Macarons or the cake flavored Easter Marshmallow Trio, both of which are almost too cute to eat.
Throughout April Nolita
This churro-centric spot is putting the cutest Easter spin on their crispy cinnamon churros by twisting them up into bunnies and bunny ears. At Churreria, choose from a Bunny Churro Lollipop topped with your choice of chocolate or dulce de leche and sprinkles, or the bunny ear churros in the Ube and Matcha ice cream sundae or the Ube Milkshake, both of which are made with ice cream from il laboratorio del gelato.
Throughout April NoHo
You’ve surely seen this croissant tons of times while scrolling through IG or TikTok, whether it’s the Pain au Chocolat one or the latest of the month. Known as Suprêmes, these filled croissants went viral and continue to live up to the hype each time a new flavour comes out. April’s flavour-sour cherry amaretto with a Luxardo custard and toasted almonds. While you’ll have to be super early and wait in line during one of their three drops of the day to get a taste, we promise you it’ll be worth it.
Seasonal Various locations
We all know the iconic cookies from Levain-they’re gigantic, perfectly crispy and chewy, and well worth the long lines. For spring, the shop is launching a new flavour: Caramel Coconut Chocolate Chip. Filled with gooey caramel chips, fresh shredded coconut, and melty dark chocolate, it’s one you’ve got to try while it’s still around. To further celebrate the new season, all of Levain’s storefronts will be decked out in spring floral displays, serving as the perfect backdrop for pictures.
Alaina Cintron is an Editorial Assistant at Thrillist. Her work can also be found in Westchester Magazine, Girls’ Life, and Spoon University. When she’s not at her desk typing away, you can find her exploring a local coffee shop or baking a new recipe.