5 family-friendly holiday activities in New York City

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New York City is a great place to visit and have fun. This is even truer during the holidays as the city hosts a great number of activities that are perfect for the family. You might not want to visit the top of the Empire State Building (unless you want to freeze), but there is plenty else to do. Here are five options:

Central Park

Central Park in the winter.
Central Park in the winter. Credit: Siobhan Thompson/Shutterstock

Central Park is a great place to visit at any time of the year, but if you can get there after a fresh snowfall, it looks like a postcard, as you can see above.

The park is 2.5 miles long and contains 21 playgrounds, so your kids will have no reason to complain of boredom. There are also plenty of winter-themed activities within it such as ice skating at Wollman Rink near the Central Park Zoo and, of course, visiting animals that love cold weather at the zoo itself.

Window Displays

2008 Christmas Toy display at Lord and Taylor
2008 Christmas Toy display at Lord and Taylor. Credit: sookietex/public domain

Every year the stores along Lexington and 5th Avenues and 34th Street like Bloomingdale's, Barney's, Bergdorf Goodman's, FAO Schwarz, Saks, Lord & Taylor, and Macy's put up Christmas displays in their windows that are sure to get some "oohs" and "aahs" out of the kids (and probably the adults as well). About.com has a map that identifies the key displays.

Also worth a visit is the Toys R' Us display in Times Square, which is a kids' paradise on any day of the year.

Rockefeller Center

2009 Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree
2009 Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree. Credit: Andrew F. Kazmierski/Shutterstock

Rockefeller Center is well known for both its annual Christmas Tree lighting and ice skating opportunities. The lighting of a Norway spruce from Pennsylvania will happen on November 30, and the tree will be available for viewing through the New Year.

The ice skating rink is also available throughout December. Families on a budget may want to visit the Wollman Rink in Central Park as it is slightly cheaper, and probably has a shorter line.

Times Square

Times Square
Times Square. Credit: gary718/Shutterstock

If you're planning on traveling to the city during New Years Eve, then going to Times Square is a no-brainer. Besides having the opportunity to watch the brilliantly-lit ball drop and count down to the New Year, the square is usually host to some kind of concert. So the whole family can join thousands to help ring in 2012 and get entertained for free, all at the same time.

Whether you go here or not depends on how well you think your children can handle waiting long hours in the cold, dark, and cramped conditions. However, this is one New Years experience that is hard to find anywhere else. So if you think they can cope, it's definitely worth getting there extra early.

Catch a Show

Theater masks
Credit: James Steidl/Shutterstock

Eventually you'll be tired of walking around Central Park, Rockefeller Center, and to each of the stores, and just want to sit down and catch a show. Luckily there are plenty of options there, too. Here are a few:

  • Radio City Christmas Spectacular – Since 1933 the Radio City Rockettes have led this show featuring classic scenes such as The Twelve Days of Christmas, the Parade of Wooden Soldiers, and New York at Christmas. This year the show will introduce a 3D scene.
  • New York Philharmonic – The Philharmonic's brass quintet will give a performance of its annual holiday show on December 11 at Avery Fisher Hall.
  • Trans-Siberian Orchestra – If you're able to travel to Long Island, do it, because Trans-Siberian Orchestra is a must-see group. TSO combines traditional Christmas songs, rock music, and a laser light show for an experience that is unsurpassed. They will play two shows on December 21 at Nassau Coliseum.

There is certainly more to do in NYC than just the activities described here. For some more options check out NYCGo's guide.