Planning a New York Christmas road trip: what to see, what to do, and how to get there!

Of all the great winter road trips across the country, a New York Christmas trip is one of our favorites. We’re consistently swept away by the city’s yuletide charm, as it transforms itself into an enchanting winter wonderland at the end of every year. 

From the iconic Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree to Macy’s dazzling window display, ice-skating at Bryant Park or walking leisurely through Central Park, you’re sure to feel like the main character in a Hallmark Christmas movie. So grab your loved ones, bundle up, rent a van in New York City, and head out for an unforgettable holiday getaway!

Planning your NYC holiday getaway

Planning a trip around the holidays can be both exciting and daunting. To ensure a stress-free experience, it’s crucial to be well-prepared and organized. Here are a few tips from our in-house travel experts:

  • Consider booking a sprinter van for your travel needs. 
    • When embarking on a road trip with friends or family, having a reliable mode of transportation can provide flexibility and convenience. A van not only accommodates both travelers and their luggage, but it also allows for plenty of freedom to explore NYC at your own pace.
  • Decide which destinations are non-negotiables.
    • Is ice skating at Rockefeller Center on top of your list? The Brooklyn Botanical Garden? General viewing of New York Christmas lights? Choose a few places that you must check off your list to help schedule your visit with ease.
  • Check weather conditions before packing.
    • Make a packing list, and don’t forget chargers, cameras, medicine, and your favorite toiletries.
  • Make reservations in advance.
    • This includes your accommodations, tickets for attractions or shows, and restaurant reservations. Keep in mind that holiday seasons tend to be busy, so booking ahead of time guarantees you peace of mind.

Looking to travel outside of NYC? Check out our guides to Philadelphia Christmas lights and winter getaways in New England.

5 must-see New York City Christmas lights

A Christmas trip to New York means mesmerizing light shows and twinkling trees, making it one of our favorite places to visit this time of year. From the iconic Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree to a sparkling holiday celebration at the Bronx Zoo, the hardest thing you’ll have to do is narrow down which places you want to see!

Here are five New York City Christmas light shows in 2023 that you can add to your itinerary:

1. Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting

It wouldn’t be a New York City Christmas trip without witnessing the iconic lighting ceremony of the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree. Live musical performances will begin at 7:00 p.m., with stars like Kelly Clarkson taking the stage. 

The lighting ceremony attracts hundreds of thousands of spectators, so be sure to arrive around lunchtime to get a good spot! If possible, secure your place in Channel Gardens, which offers a direct view of the tree.

  • When: Nov 29th, 2023; Ceremony starts at 6:30 p.m., Lighting takes place at 9:55 p.m.
  • Where: 45 Rockefeller Plaza Rockefeller Centre, NY, NY
  • Cost: Free to enter
Source: Travel and Leisure

2. Lightscape at Brooklyn Botanic Garden

You and your travel mates are sure to love the stunning Lightscape installation at Brooklyn’s Botanic Garden. Entrance is through the garden’s winding trail adorned with thousands of lights. Pass glowing sculptures, colorful effects on beautiful plants and trees, and vibrant fountains with a musical soundtrack that coincides with each display.

  • When: Nov 17th, 2023 – Jan 1st, 2024 (select dates); 5:00 p.m. — 8:00 p.m.
  • Where: 150 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, NY 
  • Cost: $12 — 29 (member pricing); $17 — 39 (non-member pricing)

3. Holiday Lights at the Bronx Zoo

One of the most visited shows in all of the Big Apple, the Holiday Lights display at the Bronx Zoo features holiday-themed immersive light displays, custom-designed animal lanterns, and animated light shows that you won’t see anywhere else. 

Get to know the regional wildlife that lives in New York’s ocean and wetlands through interactive art before checking out a new display celebrating bioluminescent creatures.

  • When: Nov 17th, 2023 — Jan 7th, 2024 (select dates); 3:00 p.m. — 7:00 p.m. (timed entry)
  • Where: 2300 Southern Boulevard, Bronx, NY
  • Cost: $26.95 — 56.95 per person (non-member pricing)
Source: Westchester Family

4. Holiday Lights at Dyker Heights

If you really want to immerse yourself in the festive ambiance of a New York City Christmas, don’t miss your chance to stroll through Dyker Heights in Brooklyn. For years, residents have been decorating their homes in an over-the-top fashion for locals and visitors to enjoy. 

Enjoy thousands of Christmas light displays with larger-than-life Santas, reindeer, and nutcrackers. Groove to Christmas carols blasting from speakers in the windows. While you’re welcome to explore the area on your own, free guided tours are also available.

  • When: Dec 15th — 31st, 2023; Daily 5:00 p.m. — 9:00 p.m.
  • Where: Dyker Heights Boulevard, Brooklyn, NY
  • Cost: Free to enter

5. Hudson Yards Christmas Lights

In 2020, this new neighborhood in Midtown Manhattan’s west side started a delightful tradition at its large, central shopping mall known as Shine Bright. Here, more than two million yellow lights set its modern buildings aglow, along with some of NYC’s best light displays and holiday-themed trees. 

Wander the public gardens and visit installations like sparkling hot air balloons. This shimmering wonderland invites both neighbors and visitors to the joys of winter in the city.

  • When: Nov 13th, 2023 — TBD; Mon-Sat 10:00 a.m. — 8:00 p.m., Sun 11:00 a.m. — 7:00 p.m.
  • Where: 10th and 12th Avenues from West 30th to West 34th Streets, NY, NY
  • Cost: Free to enter

4 family-friendly holiday activities in NYC

New York offers so many unique and enchanting holiday experiences that the whole family will enjoy. Moving through each city borough in a van is a great way to ensure everyone’s safety while giving you time to chat about your memorable trip. In fact, you can make a whole day of adventure driving to these not-to-be-missed winter festivals, in and outside of Manhattan!

1. Wollman Rink Ice Skating

Wollman Rink is situated right in the heart of Central Park, offering a picturesque setting of natural beauty with the NYC skyline twinkling in the background. During the holiday season, Wollman Rink is adorned with festive decorations and lights to add to its magic. 

It doesn’t matter if you’re a beginner or an experienced skater, all are welcome! When you’ve had enough activity, head to the newly renovated clubhouse to relax.

  • When: Nov 1st, 2023 — Mar 12th, 2024; Daily 10:00 a.m. — 8:00 p.m.
  • Where: 830 5th Avenue, NY, NY
  • Cost: $10 — 15 per person

2. Holiday Train Show at the New York Botanical Garden

Get in the Van and Create lasting Memories

Regardless of your age, you won’t want to miss the Holiday Train Show at the New York Botanical Garden. This charming exhibit features tiny model trains traveling along a half-mile, winding track through a miniature landscape of New York City. Each of the 190 iconic buildings you’ll see has been created using only natural materials like bark, pine cones, and leaves. 

On select nights you can check out GLOW, the garden’s light show, before grabbing drinks and snacks at one of the outdoor bars or the Bronx Night Market Holiday Pop-Up.

  • When: Holiday Train Show takes place Nov 18th, 2023 — Jan 15th, 2024; Tue — Sun, 10 a.m. — 6 p.m. (holiday hours may vary); GLOW takes place select dates between Nov 17th, 2023 — Jan 13th, 2024; Tue — Sun, 5:00 p.m. — 10:00 p.m.
  • Where: 2900 Southern Boulevard, Bronx, NY
  • Cost: $20 — 54 per person (non-member pricing); $0 — 34 (member pricing)

3. Bryant Park Winter Village

The Bryant Park Christmas Market is a popular holiday destination that offers a festive atmosphere with numerous vendors selling unique gifts, crafts, and delicious food. 

In addition to shopping, families can choose to partake in ice skating or bumper cars on ice! You can even rent an igloo for the evening with sweeping views of the skyline. How’s that for a highlight of your New York City Christmas trip!

  • When: Oct 27th, 2023 — Jan 2nd, 2024; Mon — Wed, 7:00 a.m. — 10:00 p.m., Thu — Sun, 7:00 a.m. — midnight
  • Where: 40th and 42nd Streets & Fifth and Sixth Avenues, NY, NY
  • Cost: Free to enter

4. Winter Lantern Festival at Queens County Farm Museum

For a cultural spin on the holiday season, head to Queens for a whimsical light display featuring over 1,000 hand-designed Chinese lanterns. Walk through bright, interactive exhibits and witness these large, unique lanterns in the shape of animals from both the real world and fairy tales! 

  • When: Nov 17th, 2023 — TBD; Fri – Sun, 5:00 p.m. — 9:00 p.m. (timed entry)
  • Where: 73 — 50 Little Neck Parkway, Queens, NY
  • Cost: $17.99 — 25.99 per person

FAQs when traveling to New York City

Planning trips can be overwhelming, especially when you’re headed to one of the most visited destinations in the world. That’s why we’ve compiled a few of the most frequently asked questions that arise when visiting the Big Apple during the holiday season.

Is New York worth visiting for Christmas?

New York is absolutely worth visiting for Christmas! It’s the time of year when the city comes to life, offering countless things to do. NYC is a true winter wonderland, with iconic landmarks such as Rockefeller Center, Times Square, and Central Park adorned in sparkling lights and decorations. It’s the perfect time to shop, sightsee, dine, and explore. 
Coming from New Jersey and want to make the most of your drive? We have some ideas for your road trip from New Jersey to New York.

How much does it cost to go to New York for Christmas?

The cost to visit New York for Christmas is about $300 per person per day, though that cost can vary greatly depending on your accommodations, dining choices, and entertainment. While known to be an expensive destination, it is possible to have a memorable Christmas experience without breaking the bank.

To save money, consider booking accommodations and transportation in advance, as prices tend to increase closer to the holiday season. Research affordable restaurants, and consider lunch at the city’s many food trucks or delis to manage costs. And lastly, don’t forget about renting a car! With a van rental through Greenvans, you won’t have to worry about paying for taxis or rideshare services as long as parking is available at your destination.

What week is best to visit New York in December?

The best week to visit New York is typically Dec 18th — 24th. This is the week that the city is especially vibrant and in full holiday swing, with plenty of beautiful decorations, wonderful window displays, and enchanting holiday markets. If you prefer something quieter, consider planning a trip to New York in early December or after Christmas when the city is still decorated but the crowds have subsided.

Make memories on the road

A New York City Christmas trip is one of the most magical experiences you can have, and Greenvans can help you make the most of it. Driving to see the spectacular lights on the Rockefeller Christmas Tree, wandering through cozy outdoor Christmas markets, and ice skating in Central Park is bound to be an unforgettable trip for the whole family. 

With proper planning, like booking your lodging ahead of time and securing your sprinter van in advance, you can avoid snags and fully immerse yourself in the city’s winter charm. Renting a van ensures more time spent as a family, less time spent worrying about parking, and freedom to explore the city at your leisure. Contact us today for a New York van rental quote.


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