NYC is one of the most popular destinations for visitors any time of year, but especially at the holidays, when the entire city sparkles with dancing lights and light shows.
Here’s a round-up of the best and brightest FREE things to see and do in my hometown during the Christmas- Hanukah-Kwanzaa holiday season.
NYC Christmas Trees
The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree is probably the most famous one in the world, but not the only one in NYC.
Check out the trees in Central Park and Bryant Park.
- Ice skating in Rockefeller Center and Central park is fee-based, but the rink in Bryant Park is FREE.
There’s also a huge tree on Wall Street, in front of the New York Stock Exchange.
There’s also a glorious annual origami tree at the American Museum of Natural History – which you can see with paid admission.
World’s Largest Hanukah Menorah
Hanukah, the Jewish Festival of Lights is Dec. 18-25 this year, celebrated with an additional candle being lit eight nights for eight nights.
The world’s largest Hanukah menorah is lit nightly at Grand Army Plaza at 59th St. and Fifth Ave. It stands 32 feet high and weighs about 4,000 pounds.
The world’s second largest Hanukah menorah is lit nightly at Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn.
Lighting ceremonies include latkes, live music and gifts for the kids.
See also this Jewish Guide to Christmas in New York from our friends at The Forward. It includes restaurants and museums open on Christmas Day and a Klezmer Concert.
The African Burial Ground National Monument hosts a day of in-person programming for Kwanzaa on December 27, the second day of the holiday. The site marks the largest and earliest known African burial ground in the United States, discovered under Lower Manhattan, and tells the story about New York’s links to the slave trade.
The schedule includes drumming and dancing by Eric Frazier, a performance by Fusha Dance and drumming lessons for all ages by Olomide Gilbert, a program about Black empowerment during the era of enslavement in New York, and a performance by the African Music Mercenaries and craft making with Miss Doris.
See the full schedule, or for more information call 212-238-4367.
There’s also a Kwanzaa Festival at Weeksville Heritage Center in Brookklyn on December 16th & 17th. The FREE two-day celebration is in collaboration with Asase Yaa.
The festival includes candle-lighting ceremonies, African dance lessons, a drumming class and more.
Join the 112th reading of the famous poem by New Yorker Clement Clark Moore at a candlelight service at the Church of the Intercession, 155th St. and Broadway.
That’s followed by a brief walk down the hill to Trinity Cemetery to lay a wreath at his gravesite and sing “Silent Night”, accompanied by guides dressed in period costumes.
It’s one of my personal favorite holiday traditions.
- Sunday, Dec. 18, at 3pm
More details here, on the church website, along with other holiday events.
Across Broadway from the church is one of the best FREE museums in NYC.
The Hispanic Society of America houses the largest collection of Velasquez and Goya paintings outside of Spain, plus fabrics, ceramics and more from the Spanish-speaking countries of the Old World and the New World. Visit here before you visit with Clement Clark Moore.
Best FREE Holiday Light Shows
The canopy of the soaring glass Winter Garden atrium sparkles with more than 600 lanterns which change color and intensity in a mesmerizing display.
There is a special light show with music every hour on the hour from 8am to 10pm.
- Through Jan. 6, 2023.
The entire facade is covered with dancing lights. There is a 5-minute show every 10 minutes, with music, daily from 5pm to 11pm.
Saks Fifth Avenue is across Fifth Avenue from the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree and Channel Gardens. There also are wonderful holiday windows below the facade of lights.
- Through Jan. 4, 2023
This Brooklyn neighborhood has become famous for its lavishly decorated homes.
You can walk around for free, or take a bus tour from Manhattan organized by the Dyker Heights Christmas Lights community group, with a local resident as your guide.
Free Gift Wrapping
Want to dress up your gifts with a personal NYC touch?
From December 16th through 23rd, bring the holiday gifts you’ve purchased anywhere in Grand Central Terminal – in the year-round shops or in the special Holiday Crafts Market in Vanderbilt Hall – and their receipts, to the gift-wrap station located in Grand Central Market.
You’ll get free gift wrapping with exclusive GCT celestial ceiling gift paper. Limit 5 items wrapped per customer, Noon-6:00pm daily.
Food and market items purchased in Grand Central Market are also eligible for free gift basket assembly in limited edition gift crates, topped with satin ribbon and paired with a free tote for you to deliver to a lucky recipient! Minimum purchase of $100 or 5 food and market items required, with proof of receipt(s).
Tickets are available from between a few days to a few weeks in advance of the show. Occasionally, there are Standby Tickets for day of.
How to get tickets to
- Rotating guest hosts in December
Saturday Night Live –
- Tickets were issued by lottery in August 2022
Want to be in the audience for daytime shows?
You’ll need to check in by 7:15am for tapings that usually begin by 8am. Audience members can receive gifts or other perks – depending on the show.
FREE Performances of the New York Philharmonic
See performances FREE in the lobby of David Geffen Hall. There’s a huge 55-foot multi-screen video wall, comfortable seating, and even a small bar for drinks.
Holiday performances include Handel’s Messiah.
ecoXplorer Evelyn Kanter is a journalist with 20+ years of experience as a newspaper and magazine writer, radio & TV news producer & reporter, and author of guidebooks and smartphone apps – all focusing on travel, automotive, the environment and your rights as a consumer.
ecoXplorer Evelyn Kanter currently serves as 1st VP of the International Motor Press Assn. (IMPA) and is a former Board Member of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW)
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Copyright (C) Evelyn Kanter