Visiting New York City to see the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade live is a bucket list trip for lots of people. If you’re heading to the city, there are lots of great ways to celebrate a New York Thanksgiving, from the iconic November parade to the holiday window displays.
The first time I celebrated Thanksgiving in New York, my son’s high school band marched in the parade. That was our first trip to New York and it was incredible! But, I didn’t really know what to expect. We had fun, but we missed out on many of the events the city offers at the holidays.
Our daughter will be marching in the parade with her college marching band next fall. I am so excited to go back as an experienced traveler. But, I don’t want to miss a thing. So, I asked travel writers who have spent Thanksgiving in New York to share their favorite things to do in the city for the holiday.
Of course, you’ll want to enjoy a Thanksgiving dinner in the city! Many hotels offer specials that include Thanksgiving dinner at the hotel. If you want to eat at a particular restaurant, book reservations far in advance.
Here’s what they recommend.
Table of Contents
- Visit the Empire State Building
- Explore Bryant Park Winter Village
- Go Ice Skating in Central Park
- Watch the Macy’s Balloons get filled!
- Enjoy the windows at Saks Fifth Avenue
- Check out the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree
- Enjoy holiday skating at Bryant Park Winter Village
- Visit the 9/11 Memorial
- Get a bird’s eye view from the One World Observatory
- Take in the Views from The SUMMIT Observation Tower
- See a Broadway Show
- Do some shopping at Hudson Yards
- See the Holiday Train Show at the Botanical Gardens
- Enjoy the food at the Christmas Markets
- Tour Dyker Heights Christmas Lights
- Immerse yourself at the Color Factory in SOHO
- Escape the bustle at High Line Park
- Save on your visit to New York City
- Frequently Asked Questions
Visit the Empire State Building
One of the most iconic experiences in New York City is a visit to the Empire State Building.
It’s the most instagrammed spot in the entire United States!
One of the most popular activities in NYC, an Empire State Building tour takes guests to the 86th floor of the building for 360 degree views of the New York City skyline. On clear days, you can see six states from the open-air observation deck.
Tickets to the Empire State Building include interactive indoor exhibits, including a fairly new 2-story replica of the building, and an audio tour app you can access from your phone as well as the observation tower. You can add on to your experience to see the city from level 102.
As you leave the building, take time to take in all the art deco architectural details in the lobby. You’ve seen it in movies, LOTS OF MOVIES, so enjoy seeing it in real life!
Advance purchase, skip the line tickets are recommended to ensure your spot. Be sure you have your camera ready! You’ll love the views from here.
There is an airport-style security line when you enter. And, they do not allow luggage, glass objects or large bags on the observation deck.
PRO TIP: If you plan to visit the major attractions in New York City, the CityPASS for New York will save 40% on admission on up to five popular attractions in the city. CityPASS also serves as your reservation, providing more freedom to your schedule. Check CityPASS to see which of the included attractions offer skip the line!
Explore Bryant Park Winter Village
From Marianne Giordano at Pasta, Pretzels and Passports
Bryant Park Winter Village is a wonderful and family-friendly place to visit while in NYC for the holidays. Not only is it one of the first holiday markets to open each November holiday season, but it also has the distinction of being the longest-running holiday market in NYC.
Open from late October until New Year’s Day, Bryant Park is considered one of the most festive Christmas Markets in the city. Located right in the heart of Manhattan, between 5th and 6th Avenue, the market is easily accessed by public transportation.
Introduced in 2002, Bryant Park Winter Village definitely has a ton of seasonal charm. It even has an ice skating rink that’s free to enter!
Along with a towering Christmas tree, the Market features beautifully decorated and specially-designed “jewel box” kiosks. Inside, you will find seasonal treats, drinks, local crafts, jewelry, clothing, and an impressive selection of Christmas decorations.
Bryant Park Winter Village is the perfect place to do some Holiday shopping while keeping the whole family entertained.
Go Ice Skating in Central Park
From Kelly at Travel New York Now
So, you’ve heard about Central Park’s ice-skating scene, right?
It’s the classic NYC winter experience! It is also one of the coolest things to do in Central Park in winter!
Picture this…You’re gliding along the ice with a stunning city skyline keeping you company… Pretty epic, huh? I bet you can’t wait to get your skates on!
Now, there are two spots in the park where you can make this dream a reality: Lasker Rink and Wollman Rink.
Both are fantastic places to skate but I find that Wollman has this fantastic skyline view that just tips the scale in its favor. If you’re like me and don’t have your own skates (who does?), you can rent a pair right there.
Wollman Rink is open for skating from late October through mid-March. The closest Central Park entrance is at 59th Street and 6th Avenue. Tickets for specific ice times are likely to sell out, especially during the holiday season, Thanksgiving through the New Year weekend, so book ahead. Online tickets are available.
If you do have your own skates, the fun doesn’t stop there. Conservatory Water opens to skaters when the ice’s a good six inches thick. So, lace up, come on down, and celebrate with the perfect icy adventure in the Big Apple!
Watch the Macy’s Balloons get filled!
If you’re going to New York for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, then make time on Wednesday to see the parade floats get finishing touches and the balloons get filled!
The fun happens at Central Park West and outside the Museum of Natural History from Noon to 6:00 p.m. the day before Thanksgiving.
Macy’s has set up the viewing area so you can enter at West 72nd Street and Columbus Avenue and exit along West 82nd to West 86th Streets.
This is a FREE event, and there are no reservations. Learn more at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade website.
(This is one of the activities I didn’t know about the last time I went to the parade, and I really can’t wait to see the balloons and floats up close next year!)
Enjoy the windows at Saks Fifth Avenue
From Shobha George at Just Go Places
Visiting the window displays at Saks Fifth Avenue at the holidays is not only a must-do seasonal
pilgrimage but also a perfect for budget conscious travellers to New York City. Both the store windows and the facade of this luxury department store are beautifully decorated with
thousands of lights that dance to timed music every evening from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.
It’s a seasonal delight enjoyed by both tourists and locals.
The front of this luxury department store is located at 511 Fifth Avenue directly across from the official New York City Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center.
Some tips for viewing the holiday window displays at Saks Fifth Avenue:
- During the day in the height of the Christmas season, this popular, free attraction gets swamped by tourists.
- You will need to line up to see the window displays up close which have charming moving elements so definitely worth seeing up close.
- The best option is to go early in the morning or late in the evening to see the windows.
- Alternatively, go early in the season because there is a sweet spot of about a week when a daytime visit is actually pleasant. This opportunity occurs when the Saks window display goes up around Thanksgiving, the Rockefeller Center tree is in place, and ice skating is available. The stampede of tourists doesn’t descend until the tree gets lit which happens usually the Wednesday after Thanksgiving.
- To get a photo of the facade of Saks Fifth Avenue, cross the street and take it from the Rockefeller Center side.
Check out the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree
From Sydney at A World in Reach
The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree is one of the most iconic symbols of Christmastime in New York City. And, while it isn’t on full display at Thanksgiving, it’s still quite a sight to see!
The Christmas holiday season in New York City officially begins with the lighting of the tree, which is held each year on the Wednesday following Thanksgiving. The tree, typically around 80-feet tall, towers over the plaza through the first weeks of January.
If you’re visiting the city during the holidays, make sure to add the Christmas tree to your NYC itinerary. Seeing the tree is completely free. Walk or take the subway to one of the nearby stations (47th-50th Streets-Rockefeller Center is the closest) and then follow the crowds towards the tree!
Being one of the most popular holiday attractions in the city, the area surrounding the tree gets pretty crowded. For a closer look at the tree, book a visit to the Ice Rink at Rockefeller Center, which sits below the tree in Rockefeller Plaza. The rink is open from late October through mid-March each winter season.
Enjoy holiday skating at Bryant Park Winter Village
From Marianne Giordano at Pasta, Pretzels and Passports
Bryant Park is definitely a one-stop-shop kind of place when visiting New York during the holidays. Not only can you enjoy the gorgeous Christmas Market, but if you love to ice skate, the Bryant Park ice rink is perfect for some family fun. It’s a nice way to take a break from the Black Friday shopping, too!
Located in the heart of Manhattan between 40th and 42nd Streets, the 17,000-square-foot Byrant Park ice rink offers a festive ice skating experience. And the best part is, it’s free if you bring your own skates! Talk about budget friendly family travel!
Of course, skate rentals are also offered, along with a warm place to put your skates on and lock up your items.
One-hour time slots at the Bryant Park Winter Village must be reserved in advance online. This ensures that the rink will not be super-crowded and that everyone will have an opportunity to skate.
After your skate, be sure to head into the market for a hot chocolate. You can also cozy up in the open-air Lodge for an après skate cocktail, hot drinks or a bite to eat.
Visit the 9/11 Memorial
When we went to the Macy’s Parade back in 2009, the 9/11 Memorial hadn’t been built yet. There was a makeshift memorial near the World Trade Center site. My son and I visited St. Paul’s Chapel to see the items saved there, many of which are now at the 9/11 Memorial.
For many, a visit to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum tops the list of must-see places in New York City. Read our review and tips for visiting the 9/11 Memorial to plan your visit.
Get a bird’s eye view from the One World Observatory
Near the 9/11 Memorial is the One World Observatory, a stunning piece of architecture near where the World Trade Center once stood.
Tickets to the One World Observatory give you the chance to see the New York City skyline from over 100 stories above the streets, the highest point in the city. Take in breathtaking 360° views from the comfort of an indoor climate-controlled space.
There’s even a restaurant and bar to enjoy a meal as you take in the views.
There are lots of ticket options available. From Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day, this is a popular attraction, so book in advance to get preferred times.
Take in the Views from The SUMMIT Observation Tower
From Sam Oppenheimer at Find Love & Travel
One of the most exciting attractions in New York is The Summit One Vanderbilt Experience.
This is a 1401-foot tall skyscraper has an incredible observation deck at 1100 feet. There are three immersive levels, including “the world of reflection,” and many physical and digital art exhibits that are designed to ignite all your senses. Plus, the views of the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building and the New York City skyline are incredible.
During the holidays, it can also be cold or rainy in NYC, so The Summit is a great indoor activity to stay warm and dry!
To visit The Summit, you have to book tickets online. Children five and under are free with an adult ticket purchase. This popular experience is likely to sell out far in advance of the holiday weekend.
This is a perfect holiday activity to escape from the cold and see New York from new heights!
PRO TIP: Wear comfortable shoes and pants are recommended due to glass and mirrored floors used in the art exhibits.
See a Broadway Show
From Tabitha Bailar at Travel Compositions
For theater lovers, watching a Broadway performance is the chance of a lifetime to see the best of the best on stage. There’s rarely a bad seat in the house as these historic theatres were built steep and smaller than you’d think.
You’ll get to see the actors you hear on the soundtracks like Sutton Foster or Adam Pascal. Even actors in supporting roles have as much talent as the main characters. Besides the performers blowing you away with their talents, you’ll also get to marvel at the incredible set designs with masterful and artistic touches that bring the stories to life even more.
It’s no secret that Broadway tickets aren’t the cheapest NYC activity. But one of the best ways to save big bucks is with rush tickets. These are highly discounted tickets that are for sameday performances.
When visiting New York City for the holidays, consider a Broadway matinee show. Afterwards, you’ll have time for evening shopping at Macy’s or at Saks Fifth Avenue to enjoy the holiday window displays.
Do some shopping at Hudson Yards
From Carrie Green Zinn
Hudson Yards, located at 10th and 12th Avenues from West 30th to West 34th Streets, is the huge indoor shopping center in Manhattan’s Chelsea district.
The absolute best time to visit Hudson Yards is during the Christmas season. It’s one of those things that you have to see to believe.
Besides great Black Friday deals, Hudson Yards mall is decked out with over 2 million sparkling lights!
There are holiday performances throughout the season, an ice skating rink on the top floor in The Edge Observatory, and as much shopping and dining as you can imagine. There is literally something here to keep everyone in the family happy for hours.
And it’s FREE to enter the shopping mall. You can take the subway to 34th Street, but I recommend you walk along the Highline to arrive at the giant Vessel structure all lit up, and then head inside to see the magical hot air balloon, and more!
See the Holiday Train Show at the Botanical Gardens
From Anwar at Beyond My Door
One of the top traditions in New York is the Holiday Train show at the New York Botanical Gardens. Every year, the Haupt Conservatory at Bronx Park Rd in the Bronx comes alive with over 25 trains and nearly 200 iconic buildings and landmarks from across New York’s storied history.
The exhibits include some buildings and places of the past that no longer exist, providing a unique historical perspective of the City, like the Elephantine Colossus of Coney Island or old 5th Avenue mansions.
Visiting the train show requires a timed entry ticket for the show, and it’s best to purchase in advance.
The ticket also includes entrance to the grounds of the Botanical Gardens so you can explore before or after your timed visit.
There are even a few night options for visits, including 21+ only set of evenings as well.
It’s limited run and beautiful decorations are a perfect way to enjoy the holiday spirit New York. And, it’s popular with the locals, so you know it’s great!
Enjoy the food at the Christmas Markets
From Eileen Gunn at Families Go Travel
One of the best things to do in New York City at the holidays is to visit the Christmas markets. And while the holiday markets are a great place to get some Black Friday deals, locals mostly go for the food.
There are outdoor holiday markets in Bryant Park and Union Square, in Columbus Circle (at the southwest corner of Central Park) and at Brooklyn Borough Hall, whose tall steps stand in for the city court house in many movies and television shows (most notably, Law & Order).
The food vendors vary from park to park. Expect to find a variety of foods like spicy Indian samosa, gooey Brazilian chicken croquettes, Malaysian laksa noodles, Chinese pork buns, Belgian fries, Italian doughnuts and French macarons.
People line up in a long queue for the truffled cheese steaks at the Bryant Park Winter Village, which has the largest market. There are also the usual Christmas-market offerings, like hot cocoa, warm apple cider and fresh cider doughnuts.
Once done eating, it’s time for Black Friday shopping. There’s budget-friendly handmade items, like jewelry, tins of creative spice mixes and gourmet chocolate. But you’ll also find Nepalese knitwear, cool Christmas-tree ornaments, fun babywear and hand-crafted puppets, games and building kits and crafts.
When you’re in NYC during the holidays these markets offer a quintessential city-food experience and the opportunity to bring home fun presents and unique souvenirs of your trip.
Tour Dyker Heights Christmas Lights
From Lanie at Make More Adventures
While there are plenty of holiday events in Manhattan, one of the most well-known areas to visit Christmas lights is the Dyker Heights neighborhood in nearby Brooklyn.
The Dyker Heights Christmas Lights tradition began in the 1980s and now millions of lights and the largest Santa in the city can be found in this Brooklyn neighborhood.
Though you can take the R train from midtown to 86th Street in Brooklyn and walk 15 minutes to the Dyker Heights Christmas Lights, a bus tour from Manhattan is a lot easier! One of the largest light displays in the world, this tour often sells out. The guides share history of the neighborhood, stop for views of the Brooklyn Bridge and allow time to walk through the neighborhood to see the lights up close.
Immerse yourself at the Color Factory in SOHO
From Roxanne at Faraway Worlds
The Color Factory in Soho is an experiential art museum and immersive experience celebrating color in the city. It’s perfect for families, a rainy day and for people who just love color.
The Color Factory museum includes a series of rooms, including a huge ball pit, a Color Walk representing NYC neighborhoods, light manipulations, and a silent disco. Tastings and food samples help to create a fully immersive sensory experience.
The exhibits transform with the seasons, capturing the spirit of each time of year. Photo stations are set up in every room, and the backgrounds make for great Instagram shots.
The Color Factory is usually open from 10 AM to 10 PM, and you can book tickets online for around $40. Plan to spend around an hour and a half there when you visit.
PRO TIP: When looking online for ticket information, several “sightseeing packages” popped up, but they do not actually include the Color Factory at this time. Book directly through the museum!
SOHO: SoHo in New York City stands for “South of Houston” (pronounced How-stun), an area known for its historic architecture, art scene and shopping. Popular walking tours share the history and art of this neighborhood, as well as nearby Little Italy and Chinatown, a great option for those who want to learn more about this part of Manhattan.
Escape the bustle at High Line Park
From Victoria Heinz at Guide Your Travel
High Line Park, situated in New York City, offers a unique experience elevated above the bustling streets of Manhattan. This linear park, built on a historic elevated rail line, provides scenic views, lush greenery, and art installations along its path. Visitors can stroll through this urban oasis, enjoying a tranquil escape from the city’s buzz while taking panoramic skyline and Hudson River views.
There’s no need to book to visit High Line Park; it’s open to the public. However, arriving early or during off-peak hours is advisable for a more serene experience. It’s an ideal holiday destination as it offers a peaceful retreat amidst the city’s holiday frenzy, allowing visitors to enjoy nature, art, and stunning views in New York City’s heart.
Save on your visit to New York City
New York City is one of the most visited cities in the world. There are many ways to “bundle and save” on admission to the most popular attractions in NYC.
These are the most popular, and trusted, bundling options:
CityPASS NYC: CityPASS includes admission to five of the top attractions in New York City at a savings of about 40%. Included attractions are: Empire State Building and the American Museum of Natural History. You can also choose three of the following: Top of the Rock Observation Deck, Ferry Access to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, the 9/11 Memorial & Museum, Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises, the Intrepid Museum and the Guggenheim Museum. Reservations are required for many attractions and recommended for a few. During the busy holidays in New York, make reservations early using the CityPASS app. Once your reservations are made, you’re all set to go. The passes are valid for nine days from first use. The price for adults $138. Kids age 6-17 are $118.
The New York Sightseeing Pass is valid on admission to up to 100 different attractions across New York City’s five buroughs. It includes most popular attractions in New York, and some of the more immersive experiences like food tours, bike rentals in Central Park, a Brooklyn Bridge tour, the Botanical Gardens, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, NYC movie sites tour and more. Once you purchase your New York Sightseeing Pass, you can make reservations at attractions that require or recommend them. The pass is valid for 1 to 10 days depending on what you purchase. Prices begin at $149.
The New York Go City Explorer Pass is valid on admission to more than 90 different attractions across New York City. Your purchase price is based on the number of attractions you plan to see, from 2 to 10, and is good for two months from first use. With more than 90 NYC attractions, museums and tours to choose from, you can save up to 50% over paying for each attraction individually. Once you download the digital pass, you can make reservations for attractions and tours that require them.
During the holidays in New York City, enjoy the seasonal festivities like the holiday markets, ice skating, and holiday window displays. Watch the Macy’s balloons get ready for the big Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Enjoy Broadway shows, great food and the lights in Dyker Heights. Take time to escape the hustle and bustle with a walk through Central Park or along the High Line Park. Whatever you choose, create memories as you enjoy everything NYC at the holidays.
Frequently Asked Questions
While the prices are high and the weather can be cold, Thanksgiving kicks off the holiday season in New York City. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, holiday markets and festive atmosphere are hard to beat.
Government offices and banks are closed over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend in New York, but restaurants, shops, and attractions are open. As one of the busiest holidays in New York, plan on making hotel and dinner reservations in advance.
The Thanksgiving weekend kicks off the holiday season in New York. Many places will be decorated for the holiday season. The Rockefeller Christmas Tree is in place, but the tree lighting is the week after Thanksgiving. Holiday decorations tend to stay up through the first weekend of the new year.
The NYC Subway runs on its Sunday schedule for Thanksgiving Day, and follows its regular schedule the rest of the weekend.
New York City is rich in history, culture, art and incredible food. Three days provides a good sense of the city, but you won’t see everything. Plan your NYC itinerary to see what’s most important to you. Top spots include: Empire State Building, Central Park, Bryant Park, Rockefeller Center, a Broadway show, Times Square and Fifth Avenue.