Wollman Rink in Central Park
If your heart’s set on skating, avoid Wollman Rink in favor of one of New York’s less-touristy—but just as top-notch—ice rinks. While Wollman is one of the bigger rinks in the city, its Central Park location also makes it the most crowded at Christmastime. Here, you’ll spend more time waiting than skating, which is why the Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park Rink and The Standard Ice Rink are superior alternatives.
Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting
The only thing bigger than this 90-foot-tall (27 meters) tree itself is the buzz (and the crowds) surrounding it. Each November, when the tree is unveiled, tens of thousands of visitors flock to witness its inaugural lighting. Rather than spending your Christmas dodging selfie-sticks, time your visit to this Christmas classic toward the tail end of its tenure, which ends on January 7, 2018.
If you’ve seen one holiday market in New York, you’ve seen them all. Rather than sorting through the same old offerings at the Union Square Holiday Market or the Grand Central Terminal Holiday Fair, book it to Brooklyn Flea’s Winter Market, where indie makers and food vendors sell unique goods, such as vintage movie posters, handmade clogs, and more.
Dyker Heights Christmas Lights
Fans of festive decorations won’t want to miss this Brooklyn-based attraction, but no one would want to experience Dyker Heights on Christmas Day. This holiday event, which closes off many streets and avenues, gets congested quick, creating crowds leading up to and on Christmas Day. Skip the crazy crowds and instead focus on the even crazier decorations by visiting the Dyker Heights Christmas Lights after December 25th.
Radio City Christmas Spectacular
For kids and kids-at-heart, the Radio City Christmas Spectacular is a feel-good New York City tradition chock-full of holiday cheer. Shelling out big bucks for a Christmas Day showing, however? That doesn’t feel so good. Early birds (and latecomers) are rewarded at this show, which offers tickets for as low as $50 on dates leading up to and immediately following December 25th.
Macy’s elegant atmosphere is as legendary as its long lines this time of year. When looking to snag a pic with Old Saint Nick, any other mall Santa will do the trick.
Empire State Building
Midtown is overrated any time of year, but the area’s Christmas crowds, in particular, are enough to earn you a spot on Santa’s naughty list. Come Christmastime, and the always-popular Empire State Building is lit up in holiday hues to celebrate the season. See (and snap!) the red-and-green display from a sanity-saving vantage point in lower Manhattan or Brooklyn.
New York City’s Santa-themed bar crawl takes place each December in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Known as much for its rowdy atmosphere as for its droves of drunken Kris Kringles stumbling from Midtown to the East Village, SantaCon is one Christmas event you may want to say “no, no, no” to.
Fifth Avenue Holiday Window Displays
Regardless of whether one can afford Fifth Avenue’s prices, the famous site makes every tourist’s to-do list thanks to its elegant holiday window displays. During the week of Christmas, however, visitors risk being swallowed by swarms of shoppers scrambling for last-minute gifts, a decidedly inelegant experience. An early stroll down this stretch—the displays are unveiled as early as mid-November—makes for a great (and gorgeous) way to kick off the holiday season.
The Holiday Train Show at the New York Botanical Gardens
This old-fashioned model train show featuring more than 150 scaled New York icons constructed entirely from bark, leaves, and other natural materials is a worthy holiday destination. However, the wall-like crowds at this Bronx-based exhibit give new meaning to the dreaded New York phrase “train traffic.” Surprisingly, this family-friendly exhibition is best explored on New York Botanical Gardens’ adult-aimed bar car nights, when children aren’t present, but cocktails are.
Times Square is relatively small, and Midtown’s Christmas crowds are larger than ever—you do the math. This seemingly larger-than-life attraction is transformed into a parking lot of people during December, ensuring you’ll leave a visit to Times Square feeling more Grinch-like than good.
Like Magnolia Bakery, Serendipity 3 is known more for its appetite-killing crowds than its sweet treats. While the shareable frozen hot chocolate here is Instagram gold, the time you’ll waste waiting for a table and your underwhelming dining experience will leave you feeling like less than a million bucks.