8 Free NYC Activities in December

8 Free NYC Activities in December

Rockefeller Center at Christmas
New York City
Hayley Schultz

If you've never been to New York City during the holiday season, add it to your bucket list. The city, which is bustling any time of year, *dazzles* between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. It’s also crazy crowded and it can be a little more expensive this time of year, but worth it!

You don’t need to blow your entire holiday budget on a weekend in the Big Apple though. Here are 8 free things to do in New York City in December:

  1. Holiday Markets: These European-inspired open-air type markets almost make you feel like you're at a German Christmas Market (not really, but they’re incredibly fun and festive in their own right). The holiday markets offer unique gift ideas, local foods and unlimited ambiance. Visit one or two, or all four.
    • Bryant Park Winter Village –  between 40th and 42nd St and Fifth and Sixth Avenue, behind the New York Public Library. This is one of the prettiest and most centrally-located of the holiday markets. Ice skating is free if you bring your own skates! ($20 to rent). More information  
    • Union Square – south end of Union Square Park at E. 14th St. This one is a large market with a downtown, funky vibe. More information  
    • Central Park (Columbus Circle) – 59th St and Central Park West. This medium-sized market is a nice place to browse while sipping hot cocoa and munching on gingerbread. More information  
    • Grand Central – E. 42nd St at Park Avenue (in Vanderbilt Hall). Stay warm shopping indoors, and marvel at the amazing architecture of Grand Central Station while you're there. More information  

  2. Make Music Winter: This outdoor musical event happens each year on the winter solstice (December 21st), with twelve musical parades hitting a variety of musical genres. What makes it extra special is that audience members are invited to be a part of the music. Read through the parade descriptions for locations, times and pre-requisites, like “bring a flashlight” or “download this app”. More information  

  3. Christmas Eve caroling: If you’ll be in New York City on Christmas Eve without other obligations, consider taking a stroll down to Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village for some good old-fashioned Christmas caroling with the Rob Susman Brass Quartet. More information  

  4. Christmas decorations in Midtown: The crowds will be daunting, but if you can withstand a little friendly shoulder-shoving, the decorations will definitely get you in the holiday mood. Not to be missed: Radio City Music Hall’s Christmas tree and tin soldiers (50th St and Sixth Ave), the huge Christmas tree (lighting is November 28th), skaters and decorations in Rockefeller Center (between W. 48th and 51st St and Fifth and Sixth Avenue), and the famous department store holiday window displays along Fifth Ave. If you’ll be there on December 9th, be sure to go to the ice rink at Rockefeller Center at 3:30 pm for the 45th annual Merry Tuba Christmas performance. It looks amazing. More information  

  5. Museum of Modern Art (MoMA): W. 53rd St  between Fifth and Sixth Avenue. Admission is free every Friday from 4:00 pm until closing. Download the MoMA app for audio tours about artists, exhibits and collections.  More information  

  6. Central Park Tours: Central Park is huge (843 acres) and sometimes it feels like just finding your way out of it within a mile of your intended destination is a major accomplishment. But did you know there are groups who conduct tours of the park? Don’t worry – the tour isn’t all 843 acres at one time! Some tours have a fee, but others, such as the Southern Welcome Tour, Towering Trees in the North Woods Tour, Woodland Wonderland, and the Heart of the Park Tour, among others, are free. Or download a self-guided tour. More information  

  7. Free Juilliard Performances: Broadway between W. 65th and 66th St. If you don’t want to pay for a concert at Lincoln Center, go next door where many of those Lincoln Center performers probably started, for a free performance at Juilliard. Perhaps you’ll see the next Nina Simone, Yo-Yo Ma, Wynton Marsalis or Barry Manilow (all Juilliard alumni)! More information  

  8. The High Line: West Side beginning on 11th Ave and 34th St. A public park built on what used to be an elevated train track, the High Line has impressive views of the Hudson River, acclaimed landscaping, public art projects and access to a diverse selection of restaurants below. Celebrate the winter solstice on December 21st for a very unique processional where you and your smart phone are turned into a collective music piece. More information  

Planning to take the drive down to New York? Get great hotel rates on AAA.com or visit a AAA Travel and Insurance Center.