The holidays will undoubtedly look a bit different this year, but just like most special moments during the pandemic, there are still ways to celebrate. From drive-through light shows and massive glowing lantern festivals to curling and ice-skating, there are plenty of fun and safe ways to get in the holiday spirit. Ahead, we’ve rounded up nearly 20 of the year’s best events in and around New York City.
Photo by Yunkai, courtesy of LuminoCity Festival
Randall’s Island Park has been transformed into a magical, glowing outdoor wonderland complete with life-size flowers, animals, and a field of crystals. This year’s festival includes never-before-seen art installations and a glistening Christmas Tree. There will also be food trucks on site. Advance reservations are required, and a number of safety and health protocols are in place.
Photo by Marlon Co/The New York Botanical Garden
GLOW is an all-new outdoor experience at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx. With the recently renovated Haupt Conservatory as the centerpiece, guests will enjoy “washes of brilliant colors, thousands of dazzling, energy-efficient LED lights, and picture-perfect installations that will fill the Visitor Center Reflecting Pool and enliven surrounding gardens and collections,” according to NYBG. Throughout your visit, you’ll also get to enjoy ice carving displays and roving dancers and musicians. Advance tickets are required.
Photo by Lindsay Silverman © WCS
Bronx Zoo Holiday Lights
New York City’s most famous zoo has been lit up with five lantern safaris. According to the zoo, this “global safari in lights” features “illuminated animals from all over the world.” Travel to Africa, Asia, Latin America, North America, and into the ocean. As you’re walking through the zoo, you’ll also get to enjoy animal-themed stilt walkers, ice-carving demonstrations, and holiday-themed treats.
Photo by James and Karla Murray
Dyker Heights lights
This suburban Brooklyn neighborhood has been putting on its legendary holiday spectacle since 1986, and in recent years, attract up to 150,000 visitors each season. It’s fun to walk or drive through the neighborhood, where you’ll see fun displays like 25-foot toy soldiers, a two-story Santa, and a house decked out with 30,000 lights. (Note that the popular A Slice of Brooklyn bus tour has been canceled this year.)
Courtesy of Brookfield Place
Luminaries at Brookfield Place
At lower Manhattan’s Brookfield Place, the annual Luminaries installation (designed by the LAB at Rockwell Group) is back with a series of socially distanced light shows. Set to a backdrop of classic holiday carols, hundreds of colorful, glowing lanterns are suspended among the palms in the Winter Garden. According to Brookfield, “there will be contactless wishing stations located on the ground allowing visitors to send a motion-activated wish to the canopy of lanterns above, prompting a magical display of lights and colors to appear.” For every wish made, Brookfield Place will donate $1 (up to $25,000) to Relief Opportunities for All Restaurants (ROAR).
MORE LIGHTS! (DRIVE-THROUGH OPTIONS)
Photo courtesy of BOLD Media
Riverhead Holiday Light Show
Out by the Hamptons, this drive-through light show will take you about an hour-and-a-half to reach, but then you’ll get to experience 1.5 miles of dazzling lights. What makes this show fun is that the lights in the show dance along with the music playing over your car’s radio. Tickets are $23 per car Sunday-Thursday and $25 per car on Fridays and Saturdays.
Photo courtesy of Magic of Lights
Jones Beach Magic Of Lights
At Jones Beach State Park, enjoy 2.5 miles of LED light displays from the comfort of your car. There’s a special North Pole section that features a letters-to-Santa dropoff, the mega-tree spectacular, and refreshments available via contactless ordering. Tickets are $25 per car if purchased in advance.
PNC Bank Arts Center Magic of Lights
Just a 50-minute drive from Midtown, this New Jersey attraction is a 2.5-mile drive-through light show run by the same company as Jones Beach. Some favorite displays include the Blizzard Tunnel, 12 Days of Christmas, Winter Wonderland, and The Night Before Christmas. Tickets are $25 per car if purchased in advance.
Photo by Nick Rouke Photography
Westchester’s Winter Wonderland
Also a 50-minute drive from Midtown (in the opposite direction), this 1.2-mile drive-through holiday light extravaganza is located in the town of Valhalla. After setting your car radio to get festive holiday music, some of the highlights include a 50-foot flying dove, dancing trees, glowing snowballs, candy cane lane, and a spectacular 100-foot light tunnel where you’ll be “immersed in a sea of sparkling and flashing light.” Tickets are $25 per car.
Photo by Angelito Jusay
The Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park this year includes a new Curling Café, the first-ever iesless curling experience. Guests can reserve a dedicated curling lane and accompanying dining bubble for 90 minutes. Depending on which package you purchase, you’ll get to enjoy hot chocolate, wine, bar snacks, and brownie pops. All gaming equipment and tents are sanitized by the park team between every booking.
Photo courtesy of The William Vale
The William Vale hotel in Williamsburg has once again transformed its 23rd-floor rooftop into a public ice skating rink that affords gorgeous views of the Manhattan skyline. The rink is operating at reduced capacity and guests are required to make reservations for a 50-minute session in advance, as well as wear masks at all times.
Photo courtesy of Edge
At Hudson Yards, the city’s highest outdoor observation deck (it’s 1,131 feet in the air!), is all ready for its first holiday season. Edge is adorned with 50,000 twinkling lights illuminating the Skyline Steps and interior spaces and is offering a limited-edition holiday “Cocoa in the Clouds” to keep you nice and toasty while you take in those insane views.
FOOD + DRINKS
Photo courtesy of City Winery
City Winery winter pop-up at Rockefeller Center
Since it’s more difficult to see the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree this year, City Winery’s wine pop-up is the perfect way to enjoy the tree while also (safely!) enjoying a nice glass of vino. The outdoor wine garden is in the heart of the plaza and is outfitted with heaters (tables are first-come, first-served). You can also reserve one of the private winter domes for eight people. They can fit up to eight people and are specially sanitized in between each party.
Photo courtesy of Lotte New York Palace
Christmas Tree Sip and See at Lotte New York Palace
Built in 1854 as the Villard Houses by famed architects McKim, Mead, and White, this historic building today is the luxury hotel Lotte New York Palace (you also may recognize it as Serena van der Woodsen’s house from Gossip Girl). In its iconic courtyard fronting Madison Avenue, the hotel has erected a 35-foot Christmas tree, in addition to decorating the facade of the building. Take all this in while enjoying a hand-crafted hot beverage from the Pomme Palais.
Photo courtesy of Garret Coctelería
This Lower East Side pan-Latin, festive pop-up offers both indoor and heated outdoor seating. Created by the team from the Garret Coctelería, the pop-up celebrates “the holiday traditions of our neighbors the south.” Enjoy tacos and small plates, along with speciality cocktails like Rocco’s Hot Cocoa (golden rice milk latte, powdered chipotle pepper blend, chocolate,
mezcal, green chartreuse marshmallow) and A Lump of Coal (blackberry, mint, mango, butter, black sesame, tequila, lime, egg white, Chilean red wine). If you’re not yet ready for indoor dining, there are three heated, outdoor Mezcal Cabins (seating up to 8) covered with holiday lights and complete with colorful throws.
Photo of a past Miracle on 12th Street by Michael Marquand
Miracle and Sippin’ Santa pop-up Christmas bars
If you do feel comfortable with indoor dining, these global pop-up Christmas bars are scattered around the Village. According to a press release, “Miracle… started in New York in 2014; it partners with bars and restaurants around the world (over 120 globally this year) to offer masterfully crafted Christmas cocktails in cheery holiday-themed settings. Sippin’ Santa is the tiki-themed companion to Miracle with cocktails created in partnership with Tiki-connoisseur Jeff ‘Beachbum’ Berry.” Some of the delicious cocktails include the Bad Santa (mulled red wine, port, orange liqueur, Christmas spices) and the Christmas Carol Barrel (tequila, coffee liqueur, dry curacao, spiced chocolate). Sippin’ Santa is located at Boilermaker in the East Village, while there are Miracle pop-ups at the Cabinet on East 9th Street and also on West 8th Street.
For more holiday fun, find a list of in-person and virtual holiday markets HERE >>
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