New York serves as the setting for many of the most memorable holiday movies and TV show episodes ever made. Seeing the sparkling lights of the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree or watching the New Year’s Eve ball drop in Times Square is inspiring on screen, especially when it’s not possible to see these iconic symbols in person. Fortunately, these and other New York holiday traditions are available anytime and anywhere, thanks to these movies and TV shows that will get you in a festive mood while allowing you to experience New York-style holiday spirit. Let a classic scene from one of these gems inspire a future holiday season trip to New York State!
Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
When a man claims he is Santa Claus—possessing the ability to speak many languages and bearing a striking resemblance to Kris Kringle himself—the authorities take him away, until a Christmas Miracle occurs. This 1940’s Christmas classic features many NYC sites and institutions including the New York Supreme Court, Central Park, and the Macy’s Herald Square department store and Thanksgiving Day Parade.
When Harry Met Sally (1989)
Harry (Billy Crystal) meets Sally (Meg Ryan) when she gives him a ride from Chicago to NYC right after graduating from college in this classic romantic comedy directed by Rob Reiner. The title characters part on bad terms but reunite years later and share a revelatory moment amid Manhattan’s New Year’s Eve festivities. The film features stunning views of New York’s countryside, a pit stop at Coney Island, and no shortage of NYC landmarks like Washington Square Park, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. And, of course, a classic scene filmed at Katz’s Delicatessen.
Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992)
One year after 8-year-old Kevin is left home alone over the holidays in Chicago, he gets separated from his family en route to spending the holidays in Miami and boards a flight to New York. Home Alone 2 features Macaulay Culkin reprising his role as the mischievous Kevin, reunited with his nemeses (played by Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern) in a romp that includes scenes at Radio City Music Hall, Battery Park, the famous Plaza Hotel, and in front of the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree.
In this romantic-comedy, Jonathan (John Cusack) and Sara (Kate Beckinsale) experience an instant mutual attraction while both attempting to buy the same pair of black cashmere gloves at Bloomingdale’s. They are both in relationships, but agree to have dessert at an Upper East Side restaurant called Serendipity 3, where Sara explains her belief in fate, a belief that Jonathan will have to share if he ever hopes to see Sara again. Serendipitous moments ensue, of course, with locations such as the ice skating rink in Central Park, the Waldorf Astoria hotel, and Bloomingdale’s (again) playing big parts.
In this charming Christmas comedy directed by Jon Favreau, Will Ferrell plays Buddy, a human who was adopted and raised by elves at the North Pole. When he learns of his past, he heads to New York City to meet his birth father, and is seen making memorable appearances at the Empire State Building and in Central Park.
Dash & Lily (2020)
Based on the bestseller Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares, this eight-episode Netflix series follows teens Dash (Austin Abrams) and Lily (Midori Francis) as they pass dares back and forth in a notebook left at locations across New York City. The romantic tale begins on the shelves at the famed Strand Book Store and moves to many beloved Big Apple locations as Dash and Lily exchange their dares in the days leading up to Christmas, including visits to Santa at Macy’s Herald Square, the Union Square Holiday Market, and Grand Central Station.
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
Set in fictional Bedford Falls, which many believe is a stand-in for the real New York hamlet of Seneca Falls, It’s a Wonderful Life features Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey, a broken man who is about to jump from a bridge on Christmas Eve. Fortunately, his guardian angel, Clarence Odbody (played by Henry Travers), stops him and shows George the impact he has made on the life of his loved ones and his community. Seneca Falls today has several sites and even an annual event dedicated to the Frank Capra-directed film, including the It’s a Wonderful Life Museum and the It’s a Wonderful Life Festival.
Santa Claus: The Movie (1985)
The Brooklyn Bridge, the Empire State Building, and other New York City landmarks play key supporting roles in this inspiring origin story of Santa Claus. Dudley Moore stars as Patch, a well-meaning elf who unwittingly joins a mean-spirited toy manufacturer (played by John Lithgow) to create an alternative system to deliver gifts to children. Their plan sets up a battle against Santa that takes place amid the skyscrapers of Manhattan and helps uncover myths about “St. Nick.”
The Family Man (2000)
Nicolas Cage stars in this set-in-Manhattan, rom-com update of It’s a Wonderful Life. A successful Wall Street executive, Jack has a high-flying career, a Ferrari, and a penthouse with views of St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Fifth Avenue until a chance encounter during an attempted robbery has him meeting Cash (Don Cheadle), a sort of guardian angel who shows him what his life would have been like if he’d married his high school sweetheart (Tea Leoni) and started a family. When he wakes up on Christmas Day with a wife and three children, Jack goes down a hilarious if confusing new path that will force him to make difficult decisions about his future.
New Year’s Eve (2011)
It’s New Year’s Eve in Times Square and an all-star cast featuring Halle Berry, Jessica Biel, Jon Bon Jovi, Katherine Heigl, Zac Efron, Sarah Jessica Parker, and others are all getting ready for the ball to drop and ring in 2002. The rom-com from director Garry Marshall follows the ensemble players as they face various hurdles en route to having a happy new year, making stops at Tiffany’s, Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall, and other Manhattan landmarks along the way.