The holiday spirit shines brightly throughout New York State. This year, you can find drive-through light displays, Santa sightings, a Nutcracker exhibit, and more safe in-person activities. For those who prefer to stay at home, many New York attractions offer virtual holiday experiences, including online Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa events. Get ready to celebrate the season with these winter holiday happenings across New York or from your own home. Remember to stay as local as possible and keep six feet apart from others not in your party and wear a mask or face covering. Call ahead and check websites and social media to make sure attractions are open and available. Be advised that New York has a travel advisory in effect, which requires travelers from non-contiguous states to quarantine for 10 days upon entering New York State. Travelers may undergo COVID testing to test out. For more details, see the guidelines for the travel advisory here. Most attractions are operating with capacity restrictions and require advance ticketing or reservations, so plan before you go.
Credit: Marlon Co/The New York Botanical Garden
The New York Botanical Garden debuts a new outdoor “color and light experience” this holiday season. Walk the grounds, take in the sights and sounds, and enjoy artistic ice sculpting, live musical performances, and pop-up raps from the Hip-Hop Nutcracker. The magnificent Enid A. Haupt Conservatory serves as the centerpiece of this dazzling display of lights and holiday spirit. Open select days through January 9; $30 adults, $18 children (2-12), free for children under 2; Bronx
Winter Wonderland (Hudson Valley)
Credit: Nick Rouke / @nick_rouke_photo
This 1.2-mile drive-thru experience features thousands of lights spread out across Kensico Dam Plaza, as well as characters, Christmas tree displays, and more. Maneuver through festive surroundings in your vehicle, pass glittering peace angels and Nutcrackers, drive down Candy Cane Lane and through a 100-foot light tunnel, and wave at friendly elves. Open select days through January 3, $12 per car, Valhalla
Peace, Love & Lights (Catskills)
Credit: Courtesy of Bethel Woods Center for the Arts
Say “Hippie Holidays” at this colorful drive-thru light show on the site of the original Woodstock music festival. Bethel Woods Center for the Arts has created a one-mile-plus drive through a “Twinkle Tunnel” and themed areas including “Groovy Way,” as well as an Enchanted Forest meant to highlight the Catskills. Keep an eye out for Santa and other holiday favorites, and take advantage of discounted admission to the Museum at Bethel Woods (just $5 per guest with a valid light show ticket). Open select days through January 3, prices start at $25 per vehicle, Bethel
Magic of Lights (Long Island)
Drive through illuminated holiday scenes and favorite holiday characters at Magic of Lights in Jones Beach. The displays employ the latest LED technology and feature imaginative and inspiring digital animations, creating a wonderful, winding path for you to enjoy from inside your vehicle. Open select days through January 2, prices vary, Wantagh
Festival of Lights at Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady Fatima (Greater Niagara)
Just five minutes from Lewiston and 20 minutes from Niagara Falls, the glass-domed Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady Fatima sits on 35 acres featuring statues and monuments. During the holidays, the grounds are home to a spectacular festival of lights and an international nativity display, both open for self-guided tours. Open select days through January 3, free, Youngstown
Winter Wonderlights (Thousand Islands-Seaway)
Zoo New York hosts its first-ever Winter Wonderlights, themed weekend holiday celebrations at this 32-acre zoo at Thompson Park. Families can expect to see Santa and Mrs. Claus, take part in winter and holiday activities, and of course see the zoo’s animals amid festive decorations and lights. Thursdays-Saturdays through January 2; $5 for all guests 3 and up; 2 and under free; Watertown
Twelve Nights of Christmas at the Seward House (Finger Lakes)
Credit: Courtesy of Seward House Museum
This holiday season, combine history and the holidays at this special presentation at the Seward House Museum, home of 19th-century American statesman William Henry Seward as well as a stop on the Underground Railroad. Costumed guides will lead small tours through the home, decorated for the season, and share stories of the traditions of this important family. Open select weekends in December; $16 adults, $12 children under 12; Auburn
Holiday Lights in the Park (Capital-Saratoga)
The 24th annual Lights in the Park takes place in Albany’s beautiful Washington Park, this year with the theme of “Hope.” Visitors driving through the displays can see Christmas trees, menorahs, and other iconic holiday symbols decked out in lights. Remember to bring the little ones’ letters to Santa to deposit in Santa’s Mailbox at the entrance booth. Nightly through January 3; Price per vehicle starts at $25; Albany
Holiday Lantern Tours (Central New York)
Ever wonder how early New Yorkers celebrated the holidays? The Farmers’ Museum Holiday Lantern Tours will take you back to a different era via lantern-lit, hour-long walking tours limited to groups of eight visitors at a time. Learn about the history of Christmas and other religious holidays as they were celebrated in Upstate New York in centuries past. Christmas carols, lighting displays, and other seasonal touches will set the mood for this festive look back. Open select days in December; $20 adults, $10 juniors (7-12), $5 children (3-6), free for 2 and under, Cooperstown
The Nutcracker 2020 Holiday Exhibit (Chautauqua-Allegheny)
The Fenton History Center and the Chautauqua Regional Youth Ballet have teamed up to celebrate the season with this special exhibit dedicated to the Nutcracker. It features costumes from the youth ballet’s past performances and explores the history of the beloved characters, from E.T.A. Hoffman’s "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” to Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker Ballet.” Open select days through January 6; $10 adults, free for children; Jamestown
Wild Lights (Adirondacks)
For the first time, Wild Walk will open at night as part of the inaugural Wild Lights. The new holiday event at the Wild Center will feature twinkling lights and festive music, inviting a limited amount of visitors to explore the special outdoor exhibit. Be sure to check out Forest Music, an original immersive music and light experience, and of course, take a wintertime Wild Walk on the 1,000-foot elevated walkway with bridges and platforms overlooking the forest canopy. Friday-Saturdays from 5-7 pm and select weekdays through March 27; $10 adults, $5 youth; Tupper Lake
Village of Lights (Adirondacks)
Santa's Workshop features a holiday light show amid the Yuletide setting at North Pole, NY, a family favorite for generations. Come see Santa Claus, candy canes, and reindeer as this beloved village transforms into a true Christmas Winter Wonderland, complete with caroling and roasted marshmallows. Select evenings through December 30; tickets start at $21.55, North Pole
VIRTUAL HOLIDAY EVENTS:
Jewish Museum Virtual Hanukkah and other events (New York City)
Credit: Installation view of Accumulations: Hanukkah Lamps at the Jewish Museum. Photo by Jason Mandella
The Jewish Museum offers a free timed ticket visit to view the world’s largest Hanukkah lamp collection, memorable exhibits, and more in person for those in New York City, or a series of virtual events online. The streamed options include a dream menorah virtual workshop, family tours, and musical performances that will get you in the mood for Hanukkah. Dates vary.
Virtual Kwanzaa at Weeksville Heritage Center (New York City)
Weeksville Heritage Center and Asase Yaa Cultural Arts Foundation present Kwanzaa Fest 2020: Rising in Principle. The livestreamed presentation on December 12 from 6-8 pm EST will explore the tradition of Kwanzaa, which began in 1966 and is based on seven principles honoring African heritage, including faith, unity, and self-determination.
The New York City Ballet: George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker (New York City)
From December 11-January 3, buy a $25 pass to stream New York City Ballet’s iconic Nutcracker performance, filmed during the 2019 season at Lincoln Center. The ticket includes a 30-day trial of Marquee TV, which features dance, theater, and music performances from esteemed organizations like the New York City Ballet, New York City’s Joyce Theater, and more.
Window Wonderland—Virtual Tour of Shopping Windows (New York City)
Credit: Anna Pakman
One of the many, many reasons that New York City is such a classic holiday destination is its extravagant Midtown Manhattan holiday shopping window displays. Every year, Saks Fifth Avenue (pictured at top), Macy's, Barneys, Bergdorf Goodman, and others deck out their street-facing windows with seasonal cheer, often with famed holiday characters and fun pop culture references. Google presents displays from past years in the "Window Wonderland" collection, which allows you to virtually walk past the windows from 18 different Manhattan stores.
Handel’s Messiah—A Free Virtual Event (Hudson Valley)
Want to perform the holiday classic Handel’s Messiah? Sing along at home to excerpts from the 2019 performance of the Hudson Valley Philharmonic and Cappella Festiva, with lyrics on the screen and commentary by guest conductor Christine Howlett, December 19 at 2 pm EST on Facebook.
Saratoga Streetscape (Capital-Saratoga)
Join Santa as he travels throughout downtown Saratoga Springs this holiday season. He’ll ride atop a tower ladder fire truck, making stops on select days in December, all streamed live on Facebook.
For more holiday lights options, including information on the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, visit The Best Places to See Holiday Lights in New York.