While NYC is a great vacation destination anytime of year, millions of tourists choose to visit during the festive holiday season. With an entertaining lineup of festive annual events, 3 famous ice rinks, beautiful decor around every corner, and one of the country’s most extravagant Christmas trees, it’s the best Christmas destination city in the country.
Thus, it is no surprise that the city is often used as a backdrop for Christmas films. NYC truly embodies the essence of the holiday season, thus making it the perfect setting for any holiday film. Each winter season, the city transforms into an urban winter wonderland filled with holiday magic around every corner. Some of the most beloved holiday movies of all time have taken place here, including Home Alone 2: Lost in New York and Elf.
Below are 8 festive destinations which have been featured in some of your favorite holiday films.
Rockefeller Center Christmas tree
Featured in: Home Alone 2 and Elf
One of the most famous Christmas movie scenes of all time is when Kevin McCallister (MaCaulay Culkin) makes a wish by the big Rockefeller Center tree to see his family again. Of course, his mom (Catherine O’Hara) knows he loves Christmas trees and quickly realizes he would be by the biggest one of them all. They are reunited in a cozy scene which screams Christmas. Although the tree looks just as magnificent in person, do not expect the crowdless experience which Kevin enjoyed. In real life, there are always thousands upon thousands of people cramming in to get a good look.
The tree is also featured in another holiday favorite, Elf. In the scene, Jovie (Zooey Deschanel) takes Buddy the Elf (Will Ferrell) to see New York’s tallest Christmas tree.
Prepare for massive crowds especially in the weekends leading up to Christmas. Consider visiting earlier in the morning to enjoy better photo opportunities, then stop by at night (fighting your way through crowds) to see the pretty lights. This annual tradition began in 1933. The 2019 tree stood a whopping 77 feet tall and was adorned with the trademark star, comprised of 3 million Swarovski crystals.
Rockefeller ice skating rink
Featured in: Elf
While this rink is much smaller than the Wollman in Central Park, skating at Rockefeller has become the quintessential NYC winter experience. If you watch Elf every holiday season, you will probably remember the charming scene where Jovie and Buddy enjoy skating at the rink after gazing at the huge Christmas tree.
It’s an amazing experience to skate amongst the pretty lights, festive music, and bustling crowds in one of the best cities in the world. While it’s almost impossible to get on the rink on any random weekend night in December, you can now reserve your spot online. Really, skating at this rink is a bucket list contender for anyone who loves Christmas and the movie Elf.
Radio City Music Hall
Featured in: Home Alone 2
One of my favorite scenes in Home Alone 2 is Kevin’s sightseeing adventure after he arrives at LaGuardia. Right after Kevin takes a taxi across the Queensboro Bridge into the city, the catchy All Alone on Christmas plays in the background as he checks out famous sites. Most notably, in the scene while he is snapping pics on his polaroid (so old-school!), he passes the famous Radio City Music Hall.
The iconic Christmas Spectacular by the Rockettes has taken place at Radio City Music Hall every November-January since the 1990’s. If you are looking for a festive fun show for the whole family, this is definitely one to put on your bucket list. As an added bonus, the iconic giant red ornaments are located just across the street on 6th Avenue! Be sure to stop by for a pic both day and night as the setting is equally spectacular!
The Wollman Rink
Featured in: Home Alone 2 and Serendipity
Rarely does a Christmas movie, big budget or made-for-TV, leave out the iconic winter ice skating scene. The holiday season would just not be the same without a festive ice skating session. New York is home to several incredible ice rinks, the Wollman featuring the most picturesque setting. You really cannot beat skating while surrounded by amazing architecture, plus the beautiful natural surroundings of Central Park. In addition, 2 popular holiday movies – Home Alone 2 and Serendipity – have filmed here.
In Home Alone 2, you may remember the scene when Marv (Daniel Stern) is snatching mittens and earmuffs off fellow skaters. This is also where Marv and Harry (Joe Pesci) discuss plans to rob Duncan’s Toy Chest. In Serendipity, the wonderful rom com featuring Kate Beckinsale and John Cusack, the duo share a romantic moment on this rink at night. The setting is so romantic and dream like, you will definitely want to put this one on your bucket list after seeing this film.
After you skating session, attempt to get into Serendipity (the line is often super long!), the cute little dessert cafe Cusack/Beckinsale visit. They are known for their frozen hot chocolate, however, you can pick amongst a long list of entrees, desserts, and hot drinks.
The Plaza Hotel
Featured in: Home Alone 2
“Guests of The New Celebrity Ding-Dang-Dong stay at the world renowned Plaza hotel – New York’s most exciting hotel experience.” If this quote sounds familiar, then you have probably seen Home Alone 2 a time or two. We may not all have the spare cash to stay in this glamorous hotel, however, it’s a must-see in person for anyone who grew up watching the movie.
The lobby is only open to registered guests. Nevertheless, Central Park offers the best views of the hotel (and is home to the famous shot shown in the movie). You really cannot help but think of the holiday classic when you see this magnificent property. When the Plaza opened in 1907, it was considered the greatest hotel in the world. According to the Plaza’s website, an old saying goes, ““Nothing unimportant ever happens at The Plaza.”
Featured in: Elf, Home Alone 2
The prettiest urban park in the country has provided a leafy walking background for dozens of movie scenes. Most gorgeous in the fall, however, the park holds a special quiet dreary enchantment during the winter months. It looks even more dazzling after a winter storm. Several popular holiday movies have featured scenes within the iconic park. Most famously, several scenes with Kevin & the Pigeon Lady in Home Alone 2 filmed here.
A few notable holiday filming locations
The Pond – Great view of The Plaza Hotel see in in Home Alone 2
Gapstow Bridge – Scene of Kevin’s first encounter with the Pigeon Lady
Pinebank Arch – Snowfall fight scene in Elf
Bethesda Fountain – Elf Santa sleigh scenes
The Empire State Building
Featured in: Elf
One of the must-do experiences on any first trip to the city is taking in the once in a lifetime NYC vistas via the 86th floor of the Empire State building. Not only will you get some breathtaking photos, but you will also get to check off another iconic movie filming site. In Elf, Buddy’s dad works in the Empire State building as a children’s book publisher.
If you decide to book tickets, you will notice the lobby looks familiar. Here you will find the beautiful marble plaque featured in the movie. As you take the elevator up, you will be thinking of the hilarious scene when Buddy is fiddling around with the buttons. “Looks like a Christmas tree!” he exclaims to a disinterested rider. Many popular movies filmed here. As you walk down the hall, you will see lots of movie memorabilia including clips from my personal favorite, Sleepless in Seattle.
Macy’s at Herald Square
Featured in: Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
The holiday windows displays, the Thanksgiving Parade, grand Christmas decor…the iconic retailer will forever be associated with the kick off of the holiday season. The flagship store in Manhattan opened back in 1902. While originally quite small, the store today consists of 11 levels and takes up an entire city block! With 10 floors of shopping heaven, multiple restaurants, and a Starbucks, you could literally spend all day here. Due to its central location, the store has also been featured in various media including movies, tv shows, and even music videos.
The classic Miracle on 34th Street film takes place between Thanksgiving and Christmas in NYC. To refresh your memory, the story revolves around a department store Santa who claims to be the real Mr. Claus. The film features scenes inside the store (located on 34th street, hence the title) and also at the real Thanksgiving Parade held in 1947. Kris Kringle in the film actually really played Santa in that year’s parade!
Check out 10 fun facts about the original Miracle on 34th Street via Good Housekeeping.