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There’s no getting around it—this holiday season is going to be different compared to previous years. But there are still plenty of exciting, entertaining, delicious and—most importantly—safe things to do in NYC this December. Here are some of the activities and events you can look forward to this month.

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1. Transport yourself to warmer weather at Talk Story rooftop

New York, we love you, but Hawaii sounds pretty nice right now. Which brings us to the next best thing: Talk Story, the rooftop bar at the McCarren hotel. This bohemian hideaway is decorated with mismatched rugs, vibrant mural wallpaper, and potted succulents. Half of the space sits under a retractable rooftop while the other side has plenty of heat lamps to keep you warm in the cold December weather. But you’ll probably feel nice and toasty after one or two cocktails like our favorite, the Tickled Pink (mezcal, hibiscus honey, citrus, and chili).

2. Watch a giant light show projected on the Manhattan Bridge

On the first Thursday of each month, LIGHT YEAR—an international project that showcases the works of artists from around the world—is projecting a brand new light show onto the Manhattan Bridge archway. This month the show falls on December 3 and is titled “Thresholds and Beyond I,” which sounds trippy, experimental and everything you’d want to see in a light show. You can stream the show from home or head to the Pearl Street Triangle in Dumbo to see it in person.

3. Hop over to Randall’s Island and walk through a winter wonderland

A short ferry ride from the hustle and bustle of midtown Manhattan sits Randall’s Island. And starting on November 27, it will be home to LuminoCity Festival, an interactive holiday spectacular of immersive art installments and twinkling lights displays. The winter wonderland is broken up into a handful of sets that take visitors through different landscapes and civilizations like “Mystical Moon Land” and “Forgotten Ruins.” To ensure the experience is socially distanced, visitors will have to purchase tickets for designated time slots.

4. Gaze at Brian Clark’s colorful stained glass works at the Museum of Art and Design

You’ve been to the MET and to the MoMA, but perhaps you’ve never been to the Museum of Art and Design. Now through February you can find the MAD filled with the works of Brian Clark, a British artist famous for his stained glass art. The centerpiece of the exhibit is a series of twenty-something dramatic and eye-catching free-standing stained glass screens.

5. Savor some latkes and matzo ball soup at Veselka

Hanukkah starts on December 10 but whether or not you celebrate, you should definitely eat some latkes. Veselka isn’t open 24 hours these days, but this East Village mainstay still offers plenty of outdoor seating and makes some of our favorite eastern European comfort food in town. Veselka’s latkes are delightfully greasy, perfectly crispy, and come with applesauce and sour cream (as all good latkes should). They’re best enjoyed with a bowl of light and airy matzo ball soup with shredded chicken.

6. Eat some pastries from Winner, the best new bakery in town

This Park Slope bakery opened at a less than opportune time—in March, right before the pandemic hit—but unlike many eateries that have unfortunately shuttered this year, Winner is thriving. An instant neighborhood hit, Winner bakes some of the best bread and pastries around. Whether it’s the crunchy, airy sourdough or the sweet and sticky monkey bread. Oh, and if you’re craving something savory, Winner is roasting chicken dinners to go, and they’re nothing short of incredible.

7. Dine in a private rooftop cabin and pretend you’re in the Catskills

You might remember The Greens at Pier 17 for its mini turf lawns that were probably popping up on your Instagram feed last summer, but now the rooftop venue is transitioning to a socially distant winter theme. Now they’re setting up 28 mini “cabins” right by the South Street Seaport, each complete with electric heating and virtual fireplaces. The floor-to-ceiling glass windows promise some pretty spectacular views of the city. It sounds like the best place in the city to sip on an Alpine Negroni or Hot Smoked Toddy.

8. Prep for a homemade pasta night at Missy Robbin’s 30 Rock Pop-Up

If you haven’t heard the name Missy Robbins, you probably know of her two popular Williamsburg Italian eateries, Lilia and Misi. Well, now you can stock up on her homemade pastas, sauces, specialty olive oils, and Italian specialties from Sicilian almonds to green garlic butter at MP 30 Rock, a pop-up shop housed at Rockefeller Center now through early January. You can pre-order online or stop by in person to get your hands on a homemade linguine with pine nut pesto or a spinach and ricotta cannelloni pasta kit.

things to do in nyc in december dyker heights
Atilgan Ozdil/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

9. Admire the seriously festive holiday lights in Dyker Heights

When it comes to holiday cheer, no neighborhood does Christmas like Dyker Heights. If you have access to a car, head to this Brooklyn locale for one of the best holiday light displays in the whole country. Houses go completely over the top, decorating their lawns in thousands of glistening lights, life-sized snowmen, reindeer, and Santas galore. It’s the perfect field trip for entertaining kids or just getting into the Christmas spirit.

10. Indulge in sophisticated hot cocoa at Bar Pisellino

Bar Pisellino is best known for its negronis and Italian-inpired cocktails, but this cocktail and espresso bar on Grove Street (it’s from the same people behind Via Carota, I Sodi and Buvette) also has some pretty serious hot chocolate. At Pisellino, it’s not just any old hot cocoa, it’s cioccolato caldo, a dense and decadently creamy Italian take on the classic winter drink.

11. Warm up with a big plate of Sichuan food from Hwa Yuan

December is the ultimate time to slurp down spicy dandan noodles and plump soup dumplings. And Hwa Yuan, the iconic Chinatown eatery that was recently revamped into a trendy, three-story establishment, is dishing out some of our favorite Szechuan food. They’re offering takeout as well, so you can enjoy legendary steamed pancakes filled with the crispiest peking duck from the comfort of your couch.

12. Pick up sufganiyot from Breads Bakery

Head to this popular bakery chain and grab a dozen of the pillowy doughnuts with chocolate, strawberry, caramel and coffee filling for Hanukkah. Better pick up a babka pie, too, just to be safe.

13. Visit the Bronx Zoo all decked out in lights

All throughout December, the Bronx Zoo is bringing back it’s fan favorite holiday lights show. Tickets must be purchased in advance online, and the spectacle will take up a larger space than in past years to allow for social distancing. Visitors can walk through the park after dark through five unique “lantern safaris” featuring different animals from around the world shining in colorful LED lights. There are nightly ice carving competitions, costumed characters, and plenty of holiday treats like s’mores and hot cocoa.

things to do in december in NYC Ume
Courtesy of Ume

14. Build Your Own Sushi at Ume

In need of some zen (aren’t we all)? Step into Ume, the minimalist sushi spot in Williamsburg. Make a reservation for the quiet back patio decorated with string lights and bonsai plants and equipped with cushioned floor seating and heat lamps. Ordering is easy because there’s no menu, so just take a seat and enjoy the deconstructed sushi set, which includes bites like like fatty tuna with black truffle and crab with uni.

15. Shake up your next date night with a couples pottery class

Dinner and a movie is out this winter, so how about dinner and pottery? Mugi Pottery, a studio and pottery school on the Upper West Side, is offering couples night classes on two Saturday nights this December. The beginner class is $150 per couple and will introduce you to the art of pottery. Best of all, you’ll actually be able to take home whatever ceramics you and bae make. The studio has refurbished its layout to ensure proper social distancing and classes are limited to five couples, so book your spot ASAP.

things to do in nyc in december the standard east village yurt
Courtesy of the Standard East Village

16. Eat fondue in a yurt at the Standard East Village

Every year, we count down until the Standard East Village transforms its summer garden into a cozy winter wonderland. Nestled in the comfort and quiet of your own private alpine yurt, you’ll forget you’re just steps from The Bowery. In fact, as you enjoy a hot toddy and decadent cheese fondue surrounded by sheepskin throw blankets and winter greenery, you might even think you’ve been transported to Zermatt or Chamonix.

things to do in december in NYC Chikarashi
Courtesy of Chikarashi

17. Eat high-end yakitori at a rooftop chef’s counter on the Bowery

If you’re looking for a unique dining experience worthy of a special occasion, try Chikarashi ISSO. Previously located in Fidi, Chikarashi ISSO has temporarily relocated to the rooftop of Hotel 50 Bowery. Take a seat at the intimate chef’s counter for a 13-course yakitori omakase meal where everything is cooked over charcoal. Thanks to an open cabin with a covered ceiling and heat lamps, you can enjoy this one-of-a-kind pop-up experience regardless of the elements.

18. Learn how fashion has evolved throughout centuries at the MET

It was postponed from its original opening date due to COVID-19, but the much anticipated exhibit, “About Time: Fashion and Duration” is finally on display at the MET Costume Institute. The exhibit celebrates the MET’s 150th anniversary and through two adjacent galleries, it traces the history of fashion since the 1870s. It’s narrated by Virginia Woolf and made possible by Louis Vuitton, so you know you’re in for a treat.

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