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The holiday season in the city comes with a lot of headaches (just try walking down Fifth Avenue amid a thousand selfie-snapping tourists). But there are plenty of happenings that even the Grinchiest of New Yorkers can get on board with. From once-a-year treats to Instagrammable light displays, here are the best things to do in NYC in December.

RELATED: 15 Things to Eat in NYC in December

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

1. See the Christmas lights in Dyker Heights

Grab a hot chocolate and take a stroll through the Brooklyn neighborhood known for its holiday light displays that can probably be seen from space.

2. Pick up sufganiyot from Breads Bakery

Grab a dozen of the pillowy doughnuts with chocolate, strawberry, caramel or apple cider filling for Hanukkah. Better pick up a babka pie, too, just to be safe.

3. Go carb-crazy at the Latke Festival

Speaking of Hanukkah, the Olympics of potato pancakes (aka the Latke Festival) comes to the Brooklyn Museum, December 16.

things to do in nyc in december maison yaki late night
Courtesy of Maison Yaki

4. Check out the new late-night menu at Maison Yaki

The French-Japanese hot spot’s new 10 p.m.-to-midnight menu is worth staying up late for, with dishes like spicy crispy duck wings. tempura onion rings and a Wagyu burger.

5. Sip tropical drinks at Paradise Found

While most holiday pop-ups lean into the North Pole vibe, the seasonal iteration of Last Light at Sister City hotel heads for the tropics with tiki drinks from Jersey City’s Cellar 335 and island-inspired bites.

6. Take the requisite selfie at Yayoi Kusama’s latest Infinity Room

You have until December 14 to get to David Zwirner Chelsea (and yes, stand in a very long line) to see Yayoi Kusama’s newest immersive installation—which, for the record, is totally worth the wait.

winter lantern festival
Courtesy of Winter Lantern Festival

7. Snap a ’Gram at the Winter Lantern Festival

A Chinese tradition comes to Staten Island’s Snug Harbor with the Winter Lantern Festival, an enchanting light installation with features like an Instagrammable light tunnel, a glowing garden and light-up pandas. 

8. Catch a festive performance at the Apollo

The Apollo Theater never fails to bring the holiday cheer. This year, catch a free Winter Wonderland event, the Amateur Night Holiday Special, a holiday concert with Cynthia Erivo and Shoshana Bean, a gospel night and a Kwanzaa celebration. 

9. Have your mind blown at a (classy) magic show

The McKittrick Hotel’s Speakeasy Magick is the opposite of a big, cheesy Vegas production: It’s an intimate affair where various magicians stop by your table to perform close-up illusions while you sip cocktails.

things to do in nyc in december brooklyn botanical garden
Raymond Haddad/Getty Images

10. Spend a free winter weekday at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden

The day after the next snowfall, call in sick and instead go soak up the serenity at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden—it’s free to enter from noon to 4:30, Tuesday to Friday through February.

11. Feast on holiday treats

’Tis the season for absurdly decadent holiday desserts, like bûche de Noël from Bien Cuit and peppermint bark cake from Milk Bar.

12. Take a ride in a vintage subway car

Even the MTA is getting dressed up for the season with its Holiday Nostalgia Rides: Sundays throughout the month, you can hop aboard a vintage 1930s train for the price of a regular MetroCard swipe.

13. See “Rachel Feinstein: Maiden, Mother, Crone” at the Jewish Museum

The New York–based artist’s work explores themes of womanhood through characters drawn from fairy tales, folklore and religion. (Don’t leave without filling up on lox and babka from the onsite Russ & Daughters cafe.)

14. Admire the colorful lights at Brookfield Place

In between last-minute gift shopping, check out Luminaries, a striking sculpture designed by the LAB at Rockwell Group that will light up for hourly displays.

15. Feel like a kid at the Holiday Train Show

Marvel at the meticulously constructed cityscape at the New York Botanical Garden’s Holiday Train Show. Grown-ups should stop by for one of the Bar Car Nights, where the Bronx Night Market will be curating the food lineup.

16. See Jagged Little Pill on Broadway

Everyone’s talking about the musical inspired by Alanis Morissette’s 1995 album (and the soundtrack to our tweenage angst) and written by Diablo Cody.

17. Or check out West Side Story in previews

The classic Upper West Side–set musical (in previews now, officially opening February 6) is getting an ambitious revival from boundary-pushing director Ivo van Hove. (In other words, don’t expect it to look anything like the 1961 movie.)

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

18. Cozy up in a yurt at the Standard East Village

Drinking mulled wine and eating fondue is good. Drinking mulled wine and eating fondue in a yurt is better. Have it all at the Standard East Village’s charming Winter Garden, which also features a Christmas-tree market this season.

19. Take a stroll down Gingerbread Lane

Avoid an icing-covered catastrophe in your own kitchen and instead admire the world’s largest gingerbread village at the New York Hall of Science.

20. See a live-scored screening of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

OK, it’s not holiday themed per se, but we’ll be first in line to hear the New York Philharmonic take on John Williams’s score in front of the big screen.

things to do in nyc in december mariah carey
Samir Hussein/WireImage

21. Sing along with Mariah Carey at Madison Square Garden

You already take every opportunity to belt out “All I Want for Christmas Is You” the minute the season rolls around—might as well sing along live when Mariah Carey comes to MSG on December 15.

22. Go to an NPR-themed comedy show at Upright Citizen’s Brigade

We’re not sure a comedy show has ever spoken to us quite like this one: Gross & Glass: An NPR Holiday Extravaganza is a one-night-only event led by two comedians playing NPR darlings Terry Gross and Ira Glass as they discover the true meaning of Christmas with special guests and Tiny Desk performances. Get your tickets for this December 18 show at UCB Hell’s Kitchen.

23. Catch concerts in unexpected places during Make Music Winter

Make the longest night of the year (December 21) a little more palatable with Make Music Winter, a free interactive outdoor festival that brings sound-driven parades to unexpected places across the city.

24.  See music and dance in a stunning venue at Paul Winter’s Solstice Celebration

Paul Winter’s Solstice Celebration commemorates the changing season for three nights (December 19 to 21) with music and dance inspired by ancient rituals, set in the breathtaking venue of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.

25. Take a New Year’s Day swim with the Coney Island Polar Bear Club

Feeling brave? Dig out your swimsuit and take the plunge with the Coney Island Polar Bear Club’s annual New Year’s Day swim. (Yes, in the ocean.) 

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