The idea of spending a whole vacation without standing, shoeless, in a single airport security line with my impatient kids sounds absolutely divine. Besides, don’t we already live in the coolest place ever? A staycation here is hardly a consolation. So staycation? More like yay-cation! While that term may not catch on, these New York holiday activities will:
1. Stand under a canopy of glowing lanterns suspended within the Winter Garden at Brookfield Place through January 4. When you make a wish (World peace? A new president? A Baby Alive Potty Dance Baby?) on the glowing “wishing cube” here, the light installation changes colors and intensity.
2. Sing holiday carols on Christmas Eve at 5 p.m. under the Washington Square Arch (the acoustics are almost as good as in your shower!) with fellow New Yorkers and a brass quartet.
3. You’re never too young for experimental theater. La MaMa starts kids early with its Winter Wonderland family event on December 22. Expect storytelling, puppetry, dance and musical performances, and—of course?—gingerbread house building.
4. Dress your tot in those cute overalls and take a ride on a vintage train. On December 23 and 30, a ghost of subways past—the R1-9 train cars from the 1930s—returns to the F and A/C/D lines. Check out the full schedule here; rides are free with a regular MetroCard swipe.
5. In case you haven’t heard, the Big Apple Circus no longer relies on captive animals for its entertainment. So go and enjoy humans who—of their own free will—perform acts of extreme danger and wonder: Trapeze! Tightrope! Rhythmic gymnastics! Sword swallowing! It’s fun.
6. Sip free hot cocoa, watch classic Christmas movies including Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and A Charlie Brown Christmas, and meet Santa Claus (through December 23) at the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens. Besides Santa, the holiday exhibition runs through January 6.
7. Take your visiting relatives out to brunch or dinner with the kids at one of our favorite family restaurants—they’re all perfect for multigenerational groups.
8. See a live musical version of the animated A Charlie Brown Christmas at the Secret Theatre in Long Island City, complete with jazz score by Vince Guaraldi.
9. Hop across an immersive “lake” at the Matti Braun installation inside the Rubin Museum of Art, then try momos and tandoori chicken at the on-site Café Serai.
10. Craft ornaments using found objects and hang them on the Christmas tree at the Children’s Museum of Manhattan.
12. Bring your kids to the opera—yes, the opera!—for Julia Taymor’s abridged-for-families English version of Mozart’s The Magic Flute at the Metropolitan Opera. Even if they decide they don’t enjoy the musical genre, the may appreciate the pageantry.
13. If you’ve never been, pop into The New York Earth Room in SoHo to breathe in the funky smell of 280,000 pounds of soil and wonder at the oddity of a room filled with nothing but dirt.
14. Harry Potter fans can make their own wands and brew their own potions during break-long Making Magic activities and workshops at the DiMenna Children’s History Museum at the New-York Historical Society.
15. Celebrate Kwanzaa at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum. It’s hosting five days of dance and drumming performances, along with workshops, storytelling, and food sampling.
16. Blow your kids’ minds with the ginger scallion noodles at this unassuming Chinatown joint.
17. Turn the holidays’ waste—wrapping paper, ribbons, gift bags and boxes, and shopping catalogs—into high art at the New York Hall of Science’s ReMake the Holidays program, December 27–30.
18. Bring your jump ropes and your stamina to Queens on December 28 for the NYC Parks Annual Winter Double Dutch Invitational, where teams and individuals will hop their hearts out. Beginners can compete, too!
19. Create customized lipsticks and glosses with your teenager at Bite Beauty Lip Lab.
20. All kids love the Velvet Underground. OK, maybe they don’t. But you do, so we won’t judge at all if you drag your youngins’ through the “Velvet Underground Experience” before it ends on December 30. Promise to take them to Do afterward (a seven-minute walk away) for cookie-dough ice cream.
21. Stay up late to catch the New Year’s Eve fireworks in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park.
22. Relax with soothing space visuals in the dusky Hayden Planetarium at a showing of Dark Universe (best for kids 12 and up), running through December 30.
23. Sip English breakfast (decaf, of course) with Eloise at a Rawther Fancy Tea Party at the Plaza. Pinkies up!
24. Carousels aren’t just for summer. Take the Winter Carousel Challenge (this isn’t actually a thing, so don’t stress out) and try to take spins on all four of the city’s open-during-the-holidays merry-go-rounds: the SeaGlass Carousel in Battery Park, Jane’s Carousel in Dumbo, the Central Park Carousel, and the Bug Carousel at the Bronx Zoo.
25. Rainy day? Spend the afternoon at a bar. Really, the Fat Cat bar in the West Village is pretty much an indoor playground, but with beer and sticky floors. So…just like home! Play pool, ping-pong, Foosball, shuffleboard, chess, checkers, Scrabble, and more.
26. Force the kids to watch It’s a Wonderful Life, playing at the IFC Center through Christmas Day, in hopes that they’ll cry in appreciation of you by the end.
27. Start a new tradition with a special Christmas brunch—with live carolers and sticky toffee pudding—at the landmarked Lambs Club.
28. Hit up the classics: the Holiday Train Show at New York Botanical Garden, the holiday lights in Dyker Heights, ice-skating at Rockefeller Center, and family-friendly Broadway matinees.
29. Take a “refreshing” dip in the Atlantic Ocean at the Coney Island Polar Bear Club New Year’s Day Plunge. If octogenarians in Speedos can do it, you and your kids can, too!