JFK airport around Thanksgiving is arguably one of the worst places to be as Manhattanites pack their bags and make their way back home for the long weekend. But here's the clincher: For those who stay, New York City takes on an almost magical life of its own around Thanksgiving. The streets are empty (and so are the best bars and restaurants) and glimmering under the holiday lights and decorations. And—if you're lucky—you might even get treated to the first dusting of snow.
But before you head out in Midtown and get stuck in Thanksgiving Day Parade traffic for hours on end, we've handpicked a few activities that are perfect to indulge in over Thanksgiving weekend and beyond. From stellar dinner experiences with a view, to the coziest cocktail bars, and from breathtaking performances to local Brooklyn markets, these are hands-down the 15 best things to do in NYC over Thanksgiving. We promise you won't regret staying local over the long weekend—and visitors will love these ideas, too.
See the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall
Since 1933, the Rockettes have performed their annual Christmas show at Radio City Music Hall––that's more than 3,000 women who've performed since the group's inception! Featuring a lucky 36 Rockettes, this impressive show offers a mix of singing, dancing (fun fact: Their shoes are mic'd up so you can hear every tap), and humor that will leave even the skeptics mesmerized. These high-kicking ladies are synonymous with NYC, but did you know that they were originally known as the "Missouri Rockettes?" They originally got their start in St. Louis.
Enjoy the Old School Charm of Bemelmans Bar
Bemelmans Bar is the place to hunker down in the Upper East Side and grab a drink when the city is empty and the weather is frightful. The Carlyle Hotel's piano bar features beautiful hand painted murals by Ludwig Bemelmans (a recognized artist for The New Yorker back in the day) in a cozy atmosphere. The bar hosts live jazz shows most nights. Try the Carlyle Punch: Raspberry vodka, Southern Comfort, St-Germain, bitters, cranberry, pineapple, lime.
Stroll Around the Brooklyn Holiday Bazaar
If Brooklyn is more your speed, head over to Gowanus over Thanksgiving weekend, where the Brooklyn Holiday Bazaar is hosted. Bringing the best local talent under one roof, it's the perfect place to do some holiday shopping (and nosh on incredible local food while doing it.) Expect more than 40 makers, a photo booth, kids crafts, and bites and beverages like Baba's Pierogies, Decadent Cider, Elements Truffles, Samosa Shack, and Strong Rope Brewery.
Treat Yourself to a Feast at Manhatta
While Manhatta isn't your typical Thanksgiving fare, this Danny Meyers French restaurant, opened in 2018, is perched at the top of 28 Liberty Street in the Financial District, and offers an incredible dining experience with unparalleled views. Reservations can be hard to come across, but Thanksgiving is the perfect time to book ahead, as the city empties out for the long weekend. Opt for their three course prix fixe menu, which might include a chilled white asparagus salad with baby lettuces, duck confit, and a warm date cake with hazelnut whiskey sauce. Whoa.
Work Off the Turkey at Fithouse
If you've eaten your way through NYC all weekend, burn off some steam and calories at Fithouse in TriBeca. Fithouse is an all-class fitness club featuring great workouts in a stylish environment; and movement formats range from barre, to dance, high intensity interval training (known as HIIT), sculpt (total body conditioning), boxing, kettlebells, to all iterations of yoga (gentle, hot yoga, flowy). We highly recommend our editors' favorite: Cardio Bounce.
Volunteer at Feeding NYC
Because Thanksgiving is also about being grateful for what we have and helping others who are more vulnerable, the long holiday weekend is the perfect time to volunteer. For over 18 years, FeedingNYC has delivered over 80,000 boxes filled with a frozen turkey all the fixings to cook a Thanksgiving meal to families in need in NYC.
Peruse the Turnstyle Underground Market
This unique, underground food and retail market spans an entire city block, and you don't need a metro card to browse its offerings. To get to Turnstyle Underground Market (which is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner), choose from one of seven street-level entrances located beneath 8th Avenue––between 57th and 58th Street. There, indulge in everything from dumplings, pasta, bubble tea, pizza to Bolivian fare. Shops include a pet supply, stationery, and a wine and spirits shop.
Hop on a Holiday Nostalgia Ride with New York Transit Museum
Time travel with the New York Transit Museum's holiday nostalgia rides. Beginning in December, the museum dusts off their vintage 1930's train cars (which were once part of the first subway company operated by the City) every Saturday between Thanksgiving and the New Year. Check the website for schedules; trains will have different departure locations.
The museum also makes a note on its website to say that all holiday nostalgia rides operate as weather permits, so make sure you have a Plan B just in case.
Pedal for a Cause with Cranksgiving
Do good and get moving on two wheels at the same time during Cranksgiving. It's an annual charity bike ride that asks participants to ride to a few grocery stores, buy specific food items, and cycle the quickest route to the finish line, all in the name of donating the goods to a local charity. The annual event began in 1999 with a group of New York City bike messengers, and has since grown into a nationwide, locally organized event in cities including Austin, Columbus, Ohio, and Raleigh, North Carolina.
Watch a Netflix Film at The Paris Theatre
In 2019, Deadline reported that Netflix signed a lease with The Paris Theatre, the only remaining single-screen theatre in Manhattan. Marriage Story (starring Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver) was the first Netflix film to premiere at the iconic, 571-seat theatre in 2019, and we're hoping there will be more to come moving forward in the way of "special events, screenings, and theatrical releases of its films," as Deadline reports, especially around Thanksgiving. The Paris Theatre opened in 1948 and originally showed French titles, including La Symphonie Pastorale. It closed in August 2019, before Netflix took over.
Try Matcha Ramen from Mentoku
When the weather begins to prickle, there's nothing like a steamy, brothy meal to warm you up. And while most ramen-lovers may be most familiar with tonkotsu, a pork-flavored broth, Mentoku serves a vegetarian version. It's made with Matcha green tea and topped with kikurage (wood ear mushroom) and konjac (from the potato family.) If green tea soup isn't your style, check out another one of the plethora of ramen shops and Japanese restaurants serving ramen nearby, including Totto Ramen, Ippudo West, and Nippori. Nippori, in addition to tonkotsu, also serves a chicken broth-based ramen.
Hike for Free with Urban Park Rangers
Urban Park Rangers have been connecting people to New York City's natural spaces since 1979. This Thanksgiving, lace up your hiking boots for a free, ranger-led guided hike during their annual Day After Thanksgiving Hike. Accommodations can also be made for individuals with varying language and accessibility requests. Year round, Urban Park Rangers host a variety of activities, like Kids Week in February for hands-on educational fun; family camping, and outdoor skills events.
Adopt a Pet from Best Friends Animal Society
In 2019, Best Friends Animal Society offered free pet adoptions in SoHo between Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Here's to hoping they'll do the same in 2020 and beyond. From their SoHo location, "the Center showcases adoptable animals from local shelters and rescue organizations, as well as the New York City open-admission shelter," their website reads.
Take a Haunted Tour with Ghosts of New York
Group walking tours with Ghosts of New York begin at 8pm, and include themed outings like The Edgar Allen Spook Tour, centered around the spirits of Edgar Allen Poe, Aaron Burr, Washington Irving, and more throughout Washington Square Park; and the Phantom Pub Crawl. Each leisurely tour lasts 90 minutes, and covers less than a mile of ground––meaning ample time to commune with the paranormal environment.
Welcome Winter with Ice Skating
For classic fall family fun, head to one of NYC's many ice skating rinks, which begin opening as early as October. From indoor to outdoor rinks, take your pick. For example, there's iconic Rockefeller Center, Lasker Rink in Harlem, to the unique, outdoor Runway Rink at the TWA Hotel at JFK. After a skate session at Runway Rink, The Points Guy reports you can grab a hot drink and a bite to eat inside the old Connie plane, or head to the lounge area within the TWA Hotel for a view of the rink.