The chrysler building peeping up over grand central station at night in New York City

What to do in New York for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is an iconic (and perfect) time to visit New York City! There is so much to do and see in New York any time of the year but during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday seasons, the city becomes even more magical to tourists and locals alike. Let’s review why you should visit NYC over Thanksgiving.

New York/NYC Thanksgiving

In the United States, Thanksgiving is a holiday in late November where most full time employees (like myself and my husband) receive two vacation days, making it a perfect time for a long weekend getaway! New York City is an iconic place to spend Thanksgiving. Especially since the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade takes place through Manhattan. So, it makes sense to at least spend one Thanksgiving in NYC! (It was always a bucket list item for me!)

New York is a great destination for Thanksgiving. But, also be aware that it’s busy! For example if you want to see any popular attractions or make sure you do something specific buy tickets or make reservations in advance. We were waiting in line for the World Trade Center Museum & many people had to be turned away because they were sold out and there weren’t any remaining tickets for that day. It works out well for people like me who always tend to plan ahead and buy tickets in advance if at all possible!

Packing for Thanksgiving in New York

Being from Minnesota and seeing the forecast for New York over Thanksgiving I thought wow it will be so temperate and warm! While it stated temps were in the 40’s and 50’s (Farenheit). But it gets so windy! I repeat, it’s windy AF!

A few tips to help you pack for Thanksgiving in New York: pack layers, be sure to pack a few winter hats and at least light winter gloves, water resistant warm and comfortable walking shoes. (I brought some boots, sneakers & sorel booties that worked perfectly!)

Thanksgiving Day in New York

The day of Thanksgiving, some places will have abbreviated hours so if you have specific things you want to do, be sure to research in advance! If possible, buy tickets and definitely make reservations prior. Most of the city at the beginning of the day will be at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

The day before the parade, you can view the balloons being inflated. Read more about this here.

Be sure to get in your desired viewing spot early! Definitely be sure to plan ahead though. Here is some great advice for planning. The parade starts at 9 AM EST but you’ll want to stake out your spot around 2 hours in advance. (Yup! That means getting up at 6 AM to be in your spot by 7 which is very unlike rolling out of bed, pouring a cup of coffee while watching the parade in your pj’s and helping your Mom prepare Thanksgiving dinner.) But, I promise it’s worth it! It’s a once in a lifetime experience, unless you’re a local and regularly see the parade in person.

As we were walking to the parade, we had planned on finding a spot near the turn of the parade at the corner of 6th Avenue at Central Park or near Bryant Park. We were stopped by some Department of Homeland Security personnel. They gave us tickets for bleacher seats which ended up being amazing! We were able to sit down while we waited and if we wanted to go back and forth between sitting down and being up against the guard rails we could. It was purely by luck and happenstance and it made for the best experience!

Another option to view the parade, is to secure a hotel room along the parade route. The rates typically are a pretty penny sometimes up to three times the normal room rate with the requirement of multiple nights minimum to book. The other kicker is that you will likely have to book the room at least a year in advance.

After the parade

The parade is from 9 AM-12 PM ET. Once the parade is over, the sidewalks were busier and there just was a fun buzz and vibe. We walked from where we were seated on the south side of Central Park to around the Rockefeller area. At the time there were many street vendors and food vendors so we leisurely strolled around.

We tried some street food to hold us over from a light breakfast of donuts and coffee until we had Thanksgiving dinner. My favorite was the honey roasted pecans from the nuts 4 nuts stand near Rockefeller Center.

Thanksgiving Dinner in NYC

You will want to plan ahead for Thanksgiving Dinner in New York by making a reservation. Many restaurants are closed but those that are open typically provide a prix fixe menu and it can be costly. We decided to be efficient and instead of spending a hefty chunk of money on just a dinner, we spent a little more and combined dinner and an experience. We had dinner aboard a ship while also enjoying floating along seeing the statue of liberty and the New York City skyline. I was very impressed by the dinner and I wasn’t expecting much because it was a buffet. But, I know many of these day cruises do other boozy brunches and fun experiences that I would be totally game to check out in the future.

A few things to keep in mind, the cost included the ship experience and dinner. The cost of any cocktails, beer or wine will be additional.

Thanksgiving dinner aboard a ship in New York City
Dinner on the cruise, yum!

Other Things to see & do in New York City

Central Park

Amidst a bustling city, there is a lot to see within the 843 acre span of green space in Manhattan. You could spend days in Central Park and still not see everything. Depending on how much time you have to devote to exploring the park,I would for sure have certain points of interest you want to see. It’s very easy to get turned around while in the park (at least for me!) So, it was really helpful when I made a plan of the things I wanted to be sure to see and what made sense in terms of the order in seeing them.

My list of things to see in Central Park included: Belvedere Castle, Bow Bridge, The Lake Viewing Area (by Bow bridge), Bethesda Terrace & Fountain Minton Tiles at Bethesda Arcade, The Mall, Central Park Carousel, Wollman Ice Skating Rink, Rocks near Gapstow bridge with the NYC skyline in background, & Gapstow Bridge in Central Park.

Iconic Buildings of New York

Flatiron Building

The Flatiron building has to be one of the most unique buildings. It is a historic part of New York City as well as being featured in many movies to confirm it takes place in Manhattan. Located near Madison Square Park makes the wedge shaped iconic building a must see during a Thanksgiving in New York.

Rockefeller Building

The Rockefeller building and Rockefeller center are definitely the iconic center of Christmas in New York. While spending Thanksgiving in New York the tree is usually in place already. The Rockefeller tree is almost always lit the Wednesday following Thanksgiving. So, you could always extend your trip to catch this as well.

Woman standing across the street from Rockefeller Plaza in New York City on Thanksgiving
Across the street from Rockefeller Plaza

Chrysler Building

In the late 1920’s and early 30’s this was the tallest building in the world. The style of the Chrysler Building stands out as one of the most recognizable in the New York skyline. While this building doesn’t have an observation deck, there are retail stores as well as restaurants, bars and event spaces for rent available.

The chrysler building peeping up over grand central station at night in New York City
Chrysler Building peeking out behind of Grand Central Station

Empire State Building

Similar in Art Deco style to the Chrysler Building this mid town sky scraper is often lit up with festive and fun colors. The Empire State building does have an observation deck that would be fun to visit during your Thanksgiving in New York both during the day or night.

Grand Central Terminal

This transportation iconic station is beautiful inside and out so it deserves a stop during your time in New York for Thanksgiving. Grand Central is the transportation hub connecting New York’s subway system with the Metro North above ground trains. As well as transportation there are several stores and restaurants housed here.

Woman standing in the center of Grand Central Station in New York City on Thanksgiving

The High Line

The High Line is an elevated public park located on a retired freight train track. At one point, it was called the West Side elevated Line. Now the High Line, after nearly becoming demolished in the early 2000’s is a continuous just under 1 1/2 mile greenway space home to over 500 different species of plants and trees. On one side of the High Line is Hudson Yards, home of The Edge observatory deck.

Woman looking through a glass window off into the distance of the NYC skyline from The High Line Park
Peep the edge off in the distance

Little Italy & Chinatown

Manhattan and it’s surrounding boroughs are home to many different neighborhoods having their own vibe and atmosphere. Little Italy and Chinatown are a few of many neighborhoods you can explore. But secretly, they’re my favorites. New York is such a diverse and amazing city that these neighborhoods can make you feel like you’re not even in the United States.

Brooklyn Bridge

The Brooklyn Bridge is one of the most well known bridges in Manhattan on the East River. Bridging the boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn. The Brooklyn Bridge has a pedestrian path that is about a mile to walk the whole thing. The views of Manhattan and Brooklyn are great along this walk. Once in Brooklyn you will be close to the DUMBO area photo opps as well as some great New York craft beer!

Brooklyn bridge in New York City

Washington Square Park

Other than Central Park, Washington Square Park is one of the prettiest parks in New York. It is flanked by several NYU (New York University) buildings although not property directly of the University. It’s a great place to relax and soak in the city looking at the Washington Arch which reminds me of some architecture in Europe.

Woman standing against a light pole looking at the arch in Washington Square Park

Times Square

This is honestly my least favorite thing in New York to do. It’s really overrated. Although, my husband wanted to see it so we walked here after our dinner cruise on Thanksgiving day. The most annoying thing about Times Square is the constant sidewalk performances that try to get money for you before they even do anything of interest. Seeing all of the lights and hustle and bustle in my opinion is a one and done thing and I totally get why locals will avoid this area at all costs!

Viewing Platforms in New York

This was something that while in New York this time, we didn’t do. It was somewhat of a regret though, because it was my husbands first time to NYC. So, I wish we would have done at least one as they are a lot of fun and I’ve done several in the past. Each one listed below has a different vibe and of course location making the view different as well. Below are the five observation decks you should check out. Skip the line tickets are available as well.

The Edge

Located at the Hudson Yards and viewable from The High Line, is one of the newer observation decks in New York City, The Edge.

SUMMIT One Vanderbilt

The newest of all of the observatory platforms in New York, is SUMMIT One Vanderbilt. Located near Grand Central Station, it’s very centrally located. Depending on when you visit, there are many different experiences you can choose to have. But, regardless you will need to wear soft booties over your shoes and if you visit during the day, be sure you have sunglasses and are wearing sunscreen. It can cause sunburn and be quite blinding on very bright days!

Top of the Rock

The Top of the Rock is an iconic 360 degree observatory deck in New York City to take in the rest of the iconic skyline. The view of Central Park is absolutely amazing any time of year.

The Empire State Building

The Empire State Building is an iconic New York City building. Visiting the observatory there would make your New York Thanksgiving weekend unforgettable.

One World Observatory

The One World Observatory can be paired with a visit to the 9/11 museum, ground zero tour as well as the memorial.

New York City Tours

I love walking around and exploring on my way to the things I set out to see. But, if you’re short on time and want to maximize your time in New York for Thanksgiving a hop on hop off bus or tour to see a lot in a condensed amount of time.

Where to eat & drink in New York

Some of the most quintessential NYC eating experiences include pizza, bagels, New York deli’s and the original NYC diner/luncheonette in no particular order. (As well as breweries because I always have to mention breweries!) Here are all of the breweries to visit in the NYC area.

New York Pizza


Located in Little Italy, Lombardi’s was established in 1905 and is the first pizzeria in the United States. They don’t take reservations so it definitely can get really busy and you might have a wait. But, it’s definitely worth it! Showing up a little hangry and not wanting to wait, we absolutely lucked out and snagged a few stools at the bar. It wasn’t fancy, but it was just focused on great delicious ingredients making it such quality food.

Joe’s Pizza

Another pizza institution in New York, your time there for Thanksgiving wouldn’t be complete without trying Joe’s Pizza. There are multiple locations, we visited You can order pizza by the slice or a whole pie, it’s up to you! (The slices are HUGE!) And, likely there will be a line out the door so you’ll have some time to decide what you want to order. But, part of that may have attributed to the fact that we went to the location near Times Square on Broadway. We ordered a full pie (half pepperoni & the other half margherita) then an italian salad.

New York Bagels

While in New York for Thanksgiving, be sure to get your fill of carbs with the famous NYC Bagels. Read more in depth about all of the New York City bagel shops.

New York Deli’s and Luncheonettes

New York is known for their deli’s and old school diner/luncheonettes. Katz Delicatessen is probably the most well known and iconic. However, this is a solid list of delicatessens in Manhattan to have a quality sandwich. After a day of walking over 14 miles all over Manhattan, a late lunch/early dinner at Lexington Candy Shop was delicious! Definitely be sure to take a trip into the past by having a soda float. (A cherry coke float was a delightful choice!)

In Conclusion: New York Thanksgiving

New York City is one of those heck yes cities for me. I always want to go! It’s such an exciting place there’s always something new to explore and great drinks and food to try. During the Thanksgiving holiday and into the December Christmas holiday season makes a really unique trip to NYC and one that you won’t forget!

I hope this helped you to decide to travel to New York City during Thanksgiving and gave you some inspiration as to what you should eat and drink. Happy Holidays!

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