The Big Apple is a well-known festive destination for the holidays. There is the tree at Rockefeller Center, the nation’s most famous ice skating rink, jaw-dropping Christmas window displays, and impressive holiday markets. However, travel just a short distance north from the bustling boroughs of New York City, towns upon towns in Upstate New York offer holiday festivities that are the perfect way to ring in the season.
1. Glens Falls
In the Adirondack town of Glens Falls, the Adirondack Christkindlmarkt is a European-style Christmas market that’s fun for all ages. Taking place in early December, visitors will enjoy meeting Santa, listening to holiday music, shopping in heated tents, and so much more.
2. Lake Placid
You may know Lake Placid as the small Adirondack Mountain town where a team of American college students and amateur hockey players miraculously beat the Soviet national team in hockey at the 1980 Winter Olympics. But it’s also the fairy-tale winter wonderland setting for the Lake Placid Holiday Village Stroll. Pull on your ugliest holiday sweater and visit in early December for holiday wine tasting, an ice skating party, a craft and vendor fair, and more.
3. Lake George
As “The City That Never Sleeps,” New York is full of activity all year round. But in Upstate New York, January and February can be awfully cold and dark. If you want a winter wonderland that lasts after the last Christmas decoration is put away, then head to Lake George where magical ice castles await at Festival Commons in Charles R. Wood Park. Glide down ice slides, explore frozen caverns and tunnels, and admire sculptures made entirely from ice. If that doesn’t sound impressive enough, organizers are adding a winter light walk and an ice bar to the outdoor experience this year.
Central New York
In the Central New York town of Binghamton, the Roberson Museum and Science Center decks the halls of the historic mansion with dazzling holiday displays for Home for the Holidays. You can admire elaborately decorated trees, including the International Forest, a collection of adorned trees and displays that incorporate holiday traditions from around the world.
At Otsiningo Park, the Broome County Festival of Lights is a drive-through lights show open until New Year’s Day. Depending on when you visit, you’ll also get to experience an impressive fireworks display.
To keep the light of the holiday season burning brightly through the coldest, darkest months of winter, Cooperstown hosts its Winter Carnival in early February. Sip hot chocolate while watching colorful fireworks fill the winter sky on opening night. Warm your belly with to-go quarts of chili or soup for a suggested donation of $10, then visit the Cooperstown Farmers Market and Winter Carnival Craft Bazaar filled with locally produced and handmade goods.
In Lyons, the Museum of Wayne County History hosts The Holiday Boutique. There is no admission fee to browse and shop at the two-day holiday vendor event and enjoy refreshments, food, and desserts. When you visit, be sure to participate in the raffle to benefit the Wayne County Historical Society.
The Lyons Community Center presents the LCC Winter Bazaar, an annual Christmas festival and a craft show. With more than 100 vendors, live music, holiday activities, and an appearance by Santa, this festival is one of the biggest and best in the Finger Lakes region.
At Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Park in Rochester, the Roc Holiday Village Winter Festival takes place from Wednesdays to Sundays in December leading up to Christmas. Bundle up for a spin or two around the ice skating rink, free live music, and a variety of tasty foods. Warm up by one of the fire pits in the outdoor seating area or head indoors at The Triple-O Lodge to sip delicious drinks that range from mulled wine to hot cocoa.
8. Seneca Lake
Your holiday is sure to be jolly with a Deck the Halls weekend in Seneca Lake. This event is full of great wine, delicious food, and loads of holiday cheer. Nearly 20 Seneca Lake Wine Trail wineries will be decked out for the holiday season and attendees can enjoy food samples paired with wine tastings. Participants also receive an ornament at each winery, allowing them to deck their halls when they return home.
Pro Tip: You can download the Seneca Lake Wine Trail’s 2022 Deck the Halls recipe book here to make festive dishes like rum raisin holiday bread, holiday rib eye mac & cheese, and cranberry cake at home.
9. East Of Rochester
Farther north near Rochester, select wineries along the Lake Ontario Wine Trail host Christmas Around the World. With each winery representing a different country — like Australia, Canada, the Czech Republic, and Poland — guests can enjoy delicious, award-winning wines, spirits, and ciders paired with traditional holiday dishes from around the world.
10. Watkins Glen
On December 9, the Upstate New York town of Watkins Glen hosts its annual Village Christmas. A holiday parade kicks off the festivities followed by merry music, filling food, and a vendor marketplace. Visitors can ooh and aah as fireworks fill the winter sky above Seneca Lake.
In New York’s capital city, kick off the holiday season with the annual Festive @ 48 holiday market and open house. Start with a tour of Albany’s oldest building, the Van Ostrande-Radliff House, all decked out for Christmas in fine greenery and bright lights. Then shop at the holiday market featuring unique wares like jewelry, t-shirts, pottery, paintings, and more created by local makers.
You could also head downtown for the third annual hot chocolate stroll. Your ticket purchase includes an exclusive Downtown Albany x Upstate of Mind hot chocolate mug and a passport that allows you to try several gourmet beverages. For a small upcharge, grown-ups can enjoy boozy hot chocolate cocktails, and everyone who joins in the fun can cast a vote for the best hot chocolate experience.
The next night, head to the Empire State Plaza for the annual holiday tree lighting ceremony.
On Saturdays and Sundays between mid-November and mid-January, the New Castle Historical Society hosts The Great Holiday Train Show. In the festively decorated rooms of the Horace Greeley House, several vintage train sets will travel through unique scenes like the Bavarian countryside.
The Victorian-style Armour-Steiner House in Irvington is the only known fully domed octagonal residence in the world. It’s never quite as beautiful as when it’s decked out for the holidays. Through November and December, enjoy a one-hour tour through this restored National Landmark, decorated with wreaths and garlands, while learning how Christmas was celebrated along the Hudson River in the 19th century.
The Hudson Valley town of Kingston kicks off the holiday season with its annual Snowflake Festival. This family-friendly event features live, holiday-themed performances, ice carving demonstrations, delicious treats, warm beverages, Christmas tree lighting, and a visit from Santa Claus in the town’s historic Stockade District.
Kingston also offers rides on The Polar Express from mid-November until late December.
Dogwood Acres Family Farm in Middleton hosts a winter festival around Thanksgiving to the end of December. Take a wagon ride through the Christmas lights, have a snowball fight, enjoy holiday cheer, and more at this family-friendly event.
About two hours north of New York City (once known as New Amsterdam) the Hudson Valley town of Rhinebeck celebrates its Dutch heritage during the holidays with the Sinterklaas Festival. The day features a variety of performances throughout town, including tightrope walking, fire juggling, strolling musicians, and dancing Grumpuses. While Santa Claus travels via a sleigh pulled by reindeer, Sinterklaas (the Dutch version of St. Nick) leads the children’s starlight parade mounted on his trusty white steed named Ozosnel.
Pro Tip: From Sinterklaas to St. Stephen’s Day, here are 25 surprising facts about how Christmas is celebrated in the Netherlands.
In a region dotted with opulent mansions that celebrated the prosperity of business magnates during the Industrial Revolution, it’s no surprise that the Mills Mansion (now known as the Staatsburgh State Historic Site) hosts A Gilded Age Christmas. In the halls of the impressive Beaux Arts mansion decked for the holidays, guests can also craft a masquerade-style disguise, the perfect accessory to wear to the Friends of the Mills’ Masquerade Gala or a New Year’s celebration.
For more than a century, the Nutcracker, a classic Christmas story ballet, has delighted audiences during the holidays. Catch a performance at the New Rose Theatre in Walden to discover the magic of this classic tale with a twist.
In Woodstock, enjoy another performing arts celebration of the holidays with Ars Choralis. Featuring composers from the Middle Ages to more modern times, you’ll be treated to seasonal favorites like Morten Lauridsen’s “O Magnum Mysterium” and Franz Biebl’s “Ave Maria.”
From around Thanksgiving until New Year’s Day, Westchester offers a 1.2-mile drive-through Winter Wonderland. Featuring thousands of lights, a 100-foot illuminated tunnel, glittering angels, a candy cane lane, and a 40-foot Christmas tree, this attraction is sure to brighten even the coldest, darkest winter night.
From seasonal hot chocolate and wine trail crawls to European-style Christmas markets, these are some of the most festive ways to celebrate the holidays in Upstate New York.