If there is a better place in America than New York City for Christmas, I need to know about it. Yes, there are beautiful small towns lit up to light the way from ski slope to bar in the West, and there are cute little Santa sand castles in the South, but really, there’s nothing like an entire island lit up in a million different ways to get you into the holiday spirit.
If you are planning a trip to NYC this Christmas season, here are some things not to miss. A couple of tips: dress in layers and carry a bag in which to put all those layers. Be smart about carrying valuables. Bring tissues for runny noses. Eat. Be patient.
If you want to get in some steps, burn some of the calories you’ve been ingesting, or just see the sights at ground level, pack your walking shoes and hit the High Line. Running along the West Side (the sunset side along the Hudson) from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to West 34th Street, between 10th and 12th Avenues, the High Line is an elevated park that used to be railroad tracks. Other walks include a stroll from Times Square to Central Park and through SoHo.
New York is famous for holiday displays in department store windows. These are easy to find with a stroll from Macy’s Herald Square (34th Street) over to Fifth Avenue and up to Central Park. En route you will find the shops around Rockefeller Center, Saks Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf Goodman, Henri Bendel, Tiffany and Co. and over on Lexington, Bloomingdale’s. NYcurbed.com provides a handy map and a description of the different display themes. This plan allows for some fabulous shopping and the added plus of taking you off Broadway and out of Times Square (always crowded) as you walk through midtown.
Nothing says holiday like a good lights display and New York knows just how to do it. One of the more famous displays is the Dyker Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn. Time Out New York magazine has a great guide for out-of-towners. When I lived in NYC, I would take the bus from Manhattan, an easy ride, and I still suggest this for transportation. A taxi will be extremely expensive, the subway drops you off several blocks away and parking your own car will be a nightmare. If the weather is mild, then, by all means, take the subway and enjoy the stroll. Do plan ahead by bringing comfortable shoes, because the lights are spread throughout the neighborhood–not just on one street. You might opt for a tour, but at about $50 per person this is an expensive option compared to free, and anyway, these tours sell out very quickly.
Other great options to view the Christmas lights are:
- take a river cruise around the island of Manhattan
- walk over the Brooklyn Bridge (bundle up!)
- take a bus over to nearby neighborhoods in the Bronx or Queens
- take a walk through Hell’s Kitchen under the lights of Fifth Avenue (or see above store displays, which are lit at night for even better viewing, without the crowds)
- walk Park Avenue between 54th and 87th–there are plenty of bars and restaurants, or skip over to 3rd Avenue for even more.
- warm up in the foyer of the shops at Columbus Circle (enter near Whole Foods Market). Also see the markets mentioned below.
The Christmas Markets
Nowhere in the world does a Christmas market like Europe, but New York is quickly making strides, in their own unique (albeit very commercial) way. The biggest and most developed market is the Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park. Enjoy shopping the stalls for local goods then grab some hot chocolate or enjoy a bit of time on the ice.
Other markets include:
- Union Square
- Vanderbilt Hall in Grand Central Station
- Columbus Circle
A classic and beloved holiday season performance is the Radio City Rockette’s Christmas Spectacular. This show particularly appeals to children, since it features plenty of seasonal characters and even live animals, but is equally endearing for adults. If you prefer the ballet, then you must see George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker performed by the New York City Ballet at Lincoln Center. One of my favorite Nutcracker performances is in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, home to thousands of Russian immigrants. If you need your Nutcracker with a twist, you can have it served up just about any way you like, including with some hip-hop. Red Tricycle has a list of most of the local performances.
If you could do without this ubiquitous tradition, why not consider Isaac Mizrahi’s Peter and the Wolf at the Guggenheim (limited run), or a Broadway show such as Anastasia, the great story of Russia’s lost then rediscovered Tsarina.
What would the holiday season be without the tree? The most famous tree is of course in Rockefeller Center. But there are many others worth viewing.
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art Children’s Tree and Neopolitan Baroque Creche
- The New York Botanical Garden–be sure to view the trains as well.
- The New York Stock Exchange (near the 9/11 Memorial)
- South Street Seaport (a stopover en route to Brooklyn)
- Washington Square Park Arch
- Lotte New York Palace on Madison
- Lincoln Square
- Cathedral of St. John the Divine Peace Tree
The Music and Theater
What would the holidays be without music? Some of the best sounds to come out of Manhattan are found for free in subway terminals and on street corners. Other great performances can be found at Carnegie Hall, The Blue Note, where Chris Botti’s Holiday Residency showcases a suite of jazzy favorites, and Woody Allen and his jazz band at the Carlyle. If you prefer a theater performance, check out this post about family friendly events on the New York City Theater’s website.
There are plenty of opportunities to skate for a reasonable price in New York. The most touristy is, of course, Rockefeller Center. It isn’t my favorite because it is located at concourse level, which means everyone at street level is looking down at your performance. On the other hand, you might catch a special skate performance by professional skaters here. Other locations include:
- The Rink at the Winter Village in Bryant Park
- The LeFrak Center, an indoor rink in Brooklyn
- Sky Rink, an indoor rink at Chelsea Piers
- Riverbank Rink on the West Side- I love this rink for its views over the Hudson to Jersey.
- Wollman Rink in Central Park
There is so much to do in New York for the holidays, I could go on and on. If ever there was a good time to rent a carriage for a ride through Central Park, this is it. Have a hot chocolate at The Plaza before or after. Go to St. Patrick’s Cathedral or any other church you’ve ever wanted to visit for a holiday service. See the worlds largest Menorah in Brooklyn. Embrace your status as a tourist and get a picture in your Ugly Sweater at Top of the Rock, where you can get a meal ($$$) and a drink, or at the Empire State Building, lit especially for the holiday.
There are few things better than walking the streets, all bundled up, with the wind blowing briskly off the river, and ducking into a favorite little spot for something to warm you up. Hotel lobbies are fantastic for this. I particularly love the Standard Hotel in the Meat Packing district (it has a tiny little ice rink), but also the St. Regis, the Plaza, and Bemelman’s at the Carlyle.
Well, suffice it to say, New York is a great city and I hope you have a wonderful time! That’s a lot of superlatives because I love New York that much!! If you have any questions or want to let us know your favorite places, please do comment here or on the Facebook page.Feel free to share...