I’ll always maintain fall is the best season to visit New York City (fewer crowds, cooler temps, gorgeous scenery), but can’t help but admit the city feels pretty magical during the holiday season.
The truth is: No city does the holidays better than New York.
10 Reasons to Visit NYC During the Holidays
Visit Rockefeller Center to see the tree and festive lights: No visit to New York City during the holiday season would be complete without visiting the giant, sparkling tree. If you want to see the tree without throngs of tourists, go mid-week, or later in the evening (there’s generally fewer people at 9/10 pm).
Wander the area a bit (near 6th Avenue and 50th) to see other decor (pyramid of red Christmas balls, giant strands of lights). If you’re in the mood for a treat, swing by Magnolia Bakery for their famous banana pudding.
And, if you think the Rockettes are just what you see in commercials, you’ll be pleasantly surprised- the show is way more than kicking and dancing. I’ve seen it twice, and loved every moment
Stroll Fifth Avenue to see the lights and window displays: Many of the boutiques and department stores (Cartier, Tiffanys, Barneys, Fendi, Saks) have spectacular displays.
Start at the bottom of Central Park, and head down Fifth Avenue, starting with the UNICEF Snowflake, a symbol of hope, peace and compassion for children around the world, at Fifth and 57th. Then, head south until you reach Rockefeller Center at 50th.
Get in the holiday spirit while ice skating: Albeit I’m not a huge ice skating fan, Bryant Park is great if you want to skate in the middle of a city block, and Central Park, is perfect if you want to be surrounded by nature. I enjoyed the time I went skating at Rockefeller Center, but it was a “one time” thing for me- the rink is pretty small, and it’s a bit pricey.
Cozy up with a drink at any of the city’s pop-up holiday bars or cocktail bars:
- Rolfs: Your first thought upon entering will be that Christmas threw up. Rolfs is a special Christmas destination in the city, go early and enjoy a holiday martini surrounded by thousands of ornaments
- Pete’s Tavern: Christmas decor and homemade eggnog. What else do you need?
- Miracle on Ninth Street: Two years running, this Christmas pop-up bar has enough holiday cheer to put the Griswalds to shame
- Sippin’ Santa’s Surf Shack is by the same people who put on Miracle, but think Santa meets tiki
- The Lodge at Gallow Green: Known for being one of the city’s best open-air rooftops decked out in greenery in the summer, in the winter, the space transforms to a rustic, cozy cabin
- Baita (at Eataly): As if I needed another reason to go to Disneyland for foodies (aka Eataly), this Italian Alps-esque pop-up bar is the perfect place to warm up with a hot, seasonal cocktail
- Gramercy Tavern: As one of Danny Meyer’s restaurants, the Gramercy Tavern is nothing short of impressive. Dining here will set you back a pretty penny, but you can order drinks at the bar and still experience the restaurants simple, yet elegant Christmas decor. To really get in the spirit, order the off-menu hot chocolate martini- it’s a blend of rich hot cocoa, vanilla vodka and amaretto. Everyone around you will ask what you’re drinking, and for good reason- it smells and tastes amazing
Shop for gifts on your list at any the city’s holiday markets in Union Square, Bryant Park, or Columbus Circle. All three markets are packed with local vendors with fabulous things and tasty goodies.
Or head to Chelsea Market, a marketplace filled with fun stores and delicious restaurant outposts. It’s the perfect place to pick-up a last minute gift.
Indulge in a holiday treat: If it’s not too cold, head to Serendipity 3 for frozen hot chocolate. Prefer something hot from the oven? Levain Bakery has the best (#Fact) cookies, ask for one that’s still hot. If you’ll be wandering the city, warm up with rich hot chocolate from Jacques Torres (try the wicked hot chocolate), Max Brenner, or City Bakery. Pro-tip: At City Bakery, ask for one of their jumbo homemade marshmallows.
Wander through Central Park: It may be chilly, but if the park is covered in fresh snow, it’s truly lovely to walk through. Wear comfortable warm boots, grab a cup of hot chocolate, and you’ll be just fine.
And, while there may be a lot of people crowded around Macy’s to see their windows, there’s something special about waiting in line to see them too. Although not as extravagant as Bergdorf, the themes are elaborate and animations never disappoint.
Drive out to Dyker Heights to see show stopping Christmas lights: As Mommy Poppins said, these holiday houses are so well-lit, it’s amazing they don’t cause power blackouts. The area is literally block after block of jaw dropping displays.
If you decide to head out to Brooklyn to see the lights, it’s best to drive. Don’t have a car? There are a few tours that head out to the area. A few years ago, I went on Slice of Brooklyn’s tour, and although I balked at the price at first, we visited a few neighborhoods, had more than enough time to explore each one, and stopped for hot chocolate and cannolis before heading back to the city. All in all, a good option if you really want to see the lights but aren’t able to get there by car.
Other holiday happenings in the city:
- See the origami tree at the American Museum of Natural History
- Pop in the Plaza Hotel lobby to channel your inner Kevin McCallister. Hungry? Stop in the basement food hall while you’re there for some good eats
If you’ve been to New York during the holiday season, what was your favorite part of the city during this time of the year?