No matter what season of the year, New York City is a popular travel destination, but from Thanksgiving through New Year’s, five million-plus visitors flood department stores and Christmas markets, attend holiday-themed shows, dine in tasty restaurants, and immerse themselves in the spirit of the season. There’s no place like New York for the holidays.
When my husband and I were dating, Peter flew over from Europe to meet me in New York just before Christmas. Snow covered the sidewalks, and chilly winds blew through the alleyways, but we were young and in love, so we barely noticed the cold. During our brief stay, we saw only a fraction of this dynamic city and left wanting more.
Since then, we’ve returned to the Big Apple many times, sometimes just us two, other times with kids in tow, and once on a multi-generational trip with Peter’s mom and sister. Every time New York reveals a new side, and we fall more in love with this teeming metropolis. But seeing the city all dressed up for the holidays for the first time many Decembers ago holds a special place in our hearts.
Whether you are a frequent NYC visitor or have never been, here are a few reasons why the holidays are the very best time to discover a New York state of mind.
Activities & Shopping
Holiday markets are all the rage in NYC. Stroll among gaily decorated kiosks, selling everything from Christmas tree ornaments to menorahs. Check out the colorful outdoor markets at Columbus Circle Holiday Market, Holiday Shops at Bryant Park, and Union Square Park Holiday Market. If you don’t like the cold, enjoy the cozy (and warm) ambiance of Grand Central Holiday Fair. TIP: Be eco-friendly and bring your own shopping bags.
Another iconic holiday activity in New York is ice skating. Besides the rink at Rockefeller Center—also home to a variety of stores, restaurants, and a towering Christmas tree, check out Winter Village at Bryant Park, where you can skate as well as shop at the European-inspired open-air market. Central Park offers ice skating, as well. TIP: Plan your outings midweek as weekends can be crowded.
What is it about toy trains that awakens the child inside each of us? New York Botanical Garden’s Annual Holiday Train Show showcases 200 New York landmarks connected by a half mile of track upon which G-scale locomotives hum along, chugging and tooting. TIP: Reservations highly recommended.
Heading to Fifth Avenue to shop? Don’t miss the dazzling holiday window displays at Saks Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf Goodman, Tiffany & Co., Bloomingdale’s, and Macy’s. TIP: Don’t forget your credit cards.
Shows & Concerts
Even though we’d visited New York multiple times, Peter and I had never attended a Broadway show until we saw “An American in Paris” at the Palace Theatre. “I get it now,” Peter said as the curtain descended on this wonderfully romantic musical. “The quality of the acting, singing, and dancing is over the top.” Then there’s the Palace Theatre’s sumptuous décor and gilded stage, where stars like Judy Garland, Bette Midler, and Jerry Lewis have performed. “A Broadway show is a must-see!” said my not-usually-so-enthusiastic husband. TIP: Scout out the shows online before your visit.
Another New York holiday tradition is the Christmas Spectacular starring the Radio City Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall. Creative choreography, colorful costumes, festive stage sets, and big smiles mesmerize the audience, but hearing your favorite Christmas music as the Rockettes sing and dance their way into your hearts is the best part. TIP: Buy your tickets in advance for best seats.
Where To Stay
Hotels to fit all budgets can be found in New York. Here are a few of our favorite mid-priced hotels.
• Dream Midtown located in a beautiful Beaux Arts building on 55th Street is close to everything: Times Square, Central Park, Broadway, Rockefeller Center, shopping, and much more. We loved our spacious corner suite with dreamy floral prints, trendy colors, and a featherbed mattress, perfect for catching zzz’s after a hectic day of shopping and sightseeing. www.dreamhotels.com
• Hotel Giraffe - We felt right at home at this darling boutique hotel near Madison Square Park. Besides cozy rooms with large windows, the hotel offers a tasty complimentary breakfast, as well as a wine-and-cheese reception daily with tinkling piano music. www.hotelgiraffe.com
• Library Hotel - Just two blocks from the New York Public Library, this literary hotel offers themed rooms containing books related to a particular subject—such as Eastern religions or mythology. Like its sister property, Hotel Giraffe, Library Hotel also provides complimentary breakfasts and evening wine-and-cheese receptions. www.libraryhotel.com
Food & Drink
Dining options abound in this foodie-centric city. Ask your hotel staff for their recommendations. Here are a couple spots we discovered:
• Tony’s di Napoli - Be prepared to feast because at Tony’s, they serve food family style. The restaurant’s specialties include meatballs, pasta, caprese salad, mussels, fried zucchini slices, sautéed rapini, pasta, more salad, and the best-ever rustic bread. It’s yummy Italian fare. www.tonysnyc.com
• Avra Greek Restaurant - Visiting Avra will transport you to the whitewashed islands of Greece. With simply prepared cuisine featuring exceptional ingredients, a vibrant setting, and an eye on design, dining at Avra is more than a meal; it’s an experience. Three locations in the City. www.theavrogroup.com
Nuts & Bolts
While you may be tempted to drive to New York, don’t bring your car into the city. Traffic can be crazy, and parking is expensive. On our visit, we parked our car at a Newark Airport hotel for a nominal daily charge and hopped on a train to the World Trade Center. Once there we opted for a 7-day Metro pass ($34 pp) and took a bus or subway everywhere we needed to go. It was a breeze. www.mta.info/fares
If you plan to see some of New York’s tourist attractions during your holiday visit, consider purchasing the NY City Pass, which saves you a bundle and includes admission to popular attractions like the American Museum of Natural History, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Empire State Building Experience, the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, among others. Available at www.citypass.com.