Holidays in New York
New York is crowded year round, but it feels especially packed during the holidays. I can’t be too mad about the hordes of tourists though, because I get it—New York during late November and the month of December is downright magical. So much so that in the five years that I’ve lived here, I’ve only traveled back home to my family in Ohio once over Christmas, and it was such a travel nightmare that I vowed to never do it again. Luckily, I don’t think I’ll ever tire of all of the holiday delights available in the city—here are some of my favorites:
I try to avoid this area of the city as much as I can during the holidays because it’s just so packed with tourists, but for good reason: it’s the epicenter of Christmas in New York. In addition to the famous tree (always slightly smaller than I imagine it to be), the entire complex is decked out with nutcrackers, toy soldiers, angels and thousands of lights. If you don’t want to wait to skate on the famous ice rink, you can make a reservation to watch other people exercise while you eat lunch or dinner in the Rock Center Café.
Pretty much every New York cultural institution and park puts up a decorated tree during the holidays. The American Museum of Natural History has an origami tree every year with a different theme (this year’s is “Oceans of Origami”) and the World’s Largest Menorah is lit in Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza during Hanukkah.
My mom and I finally saw the Christmas Spectacular last year on Christmas Eve, and it was every bit as magical as I wanted it to be. I could have done without the modern digital elements and the outdated gender roles, but the famous Rockettes kick line (and the Toy Soldier scene) is something everyone should see in person at least once in their life. Bonus: the Art Deco bathrooms at Radio City Music Hall are worth the price of admission on their own.
You can find discount Broadway tickets, including for the Christmas Spectacular, with TodayTix, a great place to find deals and an easy way to enter ticket lotteries.
Radio City Music Hall, between W. 51st and W. 50th Streets at 6th Avenue.
I’ve never seen the New York City’s production of George Balanchine's The Nutcracker, but it’s a Christmas classic. Preformed at the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center, The Nutcracker premiered on February 2, 1954 at the New York City Ballet, and is on stage now through December 30th.
There are several ice skating rinks outside of Rockefeller Center, including two in Central Park, one in Bryant Park and one in Prospect Park. There are smaller rinks located at Brookfield Place downtown, at the Standard Hotel and indoors at Chelsea Piers.
Every year for a few hours, peasants without keys are allowed into Gramercy Park for caroling on Christmas Eve. It’s dark by 6pm, so you can’t see much of the park, but it’s still a thrill to step inside of the usually off-limits space. My mom and I have plans to go this year with reservations nearby at the festive (and historic) Pete’s Tavern afterward.
Save yourself some grief and skip Rolf’s, a German restaurant nearby known for its Christmas decorations. It’s notoriously crowded around the holidays, the food is overpriced and reservations aren’t easy to come by.
December 24th, 6pm, between E. 20th and E. 21st Streets, Park and 3rd Avenues.
It’s become an annual tradition that my mom and I—after breakfast at Neil’s Coffee Shop—see the holiday windows at Bloomingdale’s, Bergdorf Goodman, Tiffany’s and Saks Fifth Avenue. There are additional window displays around the city (the Macy’s windows are usually a little childish for me), but these are the big ones and they’re all pretty close to one another. Bergdorf Goodman is always the clear winner, but it’s fun to see what each store comes up with from year to year.
Bloomingdale’s: E 59th Street and Lexington Avenue
Bergdorf Goodman: E 58th Street and Fifth Avenue
Tiffany & Co.: E. 57th and Fifth Avenue
Saks Fifth Avenue: E. 548th and Fifth Avenue
Dyker Heights Lights
Dyker Heights, a neighborhood in south Brooklyn, first became famous for its elaborate Christmas lights displays about 30 years ago and has only grown since then—the displays now attract 100,000 people a year. If you go on a weekend night close to Christmas, it can feel like all 100,000 people are there in one night, but some of the streets are closed to car traffic, which helps a little with the crowding. I’ve been all five years that I’ve lived in New York and the displays don’t change much from year to year but that’s part of the fun of traditions.
Most of the biggest displays are between 11th and 13th Avenues from 83rd to 86th streets.
Sure, Home Alone is one of the greatest Christmas movies ever made, but I’ll argue that its sequel, Home Alone 2: Lost in New York is even better. Why? It’s the exact same plot as the first movie (sometimes they just changed one letter of line of dialogue) but it takes place in New York. One of the most popular posts I ever did was this list of the movie’s filming locations, most of which are still around so you too can get Lost in New York.
Every Sunday between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, the New York Transit Museum puts one of their vintage trains back into service. This year the Nostalgia Train, a vintage 1930s R1-9, will depart from the Second Avenue F train station at 10 am, 12 pm, 2 pm and 4 pm and from the 125th Street A/C/D station at 11 am, 1 pm, 3 pm and 5 pm. This seems to get more and more popular each year, so expect rush hour-level crowds (and watch out for those overhead fans).
The Holiday Train Show at the New York Botanical Garden contains more than 175 New York landmarks made entirely with bark, leaves and other natural materials. Trains zip around the Conservatory and everything is cuter in miniature. If crowds of screaming children aren’t your thing, they have special bar car nights on select Fridays and Saturdays exclusively for adults 21 and over.
Now through January 21st, Tuesday-Sunday 10am-6pm.
There is also a free holiday train show in the New York Transit Museum Gallery and Store located in the Shuttle Passage of Grand Central Terminal, on display until February 24, 2019.
A special thanks to TodayTix for sponsoring this post—the app is super easy to use and it’s how I win Shakespeare in the Park tickets while sitting at my desk nearly every summer. Of course all opinions and commentary on holiday delights is my own.