Queue “Silver Bells” by Bing Crosby.
If there is one thing I love most about New York City, it’s the way the atmosphere seems to change around the holiday season. There is something about the holiday lights shining bright amongst the city lights, while
grey slush puddles shoppers fill the streets that just makes this city seem a little more magical.
I have always been a winter person. Some people tell me it’s because I was born in February, but I’ve always believed it’s because the holiday season here is like no holiday season anywhere else. After 25 years, I have yet to grow tired of all there is to experience at Christmastime, and I think it’s time to share the wealth.
The Holiday Shops
The Union Square Holiday Market – Union Square Park, Southern Side, New York, NY
November 18 – December 24, 2021
Nearest Subways: N,Q,R,4,5,6,L
While this area of Union Square is typically reserved for the Union Square Greenmarket, during the holiday season it transforms into a holiday market of approximately 200 vendors, selling everything from custom artwork, to handmade to jewelry, to leather goods.
Winter Village at Bryant Park, 476 5th Avenue, New York, NY
October 31, 2021 – January 3, 2022
Nearest Subways: F,B,Q,R,N,6,1,2,3
Bryant Park’s Winter Village is by far my favorite of the Christmas markets and is the one I visit most frequently. With a huge ice rink and a 64-foot tree in the center of it all, it makes for a fun, half-day of holiday fun. Be sure not to fill up before dropping by; you don’t want to miss out on the macaroons, fried pickles, and Max Brenner Hot Chocolate.
Grand Central Holiday Fair, 89 E 42nd Street, New York, NY
November 15 – December 24, 2021
Nearest Subways: 4,5,6,7,S
If you’re visiting New York for the first time, I’d be surprised if Grand Central Station wasn’t on your list of sights to see. Visiting around the holiday season technically makes this spot a two-for-one. This market is one of the only ones that lets you get in on the Christmas market fun without having to endure the New York winter outside.
Columbus Circle Holiday Market, Central Park West and 59th Street, New York, NY
November 29 – December 24, 2021
Nearest Subways: Q,N,W,R,1
You’re in New York City, you’re within walking distance of Central Park (the 3rd most visited attraction in the world), and it’s Christmastime. Now add on the 50 vendors all selling unique crafts, art, food, and home accessories, and you’ve got a great day of holiday festivities. And while you’re in the area drop by the Columbus Circle Shopping Center where you might catch “Holiday Under the Stars” – A dozen 14-foot color-changing lights that dance to holiday music.
The Holiday Shows
The Radio City Christmas Spectacular
November 5, 2021 – January 2, 2022
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t once dream of becoming a Rockette, but unfortunately, I stopped growing at about 5’4. Still, that never stopped me from my almost-annual tradition of going to see the Rockettes, live in action. Between the sets and costume changes, special effects, heartfelt storyline, and amazing dance numbers, this is a hard show to top when you’re visiting for the first time, and especially when visiting during the holiday season.
You can purchase tickets to the 84th year of the Christmas Spectacular here. Since tickets have been on sale since around July-August, I’d recommend snagging yours as soon as possible.
The Nutcracker at the New York City Ballet
November 26, 2021 – January 2, 2022
For a little over a month each year, visitors can experience George Balanchine’s Nutcracker with the New York Ballet Company at Lincoln Center, a building worth a visit in it’s own right. Other season favorites also include Romeo & Juliet, and Swan Lake.
A Christmas Carol at the Lyceum Theater
November 21, 2022 – January 1, 2023
A cast of only seven bring this classic alive, with a wonderful retelling of the story of Scrooge and his adventure with three Christmas spirits. Smaller in size, the Beckett Theater provides a more intimate feel than other large-scale theaters, which is exactly the type of environment needed for this show.
Handel’s Messiah, David Geffen Hall, 10 Lincoln Center Plaza, New York, NY
December 13 – 17, 2022
Experiencing a performance by the New York Philharmonic should be on every New York bucket list. For one week, you can experience Handel’s “Messiah”, which is considered a holiday favorite. Tickets can be purchased here.
Fifth avenue takes on a whole new vibe during the holidays, and I’ve never been able to go a season without a self-guided tour passed the Christmas windows. Designs range from mannequins dolled up in their finest holiday fashion, to avant-garde, light filled displays; to windows like those at Macy’s, designed and arranged to tell a new story each holiday season.
Macy’s Herald Square, 151 W 34th St, New York, NY
Nearest Subways: B,D,F,M,N,Q,R,W
Lord & Taylor, 424 5th Ave, New York, NY
Nearest Subways: B,N,Q,W,R,2,4,5,6,7
Saks, 611 5th Ave, New York, NY
Nearest Subways: B,D,F,M,1,6,N,Q,R
The Saks light show, which is not to be missed, takes place every 10 minutes beginning at 4:30pm from November 22, 2022 – January 3rd 2023.
Bergdorf Goodman, 754 5th Ave, New York, NY
Nearest Subways: Q,N,W,R,F,1,4,5,6
Bloomingdales, 000 Third Avenue, 59th Street and Lexington Avenue, New York, NY
Nearest Subways: Q,N,W,R,F,1,4,5,6
Tiffany & Co., 727 5th Ave, New York, NY
Nearest Subways: Q,N,W,R,F,1,4,5,6
Ice Skating Rinks
One of my favorite lines, from one of my favorite films, P.S. I Love You is “If we’re all alone we’re all together in that too.” While Kathy Bate’s character wasn’t talking in the same context, I’ve always related it to New York City. Despite the fact that you can pass thousands of people on the street regularly, most New Yorkers tend to be caught up in their own little world. I always get chills when I’m skating around a packed ice rink with some friends, surrounded by dozens of smiling people altogether, while the city and Christmas lights glisten in the background. This may sound super cheesy, but I guess we can blame the Christmas spirit coming out a bit early this year.
Most ice rinks also stay open a months after the Christmas shop season has ended, so it’s a great addition to any itinerary for those who weren’t able to visit earlier in the season.
The Rink at the Bryant Park Winter Village, 476 5th Ave, New York, NY
October 28, 2021 – March 5, 2023
Nearest Transportation: F,B,Q,R,N,6,1,2,3
Wollman Rink at Central Park, 830 5th Ave, New York, NY
October 24, 2022 – March 15, 2023
Nearest Subways: A,B,C,D,1,N,Q,R,F
The Home Alone vibes are alive and well here, at least for me since I’ve never been able to think “Central Park at Christmas” without thinking about my favorite Christmas movie. Wollman Rink is not as huge as some others, but the city skyline in the background and close proximity to Central Park definitely makes it a worthwhile spot. Price of admission runs about $12 per person, $6 for children under 11, and skate rentals run at $9, tax included.
The Rink at Rockefeller Center
One of the pricer rinks to skate but nonetheless, one of the most famous. Is there even a Christmas movie set in New York that doesn’t have at least one scene centered at the Rockefeller Christmas tree?
Christmas Themed Bars (that are not Rolf’s)
Some local bars go all out for the holidays, and while this list could be quite extensive, I’m going to share my favorite festive bars which all happen to be in pretty close proximity of each other. Holiday pub crawl, anyone?
Miracle on 9th Street, 649 E 9th Street, New York, NY
Beginning mid-November local cocktail bar, the Cabinet becomes Miracle on 9th Street. With wrapping paper wrapped walls, lights, and Christmapolitans served in seasonal mugs, this is a top spot to get into the holiday season.
Pete’s Tavern, 129 E 18th St, New York, NY
Just how many lights does Pete’s Tavern string across their ceiling during the holiday season? The world may never know. But what I do know is that you didn’t do Pete’s Tavern right until you’ve tried one of their Spiked Eggnog’s.
Paddy Macguire’s Ale House, 287 3rd Ave, New York, NY
Paddy’s does very minimalistic holiday decor, but the tinsel-ordained shop-front and strands of tinsels, lights, and wood-working fireplace inside make this Irish pub seem like the perfect laid-back spot to finish off your year with a cold one, and a few of your closest friends.
Lillie’s Victorian Establishment, 13 East 17th Street, New York, NY
While Lillie’s sticks to the typical train-style floor plan, it feels a bit more spacious than some others, though I’m sure there are nights where that isn’t the case. Being a bit further away from the other’s, this is a perfect way to end the night.
Other Worthwhile Holiday Experiences
The Dyker Heights Christmas Lights, 11th Avenue to 13th Avenue and from 83rd to 86th Street
Nearest Subways: D,M
This Brooklyn neighborhood has received much acclaim for their awesome holiday displays. While some families go all out; one house used to have a small-scale moving ferris wheel being ridden by elves, some go a more simpler route, covering their entire home with 30,000 LED lights. Some displays even cost homeowners upwards of $15,000! I’ve recently seen tours being offered, because who wouldn’t want to bank off the popularity, but in all honesty, I’d recommend grabbing some hot chocolate from Dunkin Donuts and tackling the neighborhood on your own by either foot or car. You can book a guided tour of the Dyker Heights Christmas Lights here.
The Rockefeller Tree Lighting, 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY
December 1, 2022
Nearest Subways: B,D,F,M,1,6,N,Q,R
Visit Santaland at Macy’s, 151 W 34th St, New York, NY
November 25 – December 24, 2022
If you have a children or are just young at heart and passing by, I highly recommend a walk through Santa’s Village, located conveniently at Macy’s Herald Square, ending with a quick meet-and-greet with Santa.
The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, From 77th Street and Central Park West to Macy’s Herald Square at 151 W 34th St, New York, NY
November 24, 2022
The Wall Street Christmas Tree, 11 Wall Street, New York, NY
A bit of a secret for us who have worked in downtown Manhattan – the Wall Street Christmas tree is just as stunning as the Rockefeller Christmas tree without the insane crowd levels. For a more intimate tree lighting than Rockefeller, the Wall Street Tree will be lit November 30, 2022.
The Holiday Train Show at the New York Botanical Garden, NYBG Main Entrance, 2900 Southern Boulevard, Bronx, NY
November 19, 2022 – January 16, 2023
Nearest Subways: B,D,4,2
See the Lighting of the World’s Largest Menorah, Fifth Avenue and W 59th Street, New York, NY
Nearest Subways: N,W,R,F
For a week straight, you can enjoy the lighting of this menorah which stands at about 32-feet tall and weighs close to 4,000 pounds. Over in Brooklyn, you can enjoy the lighting of a slightly smaller menorah at Grand Army Plaza, where you can enjoy a concert and latkes on the night or the first lighting.
The Tree Lighting Under the Arch at Washington Square Park
Washington Square N, New York, NY
December 8, 2022
The second longest-running tree lighting is right under the arch at Washington Square Park. For closet-singers, this a great time to let your inner star shine as Washington Square Park is one of the best spots for caroling. And at 5pm, enjoy the lighting of this 45-foot tree in front of one of the most popular backdrops.
There’s no denying that New York City is one of the amazing cities for the holidays; and there is so much more to make your holiday merry and bright, like stopping by every holiday photo op such as the giant ornaments near Radio City Music Hall, or enjoying Christmas Eve Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. But you’ll never be bored, and you’ll probably never experience a Christmas as magical as one in New York when it’s Christmastime again.
Q: How should I dress for Christmastime in New York?
A: While New York may not always see snow between mid-November and early January, it’s definitely possible. I highly recommend a pair of snow boots or waterproof shoes in general. If it’s not snowing, the temperature is still probably hovering around 25-45 degrees (though we occasionally get lucky with some low 50s). In general, it doesn’t hurt to bring a scarf, waterproof shoes, a couple of sweaters – and perhaps a hat and heavier coat.
Q: Where should I stay when visiting New York for the holidays?
That depends on the environment you’re prepared to handle. I’d suggest staying more Downtown (think Greenwich Village and lower) where you can dodge the crowds. However staying in midtown or closer Central Park puts you right in the center of the holiday action.