Classics have been classics for decades. Some are a must see, but some are just not what they used to be. Here are some of the only classics worth mentioning, and a few of the things you should do instead
December in the Big Apple is the juggernaut of a Hallmark holiday season. Snow-topped yellow taxis, hot coffee from the corner cart, window displays in every store front, it’s easy to say New York City’s residents lack a Christmas Scrooge. Only true New Yorkers know, though, that the holidays are more than a big tree in Rockefeller Center and big wreaths on Macys. The true reason this city is one of the top places to visit during the holiday season is because the joy in the air is suffocating.
Through a Cannon EOS camera lens, New York in the snow is delicate, and joyful, even elegant, and sophisticated. But through the eyes of the boots on the ground running to work in a blizzard, the snow is black, the sidewalks are crowded, and everything, I mean everything is wet.
So, to avoid not making the most out of your New York experience, do your research, and start here.
The Classics that you Can’t Leave New York City Without Seeing
To all my native New Yorkers: Skip this section and head right to the “Off the Beaten Path” treasures. But for those of you who have never visited New York in December, this may be your key to a successful trip.
Saks 5th Avenue Light Show
My personal favorite classic is right on the corner of 5th avenue and 49th Street. Though the light show is magnetic to the masses, it is made for street viewing with no tickets necessary. Leaving the area within the minutes after the show may feel congested, so please hold your loved one’s hand and make it out together to ensure no one is left behind. The show attracts quite a crowd on the sidewalk because it is magical and fabulous and most importantly, never ending. It begins at 7:00pm but heading there closer to midnight will give you a better chance of seeing the show without so many people around. The show plays every ten minutes and lasts about 3 minutes. Wow, and I complain about my electricity bill.
Tree Lighting in Rockefeller Center
To be completely honest, the Rockefeller Christmas Tree is something you’ll only have the desire to see once in your life. Just as so, it’s still something that needs to be seen. The tree is lit every night at 6:00pm for all of December. This year, the tree stands about 79 feet tall, but there is no real reason to get within 50 feet of it. The tree can be enjoyed from a distance, even a full block back. Pushing your way through the crowd to get right in front isn’t necessary for a good viewing, but hey, to each there own. Photos are important, so I suggest reaching high ground to get them. Otherwise, the heads of strangers will line the bottom of the tree.
The Giant Christmas Ornaments
Provided by the Exxon Building, these giant red ornaments are one of the most Instagram-able and photographed decorations in Manhattan. With the beautiful background of water fountains and Radio City Music Hall, the photo-op is a must-see before leaving Manhattan. This hot spot is out all throughout December and doesn’t attract quite as much of a crowd as the Christmas tree or light show, so it is safe to say, anytime you visit, you’ll be able to get your photo without any crashers. And if the photoshoot gets tiresome, Zibetto Espresso Bar, home of my favorite cappuccino, is just one block away.
Rockettes Christmas Spectacular
The Christmas Spectacular is just as the title says and I’m sure you’ve already heard of it so yes; it’s a major have-to-see. The Rockettes perform multiple times a day, every day of December at the Radio City Music Hall. Tickets can range from $50-$200 per show. The Spectacular is made for everyone, an extravagant experience that brings the magic of the holidays back to all ages and genders. Amazing restaurants like Del Frisco’s and The Capital Grille are just around the corner too. Sometimes the best Christmas present is dinner and a show.
Bryant Park Winter Village- Ice Skating
The Winter Village is Manhattan’s only free Ice-Skating Rink, surrounded by shops and good eats. There are 5 different subway trains that stop at Bryant Park, making it extremely easy to get to. In the park, artisans display their hand-made products and creative endeavors which can make the perfect gift to even the most particular loved ones. I recommend shopping at Ekosfere as your first stop, just trust me. Iconic restaurants like Gabriel Kreuther and L’Adresse, perky coffee shops like Joes Coffee Company and brilliant bakeries like Breads also fill the area for the most delectable treats you may find. Even if you’re not hungry, you will be after smelling the Nutella waffles and croissants baking at Waffles and Dinges.
Off the Beaten Track
Attention all Native New Yorkers: this is your Bible to trying something new this Christmas Season. For any tourists who don’t enjoy the “touristy things”, here is your guide to a town-y holiday trip.
Dyker Heights Light Show
Imagine so many Christmas lights brightening up a Brooklyn block, so many that your eyes feel like they are twinkling along with them. Now stop imagining and head over to Dyker Heights where your imagination will be blown. The magical display of house lights that take up an entire city block is the most beautiful way to end a day trip in Brooklyn. On your way to this remarkable display of house lights, stop for a cup of hot chocolate or coffee to keep yourself warm throughout the experience. Maybe hit an ATM before making this trip too, since many of the houses collect cash for local charities that assist in making these beautiful lights happen.
Please remember that the houses with lights are just that, homes, with people living inside, so be respectful. Littering, screaming, and crude behavior are not acceptable while seeing the lights. It’s also not appropriate to knock on any doors requesting a bathroom, and yes, that is something people do. Your best shot of seeing all the lights turned on at the same time is between 6:00pm and 9:00pm as many homeowners turn them on as soon as the sun goes down and shut them off before bed. The lights take up all of 84thStreet, although I don’t recommend driving because parking can be impossible. So, get your walking shoes on and head out the door.
NYC Lantern Festival
There are two NYC locations that can be perfect for any type of night. In queens, you can enjoy a colorful and kid-friendly lantern festival for fun with family and friends. In Staten Island
you can enjoy a romantic and whimsical experience with significant others. The events open in October or November and end by mid-January.
Honorable Mentions (with adult beverages)
Many of the above-mentioned destinations are considered family friendly, so if you’re looking for a bit of 21+ fun, these honorable mentions will be worth your while. Holiday pop-ups are an NYC local favorite because Christmas cocktails only come around once a year and can’t be missed!
- Sippin’ Santa- at Beach Bum Berry on 1st Avenue.
- City Winery’s Winter Igloo, with a view of the Rockefeller Center Skating rink (an even better way to view the tree without being part of the impossible crowd.)
- Snow Globe in the Sky at Ophelia Rooftop in Midtown East.
- Pinkmas at the Museum of Ice Cream- because who doesn’t want to jump into a pool full of sprinkles and Christmas trees?
- SantaCon NYC: an all-day event where NYC residents dress up like Santa Clause and take part in one of the largest and longest bar crawls throughout Manhattan.
- Santa’s Secret Speakeasy, which is at a different place every year, but for your sake I’ll spill the beans. It’s in The Shops at Hudson Yards. Not the most hidden place, but hey it’s their first time back in two years so give ‘em a break.
My own personal recommendation is Pete’s Tavern, which is the oldest operating bar in Manhattan. The Christmas lights are bright, the drinks are strong, and the holiday spirit is high. During my last visit, as I was sipping my “Gramercy” cocktail, I glanced out the window and I watched as a biker rode past. Not just any biker, but a Door Dash delivery man, dressed up as a Christmas tree with colorful lights all around him. It’s things like this that makes New York so special on the holidays.