It’s been less than a week since I returned from the big apple, and after the most incredible long weekend exploring New York and all it has to offer at Christmas time, it would just be mean not to share it with you. New York at Christmas is one of those bucket list trips people dream of, and while I’ve been across the pond in November when the focus is more on Thanksgiving, I’ve never previously experienced it in full Christmas holiday spirit. Before I went, TravelPlanners challenged me to plan the perfect trip, so here’s all my carefully thought out tips, list of things to see and do, and hopefully some inspiration for you to plan your own Christmas trip to New York City in years to come.
There is obviously an unlimited amount of things to do in New York, and it would take me forever to list them all, so this post has a definite Christmas focus, but in no way covers everything. Here goes…
See the Christmas Lights and Decorations
The crown jewel of New York City at Christmas time, and one of the most eagerly anticipated lights switch on in the world. Rockefeller Tree attracts more visitors than any other attraction once it has been lit, pride of place at the foot of the Rockefeller Centre. It looks incredible from all angles, but none better than straight from the front, if you stand facing it on 5th Avenue.
The Rockefeller Gardens that lead up to it are also transformed with decorations, and lit up angels, and there’s the opportunity half way down to get your photograph taken officially with nobody blocking the view.
Tip: If you get there early morning the crowds are thinner and the photographer hasn’t set up yet, so you can take your own pic without the crowds, and without paying for it.
6th Avenue’s Oversized Christmas Decorations
A lot of 6th Avenue is made up of commercial buildings and office block skyscrapers, but at Christmas it is one of my favourite spots for it’s Christmas lights.
Just like the towering skyscrapers above, the lights and decorations are oversized too, including a string of coloured lights, and my personal favourite the huge red baubles over the fountain.
The trees are also covered in white fairy lights, and have giant red reindeer amongst them. Truly one of the most magical and Christmassy spots in the city.
Tip: If you want a traditional New York steak then Del Friscos is located on the corner, and also gives a fabulous view of the Christmas lights.
Iconic buildings and Landmarks
Of course all of the famous landmarks and iconic New York buildings put their best foot forward at this time of year too, and even just the simplest Christmas wreath or light garlands transform them into twinkling hubs of Christmas spirit.
Grand Central looks fabulous both from outside and inside…
New York Public Library has a beautiful tree in the entrance, and throughout the building giant candlesticks…
The American Stock exchange on Wall Street has its own tree too…
As well as a few others dotted about the city.
Do your Christmas Shopping in NYC
Perhaps the main reason many flock to NYC in December, or even as early as November if you’re brave enough to face the Black Friday sales, the opportunities for Christmas shopping are endless.
The most famous street of all, 5th Avenue is littered with shops, from high end luxury designers like Rolex, Gucci, Cartier, Versace and of course Tiffany & Co., through to more high street flagship stores belonging to Nike, Urban Outfitters, Toyshop and many more. You’ll also find the NBA store, which I’d recommend if you’re into sports and going to a game of some sort while you’re there.
This one completely surprised me, and I have to say I actually prefer it to the madness that ensues on 5th Avenue. Running alongside it and up through the Upper East Side of Central Park, Maddison Avenue is classy and quiet, but still with all the famous luxury designers.
We began at Apple which is at the bottom corner of the park and at the top of 5th Avenue, and walking up from there we passed the likes of Audemars Piguet, Chloe, Hermes, Ralph Lauren, Anya Hindmarsh, Chanel and Tom Ford.
Tip: Ralph Lauren have just opened a little coffee spot in their flagship store on Maddison Avenue, join the locals for a coffee break.
Macy’s, Saks 5th Avenue and Bloomingdales
World famous names you’re bound to recognise, all three of these huge NY department stores were absolutely Christmas crazy, but fabulous.
We went to Macy’s on the Friday, and I lost count of how many floors there were. Everything you could possibly imagine to buy, and then some filled the shelves and rails. The Christmas shop on the 9th floor was like nothing I’ve seen before, and we obviously had to buy a New York red apple bauble souvenir.
When we walked past on the following Saturday afternoon the queue to get in was round the corner, it was absolutely heaving. One to visit mid week or early morning.
Saks 5th Avenue was I think my favourite, mainly because of it’s famous window display and light show on the walls outside. That and it’s directly opposite Rockefeller Centre so that whole area can’t fail to get you feeling very festive.
We ventured into Saks once, for the shoe department which is every girls dream.
Tip: Take the express lift to the shoe floor, which skips all the others and takes you directly into shoe heaven!
Bloomingdales, ‘my mom calls it Bloooooomies!’ of course is another famous one that I saw many people leaving with their little brown bags.
For something a little bit different I would recommend visiting Chelsea Market in Greenwich village. The indoor market is full of quirky shops and independent trader stores, so in December when its minus temperatures outside it gives you a welcome break to potter around the shops in the warmth.
Tip: Sarabeth’s Bakery does a lovely cup of coffee!
See a Christmas Show
Can you really go to New York and not visit Broadway for a show? Of course not, and there are plenty to choose from including old favourites, Chicago, Phantom of the Opera, the Lion King etc..
As well as some seasonal favourites like the Nutcracker, A Christmas Carol and even Frozen.
One of the most famous shows you can enjoy at Christmas in New York is of course the Rockettes at Radio City. The queue for this is always huge, but the show is spectacular and can be found at Radio City on 6th Avenue.
Other ways to get festive in NYC
Join in the Christmas spirit with the local services like NYPD and NYFD. Americans are friendly at the best of times, but at Christmas the officers in uniform go the extra mile to welcome you in their city.
Fire stations open their doors to let you in for a peak, and their vehicles and fire engines are covered in Christmas decorations. You’ll notice the buses flashing the ‘Happy Holiday’ messages too.
The Salvation Army charity workers of New York can be found on a lot of the streets, ringing their bells, dancing to Christmas carols and raising money for the homeless. If you have the change give generously.
Go ice skating either at Rockefeller Centre or in Central Park. Both ice rinks are busy and overpriced but how often can you say you’ve done it? Do it while you’re there.
Join in with Santacon, a day where the locals all dress up as Santa and basically go out drinking. They were everywhere, and many of the bars had offers on so make the most of them.
Even if you don’t go in, go and see the Park Plaza hotel, made famous of course by Home Alone 2.
Visit Dyker Heights in Brooklyn, a place famous for the houses going crazy with Christmas lights trying to outdo their neighbours. In fact take a wander through any of the New York neighbourhoods and residential streets and you’ll find plenty of effort on the Christmas front.
Spending a Christmas weekend in New York was everything I ever imagined, and I returned home feeling fully festive. If you’ve ever considered it but aren’t sure then I really can’t stress enough that you have to go at least once in your lifetime. It’s touristy, expensive, busy, and your feet will feel like they’re going to fall off, but it is AMAZING and completely worth it.
Disclaimer: We paid for everything on this trip ourselves including flights and accommodation, but this particular blog post was sponsored by TravelPlanners and their interactive tool to help you plan your own trip to NYC. As always all experiences, opinions and thoughts are my own.
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