We’ve all seen the movies and I can assure you that real life is just as magical.
From Miracle on 34th Street to Home Alone II and Serendipity; one thing that all of these Christmas favourites have in common is the picture perfect setting of New York. This time last year, I was lucky enough to be in the Big Apple just before Christmas and I’m longing to go back. From holiday markets to ice skating and 80 foot Christmas trees – New York has it all. If you’re thinking about a festive adventure in the city that never sleeps, here are 12 of the best things to see and do in December…
1) Rockefeller Plaza Christmas Tree and Ice Rink45 Rockefeller Plaza, NY 10111
Want to know what 45,000 LED lights look like all lit up at once? Go to Rockefeller Plaza to find out. Each year, a Norway Spruce Christmas tree that weighs approximately 12 tonnes becomes the focal point of this magnificent plaza. Follow the trail of the illuminated herald angels holding six-foot long brass trumpets and they’ll guide the way to the famous Rockefeller ice skating rink. So whether you’re grabbing your skates or gazing up at the famous tree, this is THE place to be.
2) RadioCity Christmas Spectacular1260 Avenue of the Americas, NY 10020
The word ‘spectacular‘ is an understatement. If you want to see singing Santas, ice skaters, ballet dancers, camels, donkeys, sheep (yes live ones) and of course the Rockettes – this is New York’s all-singing, all-dancing, glittering extravaganza of the year. The legendary show has been in operation since 1933 and is a New York favourite. I loved the fact the show was full of so many twists and turns – from pyrotechnics to jaw-dropping choreography and there was even a 3D section in the show.
3) SantaConVarious locations all over NYC
It’s a love or hate thing with local New Yorkers – but SantaCon is one of the wackiest events of the year and I personally loved it last year. During the second week of December, for one day only, approximately 20,000 santas (well, people dressed up as Santa…the real one is of course still busy in the North Pole) grace the streets (and bars) of New York. A group of my New York travel buddies invited me last year to come and join in the festivities and I decided to become ‘Miss Santa’ for the day (any excuse to get dressed up). It was a day full of hot apple cider, snowball fights, a bar crawl from Brooklyn to Manhattan and then some festive karaoke. By the time we got to the karaoke bar, we all thought we were great singers…!
4) Macy’s Christmas Decorations151 West 34th Street, NY 10001
Macy’s is USA’s largest store and during the winter months it becomes a Christmas mecca. Out of its 10 and a half floors, it even has a whole floor dedicated to the holiday season. Whether you’re after hand-painted baubles, lifesize reindeers, glittery garlands, snowglobes or traditional nativity scenes – you’ll find it all here. If you’re an international visitor, a top tip is to take your passport to the Macy’s visitor centre and you’ll receive a 10% off discount card.
5) Union Square Holiday Market80 5th Ave #1818, NY 10011
If you want to sample local artisan treats; from German bratwurst to chocolate-covered pretzels, local beer, truffles, chutneys and hot spiced tea, then Union Square Holiday Market is your place. You’ll also find handmade jewellery and lots of goods to entice you such as Moroccan lamps, scented candles, belts, bags, hats and gloves. It’s the ideal place to stock up on unique one-of-a-kind Christmas presents. I bought some beautiful hand-stitched winter headbands as well as some artwork. It’s lovely to be able to chat to the people who made the items you’re purchasing.
41 W 40th St, New York, NY 10018
6) Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park
This centre piece of the Winter Village is the famous Bryant Park ice rink where you can hire skates, bring your own or even watch scheduled skating performances. The rink is surrounded by 125 boutique-like undercover shops that sell everything from clothing to sweet treats to gifts for your pets. One of the highlights for me was drinking a cup of Max Brenner hot chocolate – it was molten nectar that was smoother than silk and that’s no exaggeration!
Fifth Avenue, NY 10153
7) The Window Displays on Fifth Avenue and Beyond…
Fifth Avenue is the place the find the most iconic window displays – look out for Saks, Bergdorf Goodman and of course all the luxury stores such as Cartier, Armani and Tiffany & Co. Each one appears to be more spectacular than the next, but it’s not just Fifth Avenue – everywhere you look in New York, the window displays will mesmerise you. There’s one word I need to mention – cakes. The pictures will do the explaining…
8) Grand Central Terminal89 E 42nd St, NY 10017
If you go to New York, it would be a sin not to visit the iconic Grand Central Terminal. There are 44 platforms with 67 tracks and this piece of New York history has been open to the public over 100 years. This masterpiece of engineering is impressive to look at, at any time of the year, but at Christmas time it really comes alive. There’s an annual holiday fair in the Vanderbilt Hall with 76 stalls full of holiday gift ideas. I loved watching the hand-blown glass baubles being created and couldn’t resist trying some of the cashew nuts dipped in honey an cinnamon. You’ll find lovely knitwear, handmade wooden children’s toys and other top quality gifts whilst being entertained by a live harpist.
Last year I witnessed a light show on the terminal’s windows; they changed colour every couple of minutes and marked the station’s centenary.
All over NYC
9) Hotel Lobby Decorations
Now you might assume it’s all about the window displays, but if you want to see some really lavish decorations – go to some of the top hotels in Manhattan. You don’t have to be staying there, you can just go to the bar for a coffee or your favourite tipple. I stayed at The Roosevelt Hotel which had a constant stream of people posing by the huge tree in the lobby. Other ones to look out for are the Waldorf Astoria, Four Seasons New York, The Plaza Hotel and New York Palace.
1000 Dean Street, Brooklyn, NY 11249
10) Venture out to Williamsburg
Take a short subway ride and cross the river to Williamsburg, Brooklyn and you won’t be disappointed. This is known for being the place the hipsters hang out and its urban edginess oozes so much ‘cool’, that you’ll wonder why you’re not wearing a bow tie and braces (USA: suspenders). Get off at Bedford Avenue and you’ll be surrounded by boutique shops where you can pick up some truly quirky Christmas presents. Brooklyn has a great weekend flea market, and during the festive season, this market becomes Christmas themed. You’ll find everything from vintage clothing to jewellery made from recycled cans, fairy crowns and hand stitched t-shirts.
767 5th Avenue, NY 10022
11) See the toys at FAO Schwarz
If you’re a fan of the Tom Hanks movie ‘Big,’ you’ll remember the famous walking piano scene in a toy shop. That toy shop was FAO Schwarz which also happens to be the oldest toy shop in America. It’s loved by kids and adults alike, and there’s something for everyone; from life-size giraffes to magic tricks and board games. Be sure to get your ‘fortune told’ by the famous Zoltar. He predicted my winning lottery numbers and I won…$2. Before anyone asks for a hand out…sorry I’ve already spent it.
12) Meet New York’s Wonderful Characters
Around every corner…
The thing I love most about New York is the people; there’s so many great characters in this city and anything goes. You can get on the subway in a bikini in the middle of winter and nobody bats an eyelid (no, it wasn’t me…)
I’ve got a particular fondness for the NYPD – I’ve never met such charming policemen in my life and they were happy to pose for some photos…as were the soldiers.
Next up in my list of favourite characters was ‘Cowboy Santa,’ ; he had the authentic Father Christmas look and the funky boots to go with it.
I met a guy with a very fashionable dog and when I asked him where he bought his ‘dog sunglasses,’ he looked at me as if I was insane and said: ‘they’re not dog sunglasses, they’re CHILDREN’S sunglasses.’
And last but not least…all my special friends I’ve met in New York, I don’t think I’d love this city half as much if it wasn’t for all my great memories with you…
So there you have it- the 12 best things to see and do in New York in December. If you’re lucky enough to be going this year, have a fantastic time! I’ve been there 8 times and still find the city more exciting each time I visit.
As they say in New York…”Happy Holidays!”
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