Top Things To Do At Christmas In New York

By New Yorker, Fashion, Art & Design enthusiast, Denise Foley

So, you’re spending Christmas in New York? Lucky you. Even if you don’t have Christmas Day in New York, the holiday season is magical no matter when you visit. If your Christmas wish is to experience this winter wonderland over the holidays, read on to discover how New Yorkers really celebrate the most wonderful time of the year. Sure, we all love the Union Square Holiday Market and our breath is taken away every year by the Rockefeller Centre tree, but it’s our local traditions which make it really special. So, for a Christmas in New York City like a local, these are the spots you need to visit, the holiday treats you should feast on and the adored traditions you should take part in. 


No Christmas in New York itinerary would be complete without ice-skating at least once - some of us might be more bambi on ice than dancing on ice, but it’s the holidays, so who cares? Most people do flock to the city’s most iconic ice rink, which is of course the one at Rockefeller Centre, but most New Yorkers would tell you to get your skates on at Bryant Park instead. The ice-rink is just as big as at Rockefeller, but the line is a lot shorter and the park itself is gets a beautiful holiday makeover too. If you only have 24 hours in New York this holidays, make sure skating here is on your list!


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Without a doubt, the biggest holiday tradition in New York is to see the window displays on Fifth Avenue. Despite the freezing temperatures, the occasional flurries of snow and the crowds, nothing says Christmas in NY like going to marvel at the windows of the ‘big three’ - Saks, Macy’s and Bergdorf Goodman. Saks also puts on an incredible light show when their windows are unveiled each year. As well as these legendary stores, and others along Fifth Avenue, many locals also do Madison Avenue. Don’t be put off thinking it’s a little more out of the way or that Madison is too imposing! The windows here are spectacular, and you can really see how much work goes in to designing them - design actually begins over a year in advance, so what you see this Christmas will have started to be dreamt up last December!  


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Some people even plan their vacations around when the window displays open! It might seem crazy to go crazy for a window display, but it’s a steadfast NY tradition so you can’t miss it. There are also plenty of holiday markets which start popping up across the city after Thanksgiving. Stay warm at the Grand Central Holiday Fair, and you’ll feel like you’re in a movie as you browse the stalls filled with Christmas gifts inside the historic station. There's also the Union Square Holiday Market which has much more of a downtown vibe, and Artists and Fleas at Chelsea Market if you like to keep things independent. 

Photo: Time Out

A real must-see is the Christmas Tree located in the Met Museum on Fifth Avenue. The towering, 20-foot tree is decorated with 18th century Neapolitan angels and cherubs. It might sound over the top but it’s a beautiful place to come and explore, especially decked out so angelically for the holidays! A true hidden gem, however, is Met Cloisters, the branch of the museum that’s dedicated to European medieval art and architecture, housed in an old cloisters which was brought over from Europe and rebuilt on the banks of the Hudson. Lots of people don’t even know this gem exists, let alone that it hosts a number of holiday concerts each year!

Photo: Huffington Post

When it comes to food, there are a couple of spots which are known by the locals to be the place to go when you want to get in the festive mood. Rolf’s was one once strictly a local hidden spot, but word has gotten out in recent years. In a space the size of an NY studio apartment (so we’re talking small, as any New Yorker will know!), Rolf’s is a German restaurant where not a single inch of the walls and ceilings aren’t covered with decorations. Sure, it’s more than kitsch but that’s why we love it! Serving traditional German foods and beers, it’s an annual tradition to come here at least once during the holidays to catch up with friends, feast on hearty winter dishes and generally just enjoy basking in the glow of ten thousand Christmas lights reflected in ten thousand baubles. Now the secret’s out, make sure you get there before the queue starts!

If you really want to treat yourself and your loved ones, book a table at the Sea Grill at Rockefeller Centre and make sure you ask for a table that overlooks the skating rink. You can feast on seafood (which is admittedly a little overpriced), but it’s more about the location than the food itself. You couldn't ask for a more classic New York at Christmas scene! It’s the kind of spot that isn’t really a locals only affair, but is a good shout when your mom’s in town for the holidays. If you’d prefer to keep things a little more down to earth, do Christmas in New York, Little Italy style. Grab a cannoli and a cappuccino, and walk down Mulberry, enjoying the lights. This neighbourhood is always decorated extravagantly for the holidays, and at the end of your wanderings you know you can come in from the cold and warm up with a huge bowl of freshly made pasta.

But as any New Yorker will tell you, the most extravagant (and I mean really, out of this world extravagant) Christmas lights are found in Dyker Heights. Making the pilgrimage out to Brooklyn to see the lights is the city’s other big holiday tradition after seeing the window displays, and once you’ve been yourself you’ll understand why. There are even organised tours which will take you out to the neighbourhood on a bus and around the most lavishly decorated houses, or if you want to brave the cold and are happy to use the subway, then you can always go for this DIY option. However, I would recommend a bus tour for this, you’ll enjoy it all the more. You’ll be speechless when you see how lavishly each house is decorated - the whole neighbourhood practically glows with neighbours all trying to out-do each other’s lights! 

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