The Ultimate Guide to Visiting New York City at Christmas

A trip to New York City is always magical, but it’s a little extra magical during the holidays. From the moment the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade ends, the city transforms into one giant Christmas display. From the spectacular trees, to the store front displays, and the never ending ice skating rinks, the entire city is a winter wonderland. As a New Yorker, I’ve created the perfect guide to make the most out of your next trip to the city during the holiday season! I’ve included all the touristy spots, and the things that I, as a local, think are extra special.

One piece of advice before I begin my guide, is to remember that it will be crowded, no matter where you are or when you are there. Now my tips for avoiding this (see pic above) is to never go during the afternoon on a Saturday or Sunday. Try waking up extra early for any touristy areas, especially if you want pics. Tuesday and Wednesday are also going to be the least crowded as many people add on a day to create a long weekend and will have left by then.

A great way to make the most of your time in NYC, at any time of the year, is to plan out your days. The city is so massive and you can spend an entire day just in one neighborhood and still not see everything. When I have family or friends in town for the holidays, (or let’s be real, when I just want to go to do Christmas things, which is often) I always set out to see everything in this order as to make the most of my time at each spot, and spend minimum time commuting to places. A great general place to start is Bryant Park (above). There’s a Christmas Market with tons of cute shopping, an ice skating rink, and sweet treats and holiday drinks.

Ice skating: there are so many rinks around the city. While Rockefeller Center will be the most crowded, they really all will be all season, especially on weekends. There are many other rinks, including in Wollman in Central Park, and of course the rink in Bryant Park.

From Bryant Park, you can easily walk over to Grand Central Station. Grand Central is always beautiful and no matter how many times I go inside, I’m always taken aback by it’s massiveness and beauty. It is extra special during the holidays with giant wreaths throughout, and a holiday market inside.

Holiday Markets: the city is full of fun little markets during the holidays where you can pick up goodies and gifts. In addition to the village in Bryant Park and the market in Grand Central, there are also markets in the East Village, Bliss Plaza in Midtown, inside the Oculus, and Columbus Circle.

From here you can walk to Radio City Music Hall to see the giant and popularly photographed Christmas ornaments. Then, take a stroll down 5th Ave and explore all the ornate window displays. Barney’s, Macy’s, and of course Sak’s, as well as tons of smaller stores (make sure to walk by Cartier and Tiffany’s) will have tons of lit up and extravagant displays (and are great stops to do some Christmas shopping and take a break from the cold!). If you are really looking to go all out and aren’t intimidated by intense crowds, Sak’s display with the full lights and music at night is very worth it.

Shows: as always, when in NYC, seeing a show is a must. While here during the holidays, stop by The Nutcracker or the Radio City Rockettes (still on my city bucket list but I’ve heard so many great things!)

From here you can turn around and you’ll be right at Rockefeller Center! The window displays continue as you walk through the over-the-top decorations and harking angels while making your way up to the tree and skating rink! If you’re lucky enough to get in, (you should pre-book well in advance online) this skating rink is the most worth your time in my opinion. They try to keep it slightly less crowded on the rink and the views around you make it worth it all on their own. You can packages to The Rockettes that come with skating passes online!

If you want to continue with the picturesque displays, you HAVE to stop by Rolf’s. This German Restaurant and Bar goes every type of all out for Christmas. The ceiling is completely lined with ornaments and every inch, I mean EVERY, is decorated floor to ceiling. If you want to actually stay to eat, I suggest calling for a reservation as there is never not a line down the street and it is almost always fully booked. If just stopping in for a drink and a picture (no one will judge you, everyone’s doing it), I for sure suggest going before 5 on a weekday or before 3 on weekends (slipping the doorman a $20 will get you in also).

Picture Perfect: if you’re in search of a photo-op, I also would recommend visiting some hotels. The Plaza, The Peninsula, Lotte Palace, Gramercy Park and The Standard are all amazing hotels during the holidays. If you aren’t staying in them, you can definitely still stop in to see the amazing displays, trees, and even grab a drink or two to stay warm!

To end your adventurous day with a fun night, you can make a stop at one, or several, of the cities many Christmas themed bars! I have a fun post listing tons for a Christmas Themed Bar Crawl, as well as the best drink to get at each, and time to visit them!

Hope this guide helps take you through your New York City holiday adventures!

Cheers! Mackenzie

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