In the weeks running up to Christmas, New York becomes a winter wonderland poised to make all your festive dreams come true.
It’s fair to say that no place in the world embodies the spirit of the holiday season more so than New York, just try and count how many films, songs and stories have been inspired by its atmosphere!
With a number of magical events taking place from November till January, here are a few of our favourite things to do from the charmingly quirky to the most famous.
Too many fairy lights to count
Spot a few celebrities and watch this year’s traditional Norway Spruce light up with over 30,000 twinkling lights at the flick of a switch at the popular Rockefeller Center on the 30th of November. If you’d rather skip the crowds and take it in another day, then they’re lit from 6am to midnight throughout Christmas and it’s taken down just after the first week of January. Of course, you could always just go and see the tree at Trump Tower in front of the waterfall in the lobby.
Big Apple bites
Head to Café Lalo, as featured in the film You’ve Got Mail for one of the best hot chocolates and brunches in the city. You’ll spot it by its fairy-lit trees and railings outside, and the sounds of soothing jazz lulling you inside. Another of our favourite movie spots is Katz’s Delicatessen, famous for that scene in When Harry Met Sally. You’ll have to wait in line, but savouring one of their famous pastrami-on-rye sandwiches will refuel your holiday spirit.
Gifts and nibbles aplenty
Browse one of the city’s best holiday markets as local crafters set up shop at the Union Square Holiday Market to bring you affordable food and gifts aplenty. Over 100 red and white striped huts fill the park, providing coupons for surrounding stores to use during the holiday season and warming glasses of hot apple cider. New to the market scene is Brooklyn Borough Hall Holiday Market, where local artisans will be waiting to fill your stomach with delicious food and your bags with unique gifts.
Parade the streets
Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade has been an institution for over 90 years. Join millions on the streets of New York on November 23rd and watch performers, clowns, marching bands, floats and floating balloons including Spiderman and friends. We recommend catching them being inflated along the perimeter of the Museum of Natural History on the Upper West Side (but we didn’t tell you that!) While you’re at the museum, stop inside to see the annual Origami Holiday Tree.
Shop 'til you drop
Window shop along festive Fifth Avenue, from Saks Fifth Avenue to Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s and Tiffany & Co., to take in the most extravagant window dressings on the block. Definitely visit Macy’s Santaland for an elaborate scene of Christmas trees, toy trains, elves and mountains of snow. It’s also the home of the ‘one real Santa Claus’ as per the classic film, Miracle on 34th Street. Feel free to sit on his lap but we advise not tugging on Santa’s beard; one, it’s real and two, expect coal if you do.
Gaze upon the Sugarplum Fairy
You know the story, so catch the New York City Ballet’s mesmerising rendition of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker at the Lincoln Center. A timeless classic since 1954 complete with the Sugarplum Fairy – we guarantee you won’t be left disappointed. Buy your tickets here.
Skate to your heart's content
Lace up and ice skate in either Wollman Rink in Central Park (just like the film, Serendipity), the lesser-known rink at Brookfield Place or the Sky Rink at Chelsea Piers. By going to any one of these, you escape the crowds of the smaller Rockefeller Center rink. The rink at Bank of America Winter Village is the only free skating rink in New York although you pay a little more for skate rental.
Try train spotting (no, really)
Take a walk around the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx to see one of New York City’s authentic Christmas traditions, the Holiday Train Show. With a quarter-mile toy train passing icons of New York, like the Brooklyn Bridge, St Patrick’s Cathedral and the Yankee Stadium. Go at night to pair the show with NYBG Glow, an event that transformed the gardens with colourful lights, festive displays and ice carvings. While you’re exploring, enjoy drinks and light bites from the Bronx Night Market Holiday Pop-Up.
Join a Christmas Lights tour
Enjoy a guided tour of Brooklyn’s Christmas lights along Dyker Heights, the Italian-American area of Brooklyn. Each year, they decorate their homes with unbelievable amounts of fairy lights and figurines, and you can go see them with a three-four-hour tour. We recommend stopping at Mona Lisa Bakery for Christmas cannoli and coffee after to warm up.
Enjoy a little razzmatazz
Spend an evening with the famous dance troupe, the Rockettes at their annual Radio City Christmas Spectacular. With lots of incredible high-kicking and all-singing Christmas cheer, you’re bound to have a barrel of laughs, especially when the dancing Santas make an appearance alongside the Nativity.
Christmas by candlelight
Celebrate Hanukkah at Grand Army Plaza with the lighting of the world’s largest menorah. This gold-coloured, 4,000-pound, 32-foot-high icon is worth seeing, even if just for a holiday photo.
Don a red suit and burly beard
Join in with SantaCon and wander the streets of New York City dressed as Old Saint Nick. This Santa Claus Convention is definitely one of the quirkier festivities to take place over the holiday season but it is one of the more amusing. Expect the bars and pubs of Manhattan to be overrun by Santas in the late afternoon/evening.
If you’d love to be part of the Empire State's holiday festivities, we can share more top tips and recommend the best place to stay. Talk to us or visit us in store and we’ll help you experience New York at the most wonderful time of year.