The metropolis of New York City is a magical place to spend the holidays — unlike anywhere else in the world. The city seems to conspire to come together during the holiday season with lights, decorations, activities, and a Christmas spirit that is pervasive. Everything from train stations to storefronts, hotel lobbies and restaurants are decorated.
Though the pace of New York City never seems to slow, the tenor of the hustle and bustle certainly changes during the holidays. There is a little more kindness in the air as people go about their daily lives, but with a different energy. The noisy sounds of the city are muffled and dimmed by the snow and the winter light is softer as it travels between the canyons of skyscrapers. The city is drawn into the magic that seems to be everywhere.
You cannot walk down a single street during the holidays without seeing some kind of decoration — whether it is simple lights strung across a fire escape or an elaborate holiday scene in a department store window or the famous and expansive décor of Rockefeller Center. And while the most famous holiday locales are worth a visit, each borough and neighborhood has its own celebratory decorations, ice skating, caroling, and other activities.
A former student of mine commented that his favorite thing about New York City is the Canadian lumberjacks who set up shop on street corners to sell fresh-cut Christmas trees. The smell, the lights, the easy conversation with these men who are living temporarily in a vast city always make him smile.
Another friend of mine has only been in the city a few short years but already feels at home during the holidays, saying “There is so much to do, so much magic everywhere. And it seems that everyone is just a touch nicer.”
Regardless of the season, New York City will always boast typical tourist activities such as Broadway musicals, afternoons in museums like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Guggenheim, or the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), as well as historical and cultural icons like the 9/11 Memorial and Museum and the Statue of Liberty. But the holiday season provides the chance to visit some other notable places, maybe some farther afield and not as well known.
The New York Botanical Garden, located in the Bronx, is a subway ride north of Manhattan, and worth a trip any time of year, but in the snowy holiday season it is especially lovely. With over 250 acres of gardens and pathways, it also hosts a Victorian-era greenhouse that stuns with glass artistry and lush plants. The holiday train exhibit is mesmerizing, no matter what your age. The trains race along the tracks backed by miniature skyscrapers nestled in the greenery.
While it seems foolish to recommend a restaurant in New York City simply because of the diversity of amazing food to be experienced there, it is worth insisting on a trip to Rolf’s Restaurant just to view the Christmas décor. Located in Gramercy Park, Rolf’s serves both Alsatian and Bavarian food amidst stunning Christmas decorations. You will be lucky to get a table during the holiday season, but can usually enjoy a craft cocktail or glass of wine at the bar.
One of my favorite things to do in New York is to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge and take in the sight of this amazing city from the Brooklyn waterfront. Even in wintertime it is a special trip. Brooklyn is an up-and-coming neighborhood where a few of my friends live, because it is far more affordable than Manhattan. It also favors its own unique style that is a bit less frenetic.
Ice skating under the cold winter night sky is a must during your holiday trip to New York, even if you cling to the side rail the entire time. Your face will hurt from smiling as you watch children delight in this activity. Wollman Rink in Central Park and the rink at Rockefeller Center are the most famous places to ice skate, but you can find outdoor rinks across the city during the holiday season.
I am a huge fan of farmers markets and cultural markets and New York has several worth visiting. The Union Square Holiday Market will delight you with the endless amount of beautiful, unique and intricate items that are perfect gifts for anyone in your life (or just to take home as a gift for yourself). Treasures from around the world can be found at this open-air market in a beautiful plaza, full of festive decorations.
While many will enjoy perusing the expensive shops on Fifth Avenue, I recommend ducking in to a second-hand store while in New York City. My friends and I have found extraordinary buys. Quirky, one-of-a-kind, or brand name designer items can be found on every rack.
A trip to New York City is never complete for me without seeing a Broadway musical. Broadway is a special place, distinct from our own West Coast theater experiences, because not only are there dozens of choices, but the theaters are small and old and have stories of their own beyond the stories told on stage.
With so much to see, do, and experience, consider a trip to New York City during the Holidays and experience the magic for yourself!