Ever since my first visit during the holidays, I haven’t been able to resist Christmas in NYC. To me, it’s when the city is at its best; when everything is the most shimmering and magical. New York City comes alive with holiday spirit and is home to some of the biggest and best light displays. For kids from 1 to 92, the five boroughs have something for everyone and we rounded up the “must dos” and tossed in a few of our favorites in our guide to Christmas in NYC:
Must DoThe Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree
Officially, the tradition of the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree began in 1933, the same year that 30 Rockefeller Center Plaza opened. Each year the tree is scouted by the head gardener for Rockefeller Center and it is transported by a special custom trailer through the streets of New York City to its home at Rockefeller Center. The star is a Swarovski Star weighing in at 550 pounds and nearly 10 feet in diameter. Locals and tourists alike pack Rockefeller Center all wanting to pose for the perfect holiday photo in front of the tree.
Must DoGeorge Balanchine’s The Nutcracker
The New York City Ballet’s entire cast and crew are immersed in the production of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker during the holiday season. The intricate costumes, lighting, and the music itself transport you into Marie’s magical world of dancing mice battling marching wooden soldiers. As you enter act two through a child’s imagination, the land of lollipops and snowflake waltzes will leave sugar plum fairies dancing in your head for many hours after the final curtain.
George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker is on from November 29 – January 4, 2014. Tickets start at $29 and are available at nycballet.com.
Must DoRadio City Christmas Spectacular
The gloriously glitzy costumes and the leggy high kicks of the Rockettes in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular are practically synonymous with New York at Christmas. I’ve seen the show at least four times now and while some old favorites are staples of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, there are always a few new numbers to delight the audience.
Radio City Christmas Spectacular is on from November 8 – December 30, 2013. Tickets start at $40 and are available online.
Must DoIce Skating in Central Park
Easily one of the most picturesque activities in Manhattan, ice skating at Trump Rink in Central Park is the stuff movies are made of. Literally. John Cusak and Kate Beckingsale skated on a snowy night in the movie Serendipity and the rink also appeared in Love Story. Just a few minutes walk from the entrance at Central Park South, you’ll forget the hustle and bustle of Manhattan for a few hours as you take to the ice. Figure eights, anyone?
Trump Rink is open from October – April. Hours for public skating are Monday and Tuesday 10am – 2:30pm, Wednesday and Thursday 10am – 10pm, Friday and Saturday 10am – 11pm, and Sunday 10am – 9pm. Admission is $11.25 for adults and $6 for children on weekdays and $18 for adults Friday – Sunday. Skate rental is $8 and locker rental is $11 ($6 returned deposit with the rental receipt). Cash only.
A greasy burger always hits the spot and Burger Joint is one of my NYC faves. It’s tucked away behind a curtain in the lobby of Le Parker Meridien(119 W 56th St; entrees from $8. Cash only).
Must DoDepartment Stores Holiday Window Displays
Many Manhattanites consider it a holiday tradition to visit the festively decorated holiday window displays at Manhattan’s major department stores. From Bloomingdale’s to Bergdorf’s, you find everything from a giant Yeti to a futuristic light display designed in collaboration with rapper Jay-Z.
Must DoShop at the Columbus Circle Holiday Market
5th Avenue is full of tourists shopping at the same Louis Vuitton, Prada, and Cartier shops you can find just about anywhere around the world. Instead, pick up unique gifts like handmade wooden puzzles, handcrafted jewelry, or French macarons (the maple bacon from Macaron Parlour are ah-mazing!) to bring back to everyone jealous at home.
The Columbus Circle Holiday Market is open December 3 – 24, 2013 from 10am – 8pm Monday – Saturday and 10am – 7pm Sunday.
Visit the Time Warner Center for the Holiday Under the Stars light show choreographed to all your favorite holiday tunes. (November 13 – January 3, 2014 from 5pm – midnight nightly.)
Must DoEat Your Way Through Little Italy and China Town
NYC food walking tours are a great way to escape Midtown and find out the secrets of more off-the-beaten-path neighborhoods like Little Italy and China Town. Ahoy New York Food Tours takes small groups to family owned shops, restaurants, and locations that have been in existence for over 100 years – and for the US, that’s amazing! You’ll learn about the best places to eat and the interesting history from an NYC insider.
Book Ahoy NYC Food Walking Tours online. Tickets are $49 per adult and the tour lasts approximately 3 hours.
Visit the Tenement Museum for a look at how immigrant families lived through a series of restored apartments of past residents (103 Orchard St; tickets are $22).
Must DoTour Brooklyn’s Christmas Lights
Escape Manhattan for Brooklyn with A Slice of Brooklyn and let this team of Brooklynites guide you through some of the best holiday light displays in all of America. Italian-American and Brooklynite Lucy Spata started the tradition nearly 30 years ago and when he neighbors didn’t like it, she simply told them to move. They must have done just that because Lucy’s house has more lights than ever and her neighbors in nearly four blocks surrounding her have joined in to see who can build the biggest and best display each year. The tradition is being adopted by some other Brooklyn neighborhoods and you’ll visit a few others before warming up with hot chocolate and Brooklyn’s best cannoli.
The Christmas Lights and Cannoli Tour is nightly at 7pm from November 30 – December 31. The tour lasts about 3 1/2 hours and departs/returns to Union Sqaure in Manhattan. The price is $55 per adult and $45 per child under 12 years of age.