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Jdomb’s Travels Guide to Christmas in NYC

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:

Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree

Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree

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.

The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree is lit daily from 5:30am – 11:30pm and for 24 hours on Christmas Day. Want the perfect photo? I hit the streets at 5am and had Rockefeller Center all to myself.
Lincoln Center

Lincoln Center, home of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker

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.

Radio City Christmas SpectacularMust 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.

...and while you're there
Dream of summer days gone by over a lobster and crab roll at Brasserie Rulhmann (45 Rockefeller Center Plaza; entrees from $22).
Trump Wollman Rink

Trump Wollman Rink

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.

...and while you're there
Indulge on the lobster mac and cheese at chic BG, Bergdorf Goodman’s sleek 7th floor lunchtime eatery (754 5th Avenue; 7th Fl; entrees from $22).

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).

Macy's Holiday Window Display

A boy in a fantastical forest filled with icy woodland creatures at Macy’s Believe display

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.

Easily cover all of the department store window displays, which span Manhattan from the Upper East Side to Macy’s Herald Square, and see where some of your favorite holiday movies were filmed with On Location Tours Holiday Lights and Movie Sights tour. The seasonal tour that runs from November 29th – January 4th on Thursdays & Fridays at 6pm, Saturdays at 4pm. Tickets are $35 per adult and $25 per child.
Columbus Circle Holiday Market

Unique gifts made of tagua nuts from the rainforest of South America

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.

...and while you're there
Get a view of Central Park from the Lobby Lounge while enjoying the festive Nutcracker Tea at Mandarin Oriental (80 Columbus Circle; $52; available December 1 – 25).

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.)

Ahoy New York Food Tours

Egg rolls, Italian cheese, pizza, cannoli, Thai, and dumplings are just a few things you’ll sample

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.

...and while you're there
Warm up after your NYC food walking tour with a hot cup of tea at Ten Ren’s Tea Time. Try the lychee! (79 Mott St; from $3 per cup)

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).

Dyker Heights Christmas Lights

Lucy Spata’s house started it all in Dyker Heights

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.

Jennifer Dombrowski

Jennifer Dombrowski is a location independent globe trotter and bases herself in Prata di Pordenone, Italy. She works as a social media and innovation strategist in higher education and is a regular contributor on johnnyjet.com. Her website, jdombstravels.com, is the 2012 Destinology Travel Bloggy Best Newcomer award winner. Google+

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  1. Val-This Way To Paradise

    I have always wanted to go to NYC at Christmas time. Beautiful pictures!!


    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    Thanks, Val! NYC during the holidays is magical and my favorite time of year to visit. You should plan to go one year!


  2. jenny@atasteoftravel

    Thanks for a great guide Jennifer. I’d love to spend a Christmas in New York and do everything you mention. It’s such an exciting city at any time of the year but Christmas must be very special. Merry Christmas to you and Tim.


    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    Hope you had a wonderful Christmas, Jenny! I know you’d absolutely love NYC during the holidays. It’s an especially electric time to be in the city. I’d also love to be there for New Year’s at least once!


  3. Mrs. Chasing the Donkey

    I have been so lucky to have been there twice for Christmas – it’s got to be one of the best places to spend it!
    Cheers for linking up to the #SundayTraveler, and Merry Christmas.


    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    One thing that I really miss about living in the US is that my mom and I used to meet in NYC every year during the holidays. There’s always something different to do and it’s such a fun time of the year to be there!


  4. Linda Bibb

    When I was growing up, it was a family tradition to see New York City at Christmastime. I fondly remember being lifted up so I could see everything in the windows along 5th Avenue. Once I grew up and had kids of my own, I couldn’t resist bringing them to Macy’s to visit Santa. Only once, though; they were too terrified of the jolly fat man to make me want to repeat that performance!


    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    Those are some great memories, Linda! I can only imagine how magical NYC at Christmastime must be for a child.


  5. stef

    Great guide Jen! I’ve never been to NYC so far but I guess I’d prefer to go during Christmas time to get to know this magical atmosphere!


    Jennifer Reply:

    NYC is a fantastic city to visit! There is so much to do there any time of the year, but during the holidays is my favorite because it is so festive. We’ve been to NYC during the holidays at least 5 or 6 times now and we always find new things to do or new shows to go see.


  6. frankaboutcroatia

    I love NYC anytime of the year, but even more during Christmas time. Great post, Jennifer! Love your 5 am tip for getting a perfect photo of The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree.


  7. Heather

    Gosh this makes me miss New York! I got to spend five Christmases there and each was more magical than the last! I almost went up for a weekend at the beginning of the month but couldn’t muster the motivation to fight the holiday crowds. Now I sure wish I’d gone!


  8. Charli | Wanderlusters

    Swooning over here now Jennifer! NYC at Christmas has been a dream of mine for many years. I hope one day to see it lit up, glistening and twinkling!


  1. Looking Back at 2013, When Christmas Came Early and Late

    […] Lisa Lubin of LLWorldTour came to visit for the second time (she writes here about her first); Laurel Robbins of Monkeys and Mountains was doing the Tour du Mont Blanc and dropped by for lunch; and in New York City I had what is becoming a yearly tradition: dinner with Larry Closs of Trekworld (and author of the novel Beatitude) and Jeff Dobbins of Walks of New York. This year, as an added bonus, I grabbed a quick meal with Jennifer Dombrowski of JDombs Travels, who was in town writing about Christmas. […]

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