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From ice-rinks with breathtaking views to glittering window displays, Broadway shows and (if you’re lucky) snow in Central Park, you’re guaranteed to have an amazing Christmas holiday in New York.
For many people, Christmas in New York is on the travel bucket list. If you’re planning to spend some of the festive season in The Big Apple, here’s our guide to what to do and see for a magical trip.
Christmas in New York
Where to shop during Christmas in New York
For department store trips, Midtown simply does it best. Walk up Fifth Avenue from Saks at 49th Street to Bergdorf Goodman at 58th, and don’t miss outliers like Macy’s (34th Street & Broadway) and Barney’s (Madison Avenue).
If New York is famous for anything around Christmas time, it might just be their impressively ornate holiday window displays. As always, all of these stores join in to show off their holiday spirit and latest merchandise.
Every year, Saks Fifth Avenue strings up enough bulbs to illuminate the entire block after dark. For 2019, the department store has teamed up with Disney with Frozen 2-themed window displays. Make sure to hunt out Olaf, Kristoff, and Anna and Elsa.
If you’re after something a little more unique, there are lots of different Christmas markets scattered across the city. The Grand Central Terminal Holiday Fair, which sits in the lavish Vanderbilt Hall, focuses on handmade gifts using locally sourced materials.
The market at Bryant Park is more food-oriented, while the one at Union Square is great for well-priced quirky gifts.
If outlet shopping is your thing, head to Woodbury Common Premium Outlets. Its 220 stores offer savings of 25-65% off the original price of many US brands including Ralph Lauren, Converse and Calvin Klein. In addition, you’ll find that most stores offer flash sales offering extra money off.
Woodbury Common is approximately a 1 hour drive from Manhattan, so it will most likely be a day trip. If you can’t give that much time, you’ll find, back in the City, all of the stores offer pretty impressive discounts at this time of year.
What to do during Christmas in New York
Every winter, thousands travel to the city’s brightest landmark; the Rockefeller Christmas Tree, a Norway spruce around 75 feet high. There’s been a tree at the Rockefeller since 1931, these days boasting around 50,000 LED lights.
It’s lit up from 28 November at 7pm, alongside an incredible show, so head down and snap some photos. If you miss the big switch-on, you can see the tree lit up in all its glory until 7 January. For many it’s considered a must-see if you’re spending Christmas in New York.
While you’re there, head up to the roof of the 66-storey skyscraper, to the Top of the Rock Observation Deck, which offers sweeping unobstructed views right across the city, including Central Park. Make your way up and peer down on the streets of New York lit up with its gorgeous sparkling Christmas lights.
Its location right in the heart of midtown means it’s also surrounded by some of the best shopping, dining and entertainment in the city.
For other unforgettable views, the Rock is in competition with nearby Empire State Building, a 102-storey Art Deco tower in central Manhattan and the One World Observatory on the top of the One World Trade Center. It’s worth a slightly stomach-dropping lift ride to get to the 102nd floor for the breathtaking 360-degree views of the city’s iconic skyline and surrounding waterways.
Hit the ice
Christmas in New York just isn’t Christmas without ice-skating. Most of us can probably name two or three rinks off the top of our heads but you might be surprised to find there are 15 different venues this holiday season.
The best known is without a doubt the Rink at Rockefeller Center where tracing figure eights under the watchful gaze of Rock Center’s Prometheus statue is the quintessential NYC skating experience—but plenty of other options exist.
Bryant Park is a holiday haven. It morphs into a winter wonderland that includes a free admission ice skating rink, cute market stalls and a bar.
There’s also the Wollman Ice Skating Rink in Central Park, where you’ll enjoy the stunning backdrop of the New York Skyline, Christmas music and, if you’re lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of Santa Claus.
See a show
Show business is part of New York’s DNA and Broadway is the home of musical theatre. It’s also the home of the annual Radio City Christmas Spectacular. A yearly tradition since 1933, this classic Christmas spectacle offers tap dancers, a flying Santa Claus and, of course, the world-famous synchronised high-kicking Rockettes.
There are plenty of shows daily until 5th January, so you it’s unlikely you’ll miss out on tickets!
Meanwhile, family shows on Broadway include Frozen and Wicked, with perennial favourites including The Lion King, School of Rock – The Musical and Aladdin.
Hop on a bus – with a difference
Experience the magic of New York during the holidays with a special sightseeing tour that celebrates the spirit of the season. THE RIDE’s Christmas Edition is a limited-engagement sensation that uses original music, videos, and a dazzling collection of sights to show you the Big Apple’s festive side.
You’ll hop on a bus fitted with side-facing seats, state-of-the-art audiovisual equipment, and hilarious, engaging hosts to create the lively mood. Relax for the unique performance as you’re carried out on a 4-mile journey through the sparkling city. We won’t spoil it for you by saying what you see, but it’s a must for the festive season.
Jazz in the city
After a day running around the city, head to Grand Central Terminal. It’s a beautiful buidling – especially at Christmas – so explore the Christmas market and have a bite to eat before heading to The Campbell, tucked away in the southwest corner of the Terminal.
Every Sunday between now and 29th December, you’ll find live jazz perfromances between 6pm and 9pm. It’s a beautiful place with green quartzite, custom brass sconces that illuminate the magnificent hand-painted ceiling, custom mohair and leather furnishings.
Where to eat during Christmas in New York
You’ll find a foodie hotspot on every corner, but some of our favourites for on the go food include Jack Wife’s Freda for brunch, Peking Duck House for chinese, Rubirosa for Italian and dessert from Magnolia Bakery, made famous after featuring in Sex and the City. There’s usually a big line but it’s worth the wait.
For something extra special during Christmas in New York, head to the Asíate at the Madarin Oriental, which has the most exquisite views across Manhattan.
Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, you’ll find elevated comfort foods such as chicken and waffles (delicious!) with leg confit, fried organic egg and mustard maple as well as smoked salmon eggs benedict with english muffin, poached egg and hollandaise sauce. Try their festive menu for a real treat.
For a drink head to Mr. Purple, a rooftop bar and restaurant located on the 15th floor of Hotel Indigo Lower East Side, has been transformed into a funky après-ski lodge in the sky for winter. Think vivid purple deer heads, digital fireplaces, and plenty of blankets for bundling.
Step outside onto the terrace and you will find a larger-than-life snow globe dome decked-out in Veuve Clicquot themed ski lodge decor, complete with its very own champagne bar.
Once inside, you can enjoy a warm retreat from the elements while indulging in a number of festive cocktails on the speciality pop-up menu, including seasonal hot sips and exclusive Veuve Clicquot champagne cocktails, plus plenty of chocolate and cheese fondue to warm yourself up – all while taking in the rooftop’s stunning views of New York.
For a hot cider, boozy hot chocolate or Irish hot cream coffee in a cosy igloo, head to 230 Fifth Rooftop. Heated (thankfully) and transparent, they offer a spectacular view of the city.
Where to stay during Christmas in New York
If you’re there for a few days, make the most out of your Christmas in New York and stay centrally. Within minutes from Broadway and major Midtown attractions – think Rockefeller Center, Empire State Building and Madison Square Gardens – The Westin New York at Times Square is the perfect base for a New York stay.
With over 800 rooms, from a standard double to a one bedroom suite, there’s something for everyone’s needs. By New York standards, the rooms are large and they come with Westin’s famous ‘Heavenly Bed’, flat-screen TVs, and rainfall showerheads. If you’re lucky, you might even get a view of the Empire State Building.
Family Rooms come with two queen beds, microwaves and refrigerators. Other rooms can easily fit a rollaway bed for an extra per night fee. Cribs are free.
Most commendable, though, is the hotel’s commitment to energy conservation and all-around sustainability. There’s recyclable carpet on the walls, non-toxic paint on the walls, and low-flush toilets and faucets in all bathrooms. Even the room keys are 100-percent recycled and biodegradable.
For a casual meal or a quick cocktail before heading out, go to the Foundry Kitchen & Bar. Steal a seat by the window and watch life happen on Eighth Avenue while sipping a Manhattan.
Christmas in New York: what you need to know
New York is busier than usual in the run-up to Christmas, so book ahead for dinner and drinks and prepare for some queues.
Pre-book any attractions ahead of time through Attraction Tickets Direct. As well as making savings on tickets, you’ll also jump the long queues at the most popular tourist spots.
Save money on admission to New York’s best attractions and skips main-entrance ticket lines at attractions including Top of the Rock Valid with CityPASS. Valid for nine consecutive days, beginning with the first day of use, it costs $132 for adults and $108 for ages 6-17.
Wrap up, because although average temperatures in December are around 7°C it’s not uncommon for temperatures to plummet below zero.
Norwegian fly daily from London Gatwick to New York from £200pp return.