Domestic | 12.21.2023

How to Spend the Holidays in NYC

Rockefeller Christmas Tree is a must-see during the Holidays in NYC.

By Emma Rekate

Whether your relatives have already driven you crazy or you are looking to switch up some holiday traditions, when is it a better time to visit the holiday capital of the US: New York City? Okay, it may not be the winter holiday season capital, but the city sure knows how to go all out for the holidays. There are thousands of things to do to celebrate, but as a local, let me help you plan out the best winter NYC trip!

Where are things happening?:

There is holiday spirit all over the city, but if you are looking for that classic, cozy, and iconic vibe, then the Upper West Side, Bryant Park, and Fifth Avenue are where you should go! Finding a hotel in Midtown will give you easy access to all major sites and train stations to get you to where you need to be. But when in doubt, Ubers/Lyfts/Taxis are everywhere. 

Some of the hotels in this area include: 

And last but certainly not least, the iconic The Plaza Hotel. I will admit this may be the most touristy hotel to go to, but if you want to splurge for the holiday season and fully commit to the New York City holiday vibe, then this hotel is the place to go. If its fame and long-standing history jog your memory, some of you might know it from Eloise at the Plaza!

These hotels will run a high check, but the location will be worth the price. Being so central to everything will allow you to see everything on your New York City holiday bucket list. It also will make bringing your heavy bags back easier from a long day of shopping along Fifth Avenue!

The large-scale holiday display at Saks Fifth Avenue.

Saks Fifth Avenue Light Show:

The light show at Saks Fifth Avenue has been an iconic holiday event for decades in New York City. For the 2023 light show, Saks has partnered with Christian Dior to decorate their windows! The show uses all 10 stories of the building with over 600,000 holiday lights. The light show will run through into the new year to the end of January 2024! The first show starts every day at 5:00 PM and goes off every 10 minutes until 11:00 PM, so there’s no chance you’ll miss it! If you are looking to partake in a classic NYC holiday tradition head over to 611 5th Avenue. You’ll also be right next to the Rockefeller Christmas Tree and St. Patrick’s Cathedral!

Other stores have equally stunning Christmas light displays in their holiday windows this time of year if you’re up for extra walking:

  • Bergdorf Goodman
  • Macy’s Herald Square 
  • Bloomingdale’s Wonka-style display
  • Raising Cane’s in Times Square

Bryant Park Winter Village

The Winter Village may be one of my favorite NYC holiday activities. Yes, it is quite busy and in one of the most touristy parts of the city, but the food and experiences at the Bryant Park Winter Village can’t be beaten! The village opened on October 27th, 2023, and will run until January 2nd, 2024. It is open every day from 11:00 AM to 8:00 PM on weekdays and 10:00 AM to 8:00 PM on weekends. There are cozy and heated igloos you can rent out with your family or friends for 90 minutes to enjoy seasonal drinks and light bites! If you don’t feel like hanging out in an igloo, head over to one of the 180+ shops for holiday goodies, the Curling Cafe and Bar, Bumper Cars on Ice, or even to grab a picture with Santa! You can easily spend hours wandering around the Bryant Park Winter Village. If you decide to attend the festivities, make sure you get a steaming cup of hot apple cider or the iconic marshmallow hot chocolate!

Union Square Holiday Market

Almost as equally fun as the Bryant Park Winter Village, the Union Square Holiday Market sits just slightly south with the largest green market in NYC and over 150 stalls to fulfill your holiday wishes! The market runs from November 16th, 2023 to December 24th, 2023. Locals from all over the city come and sell their goodies at a high quality and affordable price, so it is the perfect place to finish your holiday shopping. Not only do you have the holiday market, but it is a quintessential New York neighborhood, filled with amazing shops, restaurants, and cafes!

Ice Skating in the City 

Looking to fulfill your holiday movie dreams? Grab your skates and hit the rink at the famous Rockefeller Center! Don’t worry if you left them at home, you can rent quality skates right at the skating rink! Countless movies, TV shows, and books take place at this iconic ice rink right below the giant Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree. Make sure you reserve your tickets in advance because this is a must-do for many people. Check out the reservation process here

While skating at Rockefeller Center is a dream for most, I tend to fall face-first when I ice skate, so I’m not the biggest fan of the people watching me from the viewing decks. If you are anything like me, I highly recommend checking out the Wollman Rink in Central Park! There are still many people wanting to skate in one of the most famous parks in the world, but at least we can all struggle together! Plus, you get a wonderful view of the NYC skyline in the background, so all of your photos will look amazing, despite your ice skating abilities! Just like Rockefeller, make sure you reserve a spot in advance. Check out the reservation process here

Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree

There is no way I could tell you about the must-do NYC holiday items without at least mentioning the timeless Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree. Starting in 1931, the tradition of choosing a Norway Spruce Tree that was at least 75 ft tall for Rockefeller Center began. On November 29th, 2023 the tree was lit for the first time this holiday season with a tree lighting ceremony! The 2023 tree is about 80 ft tall! Everyone who visits NYC during the holiday season must stop by and take a picture with this iconic, but ever-changing, monument. Plus, it is near so many other events and locations, so it makes sightseeing a breeze! 

Holidays in NYC – Outside Manhattan

Holiday Train & New York Botanical Garden Light Show

If you’re willing to travel beyond Manhattan, this light show in the Bronx may align well with your flight in or out of New York. The holiday train show features model trains traveling through a display of New York landmarks created in natural elements. 

Brooklyn Botanic Garden Lightscape

In another of New York’s boroughs, Brooklyn’s Botanic Garden features a grand light display across its grounds. If you catch this event during a snowfall, the combination of lights and snow truly feel like a winter wonderland. 

Dyker Heights Christmas Lights

If you’re familiar with navigating New York, you may be up to navigating out to Dyker Heights. This neighborhood is infamous for over-the-top holiday light displays on stunning homes. Most are done with professional installation, and the amount of lights will shock you! 

Iconic Christmas Shows:

Shows and performances are a long-standing NYC tradition, especially during the winter. Everyone from locals to first-time visitors flock to the theaters each year to see these three historic performances. Seats can range from pricey to very affordable so make sure you book reservations in advance. Sometimes if you’re lucky, you can even get same-day tickets through TKTS at a discounted price!

  1. New York City Ballet’s The Nutcracker at Lincoln Center
  2. The Radio City Rockettes Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall
  3. The New York Philharmonic’s live music at Lincoln Center

Past Events

These events have ended for 2023 but will repeat in future years. 

Thanksgiving Day Parade:

Every year on Thanksgiving morning, NYC hosts the iconic Macy’s Day parade. Starting at 8:30 AM EST, viewers around the country tune in to see the huge floats, dancing, marching bands, and celebrities go by. For New Yorkers, we bundle up and trek to Central Park West, Central Park South, and Sixth Avenue to watch the parade live. It is a tradition that runs deep throughout the city. People love seeing Snoopy float down the street or have their annual sighting of Jimmy Fallon and The Roots! Here are a few tips on how to successfully watch the parade ranging from most expensive to least:

  1. Buy a gorgeous apartment along the parade route! I will be honest, this is not realistic. However, if you are in the market for a beautiful apartment with a park view, maybe this is the move for you. Just be aware, that all of your friends will want to hang out with you on Thanksgiving Day morning, in hopes of getting a front-row view of the parade.
  2. Get a hotel along the route! Many hotels will set up viewing areas for their guests, especially if they are right along the route. If you are lucky, you might even be able to see the floats go right by your hotel room window!
  3. Find a friend who lives along Central Park West! This is my personal favorite way to watch the parade and what my family does every year. Not only do you get a front-row view of the floats and performers, but you also get to spend the morning with great friends! All of the apartments along the Central Park West block of their section of the sidewalk in front of their building for the residents to have priority viewing. If you do find some friends living in one of the swanky apartments, don’t forget to bring bagels and lox to munch on! Maybe bring some hot chocolate if it’s cold out!
  4. Walk over to one of the viewing areas along the parade route! My personal favorite is on the corner of 65th and Central Park West. You get to hang out with the locals and see the beginning parts of the parade, so if you get cold and want to go home, by the time you walk through the door and turn on the TV, they are just arriving at Macy’s! If you get there a little late, no worries! The balloons go high above the crowd, so there’s no chance you’ll miss your sighting of the Baby Yoda balloon. I would suggest, though, if you are looking to see some celebrities get there early for a front-row view of the parade! 

Central Park Menorah

Certified by Guinness World Records, Central Park’s menorah is the largest in the world. They light an additional candle each night of Hanukkah. 

Hopefully, you are ready to go now for your next trip to the Big Apple for the holidays! There is so much to do in this city, so if you’ve already been once, trust me, there is something you haven’t seen or done yet. Coming soon, we’ll give you a list of restaurants you must check out in NYC, so keep an eye out and subscribe to our email list so you read every article. Subscribe here.

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