Tag Archives: Christmas travel

Favorite Places to Travel to Spend the Christmas Holidays

An urban resort stay:Gaylord National Resort just outside Washington DC offers a spectacular Christmas on the Potomac festival including ICE! where you get to go down an ice slide kept frozen at 9 degrees © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

I have so many fond memories of Christmases past, spent in charming, festive places that capture the magic and spirit of the season, and most importantly, bring our family together with experiences we share.

My criteria for great destination places to spend the winter holidays starts with charm, offers plenty to do indoors as well as outdoors that interests everyone in the family, is walkable to get around or at least offers great public transportation, perhaps even a cutesy trolley or something that is fun. Has great decorations, has a festive feel, and most important, doesn’t shut down and close up for the holidays. 

Christmas in the Capital

Washington DC certainly fits this bill – you can spend all your time just on the National Mall, visiting iconic museums like the National Air & Space Museum (a major favorite for families, great café also)), the relatively new Museum of the American Indian, the even newer Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture, National Museum of American History, National Museum of Natural History, the National Portrait Gallery, National Archives, and just across the avenue is the gorgeous National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden ice skating rink and charming café (also skating at The Wharf, Georgetown, and Capitol Riverfront). Go further afield to the Spy Museum and if the weather permits, the National Zoo (easy access by Metro).

Ice skating on the Sculpture Garden rink across from the National Archives. Washington DC is one of the best destinations for family travel over the Christmas holidays © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Best way to take in the Capital city’s holiday lights is with these free offerings: Tour America’s historic train stations in miniature at Seasons Greenings: All Aboard! at the U.S. Botanic Gardens (thru Jan. 2); Smithsonian National Zoo dazzles with more than 500,000 LED lights, snowless tubing and more at ZooLights, 5-9 pm thru Jan.1, (closed Dec. 24, 25, 31); take in National Christmas tree in President’s Park on the Ellipse is attended by 56 decorated state and territory trees and Santa’s Workshop and enjoy nightly musical performances thru Dec. 31.

Also memorable: George Washington’s Mount Vernon celebrates the season with Colonial dancing, chocolate-making and caroling, Nov. 23-Dec. 31; candlelit tours run Nov. 23, 24, 30; Dec. 1, 7, 8, 16.There are Holiday in the Park thrills at Six Flags America with lights, rides and s’mores: Nov. 23-25, Dec. 1-2, 8-9, 15-16, 21-23, 26-31. Among the holiday performances underway: National Symphony Orchestra’s Handel’s Messiah (Dec. 20-23); at Warner Theatre, the Washington Ballet’s Nutcracker recasts the classic in the Lincoln White House (Nov. 29-Dec. 28); and Richly Dressed, A Christmas Carol (Nov. 15-Dec. 30) at Ford’s Theatre.

Find inspiration for memorable getaways on Destination DC’s holiday landing page on washington.org, and its Instagram and Facebook channels, including festive hotel packages, menus, holiday lights, ice skating rinks, gift markets, can’t-miss exhibitions and events across the city’s welcoming neighborhoods. Help with planning is available from a DC travel expert weekdays 8:30 am-5 pm, 800-422-8644.

To really get into the spirit, stay at the elegant and historic Willard InterContinental  (it’s a stone’s throw from the White House and was where Abraham Lincoln stayed before his inauguration) which transforms into a holiday-inspired wonderland, a beloved tradition that both locals and visitors have come to anticipate each year, with its display of yuletide trimmings, musical fanfare and epicurean delights thru January 1. The centerpiece is the treasured Christmas tree, boasting decades of sentiment on each carefully curated branch. The Willard is the only hotel in Washington  to feature the White House Ornament Collection, an initiative founded by the White House Historical Association in 1981: each ornament honors a different U.S. President or special White House event. This year honors Harry S. Truman, 33rd president, and the three significant changes made during his administration – one to the Presidential Seal and two to the White House itself. Another iconic facet of the hotel’s décor is their picturesque gingerbread display in the lobby that pays tribute to an iconic landmark in and around D.C.  This year’s display pays homage to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and with a magnificent replica that will include all terminals, lighted runways, a control tower and even parts of the Washington Metro.  

Turn your visit into a complete resort stay at the Gaylord National Resort which has its Christmas on the Potomac festival that is not to be missed (whether or not you stay), that includes ICE! where you walk through a winter wonderland carved from over 2 million pounds of ice, this year telling the holiday tale of A Charlie Brown Christmas www.ChristmasOnThePotomac.com. (https://www.marriott.com/gaylord-hotels/gaylord-national-harbor-christmas-on-the-potomac.mi)

Christmas in Newport

Newport, Rhode Island is always enchanting, but never more so than at the winter holidays, when, it seems, the entire town is one big festival. There’s a palpable elation throughout the City-by-the Sea during Christmas in Newport, a month-long celebration toasting simple traditions of the holiday season. For nearly 50 years, this event has made for an extraordinary holiday respite in a quaint New England coastal town. White lights illuminate homes, shops, restaurants and the bustling wharves in a ritual meant to represent candlelight from days gone by, when families would wait for their loved ones to return home from their seafaring adventures. Holiday events are tailored to entertain every age, including tree lightings, Polar Express train rides, historical tours, shopping strolls, concerts and dances like the Newport Nutcracker, Island Moving Company’s rendition of the classic holiday ballet, Victorian-era Christmas festivities, culinary fêtes, arts and cultural celebrations and more. (Where else but Newport can you gaze at a 16-foot working gingerbread lighthouse?) (See discovernewport.org, 800-326-6030, for trip planning help.)

The Great Hall of The Breakers, decked out for the holidays, part of Christmas at the Newport Mansions and festivities that take over the City-by-the-Sea, Newport, RI.

Christmas at the Newport Mansions returns to The Breakers, The Elms and Marble House with newly imagined holiday decor thru Jan. 1. The three houses offer a total of 25 large decorated Christmas trees, plus additional smaller potted trees and topiaries. Windows in each mansion are lit with individual white candles. New this year, professional event designers will create contemporary holiday tablescapes in the dining rooms at Marble House and The Elms, and in the Breakfast Room of The Breakers, to provide inspiration and ideas to visitors for ways they can decorate their own holiday tables.

Holiday Evenings at the Newport Mansions recreate the ambiance of an evening soirée during the Gilded Age: at The Breakers are Saturdays, December 1, 8, 22 and 29, 6-8 p.m; On December 15, guests can visit both The Elms and Marble House for the price of one, 6-9 p.m. ($35 in advance, $45 day-of the event. Children 6-17 are admitted for $10 in advance, $15 day-of. Children under the age of 6 free. More information and tickets are available online or call (401) 847-1000.

The Breakers, The Elms and Marble House open daily for tours, except Thanksgiving and Christmas Day, through Jan. 1. Rosecliff will also be open in December, with a new exhibition, Bill Cunningham: Facades, featuring photographs by the late New York Times photographer. A Winter Passport ticket providing daytime admission to up to 4 houses can be purchased for $30 for adults, $10 for children 6-17. Children under the age of 6 are admitted free. Individual house tickets are also available. Tickets can be purchased online or at each property. (Program information at newportmansions.org.)

A chanteuse entertains at The Vanderbilt, a Grace hotel, that was originally built by Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, third son of Cornelius Vanderbilt II and Alice Claypoole Vanderbilt, who died heroically in the sinking of the Lusitania © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There are any number of marvelous hotels and inns to accommodate. We loved our holiday stay at The Vanderbilt, a historic boutique hotel a short walk (and what a rooftop view) to Newport’s delightful waterfront, which makes you feel like a Vanderbilt. In fact, it was originally built by Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, third son of Cornelius Vanderbilt II and Alice Claypoole Vanderbilt, who died heroically in the sinking of the Lusitania. The 1909 mansion has been restored to its former glory and is one of the few private homes of the era to operate for guests as a fully functioning luxury hotel in Rhode Island. The Vanderbilt offers 33 rooms and luxury suites, a lavish spa, indoor and outdoor pools, and a signature restaurant, The Vanderbilt Grill. A Grace Hotel, it is now part of the Auberge Resort Collection (www.gracehotels.com/vanderbilt/).

More Favorite Places for the Winter Holidays 

Manchester, Vermont, a delightful New England village, hosts six weeks of holiday merriment, across the Manchester and the Mountains Region (a whole village of outlet shops, too!). There are tours of decorated inns, pub crawls with local restaurants offering special pairings, a Lighted Tractor Parade, and the Elf Express Train ride. A highlight of any visit to Manchester is a tour Hildene, Robert Todd Lincoln’s estate, festooned in Victorian finery, just as it might have been when they stayed for the holidays so many years ago. Take the self-guided tour; throughout December, talented musicians play Mary Lincoln’s Steinway and the vintage Aeolian organ (www.hildene.org). (Trip planning help at visitmanchestervt.com/merriment).

One of our favorite places to stay for the holidays in Manchester is the historic Equinox, where Mary Todd Lincoln would spend summers. The Equinox has since become a four-season luxury resort with every imaginable amenity including world-class spa, indoor pool, Orvis fly fishing school, a falconry school, Range Rover driving school. Besides outlet shopping and historic sites such as  Hildene, the Equinox is also a short drive to superb downhill skiing at Stratton, Bromley and Magic Mountain (www.equinoxresort.com, 800-362-4747).

Woodstock, Vermont is the quintessential New England village, oozing charm and its centerpiece is the historic Woodstock Inn. An AAA Four Diamond resort, it is decked out in holiday finery and activities galore (Tubbs Snowshoe Adventure Center, cross-country skiing, luxurious spa and indoor recreation center with tennis, visits to the fascinating Billings Farm & Museum, downhill skiing at the resort’s own Suicide Six ski hill, with Killington just 25 minutes away and Okemo 40 minutes away. Founded by the Rockefellers, the Woodstock Inn & Resort is owned and operated by The Woodstock Foundation, Inc.  Proceeds from Resort operations support The Woodstock Foundation and Billings Farm & Museum education and conservation programs. Find vacation packages and specials at www.woodstockinn.com.

Christmas carolers at Longwood Gardens in the Brandywine Region © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

One of my most memorable Christmases was spent in Wilmington, Delaware, the hub for nearby historic Newcastle and the whole Brandywine Valley Region. There are scores of holiday attractions and activities –Longworth Gardens, famous for its holiday decorations and enchanting Dancing Fountains (open even on Christmas Day), “Yuletide at Winterthur” Museum, Gardens and Library with its sensational holiday performances; the fascinating Hagley Museum and DuPont Mansion; the Brandywine River Museum of Art with its unparalleled collection of  Wyeth family art and nearby historic towns of Old New Castle and Odessa (http://thebrandywine.com/attractions/index.html). See schedule at https://www.visitwilmingtonde.com/events/holiday/

Staying at the historic Hotel DuPont, makes it all the more special; that Christmas Eve we walked across the street to participate in the evening church services. (www.hoteldupont.com)

Christmas in Victorian Cape May, NJ

Victorian Cape May at Christmas offers six weeks of festive tours and events sponsored by the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts & Humanities (MAC) through Jan. 1.Take a guided, daytime, living history tour of the magnificent 1879 Physick Estate, Cape May’s only Victorian house museum, decorated in authentic Victorian style for Christmas, during Physick Family Christmas House Tours, presented from the viewpoint of a member of the Physick family in the early 1900s. The tour also includes a visit to the Carroll Gallery at the Emlen Physick Estate where you can see “An Old-fashioned Christmas” exhibit. Offered daily (except Thanksgiving and Christmas) through Jan. 1,; hours vary. Adults $12; children (3-12) $8. There are historic district trolley tours (many themed, like Ghosts of Christmas Past), house tours, Lamplighter Christmas Tours which are self-guided evening tours of Cape May’s inns and private homes, specially decorated for the holidays. Here, the perfect place to stay is in one of the historic inns (www.capemay.com/stay). For more information. Contact Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts & Humanities (MAC), 609-884-5404 or 800-275-4278 or visit www.capemaymac.org.

Go back even further in time at Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, a living-history museum, fill out the visit with Busch Gardens Williamsburg and other attractions including the Jamestown Settlement and the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, where you will experience  Christmastide in Virginia. (Dec. 20-31), offering a glimpse of 17th and 18th century holiday traditions including daily appearances by the Lord of Misrule at Jamestown Settlement and period musical entertainment at both museums. At Busch Gardens, enjoy Christmas Town (select dates through January 5) offers one of the largest light displays in North America with more than 10 million lights. New this year, Busch Gardens Railway turns into the Christmas Town Express, with caroling, 2 million lights, holiday-themed vignets along the 1.5 mile route around the theme park; plus 25 rides are open including InvadR and Verbolten roller coasters. (Planning help at www.visitwilliamsburg.com). Complete the magical experience with a stay at the grand, historic Williamsburg Inn, a full-service luxury (five Diamond) resort (www.colonialwilliamsburghotels.com).

Christmas at Busch Gardens Williamsburg

St Petersburg, Florida affords the unparalleled opportunity to combine arts, culture, heritage with a glamorous, historic and grand beach resort, the DonCesar Resort, known as “the Pink Lady” (www.doncesar.com). St. Petersburg/Clearwater offers  scores of special activities – lighted boat parades that take place at various times in small villages; outdoor carolers at the holiday market. The very special Clearwater Marine Aquarium (home of the Dolphin’s Tale stories) transforms into Winter’s Wonderland through Jan. 6; watch special Santa dive presentations at Mavis’s Rescue Hideaway (CMA holiday fun). The annual Holiday Lights in the Gardens has a million LED lights shining throughout the Botanical Gardens (from 5:30 p.m.; $5 suggested donation) through Dec. 30.Head to Christmas Town at Busch Gardens for some great thrill rides and to see the park transform into a holiday wonderland of Christmastime entertainment, holiday shopping and a million twinkling lights!  (through Dec. 31). (www.visitstpeteclearwater.com)

Trade pine trees for palm trees for the winter holidays at Loews Don CeSar (the “Pink Lady”), on St. Pete Beach on Florida’s Gulf Coast © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

San Francisco has so many amazing attractions and charms (I can’t get enough of the trolley cars or the trolley museum), but really gets decked out for the holidays when the entire city becomes a Gallery of Light Art.  Now in its sixth year, “Illuminate SF Festival of Light” celebrates 37 dramatic, eco-friendly light art installations located throughout San Francisco. Located in 17 different neighborhoods, the works, by 30 local and world-renowned light artists, are accessible by public transport and many are free for all to view, thru New Year’s Day. The works come to life at dusk throughout the city with a luminescence that will turn any evening into an illuminating adventure, especially when combined with exploring San Francisco’s world-class museums performing arts and restaurants. The light art can be found in neighborhoods in the Embarcadero along the waterfront, in North Beach, Civic Center, Central Market, the Inner Sunset, South of Market (SoMa), Potrero, Mission Bay, Bayview, Golden Gate Park, Hayes Valley, South Beach, the Castro, the Mission District and even flying in or out of San Francisco International Airport (SFO). (The San Francisco Travel Association offers a guide to all of the installations and artists at www.illuminatesf.com; plan your visit at www.sftravel.com.)

One of the light art installations that decorate San Francisco for the holidays, “Photosynthesis Love for all Seasons” by Ralsy Sabater.

Combine city and country with a stay at The Tenaya Lodge at the doorstep to Yosemite National Park.  Families are delighted by the festive décor and special holiday activities, including gingerbread house and ornament decoraiting workshops, live lobby music, a  Christmas Eve reading with Mrs. Claus, and Dinner with Santa. The resort has its own ice skating rink, sleds, horse-drawn sleigh rides, showshoes.  And this holiday season, the resort is helping California wildfire victims by donating $25 toward  CalFund’s Wildfire Relief Fund on stays booked with this offer where you also save 15% on holiday stays, Dec. 21 to Jan. 6, two-night minimum stay, promo: HOLIDAYS (www.tenayalodge.com).

Chattanooga, Tennessee offers a surprising array of extraordinary experiences: walk through a secret underground ice cave  and see Rock City’s Enchanted Garden of Lights, explore a nocturnal fantasyland with more than one million twinkling lights high atop Lookout Mountain; hop on board a train for a North Pole adventure; sing Christmas carols and dance with Santa on a river cruise; meet coral reef Santa divers; build creative gingerbread houses; watch animals open their own Christmas presents when you visit the Children’s Discovery Museum and the Tennessee Aquarium. Get the full scoop on planning a holiday getaway in Chattanooga at www.chattanoogafun.com/winter. 

Historic train car turned into an enchanting sleeping room at the Chattanooga Choo Choo, Chattanooga, Tennessee © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel offers an absolutely magical experience. The historic hotel (and member of Historic Hotels of America) is literally created out of the legendary railroad station, where you can stay in one of 48 Victorian train cars converted to the most delightful rooms, wonderfully furnished in period pieces (but with modern amenities like high-speed wireless Internet access), and the station serves as the hotel lobby (you can also tour some of the historic trains and meet the engineer). A free electric shuttle from the bus terminal next door takes you downtown.  I don’t know when I have had a more enjoyable and interesting stay. (Chattanooga Choo Choo, 400 Market St., Chattanooga, TN 37402, 800-TRACK-29 (872-2529, www.choochoo.com.)


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Holidays in New York, The Most Enchanting Time of the Year

Rockefeller Center decked out for the holidays © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

New York City’s most magical time of the year, the winter holiday season, is already underway with the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, continues with the iconic Christmas Tree lighting ceremony at Rockefeller Center, and constantly delights with festivals, special events and attractions, and all the dazzle of holiday decorations right through New Year’s Day.

Throughout the season, each of the city’s five boroughs welcome multicultural guests to participate in local observances of diverse holidays. Secular activities include unforgettable department store windows, artisanal markets to explore, plus attractions and cultural draws. The season concludes by welcoming in the New Year with lesser-known fireworks at Prospect Park in Brooklyn and, of course, the unforgettable New Year’s Eve ball drop in Times Square.

“New York City is a sight to behold during the festive annual holiday season—it’s a time of year when world-class hotels, attractions and shops sparkle and shine brighter, offering six million global visitors a truly memorable travel experience,” said Fred Dixon, President and CEO of NYC & Company, the official destination marketing organization for the City of New York.

Here’s an overview of what to see and do by borough:


The 91st Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade—featuring larger-than-life helium balloons, performances by the casts of Broadway musicals, select marching bands from across the nation and celebrity appearances—kicks off the holiday season on November 23. (macys.com). (Macy’s iconic Thanksgiving Parade that kicks off the winter holiday season actually starts the night before, with a gigantic blow-up event that has become a major festival experience, drawing tens of thousands of onlookers on the streets around the American Museum of Natural History and Central Park West. This year, the event takes place from 1-8 pm; entrance is at 74th Street.)

Macy’s iconic Thanksgiving Parade that kicks off the winter holiday season actually starts the night before, with a gigantic blow-up event that has become a major festival experience, drawing tens of thousands of onlookers. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting ceremony, an iconic symbol of the holidays in New York City, takes place on November 29. The tree remains lit through January 7. (rockefellercenter.com).

The Rockettes high-kick their way into the festive season, as the Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes returns November 10–January 1. The production dazzles audiences with extravagant costumes and fan favorites. Of note, families should mark their calendars for November 26, the inaugural Party City Kid’s Day, featuring pre-show activities to enthrall kids of all ages (rockettes.com).

November 30–January 5, the annual Brookfield Luminaries experience in the Winter Garden at Brookfield Place is reimagined. From 8am–10pm daily, visitors can “send” a wish from one of three stations to the canopy of hundreds of lanterns above, transforming the wish into a mesmerizing display of colors (brookfieldplaceny.com).

The City’s famed window displays are a must-see over the holidays.  WindowsWear operates daily tours, which begin at Macy’s in Herald Square and journey up Fifth Avenue, passing the Empire State Building, Bryant Park, Rockefeller Center, Central Park and more. In previous years, holiday tours have taken place between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve (windowswear.com). Our favorite walking route starts with Macy’s at 34th Street, moves to Fifth Avenue for Lord & Taylor, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Bergdorf Goodman on 57th Street. (Barneys and Bloomingdale’s also have window displays).

A child’s delight enjoying the decorated windows at Macy’s © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The New York Transit Museum Gallery Annex and Store at Grand Central Terminal is back with its 16th Annual Holiday Train Show. Lionel trains travel through a two-level, 34-foot-long miniature New York City and countryside scene. Vintage trains from the museum’s collection travel to the diorama’s North Pole from November 16 to February 4 (grandcentralterminal.com).

At Harlem’s legendary Apollo Theater, the 11th annual Kwanzaa Celebration, Regeneration Night, is December 30. The Apollo’s celebration honors family, community and culture through a joyful evening of dance and music (apollotheater.org).

Also on December 30, the American Museum of Natural History holds its 39th annual Kwanzaa celebration, honoring the seven guiding principles of the holiday and featuring an international market (amnh.org). Also check out the newly opened exhibit, “Our Senses: An Immersive Experience.” (See: American Museum of Natural History Creates Immersive Experience for Understanding ‘Our Senses’)

Visit a museum over the holidays. The American Museum of Natural History just opened “Our Senses: An Immersive Experience” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s holiday engagement at New York City Center takes place from November 29 to December 31. Artistic Director Robert Battle leads the company of 32 in more than two dozen dynamic works and a series of special performances. Unique to the season are world premieres of Members Don’t Get Weary and Victoria, plus a New Year’s Eve Season Finale (alvinailey.org).

Louis Vuitton presents Volez, Voguez, Voyagez – Louis Vuitton October 27–January 7 at the former American Stock Exchange building in Lower Manhattan. Curated by Olivier Saillard and designed by Robert Carsen, the free exhibit retraces the adventure of the House of Louis Vuitton from 1854 to the present. One of the show’s 10 chapters is entirely devoted to the United States and New York City. (vvv-new-york-louisvuitton.com)

Holiday favorite ELF The Musical is in performance at the Theater at Madison Square Garden for a limited engagement. Back by popular demand, the production runs December 13–29 (theateratmsg.com).

Radio City Rockettes performing Christmas Spectacular Wooden Soldiers © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Metropolitan Opera presents a family-friendly holiday extravaganza, The Magic Flute. Directed by Julie Taymor (The Lion King), the abridged English language presentation is a great introduction to opera for children. Additionally, those attending the December 29 and 30 performances will be invited to participate in activities, including opera-themed “dress-up” and “show-and-tell” (metopera.org).

The Metropolitan Museum of Art once again lights a 20-foot blue spruce above an 18th-century Neapolitan nativity scene, in the museum’s Medieval Sculpture Hall. The Exhibit of the Crèche is a long-standing holiday highlight for New Yorkers and global visitors and is available to view November 21–January 7 (metmuseum.org).

Bryant Park has become one of New York’s most festive holiday venues with ice skating, holiday markets, cafes, the carousel and the lighted tree © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Visitors can enjoy one of the City’s many outdoor skating rinks that open in October through the holiday season, such as the Rink at Rockefeller Center (therinkatrockcenter.com), Wollman Rink in Central Park (wollmanskatingrink.com) and Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park (wintervillage.org). The Rink at Brookfield Place opens November 1 (gpice.com).

The New York City Ballet presents George Balanchine’s The Nutcrackerone of the most beloved and anticipated holiday classics, November 24–December 31 at Lincoln Center (nycballet.com).

Other favorite venues to get into the Christmas Spirit: Bryant Park, with its massive Christmas tree, ice skating rink, festive holiday markets, cafes, and carousel (wintervillage.org) has become one of the city’s iconic holiday places.

Besides Bryant Park, there are holiday markets at Union Square, Columbus Circle, and Grand Central Terminal.

Central Park is magical in any season, but particularly for the holidays. In addition to the Wollman Rink (wollmanskatingrink.com), there is The Swedish Cottage, an enchanting place that is home to one of the last public marionette companies in the country. The cottage was originally constructed as a model pre-fabricated schoolhouse, and became Sweden’s entry in the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. After the exhibit, Central Park’s co-designer Frederick Law Olmsted had it placed in Central Park, where it has been headquarters for the Marionette Theater since 1939 (West Side at 79th Street). Currently playing is The Three Bears Holiday Bash, through Dec. 30 (purchase tickets, www.cityparksfoundation.org/arts/swedish-cottage-marionette-theatre). Ticket packages are available that include holiday workshops (geared to 3-8 year olds accompanied by adult): Monday, December 11 – Decorate a Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel; Friday, December 15 – Christmas Elf Stick Puppets; Friday, December 29 – Kwanzaa Stick Puppets.

Christmas at St. Patrick’s Cathedral © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Visiting St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue is a highlight of the holidays and it is remarkable that you can just walk in and enjoy an inspirational service, but a particularly favorite place is St. Thomas Church (5th Avenue and 53rd Street, www.saintthomaschurch.org), which is famous for the Saint Thomas Choir of Men and Boys, and its annual performances of Handel’s Messiah (Dec. 5, 7). Also this year, “A Ceremony of Carols” by Benjamin Britten (Dec. 14). (Purchase tickets, www.saintthomaschurch.org/music/concerts); also take a tour of this magnificent edifice, built in 1913 in the French High Gothic style.

There are also wonderful holiday concerts at historic Town Hall (123 W. 43 St., thetownhall.org).


The New York Botanical Garden’s cherished Holiday Train Show is a twinkling display of model trains traveling through a miniature landscape of 150+ iconic city structures. The 26th annual iteration spotlights Midtown Manhattan, with new versions of the Empire State Building, Chrysler Building, General Electric Building and St. Bartholomew’s Church, on view November 22–January 15 (nybg.org).

Families can enjoy making special holiday-themed crafts during the Holiday Workshop Weekend at Wave Hill, December 9–10 and can take home their very own natural wreaths, treasure boxes and other great keepsakes (wavehill.org).


In Downtown Brooklyn, the Brooklyn Ballet’s Nutcracker is an iteration of the holiday classic. It fuses ballet, hip-hop and various dance genres, plus reimagines Nutcracker characters and scenes to represent Brooklyn neighborhoods, such as Old Dutch Brooklyn and Flatbush Avenue. Performances are December 7–9, 11 and 13–16 (brooklynballet.org).

In Park Slope, Grand Army Plaza hosts nightly lightings of the Largest Menorah (32 feet tall) from December 12 to 19 during Hanukkah. A must-see in this location since 1984, there are concerts, gifts for children and celebrations each day through the festival of lights (largestmenorah.com).

Rounding out the season in Brooklyn, the Prospect Park Alliance presents annual fireworks at Grand Army Plaza to start the New Year. The best places for viewing are along Prospect Park’s West Drive and between Grand Army Plaza and 9th Street (prospectpark.org).

A horse-drawn carriage ride down Fifth Avenue © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com


The Gingerbread Lane at New York Hall of Science is open from November 11 to January 14. Hopeful for the fifth straight title of Largest Gingerbread Village from Guinness World Records, over 1,000 handmade gingerbread houses and structures are on display (nysci.org).

Astoria Market Bohemian Hall offers holiday shopping December 3, 10 and 17. Featuring vintage finds, plus local artisanal wares and crafts, it’s the perfect destination for sourcing eclectic presents. The venue also offers delicious desserts and pastries from local bakers (astoriamarket.com).

The tradition continues with A Christmas Carol at Queen’s Theatre. Scrooge and the Spirits of Christmas past, present and future are in residence in the borough December 8–22, thanks to Charles Dickens and Titan Theatre Company (queenstheatre.org).

Saks Fifth Avenue turns its entire building into a light-and-sound show for the holidays © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com


The first ever Winter Wonderland SI at Richmond County Bank Ballparkwill feature ice-skating, rides, games, a 34-vendor holiday market and more. Conveniently located steps from the Staten Island Ferry. At dusk each evening, there is a holiday light and sound show, and the Igloo Bar is a draw for adult attendees, featuring holiday cocktails and live entertainment (winterwonderlandsi.com).

A classic holiday tradition continues with the 14th Annual St. George Theatre Christmas Show December 8–10. Just steps from the Staten Island Ferry, this historic theater’s two-hour production features over 100 actors, a live orchestra and numerous holiday standards set in locales from the North Pole to Staten Island (stgeorgetheatre.com).

Midtown NYC Showcases ‘New’ NYC

Midtown NYC showcases the “new” NYC and this holiday season is an ideal time to experience new attractions:

Gulliver’s Gate, housed in the former New York Times building on West 44th Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues, features over 300 miniature buildings and models of iconic global landmarks. A full city block wide, the attraction is a technologically advanced, interactive and immersive world that ignites the imagination of visitors young and old (gulliversgate.com).

Midtown NYC showcases the “new” NYC with new attractions © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

National Geographic Encounter: Ocean Odyssey , which opened in October, is an immersive experience in Times Square (West 44th Street, between Seventh and Eighth Avenues) that uses ground-breaking technology to transport guests on an incredible underwater journey across the Pacific Ocean (natgeoencounter.com).

Beginning in November, NFL Experience Times Square, a new attraction on the corner of 47th Street and Seventh Avenue, immerses visitors in the physical challenges of professional NFL athletes. Visitors enter as a fan, become a player and leave a champion on this hero’s journey (nflexperience.com).

New Broadway musicals will entertain guests over the holiday season. Visitors can see all current and upcoming shows at nycgo.com/broadway. Highlights include SpongeBob, sure to be a hit with families and nostalgic millennials alike, and The Band’s Visit, an artistic new work starring Tony Shalhoub, among others (spongebobbroadway.comthebandsvisitmusical.com).

In celebration of the holiday season, this short video produced by NYC & Company captures the City’s festive essence. For a full holiday guide to NYC and more information about booking a trip to NYC this holiday season, visit nycgo.com/holidays.

Broadway Theater Presents Holiday Performance Schedule

The holidays are a perfect time to see a show. Broadway performs every day of the week at multiple curtain times to accommodate every schedule, including holidays. During Thanksgiving and Christmas weeks, some shows are changing their performance schedules.

Broadway theaters offer holiday schedule of performances; 14 shows even have performances on Christmas Day © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

“During the most wonderful time of the year, theatergoers can rely on Broadway to help them celebrate by fitting a show into their holiday plans,” says Charlotte St. Martin, President of The Broadway League. “With special matinees and evening performances, Broadway provides many additional opportunities to see a production. From comedies to dramas, old favorites and new, there are so many choices that there’s something for everyone throughout the Thanksgiving and holiday weeks.”

During Thanksgiving week, some shows will play on Thanksgiving Day, and many will play Friday matinees. Fourteen shows will be playing on Christmas Day! During Christmas week, alternate curtain times will also include Friday matinees and evening performances. Check Broadway.org to see the holiday performance schedules and easily find out where and when shows are playing.


© 2017 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin , and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

New York City is Winter Wonderland of Spirited Delights


Rockefeller Center is like Christmas central in New York City © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Rockefeller Center is like Christmas central in New York City © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

New York City is never more vibrant than during the holiday season.

The epicenter for Christmas in New York is Rockefeller Center – the Christmas tree, ice skating on one of the most iconic rinks in the world (therinkatrockcenter.com, ringed by giant Nutcrackers and holiday garlands and a veritable parade of angels. Perhaps little known, there are delightful eateries and shops inside at rink level. Also, you are just across the street from Saks Fifth Avenue which besides stunning animated storybook windows, has for several years turned its entire façade into a holiday Sound & Light show. Cap it off with a visit to St. Patrick’s Cathedral and St. Thomas Church (check out the holiday concert schedule).

Take a walking tour by the famed animated windows © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Take a walking tour by the famed animated windows © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The City twinkles with holiday spirit, particularly as its famed stores strive to outdo the previous year’s artful animated windows. One of my favorite things is to structure a walking tour that starts at Macy’s on 34th Street, and moves up to Fifth Avenue to Lord & Taylor, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Bergdorf Goodman on 57th Street. (Barneys and Bloomingdale’s also have window displays).  

Other favorite venues to get into the Christmas Spirit: Bryant Park, with its massive Christmas tree, ice skating rink, holiday markets (through Jan 3), cafes, and carousel (wintervillage.org) has become a another hallmark of the holidays.

Bryant Park with its Christmas tree, skating rink, holiday market and cafes has become a warm and wonderful holiday venue © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Bryant Park with its Christmas tree, skating rink, holiday market and cafes has become a warm and wonderful holiday venue © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Besides Bryant Park, there are holiday markets (through Dec 24) at Union Square, Columbus Circle, and Grand Central Terminal.

While your at The annual Holiday Train Show at Grand Central Terminal, a popular model railroad exhibition presented annually by the New York Transit Museum, features Metro-North, New York Central, and subway trains departing from a miniature Grand Central Terminal (through February, M-F, 8 am-8pm, Sat-Sun, 10 am-6pm (grandcentralterminal.com).

Can’t get enough trains for Christmas? The New York Botanical Garden’s Holiday Train Show is a must-see New York tradition for families, featuring model trains that hum past more than 150 iconic buildings in a miniature city landscape (though Jan 16, 2017). (nybg.org).

Central Park is magical in any season, but particularly for the holidays, with the Wollman Rink (wollmanskatingrink.com). The Swedish Cottage, an enchanting place that should be visited, is home to one of the last public marionette companies in the country. (The cottage was originally constructed as a model pre-fabricated schoolhouse, and became Sweden’s entry in the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. After the exhibit, Central Park;s co-designer Frederick Law Olmsted had it placed in Central Park, where it has been headquarters for the Marionette Theater since 1939. On view: Three Bears Holiday Bash, through Dec. 30. (West Side at 79th Street) Three Bears Holiday Bash, through Dec. 30 (purchase tickets, www.cityparksfoundation.org/arts/swedish-cottage-marionette-theatre). 

What would Christmas be without the Rockettes or the “Nutcracker”?

The Rockettes kick their way into the holidays as the Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes  through January 2. The production will dazzle audiences with brand new dance numbers, extravagant costumes, and traditional fan favorites (rockettes.com/christmas).

The New York City Ballet presents George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, one of the most beloved and anticipated holiday classics, from November 25-December 31 (nycballet.com).

There are always fantastic things going on at the American Museum of Natural History, famous for the Origami Holiday Tree (amnh.org), The theme of this year’s 13-foot tree is origami Dinosaurs Among Us, inspired by the current exhibitions ¡Cuba! and Dinosaurs Among Us. Visitors can see feathered dinosaurs and stunning modern birds among other treasured models. During the holiday season, knowledgable volunteers will be on hand to teach visitors of all ages the art of origami folding (through Jan.6). There are scores of special activities through December (even a sleepover for adults!). The Butterfly Conservatory has reopened.

Also amazing venues: Metropolitan Museum of Art (metmuseum.org), The New-York Historical Society Museum & Library (nyhistory.org).

The Empire State Building puts on a show for Christmas © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The Empire State Building puts on a show for Christmas © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Look up to the Empire State Building for its annual holiday light show series from December 20 – December 24. The building’s stunning Art Deco lobby will also be decked out with brand-new holiday decorations and custom-designed holiday windows. While you are looking up, tune in: Empire State Realty Trust, Inc. and iHeartMedia have announced that the annual Empire State Building (ESB) holiday music-to-light show will feature global superstar Mariah Carey and her iconic hit song, “All I Want for Christmas Is You” from her first holiday album, Merry Christmas. The show, designed by renowned lighting designer Marc Brickman, will premiere on December 19 and will be synced live each night at 7 p.m. ET on iHeartMedia New York’s Z100, 103.5 KTU and 106.7 Lite FM through December 25. (www.esbnyc.com/explore/tower-lights/calendar)

Holiday Tours with a Twist

The RIDE, an innovative bus tour of Manhattan’s highlights, does a special Holiday Edition, available through Jan. 8. The comfy motorcoaches, designed so that the seats face out to giant picture windows, whips around the city. (holiday tickets $79, 212-221-0853,ExperienceTheRide.com).l

Sugartooth Tours presents a Holiday Market Dessert Tour that lets you sample delectable desserts from Herald Square through lesser-known hidden gem bakeries, where you experience the culinary traditions of a wide variety of countries, including France, Germany, and Belgium, tasting hot chocolate, gingerbread cookies and other treats. The tour concludes at the Union Square Holiday Market, the area’s most exciting holiday market for shopping and other holiday treats. The tours are offered Sundays at 2 pm up until Christmas, and by request for groups. Tickets are $50 and include all tastings. Gift certificates available. www.sugartoothtours.com.

Holiday Festivities in the Boroughs

The New York Hall of Science presents Gingerbread Lane, which features more than 1,050 gingerbread houses as well as a double-decker carousel and 10-square-foot candy factory. Visitors can marvel at homemade gingerbread houses made entirely of edible gingerbread, royal icing and candy. The houses are drafted, designed, baked, planned, built and decorated by chef Jon Lovitch over the course of an entire year. GingerBread Lane has won the Guinness World Record for 2013, 2014 and 2015 for the largest gingerbread village. Lovitch’s creation will again contend for this year’s Guinness World Record. Free with NYSCI admission (through Jan 15, 2017, nysci.org).

Visitors can take a tour of the festively decorated Queens County Farm Museum during the Holiday Open House at the Adriance Farmhouse in Floral Park, December 26–28 (noon-4 pm). Enjoy free tours of the decorated 1772 Adriance Farmhouse at our annual Holiday Open House. Children will enjoy seasonal craft activities and all visitors are invited to warm up with freshly mulled cider and snacks. A Victorian Christmas tree will be on display. (Free event; no gate admission,queensfarm.org)

The Louis Armstrong House Museum, a national historic landmark, hosts annual holiday tours throughout the holiday season, featuring Louis Armstrong’s voice recording of “’Twas the Night before Christmas (A Visit from St. Nicholas)” from December 1-30 (louisarmstronghouse.org).

A Slice of Brooklyn’s Christmas Lights Tour, running through December 31 (excluding Christmas Eve and Christmas Day), will dazzle guests with Dyker Heights’ sparkling lights exhibitions featuring 30-foot-tall toy soldiers and nativity scenes (asliceofbrooklyn.com).


Christmas Eve & Christmas Day

Saks 5th Avenue turns its façade into a holiday Sound & Light Show © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Saks 5th Avenue turns its façade into a holiday Sound & Light Show © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

As for what to do Christmas Eve to Christmas Day (when most other places close). Here are some ideas:

For the holiday fanatic:

Skating beneath the famous Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center City © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Skating beneath the famous Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center City © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
  • The Rink at Rockefeller Center is open December 24–25, offering visitors the chance to skate next to the iconic Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree (therinkatrockcenter.com).
  • Open Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, the Bryant Park Winter Village is ideal for ice-skating and holiday shopping at its many seasonal vendors (wintervillage.org).
  • The Radio City Rockettes will perform the beloved Christmas Spectacular in three shows on December 24 and four on December 25 (rockettes.com).
  • The Ride: Holiday Edition is back this year, offering interactive tours on both December 24 & 25 (experiencetheride.com). 
Radio City’s world-famous Rockettes put on their iconic Christmas show © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Radio City’s world-famous Rockettes put on their iconic Christmas show © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

For (not just) the first-time visitor:

  • Visitors can admire the City from up high all weekend long, with the iconic Empire State Building open 8am–2am (com).
  • In Lower Manhattan, the recently opened One World Observatory is open 9am–5pm on Christmas Eve and 9am–10pm on Christmas Day.
  • Above the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree and Ice Rink, Top of the Rock is open 8am–11pm on December 24 and 8am–midnight December 25 (com).
  • Beloved Madame Tussauds New York has extended hours on December 24–25, open 9am–10pm both days (com).
  • Ripley’s Believe it or Not’s 500-plus unique exhibits are open to the public 365 days a year, with holiday weekend hours of 9am–1am (com).

For the culture buff:

  • 12 Broadway shows are offering Christmas Day performances, including Beautiful – The Carole King Musical, Cats, Chicago, The Color Purple, Jersey Boys and Wicked (org).
  • Historic jazz club Blue Note New York offers brunch and evening performances on December 24–25 (net).
  • Visitors to the Upper East Side’s Jewish Museum on December 24-25 can enjoy new exhibits and a sit-down meal at the museum’s recently opened Russ & Daughters café (org).

For the outdoorsman:

  • The City’s public parks, including Central Park, Pelham Bay Park and Prospect Park, are open over the holiday weekend, (nycgovparks.org).
  • Three of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s zoos—Central Park Zoo, Prospect Park Zoo and Queens Zoo—are open on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day (wcs.org).
  • The High Line, a stunning urban park that is itself a work of art (and has become one of New York’s most popular attractions), is open to the public over the holidays, offering visitors spectacular views of Manhattan’s Far West Side, Empire State Building, Hudson River and beyond (thehighline.org).  

For the last-minute shopper:

Macy’s at Herald Square will be open Christmas Eve and Christmas Day for last-minute shopping © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Macy’s at Herald Square will be open Christmas Eve and Christmas Day for last-minute shopping © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
  • Several department stores are open Christmas Eve (closed Christmas Day), including Macy’s Herald Square, Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdales (nycgo.com).
  • Arthur Avenue’s food and retail market is open December 24–25, offering the opportunity to purchase authentic Italian produce, fresh cheese, meats and holiday treats (arthuravenuebronx.com).
  • Brooklyn Flea’s Winter Market at Skylight One Hanson is open December 24 from 10am to 3pm, and is offering extended noon to 8pm holiday hours December 21–23 (brooklynflea.com).

Lower East Side staple Essex Street Market will be open December 24, with vendors including beauty suppliers, art galleries and bakeries (essexstreetmarket.com).

Holiday Places to Dine

As for the most festive places for dining:

  • Tavern on the Green, the Central Park holiday mainstay, offers a three-course prix-fixe Brunch menu from 9am-3pm. For Christmas Eve and Christmas Day they will offer their Traditional Tavern on the Green Christmas dinner for $125 per person. Seating will be 4pm-11pm on Christmas Eve and 11am-9pm on Christmas Day (com).
  • The Palm Court at The Plaza offers special Christmas high tea service with a three-tiered assortment of holiday delicacies on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day for $125 per person. Their holiday menu runs from November 1 – January 3 (com).
  • Marcus Samuelsson’s Red Rooster Harlem presents a three-course prix-fixe menu for $55 per person featuring American holiday staples such as cornbread, deviled eggs, honey glazed ham, butternut squash soup, and roast turkey (com).
  • David Chang’s renowned Momofuku Ko presents an eight-course tasting menu for both lunch and dinner on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day for $225 per person (momofuku.com).
  • Geoffrey Zakarian’s The Lambs Club presents a Holiday Carolers Brunch each Saturday in December and Christmas Day, featuring a traditional caroling troupe and seasonal treats like the Stuffed French Toast with mascarpone, cranberry-pear compote and hazelnuts along with decadent hot chocolate and toppings. Reservations are $68 Per adult and $35 per child (com).

Holiday Lodging Packages

Many of the city’s hotels have special holiday-themed packages © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Many of the city’s hotels have special holiday-themed packages © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Have family or friends who are visiting from out of town? Here are some hotel ideas:

  • Visitors have no shortage of options when it comes to new hotels this holiday season, including The Beekman, Four Seasons New York Downtown and Arlo Hotels’ two new properties.
  • Z Hotel NYC is offering a Making Memories Package from October 7 to December 24. Components of the package include a Deluxe Queen overlooking the Manhattan skyline, dinner for two in the hotel’s new restaurant, the ceLLar bar, ice skating at Rockefeller Center, and a picture flip book capturing memories of your NYC trip.
  • For the holiday shopping season, ROW NYC offers a Bloomingdales Shop & Stay package, providing guests with a Bloomingdales’ $50 gift card, duffle bag, VIP leather wallet, key chain and special in-store offers (com).
  • Conrad New York will again offer its Conrad Skate package, including a stay in the hotel’s luxurious suites, breakfast at ATRIO Wine Bar & Restaurant and private skating lessons with Olympic skaters at The Rink at Brookfield Place, with a special autographed takeaway gift and hot cocoa at the hotel, post-skating (com).
  • Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve, The Time Hotel New York offers a Holiday On Point Package. The offer includes Caviar pizza from Serafina paired with a Magnum bottle of Dom Perignon Rose Champagne delivered to the suite at midnight, as well as overnight accommodations in the Triplex Penthouse Suite and limo transfers to and from the airport (com).
  • The Surrey is launching a new package, Champagne Wishes to celebrate the holidays and toast the New Year in true luxury. Visitors who reserve a salon or suite during the holiday season will receive a child bottle of Veuve Cliquot, Champagne Truffles and a Champagne and Pearl Sugar treatment at the hotel’s Cornelia Spa (com).
  • During the month of December, The Loews Regency offers unique and festive holiday experiences including a 15-foot-tall Christmas tree, complimentary Hot Chocolate happy hour, complimentary kate spade new york pajamas, and carol performances every day in the lobby (com).

For a full holiday guide to New York City, visit nycgo.com/holidays.


© 2016 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures