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