After living in New York City for 15 years and having a couple of Christmassy book tours under my belt, I now feel it’s time to throw my ring into an ultimate guide to Christmas in New York City. Yup. I did it. This will be the ultimate of the ultimatest of NYC Christmas guides. And bonus…I’ll end with some cozy, Christmassy reads.
I read books set in New York City, which inspire unique literary tours of the city as I follow the path of the books’ characters. This blog has provided me with a new appreciation of this awesome city and encourages me to get out and explore this concrete jungle.
At Christmas-time, this concrete jungle lights up and wows the masses. My first Christmassy tour inspired by a book was A New York Christmas by Anne Perry and my next Christmassy tour was inspired by the book Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan. This Christmas in New York City Guide will be inspired by those literary dates and by my own experiences as a New Yorker.
My family and I spent one Christmas in the city. I will be truthful with you, NYC at Christmas-time isn’t necessarily for everyone. If you don’t like crowds, like one of my brothers, for instance, Christmas in New York City is not for you. There’s a reason we’ve only spent one Christmas together in New York City. Because he’s a Scrooge! 😉
*Also note, due to the pandemic, there are unfortunately many changes and closures this year, which I think I thoroughly noted, however, please do your own research.
Christmas in New York City is Magical
The streets and all the stores & restaurants turn up for Christmas. Music is all around. Of course I love all the beautiful displays on the 5th Avenue storefronts, which we will get into, however, there’s also smaller scale Christmas magic in the city that I revel in. I love how the streets in the neighborhoods in Brooklyn where I’ve lived get their festive cheer on too.
We’ll get back to Brooklyn, but right now let’s head to…
If you’re spending Christmas in New York City, you of course, will have a chance for snow, but I have to break it to you, we can’t guarantee snow. This Central Park picture was taken during my first Christmassy bookish NYC tour where I read A New York Christmas. No snow, but still lovely, don’t you think?
Central Park is not to be missed at any season and especially at Christmas. During this tour, I was treated to a sax player playing Frosty the Snowman among other Christmas classics.
We also headed to Wollman Rink and had a surprise figure skating performance from Brian Boitano. That’s what’s cool about the city, never know what surprise is waiting for you around the corner.
Fun fact: For all you lovers out there, Wollman Rink has a “Perfect Date” option. Say you want to pop the question along with some set-the-mood music, you can book this rink for a private sesh for you and your honey.
Starts at $1500.00 but making memories is priceless, right? Now I realize that John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale in Serendipity would have had to pay at least $1500 for that private rink time. But didn’t they just run into each other there? Hmm?
Speaking of skating rinks, Bryant Park has a beautiful one to skate in. You could shop at their holiday market, eat some yummy food, and go skating around their fabulous tree.
Winter Village at Bryant Park
You have to book early for skating, slots fill up fast! They are taking precautions for Covid as well, so make sure you check out their site for all the info at rink.wintervillage.org.
In addition to skating and checking out the Christmas market, you could also rent out a “Cozy Igloo,” prices starting at just $200. Could you imagine?
I could rent out an igloo for just myself for $200. It would be a fab reading spot. I’d get 90 minutes of reading time along with hot chocolate, chicken fingers or hot dogs but I don’t eat meat so I’d skip that course and just go straight to the fries. Or I could get the adult package for $250, read my book, enjoy some mulled wine or a bucket of beer, a charcuterie board or artisanal cheese plate and french fries! I’m sold! Totally doing that. Who wants to lend me $250? Shall I start a kickstarter? 😉
Anyway…back to reality, I’ve been talking of the rinks in NYC, I cannot leave out another famous one and that is of course at Rockefeller Center.
Rockefeller Center at Christmas-time in New York City
The Rockefeller tree is definitely a must-see when visiting NYC for Christmas . This year they have used socially distant lines and socially distant viewing spots at the rink view. I saw it at a few different angles, first across from Saks Fifth Avenue and then when walking toward Radio City, you’ll see the socially distant line to get to the close up view points by the rink.
I’ve never skated here but I imagine this would be the ultimate Christmassy experience. When I update this post next year, maybe I’ll go skate at all three iconic skating spots and give you all the full scoop. #2021goals.
However, I have been to the Top of the Rock and highly recommend that. Skating, Top of the Rock, and a Saks Fifth Avenue Light Show sounds like a perfect night to me.
For info on Skating at the Rink and more about Rockefeller Center, head to rockefellercenter.com.
Saks Fifth Avenue Light Show
I had no idea about this until last year when we stumbled upon it during my Dash & Lily’s Christmassy Tour. I loved it then and loved it this year too. It’s a dazzling, musical, must-see experience when you visit NYC at Christmas. I felt like a kid while watching the first time I saw this show.
Check out my short video:
Radio City Music Hall
If you’re going to celebrate Christmas in New York City, then you definitely have to see the Christmas Spectacular starring the Radio City Rockettes. It’s a classic! Of course this year due to the pandemic it’s not happening, however, they are already selling tickets for next year. So start planning your NYC Christmas trip now! I’ve seen the show a couple times and can definitively say that it’s a fun one for the whole family.
After seeing the Christmas Spectacular, go see the giant Christmas ornaments on Sixth Avenue. Between 48th and 50th Streets, you can see these beauties…
Wear your Christmas best and take out your cameras because these are picture-perfect opportunities. I wish I could lie down at the bottom of those lights while wearing a Mrs Claus outfit. Or I could be dressed up as a present? Maybe next year I’ll arrive at 2am and try that out.
This year you can also see sparkly, giant Christmas toys on 5th Avenue between 50th and 55th streets.
Holiday Christmas Windows
The department stores throughout New York City go all out for Christmas. I love taking a walk and looking at all the elaborate displays. Macy’s, Bloomingdales, Saks, Tiffany’s, and Bergdof Goodman all get into the holiday spirit. I’ve seen them through the years and the past couple years when I’ve done my Christmassy book tours.
This year I viewed the windows at Macy’s and Saks Fifth Avenue.
Hope you enjoy my slide show.
Enjoy the short videos I took:
Macy’s also had some fun video game windows. For one, I pushed down on a pedal which sent Santa’s sleigh to the sky and I had to collect the stars and avoid the clouds. They also had a memory game one among others that I can’t recall. I guess I needed to play the memory game one.
And speaking of Macy’s…
Macy’s, of course, has Santaland which is not to be missed for families. I have not been to Santaland but I have actually met the Macy’s Santa through my work. I work at a hospital with kids where Macy’s Santa visits. We call him the real Santa. My coworker told me that he predicted her engagement. Santa made no such prediction for me. Darn you, Santa!
Macy’s Santa visits every single child in the hospital where I work (except this year for obvious reasons). This is no small feat- Santa visits our 3 pediatric units and the NICU. Trust me, that’s a lot of kids and their families. Although, he is Santa so I guess that’s not very many kids for him.
The kids get their pictures with Santa and gifts. He takes his time with each child.
Macy’s Santa is fully virtual this year, check it out at Macys.com.
New York City Holiday Markets
What’s Christmas time without shopping for the most perfect gifts for your loved ones, am I right?
This year, due to the pandemic, please note that the only holiday market open this year is at Bryant Park. However, I will still write about them all because I know they will all be back. 2021?
I’ve shopped many times at the Union Square market and on occasion, the Bryant Park Holiday Market. The Union Square market has always been the most convenient for me in the past in terms of location, but I don’t think it can beat the Bryant Park one. The beautiful tree and rink, the gorgeous buildings in the backdrop, and all the great vendors. If you can grab a table, they also have food and adult beverage options.
These pop up markets are a staple of NYC around the holiday time. Local vendors fill the markets with tons of unique holiday gifts. Artsy gifts, beautiful jewelry, fun gifts, yummy food, cozy gifts…you name it! The Bryant Park market also includes global vendors.
There are usually many throughout the city including pop ups in Brooklyn and Queens, but the ones that are open throughout the holiday season include (in addition to Union Square and Bryant Park):
- Grand Central Holiday Fair
- Columbus Circle Holiday Market
Keep in mind that these holiday markets get crowded (during normal/pre-pandemic times), however, since there are a ton of vendors, it doesn’t usually take too long to make a purchase.
I was around the Bryant Park one recently on Dec. 10th and it wasn’t too crowded, however, something to note is that the tree wasn’t up. As of now, I don’t see any updates about when or if their beautiful tree will go up.
Williamsburg, Brooklyn- More Shopping
Another place I like to shop for Christmas gifts is Artist & Fleas in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. They have many creative vendors, talented designers, jewelry-designers, organic lotions and soaps, etc. They say they are a “marketplace for makers.” It’s a great spot! During the holidays, they have seasonal items as well. If you get hungry after shopping, a friend and I often eat brunch or dinner nearby at Teddy’s Bar & Grill.
Artists & Fleas also has a location in SoHo, but I highly encourage you to explore Williamsburg, it’s a fun, trendy neighborhood in Brooklyn to see. Lots of other cute boutiques and stores to explore and find unique gifts for your friends and family. Also fun for hipster-sightings. 😉 You could get lucky and see a hipster wearing a Santa costume, which honestly is probably their everyday attire.
Speaking of Brooklyn…I seriously think this Brooklyn neighborhood outshines all of Manhattan during Christmas. I’ve been here a couple of times, but most recently last year for my Dash & Lily’s Christmassy Tour of New York City.
This neighborhood goes all out with their decorations and lights. You might say it’s a little over the top…but I’d say you’re holding back because it’s waaaay over the top. This neighborhood has beautiful houses that Christmas just threw up all over- it’s spectacular!
The houses in Dyker Heights that have the most elaborate decorations are from 11th to 13th Avenues and from 83rd to 86th Street. It was quite a trek from the stop I got off on the D train. It was a long walk with not many people around, so even if you’re with people, if you take the train, you might want to call an Uber. I’d recommend using an address for a nearby spot Bella Nail Salon- 8222 13th Ave. The houses are an easy walk from there.
Santacon is so infamous that people post articles for places to avoid when Santacon is among us. It usually happens every year and it’s an all day/night affair. People dress up in Santa outfits and go on a bar crawl. They get massively drunk. Most people in New York are happy it’s cancelled this year.
I’ve never participated but have a friend who did sometime around 2012 and she said since then it has declined ever since college kids took over. She felt the year she did it was tame and like a small underground thing. Although, she also recalled it being “insane, people everywhere- singing everywhere which was nice until it wasn’t.” After a few years, it was nothing but Santa puke and urine everywhere. Eww Santa! She lives in the East Village so has witnessed its decline. I cannot repeat what she saw Santa and his helper doing. Got to keep this PG, kids.
Christmassy Restaurants in New York City
Rolf’s- 281 3rd Ave
It’s the elaborately decorated German restaurant in the city that is the ultimate Christmassy dining experience. Or so I’ve heard. Full disclosure: I haven’t been yet. These pictures are courtesy of a friend of mine. Reservations are tough to come by. I’ve also heard mixed reviews about their German cuisine. We recommend going as a walk-in afternoon/early evening to sit at the bar, order some seasonal cocktails and revel in the atmosphere. The line to get in might look long but moves swiftly.
More info at rolfsnyc.com.
This place is dessert heaven and they decorate nicely for the holidays. I haven’t always loved the food, but the dessert is so yummy. You’ll have quite a selection here. It is a gimmicky, touristy spot but a perfectly nice spot for dessert during the holidays.
This is right in Union Square, so you could check out the holiday market there.
225 East 60th Street, temporarily closed
I’ve been to this iconic spot many years ago to get their Frozen hot chocolate that I saw in one of my favorite holiday movies, which shares the same name. I’d love to go back. My suggestion is to go here and then walk over to Saks to see the holiday windows and the light show before heading to Rockefeller Center to skate. Then catch Christmas Spectacular at Radio City before heading to get pics in front of the giant ornaments on 6th Avenue. Did I get everything? That would be quite a day!
Now, did you think we were done with festive Christmas trees?
I want to end this Christmassy tour with one of my favorite trees in the city…
Lotte New York Palace Hotel Christmas Tree
It’s a beautiful tree. My featured image is in front of this tree. I visited during my A New York Christmas Tour where we read A New York Christmas by Anne Perry and used the book as inspiration for a Christmassy tour of NYC. I did this tour with Katherine from rodneyssaga.com.
Photo credit for my featured image goes to Katherine.
This hotel is also featured in Gossip Girl so it’s also a must-see sight for GG fans to see where Serena lived. It’s great going to this tree because it’s gorgeous and it’s easier to get that picture-perfect shot. We waited in a short line to be able to get that shot. Fun fact: This hotel partners with the Christmas Spectacular. So stay here and get a special discounted rate to see the show.
Now I’d like to share about the two books that inspired my Christmassy tours of NYC along with two of my current Christmas reads that have gotten me in the holiday spirit this year.
A New York Christmas by Anne Perry
Main character Jemima travels to New York City from London to accompany her friend who is marrying into a very wealthy family in the city. Jemima gets entangled into a murder mystery and things go down hill fast for her. But there’s also a love story. Yay!
It’s a very short book and seems a little rushed, but it’s a fun, whodunnit, light read.
Buy the book: Amazon
Also check out my A New York Christmas Tour of the city.
Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan
This amazingly clever YA book has Dash finding a notebook in the Strand Bookstore, which was put there by Lily. Dash and Lily send each other on these dares throughout NYC at Christmas-time and also open up to each other as they write to one another in the notebook. Will these two cuties meet up? I loved this book! It had me laughing throughout and rooting for these two. The new Netflix show is also adorable.
This book sent me and my friends on a great tour of New York City. Check it out: My Dash & Lily’s NYC Tour.
I did this tour with my blogger friend Dee from simplydeeindc.com.
Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
This is not a Christmas book, I’ll admit, however, I think a good classic is a perfect book to get cozy with during winter months.
This is a buddy read that I did with Macey from brineandbooks.com.
If you are a book lover, you have to check out her site. It will wrap you up in a warm blanket as you learn about incredible books from her. She also shares her own poetry and travels. She’s a fabulous writer and an all around great person.
Mansfield Park is follows Fanny as she goes as a child to live with her wealthy aunt and uncle to be raised as a proper lady. Her new family often put her in her place so she never forgets that she is beneath them. Her one source of love and comfort is her cousin Edmund.
I seriously enjoyed reading this story and following all the characters’ story arcs’ even the selfish, vain ones (which includes most of them). Towards the middle and end of this book, it’s high drama, which I loved. The book also often amused me as well. Jane Austen never disappoints.
In a Holidaze by Christina Lauren
I’m halfway through this one and I’m definitely hooked. From birth, Mae has spent every Christmas at a cabin in Utah with her family along with her parent’s friends and their kids.
To everyone’s epic disappointment, they learn this is their last Christmas at the cabin. Mae, also upset about her life and mistakes in love, begs the universe to help and all of a sudden she wakes up on the plane about to start her holiday at the cabin all over again. She’s in some wacky time-loop and has no idea what she needs to do to get out of it. Does she need to save the cabin or get her love life together? Who knows?!
This has been such an enjoyable read so far! I’m dying to see how the love story turns out. Time travel books are my fav and set at Christmas-time in a cozy cabin, is definitely getting me in the holiday spirit.
This concludes our Christmassy adventure together.
Thank you all for reading. I hope you enjoyed this Christmassy tour of NYC and hope you got some good ideas for some cozy, holiday reads.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from me and my beautiful dog niece, Jayden!