Twinkling lights, hints of pine filling the air, festive music playing in every city store, there is nothing like spending the holidays in New York City. It’s my second favorite time of the year in this bustling city I call home, and definitely the most festive time of the year. There is no shortage of holiday activities when visiting New York City in December or January. Apart from the usual tourist activities, there are a number of events and experiences that are created solely for the holiday season. Below is a list of a few of my favorite things to do during the holidays in New York City.
Rolf’s German Restaurant: An explosion of Christmas decor greets you when you walk through the doors of Rolf’s German Restaurant. If you haven’t felt the Christmas spirit anywhere else in the city, you won’t be able to deny it once you enter Rolf’s. Mulled wine, apple cider, and vanilla-spiced eggnog all make appearances on the holiday-inspired drinks menu. The restaurant also, of course, serves German light bites and full dinner (schnitzels are a must)! Make a reservation for lunch or dinner or get there early if you don’t want to wait, this place is packed during the holiday season.
Holiday Markets: No trip to New York City is complete without shopping. The holidays bring about a wonderful tradition of holiday markets, set up in various squares and parks in the city. The most popular of these markets are the markets at Union Square and Bryant Park. You could spend hours browsing the shops, picking up ornaments, admiring the hand-made jewelry and sipping hot chocolate on a chilly winter night. The Bryant Park holiday market surrounds the ice skating rink, so you can also watch the skaters pass you by or give it a go yourself.
Ice Skating: If you are looking for something a little more active while visiting New York City for the holidays, ice skating is the thing to do. There are a number of skating rinks throughout the city, of varying sizes and shapes, but the three most well known of them are at Central Park (Wollman Rink, featured in Home Alone 2: Lost in New York), Bryant Park and Rockefeller Center. If you have little ones in tow, Bryant Park offers Penguin Skate Aids, which helps children under 10 learn to skate. Rockefeller Center is by far the most crowded of the skating rinks since it’s probably the most famous holiday destination in New York City, but if you are willing to pay a little extra, it now offers the ability to make an advanced reservation to skate. You can’t really go wrong with any of these options, and you will have a blast as soon as you step out onto the ice.
Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree: The work that goes into putting up the gigantic Norway Spruce Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center is impressive. The Head Gardener at Rockefeller Center, Erik Pauzé, begins by scouting for a tree to erect, looking anywhere in the northeast and elsewhere. Once at the Rockefeller Center, the tree is held up by scaffolding, wires, and a steel spike base. The tree is topped with a Swarovski star that weighs 550 pounds! Seeing the astounding tree and the ice skaters in front of it is a requirement when visiting New York City for the holidays.
The Nutcracker: A must-do for myself during the holidays is to see George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker at the New York City Ballet. Lincoln Center is a must-see while visiting New York City in general, but it particularly comes to life during the holidays. The classic story of the Nutcracker is portrayed wonderfully by the New York City Ballet. Time will fly by as you watch the dancers twirl around the stage in their beautiful and colorful skirts. Don’t forget to take a moment to look up towards the ceiling during a break and admire the beauty of the David H. Koch Theater.
Holiday Window Displays & Decorations: Every year, department stores around the city outdo themselves with their holiday window displays. This year, the themes include Peanuts characters at Macys, ice-carved cityscapes at Barneys (and also some windows with Chihuly glass), a Swarovski partnership at Bergdorf Goodman, an enormous light-filled castle on display on the front of Saks’ building facade and a gorgeous fir and lights wrapped walkway outside of Lord and Taylor. A great way to see the holiday sights while also doing some shopping!