When I was a kid, one of my favorite months of the year was September — not because anything particularly great happened in September, but because that was when I deemed it socially acceptable to break out my two favorite Christmas movies, Miracle on 34th Street, and Home Alone 2. These two movies happen to take place in New York City, which my eight year old self deemed as the epitome of everything that was Christmas spirit. Christmas in New York became a bucket list ultimate — I wanted to frolic in Central Park in the snow, and walk along 5th Ave amongst the elaborately decorated stores. This was a trip that David and I had talked about taking for years, and for years, everyone had told us how impractical it was. They said that New York at Christmas was ridiculously expensive, overpriced, crowded, and not a trip that we should consider taking while we were so young. But a few months after we were married, I started looking trips up anyway, and was pleasantly surprised at how affordable things could be with some advance planning and research. New York is one of those places that completely lives up to its hype at Christmastime, and it ended up being my favorite trip I’ve ever taken. Here are some things you have to do, as well as some money saving tips.
1) You have to see Santa Bill. Ever since Miracle on 34th Street, everyone knows that Macy’s is that place to go to see the REAL Santa. Macy’s has the Santa that appears on Good Morning America, and is in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Macy’s also has the most amazing window displays and an elaborate Santa Land that will fill you with feelings of wonder and enchantment. The lines to see Santa can become astronomically long, so we recommend getting there BEFORE Macy’s opens (unless you have a deep-seated thing for standing in line for four hours). Something that most people don’t know though, is that so many people come to see Santa at Macy’s each year, is that there are multiple Santas hidden in multiple rooms deep within Santa Land, and you will be escorted at random to see whichever is available next when you are at the front of the line. NOT ALL SANTAS ARE CREATED EQUAL. The name of the Santa who plays Santa in the Thanksgiving parade, and Good Morning America is Santa Bill, and if you want to see him, (and you do, because he’s the most magical person in the world), is to request him to the elf at the front of the line. This might lengthen the time that you wait, but its an experience that you do not want to miss, and it was one of the highlights of our trip.
2) There are Christmas Markets throughout the city, and they’re festive and eclectic. We wandered through the markets at Central Park and Bryant Park, and both were amazing. These Christmas Markets are an outdoor collection of vendors selling seasonal food, beverages, and unique hand crafted goods. Most are pretty lavishly decorated too, which makes this a unique experience that should not be missed.
3) If you think that The New York City Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker and The Rockettes’ Radio City Christmas Spectacular are cliche and overrated, you are WRONG. They are classics that people love to see for a reason – don’t be too cool that you miss out on something incredible.
4) Ice skating in New York during the Holidays is magical. There are plenty of places that offer ice skating, including the famed Rockefeller Center. Rockefeller Center’s tree is enchanting (and ginormous), and you should spend some time exploring, but unless you enjoy spending your vacation standing in an endless line to pay high prices to go in tiny circles in one of the smallest ice rinks in the city, this might not be your best bet for Holiday skating. We suggest Bryant Park — the ice skating itself is free, you just have to pay to rent the skates (you can bring your own for free. Bryant Park has amazing city views too, as well as a giant beautiful real Christmas tree. If the line is long and you’re short on time, you can pay for a fast pass. If you have the extra money to spend it just might be worth it to you (it was for us), because it gets you to the front of the line, and includes free hot chocolate.
5) Slurping a frozen hot chocolate from Serendipity 3 is not only delicious, but you feel like you’re in an elaborately Christmas decorated child’s dollhouse at the same time.
6) Eat at Milon. Milon is an Indian restaurant whose ceilings are covered in Christmas lights, streamers, ornaments, and balloons. It’s festive, cheap, and delicious year-round, but it feels especially cheerful during the Holidays.
7) Go to Ladurée. Yes, this has nothing to do with Christmas, but you will kick yourself in the future if you miss out on a chance to eat the best macarons in the US. Flown in from Paris daily, and nestled in a jewel colored shop on the Upper East Side, these bite-sized morsels of heaven are without compare.
Here are a few quick tips for your wallet:
- Buy a metro pass. Taxis are expensive, and the public transportation in New York can get you wherever you need to go relatively easily.
- When you eat at a restaurant, find inexpensive places with character. The amount of competition in the restaurant has forced businesses to get creative and inexpensive. We found restaurants like Milon, Room Service, and Serendipity 3 to be immersive experiences without killing our budget.
- If you’re a musical lover, take advantage of the TKTS booth. They offer Broadway musical tickets for up to 50% off, and its on a first come, first serve basis. We made the mistake of getting there too late!
New York at Christmas was one of the most memorable trips of my life, and I’m so glad that I didn’t let people convince me that it was too expensive, or too crowded during the Holidays.