New York City is a magical place and the Christmas season raises the whimsy and enchantment to exponential levels. Check a few things off your shopping list, take a few whirls around an ice rink, marvel at some amazing light displays, sip some comforting hot chocolate, and make unforgettable memories in a city that truly knows how to do Christmas right.

Rockefeller Center Tree 

Every year, a behemoth of a tree is hand-picked (yes, it is actually someone’s job to traverse the United States to choose the Rockefeller tree) and brought to Midtown Manhattan to be put on display for the world to marvel at. Decorated in over 45,000 LED bulbs, the Rockefeller Tree is certainly a sight not to be missed. 

Saks Fifth Avenue Light Show

After being amazed by the Rockefeller tree, just simply turn around for the next spectacle. On the facade of Saks Fifth Avenue’s flagship store (located on Fifth Avenue between 49th and 50th street) is a huge light show that is coordinated to music (an image of the 2017 show is above). It plays every 10 minutes so don’t be worried about missing it and the whole light show lasts around 4-5 minutes.

After, be sure to actually walk down the sidewalk beside Saks as they have some of the most amazing wintery window displays in all of Manhattan complete with moving parts and animation. Continue your holiday window shopping at Bergdorf’s, Tiffany’s, and many other stores as you waltz down Fifth Avenue!

Sixth Avenue Ornaments

On the back side of Rockefeller Center and across from the famous Radio City Music Hall, you will find some of the most photographed Christmas ornaments in the world. The seasonal installation sits within a fountain and captivates all who pass, so make sure you stop for a photo-op!

The new and improved FAO Schwarz toy store

After closing up shop at its Midtown Manhattan location in 2015 due to rising costs, the famous toy store is set to reopen in a new 20,000 square foot Rockefeller Center location in November 2018 – just in time for the holiday season!

This will be branded as their flagship location and they are promising to bring all the theatrics to your in-person shopping experience.  Magicians, dancers, and other costumed performers will keep you entertained and provide some nostalgia as you check off your Christmas shopping list. Make sure to plan a visit to the bigger, better, and more festive version of FAO Schwarz and make some music on their famous huge floor piano which they have promised will still be a staple attraction, pictured above!

Lace up your ice skates

You have some options when deciding on the location to take a spin around a rink of frozen water. So whether you want to glide under the Rockefeller Tree, take a spin after a walk about Central Park, or go skating in between some hot chocolate drinking and holiday shopping, there are plenty of possibilities.

The Rink at Rockefeller Center 

This location, while iconic, is never too crowded on the rink because they have a maximum number they let on the rink at one time. So you can be sure that if you take a tumble, you won’t accidentally be bringing anyone else down with you. But knowing that there is a limit, prepare yourself for a long wait or you can make reservations in advance. It will be well worth the wait though as it doesn’t get more “New York at Christmas” than ice skating in the rink at Rockefeller Center which first opened in 1936.

The rink is normally operating by early October, but if you want to take a spin with a giant Christmas tree twinkling above you, wait until after the tree is lit during the last week of November.

The Winter Village at Bryant Park Ice Skating Rink

Make an entire day out of Bryant Park! The park is situated between Fifth and Sixth Avenues between 40th and 42nd Street in Midtown Manhattan. Each year, it transforms into a winter wonderland complete with an ice rink, holiday shops, and plenty of dining options.

Admission to the rink is free, but you can pay for rental skates for $20 if you weren’t able to squeeze yours into your checked bag – a common issue. After whizzing around the rink for a while, grab some grub from one of the Winter Village holiday market food stands and browse some of the artisinal boutiques.

Central Park Skating

There are two cash-only rinks to go ice skating in Central Park.. The more well-known rink which is in a better location (apparently!) and therefore the more expensive of the two is Wollman Rink (pictured above). This rink opens on 20 October and is located at the southern end of Central Park, accessible from 59th Street at Fifth or Sixth Avenues. The rate for adults is $12 Monday-Thursday and $19 Friday-Sunday. Kids always skate for $6 and skate rentals are $9. Take a load off from walking around the park and opt for gliding!

The other rink, Lasker Rink, is on the North side of the park and is accessible from 110th Street and Lenox Avenue. It is often less crowded and less expensive. Admission for adults is $8.50, $4.50 for kids, and skate rentals will cost you $7.50 a pair.

Holiday Markets

Bryant Park

As mentioned above, the Winter Village at Bryant Park had artisanal goods and amazing food situated in hand-crafted booths. When it sets up shop in late October, meander your way through the aisles and find exactly what you are looking for!

Columbus Circle

Whether you are shopping for yourself or for your entire list, you are sure to find plenty of treasures at the Columbus Circle Holiday Market. They are located at the southwest entrance of Central Park at 59th street and Central Park West. I recommend you pop by the No Chewing Allowed booth where you can find the richest and smoothest cup of hot chocolate you might ever drink as you browse around all of the unique shops. This market opens later than the rest, only opening up shop after Thanksgiving on November 28th.

Union Square

Find other unique and hand make gifts crafted by some local artisans at the Union Square Holiday Market. It is a bit more downtown than Bryant Park and Columbus Circle but has made some major upgrades and oftentimes you can catch live music. Opening the second week of November, these shops are sure to get you in the Christmas spirit.

You may find repeat shops at some of the markets, so you don’t have to necessarily go to all of them to experience what they have to offer! My personal favorite is the market at Columbus Circle seeing as I have never left there empty-handed. 

Christmas performances

Radio City Christmas Spectacular starring the Radio City Rockettes

This annual holiday show is a New York staple and Christmas tradition. The famous precision dance company known as the Rockettes have been performing at Radio City since the 1930’s and the Christmas Spectacular has been running for just as long. Be wowed by the synchronicity of the kick line and the show’s original score as you celebrate the Christmas season with the Rockettes. The show runs from November 9th to January 1st and tickets can be purchased here.

The Nutcracker performed by the NYC Ballet 

This classic Christmas story is brought to life at Lincoln Center. Performed by the famous New York City balletThe Nutcracker is set to Tschaikovsky’s music and choreographed by George Balanchine. Witnessing this will truly be unforgettable and ignite your holiday season. Tickets can be purchased online and the show runs from November 23rd to December 30th, 2018.

The Holiday Train Show at the New York Botanical Gardens

Experience a mini to-scale version of New York City – from scale models of the Brooklyn Bridge to Lady Liberty – constructed completely of twigs, stones, bark, seeds, and other natural materials. Model trains whiz around almost half a mile of track through the constructed buildings. This is a memorable holiday exhibition for the whole family, whether young or old, running from mid-November to mid-January at the New York Botanical Gardens!

Macy’s 34th Street

Experience the miracle on 34th street when you venture inside Macy’s department store at Herald Square during the holiday season. Tell Santa exactly what you want for Christmas at Macy’s SantaLand, which can now only be done through an online reservation, and then take advantage of some holiday deals when you do a bit of shopping yourself. Ride the famous wooden escalators that have been operating for more than 95 years as you traverse the ten shoppable levels of this flagship store. Just like Saks Fifth Avenue, the window displays are impeccable and the holiday spirit permeates the entire store.

Dyker Heights, Brooklyn

There is a whole lot of razzle dazzle on the island of Manhattan, but this might just be the most festive neighborhood in all of New York City! Venture off the main island to the borough of Brooklyn and there in the Dyker Heights neighborhood, the Christmas spirit reaches a whole new level. Between 11th and 13th Avenues from 83rd to 86th Streets, you will marvel at how the residents of these homes have outdone themselves. From huge inflatables to light displays synced to music, there is no doubt that you will be impressed by the great lengths that these homeowners go to to show their affinity for the Christmas holiday. It is best to go at dusk so you can meander your way around the neighborhood to really take it all in before some of the houses turn their lights off later in the evening.

Eat at Rolf’s German Restaurant

Image from Instagram: @the2newyorkers

There is plenty of yuletide fanfare to spare in New York City, but the place that you must grab a table at if you’re really looking to up your game, is Rolf’s. This German restaurant in the Gramercy neighbourhood of New York City beats out the competition with their decorations that take almost a month to put up. Due to demand, they keep the decor up through the spring and into the summer, but, naturally, demand is highest for a table in the winter season. If you truly can’t pass it up, your best bet is to call and make a reservation way in advance or test your luck by showing up early and eating at an odd time. If you do happen to snag a table, you won’t be disappointed by the festive atmosphere as you’re surrounded by ornaments, lights, and garland!

The Ride – Holiday Edition

Image from The Ride

The lively streets of NYC become the stage in this moving interactive theatre. The Ride allows you to drive around Manhattan in a stagecoach with huge windows and stadium seating while dancers and actors entertain you right on the street! This travelling show runs year round, but ups the festive feelings during the holiday season from November – January. The holiday edition of The Ride is chock-full of entertainment and holiday spirit not to be missed. You need advance reservations that can be booked online.

There is nothing quite like New York City at Christmastime. It is truly a magical experience. Pray for some snow so you can truly revel in the delight. Interested in getting into the Christmas spirit across the pond?