Coming to NY during the holidays is on many people's bucket lists - it's the most magical time of the year. Even for the people that live here, most likely we will also end up doing at least one touristy thing. From the rink and tree at Rockefeller Center, to the Rockettes at Radio City, to the windows down 5th Avenue, there is always something right around the corner bringing you the holiday spirit.
This year make some new traditions and shake things up, off the typical holiday path. Before you head out, brush up on your cardio and lace up your walking shoes. It's time to hit the city with me on this "untouristy" guide to enjoy one of the best seasons in the Big Apple.
Avoid the lines, time limit, and crazy entrance fee at the Rockefeller Center rink, and strap on your skates in Central Park. Not only are the views totally worth it, afterwards you can head across the street into the famed Plaza Hotel Food Hall for a post-skate snack. Some of the best restaurants in the city have little stations here - and sometimes it really is good to indulge.
While we're on the topic of avoiding Rock Center, if you're here around Thanksgiving make sure you head to Lincoln Square for the annual Winter's Eve Festival. It's the biggest winter festival in the city and will warm you right up with entertainment and food tastings. And since you'll be over there, make sure you visit the rooftop bar at The Empire Hotel for a post-festival drink. The rooftop conveniently has a retractable roof for the cold temps, a great view and a festival drink special. Don't forget to take a picture in front of that iconic neon sign, which has been around since 1923, and duh was a prominent feature in the TV show Gossip Girl!
Did you know there is a Christmas tree in the Metropolitan Museum of Art? One of the best ways to beat the cold in the city is to take a cultural escape in one of Manhattan's 32 museums. And conveniently located near the museum is a German restaurant which serves some of the best gluhwein (hot mulled wine) in the city. So before you head downtown warm up at Cafe Sabarsky for a glass (or two).
I know I said this would be an untouristy guide, but in order to visit a pretty awesome rooftop you'll need to head hear Herald Square. So while you're there make sure you check out those iconic windows at Macy's, and then head over to the Refinery Hotel for some stellar cocktails on another retractable rooftop, and then make your way down to the Flatiron for the most insane Christmas display you will ever see, inside of Rolf's German Restaurant on 3rd Avenue (there will most definitely be a line outside).
Unfortunately for Rolf's the food is not good at all, but the eggnog is well worth it! So, after boozing it up a little with eggnog walk back over to Eataly (the massive Italian market/grocery store with the rooftop restaurant La Birreria) right across from the Flatiron building, and head up to the roof. The restaurant is themed for the seasons and during the winter turns in to the Italian alps pop-up Baita (pronounced <bye-tah>).
After undoubtedly checking out the Christmas tree in Washington Square Park, walk on over to one of New York's holiday pop-up bars. Two really awesome and festive bars you cannot miss are Miracle on 9th Street (in the East Village), and Sippin' Santa's Surf Shack at Boilermaker (in Nolita). The drinks are festive, the decor tacky, and you'll leave feeling all warm and fuzzy inside.
There is a reason I didn't mention the Winter Village at Bryant Park. Because in terms of holiday markets in the city this is probably the most well-known and also the most commercialized looking one. For a more traditional vibe, and also a place to score some of the best apple cider and apple cider donuts, head to Union Square. It's a maze of shop after shop, and you'll most likely need to walk through multiple times to make sure you didn't miss anything.
From Union Square head over to Tea & Sympathy in Greenwich Village for a little afternoon tea. This place is about as British as it gets in the city. There's no muss, no fuss and some really great tea and small bites.
Lastly, if you to avoid the Central Park skating crowds even more, head down to the Standard Hotel's ice rink near the Highline. The plaza at the hotel is transformed into a Swiss inspired ice rink with giant gingerbread men, an alpine inspired apres-ski menu, and spiked hot cocoa and hot toddies. And bonus, after 8pm it's free to skate!
In Tribeca, the holiday spirit really comes alive at City Winery with a sing and dance along with Grammy-winner Dan Zanes. This intimate holiday concert sells out every year, so if you're interested make sure you get those tickets!
Brookfield Place is quickly becoming known as a downtown location to see some great installation art. Throughout the year different artists take over the space and make it their own, while also on the property entertainment performances entertain the masses (who remember that this exists). During the holidays the famous Luminaries lantern display installation returns, and every 30 minutes puts on light shows. And if you didn't make it to The Hard Nut or Lincoln Center you can still catch a 1 hour, free version of the Nutcracker here at the beginning of December.
BROOKLYN & BEYOND
You now have a choice...you can take a cab (or Uber, or Lyft or whatever) across the Brooklyn Bridge, or you can walk. Whatever you decided to do, once you get across the East River make sure you have one of the most indulgent hot cocoas you will ever come across at Jacques Torres.
Top it off with a couple of slices of pizza since you'll be right there. But do not go to that famous chain, otherwise known as Grimaldi's. Head next door to Juliana's. Grimaldi's is not even owned by the family anymore, and once something becomes a chain it starts to feel inauthentic. Juliana's was opened by Grimaldi's founder Patsy Grimaldi, who from time to time will still work in the restaurant. He is the nicest older man, who is more than willing to take a photo with you!
Did you know, the largest residential display of Christmas lights in the US is in a neighborhood called Dyker Heights? Did you know that it's in Brooklyn? Are you still scratching your head like, what? Do yourself a favor and make sure you head to this neighborhood, especially between 10th & 13th avenue, from 80th to 86th street - and prepared to be dazzled.
As great as those high kicks are, this year skip Radio City and go watch the Nutcracker in Brooklyn at the Brooklyn Academy of Music! With a cheeky name like The Hard Nut, a setting in the 1970s, cross-dressing dancers, and a comic book like art design, you know this is going to be good.
The New York Botanical Garden is one of the most extensive in the state and each year puts on their Holiday Train Show. More than just botanists will appreciate the multiple tiny toy trains running through the space which features more than 140 of NY's most famous landmarks recreated out of plant materials.
Don't forget about Queens! If you are in NY in December head over to the Queens Plaza station in Long Island City to catch a vintage subway train back into the city. The trains run every Sunday starting from the end of November through December, and feature cars from the 1930s to the 1970s. Trust me this is one subway ride you will want to take.
How are you feeling? Are you exhausted yet? Kudos to you in making it through 4 of the 5 boroughs with me. And don't worry if you still want to see all of the touristy things they are all there in Manhattan waiting for you. I'll be bringing a holiday vlog to my YouTube page for a look at the traditional holiday sites in the city!
Content Creator, Traveler, Foodie, Amateur Photographer (and surprise!) Graphic Designer living in New York City. This website started in 2016 as a space to share my passion to live life to the fullest, make adventures a priority, eat all of the good food, drink all of the wine, and curate the beautiful photos that come along with it.