What To Do In New York City At Christmastime

By PassportReverie | Sep 11, 2020
North America > United States > New York > New York City

I love Christmastime. Last year I put my tree up before Thanksgiving. Yes, I did. I don't even mind when stores skip over Thanksgiving for Christmas decor. That's probably enough, I want you to keep reading.

Our family mostly lives in the same town, so escaping on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day would be frowned upon. I'd love to plan a vacation during Christmas, but for now, I'll settle for the day after. We have left the day after Christmas for a quick vacation for the past two years, and I love it. I have never had to travel for the holidays to be with family, so I'm no expert at getting somewhere in time for the holidays. We flew the red-eye on the day after Christmas, and it was a breeze. Flying back on New Year's Eve was pretty busy, but not bad.

I've been dreaming about going to NYC for a while now. But, every time I think about traveling here, I envision it at Christmas. There is just something about the grand decor, ice skating at Rockefeller Center, and The Christmas markets that always get me. Two of my favorite movies feature NYC at Christmas; When Harry Met Sally and Serendipity.
Something to note; if you do go during this time, between Christmas and New Year, just be prepared for crowds and lines. We planned for this, I mean you can't really plan for it, but you can know it's going to be crazy busy. We even stayed in Times Square, how insane are we??
When we planned our trip, it had to be quick. My sister and I work together at her business, so we can't both be gone. Our trip had to be within the days the office was closed. We had just four days, so we had to make each day count.

Times Square quiet in the early morning

Times Square quiet in the early morning

Times Square in the quiet early morning

Times Square in the quiet early morning

What to Pack; be prepared for the weather

Like a boy Scout, BE PREPARED. This desert dweller didn't own a pair of gloves, a hat, or thermal underwear. I knew we would need to be ready for rain, snow, and possibly freezing weather. That was the most challenging part of packing; you just never know that part of the country could be like the Arctic tundra or like a fall day.
I am nothing if not an efficient packer. I even like to travel with just a carry on piece of luggage and a backpack. This trip would prove challenging on that front.
You have to have layers. I made sure I had a long sleeve shirt, silk thermals, sweater or cardigan, heavy coat, scarf, hat, and gloves every day! That is a lot of bulky stuff to pack. Of course, I made it work. I'm used to living with a capsule wardrobe, so I knew I'd be able to mix, match and wear things more than once.

Packing Tips: My puffy coat squishes down into a little bag. So I wore it to the airport and before we boarded, squished out the air and put it in its tiny bag, super convenient. Another tip is to wear the same outfit there and back. I always pack a travel-sized bottle of Febreze. I hang up my travel clothes after arriving and give them a spray of Febreze.
We got fortunate with the weather. I did wear my heavy coat daily, but rarely did I need the hat, gloves, or scarf. The last day was the coldest, and I wish I would have worn my long underwear, but it was doable even without it.

What to do: have a plan and a backup plan

Now I'm a planner, but on a trip like this, you have to have a good plan and a backup plan. Several things can factor into this, but mainly it's crowds. Massive holiday crowds may deter you from seeing something you had planned. Just be sure when you are planning your itinerary, you scout a couple of nearby options.

Rockefeller Center

Rockefeller Center is the epitome of Christmas in New York. But, Its famous Christmas tree? I was underwhelmed. However, watching the skaters in the rink, the Christmas decor, and the general holiday happiness in the air, it is still a can't miss spot! We decided that with only four days in the city, we would choose just one observation deck. We chose The Top of The Rock at 30 Rockefeller Center. It simply fit into our schedule better than The Empire State Building. We used our New York Pass for this attraction. 30 Rockefeller Center is a classic example of an American Art Deco Skyscraper. The interior is just gorgeous with its art deco finishes, and I loved just walking around admiring the beauty. Access to the Top of The Rock Observation deck is easy. It never felt too crowded, even though it was quite busy during the holiday season. The observation deck was well worth it. I'll let the photos do it justice.

View from the Top of the Rock

View from the Top of the Rock

View from the Top of the Rock

View from the Top of the Rock

View from the Top of the Rock

View from the Top of the Rock


You can request free tickets to the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, Saturday Night Live, or take the NBC Studio Tour. 30 Rock also has lots of shops, including FAO Schwartz, the Lego Store, and The American Girl store! We spent quite a lot of time here. Of course, there is ice skating. Due to some recent family drama, we skipped the ice skating. If you must know, my sister and I took our mother ice skating a month or so before our trip to NYC. On the first pass around the rink, she fell and broke her arm quite severely. She needed surgery and our help for months. So, no way were we ice skating again.
Rockefeller Center

Rockefeller Center

Winter Village at Bryant Park

I think I speak for my sister and niece when I say that Bryant Park was our favorite Holiday spot.

There is a great rink, in fact, when we were going to ice skate, I picked this one. The crowds are lighter, admission is free, and skate rentals are reasonably priced. You may work up an appetite with all that skating, and there are tons of food booths in the Lodge to choose from. The Lodge houses the food hall and bar, and it's adorable in there!. We grabbed some hot lattes, watched the skaters, took lots of pictures, and browsed many holiday shops.

The shops are in custom-designed kiosks, and most you can walk in. They sell mostly Christmas decor, gifts, and handmade items, also an assortment of home decor, and jewelry. It's a unique spot, unlike the knockoff handbags on every New York street corner.

Radio City Music Hall

I'd be remiss if I didn't include Radio City Music Hall. When my sister suggested it, I was like, sure, okay. I am not a huge fan of Broadway musicals, so I thought this was a good alternative. Though, in the back of my mind, I was hoping it wasn't going to be cheesy…….I could not have been more wrong. It was pretty amazing. When you walk down 6th Avenue and see that iconic marquis, it takes your breath away a little. Inside was a throwback to a glamorous era. Red, gold and mirrors made up the decor. It was stunning. We grabbed our drinks, because everything's better with champagne, and went in to find our seats.

We saw the Christmas Spectacular, and that is the perfect way to describe it. We loved every minute of every iconic kick. It is something you should see once in your life.

Times Square

This one is a bit more specific. It really pertains to the time between Christmas and New Year, which happens to be right when we were there. We arrived in New York very early, so our first day, we hit the ground running. We got to our hotel, the Marriott Marquis Times Square, and we were out the door by 8:00 am. Times Square was still pretty quiet. The set up for NYE was already beginning, though. The excitement was building over the next few days. Each day it got a little more packed with people. But what an exciting place to be. Times Square is smaller than I imagined, at least in square footage but all you need to do is lookup. Then it feels exactly how it should. Signs, lights, billboards, it was all just a big ball of excitement. Of course, during the time we were there, it was pretty chaotic. When we left on the 30th of December, it was hard to even walk. We had to walk away from Times Square for several blocks to even catch an Uber to the airport!!

Crowded streets near Times Square

Crowded streets near Times Square

Overall, our four days in New York City was a success. We were prepared for the weather and had a solid plan with a backup plan for everything we did. We lucked out with the weather, it was perfectly mild. Our plans didn't disappoint but due to the heavy, holiday crowds, we did take advantage of our backup plan. The days between Christmas and New Years are super busy, but as long as you are prepared (mostly mentally) for crowds, you can have a great trip. New York is such a special place that no matter when you decide to go, it will be memorable. For me, Christmas time in New York was simply magical, and I will be back.

An eerily quiet Times Square

An eerily quiet Times Square

Christmas Things to do

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Written by PassportReverie
Hi, I'm Teresa. I love to travel and most importantly, I love to share about all things travel-related! I live in a travel destination, Las Vegas, and love how it is always changing. Thanks for reading.

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