A Holly Jolly Guide to New York City During the Holidays
During the holiday season, visitors to New York City typically head to the tried-and-true festive spots like the tree at Rockefeller Center and the storefronts along Fifth Avenue. But in-the-know travelers venture beyond Manhattan to the Dyker Heights neighborhood in Brooklyn. That’s where they can gaze in awe at the local residents’ over-the-top decorations and meet up with tour guides like Steve Clopper.
After having lived in several cities around the US, Clopper moved to NYC in 2001, following frequent visits throughout the 70s, 80s, and 90s. “The city spoke to me with its message of optimism and infinite potential, and its style, energy, and vitality.” He adds that September 11 evoked in him a “strong desire to share New York with the rest of the world.”
Now, his top-rated Christmas lights tour—which “showcases New York at its holiday best. It’s all about lights, holiday cheer, festivity, joy, fun, and sharing”—gives visitors an in-depth look at the dazzling displays from inside the comfort of a bus, which comes as sweet relief when visiting during the oftentimes cold winter months in NYC.
What makes New York City great for the holidays
Known for embracing the holiday spirit in all its sparkly glory, New York City attracts visitors from around this world during this time of year. According to Clopper, New York invented the “American style of Christmas,” noting that St. Nicholas is the patron saint of New York and that the classic holiday film, Miracle on 34th Street, was shot on location in NYC at the flagship Macy’s in Midtown. “New York was made for Christmas and Christmas was made for New York.”
He adds that NYC takes jolly to new heights with its ubiquitous decorations, Santa Clauses on every corner, holiday music on constant rotation, and—of course—the shopping. Visitors can also stroll down FIfth Avenue to view the magical window displays and browse throughout one of the city’s many open-air markets that are packed with gift ideas at locations including Bryant Park and Union Square.
Don’t-miss cozy corners.
To help you stay toasty while shopping, grab a mulled wine or hot chocolate inside one of the cozy igloos decorated with seasonal decor dotted throughout Bryant Park. For lunch or dinner, be sure to head to Rolf’s. Located in Gramercy Park, this German restaurant is famous for its year-round, old-world holiday decorations where you can order spiced eggnog and schnitzel. But call ahead because it books up fast. For a classic NYC meal, visit Tavern on the Green in Central Park, which is especially festive during the holidays and even hosts its own tree lighting ceremony.
The must-stop spots for festive souvenirs.
For high-end presents, walk down Fifth Avenue, just off Central Park, where you’ll find luxury boutiques and department stores such as Bergdorf Goodman, Prada, Cartier, and more. Holiday markets abound around town, according to Clopper, who mentioned ones in Central Park, Bryant Park, Union Square, and Grand Central Terminal. There, you’ll find local vendors selling their wares, as well as food and drink options. Of course, travelers will also want to swing by Macy’s in Herald Square to see the cheerful decorations and ride the store’s iconic wooden escalators, which were built between 1920 and 1930 and are purportedly some of the last functioning in the world.
Where to get a good night’s sleep.
New York is filled with festive spots that are perfect for a long winter's nap. The Lotte New York Palace, located in Midtown Manhattan, boasts a giant glowing tree in its courtyard that’s a sight to behold, plus its grand lobby feels like you’re stepping into a holiday fairy tale. In the trendy Meatpacking District, the Dream Downtown is known for transforming its rooftop bar and lobby into quirky winter wonderlands featuring life-size penguins. And the iconic Plaza hotel offers special touches like a Christmas tree in your room, along with a pop-up holiday shop and meet-and-greets with Santa.
New York City’s most festive attractions and activities.
The streets of New York and the city’s popular sights get all dressed up with festive decorations and twinkling lights for the holidays, so it’s easy to feel merry and bright here. Clopper recommends catching the Christmas Spectacular show starring the Radio City Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall, calling it a “not-to-be-missed holiday tradition in New York.” He also suggests checking out the Christmas tree that sits outside the New York Stock Exchange, saying that it’s “similar to the one at Rockefeller Center without the crowds.”
Related: Radio City Rockette Heather Langham’s Guide to New York City