It is hard to find a better place than New York to spend the holidays. There are the lights, the post-Covid crowds strolling the streets, and the holiday spirit filling the air and your glass. New York is a romantic destination for couples of every age. But from Halloween to New Year’s Day, there are plenty of activities to fill the shorter days for children and grown-ups alike.
The first requirement for exploring New York is a sturdy pair of shoes. You’ll also want to bundle up; it’s often cold on the Staten Island ferry or the Circle Line. The winter wind whips between the skyscrapers, or if you take a stroll over the East River on the wooden walking path of the Brooklyn Bridge.
You won’t be driving in Manhattan, and for short trips, your feet are faster than a taxi or Uber trapped in traffic. Walking in New York is special, as one watches people moving purposely down the street as fast as an airport-moving sidewalk.
From the city streets to the Highline to the Brooklyn Bridge, there are lots of places to walk. One special stroll is to walk down Fifth Avenue to look at the lights and stores. Regardless of your faith or lack of it, that walk should eventually take you to Rockefeller Center Plaza (49th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues) to see the enormous Christmas tree. From December 1, the great Norway spruce is ablaze with light from 6am to midnight.
You can also watch skaters whiz around The Rink at Rockefeller Center.
You can skate for free not far away, at Bryant Park’s Winter Village by Bank of America. The block-long park is right by the New York Public Library on 42nd with its famous “library lions.” This fall and winter, it will host Bryant Park’s Winter Village by Bank of America with shopping, food, holiday glitz and, of course, ice skating.
The park packs a 17,000-square-foot ice-skating rink is free to use if you bring your own skates. (Rentals are also possible.) The park’s Winter Village offers over 170 food and shopping kiosks.
Another wonderful place to walk is the South Street Seaport. You will need to take a subway from midtown (a true New York experience in itself). It’s worth the short trip to explore the piers, the museum and its fleet of ships, a reminder that New York was (and is) a great seaport. The area used to house the raucous and picturesque Fulton Fish Market.
New York has not one but two great botanical gardens, the New York Botanical Garden (in the Bronx) and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. For the holidays, each has its own light show.
The New York Botanical Garden Glow, from November 18, 2022, through January14, 2023 lights up the grounds with thousands of energy-efficient LED lights and festive installations. The 1.5-mile after-dark experience includes illuminated displays as well as dance performances, ice carving, and snacks.
Similarly, Brooklyn Botanic Garden is bringing back Lightscape, an after-dark illuminated trail of art featuring over one million lights, plus music. You won’t starve during your one-mile stroll, as vendors will offer snacks including s’mores and spiked hot chocolate for the grownups.
Visitors to the Botanic Gardens might want to start their visit to the area at the nearby Brooklyn Museum, open from 11AM to 6PM. The Museum has an excellent art collection and hosts new exhibitions. On November 18, a retrospective on Thierry Mugler will open, exploring the edgy universe of the French designer, fashion visionary, and creator of iconic perfumes.
One way for families to see New York’s Christmas lights is via The North Pole Express. The bus adventure starts with hot chocolate and cookies while passengers listen to elves tell a Christmas story. The bus tour then takes a journey through New York to see holiday lights displays from the Saks Fifth Avenue Holiday Light Show and Rockefeller Christmas Tree and Radio City Music Hall to the Cartier Holiday Lights and Bryant Park Winter Village.
On the tour passengers can sing Christmas carols and hang out with “Santa.” Children are encouraged to wear pajamas and coats. They get a warm Christmas hat and winter blanket to stay cozy on the open upper deck. Maybe tomorrow, they’ll see the Radio City Musical Hall Rockettes Christmas Spectacular!
After all this good cheer, many of us will need a drink. Post-pandemic, New York hotels are helping with their secret weapon—the hotel bar.
New York is packed with hotel bars like El Quijote in Hotel Chelsea, Jazz Café, The Club Bar, Promenade Bar, The Living Room, Thompson Central Park, The Raines Law Room at The Wiliam, Bar Chrystie at Public Hotel and Bemelmans at The Carlyle.
Bar Calico, located in the Freehand New York in the Flatiron District near Gramercy Park, boasts drinks based on the flavors and tones of the American Southwest, as seen in the work of artist Georgia O’Keeffe. The bar may be from a Prohibition-era speakeasy, but the inspiration for drinks like Under My Cucumberella, Body Cosmo and Coyote Cuddles is drawn from O’Keefe’s photography and her Southwest home, Ghost Ranch.
If you are barhopping, stop at the famed Algonquin Hotel, home of the ‘roundtable’ of wits like Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, George S. Kaufman, and New Yorker editor Harold Ross. The hotel’s elegant Blue Bar, opened in 1933 at the end of Prohibition, is decorated with the art of Broadway caricaturist Al Hirschfeld. His ink portraits always included the name of his daughter, Nina.