It’s the most wonderful time of the year – especially for a visit to New York City! Discover my favorite festive things to do in NYC during the holidays. The best part? You can hit everything on this list within a half hour walk. You’ll start at Central Park and make your way down Fifth Avenue, hitting iconic holiday destinations like the Plaza Hotel, Bergdorf Goodman, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Rockefeller Center, and Radio City Music Hall along the way.
Read on for the best holiday traditions in the city to celebrate the season, and get ready to make the most of your Christmas in New York.
Go ice skating at Wollman Rink in Central Park.
Start your day with a spin around Wollman Skating Rink, and glide past the spectacular, surrounding views of the New York City skyline. Having been featured in romantic films like Love Story and Serendipity, this iconic New York experience will have you feeling like you’re in your own real-life Hallmark Christmas movie.
Fair warning, this holiday activity can get pricey, especially if you’re bringing the family. Costs for admission, skate rentals, and locker rentals for your street shoes (backpacks are not allowed on the ice) add up. If you’re tight on budget, consider watching the skaters from the sidelines. You’ll have just as much fun, and the people watching is priceless!
Sip holiday high tea at the Palm Court at the Plaza Hotel.
Afterwards, head across the street to warm up with a cup of tea. Stroll past the giant Christmas tree in the Plaza Hotel’s lobby, and step into the Palm Court for a holiday high tea service that’s fit for royalty. Enjoy finger sandwiches and petite fours served on fine china, and get in the festive spirit with a glass of bubbly. Don’t forget to look up and admire the spectacular stained glass ceiling.
Do some window shopping on Fifth Avenue.
It’s time to hit the streets for some holiday shopping! Step out of the Plaza Hotel and right into the thick of things, starting with Bergdorf Goodman. Situated at the top of Fifth Avenue at 58th Street, this New York exclusive department store has been heralding shoppers since 1899. It’s the epitome of true luxury and grand style, and its holiday windows are no exception. Admire them from the sidewalk before climbing your way up the seven floors of retail magic that await inside, from the bustling basement beauty counters to the elegant, top-floor restaurant respite with killer views of Central Park. The seventh floor is also your best bet to find for the perfect gift for someone special on your list.
Head south from there, popping into jewelry giants like Tiffany & Co, Harry Winston, and Cartier, which transform into sparkling jewel boxes all wrapped up with a bow for the holiday season. And don’t miss the flagship location of Saks Fifth Avenue, which puts on a magical window animation and light show for delighted crowds every few minutes.
Light a candle at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
As you make your way down Fifth Avenue, take a moment to duck inside St. Patrick’s Cathedral for a respite from the cold and crowds. During the holidays, my mom and I always light a candle to remember my grandma who is no longer with us. Even if you’re not religious, you’ll be blown away by the spectacular stained glass windows and awe-inspiring architecture of this cathedral, which has stood nearly frozen in time since the 1860s while modern New York skyscrapers have grown up around it.
Admire The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree.
No visit to New York City during the holidays is complete without seeing The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree. For over eight decades, the tree has stood as a holiday beacon for New Yorkers and visitors alike – more than half a million people pass by the tree every day. It’s well worth battling the crowds to peek at this 100-foot-tall Norwegian spruce in all its splendor and watch the ice skaters gliding around its base.
See the Christmas Spectacular starring the Radio City Rockettes.
Just around the corner, the Radio City Music Hall transforms into a winter wonderland for NYC’s hottest holiday show. My mom and I try to make the Rockettes’ Christmas Spectacular a tradition every year that we can and always have the most fun together. This show has it all – dancers that dazzle with their precision style, a pair of ice skaters that glide on stage, and of course appearances from Santa.
Bonus: go early for a Stage Door Tour. Explore the history of Radio City Music Hall, get an exclusive view of the auditorium from the lighting box, and get your picture taken with a Rockette (how’s that for a family Christmas card photo)!
Toast the season at the Rarities Lounge at Lotte New York Palace Hotel.
End your fun-filled festive day in NYC with a nightcap at The Rarities Lounge. Tucked inside the Palace Hotel, this cozy cocktail bar will make you feel as if you’ve wandered into the living room of a (very rich) relative. Prior reservations are encouraged, but I’ve often been able to wander in without advance notice.
Visiting from out of town? Book a room at the Palace Hotel, whose gilded age elegance is especially glowing when the halls are decked for the holidays. Originally the 1890s residence of prominent financier Henry Villard, this beautiful mansion retains all of its original grandeur. Located just behind St. Patrick’s Cathedral off of Fifth Avenue, it’s the ideal home away from home during a holiday trip to NYC.
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