There are few places better to spend the holidays than in New York City. The lights, markets, and even the department stores create an atmosphere that can’t be beat. I spent a few days last December enjoying everything New York has to offer, so here is my guide on how to spend the holiday season in NYC:

Rockefeller Christmas Tree 2021

First, I’ll start with all of the Christmas and seasonal attractions. I feel the main one to note is the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree. You might wonder how impressive a tree with some lights can be, but it is truly a spectacle and a definite must-see. While the average household Christmas tree typically ranges from 6 to 10 feet, the 2021 Rockefeller tree measured at a whopping 79 feet! We must have stood there admiring it for 30 minutes, so I would definitely put this at the top of your list.

Saks Fifth Avenue Store Display

From there, the Fifth Avenue department store displays are a short walk away. Again, you might think there is nothing impressive about a store’s window display, but these stores truly go all out for the holiday season. Saks Fifth Avenue, Tiffany & Co., Macy’s Herald Square, and Bergdorf Goodman are all must-sees!

Radio City Music Hall

While in the area, you can head over to Radio City Music Hall to watch the Rockettes perform! Unfortunately, we did not have time to see a show but it is definitely an iconic NYC Christmas experience.

Would it really be a Christmas in New York without a little ice skating?! Whether you are professional or an amateur, it’s an experience you won’t want to miss out on. Wollman Rink in Central Park, Rockefeller Center, and Bryant Park Winter Village are all prime ice skating locations.

What better way to fulfill your inner child’s Christmas dream than to visit the three-story toy store, FAO Schwarz. It’s been featured in several films (does a ‘big’ dance-on piano ring a bell?) and has thousands of toys on display. While it can be crowded and a tad overwhelming (there was even a line to get in), it’s a fun excursion with or without kids!

If a toy store isn’t exactly the kind of shopping you had in mind, then head to the amazing holiday markets. These European-styled markets consist of hundreds of booths where you can enjoy a mulled wine while finishing up your Christmas shopping! Bryant Park Winter Village, the Union Square Holiday Market, and Columbus Circle Holiday Market are all top choices.

There are also plenty of non-seasonal tourist attractions that are still must-visits, especially if it’s your first trip!

One of our favourite experiences was visiting the Summit One Vanderbilt. Tickets are steep, with packages ranging from $39 to $73. We opted for the basic ‘SUMMIT Experience’ package, which we thought was incredible. You are first taken through ‘Air’, an immersive art exhibit. While impressive, the start of the show is ‘Levitation’, where you stand on transparent sky boxes (clear glass) over 1,100 feet above Madison Avenue. It is indeed as unnerving as it sounds, but the views are 100% worth it! It was amazing to see all of the sights NYC has to offer from just one room, and in our opinion it was the best view of the city.

Obviously, the Empire State Building is the most well-known skyscraper in the city (if not the world), and at 102-stories tall it is definitely a sight to see! Because we had already done the Summit One Vanderbilt, we decided to not go up the Empire State Building. However, there are observatories on both the 86th and 102nd floors, which we would love to buy tickets for on our next trip!

We were originally planning on taking a (free!) trip on the Staten Island Ferry for the best view of the Statue of Liberty. However, it was a particularly windy day and not ideal weather conditions for a boat ride. Instead we walked through Battery Park to the view point there, where you can see the statue, but it’s still pretty far away. Hopefully the weather is nicer on our next trip!

Central Park was another favourite. It was so relaxing to walk around the 843-acre park, looking at all of the greenery situated right in the middle of Manhattan! The park still provided great views of the skyline, and is a great choice if you want a break from walking through NYC traffic.

Another great experience was seeing the Brooklyn Bridge. Just over 1 mile long (approximately 2 kilometres), we decided to walk across it, from Manhattan to Brooklyn. It was a nice walk and provided great views. Once in Brooklyn, we stopped at the famous Time Out Market to have a cocktail and enjoy the view of the city!

New York is a TV-lovers dream, with recognizable sights all around and plenty of photo ops! Of course, I had to go see my favourite TV series apartment building in Greenwich Village. The Friends apartment is located on the corner of Bedford and Grove and it was such a cool experience to see it in real life! I also had to stop and see Carrie Bradshaw’s iconic brownstone from Sex and the City, situated in the West Village. And I couldn’t leave the city without taking a photo on The Met’s steps, a Gossip Girl fan’s dream!

Grand Central Terminal

Grand Central Terminal is another cite to make on your NYC trip. While it is still an operating train and subway station, the architecture and design of the terminal is beautiful. We didn’t spend too much time in there, but the building is incredible to look at.

Times Square

I didn’t think I would be that impressed by Times Square, but I was wrong. There’s something about standing in the middle of the square at night, with all of the lights and changing signs, that remind you you’re in New York.

We loved walking through Chinatown and Little Italy (they’re right next to each other!) and seeing the local shops and restaurants. We had already eaten before heading there, so we didn’t get to try any of the local cuisine. However, we did stop at an Italian bakery to pick up a box of cannolis (one of my favourite desserts) to enjoy later!

A few restaurants to visit:

Scarr's Pizza

A slice (or two) of pizza is an absolute must when in NYC. When researching where the best New York-style pizza was, both Scarr’s and Joe’s were at the top of the list. So naturally, we had to try them both! They were both amazing, and I honestly could not decide between the two. So, I guess for now, we will be making stops to both restaurants on any future trips!

Cacio e pepe at Supper
Cacio e Pepe from Supper

While this is a guide on where to go while in New York, the best recommendations obviously come from the locals – and we certainly got an amazing one. We knew that we definitely wanted Italian one night, and were hoping to get a table at the famous Carbone’s or Via Carota’s. With no chance of that happening, we received a recommendation for Supper located in the East Village. A quaint little cash-only and no reservations restaurant, Supper is now one of our favourites. We shared the spaghetti cacio e pepe, spaghetti al limone, and a bottle of Valpolicella Superiore (the BEST red wine). This will be a restaurant we will visit on every future NYC trip.

The world-famous Katz’s Delicatessen is actually the oldest deli in New York! A classic Jewish deli, you can find favourites such as pastrami and corned beef sandwiches, as well as other Jewish specialities. These sandwiches are called mile-high for a reason, they’re packed with meat. Unfortunately, as a vegetarian I couldn’t partake, but my boyfriend loved it so much he went twice!

Where to stay:

If money isn’t a problem, New York has plenty of famous and luxurious hotels. Go all out and stay at The Plaza, one of the most iconic 5-star hotels, which has been featured in several films and movies as well as housed Presidents, world leaders, and celebrities alike. Other luxury-stays include The Palace, The Knickerbocker, The Langham, and The Ritz.

View from Untitled at 3 Freeman Alley
View from Untitled at 3 Freeman Alley

If these hotels aren’t exactly in your budget, there are still plenty of practical places to stay in NYC! We stayed at Untitled at 3 Freeman Alley, located in the Lower East Side, and had an incredible experience. It was affordable and within our budget, while also situated in a prime location! We found and booked it through Airbnb, but it is essentially a hotel, with private rooms and bathrooms. While the rooms are small (it’s still NYC after all) it was spacious enough for the two of us, and we knew we would be sightseeing for the majority of the day! If you are looking for an affordable but comfortable stay, Untitled at 3 Freeman Alley is a great choice.

New York City is amazing at any time of the year, but the holidays are special. The entire city transforms for the season and it truly does feel magical. It’s nearly impossible to be bored in NYC, there is always something to do or see. Hopefully these recommendations are helpful in planning your dream, New York trip!

Stay tuned for my next blog post, a guide on spending the holiday season in London!