Thursday, December 5, 2013

Elsewheres: Christmas in New York City

It never goes unnoticed: Black Friday shopping is always – unmistakably – a news item and conversation topic at the Thanksgiving table. So now that we are a week out from Turkey Day and the Christmas season is in full swing, it seems appropriate to post another Elsewheres, this one about Christmas in New York.

I have had the good fortune to take two Christmas season trips to the Big Apple. Anyone who grew up at any point during the 80s and 90s – and by that I mean anyone who can remember the now-extinct romantic comedy film genre – has an idealized vision of Christmas in New York City. I have to tell you: It really is that wonderful.

all wrapped up

One thing that I should note is that Christmas crowds in NYC are large – larger than you’d expect if you’re visiting. Entering Macy’s is a shoulder-to-shoulder experience that rivals getting in and out of Fenway Park. Forget “I’m just going in to use the bathroom.” You’ll find that few of the major attractions are available to just walk in and out of at will.

Lodgings in New York around Christmas are, of course, in demand and a bit pricier. Both times I stayed with good friends who lived there. I would suggest this for two reasons. First, it’s Christmas! Spend the time with people who are important to you. Second, it’s Christmas in New York, so stick tight to someone who can get you around! 

navigating the city
not navigating

Nothing is more iconic to a New York Christmas than the aforementioned Macy’s, so let’s begin there. For the full experience, find your way inside and head to the upper floors where you can pick up an ornament to commemorate your visit. Otherwise, all of the fun takes place outside. There isn’t a city in the world that does Christmas decorations and window dressings like New York, and there isn’t a building in New York that does it like Macy’s. If you’re looking for Christmas magic, you’ll find it here. While you’re at it, enjoy the view of the Empire State Building.


macy's from the top of the esb (plus tons of zoom)

esb from macy's

Speaking of which, there isn’t such a thing as a trip to NYC that is complete without ascending the Empire State Building. The views are simply amazing, and the biggest question you should really ask yourself is whether you want to see the skyline during the day or lit up at night. Digital cameras have come a long way since these pictures were taken, but for the clearest images, I would recommend daytime. If, on the other hand, you have some photography skill, the nearby lighting is enough to take some really beautiful nighttime pictures (better than mine, anyways).

paramount building from the esb

pretty much... everywhere... from the esb

chrysler from the esb

Another mainstay of the holidays is ice skating at Rockefeller Center. Get ready for long lines and large waits, but just enjoy it. I’m sure you waited patiently for the rides at Disney, and I’m sure you did the same when The Phantom Menace finally landed in theaters. Going in with that mindset, you won’t be disappointed and you’ll have experienced one of the most iconic elements of Christmas in New York. Also, some hours are randomly, discreetly sponsored by local businesses, gaining you free entry, though you’ll never know until you get to the cash register. And don’t forget to view the tree or grab a cupcake at nearby Magnolia!

rockefeller (really missing 30 rock right now)
rockefeller tree

it's even beautiful empty!

While you’re at Rockefeller Center, it would be hard not to notice the lines for the Rockettes’ Christmas show. Join them! It’s a great time that you’re sure to never forget. Radio City Music Hall is a sight to behold in itself, but more importantly, the show is very entertaining and well worth the admission.

hard to miss

great stage!

Beyond the top four, there are plenty of other things to do – this is New York City, after all. Visit the Chrysler Building lobby. Shop at FAO Schwartz. Pretend you’re a ghostbuster on the steps of the New York Public Library. Walk Greenwich Village (stop at the Swedish sweets store!). Gaze upon the Flatiron Building. And Grand Central Station, too, for that matter. Pick a museum and take your time with it (an actual museum crawl in NYC could take you weeks). Walk Central Park (daylight, please). Windowshop 5th Avenue. Get stupefied by Times Square. The list goes on and on.

be awed by times square

grand central... famous for trains and for inspiring the graham central station ice cream flavor



near(ish) the village

Buses run regularly from South Station in Boston, and tickets are pretty affordable ($30 average), so you’re really only 5 hours away. If you are trying to keep your trip on the less expensive side (which I always am), I’d recommend enjoying the iconic attractions – which are just going to be expensive by their nature – and saving on the incidentals. Walk when you can, take public transit over cabs, curb your spending when you eat at restaurants, price out your must-dos before you leave, etc. Do that, and your trip can be reasonably inexpensive and very enjoyable.

Til next time!

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