City Sidewalks, Busy Sidewalks: Travel Tuesday 2
Photo: A famous Macy's holiday window display in Herald Square, 2015.
The Holiday season is upon us, my friend, and I'm excited- more than ever- to call New York City my home. I love the holidays in the city because there is so much festive stuff to cram onto your already busy calendar. It's a time when the lights of the city just become a continuation of hung decorations above archways and garland dangling from lamp posts. It's the time of the year when the word "staycation" rings those bells for me and I truly wouldn't rather be anywhere else.
Each December, a friend of mine joins me for our annual "Christmas in New York" week, and it's a time we both look forward to each year. I create an itinerary with all of the shows, restaurants, sights, and so forth- and then we just bask in the Christmas sea of bustling crowds and cab horns. It truly is a magical week!
That being said, I have found myself having conversations with others who are visiting the city, and they ask for suggestions of things to do while here. Being the romantic that I am, my responses tend to become paragraphs full of detailed suggestions for the "best budget holiday in the city". Therefore, I've decided to compile a list...
"These are a few of my favorite things"
Rockefeller Center- There's no better way to kick off the holidays in the city than to see the huge Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center. Grab a hot chocolate, a scarf, and wade through the tourists while watching the wobbly ice skaters skate below the grand Rockefeller tree, with a backdrop of the Rockefeller tower shooting high into the sky. While in the area, turn around and check out Saks Fifth Avenue's lights presentation which gets projected onto the front of their flagship store accompanied by a Christmas soundtrack that's sure to give you chicken pimples, and then cross the street for a closer look at their iconic window displays. Next, go next door to St. Patrick's Cathedral, walk the aisles, and snap a pic of the huge manger scene upfront. Spoiler alert: Baby Jesus is missing.. and won't find the trough until Christmas day. Not to worry, the rest of the party is there and waiting. Best thing about it all, it's all free!
Radio City- Honestly, the Rockettes just do it for me every year! It's like that threshold that screams "It's Christmas!" File into the regal Radio City auditorium, find your seat, and watch Santa kick off the show. Be enchanted by the large costumed Nutcracker performance, the live animals trot the stage during the enormous reenactment of the manger scene, and, of course, the mile-high flying legs of the Rockettes. Then, cross the street and get chicken and rice from The Halal Guys' street cart. Make sure you get plenty of white sauce and don't be fooled by the imitation street carts... you want "The Halal Guys," located at the corner of 53rd street and 6th avenue. Best Halal food ever and super cheap (just make sure you have cash.) In the same vicinity you'll find the huge red Christmas bulb statue and giant-sized strand of Christmas lights. Photo Op!
Herald Square- "It's Christmas Time in Herald Square," best sang by good ole Tony Bennett, should be your soundtrack while circling the one block radius that is Macy's Flagship store in Herald Square and its famous holiday window displays. Walk inside for a winter wonderland as the whole store is decorated to celebrate the occasion. Travel all the way up the escalators to Santa's workshop, and be prepared to wait a generous amount of time to see the big man, himself. The best way to get to Herald Square, you ask? Take one of MTA's Holiday Nostalgia trains, which only run on the M line, and only on Sundays in December. This fleet of vintage subway cars will take you back, complete with retro advertisements, padded seats and 30's through 70's decor.
Bryant Park- Check out Bryant Park's Holiday Village where you can ice skate for free! (The only free ice skating rink in the city. Note: you will have to rent ice skates.) There are also heaps of vendors lining the sidewalks- from candles to bags, ornaments to socks. Listen to Christmas music play through the loud speakers and stop by Waffles and Dinges for the best waffle you've ever encountered! The WMD is my personal favorite from the menu! Go next door to get warm and get lost in the massive New York library and check out the newly re-opened historic Rose Reading Room. Then it's another block down to Grand Central to check out their indoor Holiday Market, the miniature train and city display, and the main hall. Then cross the street for my favorite restaurant in the area, Pershing Square. (Go for breakfast or brunch for the tastiest orange juice ever.)
Lincoln Center- It's time to splurge. Buy a ticket to one of the New York City Philharmonic's holiday concerts! You won't be let down. It's a night to dress up, put on the ritz, and enter through the doors of one of New York's most iconic halls. (Check out Groupon of GoldStar for discount tickets!) Before the show, take a stroll through Central Park and Columbus Circle- and afterwards, cross the park to the East side, while passing the Plaza Hotel where Eloise is probably running amuck with Julie Andrews, and have dinner and/or dessert at Serendipity III (while you relive a scene from that early 2000's rom-com.)
West Village- It's Christmastime, you're in New York City, so you have to catch some live jazz. Head down to the West Village, around Christopher Street, and drop in to one of the many jazz bars in the area. The Blue Note is great, and iconic, but pretty pricy. I'd recommend the Mezzrow Jazz Club or 55 Bar. You'll find yourself in the small basement room of a pricy townhouse, where others sit at round tables and drink cocktails while a full band or dazzling jazzy diva transports you to somewhere beyond the noise of the city. (I prefer a glass of wine myself.) If you're going to catch a late show- which usually starts around 9 or 10, give yourself time to walk around Washington Square Park to see the Christmas tree and famous arch beforehand. Then have dinner at Tue Thai, a great Thai restaurant with hefty portions and good prices.
Of course, I could exhaust this list if I really wanted to. I love exploring the city and discovering new gems. If you're catching a broadway show and find yourself in the Times Square area, Virgil's BBQ has an amazing beef brisket and 5 Napkin Burger is a nice intimate restaurant for after the show. For the best pizza in the city, I recommend Angelo's Coal Oven Pizza in the midtown area.
Also, check out places like the IFC Center and the Museum of Moving Images, and other museums and movie theaters, where you can watch some of your favorite Christmas movies on the big screen. If church is your thing, The Brooklyn Tabernacle puts on a Christmas performance each year, as well as other churches in the city, which are usually free to attend.
Whether you're planning to visit New York City, or if you're staying home, I'd challenge you to get out and have a staycation wherever you are. It's easy to have fun, and a budget! Find some things in your area that you've always wanted to do, and do them! Explore your backyard or a new city, and enjoy your holiday travels!