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  • Writer's pictureChristina Trotter

New York City at Christmastime - It's Magical

New York City at Christmastime is simply magical. We went last year as a family to get into the holiday spirit.


I've been many times, but this was my first time going before Christmas. Since our son was too young the last time we went, he got to see the city with new eyes. So, while I am usually interested in trying new things, this was definitely a quintessential New York City weekend trip.


Because we live in Dallas, the prospect of snow and ice skating is very exciting for us. I have always dreamt of skating under the tree at Rockefeller Center, visiting the Christmas markets, and seeing the Rockettes perform their Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall.


I'm happy to report that we checked all of those items off of our bucket list.


If you are interested in things to do in NYC in December and, more specifically, how to have a traditional NYC at Christmastime experience, read on to see the itinerary.


New York City at Christmastime Table of Contents:



A Carriage Ride Through Central Park


There is nothing more romantic (or in our case, family-friendly) than riding a carriage through Central Park, especially during the holidays when you have a blanket draped over your lap and a cup of hot chocolate in your hand. It's expensive, but worth it if you've never done it before. Most run for around 45 minutes and the cost can vary widely, but expect to pay at least $150 for your group. There are many companies and you can pre-book if you have special requests (e.g., for a significant event or if you want a red carriage, etc.).


Alas, my kids had zero interest in the carriage ride which was surprising to me. Instead, we just walked through the southern part of the park, entering at the southwest corner near Columbus Circle and exiting down 5th Street. Bill and I googled our way through to get to the Carousel and the kids enjoyed that. Their favorite part though was drinking hot chocolate and climbing up and down all of the huge rocks throughout the park.



Pictures Under the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree

Three Christmas trees, the one in the middle being the main one, are displayed in front of Rockefeller Center at Christmastime.
The Tree at 30 Rock

Ever since I was a little girl, I've always wanted to see the Rockefeller Christmas tree in person. Each year, they find a tree from somewhere in the United States to become the famous tree.


They have not yet announced 2023 Rockefeller Center Christmas tree details. It will be lit on November 29th and there is a currently a page to sign up for more information.




Ice Skating at Rockefeller Center or Bryant Park

A man dressed for winter looks from a distance at ice skaters on the ice in front of the Rockefeller Christmas tree.
Skating at The Rink at Rockefeller Center

I am a terrible ice skater. When I say terrible, I mean I was scarred as a child for splitting my pants at an ice skating rink, not realizing it, and being informed by two laughing teenage girls. I got home and my mom and sister laughed at me too. People suck.


I've never learned to skate and now as an adult, I have the added fun of trying to keep my forty-something-year-old self balanced while one of my children tries to pull me down as they go down.


Nevertheless, it's Christmastime dammit and this was happening. It, too, is expensive, but as I said at the beginning, this is a bucket list experience for me.


I booked three weeks in advance and was glad to do so because there was limited availability. I could have gotten something on either morning or later Sunday evening was available. We were headed to see the Rockettes Sunday night so late wasn't ideal, but I also really wanted to go at night. It was a crazy schedule: Rockettes from 5-6:30, Dinner at 7:15, head back to hotel to change and then get to the rink by our 10 p.m. time slot. The timing all worked out perfectly.


Make sure to bring a backpack to hold all of your things!


The Rink is located at Rockefeller Plaza between 50th and 49th Streets.


Visiting the Christmas Markets

If you can't get to the markets in Europe, this is a good consolation prize. Here you can enjoy Glühwein (wine mulled with some mix of cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, star anise, peppercorns, allspice) while shopping for homemade toys, ornaments, and other goodies. Here are where to find some of these amazing markets:


This is one of the largest and most popular holiday markets with approximately 170 vendors. It borders the skating rink on all sides. The rink is free except for the cost of skate rental.


We really enjoyed this market. There were crafts, ornaments, home goods, gemstones, all sorts of things. The kids each picked out a rock and then Oliver bought a star lantern to hang in his room. We had hot cocoa and mulled wine and it was delicous!


Bryant Park (42nd St and 6th Ave), Free.



A German Christmas booth set up with pastries and several customers are looking at the display options.
Yummy German bakery items at a Christmas market


Located at 59th St and Central Park West (near the entrance to Central Park). There are dozens of vendors selling home goods, food, jewelry, and art.


Held within warm Grand Central Station, local vendors bring you a European-style gourmet extravaganza. There are prepared foods and gifts for hosts for purchase.

Grand Central Station, Free




See the Rockettes' Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall

A side view of the sign at Radio City Music Hall
Radio City Music Hall, home of the Rockettes

My first recollection of seeing the Rockettes is when I first saw the movie version of Annie. I wanted to be one. Unfortunately, at no point in my life have I been able to kick my leg over my head.


The show is amazing. The two highlights for me are (1) seeing them all dressed as toy soldiers and then watching them all fall and then (2) seeing a live nativity at the end.


Radio City Music Hall. Tickets start at $40 and can be purchased by visiting the Rockettes Christmas Spectacular page. Radio CityMusic Hall is located at 1260 Avenue of the Americas (6th Avenue) between W. 50th St. and W. 51st St.


Browsing the Christmas Window Decorations Along 5th Avenue

Fifth Avenue is the best place to see most of the window decorations for the holidays, but there are a couple of notable exceptions: Macy's (on 34th Street, but I bet that you already knew that) and Bloomingdales.


Toy Shopping at FAO Schwartz

FAO Schwartz is the toy store that featured so prominently in Big and Home Alone 2. It is a magical place for both kids and adults alike. Since 1862, it has been one of the most well-known toy stores in the world.


Our ended up using money from grandparents at FAO Schwartz. Harper got some wheels that convert shoes to roller skates and Oliver got a gumball dispenser that is shaped like a rocket.


My travel tradition is to buy an ornament whenever we travel. I got us a rocket ship family ornament that has FAO Schwartz in gold.


It's an easy stop on the way to Rockefeller Center for ice skating or pictures by the tree.


FAO Schwartz, 30 Rockefeller Plaza, Sunday - Thursday: 10a - 8p, Friday & Saturday: 10a - 9p

A gif of Robert Loggia and Tom Hanks playing the giant piano at FAO Schwartz during the movie, "Big"
I've never wanted to play "Chopsticks" more



Seeing the Christmas Decorations at The Plaza Hotel

While you are touring Central Park or peeking into the 5th Avenue windows, you should take a quick peek at The Plaza Hotel decorations.


If you have young ones, you could also consider mixing this with Tea with Eloise.


Fifth Avenue at Central Park South.


 

New York City has always been a place of wonder and magic for me no matter what time of year. If you have any other tips, let me know.


If you know someone headed to New York City at Christmastime, please share this link with them.


Happy Travels,

Chrissy



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