Note: I wrote this article just before visiting NYC in December 2021. We just returned from the trip (it was ah-mazing), and I've put any relevant updates in blue, italic text (like this!) throughout this article. I've also updated the photos with pictures from our trip.
I love New York City and I am very excited this year to be going in December, in time to enjoy all the holiday festivities.
I've been many times, but this is my first time going before Christmas. Since Oliver was too young the last time that we went, he will be seeing the city with new eyes. So while I am usually interested in trying new things, this is definitely a quintessential New York City weekend trip.
Also, 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 hope to achieve all of these bucket list items this December.
If you are interested in things to do in NYC in December and more specifically how to have a traditional NYC Christmas experience, read on to see the itinerary.
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.).
Update: 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
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. This year's Norway Spruce tree hails from Elkton, MD. It stands 79 feet tall and is approximately 85 years old. The tree will be lit this year for the first time on December 1st.
Update: The tree is even more beautiful in person. Definitely a highlight.
Rockefeller Center, 30 Rockefeller Plaza.
The tree will be lit daily from 6a-12a. On Christmas Day, the Tree is lit for 24 hours and on New Year’s Eve it is lit from 6a to 9p.
Ice Skating at Rockefeller Center or Bryant Park
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. My six-year-old son hates cold weather and just got his arm out of a cast yesterday. Wish us luck.
Nevertheless, it's Christmastime dammit and this is happening. It, too, is expensive, but as I said at the beginning, this is a bucket list experience for me.
Update: 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. I could not
The Rink - Rockefeller Center, 212.588.8601.
The Rink is located at Rockefeller Plaza between 50th and 49th Streets.
Prices range from $20-$54 depending on age as well as day and time of day. Skates can be rented for $10 per person.
Weekends in December start at 7a and run until 11:20 for the last skate.
Important note: Hot tip from my friend, Robin: bring a backpack to hold your stuff (thanks, Robin)!
Visiting the Christmas Markets
Next year, I am really hoping to be in Germany for the Christmas markets. Unfortunately, this year they were canceled because of the pandemic and the high cases that they currently have in their country. I will look forward to that perhaps next year and assuage myself this year by going to the NYC Christmas markets. 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. This is the market that I am looking forward to the most as it has global cuisine, art, and handicrafts. You can assume that I will also be sampling the mulled wine and my kids will be slurping down hot chocolate.
Bryant Park (42nd St and 6th Ave), Free.
October 29, 2021 – January 2, 2022
Monday – Friday: 11a - 8p, Saturday & Sunday: 10a - 8p
The park closes by 4p on New Year’s Eve
Holiday Shops close 4p on Jan 2, 2022
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.
November 29, 2021 - December 24, 2021
Monday - Saturday, 11a - 8p, Sunday 11a - 7p
Held within warm Grand Central Station, there are 13 local vendors bringing you a European-style gourmet extravaganza. There are prepared foods and gifts for hosts for purchase.
Grand Central Station, Free, Monday - Friday 8a - 7p, Saturday and Sunday 11a - 5p
When Bill and I took our trip around the world, we were traveling from Egypt to Singapore just before Christmas. Both are predominantly non-Christian countries and Christmas is my favorite holiday. We were flying Lufthansa and had a connection in Frankfurt that we missed, requiring us to stay overnight in Germany.
We took the metro to downtown Frankfurt and when we came up from the station, we were in the middle of the most wonderful Christmas market. To top it off, there was an American military choir singing carols. It was such a bittersweet moment, so magical but it also made me sad to not be spending Christmas with the full family.
Seeing the Rockettes' Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall
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. I'm also more of a freestyle dancer because I can't follow directions well, so... In any case, how can you not get excited about the Rockettes' Christmas Spectacular?
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) The NYC-Arts Guide has a sneak peek of all of the holiday department store window themes. I am most excited about Lord & Taylor's theme of an enchanted mansion with treasure chests and paintings that come to life (and I think that my kids will be too) so I am going to head for that and make stops along the way.
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. We've set aside some pocket money for the kids to pick out something that they would like as part of their Christmas presents. 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
Seeing the Christmas Decorations at The Plaza Hotel
I'm not sure that I'm totally sold on this one, but since it's right on Central Park and near all the windows of Fifth Avenue, it's certainly worth a looksy. The Plaza holiday decorations are frequently mentioned as not-to-be-missed. I can't say that I see that from the pictures, but I will report back shortly.
Fifth Avenue at Central Park South.
'Tis the Season for Magic
New York City has always been a place of wonder and magic for me no matter what time of year. Last year's Christmas was special in its own way, but I am looking forward to the grandeur of NYC to get me in the mood this year. If you have any other tips, let me know.
If you know someone headed to NYC this month, please share this link with them.