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How to have the best ever Christmas in New York City

How to have the best ever Christmas in New York City

This post was originally published on A Globe Well Travelled in 2015. The content has been revised and updated with fresh information.

I was unbelievably excited for my first ever Christmas in New York City.

Of course, Christmas back in the southern hemisphere ain’t so bad (plus it has the added benefit of squeezing in some beach time between family functions) but for an Australian, there’s something enticing about the idea of a proper White Christmas.

I first sought the wintery depiction of Christmas when I visited Europe in late 2013. However, I was denied snow. The only time it flurried during December was in Ukraine, and let’s face it – I was a tad preoccupied to get into the holiday spirit.

So I gave it another go when I moved to NYC. In an effort to make the holiday season as ridiculously Christmassy as possible, I asked around to find out exactly how to have the best ever Christmas in New York City.

Christmas Bar in New York City
Christmas in New York City
Miracle on 9th Street Christmas bar, New York City

1. Drink at a Christmas-themed bar

If you need a boost of Christmas spirit, this is going to be the best way to get your hit.

A Christmas pop up bar called Miracle on 9th Street appears in the East Village between Avenues B and C in December. After its debut in 2014, it was so popular that it became a regular bar (Mace) after the holiday season was over. They go all out every year by decking the halls with an insane amount of Christmas decor.

There’s even a Hanukkah corner if you fit into that category. And the best thing? The entire cocktail list consists of Christmas themed drinks, including a Bad Santa, Christmopolitan, and Jingle Balls Nog.

Another option is the Sippin Santa’s surf shack pop up at Boilermaker in East Village. More Christmas cocktails, anyone?

Holiday market in Bryant Park, New York City
Holiday market in Bryant Park, New York City

2. Hit up some holiday markets

While the NYC holiday markets don’t quite live up to the European ones, I still have to admit, they are pretty darn good. I seriously enjoyed munching on a choc-covered churro while peeking in to stalls filled with Christmas decorations and trinkets.

The best known markets are the Winter Village at Bryant Park, and the Holiday Markets at Union Square and Columbus Circle.

You can find a full list with some more info on the holiday markets here.

People dressed for Santacon in Brooklyn, NYC
People dressed for Santacon in Brooklyn, New York City

3. Take part in (or lol at) Santacon

Santacon looks kind of stupid and ridiculous, but even still – it’s somewhat amusing to watch the large number of drunk Santas / slutty Santas / hideously dressed people wandering the streets of New York City on this eventful Saturday.

The starting point and route of the Santacon parade does not get revealed until the day before. Follow them on Twitter to discover the essential details.

Christmas light decorations in New York City
Christmas in New York City
Christmas displays in midtown Manhattan, New York City

4. See the Christmas displays

The department stores in midtown go all out with their Christmas window displays. These elaborately decorated facades are a must see for anyone visiting NYC during the holidays. Be prepared, this activity can get crazy busy with a lot of pushy tourists, each trying to take their photos by getting in the way of everyone else. Have your bumping elbows ready and don’t be afraid to get creative with finding photo spots around the crowds.

I followed the walking route suggested by Mary in Manhattan, but I would also suggest starting on Avenue of The Americas opposite Radio City as that’s where you’ll find the oversized ornaments pictured above.

If you’d prefer to have a guide show you where all the best Christmas displays are, you might want to book a spot on a New York Christmas walking tour. This option also means that you’ll have someone to take photos of you with the displays (a task that other tourists will not be keen to do!).

Ice skating in New York City
Rockerfeller Plaza Ice Rink, Christmas in New York City
Top: Skating rink at Bryant Park / Bottom: Rockerfeller Plaza

5. Skate your heart out

Confession: I am notoriously bad at ice skating, which is odd because I am fairly good at skiing. But skating usually results in me spending a lot of time on my ass cursing the slippery surface beneath my feet.

Still, I don’t think it would be a proper Christmas in NYC without skating, as the activity rates as one of the best things to do in NYC for the Holidays. There are a number of rinks in Manhattan, including:

  • Central Park (North and South)
  • Rockerfeller Plaza
  • Chelsea Piers
  • Battery Park
  • Bryant Park

Here’s a list of the most popular rinks with prices and opening hours.

Christmas train in New York City
Vintage subway train, New York City

6. Catch a vintage subway train

Ever wondered what it would be like to catch the NYC subway in the 1930s? No? Even if that thought hasn’t crossed your mind, you can now experience it for realsies.

The MTA and Transit Museum have an annual tradition of replacing select Sunday train services with some old school vintage train cars. I managed to catch one of these, and I have seriously never seen so many smiles on the faces of New York City residents as when they saw this vintage train approaching the platform. It was truly a beautiful moment.

Find more details and schedules here.

Winter in Central Park, New York
Winter in Central Park, New York
Winter snow in Central Park, New York City

7. Walk through Central Park covered in snow

I was advised that the timing of the first snow in New York City is very unpredictable. Over recent years it has started as freakishly early as Halloween. Sometimes it’s around Thanksgiving, and occasionally it happens well after Christmas (booo).

If you’re lucky enough to be in NYC when the first snow hits – go for a walk in Central Park. Take your camera for some snowy scenes in what I rate as one of NYC’s best photo spots.

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