WRITTEN BY JULIA O’BRIEN
New York is one of the best cities in the world to experience the holidays, particularly Christmas. Few others can boast the same quality and quantity of all that makes this time of year special. But let’s not kid ourselves; it’s also one of the most crowded and expensive places to pass the holidays. So here’s a guide designed to help you experience Christmas in New York like a local, with a few life hacks to make your festive season merry and bright.
Yes Virginia, there is a Santaland without the queues
Taking a photo atop Santa’s knee is an annual pilgrimage for many people. And Santaland at Macy’s is arguably the crème de la crème of holiday snapshots. But the queues! If you don’t want to wait several hours surrounded by screaming children and delirious parents, do yourself a favor and book ahead online. You’ll be able to waltz straight to the front of the pack. If you’re not fazed which Santa you sit on, try Bloomingdales where the lines are typically much shorter. And if you want to hear one man’s tale of what it’s like being a Santa’s elf in New York, check out David Sedaris’ Santaland Diaries. Perfect to listen to while you stand in line for your photo.
Get a bit of razzle-dazzle
For many, the thought of New York holiday decorations conjures images of the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree. But there is so much more! The Dyker Heights Christmas Lights have been running since the 1980s and get bigger and brighter each year. If you want to stay in Manhattan, why not pay Rolf’s Bar and Restaurant in Gramercy a visit? It feels like walking inside a giant Christmas tree, plus you get to admire the pretty lights with a cocktail in your hand.
Photo credit: The Three Tomatoes.
Speaking of holiday drinks…
Don’t forget to visit one of the city’s Christmas themed bars for a glass of holiday cheer. Pop-up bar Miracle at Mace returns for another year with some of New York’s best festivity-infused cocktails, while the Boilermaker is offering holiday cheer of the tropical variety, with Sippin Santa’s Surf Shack. Great for those of us who are homesick for a summery Christmas. You could also try the Holiday Hideaway at The VNYL, with elves on the payroll handing out goodies to guests on Monday nights.
Let New York entertain you
Just like every other month of the year, there is no shortage of entertainment options in New York at Christmas. You’ve got the crowd pleasers like the Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall or the Nutcracker at the Lincoln Center, but you can expect to pay big bucks for these shows. If you’re on a budget and in the mood for something a little out of the ordinary, this list of holiday shows might be more your style. And for those of us who want to reconnect with the spirit of Christmas, the Cathedral Christmas Concert at Saint John the Devine on the Upper West Side is a unique option.
Holiday Trains Galore
For something the kids and grown ups will equally adore, try the Holiday Train Show in the Bronx Botanical Gardens. It’s cheapest (and quietest) on weekdays, or consider purchasing a year-round membership, which includes access to all of their special exhibits.
And if trains are your thing, why not get on one and take a ride back in time? The MTA’s Holiday Nostalgia Train runs between Queens and Lower Manhattan along the M line. The train is made up of subway cars in service from 1932 until 1977 so jump aboard near the start and change carriages at each stop, so you can experience all of the different time periods.
Photo Credit: New York Botanical Gardens.
Rocking around the Christmas Tree
Purchasing the perfect tree can be a highlight of the holidays. But not if you pay an arm and leg for it! You’ve got three options: first, wait until Christmas Eve. It will mean less time with your beloved tree in the lead up to Christmas, but will guarantee you the cheapest price. Second, you can shop around. Even on the same block you’ll find marked discrepancies in how much a tree can cost, and neighborhoods with more expensive real estate will charge higher prices to cover their higher footpath rent. Third, don’t be afraid to negotiate. The best time to haggle a decent price is later in the evening when the sellers want to pack up shop and go home.
It’s skating time in the city
For us Aussies, embracing the cold is all part of the charm of celebrating Christmas in the northern hemisphere. But before you line up for hours and fork out $30 for the pleasure of ice skating around a tiny rink at Rockefeller Plaza, consider some of the other rinks in the city that are bigger, less crowded and in some cases, free! Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park is the only free rink in the city (plus skate rental), so you’re not going to beat the crowds at this place, but at least your wallet won’t take a hit. Once you’re done skating you can wander through the Christmas market and pay a visit to the New York Public Library, which always has a fetching tree in the foyer.
With two rinks – one open-air, the other covered – there’s plenty of room to move at LeFrak Center at Lakeside, Prospect Park. And paying just $6 on weekdays and $9 on the weekend, ain’t bad either. Arguably one of the most iconic places to skate in New York City, the Wollman Rink in Central Park is pretty much always crowded. But with gorgeous views of the city and the park, plus a much more reasonable price tag than Rockefeller, it’s hard to ignore. If you really don’t like sharing your skate time, check out the Lasker Rink at the Harlem end of Central Park. This will be one of the quieter and cheaper rinks you’ll find in Manhattan.
Photo Credit: Wollman’s Skating Rink.
How about a free ride home from the airport?
Traveling at Christmas can be a nightmare. Between the bad weather, long queues and less than friendly customer service, it can put a real dampener on your Chrissy. So if you have to travel this Christmas, at least save yourself some money on cab fares. Uber has teamed up with Amex offer free rides home from New York airports these holidays. You can claim up to a $65 credit on your fare, for up to two rides. Did someone say bargain?
I have to tip who? How much?!
Yep, it’s time to start dishing out your holiday tips. As a nationality known for our lacklustre tips (the Kiwis are apparently worse!) the holiday tipping phenomenon can hit Aussies pretty hard. We’re surprised by not just how much we are meant to tip, but the long list of people who are expecting to receive one. This AWNY guide to holiday tipping provides some great pointers and clarifications. But remember, only tip what you can afford. This is not a cheap city to live in, and a thoughtful card and genuine thank you can go a very long way.
For something totally free, very Christmassy Windows
Stroll the storefronts of midtown Manhattan, such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdales, Bergdorf Goodman and Macy’s to view their holiday window displays. You won’t pay a cent and if you pick the right timing (go early or late during the week) you’ll have unobstructed views of some of the best holiday window displays in the world. If you’re inspired by what you see, check out the documentary Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s, which includes insight into the visual merchandising team and the intricate planning involved with their holiday windows.
What things do you love to do in New York during the Holidays?
Share your tips with our community below in the comments.