It’s the most wonderful time of year in the most wonderful of cities!
Mariah Carey may be the queen of Christmas but New York is definitely the home of Christmas, and after a cancellation of almost everything in 2020 and a mixed bag in 2021 due to Covid, New York is ready to bring all the festivities back bigger and better than ever!
You will not be able to go one block in NY without some Christmas light or activity which can become overwhelming, especially to us out-of-towners who, normally used to a Christmas at the beach, are determined to experience everything a white Christmas has to offer from the egg nog to the ugly sweaters to of course…the snow (often a TBC in New York sadly)!
Never fear because here at AWNY we have selected some of our team’s favorite ways to celebrate the silly season in New York!
The city plays host to a number of European-inspired Christmas markets. They are filled with a number of artisanal and food pop ups and are fun to walk around holding a hot chocolate, especially after dark when they are all lit up. Most of these markets will open from Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve and here are our faves:
- Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park: the largest and best know market, it takes up the entire park with an ice skating rink in the center. Ice skating is free you just have to pay for the skate rental (though be warned, the wait can be a long one). If the Holiday crowds are too much for you, hold off as this one will remain open until March 5th, 2023.
- Union Square Holiday Market: no ice rink but this market has a number of NYC-artisanal pop ups and generally one of the better markets to find unique gifts.
- Columbus Circle Market: definitely the smallest one in the city and very much catered to tourists. Nothing here you can’t find at the other markets but worth the detour, if only to then pop into Columbus Circle to see their impressive Christmas lights.
- Grand Central Holiday Fair: this market inside Grand Central has the great advantage of being well…indoors! Perfect for the particularly cold days it has a number of local vendors and is held in the historic Vanderbilt Hall, also beautifully decorated for the Holidays.
- FAD Holiday Pop up will be held over the 3 December weekends (December 3+4 | 10+11 | 17+18) in two locations, Boerum Hill and Dumbo and will feature a number of local artists and small businesses on rotation
- Dyker Heights Christmas Lights: most houses in this little neighborhood of Brooklyn decorate their houses for the Holidays and it is truly one of the most impressive light shows you will see! Lights start to go up after Thanksgiving but the best time to go would be from mid-December once every homeowner has had a chance to put up their lights!
- Visiting is free and ideal visiting times are sunset to around 9pm as a number of homeowners turn off the lights around that time.
- The best locations to see the lights are 11th to 13th Avenues (also known as Dyker Heights Blvd) from 83rd to 86th St in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn. If you are coming from the city, it does take a minute to get there by taking the D Train to 79th St and New Utrecht Ave then it is about a 15min walk. Alternatively, a number of tour groups offer round trip excursions from the city. Click here for some tour options
- Macy’s, Bloomingdales & Nordstrom will all get into the Christmas windows game but the true standout is Saks on 5th Avenue with their annual light show! The show plays over the entire front façade of the department store and plays every 10 minutes daily from 5-11pm (the show itself runs for about 5 minutes). The best place to see the show is (unfortunately) from right across the road at Rockefeller Plaza, but trust us, it is well worth dealing with the Christmas crowds for a few minutes!
- The New York Botanical Gardens Holiday Train Show is definitely a must do at least once. Model trains run through replicas of New York landmarks including the Chrysler building, the Plaza Hotel and the Brooklyn Bridge. Even more impressive is that all the landmarks are made out of natural materials such as bamboo, bark and cinnamon sticks! You can see the show daily from November 19th to January 16th from 10am-6pm. Tickets cost $35 and include all access to the gardens. You can buy on-site but tickets for the show are timed so we would recommend buying in advance to secure your preferred time.
- Over the past couple of years, the NYBG has also hosted on select nights the NYBG Glow light show with beautiful illuminations across the garden. On these nights, the Garden stays open until 10pm and there is also a night market where you can buy a drink and walk around enjoying the illuminations (just to keep warm of course!). Glow tickets are $39 or you can get a combined ticket with the Train Show for $54.
- A new addition for New York is the Amaze Light Festival being held a Citi Field. Full of lights, music, food and dance it will be a true festive escape. It will be open from November 18th to January 8th, tickets cost around $50 and can be purchased here. This is one we have not yet experienced but is definitely on our list for 2022!
Every year there are more and more Christmas shows on offer for kids of all ages. Here are some we are excited to see in 2022
- First and foremost, the Radio City Rockettes Christmas Spectacular! A must see for anyone in New York during Christmas, not least because they perform at the iconic Radio City Music Hall. The Rockettes takeover the concert hall from November 18th to January 2nd and there are plenty of options to see them as they perform between 3-5 shows every day! They perform a number of New York & Christmas inspired dance routines including their famous Toy Soldiers. It’s fun, it’s festive and will definitely get you in the Christmas spirit! Tickets start at around $46 (quick tip- they have in the past also appeared at the TKTS booth in Times Square at 50% off). Last year they had to shut the season down early due to Covid so you might want to go see the show early!
- The New York City ballet will have its annual production of the Nutcracker at Lincoln Center from November 25th to December 31st. Everything from the dances and set design to the costumes and music will transport you to the magical land of Balanchine’s ballet. Tickets start at about $45 (and similar to the Rockettes, they had to shut down the production mid-December last year due to Covid so get in early!)
- A classical telling of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol will be coming to Broadway this year for a limited run starring Broadway favorite Jefferson Mays who plays every character in the timeless story.
- The touring production of A Charlie Brown Christmas will be stopping in New York from Dec 22nd-24th. It is a live production of the classic family tale definitely aimed at a younger crowd (or the young at heart!)
Any truly NYC-worthy spot will have some Holiday decorations but below are our faves that really go all out!
- Lillis’s Victorian Establishment which some of you might remember we had listed in our Halloween post and come November 1st, this bar turns into a Christmas Wonderland! The vampires and ghouls are replaced by Santas and fairy lights that are no less impressive!
- The Cabinet in the East Village turns into a pop up Christmas bar called Miracle on 9th from November 10th to December 31st. With Christmas themed mugs and cocktails such as Christmapolitan and Santa’s Little Helper, it is definitely a fun holiday experience. Though you can at times walk in with minimal wait, we still recommend making a reservation.
- The Springs, a normally tropical-themed bar in Brooklyn, receives a complete Holiday makeover for the month of December turning into the Ho Ho Holiday Lounge with all your holiday needs including a Christmas tree farm with trees for purchase!
- Pete’s Tavern best known as the oldest original bar in NYC is covered in red holiday lights over Christmas for a fun old New York/Christmas night out.
- Oscar Wilde in Midtown is a perfect spot for some great classic cocktails and in December, the bar will have a full upscale Holiday vibe.
- Of course, no list is complete without Rolf’s, a German restaurant in Grammercy that goes so festive you think you stumbled inside a Christmas tree. It is in every New York holiday guide however fair warning , the restaurant and bar are permanently packed, you can only make a reservation over the phone or in person and without one, expect to wait up to 2-3 hours in line. It is expensive (last year one cocktail with tip was close to $30) and the food is average at best. The décor is truly impressive though and yes we will admit, a must do at least once. Check out our review from a few years ago here.
- Our recommendation would be to go there early on a weekday if you can and just for a drink. Avoid going with larger groups and if you’re lucky you might only have to wait around 20-40min to get in. Enjoy the vibe the time for one drink then head somewhere else (Lillie’s and Pete’s Tavern are walking distance).
- Another tip is to go in the new year. Due to the time it takes to set up, the decorations usually stay up until April and the crowds definitely die down after Christmas.
Love it or hate it, Santacon is back again this year in New York. For those of you that may not know, Santacon is a large pub crawl hosted in cities across the world in December. People dress-up in the Christmassy best and head off along a route of pre-confirmed bars generally offering drinks specials all day to “santas”.
This year it will be held on December 10th and though the official details and route will only be posted in December, it usually starts around 12pm and goes from Midtown down to the East Village. It is definitely a fun experience to see hundreds of people dressed up as Santas, Elves and Christmas trees in the streets but it can be overwhelming, especially once these Santas, Elves and Christmas trees have had a few drinks.
Some tips for surviving Santacon:
- If you do want to partake but you don’t want to get caught in the madness then we recommend joining the route earlier on in the day when people are more (relatively) sober
- Start at the end of the route and work your way back up. You will still hit all participating bars but at least for the first part, you will be there before the main crowd has made its way down.
- Alternatively you can try going to bars close to but not listed on the “official” route. It will allow you to feel like you’re part of the experience but with less crowds. Warning though, a number of bars that don’t partake in Santacon will not allow “Santas” in (so bring a coat!)
- Not going to lie though, Santacon is a mess, especially as the pub crawl progresses so if its not your thing, we recommend staying well clear of the route and honestly, most of Manhattan on the day.
- PSA: do not go anywhere near the route with children! We can only imagine their horror (and not to mention potential trauma!) at seeing hundreds of Santas stumbling around drunk!
One thing that can be tricky for us Aussies during the Holiday is trying to navigate all the tipping needs. For help with this, our own Tarley created a helpful guide on how and when and what to tip during the Holdiday season.
From all us ladies at AWNY we wish you and your families a wonderful Holiday season, and if you are spending it here in New York that you get to enjoy the season to its fullest!