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Christmas in New York City brings to mind so many famous movies. Whether you want to see the NYC of Elf, Home Alone 2, Miracle on 34th Street, Serendipity, or one of many Hallmark Christmas movies, you will be able to find it. The great thing is that the magic of New York City at Christmas is so much better than what you see in the movies. It’s boisterous , jollier, and so very much bigger!
NYC can be an overwhelming place under any circumstance, but to try to see everything with the Christmas crowds and NYC becomes a logistical nightmare.
Well, I am here to help! We have lived in a suburb of NYC for nearly 20 years and have taken our kids in every Christmas. I am well acquainted with Christmas in NY and will give you a to do list complete with subway lines to take.
Start in the Bronx:
Holiday Train Show at the NY Botanical Gardens
Come see a miniature of NYC made completely out of natural materials. You can watch model trains travel past the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building and the Brooklyn Bridge. These tiny buildings are so detailed and refined, and it is fun to guess from what materials they are made.
This is a real hit for the kids! The train show runs through to the middle of January and purchasing tickets beforehand is a good idea.
Plan on 1-2 hours.
Now take a 10-15 minute walk to the Coney Island-Stillwell Ave Station and take the D train downtown to 34th St-Herald Square.
Macy’s at Herald Square might be the most Christmassy place in NYC. Macy’s decorates all of their windows with a new theme each year. They often involve animatronics, miniatures, and always invoke childhood fantasy. While there are many other options for Christmas department store windows, if you want to see the best year after year, this is the place.
Plan on 30 minutes
Go inside and take the escalator to the very top floor
If you have ever watched a Christmas movie, you know that the real Santa is at Macy’s! In years past, going to see Santa could take up half of a day in NYC, but you can now make reservations! You and your kids will be delighted with the Christmas display that surrounds the line. The main event of course is Santa! You can take your own pictures or buy a professional shot.
Plan on an hour
Walk 3 minutes to 34th Street-Penn station. Take the 1, 2, or 3 train to the 72nd Street -Broadway station.
Lunch at Alice’s Tea Cup
This whimsical tea shop is a great place to get lunch or tea. The menu has delicious treats that even the pickiest eater will eat. I really recommend the pumpkin scone, the croque madame, and the rose and mint tea.
Walk back to 72nd Street station and take the downtown 1 train (not the 2 or 3) to 59th Street Columbus Circle.
Light show at Shops at Columbus Circle
This indoor shopping center features 14-foot stars hanging from the ceiling. A musical light show happens on the half hour from 5 to 9 pm. Even if you can’t get there in that time period, they are still worth seeing.
Tip: While you are there, grab a treat from Bouchon Bakery. I love the TKO cookie.
Plan on 15-20 minutes
Walk across the street to the corner of Central Park to 59th Street and Central Park West.
Columbus Circle Holiday Market
There are many holiday markets in Manhattan, and everyone has their favorite. This is one of mine. It always seems to be a little less crowded than others and offers similar products. Take a stroll around, do some Christmas shopping and enjoy the Christmas feeling.
Tip: We always buy “No Chewing Allowed” chocolates. They are so very good.
Plan on 30 minutes
Walk to 59th Street-Columbus Circle and take the downtown D train to 47-50th Street-Rockefeller Center
You have arrived at the mother of all Christmas displays! Rockefeller Center features a large Christmas tree, ice rink and angel sculptures. It will be crowded but so worth going. Take a picture in front of the tree, go ice skating or grab a hot chocolate at Magnolia Bakery.
I recommend going around 4:30 (just when it’s getting dark) or going around 10 pm. Both times are much less busy. Weekdays are also preferable to weekends if you want to avoid a crowd.
Ice skating is free at many other rinks around the city including my favorite, Bryant Park. The rink at Rockefeller Center is $28-$33 per person, and there is often a long wait. But if you have always wanted to do it, it might be worth the splurge.
Walk to the area near the angel sculptures and look toward Saks 5th Avenue
Saks 5th Avenue
Saks has been doing large light displays on the facade of their building for the past few years. The music and light show is easy to see from parts of Rockefeller center, so keep your eyes peeled to see when it is starting!https://travelswiththecrew.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/img_4258.mov
See a Christmas show
This is my favorite part about going to NYC. I love musicals! You could go see the Radio City Christmas Spectacular with the Rockettes, The Nutcracker at Lincoln Center or a musical. My picks for families this year are: Anastasia or Frozen. Both have readily available tickets that won’t cost you an arm and a leg.
My favorite way to buy discount tickets is www.todaytix.com. It doesn’t require a long line or last-minutes plans. The deals are as good as they get.
Is there more?
Whew! That’s a long day! This itinerary can be done in a day, but if you have 2 or more days you can go visit Bryant Park Holiday Market or Union Square Holiday Market, go see two or more shows, visit City Bakery, stop at some awesome playgrounds, and/or take in all the sites of Central Park. There is still an endless list, but this is the best way to see the Christmas highlights!
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