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NYC in December: 11 Top Tips for New York at Christmas

Here are all the best things to do in NYC in December if you’re planning a Christmas in New York this year. Christmas in NYC is magical!

I’m just back from 5 days in New York. Guys, it was awesome. I’ll admit, it wasn’t all the dreamy ‘Christmas in New York’ experience I imagined, but with my help, yours can be.

December Christmas

I didn’t manage to meet Santa in Macy’s like on Miracle on 34th Street, I didn’t sing carols in the street a la Elf, and I definitely didn’t go ice skating in Central Park, as in Home Alone.

Nope, turns out those cliche New York Christmassy experiences are kind of exaggerated in the movies. NYC in December is busy, hectic, exciting and colder than you’d imagine. But oh so totally worth it.

Top Tips for New York at Christmas

Remember these tips for New York at Christmas when your turn comes around., you’ll thank me for it!

NYC at Christmas
Table Of Contents

1. Pack carefully for a freezing cold city

It was freezing in New York in December.

Literally.

Central Park at Christmas

One day it was -8C and the wind made it feel even worse. I’d packed so poorly for Christmas in NYC, I ended up wearing pretty much the same thing every day I was there.

Two pairs of tights, socks, jeans, a vest top, a t shirt, a long sleeved top, a jumper, a coat, a scarf, hat and gloves. Layered up AF. And still, the top part of my cheeks (on my face) felt like they were being stabbed by icicles as I walked from sight to sight.

It was so cold my phone kept turning itself off (yeah, cheers for that, Apple). It snowed, it iced and it turned to slush.

I’d strongly recommend packing your thermals, and layering up too. It starts with some great city walking boots – if your feet are warm, you’ll be right.

The first thing on your list of things to do in NYC in December, is to pack enough clothes to stay warm and have a bag to peel off the layers into when you go into the shops.

2. Christmas is busy in NYC, get up early

Christmas in NYC is one of the busiest times you can visit the city. I’d strongly recommend setting up an alarm clock to get up early to see the best sights without the crazy crowds.

I was in New York by myself, meeting a friend on a few days, so it my Christmas in NYC was more about the day time than the evening anyway. I was fine to get up early.

New York Empire State Building

I strolled up to the Rockefeller Tree, to the bottom of the Chrysler Building and to get that view of the Empire State Building. I’m lucky enough to say I’ve been up twice before, so to save myself the $56 entrance fee, I admired from below.

Christmas in New York
New York at Christmas

For free entertainment, I walked the Brooklyn Bridge, enjoying the views of the New York skyline and the Statue of Liberty as I went. I also went to the New York Public Library, which looked just like something from Harry Potter.

3. You HAVE to see Central Park in the snow

I headed straight to Central Park as soon as I saw the ten inches of snow on waking up one morning. I wanted to photograph those famous wintry scenes with the skyscrapers in the background.

I layered up, ventured out, saw Central Park, and then had to seek warmth ten minutes later when no matter how many layers I had on, they were no match for the freezing cold.

Snow in Central Park
Central Park cold
Christmas in New York

As my seventh time in New York (crazy hey!) I’d already done a lot of the sights – the High Line, the Statue of Liberty, MoMA, Top of the Rock, Times Square – and so it was a chance to just walk around, relax and enjoy what I saw. Darting into shops as I needed to warm up as I went.

Christmas in New York

4. Go to Museums for warmth

We spent a whole afternoon at the 9/11 Memorial Museum – so much to see and so much to learn. It was so interesting to learn more about what happened, and how the survivors survived. There were 1000s of exhibits there from phone calls between the the plane passengers and their loved ones, to photos that had been made famous around the world and the symbolic Last Column of the trade centers.

I’d definitely recommend going to this in New York. It was interesting to read about their version of events since too.

There are so many museums in New York that are great to seek warmth from the cold, but you might want to book in advance to make sure you get in, and go early too.

6. Drinking warms you up

Although the cold meant I didn’t experience all the attractions I’d expected (still sad about it being too cold for ice skating), it did mean I had a lovely time exploring some of the bars with my friend Andrea. My friend from university, she moved to New York six months ago.

New York at Christmas

We went to The Whiskey in Williamsburg, right next to the Brooklyn Brewery, and one of those bars you could imagine spending the whole day in. It was like a cellar, all cosy, and with no notion of time or the craziness of outside Manhattan just across the water. Just two, super strong, cocktails later (for me, a Spicy Margarita and Grandma Joan’s Special Lemonade) and we decided to go to The (fancy) Wythe Hotel next door to take in the views of the skyline and have a mulled wine.

A few days later and I met Andrea again at The Keg Room in Manhattan – an Irish-American sports bar, where we had no interest in the sports, just the Riesling. And then we went to try and get into Rolf’s. Big mistake. Every year they spend $60k on decorations (why don’t they use the same ones I’m wondering?) making it the number one place for New Yorkers to go to feel Christmassy. It was 4pm on a Friday and the people at the front of said queue, outside, had been there for an hour.

Did I mention it was freezing?

Metro in New York

So we went to Molly’s Irish Bar, a few doors up, obviously picking up the passing trade for Rolf’s. They looked like they invested 10% of the $60k, at a push, yet it was full and the sawdust floor hinted to me that things might get a little crazy later on.

And so a bottle of Malbec later and we went on to Eataly. A huge warehouse that’s been turned into a food store of everything Italy inspired. On the roof they’ve set up a terrace, ski-style, serving food and drink. We spent the next five hours eating lasagne, drinking red wine, mulled wine and the free Prosecco they offered us to get off the table and drink at the bar.

Rounding up my drinking recommendations for New York at Christmas. Expect to pay from $12 / £10 per drink, plus tax, plus tip, at 20%. Yeah, it gets expensive.

7. Keep your energy up with eating

If I listed what I ate in New York I’d be embarrassed… so here goes.

I kept getting to a stage where I was absolutely ravenous – could have something to do with the cold and the 20k+ steps I was doing a day – and anything would do. The fanciest meal I had was that one at Eataly, where a 10cm x 10cm piece of spinach lasagne cost $25 / £20.

Eating in new york

– Didn’t take one picture of my food in New York, 
here are some massive baubles instead

Food is exp-en-sive in New York, even cheap food.

Every day for breakfast I had some variation of and egg and / or bacon and / or cheese from Hana Food, a hipster organic food shop, by Jefferson Avenue Metro stop in Williamsburg where I was staying. They were $3, and a coffee was $1 – the cheapest I found in the city by far (expect around $6 at Starbucks). And actually nice, Colombian, in fact.

Christmas in New York

Other food devoured over my 5 days in New York included delicious pizza from Rays (chain, all over, I highly recommend, $7 a slice), tacos from La Chula inside Grand Central Station (3 = $17), pizza from Prova ($6), also in Grand Central, and a Kansas style Hot Dog from Zaro’s Family Bakery ($6) .

Every day I seemed to be at Grand Central Station for one reason or another. The food options in there were good for someone on a budget, and, as I was for those meals, by myself.

Christmas in New York

I also had Wasabi sushi one day ($13), pumpkin soup and a bagel from Pret a Manger ($12) and actually missed two dinners thanks to the shows I went to. Although one of those nights I did pick up a hot dog from a street seller for $4. Grim, to the highest degree.

But, the best for last, the burger at Alls Well in Williamsburg was without a doubt, on a par with Honest Burger in London as one of the best I’ve ever had.

Yeah, I’m probably not the person to ask for foodie recommendations in New York, unless Grand Central Station and Alls Well are enough for you.

– If you’re looking for kid-friendly restaurants in NYC, check this post out – 

8. Go to as many Christmassy shows as possible

Some of the absolute MUST things to do in NYC in December include going to see the festive shows.

You can’t go to New York without watching a show right?

Randomly my friend Kelly – who I went to Wilderness Festival with – and her sister arrived in New York the same day I did. On the Tuesday we decided to get tickets for The Rockettes, apparently the best Christmas show in New York around.

It was so good. So good.

Christmas in New York
Christmas in New York

And then the next night Andrea had tickets to The Nutcracker Rouge – a burlesque take on The Nutcracker. The dancing, the storyline, the singing – it was all absolutely incredible. I know I keep saying things are the best, but this was honestly one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. My favourite part was when the dancer was high up in a hoop, singing Sia’s Chandelier operatically and in French, as glitter fell on her.

New life goals right there.

There are lots of fun, festive shows in New York to make the most of at Christmas. Just have a look at the listings for the time you’re there, and you can also head to Times Square for cheap tickets too.

9. Take time for shopping in New York

New York at Christmas

Shopping: the ultimate on the list of things to do in NYC in December, hey?

To manage expectations though, shopping in New York is no cheaper than in the UK. I think maybe once upon a time it was, but with the ££ being so low, not any more.

It didn’t stop the window shopping though and as long as you treat every shop as a museum – where you can look but don’t touch – you’ll be alright. And of course, being Christmas, some of the shop window displays were awesome.

New York for Christmas

The highlight of my shopping experiences was walking up Broadway with a hot cider from Union Square – as there were so many pretty and unique shops to look at.

I also walked round Chelsea Market picking up a few presents as I went and I filled my basket in Century 21 with gifts for others, but mostly for myself. I actually had to buy a new bag to fit all my new possessions in.

Oops.

Whether you like shopping or not, the window displays on the main streets of NYC are just magical.

10. Give yourself time to get around

Christmas in NYC

As we’ve said, Christmas in NYC can be hectic. You need to give yourself enough time to get from A to B, especially if you have timed tickets. The NYC Subway is easy to navigate, and there are buses and Ubers too.

Don’t get yourself in a flap by not leaving enough time to move.

11. Visit an NYC Christmas Market

New York now has quite a few Christmas markets dotted around the city. You can buy food, clothes, artwork, novelty crafts and gifts with a festive theme. Great place for a mulled wine and a chocolatey treat.

NYC in December

The best ones are Bryant Park Holiday Market (with ice rink), the Union Square Holiday Market, Grand Central Holiday Market and Columbus Circle Holiday Market too.

The downsides of Christmas in NYC

I’ve had a brilliant few days, but the reality of Christmas in New York is that the shops are super busy, the bars full and the weather outside, literally, frightful. It was too cold to even contemplate the ice skating, and I had a quick peep in Macy’s, wanting to buy a Christmas decoration, but recoiling at the minimum $40 for pretty much any piece of hanging tat. Yes, this, was $40.

Christmas in New York

If you’re happy to hot drink crawl the avenues and streets, as I did, make sure you dress warm, bring some fur lined boots – or buy some at Century 21 – and be prepared for the cold and the people traffic, then Christmas in New York can be a brilliant (probably) once in a lifetime experience.

If you do go, keep an eye on Company XIV to see if they’re performing, the Nutcracker Rouge was the absolute highlight of my December in NYC.

Should you go to NYC at Christmas?

Oh, absolutely definitely. Visiting NYC at Christmas was an absolute dream of mine and I’m so glad I’ve done it. Despite the cold and the hectic streets just being there was everything.

New York Christmas

The streets, the NYC landmarks, the sidewalks, the people, the accents and the excited buzz in the air just made an extra special trip that I’ll remember forever.

Go for it!


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Greg Kennon

Friday 3rd of February 2017

Do you still have your fingertips?? That looked so cold! Going to NYC during Christmas time is definitely on our bucket list! Now I know to bring gloves though:)

Arianwen

Sunday 15th of January 2017

It looks so lovely, but I'm still glad I did NY in May. Even then it was a little chilly. Also, those shows look awesome!

Vicky

Tuesday 31st of January 2017

Ah they were! Made the trip actually. Yeah it was way too cold – sorry to say I wouldn't do it again. Need my sun!

Tanja (the Red phone box travels)

Friday 13th of January 2017

beautiful photos! NYC during Christmas season sounds great!

Vicky

Tuesday 31st of January 2017

Ha, it was fun, just a bit chilly! Glad I went and saw it :)

Vicky

Wednesday 21st of December 2016

So cold FiFor, so cold. Had to have some sort of hot drink on the go at all times to try and warm up from the inside. Brrrr. x

Fifor

Wednesday 21st of December 2016

Loved reading this. Looks bloody FREEZING xx