This is going to be a quick and dirty guide to visiting New York City between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, a.k.a. THE HOLIDAYS. (True story: I went to my first ever real “holiday” party on Friday. I say this because half the attendees celebrate Hanukkah and not Christmas.)
This is a list of things you can do FOR FREE in NYC during Christmastime (and some you can do year-round).
“The Tree” at Rockefeller Center
This was simultaneously one of my life’s most overwhelming and most underwhelming experiences. Not to downplay The Tree, but it is really just a tree. A big tree, but it doesn’t look that big next to all those BIG buildings. In all truth, it’s something that would brighten your day if you worked at NBC Universal and got to walk by on your way to and from the office each day.
BUT it’s not really worth it to make a cross-country trip just to get trampled by a million other out-of-state visitors (and locals) all competing for their little patch of asphalt from which to take a picture of The Tree. I felt as if I was swimming upstream, if the river was made of hoardes of people. Not my idea of fun.
Tip: If you want to take a family or friends shot in front of a large, festive Christmas tree, check out some other gorgeous large ones in less crowded areas, including Bryant Park (there’s a skating rink and holiday market there this time of year, too), Washington Square Park, and even on Broad Street in front of the NY Stock Exchange. My Park Ave. office also has a nice one, and you don’t even have to pass security to see it. You’re welcome.
Fifth Avenue store window displays:
Yes, yes, yes! This something I am totally up for doing year after year, because these change. Fifth Ave is awfully crowded, especially near the Rockefeller Center area, but it’s worth it. I loved Saks’ funky yet traditionally festive displays (see example above) and Tiffany’s quaint, bedazzled holiday scenes. My absolute favorites were at Bergdorf-Goodman’s (see below), which is the least stereotypically Christmas-y, but they featured stunning vintage jewelry and 20s-inspired fashions with a flashy theater theme. I’m obsessed.
I don’t have a picture, but this event is like Hogsmeade. If you know what Hogsmeade is, then you want to go. Admit it. This is a great place for some gift-shopping, if artisanal candles, handmade soaps, and alpaca hats are your style. Or you can just browse for free. (Or give in and buy a whipped-cream-topped treat from the Wafels and Dinges cart, and some piping hot apple cider from one of many booths. I did both, and it was a great decision.)
This is a blurry photo I discretely took of some hipster Santa in Grand Central Station. But they were everywhere. All day, I tell you.
Please don’t participate in SantaCon. No matter what they tell you, it IS a giant, all-day pub crawl that gives people a sad excuse to dress in morally questionable, holiday-themed outfits. At first, it was fun to see all the Santas out in about this past Saturday (and elves, and reindeer, and snowmen), but then I got a little sick of seeing Santa smoke, start street brawls, engage in PDA with female elves on the subway station platform, stumble drunkenly into a cab, and engage in a lot of activities that should have landed him on the Naughty List. Many childhoods were ruined that day. I am not the only one who feels this way.
I absolutely adore Central Park. It’s different every time you go. This time of the year a lot of the lawns are closed off for the season, but the skating rink is open and it’s fun to watch the swarms gliding round and round. I also love the lookout tower at Belvedere Castle, the Shakespeare Garden, and the passageway below Bethesda Terrace (see photo, stolen from Gossip Girl, below). Just park on a bench and watch the parade of sweater-wearing dogs pass by. Whatever makes you happy.
I’ve walked across the bridge three times now, and I consider that a point of pride. It takes energy and time to walk across the bridge, especially after all of that other city-walking. It can be crowded when the weather is pleasant — this weekend it was quite chilly, hence, more walking room — but it’s a small sacrifice to walk on a piece of history. You get stunning views of the Manhattan and Brooklyn skylines. It’s also just really cool because, um, it opened in 1903. I don’t even know how humans did that. In 1903. Humans are incredible.
And when you get to the other side…
Fulton Ferry Landing at Brooklyn Bridge Park:
This is a fun place to take goofy-looking photos with your friends, family, and significant others with Manhattan in the background. There are Whitman quotes on the railings! You can spend a little money and get a delicious afternoon snack from Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory, if you aren’t too cold already. NOTE: The ferry landing location of the ice cream factory is undergoing renovations due to Hurricane Sandy damage. Please join me in crying a little inside.
Also! If you are a Texas Aggie, this pier is a great place to have crazy-random run-ins with a member of the Class of 1999, who will spot your husband’s Aggie Ring and then kindly take dozens of photos of your group of four Aggies in front of the Manhattan skyline. This man of ’99 will bring you great luck and you will run into Aggies from the Class of 2015 on the subway mere hours later. However, these results are not promised for those who graduated from a school less awesome than A&M. Sorry.
Staten Island Ferry:
This is completely free. Once you get to the Bowling Green subway station in way downtown Manhattan, walk over to the Staten Island Ferry station. If you time it just right in the evening, you can go out toward Staten Island and see the Statue of Liberty from a fairly close distance in the sunset. Then, when you get to Staten Island, follow the other hoardes of tourists around to a Manhattan-bound ferry to see the city lights illuminate as the sky darkens. It’s about an hour round-trip, completely free, and entirely worth it. Check out the intimidating Freedom Tower! And it’s not even finished yet.
This last activity is not free. It costs $25 per person, if you are an adult. But it is WORTH IT for a $1 million view. And you saved all that money by doing free stuff earlier, remember?
Top of the Rock:
And at the same time it doesn’t really say enough.
I want to go again. And again. And again. In different weather, at different times of the day and night. I actually just want to move up there, camp out, and enjoy my surroundings every few hours. I mean, who really needs to see twinkling lights on The Tree, when you can go up 70 floors and see ALL OF THE LIGHTS. *cue Kanye West song*
Also, just so you know, you buy a ticket to go UP at a designated time, but you can stay up at the observation deck as long as you like. So technically, why come down?
More information on the Top of the Rock Observation Deck can be found here.