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3 Days in New York City During the Holidays

Curated by Michele Laufika former NYC resident of almost 15 years.

From the Rockefeller Christmas Tree and the Radio City Rockettes to the holiday markets packed with gift ideas, New York City knows how to make the holiday season merry and bright for locals and visitors alike. With relatively mild winters—averaging between 44℉ and 55℉ (7℃–13℃—tourists flock to the City That Never Sleeps at this time of year to experience its popular sights with a little extra razzle dazzle, all dressed up in festive decorations and twinkling lights. Here’s how to spend three festive days in the Big Apple this holiday season.

Day 1

Start the day with some holiday shopping at this open-air holiday market that features over 170 merchants spread across Bryant Park. There, enjoy plenty of festive fun including an outdoor ice skating rink; a curling experience under private, heated domes; and cozy igloos decorated with seasonal decor where you can grab a mulled wine or hot chocolate. Alternatively, book a walking tour of the city’s holiday markets and shop for locally made goods, crafts, and specialty food in the company of a guide.

Many visitors hear New York City and immediately envision the bright lights of Times Square; however, during the holidays, the storefront displays along Fifth Avenue outshine the flashy billboards with their elaborate seasonal designs. Just a short stroll north from Bryant Park, look out for the incredible windows at shops such as Cartier, Tiffany’s, Bergdorf Goodman, and more. You can also book a guided movie sights and holiday lights tour aboard a cozy bus and take in popular sights like Grand Central Terminal and the Chrysler Building while staying warm.

Wrap up your day in Midtown with a stop at Rockefeller Center to take in the grandeur of the annual Christmas tree. There, you’ll also be able to book an ice skating session at The Rink or catch the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall. And for even more scenic sights of the city, take a ride to the Top of the Rock, the 3-story observation deck that offers views of One World Trade Center, the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty, and more.

Day 2

The next best thing to the North Pole, the legendary FAO Schwarz is a whimsical toy-filled wonderland and this holiday season you can explore the flagship store after hours. There, play the Big floor piano and score an hour of free time to shop while the store is closed for a truly memorable NYC experience. Or, head to the New York Transit Museum located in Grand Central to see model trains loop through a 34-foot-long (10-meter-long) miniature version of New York City.

Head over to the west side to hop aboard a holiday cruise this afternoon. See all the major sites of Manhattan from inside a glass-enclosed, heated observatory while you listen to some holiday tunes and sip a hot beverage. Some cruises even boast a special guest—Santa—and sunset and evening options are also available. Alternatively, swing by Central Park for a horse-drawn carriage ride; don’t worry, blankets are provided on chilly days.

Book a guided tour of the Dyker Heights neighborhood in Brooklyn tonight to learn about the local traditions. Here, residents take the holidays very seriously, decking out their homes with over-the-top Christmas displays featuring thousands of lights, life-size toy soldiers, inflatable Santas, and more. Alternatively, the Bronx Zoo’s sparkling seasonal celebration features animated lights and LED displays of animals, including glowing giraffes, cheetahs, macaws, jaguars, penguins, and more.

Day 3

From the Metropolitan Museum of Art to El Museo del Barrio, the “Museum Mile” stretch of Fifth Avenue is dotted with cultural institutions including the Jewish Museum, the Museum of the City of New York, the National Academy Museum, Neue Galerie, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, and the Cooper Hewitt. Book a private guided tour of the Met or the Guggenheim, or browse the art at your leisure. Alternatively, stop at St. Patrick's Cathedral to attend one of the daily services.

Located in Gramercy Park, Rolf’s is a German restaurant known for its year-round, old-world holiday decorations that will put you in the seasonal spirit—of course, the spiced eggnog and schnitzel help. Just keep in mind that spots book up early and fast, so be sure to call ahead. After lunch, head up to the city’s newest observation deck, The Summit One Vanderbilt, located inside a 1,401-foot-tall (427-meter-tall) tower in Midtown. It includes three exhibits on three different floors, including one with reflective, mirrored floors that will make you feel like you’re inside a Christmas ornament.

After dark, explore the New York Botanical Garden’s outdoor light experience. Perfect for traveling families, the exhibit includes dance performances, ice-carving demonstrations, and other seasonal activities, including shopping at the Bronx Night Market Holiday Pop-Up. The garden also boasts its own annual holiday train show in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory. Or, head over to another borough to visit the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s illuminated spectacular, where you can walk through the sparkling Cathedral of Light tunnel and view a “fire garden” on Lily Pool Terrace.

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