Greetings Internet Stranger and welcome to Christmas in New York City. As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, I take Christmas in New York City very seriously. As a Native New Yorker, I am honor bound to say that NYC does Christmas better than any city in the world. Every year, I insist on celebrating 5 Borough Christmas. This means that I try to do Christmas-related or just touristy things in all 5 Boroughs.
Most of my 5 Borough Christmas activities can be adapted to other times of the year, but this Christmas in New York itinerary is definitely particular to the Most Wonderful Time of the Year. Join me for a day of shopping, drinking, and Jimmy Stewart. Who could ask for anything more?
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend Christmas in New York. And there’s a million other things to do in New York City. Want to spend 24 hours in Brooklyn? With the Brooklyn Bridge? What about 24 hours in Manhattan? How about the Bronx? Or the best museums in Manhattan? In (gasp!) Staten Island? I’ve got you covered here!
24 Hours of Christmas in New York
Where to Stay?
I always laugh hysterically when people ask me this question. I have lived in the same apartment in New York City my entire life. That means I have never stayed in a New York City hotel. If I had unlimited funds, I’d spend my 24 hours in Manhattan at the Hotel Carlyle for the glamour and the bar with the Madeline drawings on them. Or I’d stay at the Plaza, so I could pretend that I was Eloise from the adorable children’s books. I’m basically a Very Fancy Eight Year Old Girl who refused to grow up.
If you’d like to explore great deals on over 1400 other hotels in New York City, click here.
24 Hours of Christmas in New York
If you’re lucky enough to have Christmas in New York, you’ll want a good coat. Here in NYC, the chic coat of the season is the Orolay Down Jacket. The camouflage color is the most popular, but I get oodles of compliments on this shiny wine color.
If the weather is rainy or snowy, which happens quite often in NYC, I recommend the Asgard Rain Boots. They are comfy/cozy and keep my feet dry all day. Plus they’re cute enough that I can wear them out without feeling like some gauche tourist with gross feet.
Finally, since we’re going to be out all day, you’ll want a battery for your cell phone. I always use the Anker charger. It’s light enough to fit in even a small purse. Plus the Anker lasts for several full charges of a phone, so I’ll never run out of juice!
24 Hours of Christmas in New York
Morning: Holiday Markets Tour
One of the reasons that Christmas in New York City is especially magical is its holiday markets. Some of them sell kitschy nonsense, but if you know where to look, you can find thousands of locally made magical treasures. I basically blow my entire Christmas bonus each year on these markets. “Supporting the local economy!” I always say, as my mustachioed landlord bangs on my door, insisting that I “must pay the rent”.
There are so many markets and stands each year, you might want a little assistance. That’s why I enjoy the NYC Holiday Sites and Markets tour with Urban Adventures. You can have the experts steer you to the best vendors and avoid the tourist traps. That way you can concentrate on the important things like shopping! Let’s head under the mistletoe with…
Approximately Top 5: Christmas in New York City
1) St Patrick’s cathedral
We’re spending Christmas in New York City, so it’s appropriate to kick things off with a church. St Patrick’s Cathedral is the major Catholic church in New York City. Ironically, it stands opposite one of the most prominent pagan symbols in New York City, the statue of Atlas holding up the world.
St. Patrick’s has been the seat of the Catholic Archbishop of New York since the 1800s. Fun Fact! I am actually distantly related to one of those Archbishops, John McCloskey. I’m not descended from him, though. He wasn’t That Kind of Archbishop.
On the tour, there will be just enough time to go inside and take a photo of the stunning marble interior. You can also light a candle to a loved one if you choose. If you are looking to see more of the interior, St. Patrick’s offers three tours a week for a small fee.
2) Rockefeller Center Tree
Of course the Rockefeller Center Tree is the first thing anyone associates with Christmas in New York City! The first Rockefeller Center Christmas tree was actually started during the Great Depression. Many of the workers couldn’t afford their own tree, so the Rockefeller Center tree was erected as a way to give the people a little Christmas comfort.
Now of course the tree serves as a symbol of the season for the entire city and the eleventy-jillion visitors who descend upon it during the month of December. But the tree still manages to do a little giving back. At the end of Christmas in New York, it’s donated to Habitat for Humanity to give lumber for their housing projects.
On a completely different note, my guide Jillian brought me into the Rockefeller Center lobby and showed me that one of the murals in the entrance has a cloud shaped like a butt. All my stories can’t be heartwarming, Internet Stranger!
3) Bryant Park Holiday Market
If you still need to get your Christmas shopping done, or if you’re like me and just pretend to buy things for your friends while secretly doing all the shopping for yourself, hit up the Bryant Park Holiday Market. This is one of those special events that only appears during Christmas in New York. You can’t miss it because it surrounds New York City’s only free ice skating rink. (You gots to pay to rent the skates, though.)
Bryant Park is worth visiting any time of year for the greatest public restrooms in New York City. They are free of charge, so clean you could eat off the floor, and possessed of a one million dollar yearly flower budget. (Not a typo and not a joke.)
The best choices for holiday market shopping tend to be artwork, jewelry, food products, or skincare/candles, which tend to be sold at the same store. I swagged out with this print by Brooklyn silkscreen artist Jason Laurits, some truffle honey, mustard, and salt from The Truffleist, the last jar of Vermont Maple Cream from Dorset Maple Reserve, vintage-inspired earrings by Brooklyn jewelry designer Kate So at Dearest Brooklyn, and a big candle from Soap and Paper Factory. I’m giving away some of the truffle stuff, but the rest is mine, all mine!
Sometimes I think there might be something important about the meaning of Christmas that I am missing by doing so much shopping for myself. Other times I think that I’m just giving the Christmas present to all the vendors I support! Supporting local businesses: the true meaning of Christmas in New York! (I can hear the ghost of Cardinal McCloskey sighing in shame at what his family name has come to.)
4) Union Square Holiday Market
As charming as the Bryant Park Holiday Market is, the Union Square Holiday Market is better. All of the vendors are local, so everything is going to be a unique and precious souvenir. As usual, I went all out. I can’t resist buying something from the actual artist.
The bracelet is from a company called Article 22. They make jewelry out of recycled bombs taken from Laos. (Their slogan is Love is the Bomb.) I loved the idea of turning something ugly into something beautiful. Also they make bangles in my size, and I have freakishly small wrists, so this is hard for me to find.
The earrings are made by a local jeweler whose company is called Carnelian Knoll. She gets the glass beads from a Chinese-American artist in California who is an expert in painting on glass. The artist trains female Chinese immigrants in California to make these beads as well.
Another female crafter is Eman Tabara, who runs Scentual Aroma. This is a local company out of Staten Island that makes all natural vegan skincare products. I bought their Bulgarian rose salt scrub, which smells like a rose garden in heaven. (Ms. Tabara herself runs the stand in Union Square.)
The final female artist I am showcasing is Eve Devore who makes owl paintings. Some of them are owls who look like famous people like Frida Kahlo, some owls have jobs like astronauts, and sometimes she turns entire cities or neighborhoods into owls.
I chose this one because what New Yorker can resist a Central Park Owl? I love how you can see the Central Park Zoo in one of its wings. Also Ms. Devore took my picture with her painting because my green coat matched, which made me feel like a Fancy Lady Art Collector.
24 Hour Treasure: Real Weird Art
Hands down the best conversation I had at the Union Square Market with with Joey Allgood of Real Weird Art. I told him this lemon looked exactly like my father and he said that the model for the lemon was his own dad. Perhaps a lot of dads kind of have lemon heads, wear glasses, and get bothered while reading the news? I always thought my dad was special, but I guess this lemon is proving me wrong.
Learning that your father isn’t special: the true meaning of Christmas in New York!
5) Pete’s Tavern
The tour ends, most appropriately, with a stop at 19th century bar Pete’s Tavern. As you can see, Pete’s goes all out for the Christmas season. There are Santas in all shapes, sizes, and materials adorning the bar. This tavern has a special Christmas in New York connection because O. Henry wrote the legendary Christmas short story, “The Gift of the Magi”, while sitting in one of these booths.
Of course, no one comes to a Christmas bar for the decorations. You come for the housemade nog! You get a choice between putting rum or bourbon in it. (If bourbon is one of the choices, I always go for bourbon. It’s America’s spirit!) Sipping the smooth, delectable liquid I was transported back to my childhood. (Probably there was bourbon in my childhood eggnog. My family is Irish, after all.)
Also the bartender at Pete’s gets bonus points for understanding what the reference on my Nakatomi Christmas Party 1988 sweatshirt was. Obscure Die Hard references: that’s the true meaning of Christmas in New York!
24 Hour Treat: Taste of Persia
Before heading on to the afternoon’s activities, you’re going to need a snack/lunch. My favorite place to get lunch in the Union Square Holiday Market is Taste of Persia. Its specialty is a tangy Persian vegetarian noodle soup called ash reshteh.
Also the man who runs it is the nicest guy on earth. It is cash only, but when I was about to walk away without ordering because I didn’t have cash on me, the owner told me he’d give me a bowl of soup and I could pay him back on another day. I’m paying him back, but I won’t really feel I have properly paid his kindness until every single reader of this blog buys his amazing soup!
24 Hours of Christmas in New York
Afternoon: The Morgan Library
We’ve spent the morning shopping and drinking, so let’s get classy with a Christmas in New York afternoon at The Morgan Library, one of the most underrated museums in the city. Christmas is the perfect time of year to come here because the ornate rooms are decorated with wreaths and a Very Special Christmas Treasure is on display. But the Morgan is a haven for bibliophiles any time of year. Let me further encourage you to give the Morgan a try with…
Three Fun Facts About the Morgan Library
1) Amazing Temporary Exhibitions
Their Edgar Allen Poe exhibit was so fantastic that after I saw it, I spent the next few months doing nothing but roaming the streets of New York City croaking the word, “Nevermore!” #nevermorgan Their most recent exhibit was on Frankenstein on its 200th anniversary. If you’re more highbrow, you could enjoy 19th century paintings of glaciers and commentary on the sublime in Gothic literature.
The more mediumbrow amongst us could enjoy giant Boris Karloff posters and clips from Young Frankenstein. Did you know that Mel Brooks used the same set designer/special effects creator as the original Frankenstein movie when he made Young Frankenstein? (His name was Kenneth Strickfaden.) Truly the Morgan has every bit of information the human heart could desire.
2) JP Morgan: Master Collector
As great as the temporary exhibitions are, the Morgan Library’s regular collection is even more impressive. The Library started as the private collection of Professional Gilded Age Rich Dude J. Pierpont Morgan. (He was so rich that the J. didn’t even stand for anything.)
The nicest thing one can say about Mr. Morgan is that he was an incredible collector of art and any kind of book or manuscript. He even had a genius personal librarian, Belle da Costa Greene. (I could do a whole entry on her alone. For starters, she was the first African-American woman elected to the Medieval Academy of America. She also wore superlative hats.)
Even after Morgan’s death in 1913, under da Costa Greene, the library’s holdings kept expanding until they included everything from a letter complaining about pay inequities from a soldier in the Massachusetts 54th to statues from ancient Sumer. Basically if it’s a cool object created by humans, the Morgan wants it.
3) Mankind is My Business
The most Christmassy treasure at the Morgan is the original manuscript of A Christmas Carol. You can actually see Dickens’s handwriting here. It’s not very much better than mine, which I find reassuring. The Morgan wisely keeps the manuscript open to the page on which Dickens describes Scrooge in abundant, miserly detail.
Seeing this tale of generosity makes me regret buying so many things for myself at the Christmas market. Should I find some Tiny Tim and give him…my truffle mustard? My pine scented candle? A bangle made from re-purposed bombs? None of those seem right somehow.
24 Hours of Christmas in New York City
Evening: Dinner and a Movie in the Village
Whether or not it’s Christmas in New York City, the IFC Center is the perfect place for independent cinema. If you want to see the latest foreign film from East Timor, they have you covered. If you’d rather check out a midnight showing of The Big Lebowski, they can handle that too. But the one event I never miss at the IFC Center is the yearly showing of It‘s a Wonderful Life.
No matter how many times I see it, I notice something new each time. (Did you realize that the first time we meet Uncle Billy, he’s stressing about the bank examiner’s visit…and the bank examiner visit late in the movie almost ends up being his downfall? I may be the world’s only It’s a Wonderful Life geek.)
But before we take in a movie, we’re going to need to get dinner. Let’s keep it local with a classy Scottish gastropub called Highlands. It’s the only Scottish gastropub I know of in the area. (That’s right, there can only be one.)
Highlands is famous for its cocktails, especially ones made with whisky. Why not offend the Scottish and kick things off with the Krankie, a dangerously drinkable bourbon-tamarind concoction?
Looking for something a little peatier? After all miss, this is Scotland. Try the Catholic Guilt, which is made with proper Scottish whisky and a little sweetness from some citrus.
24 Hour Treat: scotch egg
Now it’s time to offend some vegans with a Scotch egg appetizer. This treat is an egg wrapped in a warm blankie made of sausage. The mild flavors are perfect with the pickle and the terribly British HP Sauce served on the side.
24 hour treat: haggis
Some people are horrified by Scotland’s most famous dish, the mighty Haggis. But that’s just because it’s made with animal organs cooked in a sheep’s stomach. And yet, what is a hot dog but unidentified animal parts served in an intestine, and you like those, don’t you Internet Stranger? Think of haggis as a glamorous, richer-tasting hot dog. Serve it with sweet turnips and buttery potatoes, top it with a little rosemary and whisky sauce, and you’ll definitely get in the Christmas spirit!
Even if the haggis is too much for you, I’m sure you’ll have room for the sticky toffee pudding. This is the perfect treat for those who don’t like their desserts too sweet. The whisky and salted caramel sauces do their part to make this dish feel like a dessert for grown-ups.
Once you’ve paid up at Highlands, head over to the IFC Center for your film of choice. (But really you should see It’s a Wonderful Life. Teacher says every time someone watches It’s a Wonderful Life nobody gets paid because the studio let the copyright lapse.)
That’s 24 Hours of Christmas in New York City!
What would you do with 24 hours of Christmas in New York City? Are you ready to start booking your hotel in New York City right now? Would Tiny Tim like a painting of a lemon that looks like my father? And which is a better Christmas movie, It’s a Wonderful Life or Die Hard? Please leave your thoughts below!
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend Christmas in New York. And there’s a million other things to do in New York City.
Want to spend 24 hours in Brooklyn? With the Brooklyn Bridge? What about 24 hours in Manhattan? How about the Bronx? Or the best museums in Manhattan? In (gasp!) Staten Island? I’ve got you covered here!