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?
Christmas in New York City
Christmas in New York City
Where to Stay?
If you’re a tourist in New York City, you’ll probably be staying in a hotel while you explore. I mean, maybe you have a kind relative who will let you crash in their spare room, but that kind of space is rare in Manhattan.
I recommend staying in the Artezen Hotel in Lower Manhattan. It’s very easy to get all over NYC from here. Plus, the rooms are affordable and cozy, and there’s free snacks, coffee, and fancy bath products in your room.
If you’d like a convenient and affordable hotel in NYC, click here. And if low prices and a great location scare you, just click here. This search engine will help you find the best deals and location on a room during your Christmas in New York.
Christmas in New York
What to Pack
- A cell charger so you can take photos of all the Christmas in New York fun.
- If you’re looking for a guidebook to NYC, this is my favorite choice.
- My book Get Lost, that I wrote myself with all my best travel tips. This book will show you exactly how solo travel can take your life from BLAH to amazing!
- Want to learn how I saved enough money to travel 16 weeks a year? Check out my top secret How to Afford Travel digital system.
- I always travel with travel insurance from World Nomads. You never know when something might go wrong, especially in this day and age, and you don’t want to get stranded during your trip without help. You never know when extreme weather will strike or some other emergency. But with travel insurance, you’re protected even if you’re attacked by a rogue Christmas tree during your Christmas in New York.
24 Hours of Christmas in New York
Morning: Holiday Markets Tour
One of the reasons that New York City is especially magical at Christmas time 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 where I come in with this self-guided NYC Christmas walking tour! You can have the local expert 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 this 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, if you walk into the Rockefeller Center lobby, you can see 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.) Just wait on line for a few minutes, and you can experience this gem for free.
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 did pay him back later, 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 Another 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
Early Evening: The Rockettes
The Rockettes are one of New York’s most beloved Christmas traditions. I say this even though I never once went to see the Rockettes as a kid. But just like with the ballet and the opera, New Yorkers feel better knowing the Rockettes were there. And as a bonus, if you see the Rockettes Christmas Spectacular, you’ll be able to see inside Radio City Music Hall, where the show is performed.
This Art Deco masterpiece was almost demolished in the 70s, but has since been restored to its former glory. See what I mean about the 70s! People were just playing with their pet rocks and listening to the Beegees and ignoring architectural masterpieces.
The show lasts around 90 minutes and largely revolves around Santa Claus. It starts with him talking about his favorite toys and there’s a brief performance of the Nutcracker…
24 hour treasure: drummer boy dance
It’s followed by the strangest thing these sad eyes have ever beheld: a dance in which all the Rockettes dress up like drummer boys and collapse into each other.
How do they do it? I know the Rockettes’ legs are sturdy and muscular because I’ve been watching them kick all night. So how can they turn them into noodles? Fun Fact! This number was designed by Judy Garland’s ex-husband/Liza Minnelli’s father Vincente Minnelli.
Then Santa shows up in New York and there’s some City Sightseeing Bus product placement. Everyone sings and dances about how amazing New York is at Christmastime. It’s the best, Rockettes! Why do you think I’m writing this blogpost?
Then Santa meets two brothers looking for a present for their sister. The youngest believes in Santa but the oldest doesn’t, so Santa clones himself to prove magic is real. This is basically an excuse for the Rockettes to do some amazing dancing in Santa outfits. Alas, the old young boy still doesn’t believe in Santa.
So Santa does the only thing a Santa can do–whisk the two boys to the North Pole. Actually flying through the air via magical powers finally convinces Young Master Skeptic that Santa exists. Then they find a doll for their sister. Of course the doll clones itself and performs an elaborate dance because this is still a Rockettes show.
I think the Rockettes should do more clone-themed shows after the Christmas Spectacular is over for the year. They could do Multiplicity, Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, or The Island… really the list goes on. And I always one thing Star Wars needed was more high kicks.
At the end, there is a traditional Nativity scene with carols and no dancing. I’m glad there’s an effort to remind the audience that Christmas is about more than kicklines and cloning.
Christmas in New York City
Evening: Dyker Heights Christmas Lights Tour
30 percent of all tourists who come to New York City visit during the month of December. After all, it’s the most wonderful time of the year. And if you’re one of the lucky folk to have Christmas in New York, you can’t miss the chance to take the Slice of Brooklyn company’s Christmas Lights of Dyker Heights tour.
You can’t miss the chance to see the craziest Christmas lights that the world has ever known or ever will know. It’s also a wonderful chance to see a part of Brooklyn that is really off the beaten tourist track.
24 Hour Tip
If you’re worried about the cold, don’t be. This tour is a bus tour that leaves from the Union Square area in Manhattan. So you’ll be comfy-cozy in your heated transportation watching Dean Martin Christmas specials as you scurry from one crazy Christmas light to another. I’ll point you in the right direction with the…
approximately top 5: Dyker Heights Christmas in New York
1) The Blue House
Technically the first house on this Christmas in New York tour is in the Bay Ridge neighborhood, not Dyker Heights. (New Yorkers take neighborhood boundaries very seriously. If you want to start a fight among New Yorkers, just ask them to define the boundaries between Chelsea and the West Village.)
This house is rather fancifully known as the Blue House. The couple that lives here is interfaith. The husband is Christian and the wife is Jewish. The husband wanted to decorate the house with Christmas lights, and the wife said fine, on one condition. She wanted the lights to be blue and white in honor of the flag of Israel. So here we have the world’s only Jewish Christmas lights.
2) Lucy Spata’s House
This place, which looks like an explosion happened at Santa’s Workshop, is the actual residence of Mrs. Lucy Spata. Lucy Spata is really the one who started the trend for over-the-top Christmas lights in the Dyker Heights neighborhood. She moved to Dyker Heights in the 80s and was shocked to find that people in the area didn’t decorate their houses for Christmas.
She decided to cover her home in lights and angels, and of course the cranky neighbors complained. Naturally Lucy Spata responded like any good New Yorker by…covering her home with even more crazy lights and attracting lots of tourists. Now the whole neighborhood gets into the Christmas spirit and they try to outdo each other every single year.
I was disappointed to hear some of the other guests on my bus tour speculate that the electric bills for the Christmas lights in this heavily Italian-American neighborhood were paid for by Mafia money. How dare they play into such stereotypes. But then I read that the Spata family son was indeed convicted of racketeering a few years ago. I really don’t know what the lesson is here.
3) Al Polizzotto’s House
Here’s a heartwarming tale! Al Polizzotto, who lives across the street from Lucy Spata, was suffering from cancer when he started his Christmas lights. He wanted to contribute something cheerful and positive to the neighborhood, so he had this giant Santa commissioned and placed outside his door for all the children to enjoy.
I found the massive Santa to be too far into the uncanny valley for my liking, but all the kids on the bus tour seemed to love him.
Also, I need to add that Mr. Polizzotto did unfortunately pass away from cancer, and his wife keeps the lights going in his honor. I’m just trying to tell heartwarming stories about Christmas lights! I don’t understand why they keep turning so depressing!
4) Michael’s Cause House
I feel a little better about introducing this place because I know going into it that this story is a tearjerker. The little tents outside this green and white wonderland are raising money for Michael’s Cause. Michael is the little boy of an NYPD sergeant and a nurse, and he has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.
People who suffer from this disease generally don’t live past their early 20s. I made a small donation and was told that all the money goes to finding a cure for DMD. (As of now there is none.)
Well, that’s a third story in a row with a sad ending. Let’s see if I can do better with the next house…
5) Musical Christmas Lights
The next house had one of the coolest Christmas light concepts I had ever seen. The family had their own private radio channel set up outside the house constantly playing Christmas music. As you drove up to the house, you saw a sign instructing you to turn your car radio to this channel.
Then the Christmas lights would move and change in time with the music. In a world filled with disease and racketeering, it’s nice to find something that is as adorable and frivolous as the Christmas lights on this house.
6) Sam the Greek
The final house on this one day in Brooklyn itinerary belongs to Sam the Greek. Sadly we’ve never gotten the chance to meet him, but his name makes him sound like a character in a Damon Runyan short story.
Sam is an immigrant, and he spells out Merry Christmas in many different languages in the lights on his house. Now many of the different immigrants in the neighborhood can see Merry Christmas in their first language. (Although I think the thousands of lights that cover the whole building get the message across just fine for anyone whose language is not included.)
Christmas in New York City
How To Get There
Now, I wish I knew where you lived, Internet Stranger, because I could send you a box of New York’s best gems and minerals. But sadly, I do not, and so I can’t tell you exactly how to get from your home to New York City.
However, if you need to take a plane or car to get to New York City, I recommend Expedia for the best way to find the cheapest flight or car rental, depending on how you want to get around. Just click here to start looking for the best possible deals on your flight or car rental, so you can head out to NYC ASAP.
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!