I’ve never been a big fan of crowds, so when my friends suggested that I come to New York for the holidays, I thought they’d lost their minds. What I didn’t realize that while there are a lot of people in town, it actually adds to the festive atmosphere! I’d never been to the Big Apple at this time of year, and now I can’t stop telling people about it. Even if you’re only in town for a day or two, here are some things you need to see:
This is the place to be for people watching, and yes, there are a lot of people—more than half a million people pass by the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree every day. You can’t help but get in the mood, though, when you see the 70- to 100-foot tall tree, adorned with more than 50,000 multicolored lights, and topped by the “Swarovski Star,” made up of more than 25,000 crystals.
Believe it or not, one of the least crowded places to be is on the Rink at Rockefeller Center, which only allows 150 skaters on the ice at a time. You can try to get in with general admission, but the holidays are considered peak time, so it’s best to make a reservation online. There are a lot of cool packages available, including skating and breakfast with Santa, as well as the chance to stay on the ice right up until midnight.
You can’t go to New York without visiting Times Square, and while there isn’t a Santa on every corner, there are enough of them that every person from out of town can get a selfie with the jolly old elf if they want one. While the area has certainly become more family-friendly since I visited in the 80s, it still has that New York vibe—where else can you hug a 7-foot Statue of Liberty or watch street dancers perform to seasonal favorites?
Even if you don’t go inside, you’ve got to check out all of the store windows along Fifth Avenue—as well as that holiday touchstone—Macy’s on 34th. The creativity is incredible with windows featuring everything from high fashion to animatronic animals—in many areas, the walkways in front of the windows are roped off, so you can walk from window to window without running into other pedestrians. This is important, because I personally couldn’t take my eyes off what I was seeing long enough to look at where I was going. Of course, if you haven’t completed your Christmas shopping yet, you’ll have no problem finding a lot of gift ideas just inside the doors. In addition to fantastic windows, some of the buildings actually have light and sound shows, so again, make sure you’re on a sidewalk and not in the street because you’re going to stop in awe, wherever you are.
The New York Botanical Garden
You don’t even have to like trains to love the holiday train show at the New York Botanical Gardens. Famous New York landmarks are created out of bark, leaves, seed pods and other natural materials, and part of the fun is seeing what places you recognize. Last year’s show was breathtaking and included a 30-foot long Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty, Rockefeller Center and many other architectural marvels, including the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, which was a little surreal, since you’re looking at a model of the same building that you’re currently standing in. I especially liked the Coney Island replicas that included the 1920s-era Wonder Wheel. This year’s exhibition will showcase midtown Manhattan’s iconic skyscrapers, and include new replicas of the Empire State building, Chrysler Building, General Electric Building and St. Bartholomew’s Church.
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