When you think of iconic Christmas images, you can’t help but think of the famous Christmas Tree at the Rockerfeller Centre in New York. It was this (along with a desire to see my wonderful cousin Labhaoise) that settled my mind on going to New York at Christmas time! Come on, embrace your Notions and have a read of my favourite Christmassy things to do in New York, during what the Americans call, The Holidays!
When you think of great destinations for Christmas Markets, you conjure images of Central Europe. Good examples are Frankfurt, Dusseldorf, Warsaw or even Zagreb. Well, take it from me, you need to add New York to that list! There are three main locations for the markets in Manhattan, namely, Columbus Circle, Bryant Park and Union Square. The stalls are not exclusively Christmas ones. This is partly due to the traditional move away from the religious aspects of the Holiday in an effort to include people of all faiths. They are all fantastic though!
The markets are a wonderful place to soak up the atmosphere, grab a hot chocolate or a bite to eat! They also come with the wonderful wholesome sensation of supporting small businesses! Virtually all the stalls are small businesses who use these markets as a rare opportunity to sell their products. Most are from different parts of the United States with a high percentage of them based in and around New York. So pay them a visit and I guarantee you’ll find a wonderfully unique present for a loved one (or even yourself!).
The Rockettes Christmas Spectacular
This iconic piece of Americana is very appropriately named! It’s performed by the famous Rockette dancers, there’s loads of Christmas themed dances and songs, and boy is it spectacular! Watching the dancers and their perfection can only be described as synchronised swimming, but with out the swimming bit! The quality of the whole performance was out of this world! The Rockettes are known for a few traditional sequences that they have performed for almost 100 years. The most extravagant of these is a sequence where the dancers, dressed as toy soldiers, do a slow motion domino style fall into each other! It’s truly something that has to be seen to be believed! When I went to see it in 2019, there were three main stories shown. There was a story that revolved around Santa’s Workshop. Another was a sequence where large teddy bears danced elements of the Nutcracker Suite. The third, and most spectacular in my opinion, was the First Christmas that included a REAL donkey, REAL sheep and TWO REAL camels!!! I’m still staring in awe at it!
This wonderful show all takes place in Radio City Music Hall in the Rockerfeller Centre. This has been the home of the Rockettes since 1927. The theatre and front of house area is an Art Deco masterpiece and the 5931 seater auditorium has played host to the Tonys, the Grammys, America’s Got Talent and the MTV Music Awards among others!
Saks’ Light Show
The Sak’s Light Show takes place, unsurprisingly, at the Saks Fifth Avenue Store on 5th Avenue, opposite the Rockerfeller Centre, between 49th and 50th Street. The light show starts around sunset, typically after about 4:30 pm, and runs every 10 minutes until around 11:30 pm. The show lasts approx. 5 mins and it tends to be busy at peak hours, so keep it in mind for when you go to have a look!
Go for a Stroll Around Midtown
I don’t think anywhere decorates as enthusiastically for Christmas and the Holidays quite like New York! Everywhere from the small shops, to the large department stores to office buildings go all out! There are too many to list individually, but the best can be found in the few blocks around the Rockerfeller Centre and Times’ Square as well as on 5th Avenue. One of my favourites was the Cartier Shop on 5th Ave, where they put an giant bow of lights and some panthers on the outside of the building. Another in front of the Chase Manhattan Bank on 6th Avenue between 49th and 50th Street where you can find giant baubles and a giant string of lights.
Make sure you leave loads of time to stroll around, both during the day and in the evening after the sun goes down to get the full effect of the Christmas atmosphere! Add in a hot chocolate for a perfect Christmassy walk!
Macy’s Department Store
Once upon a time, the most Notiony thing to do was to go to New York to do your Christmas shopping. If you do still want to visit and indulge in some retail therapy, there are loads of options. The most popular are to travel to massive outlet malls, namely Jersey Gardens and Woodbury Common. Both are accessible from Manhattan, but it can be both pricey and time consuming to go to either. The savings that can be made on big fashion brands are pretty amazing though! If you want to go, you’ll need to set aside a full day. Bring an empty suitcase too, that way you can wheel it along and not be laden down with bags.
Instead of this, I chose to do the personal shopping experience in the largest single shop in the world, Macy’s Department Store! It pretty much takes up a whole block! The personal shopping service is totally free! They will, depending on what you’re looking for, bring you items that are on sale before going for the stuff that’s at full price. For first timers, when I did it, there was an extra 20% off EVERYTHING I bought through it too! Naturally, being the world’s biggest shop, there’s loads of options for gifts! If you present your passport at the main customer service desk, you can get a voucher that gives you 10% off across the store!
When you think of Christmas in New York, I can guarantee the famous Rockerfeller Tree will pop into your mind! The Rockerfeller Tree has been capturing the hearts and minds of people the world over since 1933. Normally, it’s a Norway Spruce tree and is between 21 and 30 metres (approx. 70 – 100 feet) tall. It boasts over 50,000 lights along with a 408kg (900 lb) LED and Swarovski crystal, 70 pointed star at the top! Once lit (usually from the start of December until early January), it attracts thousands of people a day! There is a one way system in place where you approach it from 5th Avenue and exit, through Rockerfeller Plaza onto either 49th or 50th Street. When it’s up, the lights are on until 11:30pm, so if you want a quieter photo, try later on in the evening.
This photo is probably the most iconic view of the tree. You can get it by standing in from the footpath on 5th Avenue. There’s a small raised area at the edge of the fountain and people take it in turns to stand up on it and get a friend to take their picture! There is an official photo point (that costs money) much closer to Rockerfeller Plaza, but to be honest, it’s overpriced, especially when you can get a really good photo for free! My personal favourite photo of the area, is from the corner of Rockerfeller Plaza. You get the tree, the beautiful flags, the Rockerfeller Centre and atmosphere all in the one shot! Take a look!
Ice Skating at Rockerfeller Centre
I would definitely advise booking this! As you can imagine, it’s very popular and for safety reasons, the number allowed on the rink, at any given time, is limited. Sessions are usually 45 minutes long and the cost includes use of the skates. Peak hours, in the afternoon and evening, are usually the most expensive. I chose neither! I went with the first skate of the day at 7am! It’s got everything! You get an extra 10 minutes on the ice, it’s dark when you start and light when you finish so you truly get to experience the best of both worlds! It also comes with breakfast (if you wish). The cost? $55 (plus taxes, bringing it to about $62 (€53/£48). Pricey, but worth it for this once in a lifetime experience! There are other wonderful skating experiences at Central Park or Bryant Park, but let’s face it, this is the most iconic!
This has to be the ultimate Christmas experience! Ice skating, on The Rink at Rockerfeller Centre, right under the Rockerfeller Tree!!! It was here that I got my favourite photo of the trip! It even started gently snowing near the end of my time on the ice! A total pinch yourself moment! A dream come true! Add it to your bucket list now!