Snowflakes are falling, hot chocolate is pouring and twinkly lights wrap around every tree. The magic of the season has taken over the city that never sleeps. And while the markets of Europe are traditionally known to take the cake, I would argue that New York City does the Christmas season best in North America.
I’ve never had the chance to spend the actual Christmas holidays in the city, but I have been fortunate enough for several years now to relish in the tangible energy that electrifies the city, that current of anticipation that runs through the streets throughout the whole season. Every time I visit, the experience is entirely unique and because this city is ever changing and incredibly diverse, each trip feels like the very first time. And let me assure you, it’s always love at first sight.
So why do I keep coming back? The short answer is, because it’s magical. You know all the traditional Christmas songs about city sidewalks dressed in holiday style and having sturdy trees that don’t mind the snow? Well it’s all real. It’s like every square inch of NYC has been meticulously covered in Christmas cheer. Enormous decorated trees adorn every hotel entrance and lobby, storefront windows vie to have the most beautiful holiday display, and evergreen branches intertwined with lights and ornaments frame every building’s facade. The whole city glitters and glows even brighter than usual, if that’s even possible!
I like starting my visit in Central Park. It’s best in daylight and it’s even more beautiful in the snow.
The next stop is the Plaza Hotel. It’s basically a holiday institution. Whether your childhood was built on Home Alone, Eloise, old school Gatsby vibes or you just love the magic of gilded ceilings and crystal chandeliers, the Plaza is a must!! It’s also a great place to end the night with a drink at the Palm Court while big, fluffy snowflakes cover the courtyard in front. Anyone else just dying to put on a sparkly dress??
Then there’s the Palace, as dressed up on the outside as the Plaza is on the inside and might be one of the most photographed locations for the holidays.
Rockefeller Center is a NYC classic for a reason. Not only is the tree itself incredible, but also make sure you stay for the spectacular Saks light show after dark! Day or night, take a walk by the window displays, each year showcasing a brand new theme.
Just around the corner, Radio City and 6th Avenue are lit with their famous oversized decor.
Some of my other favorites include the incredible Christmas spirit of the Peninsula, Grand Central’s facade and the window displays and building decor of 5th Avenue storefronts.
Get your holiday shopping done at one of the many Christmas markets throughout the city. My favorites are Union Square, Columbus Circle, Chelsea Market and Bryant Park but if I’m pressed for time and have to choose, it’s Bryant Park all the way! Washington Square Park is also worth a look especially at night when the arch is illuminated and the tree is covered it hundreds of twinkly lights.
The fire escapes of SoHo are one of my NYC aesthetic addictions. There’s just something classic about them. Audrey Hepburn may have had something to do with that in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. And while I love a good fire escape at sunset on a warm summer night as much as the next person, there’s something special about the scene when big, fluffy snowflakes begin to fall. It has a snowglobe-like quality to it.
I like to think that Zuccotti Park is one of NYC’s best kept secrets, especially around the holidays. Whenever I walk through there it feels like my personal winter wonderland. Every branch of every tree is wrapped in twinkly lights and, despite being in the heart of the financial district, it’s incredibly peaceful.
One World Trade Center tends to take all the fame but have ever visited the Oculus located just below? Year round this underground mall is an architectural wonder which transforms into the fortress of solitude for the winter. Blue lights give it an icy glow and snowflakes dance along the walls. There’s even a Christmas market on the ground floor.
Further in the financial district, Brookfield Place is another understated festive stop. The biggest appeal of this shopping center is the incredible light show in the middle of the building. These block lights sync up to music for a hidden light show. Definitely worth a look!
Take a walk along Battery Park in the snow. It’s a completely different world. You see the buildings, the Statue of Liberty. Everything is there except the hustle and bustle of the city. It’s all peaceful and quiet.
Stone Street holds a special place in my heart. I’ve made some of my best memories here. Stone street reminds me of a European cobblestone cafe with a manhattan skyline backdrop. Two of my favorite things.
The first time I visited Wall Street during the holidays I was pleasantly surprised to see it this festive! With a giant tree covered in thousands of lights, it creates a focal point in the center of all this concrete, commanding a festive energy amid the skyscrapers encroaching on it.
Ever been to NYC during Christmas? What was your favorite thing?