The world-famous Rockefeller Christmas tree arrived in New York on Nov. 9 — marking the start of the holiday happenings here in New York City.
When it comes to Christmas in the city, New Yorkers mean business. From the Christmas markets to pop-up shops to spectacular light shows, there’s something new to see and do around every corner. Usually, I try to steer clear of the touristy areas of the city, but there’s just something about these classic Christmas sites that can’t keep me away.
Here are some of the most iconic activities you won’t want to miss out on and when they’re happening.
Between the world-famous ice skating rink and the 77-foot Christmas tree, it’s hard not to feel the holiday cheer after a visit to 30 Rock. Well, that is if you can look past the hundreds of people. However, there are plenty of activities to spread your time between. Here’s a closer look at what’s happening.
The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. December 2016
On Wednesday, Dec. 4, the Rockefeller Christmas tree will be lit for the first time. The fun will kick off at 8 p.m. with live performances until 10 p.m.. After the initial lighting, visitors can see the iconic tree all the way until Jan. 17, 2020. And if you can’t make it to the city this year, you can watch the lighting ceremony and performances on NBC.com.
Another iconic attraction at 30 Rock is The Rink, but what many visitors don’t realize is that it’s actually open from October all the way until April. That’s good news for those who can’t make it during the holiday season, but we must say, there’s nothing more magical than skating around the ice when the temperatures are low, the décor is bright and the music is cheerful. If you plan to visit during the peak holiday season, you can expect to pay as much as $33. Whereas if you catch it off-peak then you’ll save yourself about $8 with tickets at $25 a person. Unless you have your own skates, you’ll also have to pay $13 to rent skates.
The Tree at Rockefeller Center
Another fun holiday event that you’ll want to add to your calendar is the annual “Merry Tuba Christmas” happening at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 15. Tubists of all ages gather to play Christmas carols and other crowd favorites under the famous Christmas tree, filling the plaza with holiday cheer.
The Saks Fifth Avenue Light Show
Photo courtesy of Anadolu Agency / Getty Images.
Any other day of the year and I try my best to avoid the madness of Midtown Manhattan. Come November, my attitude shifts as the madness becomes a bit magical, especially when the Saks Fifth Avenue Light Show commences. It’s hard not to be mesmerized by the beautifully detailed displays and, of course, the lights. This year’s theme is Disney’s Frozen. The display will debut on Monday, Nov. 25 with a live performance from Idina Menzel.
After the big opening, the light show will run on a nightly basis from 4:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. throughout the holiday season. For prime viewing, head across the street to get the full view. Fifth Avenue gets extremely busy around this type of year, so if you want front row viewing you’ll have to arrive early and stand your ground.
Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular
The Rockettes perform at the 2015 Radio City Christmas Spectacular Christmas In August at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. (Photo by Robin Marchant/Getty Images)
If you’re a show person then you’re going to want to add seeing the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular to your list. The show runs from Nov. 8, 2019 – Jan. 5, 2020 so there’s plenty of dates to chose from. However, we’d highly recommend seeing the Christmas Spectacular, well, before Christmas. Tickets are available for as low as $49 in the Orchestra pit (offer expires Nov. 13). If you’re a Chase cardholder, you can access reserved seats at some of the best showtimes when you use your card.
The Rockettes perform at 2015 Radio City Christmas Spectacular Opening Night at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. (Photo by Steve Zak Photography/Getty Images)
The Rink at Brookfield Place
Photo courtesy of @francois2018nyc via Instagram
If you’re looking to escape the madness that is Midtown, head down to the Financial District where you can skate around a waterfront rink with views of the Hudson at Brookfield Place. To get into the holiday spirit, there will be a “Holiday Ice Concert” on Dec. 10 and 11 at 7 p.m. hosted by Olympic skaters, Melissa Gregory and Denis Petukhov.
Winter Village in Bryant Park
Exploring markets around the world is one of my favorite activities to do when traveling. When you visit The Winter Village in Bryant Park, you almost feel like you’ve been transported to a Christmas market across the ocean. There are products and vendors from all over the world and city selling unique and thoughtful pieces — it’s the perfect place to pick up a gift or two for your loved ones.
Winter Park opened up on Oct. 31 and will stay open until Jan. 5, 2020. Beyond Bryant Park, you can find numerous other Christmas-themed markets throughout the city such as the holiday market in Union Square or Columbus Circle.
The holiday train show
The train show is a holiday favorite of many New Yorkers and visitors alike. Paul Busse, the artist behind it all, recreates more than 175 famous New York landmarks out of different materials ranging from wood to cinnamon sticks. The show is at the New York Botanical Garden (NYBR) in the Bronx, so it’s a bit less crowded than the rest of the spots on the list.
The showroom will be open from Nov. 23, 2019 – Jan. 26, 2020 with tickets starting at $23 for adult, nonmembers of the NYBR and increase during the holidays and special events, like Bar Carts night, which is reserved for those 21+.
Getting to NYC
If you haven’t already planned a trip to New York, you’re most likely going to see pretty high prices given it’s the busy travel season. However, there’s still hope you can snag a good last-minute deal. Be sure to put a Google Flights tracker alert on potential travel dates you’re considering. This way, Google will notify you of any price changes and you can act on any deals.
Beyond that, if you’re set on experiencing the city during the holidays, use points and miles. While it likely won’t be the “best” redemption of your points, it could save you hundreds in cash that you can put toward ice skating at The Rink or gifts at the holiday market.
If you live within a reasonable distance, consider taking a train or bus. You can typically grab cheap last-minute bus tickets on Megabus, Greyhound and OurBus. My favorite place to look for cheap tickets is on Wanderu. As for the train, Amtrak is good about running sales frequently. If you live close enough for a day trip then you can take advantage of Amtrak’s 2-for-1 deals on select routes available on Saturdays. Another deal worth mentioning is Amtrak Share Fares, which is perfect for groups as it offers discounts up to 45% on groups of six. Taking the train or bus cannot only save you some serious cash, but it’s also super convenient since the drop-off locations are within the city and you won’t have to worry about paying for parking in the city.
Christmas in New York is unlike any other. There’s no better way to get into the holiday cheer than walking around the city with a cup of hot chocolate and admiring all the décor.
(Featured photo courtesy of Michel Setboun/Corbis via Getty Images.)