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6 Things to Do in NYC During the Winter Holidays

By Tobey Grumet
January 12, 2022
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Come the merry season, New York City is a hive of holiday activity. And whether you’re planning your own personal adventures or thrive on bulleted itineraries, there’s no right way to enjoy this festive time of year.

We know the city never sleeps, but we’re fairly certain you do. So, before you pull out your planner and lace up your walking shoes, here are our picks for six things you just can’t miss in NYC this December.

Hit Rockefeller Center

Come for the tree, stay for the ice skating, shopping, restaurants, sightseeing, and entertainment – it's hard to think of the holidays in New York without Christmas at Rockerfeller Center. The iconic Tree Lighting Ceremony will take place on December 4 this year, but you can see it beautifully lit and decorated any time of the day or night until early 2020. And once you’ve gawked at your leisure, you may want to strap on ice skates and join the legions of revelers overlooked by a watchful Prometheus on The Rink or purchase tickets, preferably beforehand, to head to the Top of the Rock for stunning views of the five boroughs.

Of course, if you’d rather relax on terra firma, there is a diverse shopping concourse, including restaurants and cafes—many rinkside—for meals and snacks, as well as the 12 sparkling angels lining the serene Channel Gardens. Kids will appreciate a quick (or not so quick) visit to the Lego Store and Nintendo NY, and the whole family will enjoy the NBC Studios and Behind-the Scenes tours at 30 Rock. Looking for a special adult-only moment? Consider reserving time for hand-crafted cocktails at the Rainbow Room’s elevated Bar SixtyFive.

Chinese Food on Christmas Eve

If you’re in the city without a home base, finding the right place for a special holiday dinner can seem daunting. Though many restaurants are closed on Christmas eve, allowing owners and staff spend time with their own families, you can follow the footsteps of throngs of Jewish New Yorkers and make a reservation at one of the city’s many Chinese restaurants. Chinatown is the most obvious choice to dine, and you can choose from favorites like the more contemporary Chinese Tuxedo, the group-friendly, dim sum palace Golden Unicorn, or the BYOB cult darling Peking Duck House.

If, however, you’re feeling a little more adventurous, hop on the subway or grab a carshare to Flushing, Queens, where you’ll find a plentitude of street food, three indoor centers full of hawker stands and of course, many full-service restaurants. Dumpling Galaxy, housed in a shiny mall on Main St., is a must for dumpling lovers, with 100 different varieties sharing space on the long form menu, while Canton Gourmet serves up golden friend rice and specializes in beautifully served fresh seafood.

Visit a Themed Pop Up Bar

Nothing says holiday like a festive cocktail, and many bars in the city take advantage of this mirth by setting up a fun and fanciful winter-themed pop-up. Miracle and Sippin Santa, which started six years ago in the East Village and has ballooned to over 100 locations worldwide, will start on November 25 and last until December 31st, letting visitors enjoy signature cocktails like the Snowball Old-Fashioned and Ginger Bread Flip at the three Miracle locations, and tiki cocktails like Kris Kringle Colada and Jingle Bowl at the Sippin Santa downtown pop-up at Boilermaker.

Vintage holiday decorations, classic, themed barware and an eclectic soundtrack of holiday tunes will be on hand, along with Ugly Sweater contests and, of course, an abundance of yuletide cheer. If you’re looking for something a little less kitschy, the Snow Globe in the Sky at Ophelia NYC, teetering on the top of the Beekman Tower, will be enclosed in glass and decorated with sparkling crystals and snowflakes. Along with a stunning view and plush, decadent setting, you can gorge on desserts and sip cocktail like the Rising Star and Fireside. Visit Miracle at (649 East) 9th St. and (505 East) 12th St.; Sippin Santa at 13 First Ave.; and Ophelia NYC at 49th and 1st Ave.

Don’t Forget the Window Dressing

Don’t feel like joining all those shoppers inside the stores? Why not do a circuit of NYC’s famous holiday windows to while away the hours. From fantastical adventures to fashionable follies, nothing compares to these spectacularly creative displays. We suggest you start uptown and swing by Bergdorf Goodman to see a dazzling array of otherworldly colors and patterns, Barneys for a more modern display, and the renowned eight, elegant windows at Bloomingdales—then swing by luxury jewelers Tiffany and Cartier just a few blocks down to eyeball the jaw-dropping bling draped in lights, bows and ribbons.

On to Saks Fifth Avenue, where though we don’t yet know the 2019 theme, the centrally located, 5th Avenue department store will be revealing its displays on November 25 with a starry performance by Frozen’s own Idina Menzel and a ten-story tall light show. Next, make your way to Macy’s Herald Square for the six family friendly Broadway windows which open November 21 and are titled Believe in Wonder starring the magical Santa Girl.

Get Tickets to Peter & the Wolf

The Rockettes surely have their charm and Broadway is always a boon, but if you want to catch something special this season, grab your tickets now to Isaac Mizrahi’s reimagined classic Peter & the Wolf. Along with narrating and directing the show, the famed designer was also in charge of costumes for the sprawling cast. Performed at the Peter B. Lewis Theater inside the renowned Guggenheim Museum, this special, 30-minute performance is perfect for kids of all ages.

Hit a Holiday Market

Filled with fun, food, kids’ activities and, of course, shopping, the holiday market experience is a much nicer way to fulfill your shopping needs in a city full of crowded stores. The Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park, opening October 31, features a skating rink, and pop-up restaurant and bar, as well as over 175 boutiques to peruse.

The tree lighting happens December 5 and Santa’s Corner is open for the kids from December 14 to the 22nd. Other markets to visit include the European-style Urban Space Union Square Holiday Market and food vendors, and Deck the Stalls at the Fulton Market in the Seaport District—which also provides access to ice rink and warming hut at The Rooftop at Pier 17.

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They also have fire pits right outside next to some of the best trails access outside of Breckenridge, including the famed Colorado Trail. Located at 9,600 ft. above sea level, this charming and historic town is one of the first in Colorado to say hello to fall. Miners came to Breckenridge in search of gold, and much of the town’s Gold Rush history can be experienced on the town’s 60+ miles of interconnected trails. Perfect for post-Labor Day hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding. Block Island, RI A quick ferry ride from mainland Rhode Island or from the tip of Montauk, New York, Block Island has a charming old-timey feel where small, family-run businesses reign supreme. Though many visitors flock to Block Island in the summer, local insider intel has long advised that September through October is prime time. There’s more availability with the same quintessential summertime New England feel. The island is significantly less crowded in the fall, pushing the hotel prices down significantly. The Harborside Inn offers prices under $200 through the weekend, but they also offer a “Discover Block Island” Midweek Package for two nights at $369 in September. This deal includes two round-trip ferry tickets with beverages, a welcome gift bag and dining vouchers worth $100 at Mohegan Cafe & Brewery in Old Harbor. You’ll also have access to bikes and beach chairs for your entire stay. More than 43% of Block Island is preserved in perpetuity as open space, making it the perfect beach destination to explore by bike! Sag Harbor, NY It’s well known that the Hamptons are the playground of the rich and famous. And while that contributes to higher prices during the summer, why not just skip the crowds and high price tags and head to Sag Harbor during shoulder season for a quiet retreat in this beach haven? Relish in local wineries, shopping, museums, clamming, boating, and local year-round restaurants. Book a weekend at Baron’s Cove in Sag Harbor; prices drop in the fall to under $200 per night. Get major nautical vibes from the sweeping views of the majestic marina from your hotel room or from the on-property restaurant. They even have a pet-friendly program, so you can bring Fido to run on the beach. Don’t worry; they supply the bowls, bed and treats! Cape May, NJ Cape May is a charming seaside getaway offering the perfect beach-town trip in the fall. Explore this Victorian town by foot or bike and enjoy mouth-watering, farm-to-table dining, family-friendly fun and shopping (hey, the best sales are in the off-season!). Hotel pricing plummets in September to around $125 per night or less depending on your location. For one, the Beach Shack (cutest name ever?) has affordable rates at this whimsical hotel with a Hawaiian-themed atmosphere. The property is also home to the Rusty Nail, Cape May’s legendary hangout for lifeguards, surfers and other beachgoers. Get ready to relax, the hardest decision you’ll be making is if you should swim in the pool or ocean. Am I right? Brainerd, MN Hello, Minnesota! Crunching leaves, crisp air, trickling rivers and beautiful overlooks: there’s no denying that Minnesota is one of the best places to experience fall. And many resorts in Minnesota drop their rates this time of year, making it easier on the pocketbooks to experience all the season has to offer. Madden’s Resort on Gull Lake offers visitors a chance to soak up the remaining days of summer with prices as low as $119 per night. Pass your time on the lake with boating, fishing or paddle boarding and pretty much any water activity you can imagine. Outside of lake attractions, you can go zip lining, visit local breweries or go biking and hiking through the many trails in the Brainerd Lakes Area.