Home Destinations Greatest Holiday Traditions in the Greatest City in the World

Greatest Holiday Traditions in the Greatest City in the World

by Jan Schroder
holiday shops at Bryant Park.

Christmas in New York City is the gift that keeps on giving. It’s a celebration of traditions, timeless attractions, and the sights, tastes and feels of the holidays.

Clement Clarke Moore wrote “A Visit from St. Nicholas’’ in New York, which was first published in 1823. Here are other festive, only-in-New-York reasons why there’s no place like NYC for the holidays year after year. And you can stretch out the holiday season as many of these last into the first week in January.

Light Up Your Life with Magnificent Trees

Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center
The tree at Rockefeller Center. (Photo by Tishman Speyer/NYC and Company.)

This year’s 79-foot tree at Rockefeller Center is a tradition that dates to 1931. It’s typically always a stunning Norway spruce topped with a Swarovski star and 50,000 twinkling lights.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s 20-foot blue spruce tree and gorgeous Neapolitan Baroque Creche in the Sculpture Hall is a holiday tradition for museum-goers.

The lovely Origami Holiday Tree in the American Museum of Natural History celebrates its 50th year this Christmas, and is also an annual holiday must-see tree tradition.

And Park Avenue has displayed its impressive rows of dazzling Christmas trees for decades – from Midtown all the way up to 97th Street. The display began as a grassroots effort by Park Avenue residents as a tribute to the end of WWII and those who lost their lives.

Delight in Dazzling Displays

The city’s iconic department stores windows are decked out for the holidays and the little city shops and boutiques are wrapped in ribbons and lights. Sip a cup of hot cocoa and take in these stores.

Start by admiring the windows at Saks Fifth Avenue on Fifth Avenue at 49th Street,  just north of the New York Public Library. Cross the street at Rockefeller Center and continue along Fifth to Bergdorf Goodman’s windows at 58th. And you gotta keep going to see Bloomingdale’s at 59th and Lexington Avenue. Also: Macy’s windows at Herald Square dazzle every year.

Lace Up Your Skates and Twirl

ice skaters at Bryant Park in NYC
Ice skating at Bryant Park. (Photo by Brittany Petronella/NYC and Company)

Lace up and twirl figure eights at Wollman Rink, in Central Park, with New York’s skyline as a backdrop.

See and be seen while skating beneath that tree at Rockefeller Center.

If you have your own skates, you can skate for free at Bryant Park’s rink. Warm up rink-side with a steamy sip in The Lodge Deck.

Indulge in Yummy Yuletide Eats

Dating to 1934, Tavern on the Green, New York’s iconic restaurant in Central Park, has celebrated many Christmases. And the holiday décor is over-the-top – a 20-plus-foot tree with 2,000 ornaments and 10,000 lights. But the décor doesn’t outshine the weekend holiday brunch menu (think spiced eggnog crème brûlée).

Also, near Bloomingdales on the East Side, Serendipity3 is a traditional fave especially with the kiddos and celebs is the Frrrozen Hot Chocolate and the Serendipitous Hot Chocolate.

For Christmas decoration on steroids – Rolf’s in Gramercy Park goes all out every year with jaw-dropping garish decorations and amazing schnitzel.

And, of course, chestnuts roasting on an open fire are on practically every corner, especially in Midtown – a perfect snack for a holiday window display stroll.

Get Your Kicks at a Live Show

line of rockettes
The Rockettes at their annual Christmas Spectacular. (Photo by Angela Cranford/MSG Entertainment)

The Radio City Rockettes Christmas Spectacular has been kicking off the holiday season in New York City since 1932.

Paul Winters Winter Solstice Celebration is held annually in the majestic Cathedral of St. John the Divine.

George Balanchine’s masterpiece, “The Nutcracker,” is a holiday tradition and in New York, the most famous production is at Lincoln Center each year.

Fill Your Gift Basket at Christmas Markets

Like in Europe, annual holiday markets have become a Christmas tradition in New York City. Bryant Park is a decorated maze of 170 kiosk shops. Union Square Holiday Market shows off more than 100 booths, live music, and warm-up eats.

One of the oldest in town – the Grand Holiday Bazaar on the Upper West Side – is a feel-good shopping experience with 100-plus antique and vintage dealers and food purveyors.

Celebrate in Style at This Traditional Christmas Hotel

Christmas tree at the plaza hotel
The Plaza Hotel (Photo courtesy of NYC and Company)

The Plaza Hotel has been a special Christmas getaway for decades. Celebrate with Holiday Afternoon Tea in The Palm Court, or book the pricey “Home Alone 2 package” with limo through Manhattan to see the sights, large cheese pizza, 16-scoop sundae and other goodies. This package is available all year.

A Few More Holiday Favorites – Indoors and Out

Visit the Bronx to see the New York Botanical Garden’s Holiday Train Show in the Haupt Conservatory – another perennial favorite, celebrating its 30th year this season. The model trains zip through 175 decked-out NYC landmarks and, when the sun sets, you’ll want to stroll the gardens for the GLOW evening magic show.

Animals make the holidays especially endearing. Visit the Bronx Zoo Holiday Lights, the annual walk-through experience with animal lanterns and fun-loving animal-themed lights.

– Laurie Wilson

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