Holiday Weekend in New York City
Every year around Christmas time, I plan a trip to visit New York City to get into the holiday spirit. The entire city is sparkling with lights and decorations, and there is a never-ending list of sites and things to see in the city. This past weekend was my sixth time visiting Manhattan over the holiday, and I’ve been able to hone in on the best things to do in the short visit. By no means is this list the end-all-be-all for things to do over the weekend, but I somehow find myself prioritizing these spots every year.
Before you plan your holiday visit, I will warn you that train tickets, airfare, lodging, and ubers are usually double the price due to the volume of visitors. I suggest booking well in advance and planning to do 1-2 things each day. The majority of the sites I'm recommending are in close proximity to Midtown Manhattan, but I prefer to stay in SoHo because it is quieter, making it a sweet escape from the crowds. Another great part about staying in SoHo is the quantity of quality restaurants within walking distance.
Walk Central Park to Tavern on the Green
There is no better way to spend the afternoon than taking a stroll through Central Park with a friend. Even on a rainy day, the park is romantic and vibrant. I always love taking a ride across the park on a horse and buggy to transport me back in time. On the east side of the park, you can ice skate at the Wollman Rink and feel like you’re a character in a Christmas rom-com. Personally, my favorite thing to do is to walk along the west side of the park to Tavern on the Green, a historic Gothic revival structure built to house the sheep that grazed in the park's sheep meadow back in 1870. The newly renovated restaurant is a quintessential New York landmark, and a great place to grab a festive cocktail and bite to eat. If you plan to dine at Tavern on the Green, make a reservation in advance, because it is impossible to find an open bar seat. Check out the menu here: Tavern on the Green
Shop the Union Square Holiday Markets
If you have no idea what to get your friends or family for Christmas, you must visit the holiday markets to find unique handcrafted gifts from local craftsmen and artists. Union Square is a neighborhood park in lower Manhattan that hosts the pop-up market every season. There are about two hundred vendors to browse and pop-up cafes to grab a hot cocoa to stay warm. My personal favorite merchants produce indulgent beauty products and organic soaps that are almost too precious to use. You can also find adorable one-of-a-kind greeting cards, luxury chocolates, and other little trinkets ideal for stocking stuffers.
Check out the Vessel & Hudson Yards
This season, Hudson Yards put together their first holiday program called Shine On, to bring New Yorkers and tourists together, with the mission to give back to the community. Shine On is a dramatic indoor/outdoor light and music show and a calendar jam-packed with seasonal events and experiences for the entire family. Catch a live performance from the Brooklyn Ballet and Backtrack (an a capella group). Take a look at the full calendar of events here (Shine On- Only at Hudson Yards). While you are there, take in some of the best views of the city from the top of the Vessel, a spiral staircase comprised of one hundred and fifty-four interconnecting flights of stairs. Reserve a spot here, anytime from 9am-9pm.
Snag at photo at the Rockefeller Christmas Tree and watch the Holiday Light Show at Saks Fifth Avenue
Warning: You will experience massive crowds, unintentional pushing and shoving, and an awkward experience asking someone to snap a photo of you in front of the famous Rockefeller Christmas tree. Is it worth it? I’m not sure, but it is a rite of passage and proof you actually went to NYC over the holidays. As an extra reward, since you are right next to Saks Fifth Avenue, you can enjoy the iconic light show spanning the massive ten-story building which starts at 4:30pm every day.
Have a cocktail at the Lotte New York Palace
If you are feeling very Serena Van Der Woodsen, stop by her old stomping grounds for a martini at one of the two cocktail lounges on the first floor of the Palace. The Palace is so festive this time of year, with decorations and a massive Christmas tree in the center of the courtyard. You can get the true Gossip Girl experience, with prices to match (we paid $55 dollars for a Manhattan and a Vodka Martini). Although it was expensive, it was the small price we had to pay to escape the insanity of Midtown for a moment before heading back out for the evening.
Dine in lower Manhattan
I prefer the restaurants in lower Manhattan because they are smaller and more intimate than the restaurants in close proximity to the holiday attractions. One of my all-time go-to spots is Café Select https://www.cafeselectnyc.com, a little Swiss-inspired café that serves European dishes and house-made cocktails. The decor is eclectic and charming, with twinkle lights covering the ceiling. Another restaurant we enjoyed was Shuka, a Mediterranean restaurant. We ordered a bunch of small dishes for the table, including the Crispy Cauliflower, Market Vegetables, Whipped Feta + Pistachio, and Hawaij Spiced Chicken Kabob. I loved all the appetizers and would recommend trying a selection of small plates instead of a larger dish.