New York City is one of the world’s greatest cities to visit during the holidays. With a dazzling array of holiday lights adorning storefront windows, ice skating rinks in full swing and holiday extravaganzas galore, there is so much to see and do in America’s largest city. This New York City holiday guide introduces visitors to some of the best attractions to see, where to shop and where to dine.
Three international airports serve New York City – John F. Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark. All airports have many ground transportation options, including taxi and shuttles, public transportation and car rentals.
Grand Central Terminal and Penn Station are the primary hubs in New York City for rail service. Visitors can make connections to public transportation or taxis from either station. Because stations are among the world’s busiest and most congested, visitors are advised to review their respective itineraries prior to arrival.
The majority of visitors traveling into New York City by bus will arrive at the Port Authority Bus Terminal. Located at 8th Avenue and 42nd Street, the bus terminal is the largest in the country and the busiest in the world, in terms of volume of traffic. Visitors can make connections to other parts of the city via public transportation or taxi. Times Square is about a 10-minute walk from the terminal.
Related: Travel Guide To New York City
By Public Transportation
By far the easiest way to get around New York City is by taking the MTA subway. Subway service operates 24 hours a day, every day of the year, and a station can be found near practically every major attraction in the city. Visitors who plan to use the subway for multiple destinations and over multiple days are encouraged to purchase an unlimited ride MetroCard.
Taxis are as ubiquitous as the New York public transportation system. More than 10,000 taxis operate in Manhattan alone so hailing a cab shouldn’t be too difficult. Only cabs with an illuminated number on the roof are available and visitors are advised to inform the driver of the destination after being seated. Fare starts at $2.50, then it’s .40 for each 1/5 mile (four blocks). Taxi drivers accept cash or credit cards.
Where to Stay
For people who haven’t already made reservations for overnight accommodations, time is of the essence. Some of New York’s hotels may already be sold out and prices aren’t likely to be any lower. The best solution is to start reviewing online travel sites such as Kayak, Hipmunk and Trivago that aggregate multiple hotel listings or review more traditional online travel sites, such as Expedia, Priceline and Orbitz. For comprehensive reviews of hotel listings, a good source to start is with Trip Advisor.
Part of what makes New York City such a magical destination during the holidays are the stunningly creative holiday window displays. Among the best storefront windows to admire are Macy’s, Lord and Taylor, Saks Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf Goodman, Barneys and Bloomingdales. Most of the better known storefront window displays are unveiled in time for the Thanksgiving holiday.
New York City is also well known for its wonderful collection of Christmas fairs for holiday-themed gifts and an assortment of delicious food. Top choices include Winter Village at Bryant Park, Columbus Circle Holiday Market, Union Square Holiday Market and the Grand Central Holiday Fair.
Where to Eat
With tens of thousands of restaurants in New York City, visitors have a wealth of choices when dining out. A good place to start is to visit one or more of the many fine delis operating throughout the city. Recommendations include Carnegie Deli, Katz Deli, 2nd Avenue Deli and Mile End Deli. New York also has a staggering collection of pizzerias and some of the best are Lombardi’s Pizza and Artichoke Basille’s Pizza in Manhattan and Grimaldi’s in Brooklyn.
What to See
George Balanchine’s “The Nutcracker”
The New York City Ballet
David H. Koch Theater – The Lincoln Center
20 Lincoln Center Plaza
New York, NY 10023
Date: Nov. 28, 2014 to Jan. 3, 2015
One of the great holiday traditions in New York City, Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” is brilliantly recreated using the choreography of the New York City Ballet’s founder and founding choreographer George Balanchine. First premiered on February 2, 1954, the New York production helped make “The Nutcracker” an annual holiday favorite throughout the country and draws more than 100,000 people each season. More than 150 dancers and musicians, scores of stagehands and 100 children in two casts from the School of American Ballet will appear in the ballet company’s renowned production. For families with smaller children, a nice alternative is the one-hour version offered by the New York Theatre Ballet.
Holiday Train Show
New York Botanical Garden
2900 Southern Blvd.
Bronx, NY 10458
Date: Nov. 15, 2014 to Jan. 19, 2015
Visitors to the New York Botanical Garden will be in for a remarkable treat with its annual Holiday Train Show. Located in the northernmost borough of New York City, the miniature train show features more than 150 New York City landmarks like the Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge and the Empire State Building showcased in a traditional holiday landscape. Visitors can take public transportation to the Botanical Garden via the Metro North Railroad or the MTA subway.
New Years Eve in Times Square
One Times Square
New York, NY 10036
Date: Dec. 31, 2014 to Jan. 1, 2015
The holiday season in New York City concludes with the most famous and one of the largest New Year’s Eve celebrations in the world. More than one million revelers will merge into Times Square to enjoy live music from some of the biggest names in the music industry and rejoice when the priceless New Year’s Eve Ball descends in the waning seconds of 2014 before ringing in the New Year. Among those scheduled to appear for the Times Square New Year’s Eve celebration are Melissa Etheridge, Icona Pop, Blondie, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis and Miley Cyrus. First-time visitors to New York’s largest outdoor celebration are advised to arrive early as streets may be closed by 3 p.m. While all subway stations are expected to be open, the MTA advises visitors not to use the 42nd Street subway station, due to overcrowding.
“Radio City Christmas Spectacular”
Radio City Music Hall
1260 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020
Date: Nov. 7 to Dec. 31, 2014
Another must-see holiday tradition is the “Radio City Christmas Spectacular” presented annually at the legendary Radio City Music Hall. The world famous Rockettes headline the show as they and other performers entertain guests through some of the most beloved holiday songs, including “The 12 Days of Christmas,” the “March of the Wooden Soldiers,” “The Nutcracker” and “Joy to the World.” Other notable moments during the 90-minute extravaganza include the Nativity Scene, the arrival of Santa Claus and Santa’s Workshop. Children who arrive early with their families have the opportunity to take a photograph with Santa Claus or one of the Rockettes, who all must be accomplished in ballet, tap dancing and jazz.
The Rink at Rockefeller Center
45 Rockefeller Plaza
New York, NY 10111
Date: Oct. 11, 2014 through April 2015.
One of the must-see holiday events for New York City visitors is the world famous Ice Skating Rink at Rockefeller Center. A familiar scene from countless movies and TV shows, the iconic rink is a New York City landmark entertaining visitors and ice skaters since 1936. With the bronze gilded statue acting as a sentinel over the rink, multiple skating sessions and skating lessons are held daily. Another must-see event is the annual Christmas Tree Lighting at Rockefeller Center above the statue of Prometheus on Wednesday, December 3. While the rink at Rockefeller Center is unquestionably the most popular and most famous, several others will be open during the holidays, most notably the Winter Village at Bryant Park and the two rinks in Central Park.
Randy Yagi is a freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. In 2012, he was awarded a Media Fellowship from Stanford University. His work can be found on Examiner.com Examiner.com.