The Ultimate Weekend Guide to NYC During the Holidays for First-Time Visitors
I am a firm believer that everyone should visit NYC during the holidays at least once and this weekend guide to NYC during the holidays will give you all the information you need to plan the perfect trip. NYC during the holidays is truly a magical experience and, in my opinion, the best place in the United States to be during the holidays. I have been fortunate enough to visit NYC during the holidays on several occasions and each time feels like the first time.
There is so much to see and do during the holidays in NYC, that’s why I decided to put together an ultimate weekend guide to NYC during the holidays. This is the exact itinerary I followed on my most recent holiday trip to NYC with my mom (this was her first time in NYC), so I feel this guide is absolutely perfect for first time visitors.
WITHOUT FURTHER ADO, HERE IS MY COMPLETE WEEKEND GUIDE TO NYC DURING THE HOLIDAYS
*Keep in mind this isn’t a complete travel guide. This ultimate weekend guide to NYC during the holidays will not include where to eat or offer different hotel suggestions (although, I will be suggesting the hotel I stayed at for this trip, as it is centrally located). If you want a complete travel guide, I have written a complete New York City Travel Guide that you can read.
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Once you arrive at your hotel and get your things stowed away, freshen up a little and head out for an evening of exploring.
Because of its central location, I highly recommend Park Terrace Hotel in Bryant Park. This is the hotel we stayed at during our trip and it’s honestly in the perfect location. The 42nd Street – Bryant Park subway station is at the end of the block, but the hotel is also within walking to Rockefeller Center and Times Square (about 8 blocks), and obviously Bryant Park, since it’s right across the street.
*We arrived at Park Terrace Hotel around 4:00pm and still had plenty of time to get all of the sites below ticked off before 8:00pm.
Rockefeller Center – From the Park Terrace Hotel, Rockefeller Center is an easy 10-15 minute walk. If you walk up the Fifth Avenue side (as opposed to Sixth Avenue) you’ll get to see the awesome light show Saks Fifth Avenue has on the outside of their building. You’ll also get the best view of the Christmas tree by coming up Fifth Avenue. Grab a hot chocolate from Ralph’s near the ice skating rink and watch the ice skaters.
Radio City Music Hall – After you’ve grown tired of the crowds in Rockefeller Center (it will happen, it’s insanely crowded), head down W 50th St. towards Radio City. This year (2019), the city has closed several of the streets surrounding Rockefeller Center and Radio City to traffic, which is honestly really nice. It keeps the sidewalks from being as crowded, so you feel like you can breath a little.
MoMA** – If you aren’t interested in museums, you can skip MoMa. I am including it as an option since it was on my itinerary and I really enjoyed visiting, but it isn’t a must.
Times Square** – If you’ve been to Times Square before, skip it. But, if you’ve never been before, definitely go since it’s just a short walk from Rockefeller Center and Radio City.
When you’re ready to go back to your hotel, stop at Magnolia Bakery on the corner of W 49th St. and Sixth Avenue and grab some treats to take back to your room with you. I really enjoyed their blueberry cheesecake! It was delicious and the blueberries were so fresh.
**These sites are not very holiday-ish, but it rained all day/night the Friday we were in NYC, so we popped into MoMA to escape the rain (plus, it’s free on Friday nights). I also really wanted to see Starry Night by Van Gogh.
If you opt to stay at the Park Terrace Hotel, they offer complimentary breakfast that you can enjoy on their amazing terrace with a view of The Empire State Building. They even put clear + heated igloos around the tables so you stay warm while eating breakfast. Brilliant.
Grand Central Holiday Fair – Grand Central has a really cute, indoor holiday fair that is worth checking out. Since it’s indoors, it’s perfect when you want escape the frigid temperatures outside. The holiday fair is located in Vanderbilt Hall and runs until Christmas Eve.
Bryant Park Winter Village – I love Bryant Park’s Winter Village! Since it is right across the street from Park Terrace Hotel, we visited a few times and checked out several booths. It gets crowded very quickly, so arrive right when it opens if you want to avoid the crowds (even if it’s very briefly). The holiday shops are open until January 5, 2020 and the ice skating rink is open until March 1, 2020.
Columbus Circle Holiday Market – When you’re done roaming around Bryant Park’s Winter Village, hop on the D Line (uptown) at the 42 St. – Bryant Park subway station and head to Columbus Circle to explore their holiday market. Located on the cusp of Central Park, the Columbus Circle Holiday Market has more than 100 food and gift vendors. You can buy everything from personalized ornaments to clothing and accessories. The holiday market is open until December 24, 2019.
**From Columbus Circle, you can either walk down Central Park South to Fifth Avenue (I recommend this route as you can see a little bit of Central Park on your walk) and then down to Rockefeller Center, or you can hop on the D Line (downtown) again and get off at Rockefeller Center.
If you opt to walk from Columbus Circle to Rockefeller Center, you can view all of the window displays along Fifth Avenue.
Rockefeller Center – I know I already suggested Rockefeller Center once, but hear me out. The vibe is completely different at night than it is during the day. Yes, it’s insanely packed full of people, but there’s just something about exploring a place during the day. I feel like you notice more during the day than you do at night and that’s why I think you should visit it again. Also, you need pictures of the Christmas tree during the day. It’s a must, right?
Lotte New York Palace – From Rockefeller Center, head down E. 50th St. past St. Patrick’s Cathedral to the corner of E. 50th St. and Madison Avenue. The Lotte New York Palace hotel has the most beautiful Christmas tree in NYC, aside from the Rockefeller Center tree. The tree sits in the their courtyard and it’s open to the public.
Macy’s/SantaLand (Herald Square) – Visting SantaLand is perfect if you have younger kids with you. It’s located on the 8th Floor of Macy’s in Herald Square. You can purchase your tickets to meet Santa in advance by clicking the link above.
Union Square Holiday Market – End your whirlwind day at the Union Square Holiday Market. There are hundreds of vendors from small businesses all over NYC. The market has a warming station and even a kids’ section!
Enjoy breakfast at your hotel and take one last walk around the neighborhood you’re staying in. If you have time, and depending on where you’re staying, visit another holiday market before you leave. In my opinion, you can never visit too may holiday markets.
I hope you found my ultimate weekend guide to NYC during the holidays helpful! What are some of your favorite holiday things to do in NYC? Leave me a comment below and let me know.