It’s no secret that I love New York City. Every chance I get I am sneaking away to the city that never sleeps. I have always wanted to be in New York City at Christmas and last Christmas we had the chance to travel to New York City with kids and spend 10 days in the city doing all the things I had always dreamed of. And, I can happily report, that New York City at Christmas time was every bit as amazing as I had always imagined. 🙂 Even with freezing temps (like 18 degrees!) and snow, these Southern Californians canvased the city streets from sun up to sun down. We couldn’t get enough. I did SO much research for this trip! I really wanted everything to be PERFECT and I wanted to find things to do in New York City at Christmas time that were kind of unique experiences that maybe not everyone has done. We had such an amazing time, it was well worth all the work. Hopefully sharing these details will help save you some valuable time. 🙂
WHERE TO STAY IN NEW YORK CITY AT CHRISTMAS TIME
Usually when we visit the city we stay in Mid-Town or SoHo, my two favorite areas of the city. Recently we have been expanding our horizons and staying in hotels in the East Village and elsewhere. There are many new hotel options opening up in the city all the time that look interesting both downtown and on the Lower East Side and I am determined to check them all out! The Upper East Side is always a safe bet too if you are a first time visitor. The trick is to really see how far your hotel is from the things you want to see.
Yes, Manhattan is small, but it can take a surprising amount of time to get around…even on the subway. A trip from Midtown to the upper West Side can be a 45 minute subway ride at peak travel times. This is why we usually find the Midtown/Central Park South location to be the most convenient. It is right near Rockefeller Center, Times Square, 5th Avenue, Central Park and SO many of the must see sights, especially on a Christmas trip to New York. Hotel prices in Midtown can be on the high side since they are often catering to business travelers, but prices tend to dip on the weekends when the business travelers vacate the city.
In the East Village you will find more hip and trendy hotels, with less expensive price points. It is much more of a neighborhood feel.
Downtown is another place that caters to the business crowd, and unlike the Central Park South business hotels, the price points are lower. You can often find a room at the Four Seasons Downtown for about half the price of the Four Seasons in Midtown. Since 9/11 Downtown has struggled a bit, but recently there are new malls, luxury hotels, and restaurants that have opened up and it is becoming a destination again. It will be quieter and less expensive here in the evenings and on the weekends too.
SOHO is a great location with trendy shops and restaurants all over. I love this location if shopping and dining are on the agenda. Plus, it’s an easy subway ride and not a bad walk, to most of the things you want to see. It’s close to Little Italy and Chinatown too.
Times Square is a crazy location, but if you like non-stop action right out your front door at all hours of the day and night, this might be the spot for you. Just keep in mind that if you have little ones, you might want to request a room on a higher floor to avoid noise interrupting anyone’s nap times.
Here are my recommendations for hotels in New York City, either places I have stayed personally, or have visited and checked out on one of my many trips. When you are looking, keep in mind that prices are high everywhere, especially at this most popular time of year. (affiliate links are included in this post)
If you really want to splurge…check out The Crosby Street Hotel. This one has been on my list for a LONG time and I can’t wait to stay there!!
Midtown / Central Park South
One of our absolute favorite spots for families in Midtown is The Benjamin. It’s a converted apartment building. If you book a one bedroom suite, it includes a separate bedroom, bathroom, large living area and a kitchenette. The living area has a queen sleeper sofa AND you can add a roll a way bed as well. The cost, especially on weekends and holidays is usually a great deal for luxury hotel rooms, especially of this size that accommodate so many. It is luxurious and in a great location.
Lower East Side/ East Village
The High Line Hotel (SO cute and one of my favorites!!! Twas the Night Before Christmas was penned here…so it’s extra fun for Christmas time stays! Small, vintage style rooms, but SO fun!) Here’s a post about our recent stay there.
WHAT TO PACK FOR NEW YORK CITY AT CHRISTMAS
It can be very COLD in the city at this time of year. We happened to hit an unusual cold spell. With super tall buildings everywhere you go, each street turns into a shady wind tunnel, and it’s the wind that really gets to you. Be prepared for everything with proper jackets, comfortable but warm shoes, layers of cozy long sleeves and sweaters, mittens (you might need these), hats and long johns. You will want every one of those layers if temperatures take a dive. I found these jeans EXTREMELY helpful with keeping the kids warm. Here are some similar things that I packed. They kept me very warm in 18 degree temps with wind chill. A packable down jacket is a MUST! It condenses down to practically nothing in your suitcase, but then pops up and into a very warm coat. I usually layer mine with a long sleeve shirt and cardigan or other light sweater for particularly cold days. I bought one for every member of the family (I found the kid’s jackets here, and John’s here.) We have taken these all over the world with us and they are the best for travel hands down. If you can manage to keep your head, feet and hands warm, you are going to feel a lot better. Wool socks like these turn just about any comfortable tennis shoes (or other shoes) into something that is plenty warm for cold, dry conditions. If you find yourself visiting when rain is forecasted, make sure to pack a pair of these. Paired with wool socks you should stay dry and warm. These are NOT warm on their own. You need warm socks.
Here are a few of the MUST HAVES in my book for a trip to New York City at Christmas. These should have you prepared for most anything weather-wise.
I’ve narrowed the trip down to our favorite experiences that will fit into a 72 hours whirlwind tour of the city at Christmas. Here are the things that you don’t want to miss! 🙂
A SUGGESTED ITINERARY FOR YOUR 72 HOURS IN NEW YORK CITY AT CHRISTMAS TIME
When we travel with the kids we try to cram as much into our days as possible, while also remembering that they are kids. Fortunately we have been blessed with night owls and they are SUPER travelers. While we were literally out and about ALL day (usually from about 9am-10pm) I tried to mix things up, get us off our feet on a regular basis, work in treats and fun kid activities. You of course will have to make adjustments to meet your own family’s needs, but if I had 72 hours in New York City at Christmas with my kids, here’s how I would spend it…
Hop on the Subway and head to SoHo to pick up breakfast pastries at Balthazaar Bakery. Brunch here is amazing, (with the MOST decadent eggs benedict), but unless you have reservations a month in advance, good luck getting in…it’s definitely one of the most popular spots in town. But, lucky for you, they have the CUTEST little spot next door to the restaurant where they sell their flaky, buttery amazing French pastries and baguettes. It’s the perfect grab and go for your busy day and seriously people, when I walked in here at Christmas time, I thought I had stepped onto a movie set. It is DARLING all dressed up for the holidays with the hustle and bustle all around, beautiful sweet treats, warm hot chocolate and Christmas music being piped through the speakers. Dreamy.
Grab your self a baguette and a hot chocolate (nothing too filling so you can eat again soon!) and head on downtown to catch a ride on the Staten Island Ferry. You can catch it at non-commuter times, so it will be less crowded. This is a great way to catch an up-close picture of Lady Liberty and it’s free! The kids will enjoy a boat ride and it’s a great chance to get off your feet. You can sit inside so no matter the weather you should be covered. It takes about 25 minutes to ride each way and they will make you disembark on the Staten Island side and get back on. Depending on how crowded it is, you may have to wait 30 minutes on the Staten Island side to catch the next ferry.
Are you hungry yet? Well, I hope so…because after your ferry ride you’re heading to Chelsea and the heart of the Food Network, the Chelsea Market. Housed in an old warehouse, they have done a great job of preserving the old architectural details and re-using the space. It’s time to do some Christmas shopping at some of the great shops like Anthropologie and wander through the seemingly endless array of specialty food shops and restaurants. You can find the butcher shop where you can watch them at work (kind of an interesting education for kids who usually just see their meat in packets at the grocery store…but not for the squeamish!) There are lobster places, cookie shops, gelato, spices, bakeries…you name it. And at Christmas time…it is decked to the hilt with lights and decorations. Grab some lunch, warm up, and get off your feet for a bit. (there are public restrooms here too, and they are hard to find in the city, so make a pit stop!) 😉
After lunch, if the weather cooperates, step outside and look up. You are right underneath the famous Highline Park. An old track line, turned urban park, it’s fun to walk along the old tracks up above the city and watch the world go by. It goes on for quite a ways, so just walk as long as you wish. Once you’re done, hop off and head back to the subway, where hopefully you’ll be lucky enough to have a mariachi band on your train playing Feliz Navidad!
Tonight is show night, so pick your favorite Broadway show…there are SO many great shows for families, you are certain to find one you can all agree on.
TIPS FOR GETTING BROADWAY SHOW TICKETS IN NEW YORK CITY AT CHRISTMAS TIME
If you decide not to buy tickets in advance of your trip, make time early in the morning before you start your day to send someone over to the TKTS booth in Times Square and see if you can find discounted tickets to a show. If the lines are too long in Times Square, you can try the other location in Lincoln Center. Usually the lines are much shorter there. Be there right when it opens for the best chance to get tickets you want. Often you can find tickets for as much as 50% off face value, but you have to be flexible. There are no guarantees that they will have tickets all together, where you want to sit, etc. And, most of the very popular shows don’t sell their tickets. Unfortunately, these shows all start a little late…like 8:30pm, so hopefully the kiddos are up for a bit of a late night.
Two more tips for finding Broadway Tickets:
If you are feeling lucky, many of the Broadway shows have lotteries. You can enter many of them at once on websites like this one here or, if you have a particular show in mind, simply google the name of the show and “lottery” to see what comes up. Super popular shows like Hamilton give a certain number of their tickets each performance to winners for $10…and they are front row or similar tickets! Amazing! One of my friends won last time we were in town. You can only win a maximum of 2 tickets though, so with a family this may not be your best bet.
Check the Box Office on the day of the performance for tickets. Yep, that’s right. Many of the box offices open around 12pm each day and have a limited number of tickets from season ticket holders that become available…but they go fast. These are not discounted tickets, but when we were in town we scored the producer’s 4 amazing tickets to Wicked the day of. There were no tickets available anywhere but we lucked out at the box office. Who would have known? Be there right when they open (or maybe a little early to get in line) to check.
OK, back to the itinerary. 😉
Before dinner, head on over to Virgil’s BBQ in Times Square. Make reservations to ensure that you get a table. Yes, it’s messy, loud and over-run with tourists, but that’s the kind of experience you’re looking for when you’re in Times Square, right? This is not a fancy joint, so it’s family friendly and the food is surprisingly good…especially considering it’s smack dab in the middle of one of the world’s biggest tourist traps.
Enjoy dinner and the show…then head back to the hotel for some much needed R&R and get ready for a fun, busy day tomorrow! 🙂
If you are going to travel to New York City at Christmas time with kids, I think it’s a law you have to visit Santa at Macy’s on 34th street.
Lucky for you, there is a Wafles and Dinges stand on the plaza at Herald Square, so you can grab some delicious waffles topped with just about anything you can image…ice cream, strawberries, Nutella, Biscoff…you name it, for breakfast before you hop in line to see Santa.
Once your tummies are filled, head into Macy’s and follow the signs to Santaland. When we visited the lines were short but from the looks of things, those lines were usually long…like Disneyland long. Twisting and weaving your through a maze-like line. Last Christmas Macy’s announced that for the first time ever Santa would only be available by reservation. A break from 155 years of tradition. The new system was designed to cut down the long lines and wait times to make it a more pleasant experience for everyone.
From November 24 to December 24, visitors be able to make a Santa reservation online as many a five days in advance.
Admission to see Santa is free, but professional photo packages start at $20.99.
Directions To See Santa at Macys
Santaland is located on the 8th floor of Macy’s Flagship Store at Herald Square.
You can enter Macy’s on 34th Street at either Broadway or 7th Avenue, though the 7th Avenue entrance tends to be less chaotic.
Many subways offer convenient service to Macy’s Herald Square:
- A, C, E to 34th Street/Penn Station: Walk one block east on 34th Street to 7th Avenue
- 1, 2, 3 to 34th Street: Exit on 7th Avenue and 34th Street
- B, D, F, V and N, Q, R, W to 34th Street/Herald Square: Exit on Broadway for Macy’s main entrance
After you visit Santa, make sure to stroll along the iconic windows outside the store. They are beautifully decorated for the holidays and tell fun stories.
Once you’re done at Macy’s you’re probably going to be a little hungry…and even if you aren’t, too bad. You’re in New York and your job is to eat as much as possible while you’re here. 😉 Luckily, you aren’t too far from Little Italy and some delicious (and famous) New York City pizza. Little Italy is located on Mulberry Street, and houses some of the cutest little restaurants you will ever see.
They are cute and festive year round, so you know that at Christmas, they are even more dolled up. Wander the streets for a bit, and then hit Lombardi’s Pizza for lunch. In 1897 an Italian immigrant reinvented a Napoletana staple food into one of the world’s most eaten foods. New York City was the birth place of New York style pizza. During the year of 1905, Lombardi’s was licensed by the City of New York, becoming America’s First Pizzeria. SO duh, you have to go there. 😉 Lombardi’s is a CASH ONLY place, like many of the shops and restaurants in NYC, so plan accordingly.
After you are full of pizza, it’s time for dessert. Are there little girls in your party? If so, the next activity might just be their favorite. We’re heading uptown…to Midtown. The iconic Plaza Hotel is our next destination. Home of Eloise, the Plaza does a great job of playing up the story and keeping little kids expecting to see her having tea at the Palm Court or riding the elevators like amusement park rides. Check out the beautiful Christmas tree in the foyer (sorry, the one in the lobby is only for guests) and then take a peek into the Palm Court on your way down to the Plaza shops and food court.
Here you will find gourmet food stalls and high end shopping (if you’re hungry again Luke’s Lobster makes an AMAZING Lobster Roll)…with one exception…the Eloise store. In all of it’s pink, frilly glory, it sits down the hall and around the corner from the food stalls inviting little girls to come and browse trinkets and play dress up. Don’t get me wrong…the trinkets are expensive too…but you can find some little treasures for under $10-15 dollars. Remember Ashley’s Eloise party? Yes, we are obsessed!! 😉
If you really want to splurge, the shop offers Eloise themed events and parties at Christmas time. Make reservations well in advance by calling the store. These events DO sell out. Ashley and I took a few hours of girl time, and spent an afternoon at a Gingerbread making party at the shop. For $75, the two of us spent a couple of hours decorating a REAL gingerbread house made by a local gourmet bakery (they also have a food stall in the Food Court), drinking pink hot chocolate, and visiting with Santa. It was magical for her and totally worth it to me for the memories and the photo op. 😉 Not to mention, the gingerbread was TO DIE FOR good. We snacked on it for days in the hotel. Each guest left with a paperback Eloise book as a party favor too.
The calendar of events is out about 2 months in advance so be sure to check here, or for more information, to book a private event or to make reservations for one of events on the calendar, please ring up (212) 546-5457 or email EloiseEvents@fairmont.com
Another fun thing to do at the shop if you have a little Eloise fan, is to write a letter to Eloise. Ask the cashier about it. They will give you a piece of paper to fill out and write a note on. You stick it in the mailbox they have in the shop, and within a few weeks, you will receive an emailed response from Eloise herself. Watching Eloise at the Plaza and Eloise at Christmastime before you make this trip will make this activity even more fun and memorable.
The Plaza sits on the south border of Central Park. It’s also the spot where you can pick up carriage rides through the park. Grab some hot chocolate on your way out of the Plaza Food Hall and head out to grab a carriage. Stroll through the park wrapped in blankets and sipping your hot chocolate. If you’re lucky, there might even be some snow. Even the hot dog carts outside the park dress themselves up with lights for the holidays. It doesn’t get much prettier.
After your carriage ride, its time to head back down south a few blocks to Rockefeller Center. It isn’t far, and the walk down 5th avenue is gorgeous at this time of year. All of the expensive shops go out of their way to entice you inside with gorgeous displays in the windows…Bergdorfs, Cartier, it’s spectacular! You’ll know you’ve hit Rockefeller when you start seeing crowds like crazy trying to either watch the light show at Saks 5th Ave across the street, or to catch a glimpse of the most famous Christmas Tree in the country. When I say crowds…I mean CROWDS!! We stopped by here on SEVERAL occasions at all different times of day and night and it was ALWAYS like stampede city. So be prepared. BUT, you’re here, so you have to see it, right? Just hold tight to those kiddos and go for it.
Once you catch a glimpse of the tree, you can skip out and head to Eataly for dinner across the street from Madison Square Park. It’s crowded too…but after the crowds you’ve just faced, it will seem like a breeze. 🙂 Eataly is HUGE and offers everything! Gelato, Pizza, Cheese, Pasta, you name it you can buy it there. There are sit down restaurants, grab and go options, just about anything. So, depending on how you’re feeling, you can get whatever you and the kiddos are feeling up to. Or, if the weather isn’t terrible, you can wander through Eatly just for fun, and then head across the street to the park to pick up some Shake Shack. You won’t be disappointed!
Head back to the hotel and hit the hay. You’ve got one more day of crazy fun ahead of you! 🙂
This morning we’re having some fancy brunch. ABC kitchen is one of the hottest spots in town, so make reservations before you go…I mean like a month before you go. 😉 While I have to say that I have had other brunch in the city that I liked better, the food is good and there is something fun about eating at a hot spot. The surroundings are beautiful and it is very loud, so taking the kids won’t be a problem at all.
There are so many fun shops right in and around Union Square…ABC of course, but FishsEddy is another favorite right across the street. After you do a little shopping, head on over to Bryant Park to work off a bit of your breakfast. Bryant Park is my favorite park in the city. It is simply gorgeous and at Christmas it is extra lively and fun. At Bryant park you can ice skate, check out the cute Christmas pop up shops, and go take quick tour of the NY Library. It is STUNNING! Be sure to go upstairs and take a look at the incredible reading rooms. When you are there, pay special attention to the ceilings. Seriously amazing! If it is cold and wet out and the kids need to take a break, the children’s library is a great place to do it. There are cozy bean bags for snuggling up and reading. You can warm up, rest your tired feet and read together for a bit.
If your feet are sore and you are wet and cold, and you don’t feel like reading, take a quick ride on the subway and head on over to Grand Central Station for some lunch in the ginormous food court downstairs. There is just about every kind of food you can imagine down there and it is a super fun place to sit and watch the world go by. Upstairs there is a pretty light show for Christmas and some other fun pop up shops. Don’t miss the food hall there too. An amazing marketplace with all kinds of gourmet food vendors. Such a fun place to walk through!
It’s your last night in the city, so we’re going out with a bang. By far, our favorite experience last Christmas was the Rockette’s Christmas Spectacular. That surprised both John and I…especially since we usually like to do things that are a little more off the beaten path. But this was truly spectacular. You shouldn’t have a problem getting tickets…they run 4 shows a day for about 10 weeks, so you should be able to score some tickets…but here’s my advice. Spring for the more expensive tickets. Radio City is HUGE. You will appreciate it when you’re in there. Gigantic. I’m sure you can find better deals, but coming from out of town it was harder, so I broke down and just bought tickets online. The regular price tickets were about $70 and the good tickets about $120 each. We sat in the 10th row dead center and I am SO glad we did. It was worth every penny. They show is great for all ages and your kids will love it even more if they can see really well. Be prepared to be wowed for the 90 minute show.
After your 5pm show it will be about dinner time. You are right down the street from Times Sq. and Rockefeller Center. So, you can really take your pick of what YOU want to do for your last meal and last few ours. If you have it in you to make one more stop, wander through Times Square after dark. There are lights and things to see all over the city, down Avenue of the Americas and more. Just wander and enjoy the sights and smells of the city. Soak in the magic of New York City at Christmas time.
Looking for other great family destinations and fun itineraries? Check out some my other popular travel posts:
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I hope you have a wonderful time and enjoy all the wonders that a trip to New York at Christmas time has to offer.