New York City can be a magical place during the holidays, but if you’re not careful, you could find yourself swallowed up by the seasonal crowds. This year try skipping Fifth Avenue’s windows and Santa at Macy’s in favor of some more refined revelry. Here are some of our favorite places to soak up holiday cheer and partake in unique happenings that even locals love.
The Plaza Hotel
For the quintessential holiday home, look no further than this Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star gem. Families whose cutest VIPs are fans of children’s book character (and famed fictional hotel resident) Eloise should consider booking A Rawther Fancy (Holiday) Stay, a posh package that includes a slew of treats, such as a $100 credit to the Eloise Shop, a photo with Santa, a mommy and me treatment at the Warren Tricomi/RPZL salon and a turndown treat featuring an Eloise robe and milk and cookies.
Or, for a dose of movie magic, book the Home Alone 2 package and live it up Kevin McAllister style. Start your stay with film-themed gifts at check-in and a trip to the FAO Schwartz pop-up shop at Rockefeller Center, made even sweeter with a $100 gift card and a (priceless) express checkout pass. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, simply order some special room service — a 10-scoop ice cream sundae that you can enjoy in bed, just like in the Christmas classic.
If you’re hungry for more, snag a spot on the waiting list for Home Alone in Concert at the New York Philharmonic (the event is sold out, but with a little holiday magic, you might just be able to snag a seat) so you can enjoy a screening of the film accompanied by a live performance of John Williams’ score.
Grab a meal as iconic as The Plaza itself by booking dinner or an extravagant brunch at Tavern on the Green, a year-round favorite of locals and tourists for more than 80 years. For an extra dose of Yuletide cheer, check out the venue’s Christmas menus or reserve a spot at this Central Park staple’s New Year’s Eve gala.
The Carlyle, A Rosewood Hotel
For a classic Upper East Side address, consider this Four-Star icon. A-listers have a thing for this historic hotel and, though it remains discreet, we have it on good authority that notable names from Prince William and Kate Middleton to JFK and Marilyn Monroe have all spent time here.
You and your royal entourage can treat yourselves to a Sex and the City-style retreat (The Carlyle was featured in the HBO series’ 2008 movie) with the property’s Ultimate Girlfriends Getaway. In addition to a two-night stay in a two-bedroom suite, round-trip airport transfers and daily complimentary breakfast for four, you’ll partake in a once-in-a-lifetime experience with the creative directors behind fashion favorite Veronica Beard. Tour the studio for a sneak peek at next year’s collection and sit down to a ladies’ lunch with the designers back at The Carlyle before heading out to the brand’s store for a $10,000 private shopping spree.
Be sure to save some stamina for a visit to the first boutique from Uruguayan luxury designer Gabriela Hearst. Located on the hotel’s ground floor, the shop debuted in November to high praise from the fashion world — it was even dubbed “the most beautiful store in New York City,” by Vogue.
After what is certain to be a day of indulgence, opt for a cultured evening out at the world-famous 92nd Street Y. The cultural and community center regularly hosts events, ranging from literary readings and interviews with some of the world’s biggest luminaries in politics, Hollywood and other disciplines. Actor Steve Carell will stop by on December 20 and celebrity chef Jamie Oliver will discuss his new cookbook on January 8.
Four Seasons Hotel New York Downtown
Celebrate the season in Five-Star style by booking this chic Tribeca tower’s Martinis and Mistletoe package, available through December 30. Savor welcome cocktails for two at CUT by Wolfgang Puck upon arrival and nosh on room service breakfast before departure.
In between all of that culinary fun, you will explore the nearby One World Observatory with a VIP pass, enjoy a curated shopping experience at Brookfield Place and Westfield World Trade Center and receive a $200 American Express gift card to pick up presents for the lucky ones still on your list.
In the evening, prepare to be wowed with a trip to Wonders at Dusk, an exquisite magic show that just opened for a limited engagement at the ever-elusive McKittrick Hotel. Celebrated illusionist Scott Silven orchestrates an evening filled with mentalist magic, inspiring storytelling and mysterious feats that Ebenezer Scrooge would even find spellbinding.
Mandarin Oriental, New York
Perched high above the city and just steps away from Fifth Avenue, Lincoln Center and the Theater District, this Five-Star hotel offers the perfect respite from bustling holiday chaos. Here, you can rejuvenate yourself with some sky-high swimming in the 75-foot lap pool overlooking the Hudson River or spend the afternoon unwinding in the spectacular Five-Star spa.
Don’t miss a trip to The Aviary NYC, where you’ll find creative drinks made using molecular ingenuity and inventive small plates. We recommend booking a curated, multi-course cocktail tasting and pairing menu for an unforgettable experience.
For a quintessential night out on the town, take in a show at nearby Lincoln Center. George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker (running through December 30) is always a classic holiday outing. You could also take in a riveting performance of Lerner and Loewe’s My Fair Lady, running indefinitely at the venue. But note that the musical will star Tony-winning actress Laura Benanti only through February 17.
AKA Smyth Tribeca
This Four-Star boutique stay marries the industrial-chic loft style that Tribeca is famous for with laid-back comfort and a touch of boho flair. The unique aesthetic combines to create a pied-à-terre with a buzzy cocktail lounge (Evening Bar), a Forbes Travel Guide Recommended restaurant (Andrew Carmellini’s Little Park) and spacious, apartment-style accommodations. And with the hotel’s Stay More, Save More offer, you can bask in it all over an extended trip this holiday season.
If you want a bit of nostalgia, check out the “Mickey: The True Original” pop-up art exhibit just a 10-minute drive north of the trendy property. Celebrating the iconic Disney character’s 90th birthday, this immersive experience (through February 10) explores Mickey Mouse’s global impact on art and pop culture. There’s a sweet surprise here, too: Brooklyn-based ice cream shop Ample Hills Creamery is on site, serving up three birthday-cake-inspired flavors (Triple Chocolate Surprise, Peanut Butter Jamboree and Confetti Celebration) to commemorate the milestone.