’Tis the season to grab a suitcase and head to one of the best places on earth to enjoy Christmas — New York City. After all, this fair municipality has long been the home of the “Radio City Christmas Spectacular” and the Rockettes, Santa gracing the top floor of Macy’s Herald Square and dazzling store windows. However, while all these things help make the season bright, it’s the nooks and crannies of holiday cheer that truly make this city a magical place to spend time around the holidays. We’ve mapped out the crème de la crème of holiday offerings in New York City, showing you where to eat and stay, what shows to attend, which markets to peruse and which joyous sights to take in.
Where to eat
Head to the sleek Swedish restaurant Aquavit for its take on the Julbord, a classic Christmas smörgåsbord, and celebrate the holidays Scandinavian style. Grab a glass of glögg (mulled wine) and indulge in foods such as julskinka (a traditional Christmas ham), Swedish meatballs and herring. Enjoy this special feast between 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. on December 21, and from 11:45 a.m. to 9 p.m on Christmas Eve. If it’s mainly glögg you’re after, fellow Nordic restaurant Smörgås Chef (with Midtown, West Village and Wall Street locations) is celebrating both the season and its 10th anniversary by offering each dinner guest a complimentary glass of the Scandinavian warmer throughout December. Finally, Santa seekers heading to Macy’s Herald Square — where the slew of holiday festivities includes impressive window displays, an opportunity for kids to send letters to Santa and the chance to meet the man himself — should first gather strength at Stella 34 Trattoria on thesixth floor of the iconic store. Order the lasagna with black kale or a piping hot Neapolitan-style pizza.
Where to see a show
There are plenty of dazzling, annual holiday shows this time of year, from “The Nutcracker” at Lincoln Center to the “Radio City Christmas Spectacular” at Radio City Music Hall. However, if you’re looking for a twist to your holiday fun, head to the Minetta Lane Theatre for the naughty and nice “Nutcracker Rouge” (showing daily through January 5), put on by Company XIV. It’s not for the faint of heart, or children for that matter, as these skilled dancers reimagine the classic tale with heels, acrobatics, a little striptease and a whole lot of panache. Grabbing a can of Francis Ford Coppola Winery’s Sofia Blanc de Blancs sparkling wine to sip during the show is highly encouraged. Also worth checking out this weekend is the Blessed Unrest theater troupe’s adaptation of “A Christmas Carol,” playing through December 22 at The Interart Theatre. Only six actors play all 37 characters, and the show highlights the original socioeconomic commentary of Dickens’ story.
Where to shop
During the holidays, New York City offers numerous fun and unique marketplaces, and they’re great spots to pick up last-minute gifts. First, head to the annual Union Square Holiday Market (open through December 24), right on 14th Street in Union Square. You can find anything from alpaca rugs to handmade jewelry and organic bath products, all under darling candy-cane-striped tents. Bryant Park also features its Winter Village, chock-full of cutesy tea towels, handcrafted scarves and charming mugs, as well as an ice skating rink that serves as the centerpiece. (If you get too cold browsing the shops at Bryant Park, warm up by wandering around the storied New York Public Library.) Columbus Circle has a market, too, and though you’ll find many similar gift ideas here, this market is right next to Central Park, which affords you the perfect excuse to grab a hot cocoa at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery inside the Time Warner Center (check out their lights, too) and take a horse and carriage ride around the winter-tinged park.
Which holiday sights to see
One fantastic thing that happens annually in the city that most people don’t know about is the 20-foot Christmas tree that gets assembled at The Metropolitan Museum of Art and stays up until January 6. The tree is decorated with 18th-century Neapolitan angels and cherubs, as well as a marvelous nativity scene using realistic crèche figures. And no trip to New York City during the holidays would be complete without a visit to Rockefeller Center, so make sure to stop off at the classic attraction to see the grand Christmas tree. Though it does draw lots of visitors, the visage proves truly spectacular and, if you’re up for it, you can take a turn ice skating on the rink and warm up with a delicious bowl of chowder (smoked bacon, lobster, shrimp and clams) at The Sea Grill afterwards.
Where to stay
After partaking in the abundance of activities available in New York City this month, we don’t blame you if you’re a bit exhausted. Thankfully, the city offers countless luxury hotels at which to rest your weary head at the end of a long day, including Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star The Pierre, A Taj Hotel, New York, which is a great place to get into the holiday spirit. The luxury property decorates its lobby with elegant trees, lights and all around cheer for a festive atmosphere. Its onsite eatery, Sirio Ristorante, offers a special Feast of the Seven Fishes for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day; each four-course prix-fixe meal comes with tantalizing choices including black ink spaghetti, lobster bisque, pan-seared wild striped bass and apple tarte tatin. Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star The St. Regis New York is another wonderful winter headquarters. This grand hotel exudes sophistication with marble staircases and a storied past and, as a bonus, it’s within walking distance of the Columbus Circle holiday market.
Photo Courtesy of Tishman Speyer and Photographer Gregory Scaffidi