The festive season in New York doesn’t officially kick off until the lights on the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree are turned on. Tens of thousands line the streets around the Rockefeller Plaza in Manhattan for the big event each year, and millions watch it on TV. The official tree lighting ceremony of 2016 takes place on November 30, and preparations are already underway. Dolly Parton, Tony Bennett and Neil Diamond are all scheduled to perform on the night. Meanwhile the tree, a Norway spruce, is being shipped in from upstate New York. It’ll be decorated with 50,000 multi-coloured LED lights and a Swarovski star before it goes on display, and you can see it in all its glory until January 7, 2017.
This year marks the 80th anniversary of the rink at Rockefeller Center, and it remains one of the most popular winter attractions in NYC after all this time. Millions take to the ice this year, so be prepared for crowds. While skating packages are available to book in advance, general admission skating is only available on a first-come, first-served basis, so you’ll need to plan ahead. If you want to avoid the rush, the rink is at its quietest during early mornings and before 4pm on weekdays. Prices range from $25 to $32 for adults, with children aged 10 priced at $15. Meanwhile skate rental will set you back $12.
Organisers have gone all out for the Bryant Park Winter Village this year and there are now more than 128 holiday stores to choose from. But while the shopping is definitely a selling point, the 17,000-square-foot outdoor rink is undoubtedly the main attraction. One of the best things about this place is that you can ice skate for free. And if that wasn’t enough to draw you in, there’s also a high chance you’ll get to witness the beauty of the Josephine Shaw Lowell Fountain when it freezes over. Bryant Park Winter Village is open from October 29 to March 5, 2017.
There’s decorating your home for Christmas, and there’s decorating your home for Christmas the Dyker Heights way. The residents of this Brooklyn neighbourhood take getting into the festive spirit to new heights (see what we did there?) year after year. Think inflatable snowmen, carols blasting from loudspeakers and enough Christmas lights to put the Rockafeller Christmas tree to shame. The lights at the houses usually stay on from 5pm to 9pm, and many make their way to the area to catch a glimpse of them. If you fancy paying a visit, the nearest subway station is the 86th Street/4th Avenue station on the R line and the area is about a 20-minute walk away. There’s also a guided bus tour that picks up from Union Square in Manhattan. While there’s no set date as to how long the lights will be on show for, they tend to stay lit until the start of January.
Window shopping takes on a whole new meaning during the festive season in New York. Department stores go to great lengths to make sure their festive displays are memorable, and those along Fifth Avenue are in a class of their own. Bergdorf Goodman and Saks Fifth Avenue are particular stand-outs. This Saks Fifth Avenue is transforming its windows into a ‘candy-coloured’ wonderland, so expect enormous lollipops as well as a ten-story-tall theatrical light show .Meanwhile Bergdorf’s used more than seven million Swarovski crystals for their 2015 Christmas window display, so we can’t wait to see what they come up with.
Christmas in the Big Apple wouldn’t be complete without George Balanchine's The Nutcracker. Based on Alexandre Dumas’ version of E.T.A. Hoffmann's 1816 story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, the magical tale of toys coming to life has routinely had audiences transfixed thanks to its stunning choreography and spellbinding visual effects – not to mention Tchaikovsky's mesmerising score. The New York City Ballet annual production begins its latest run on November 25 at the David H. Koch Theater.
Central Park is a special place all year round, but it really comes alive at Christmas time thanks in part to the Columbus Circle Holiday Market. Located at 59th Street and Central Park West near the south west park entrance, the annual bazaar sells everything from artisan chocolates and truffles to handmade wooden puzzles and is one of the best places in the city to do some Christmas shopping. There are around 100 booths to choose from, so don’t be surprised if you end up staying for a while. It’s open from November 29 until Christmas Eve.
Tom Hanks and his on-screen boss Robert Loggia dancing on a giant foot piano at a New York toy store amongst the Christmas crowds in the movie Big has to be one of the most memorable festive film moments ever. Re-enacting the iconic scene from the 1988 movie has long been a must-do for fans who happen to be in New York at Christmas time (or any other time come to think of it). When FAO Schwarz, the Fifth Avenue store the instrument was based in, closed its doors last year, it seemed like the days of grown adult triumphantly tapping out the keys to Chopsticks and Heart and Soul with their feet were well and truly over. Thankfully department store Macy’s stepped in to save the day. The nearly 16-foot-long and 3.5-foot wide instrument has been installed in the lower level of their branch in Manhattan’s Herald Square. So visitors to New York will be able to release their inner Hanks this Christmas. "It's a part of New York history. We feel proud and lucky to have it," says a spokesperson for Macy's.
Broadway, Central Park, Fifth Avenue - they're all within striking distance of the larger-than-life Riu Plaza New York Times Square hotel.
The Sanctuary Hotel New York does exactly what it says on the tin - it's a boutique-style retreat nestled in Times Square.
You'll need a month to explore the neighbourhood of Broadway shows and comedy clubs around the Belvedere Hotel.
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