New York City in the week before Christmas: A list of 20 things that made my stay in NYC unforgettable, including sightseeing ideas and evening activities.
#1 Choosing the week before Christmas for our trip
When my husband and I first talked about travelling to New York City, I was hesitant to go there towards the end of the year. With all these Christmas shopping tourists, the city would probably be crowded in December – right?
But quite the opposite was the case:
Travelling to New York City in the week before Christmas turned out to be a great choice. Instead of finding ourselves stuck between hordes of Christmas shopping tourists, we didn’t have to stand in line at any of the attractions. Can you believe it?
Obviously most people prefer to take care of their Christmas preparations at home after all. Come to think about it, there is actually a very small percentage of people, who have the money and time to go on a long-haul vacation before Christmas.
#2 Packing wisely
Packing for a winter holiday at the US East Coast turned out to be a real challenge. Since the temperatures could be anywhere between 15 °C and -15°C in December, I had to:
Prepare for anything between mild autumn temperatures to freezing cold and make sure to look stylish.
– Not an easy task at all. Especially the part about looking fashionable in any weather condition. After careful planning, my suitcase included…
- Shoes: Water proof winter boots + fashionable leather boots
- Jackets: Warm winter coat + lighter autumn jacket
- Gloves + cap + several scarfs that matched my outfits
- Warm leggings to wear under my jeans
- Skin care products for cold temperatures (especially hand crème!)
- Hot-water bottle to warm up at the hotel after a day out in the cold
As everyone in NYC is so stylish, it paid out to think my packing list through. Otherwise I would’ve constantly felt underdressed.
#3 Visiting both observation decks: Top of the Rock and Empire State Building
Prior to our trip a lot of people had told us that it’s sufficient to visit just one observation deck in the city. Some advised me to buy tickets for Empire State Building, others stated that Top of the Rock would be the better choice.
My husband and I finally decided to buy a New York City Pass which included a visit to both observation decks, thus allowing us to judge for ourselves.
The truth is, that I can’t decide which one I liked better:
Empire State Building is closer to Manhattan. With a good camera you can even capture the Statue of Liberty in the background. I also appreciated the fact that our ticket included a second entrance after sunset, so that we could marvel at the sea of city lights twice.
Rockefeller Center on the contrary offered an undisturbed view on Central Park – and on the iconic Empire State Building.
#4 Watching the Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall
To add some real Christmas atmosphere to our holiday, we booked tickets for the Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall.
It’s a dance show that has been performed every year in December for several decades now.
Apart from the performance itself, with its stunning dance moves and great 3D effects, it was also very interesting to watch the people around us. The Christmas Spectacular seemed to be anything from an occasion to spend a day out with your date – to a huge family event. We saw ladies wearing evening robes, and whole families wearing jeans and UGG boots. Compared to sophisticated German Musical shows, where everybody is supposed to turn up with evening attire that was quite a mix!
In retrospect, I really shouldn’t have spent so much time wondering what to wear. My black jeans combined with leather boots and a white blouse fitted in perfectly.
#5 Eating Sandwiches for lunch
New York City is famous for its sandwiches – and rightfully so! You get them literally at every corner – and having a sandwich for lunch is a great alternative to eating burger or spending an hour in sitting in some restaurant.
My favourite sandwiches were: Tuna salad sandwich, and, of course, Pastrami sandwich.
#6 Making a contest of memorizing Christmas songs
During our week in New York City, my husband and I made a fun contest of memorizing American Christmas songs. No matter where we went – Christmas songs were played in every store, elevators, restaurants, and any other location with music speakers.
“Have a holly jolly Christmas. It’s the best time of the year…”
“Oh the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful…”
“I don’t want a lot for Christmas…”
“When the world is ever changing, light a candle in the dark…”
Whenever I hear one of these lines coming out of the radio this year, I imagine myself back in New York City, laughing with my husband about hearing the same Christmas song for the 100th time since our arrival. Those are wonderful memories.
#7 Watching a Basketball match at Madison Square Garden
One night we watched an NBA match at Madison Square Garden. We’re both not into basketball, but decided that it would be fun to visit a sports event during our holiday. My husband had pre-booked our tickets via internet, so that all we had to do at the night of the match was scan our home-printed tickets.
Even without knowing much about Basketball, it was a nice evening activity for various reasons:
Of course it was great to see Madison Square garden from inside. Apart from that, I also liked the (typical American) including cheerleader performances and kiss-cam. Plus, it was an interesting opportunity to get in touch with the locals.
#8 Soaking in the Christmas Atmosphere at Bryant Park
Unlike I had expected, Christmas wasn’t omnipresent in New York City. Therefore I actively researched places with a nice Christmas atmosphere. The Rink at Bryant Park with its small Christmas market next to it was definitely my favourite place in that regard.
#9 Admiring the window decorations at Macy’s
I also really liked the Christmas decorations at Macy’s. Each shop window came with its own story and was created with a beautiful eye for details.
#10 Visiting the 9/11 Memorial
I’m being honest here: I did not plan to visit the 9/11 memorial at first. Partly because I wasn’t expecting any new insight, and partly because I didn’t want to burden myself with memories of this terrible attack shortly before Christmas.
Thanks to my New York City pass, which included a free entrance to the 9/11 memorial, I ended up visiting the museum after all – and I so didn’t regret it!
The first thing that absolutely stunned me was the fact that the museum was built beneath the ground around the remains of the former twin towers’ foundation. Here and there you would catch a glimpse of a steel beam, or bare rock. It all created a very surreal atmosphere which was underlined by an amazing mix of multimedia effects and the right amount of information, as well as personal stories of victims and survivors.
My husband and I spent almost 3 hours in there. By the time we stepped outside into the fresh and sunny winter air, I was full of emotions and so glad that I had not given in to my initial impulse to skip visiting this museum.
Realizing how many people wouldn’t be able to spend the holidays with their loved ones due to this tragic event, my visit to the 9/11 Memorial made me appreciate the following Christmas holidays with my friends and family more than ever.
#11 Taking the Subway to Coney Island
Coney Island is an easy to reach beach close to the city. After doing lots of sightseeing in Manhattan, taking the subway to the beach was a comfortable way to escape the skyscrapers for a few hours.
The drive there was interesting too, as the subway runs above the ground most of the time and crosses some outskirt neighbourhoods.
#12 Walking down Fifth Avenue
Back in the city, I simply had to walk along Fifth Avenue’s luxurious window fronts at least once. Actually there is not much to do and see along Fifth Avenue – simply being there for real was enough for me though. Having watched all episodes of Gossip Girl, I indulged in feeling like Blair Waldorf for half an hour.
#13 Eating our way through Hell’s Kitchen
I still haven’t figured out why the restaurant mile between 34th Street and 57th Street is called “Hell’s Kitchen” – when “Heaven’s Kitchen” would be so much more appropriate! We were lucky that our hotel was located close to this area. As a consequence, we ate our way through different cuisines during our week in New York City.
From Indonesian cuisine to a Brazilian Restaurant – the dishes tasted very authentic. I really would’ve loved to stay for another month or so to try every nice restaurant I passed on the sidewalk.
#14 Crossing Brooklyn Bridge by foot
Crossing Brooklyn Bridge by foot was one of my favourite activities in New York City. On a sunny not-so-cold winter’s day, we took the subway to High Street Brooklyn Bridge. After strolling along the waterfront for a while, enjoying the incredible view on Manhattan we climbed the stairs up to Brooklyn Bridge, and crossed the East River by foot.
Both, the architecture of the bridge, as well as the views made this walk unforgettable! And of course, Brooklyn Bridge is also one of the best places to take iconic pictures in New York City.
#15 Hop on to Staten Island Ferry for a breath-taking view on Manhattan’s Skyline
Another activity I really loved was the 25-minute ferry ride from the St. George Ferry Terminal to Staten Island. I still can’t believe that the ferry is free to use, as it’s probably one of the most popular tourist activities in NYC.
We took our seats at the rear end of the ferry and thus took dozens of awesome pictures of Manhattan’s Skyline and the Statue of Liberty.
#16 Joining a tour at United Nations Headquarters
In order to cover a good mix of culture, outdoor activities and iconic landmarks during our holiday in New York City, we visited the United Nation Headquarters. The tour was interesting and not too long, offering the right amount of information without being boring.
Seeing important world leaders meeting up in this building frequently on the news, it was really amazing to stand in the middle of the General Assembly Hall myself.
Visiting the UN headquarters is also a good thing to do when it rains. We should’ve brought our passports though, as the UN offers to stamp your passport.
#17 A walk through Central Park
I loved strolling through Central Park, even though it was freezing cold the day we did so.
#18 Seeing the exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Arts
Next to visiting the 9/11 memorial, seeing the art exhibition at the MET wasn’t top of my list when planning our trip to New York City. While I do like beautiful pictures, I’m not a huge fan of art museums.
Visiting the MET was different though. Their exhibition is huge and contains some really prestigious pieces, such as Monet’s “Water Lilly Pond”. Knowing that these paintings actually were the real thing did feel special after all.
#19 Admiring the contrast between old and new along Highline Park
These days, New York City is mostly associated with finance and business services. Strolling through Manhattan’s financial district and fancy neighbourhoods, it is hard to believe that the city started out from being a major ocean shipping hub with manufacturing industries and huge warehouses clustering around the port.
Highline Park illustrates the contrast between old and new in an impressive manner. Glancing down into the streets, you still catch glimpses of what NYC must’ve looked like by the end of the 19th century. But the neighbourhood starts to change. Between brick stone buildings and warehouses, modern glass-and-steel-condos are continuing to pop up.
I can’t really explain why, but seeing the soulful old houses slowly disappear, touched something inside me. It is probably totally reasonable to modernize the city. But in a way, I also find it sad that the city’s heritage is vanishing: Workers moving out – hipsters moving in.
I’m not sure if I like this development. In any case, our walk along New York’s Highline Park felt like a scenic trail through the city’s history that left me a lot to think about.
#20 Circle Line Cruise
On our final day before catching a late-evening flight back home, we did a Circle Line Cruise during sunset.
The 1,5 hour Landmark Cruise took us down Hudson River along Battery Park into East River, where we crossed the three big bridges before turning back all the way up to Pier 83.
Apart from the stunning views on Manhattan’s skyline and the Statue of Liberty from the water, our tour guide was really awesome. He kept telling us interesting jokes and stories about New York and its neighbourhoods, such as why rich fpeople bought houses along Fifth Avenue in past centuries.
“Because the waterfront used to be loud and dirty with a bed smell – and Fifth Avenue is located farthest away from the water on both sides.”
I have no idea if that is true – but it sounded logical to me!
By the time I was watching the lights turn on in the skyscrapers along the waterfront from the boat, I had fallen head over heels in love with New York City. The Circle Line Cruise was the icing on the cake after a wonderful week. When I finally boarded the plane, flying back home for Christmas, I took a whole bunch of wonderful memories with me.
I’d love to hear about your favourite activities in New York City – leave me a comment 😉