Navigating New York during the Holidays

New York is pretty epic no matter when you visit it, but during the holiday season, there’s so much MORE to see and experience. We visited December 5th-9th and learned a lot about how to navigate the CROWDS at the holidays.

I’ve written about New York travel before, if you’re interested in reading more:
How to See New York City in Five Days (Part 1) (Part 2) (Part 3)

This visit, we stayed in Brooklyn and loved it. We stayed at the EVEN Hotel near the Hoyt-Schermerhorn subway station. This post is NOT sponsored, but I highly recommend the EVEN Hotel. It’s affordable (for an NYC hotel), is in a great location, is clean and quiet, and has a super nice staff. What more could you ask for?

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Around the corner from our hotel was Dekalb Market Hall. This food hall had a bunch of different stalls, from sandwiches to bagels, to burgers, to seafood, to dessert and more! I highly recommend stopping here if you need a quick meal. I’m always a fan of places where everyone in your group can split up and find something they like. We stopped here several mornings for bagel breakfast sandwiches from Andrew’s Classic Bklyn Bagels and coffee from Cafe D’Avignon. It’s the perfect meal for when you want to get up and get going! I also really enjoyed the dumpling soup and boba tea from Hana Noodle.

 

After a quick lunch, we hopped on the subway and went straight for Rockefeller Center. Rockefeller Center is where a lot of the holiday hub-bub is. We saw the tree right away. The lights are on from 6am-midnight, so it’s still beautiful to see in the middle of the day (especially if it’s cloudy!). We were also able to admire it without 10,000 people jostling us around… like later in the evening.

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This photo was taken in the middle of the afternoon.

Yes, the tree is beautiful at night, but you certainly pay to see it after dark. Honestly, my suggestion would be to do both – visit the tree during the day to have an up-close, stress-free look, then come back in the evening and view from afar.

My mom had a great attitude around the crowds. When I was telling her there will probably be a ton of people, her response was, “That’s ok! Seeing it just a little bit with a ton of people will be better than not seeing it at all!” I thought, man, that is so right. So, if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the crowds, just remember – whatever you’re seeing is better than seeing nothing at all! You’re in NYC for the holidays!

There’s a great view from 5th avenue looking back at the tree. It’s right in front of Rockefeller Center and is framed by other holiday decorations. Rockefeller Center is also where the ice skating rink is. We just watched the skaters. If you’re interested in skating, I’d recommend going first thing in the morning! It’s $28 for adults during peak season for general admission and the line gets CRAZY. You can do VIP for $60, which includes a reserved time slot and some fun other things (like a heated igloo seating area). There’s also a Starlight Skate session from 10:30pm to midnight. Check out The Rink at Rockefeller Center’s website for more info.

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When you visit the tree in the evening, be sure to view the Saks 5th avenue windows and light display as well. Honestly, I was expecting the window viewing to be WAY more crowded than it was! Yes, there were lots of people, but we were able to walk right up to the windows. Every 10-15 minutes or so, there’s a light display set to music. It’s really nice!

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The biggest splurge of our trip was going to the Rockettes’ Christmas Spectacular. We learned a lot about navigating this very popular holiday event, so I want to summarize it all quickly! If you’re interested in seeing the Rockettes, here’s what you need to know:

  • It’s worth it. It’s super impressive and mesmerizing to watch. We were all tired but were thoroughly entertained throughout the show. My whole family really enjoyed it.
  • Before you spend a lot of time picking out your perfect seats on the Ticketmaster website, please know there is a $19 PER TICKET service charge for purchasing them online. That’s insane. Avoid the fee by going to the box office.
  • When you go to the box office, be prepared to wait in line for tickets for about 2 hours. We decided it was worth it and choose to wait.
  • After about 45 minutes, a guy from Ticketmaster asked if anyone in line wanted to have tickets sent straight to their phone. No one jumped at his offer, so I was pretty skeptical. I asked a few questions and he assured me he was legit and that he could get us digital tickets immediately – same as the paper tickets people were in line for.
  • I decided to leave the line and take him up on his offer. It worked! The bottom line is, if there are Ticketmaster reps selling digital tickets on iPads, take them up on their offer.
  • You DO need to get in line 1 hour before the show starts. It takes a LONG TIME for everyone to get seated.
  • We sat in the orchestra level and could see wonderfully. We were literally all the way off to the side and could still see. The middle is always better, but the cheap seats off to the side aren’t bad either!
  • If you plan on using the restroom after the show (ladies) you better run out of the theatre right when it ends, or you’re better off just waiting.

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One last tip – after the Rockettes, hit up Junior’s! There are several locations and they’re all good! Pro tip: You can put your name on the waitlist through Yelp while you’re walking over. Junior’s is your typical diner-style food with exceptional cheesecake. Do not leave without the cheesecake. Pro PRO tip: You can ship yourself a whole cheesecake! Extend your NYC vacation with Junior’s at home 🙂

The next morning, we ate breakfast at their original Brooklyn location (also walking distance from EVEN Hotel). They have a great breakfast menu and give out a complimentary basket of bread and pastries when you sit down – highly recommended!

 

The last festive thing we did was visit the Dyker Heights neighborhood. This neighborhood goes ALL OUT with Christmas lights! Google it. It’s worth the trip.

Dyker Heights is a hike from the city – it’s in the Bay Ridge neighborhood of Brooklyn. We rode the R train to 77th street (about an hour from the Hoyt-Schermerhorn stop) then walked to the neighborhood (the blocks between 81st-83rd streets and 11th-13th Ave.). It’s about a twenty-minute walk. I’ve heard it can be quite hilly coming in from the east side, but from the west, it was an easy, flat walk!

You’ll know when you arrive. The houses are CRAZY, just like the internet said. As always, there are tons of people. Hit the area early (lights come on around 6pm) and zig-zag up and down the streets. We had a blast and it was definitely a highlight of our trip.

 

When we weren’t partaking in the holiday festivities, we were exploring Brooklyn! We walked around Williamsburg and hit up the Brooklyn Brewery. It’s such a cool place! I heard it gets crowded, but at 1 in the afternoon, it wasn’t bad at all.

 

Along the water in Williamsburg is the winter Smorgasburg! It’s in partnership with the Brooklyn Flea, which is pretty cool. There are fewer food vendors than the summertime Smorgasburg, but it was fun to look through the flea market as well. I got an ice cream cone from Bona Bona and WOW was it good. It has some torched marshmallow on top. So fun, so unique.

 

After a local day in Brooklyn, we took a day being touristy in NYC. Like I said, it was Brian’s first time in New York, so we had to balance holiday fun with classic New York tourism. We bought tickets to ferry out to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. This was my first time actually going out to the Statue of Liberty and here’s what we learned:

  • “Statue Cruises” is the only official ferry taking people to the islands. Apparently, there’s an issue with other companies trying to ferry people around.
  • The basic ticket (“reserve”) is totally enough! If you really want to go on the pedestal or go all the way to the crown – cool, go for it – but just being on the island is plenty. You still get really close to Lady Liberty.
  • Don’t miss the visitor’s center. They have the original torch inside and it’s super cool to see up close.
  • I’ve heard wait times can get crazy during the summer. During the winter, we pretty much got right on to a ferry. The ferry is cold, but there is plenty of seating inside to keep you nice and warm. It takes some time to go through security (maybe 30 minutes?) but that was all!
  • Ellis Island has a really interesting timeline exhibit on the second floor. It takes you through the process as if you were an immigrant just arriving. There are lots of photos and it’s pretty cool to look at them, then look around you and be like… Woah, that’s where I’m standing now!

 

The views of the city are epic from the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

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We also went to the Top of the Rock (at night) and the Empire State Building (during the day). Note to wintertime travelers – Top of the Rock is NOT heated, Empire State Building IS heated. Also, if there’s a long wait time at Top of the Rock, check back at night! I remember seeing a line around the outside of the building during the day, but at 9:30 pm, we walked right in!

 

I’ll never get tired of the views…

 

I hope these thoughts and reflections are helpful to you! There’s so much to see in NYC during the holidays. You won’t be the only one there, but with a little planning, you’ll have an awesome trip! 

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Stone Street, a narrow cobblestone street in the Financial District

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