For the Love of Travel
For the Love of Travel

Top tips for the best Christmas in New York

New York City is a twinkling wonderland of urban glory at any time of the year, but wouldn’t you love to savour the Big Apple at Christmas time? It might be too late to pack your bags and jet off to NYC this year, but why not make a hot festive date with the city in 12 months’ time from now?

Unfurling Christmas in New York

Top tips for the best Christmas in New York is what I freshly bring back from my most recent trip to New York. From mid-November, New York City starts unfurling its sparkling festive spread of monumental decorations, window displays, seasonal eats and landmark installations. I can vouch that the city’s extravagant seasonal spectacle is a guaranteed way to fire-up your Christmas mojo. The grand-scale holiday décor is flamboyant without being tasteless or garish.

Window decorations at Macy's in New York
Window decorations at Macy’s in New York. Photo: Mike Yardley

Here’s my hit list of the best New York Christmas spectacles. Macy’s is like a byword for Christmas in Gotham, with the seasonal magic bursting into life with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade. The flagship store in Herald Square is lavishly decorated like a giant gift-box, with heart-melting window displays to enchant your inner-child. I was like a moth to the flame!

Rockefeller Christmas Tree and skating rink

Rockefeller. Yes, it’s a major tourist trap but flocking to the Rock is a Christmas essential. With 19 high-rises built on 22 acres of prime Manhattan real estate, the Rockefeller Centre is as New York as a Nathan’s hotdog. The first Christmas tree at the centre was actually erected by construction workers, while the 1930s project was still being completed – several years before the giant Christmas tree would become a famed Rockefeller tradition. The annual tree lighting of the chosen 80ft specimen in Rockefeller Plaza is a beaming and brilliant symbol of the holiday season. This year it’s a mighty Norway spruce.

Rockefeller Christmas Tree in New York
Rockefeller Christmas Tree in New York. Photo: Supplied

Hire some skates and take to the ice on Rockefeller’s Rink. I love how kids and newbies new to ice skating can grab a hold of a roller penguin, to help prop them up. Facing out onto the Rink, the 160 year old toy store, FAO Schwarz – synonymous with the Tom Hanks movie Big, is a tractor-beam for a hearty browse.

Rockefeller ice skating rink, New York
Rockefeller ice skating rink, New York. Photo: Mike Yardley

Saks Fifth Avenue

Right by the Rockefeller Centre, Saks Fifth Avenue department store is a go-to for high-end retail and international luxury brands, sprawling across ten floors. Their in-store decorations are particularly exquisite. But like many Fifth Ave retail temples, it’s the window displays and gigantic Christmas installations festooning the facades, that wow the crowds. Just last week, as part of Saks’ window display opening, Elton John was wheeled out onto Fifth Ave for a storefront piano performance. I missed that by one night – damn! But along with Saks, some of the other must-see banner festive spectacles along Fifth Ave include Cartier and Bergdorf Goodman. They pull out all the stops with their festive spectacles. Bergdorf Goodman’s window displays are an artistic tour de force.

Saks Fifth Avenue Department store, New York
Saks Fifth Avenue Department store, New York. Photo: Mike Yardley

Christmas at The Plaza Hotel, New York

At the Central Park end of Fifth Ave, the Fairmont Plaza Hotel is probably better known as the Home Alone 2 hotel. At the Plaza, all that glitters is gold – literally. From chair legs and mirror frames to the bathrooms of each guest room, the details are gilded with 24-carat gold plating. It’s classy and opulent and reminiscent of another time—but then again, it’s the Plaza, a New York icon that has been rolling out the red-carpet to the world for 115 years.

The Plaza Hotel, New York
The Plaza Hotel, New York. Photo: Mike Yardley

The hotel’s interior is lavishly bedecked with a forest of Christmas trees and their twinkling silver fairylights. Room rates might make you wince, but an indelible way to get a flavour of the Plaza’s Christmas magic is to make a reservation for their signature high tea in the Palm Court. With ceiling-high palm trees and a soaring glass dome, my Signature Tea in the Palm Court was a divine affair, dipping from one melt-in-your-mouth morsel of indulgence to the next.  I noshed my way through a tiered stand of delights, including Applewood Smoked Salmon Roulade, Brioche English Cucumber, Foie Gras Macaron, Cranberry & Spice Scones, Apple & Yogurt Whipped Ganache, Pistachio Dacquoise Cake, Plaza Almond Egg Custard and Hazelnut Candy Bar, complemented with champagne and superb tea. Service was impeccable, the cherry on top of the effervescent experience.

Christmas decorations at The Plaza Hotel, New York
Christmas decorations at The Plaza Hotel, New York. Photo: Mike Yardley

Sixth Ave

Some of the Big Apple’s most impressive Christmas installations can also be found along Sixth Ave, including Fox News’ soaring Christmas tree in Fox Plaza, the forest of fairy-lit trees, the giant red baubles outside Chase Bank and the recent addition of the giant candy canes. It’s festive escapism writ large.

Fox Plaza Christmas Tree at Sixth Ave, New York
Fox Plaza Christmas Tree at Sixth Ave, New York. Photo: Mike Yardley

Facing out on Sixth Ave, Radio City Music Hall, previously nicknamed the Showplace of the Nation, has razzle-dazzled patrons since the 1930s with its elaborate Art Deco details, ginormous stage and theatrics. Nowadays, it’s best known for its Christmas Spectacular, starring the high-kicking Rockettes and a full cast of nativity animals and feature musicians. In the signature kick line that finds its way into most of the big dance numbers, the Rockettes’ move in perfect unison, which is a testament to their discipline. This is precision dancing on a massive scale—a Busby Berkeley number come to glorious life—and it takes your breath away. The Christmas Spectacular is so popular, this holiday actually runs from mid-November through to early January. Book early!

The Rockettes of New York
The Rockettes of New York. Photo: Supplied

Dyker Heights Christmas lights display

For more retina-burning, festive sensory overload, come on down Dyker Heights. The Dyker Heights Christmas Lights display has become one of the most starry-eyed New York attractions during the holiday season. The Brooklyn neighbourhood boasts the most over-the-top Christmas light decorations with life-sized Santas, sleighs, reindeer, snowmen and houses adorned with loudspeakers blasting out carols.  Crowds of all ages flock to the Kings County neighbourhood to stroll down the multiple blocks and avenues, soaking up the spectacle. Do it between dusk and 9pm, because many of the lights are now switched off by 9pm.

Dyker Heights Christmas lights in New York
Dyker Heights Christmas lights in New York. Photo: Supplied

Christmas in Westchester County

For sightseeing with a difference, make tracks to American Christmas in Westchester County. This is where the massive bows, angels, nutcrackers, lights and other festive decor that dress NYC’s most famous buildings, like Macy’s, Saks, Radio City Music Hall and the Rockefeller Centre herald from. Plus, you can buy vintage decorations that once adorned iconic buildings, walk through larger-than-life displays in Santa’s Village, explore several Dickens-themed photo opportunities and pose with 50 mesmerizing animatronics.

Bergdorf Goodman artistic window display, New York
Bergdorf Goodman artistic window display, New York. Photo: Supplied

No matter the time of year, Times Square is famously lit up like a Christmas tree, so why not immerse yourself in its glowing, electrifying glory with a stay at M Social Times Square? Located at the northern end of the world’s crossroads on 52nd street, the hotel rises up 26 floors, delivering an eagle’s view on the blazing brilliance of Times Square.  You’ve got the city’s skyline in the viewfinder from the hotel’s outdoor terrace. Plus, you won’t have to go far for a classic American buffet breakfast – the hotel’s expansive lounge and restaurant, Beasts & Butterflies, serves up waffles, pancakes and bacon first thing, with signature bites throughout the day.

Baubles on Sixth Avenue, New York. Photo: Supplied

This fabulous space is such a great oasis to lounge, gaze, dream and enjoy cocktails and bites, perched above the Broadway bustle.  Couches, greenery, vivid art and multiple check-in desks make the massive lobby and bars feel contemporary, comfy, sociable and unmistakably welcoming. My Social Deluxe Times Square guestroom boasted a cloud-comfortable king-size bed, chaise lounge, free wifi, soundproof windows, minifridge and a mega-rain shower. It’s a winning hotel in the heart of NYC’s sparkle.

Fly to New York via Hawaii

I flew to New York with Hawaiian Airlines, via Honolulu to JFK. Flights depart Auckland three times weekly on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday and Hawaiian Airlines connects to 15 US mainland cities. Treat yourself to Extra Comfort, which is very reasonably priced. Hawaiian Airlines’ Extra Comfort seats on the Airbus A330 offer considerably more legroom, priority services and enhanced amenities to make your long-haul travel experience decidedly more comfortable.

Travel to the USA with Cover-More Travel Insurance, which has you covered with added safeguards, over and above the typical travel cover, for the likes of medical treatment. Their Options Plan Single-Trip policy offers a host of built-in benefits and protections, including cancellation and rescheduling costs if you are diagnosed with Covid-19. Check out the full range of protections and tailor the level of cover to your requirements. Cover-More’s 24 hour global assistance centre is just a phone call away.

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