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How to Spend 48 Magical Hours in New York City During the Holiday Season

Gossip Girl here, your one and only source to Manhattan’s elite. Just kidding it’s Adam and Christina, but we do incorporate some Gossip Girl in this post because of Christina, so if you love Gossip Girl, in addition to Christmas, you will enjoy this post.

Going to New York City during the holiday season has been high on my (Christina) list for several years. Lucky for me, I have an amazing husband (Adam), who made my dream become a reality for my birthday.

We could only visit New York City for 48 hours and like any other trip we take (quick or long), we packed it with things to do and places to see. If you are planning a trip to New York City for the holidays and want to see it all, then our article is the perfect guide for you! We will break down everything we recommend you should see and do and end our article with what our itinerary looked like to help you plan your special holiday trip to New York City.

 

 

Stay at the Empire Hotel

Okay Gossip Girl fans, this one is for you! Yes, we stayed at Chuck Bass’ Empire Hotel. It definitely had the Chuck Bass appeal of luxurious black and gold patterns with dim lighting for a romantic ambience. For those non Gossip Girl fans, it had a Great Gatsby, 1920’s vibe. Atlas, what stands the Empire Hotel apart from all the other hotels in the city, their iconic neon sign. It is so big and bright, you cannot miss it.

The staff was extremely friendly and always happy to help us with anything we needed. The hotel is one of the oldest in the city, but it never felt like it. We stayed in a superior king room and we felt comfortable with its size for being in New York City.

What we loved most about The Empire Hotel was its location. If you are going to see The Nutcracker at Lincoln Center, this is the BEST hotel to stay at. We literally walked across the street and we were at the theatre. There are also two restaurants from Chef Daniel Boulud, Boulud Sud and Epicerie Boulud – a great places for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The Empire Hotel is only one block from Central Park and a subway stop. To get to Rockefeller Center or Times Square, only takes two stops on the subway. So, as you can see, it truly is a great location.

 

Breakfast at Dominique Ansel Bakery

We could not visit New York City and leave without enjoying a cronut from the legendary mastermind behind croissant dough, Pastry Chef Dominique Ansel. We arrived by 8:25am on a Tuesday morning, 25 minutes after opening and we had to wait in line for at least 30 minutes. Needless to say, prepare for long lines at any time of the day.

 

What to Order

Cronut of the month, the special at the time was an Eggnog cronut with caramel and nutmeg sugar. If you love hot chocolate, order the Blossom Hot Chocolate and have your camera ready to capture your marshmallow flower blossom. The DKA is almost as famous as the cronut, it is Dominque’s signature Danish. The bakery sells them pre-boxed or you can order them at the register. As fans of the kouign amann, it is the best one we have ever enjoyed. If you like coconut, the coconut chocolate croissant is delicious! And who doesn’t love nutella? The nutella milk bread is nutty-chocolate good!

 

A Quick Bite at Epicerie Boulud

Epicerie Boulud is located across the street from The Empire Hotel, which made it the perfect place to stop in for a quick breakfast or bite to eat. There is a display of pastries, cakes, danishes, muffins, quiches, salads and more. In addition to the display cases, guests can also order sandwiches, freshly baked bread, homemade soup, signature house-made charcuterie and a selection of artisanal cheeses and more.

The restaurant also serves as a store, where guests can purchase jams, marshmallows, cookies and to-go containers of small meals. There is a wine bar to dine at or enjoy a glass of wine. Another option is to grab a coffee and a scoop of gelato to savor your sweet tooth or caffeine fix. If you are not near the Lincoln center, you can also visit Epicure Boulud at the Plaza Food Hall and World Trade Center Oculus.

 

Hot Chocolate at City Bakery

When we researched where to find the best hot chocolate in New York City, City Bakery repeatedly popped up and now we know why. It is one of the best hot chocolates we have ever had! It comes with a giant homemade marshmallow that is not overly sweet and melts away into the hot chocolate. Be sure to make it a priority to get your cup of hot chocolate deliciousness at City Bakery!

 

If you are hungry, they also have a spread of baked goodies and savory dishes, such as, soup, sandwiches, mac n cheese, spaghetti squash and more.

 

Tasting Menu at Boulud Sud

We could not leave New York City without dining at a well known and respected restaurant. We chose Boulud Sud because Daniel Boulud is a legendary chef and it was close to the Lincoln Center and the Empire Hotel. Boulud Sud focuses on Mediterranean cuisine from countries such as, Italy, Morocco and Turkey. Boulud Sud knocked off our socks with almost every dish! To say we were highly impressed with their food and service, would be an understatement.

As we said, the restaurant is located across the street from the Lincoln Center, therefore it is the perfect pre-theatre dinner. In fact, it offers a three pre-fixe course dinner and the staff will make sure you get your food in a mannerly timed fashion to make it to your show. We never felt rushed during our dining experience, everything came out perfect and at the right time. The food was delicious, from wagyu beef tartare, to branzino, tortellini, cannoli and complimentary dishes – everything was superb!

 

Top of the Rock Sun and Stars

Going to see cities from high points is something we always love to experience when we travel, so it was a no-brainer we would see New York City, one of the most well known skylines in the world – twice. Though going to the top of the Empire State Building is an iconic thing to do, we preferred going to the Top of the Rock because you get 360° views of every corner of Manhattan, which means you SEE the Empire State Building and Central Park . The Top of the Rock offers several different experiences, but since we were here for Christmas, we decided to only do their Sun and Stars package. For an additional $15 a ticket, we were able to go back to the observation deck at any time after sunset. We highly recommend this because to see the city that never sleeps at the Top of the Rock and during the day are both breathtaking.

It is said, that the BEST time to go is an hour before dusk because you can see the city during the day and night all in one trip. Given this motive, 4pm to 5:30pm is the most popular time to visit the Top of the Rock during the winter. We would have loved this option, but due to time constraints to see the Nutcracker we opted for the second best times to go. The best day and night view times during the winter are 10:30am and 11pm, which is exactly what we did. Pictures do not do justice, it is truly 360° views of pure beauty.

Don’t forget to stop at the gift shop, they have a lot of great NBC souvenirs and fun photo shoot areas.

 

Rockefeller Center and Plaza

Walking around the Rockefeller gives you ample opportunities to see something stunning. Christmas decorations are everywhere, including the famous Rockefeller Christmas tree with 50,000 lights and a 550 pound Swarovski crystal star right on top.

 

Window Holiday Displays

New York City, the city of fashion, turns window shopping into holiday displays. Some of the most luxurious fashion designers and jewelers create the most elaborate and magical window displays you will ever see. The windows displays are typically unveiled shortly before Thanksgiving and remain displayed  until just after the New Year. They are admired throughout the holiday season from both locals and tourists. Each store has a unique theme every year, so no matter how many times you go to New York City to see the holiday window displays, you will always be surprised and in awe. We viewed the displays during the day and night and found both times to be enjoyable. In our opinion, we think going in the late afternoon (an hour before dusk) through the night had the best lighting.

The most popular and well done window displays year after year are:

  • Barney’s New York
    • 660 Madison Ave, New York, NY
      Nearest Subways: Q,N,W,R,F,1,4,5,6
  • Bergdorf Goodman
    • 754 5th Ave, New York, NY
      Nearest Subways: Q,N,W,R,F,1,4,5,6
  • Bloomingdales
    • 000 Third Avenue, 59th Street and Lexington Avenue, New York, NY
      Nearest Subways: Q,N,W,R,F,1,4,5,6
  • Lord & Taylor
    • 424 5th Ave, New York, NY
      Nearest Subways: B,N,Q,W,R,2,4,5,6,7
  • Macy’s Herald Square (largest Macy’s store in the world)
    • 151 W 34th St, New York, NY
      Nearest Subways: B,D,F,M,N,Q,R,W
  • Saks Fifth Avenue
    • 611 5th Ave, New York, NY
      Nearest Subways: B,D,F,M,1,6,N,Q,R
  • Tiffany & Co.
    • 727 5th Ave, New York, NY
      Nearest Subways: Q,N,W,R,F,1,4,5,6

Personally, our two favorites of the 2017 holiday season were Saks Fifth Avenue and Macy’s. Saks theme was celebrating 80 years of Snow White and had a Christmas light show in the shape of a castle.

Here is a screenshot of the stores as your walking guide. It is a 1.8 miles trip with an estimate time of a 40 minute walk.

 

Ice Skating throughout New York City

We love to ice skate and ice skating at the Rockefeller Center is on our bucket list (check). Of course, you can ice skate anywhere during the holidays, but there is something magical about ice skating in New York City. There are several different places to ice skate within New York City. The Rockefeller Center and Bryant Park being the two most well known and popular rinks in the entire city.

 

The Rink at the Rockefeller Center

A lot of people told us to stay away from Rockefeller Center, but we didn’t listen and we are glad we didn’t because we really enjoyed it. Though the rink is small, it feels big because of its iconic presence of skating under the famous Rockefeller Christmas tree. Christmas music plays around the rink to compete the feeling of holiday spirit.

The prices are a little steep, essentially you are paying to skate on one of the most famous ice rinks in the world. Prices during the holiday season are $32 for adults and $15 for children under 12 years. Skate rentals are $12 and to check your bag is FREE, though tips are encouraged. To us it was worth it, but everyone has different opinions. To view The Rink at Rockefeller Center’s 2017 schedule, hours, prices and packages, click here.

600 5th Ave, New York, NY 10020
(212) 332-7654
October 7, 2017 – January 1, 2018
Daily 8:30am to 12am

https://therinkatrockcenter.com

 

Bryant Park at Winter Village

Bryant Park at Winter Village has everything you could ever wish for during the holidays – ice skating, a Christmas tree, holiday markets, holiday beverages and food, Christmas music, Christmas spirit and more. The rink is 17,000 square feet large with close views to the Christmas tree and Christmas music playing throughout the rink. We really enjoyed skating here as well, surrounded by all the Christmas festivities.

Admission to skate at Bryant Park is FREE and only $20 for skate rentals. To secure your belongings (no purses or shoes allowed on the rink) costs $10 for a locker, $12 for a small bag check and $15 for a large bag check. Skate aids, helmets, socks and more are available for an additional price. To see all the prices, schedule, skating shows and lessons offered at Bryant Park for 2017, click here.

476 5th Ave, New York, NY
(917) 438-5166
October 28, 2017 – March 6, 2018
Daily 8am to 10pm
http://bryantpark.org/amenities/bank-of-america-winter-village-at-bryant-park

 

Ice Skating at Central Park

Who wouldn’t want to ice skate in Central Park?! Central Park has two rinks available during the winter, Wollman Rink and Lasker Rink. Wollman Rink is the more popular with the city skyline in the background. Also where Blair Waldorf went ice skating and tripped her father’s boyfriend.

At Wollman Rink, travelers can ice skate, receive skating lessons and play hockey! The rink is located close to the zoo and has great views of the New York City skyline as you skate. Skate rentals are $9 per person. During the weekday, adult admission is $12, children admission is $6 and seniors admission is $5. During the weekend and holidays, adult admission is $19, seniors admission is $9 and children admission remains at $4. Wollman Rink only accepts cash.

830 5th Ave, New York, NY
(212) 439-6900
October 23, 2017 – February 28, 2018
http://www.wollmanskatingrink.com

 

See a Holiday Show

There is so much to see during the holidays in New York City. Whether it be the famous Rockettes or the legendary Nutcracker. You cannot go wrong with seeing either show and depending on your dates, you could plan your show during the day or night to fit your plans.

 

The Nutcracker

Since we saw The Nutcracker we will discuss how it almost moved us to tears. Yes, it is that good! After dreaming of seeing The Nutcracker in New York City, it finally became a reality and we had to pinch ourselves to make sure it was real. The performers in the show are remarkable! They are more talented than any footballer player, we swear! The music, of course, is outstanding. To be able to listen to the music while watching the ballerinas bring the song to life is something we will never forget. Now when we listen to The Nutcracker, we have beautiful memories to play along with the songs.

 

The Christmas Tree and Nativity Scene at The Met

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is a wonderful museum to visit year round, but every year it has a Christmas tree and nativity scene that cannot be missed! The Christmas tree and nativity scene is located in the Italian Renaissance section. Guests can view the Christmas tree and nativity scene in its full beauty because you can walk around 360° around it. They are roped off, but guests still get close enough to see every detail of the nativity scene. Instrumental Christmas music is also playing softly in the background to give guests a full viewing experience. Pictures really do not do it justice because we were both in awe of its uniqueness and beauty.

The museum is free, but donations are always welcome receive your entrance ticket. The suggested donation is $25, but you are more than welcome to donate more or less. Be sure to visit some of the exhibits because this museum holds some of the worlds most magnificent historical pieces of art. We chose to see Monet’s paintings and the arms and armory exhibits.

Gossip Girl lovers, do not forget to take a seat at the steps. Just make sure you don’t sit higher than Blair!

 

St. Patrick’s Cathedral

We have not seen a cathedral this pretty since Europe. It is a beautiful cathedral located near the Rockefeller Center and boasts holiday decorations to celebrate Christmas. The decorations are simple, Christmas wreaths hanging from the pillars and a beautiful nativity scene near the left of the cathedral. Near the nativity scene is a prayer bench and candles. For those who want to say a prayer, this is a beautiful and special place to do it.

 

 

Holiday Markets

Cute holiday markets pop up everywhere in New York City and is the perfect place to buy someone special a gift or two. There are so many vendors that sell original and unique items you can hardly find anywhere else. Popular restaurants and/or bakeries also have stalls, so you will never go hungry or thirsty while you shop!  Two populars holiday markets are Union Square and Bryant Park Winter Village.

 

Union Square Holiday Market

This is the cutest holiday market, but also the most crammed. The walkway paths are very narrow and with the large crowds the market attracts, it can feel overcrowded. Regardless, its Christmas time and everyone is full of joy, so though Union Square is packed it is a wonderful holiday market to explore. It is also a very large one, so if you plan to do some real holiday shopping, take out at least an hour of your day to spend some quality time here.

Union Square Park
Union Square Park, 14th St & Union Square W
(212) 529-9262
November 16 – December 24, 2017
https://www.urbanspacenyc.com/union-square-holiday-market/

 

Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park

Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park has it all! We already discussed the amazing ice rink and 64 foot Christmas tree at Bryant Park, but now we want to tell you about the holiday market and Santa’s corner. Taking a picture with Santa is FREE at Bryant Park. Just bring your camera of choice or the Santa’s elves can take a picture and you can download it on Flickr. The holiday market is more spaced out that surrounds at least half of the ice rink. There are plenty of vendors where you can shop till you drop and then replenish with food and drinks at the pop up stands or the restaurants, Bryant Park Grill and Cafe or Public Fare. Needless to say, there is plenty of things to see and do at Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park.

Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park
476 5th Avenue, New York, NY
(917) 438-5166
October 28, 2017 – January 2, 2018
http://bryantpark.org

 

Take a Stroll Through Central Park

Central Park is beautiful, whether the trees are green or have no leaves at all. There is so much to see along your path to reach your final destination. While you walk you see couples holding hands (us), kids playing on the playground, everyone climbing rocks to take pictures, families ice skating, kids and adults playing chess and more. Even if you only have 30 minutes to walk through Central Park, we highly recommend it, besides it’s an iconic thing to do while you are in New York City.

 

Times Square

No trip to New York City is complete without visiting Time Square! The lights were brighter here than the Las Vegas Strip. If you are lucky, they may even have the New Year date lit up in the plaza to take photos and do a little pre-celebration.

 

Instagram-Worthy Holiday Decorations

Everywhere we looked there were holiday decorations that were Instagram-worthy. Some of the more well known ones that everyone wants to see with their own eyes and of course take that perfect shot are:

  • The oversized, bright red ornaments, Christmas lights and reindeer off 6th street, across from Radio City Music Hall
  • Radio City Music Hall and its Christmas Tree
  • Angels row between Rockefeller Center and Saks Fifth Ave
  • Of course, the famous Rockefeller Christmas tree, decorated with over 50,000 lights and a 550 pound Swarovski crystal star right on top!

 

Tips:

  • With so much to see and explore, only sit down for a nice meal once a day. Otherwise grab a bite to eat from the local street vendors. We can be quite the fancy diners, but NYC street vendor food is a guilty pleasure.
  • Have cash on you for street vendors and to donate to the Salvation Army
  • Using the metro is no easy task in New York City, that is why we have found the perfect metro guide for you from Wanderlustingk, click here to view their post.
  • Even though it’s the city that never sleeps, the Rockefeller and Radio City Christmas tree turned off a little after 11:30pm. Saks Fifth Avenue light display also stopped around the same time. So, if you plan on doing some sightseeing late at night, be prepared for the lights to turn off on the Christmas trees.

 

Need help finding a hotel? Use our affiliate link to book your hotel in New York City. It does not cost you more, but we would receive a small commission for your booking. We would be very appreciative if you do book with us! We want to thank you for following and supporting us on all of our adventures. 

 

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Our Itinerary

 

Arrive into the city late at night, around 11:30pm

Check into The Empire Hotel

Day 1

7am – Start the day fresh and early with a wake up call

8am – Metro to Dominque Ansel Bakery to indulge in his famous cronuts (20 minute commute)

10:30am – Go to the Top of Rock for the best day time viewing

11:30am – 2pm – holiday sightseeing

First go across the street to view Saks Fifth Ave holiday displays

Then walk to St. Patricks Cathedral

Then walk along 5th Ave to see more holiday window displays at Tiffany’s, Bergdorf Goodman and Barney’s

Walk from Barney’s to the Plaza Hotel and channel your inner Kevin McCallister

Metro back to hotel to clean up by 3pm

5pm – Dinner at Boulud Sud

7pm – See The Nutcracker at Lincoln Center

9:15pm – go back to the hotel to change

9:30pm – metro to Rockefeller Center

Check out the over-sized Christmas lights, ornaments and reindeer on 6th Avenue

Across the street, take a look at Radio City Music Hall’s Christmas tree

Watch the Saks Fifth Avenue light display

Go back to the Top of the Rock to see the city at night

Go ice skating at the rink

Metro or walk to Times Square

12am-1am – metro back to the hotel

 

Day Two

Take your time waking up and check out of hotel (store luggage at bell desk)

10am – head to Epicerie Boulud

Walk to through Central Park to the Met

11:30am – Take an iconic Blair Waldorf picture at The met then go inside to admire their Christmas tree, nativity scene and art pieces.

union square?

12pm – grab some of the best hot chocolate and a bite to eat at City Bakery

1pm – Visit Macy’s Herald Square for their holiday display show and/or go shopping

4pm – Bryant Park – ice skating and shopping

6pm – Taxi to the hotel to pick up luggage and then head home

 

 

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year everyone!!!

Christina and Adam