New York Christmas: best trees, windows, shopping and shows

The Rockfeller Center tree is the largest Christmas tree in New York City

The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree in the heart of New York City


Ah, Christmas in the Big Apple…nowhere does it better. Elaborately decorated trees; ornate department store windows that look like they are right out of a movie set; carolers at every corner; roasted chestnuts from street vendors. And of course, the best place to go Christmas shopping and see the best shows. If you’re lucky, there might even be a dusting of snow for a carriage ride through wintry Central Park.

After living in New York for 12 years, ten of them with little kids in tow, I have the lowdown on the best ways to soak up the Christmas cheer.  Here is my must-do list.

 New York’s Best Christmas Trees

* The Rockefeller Christmas Tree is the crown jewel of New York’s Christmas trees. In fact the 25-meter Norway spruce is crowned with a three-meter Swarovski-crystal star in addition to its 30-000 energy-efficient LED lights. Be sure and admire the trumpeting white angels as you walk along the Channel Gardens towards Fifth Avenue. Forget ice skating here…the rink is small, expensive and there is a huge wait.

* The Madison Square Park Christmas Tree is part of a long line of Christmas trees to adorn this space. Indeed, this park lit the first community Christmas tree in North America in 1912.

* Park Avenue Memorial Trees have, since 1945, been lit in remembrance of those who lost their lives in World War II. Each of the 104 balsam firs is festooned with 25 strands of white lights.

* The Origami Holiday Tree at the Museum of Natural History is decorated with more than 500 hand-folded paper ornaments.

* The Annual Christmas Tree and Neapolitan Baroque Creche at the Metropolitan Museum of Art makes high art of the holiday season. There are 200 18th century crèche figures surrounding a 6 ½ meter blue spruce decorated with angels, cherubs and lights in the Medieval Sculpture Hall.

* The Chorus Tree at South Street Seaport is formed with red scarf and cap wearing members of the Big Apple Chorus singing carols.

In the heart of mid-town New York is Radio City Music Hall

Radio City Music Hall is home to the Christmas Spectacular


New York’s Best Christmas Shows

* Radio City Christmas Spectacular is all about glitzy production values and the long legs of the Rockettes kicking in unison to catchy yuletide tunes.

* New York City Ballet’s production of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker at Lincoln Center is a stunning production of a favorite classic. If you can’t get in here, you can always see the American Ballet Theater’s production of The Nutcracker at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. It is more low key, tender, witty and wise.

* Winter Solstice at St John the Divine Anglican Cathedral near Columbia University on the Upper Upper West Side offers a very ecumenical multicultural celebration of the winter solstice.

* A Christmas Story at The Theater at Madison Square Garden is a sentimental musical version of the 1983 film.

* Handel’s Messiah is performed by different choirs at Carnegie Hall, Trinity Church and Lincoln Center.


New York’s Best Christmas Windows Displays

Window displays at New York department stores are the best in the world

Window displays at Lord and Taylor department store
Photo: Joe Buglewicz

All the major department stores do fabulous holiday windows. Here are some of the best.

* Fifth Avenue: Sak’s Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf Goodman, Henri Bendel, Tiffany & Co and Lord & Taylor

* 34th Street near Madison Square Garden: Macy’s takes up a whole block at 34th Street.

* Upper East Side: Bloomingdale’s and Barneys are resplendent.



New York’s Best Christmas Shopping

* FAO Schwartz has to be one of the world’s best toy stores, perfect for a holiday visit. Giant toy soldiers usher you into the store where you can try playing a song on the Big Piano and check out the Muppet Whatnot Workshop amidst the sea of legos and Barbie dolls.

* Macy’s Santaland is a fantasy world of talking trees and mischievous elves at the North Pole village. It features what the store likes to call New York’s only ‘real’ Santa, made famous by the movie classic, A Miracle on 34th Street. There is also a large red letterbox so kids can send letters to Santa.

* Christmas Markets: There are some terrific European-style markets at Grand Central Station, Bryant Park, Union Square and Columbus Circle.

Behind the New York Public Library are is a Christmas Market tat Bryant Park

Christmas Markets complement the skating rink at Bryant Park
Photo Malcolm Brown



Other Great Holiday Adventures

* Go skating at the outdoor Wollman rink in Central Park. It is a magical outdoor setting surrounded by New York’s skyline.

* Visit the Holiday Train Show at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx. A half-kilometer train track passes alongside New York icons in miniature such as the Brooklyn Bridge, St Patrick’s Cathedral and, of course, Grand Central Station.




New York Christmas

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New York Christmas 40.756620, -73.985367 New York Christmas

Sue Gough Henly

Sue Gough Henly is award-winning travel writer and photographer whose bi-line has appeared in The New York Times, Travel & Leisure, The Guardian, The Toronto Star and all the major Australian publications. Her travel blog, Genuine Journeys, is full of insider tips on the best places for authentic experiences and luxury splurges. She is also the author of Australia’s Best Places travel app. When she doesn’t have sand between her toes or a pack on her back, she writes about food, wine and culture.

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