NYC Christmas - Great Holiday Walks
There is no Christmas magic more enchanting than New York City during the holidays. From mid-November until January 1st, Manhattan puts on a stunning display of holiday decorations and lights. If you have always wanted to experience the whimsy and wonder of NYC at this time of year, read on. Our guide will help you hit all the highlights with efficient walking routes that stick to well-populated areas.
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What to See: There are magnificent holiday light displays throughout NYC, but you can see the highlights in the relatively small Mid-Manhattan area. This dazzling location includes stunning 5th Avenue store windows, old-world hotels, the Rockefeller Center, charming Christmas markets, and the sparkle of Times Square.
The Locations: The walks in this guide focus on the blocks between 42nd and 59th Street, and 5th Avenue and Broadway (about a 2.8-mile perimeter). Don’t be fooled by the low mileage. You can walk for hours within this area. There is much to see; give yourself plenty of time to explore. Here are the don’t miss locations to visit:
5th Avenue: (5th Avenue, New York, NY, USA) Immerse in a bustling, life-sized enchanted village by walking 5th Avenue. The sophisticated stores and hotels that line this strip come alive with elaborate scenes of holiday cheer. Along the avenue, don’t miss Bergdorf Goodman’s, Cartier, Henri Bendel’s, The Plaza Hotel, The Regis Hotel, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Tiffany’s).
Rockefeller Center: (30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY, USA) The complex spans from 5th to 6th Avenue. Holiday highlights include the world-famous Christmas Tree, skating rink, Prometheus Statue, and Channel Gardens. You can ride to the Top of the Rock Observation Deck or catch a show at Radio City Music Hall (everyone should see the Rockettes’ Christmas Spectacular show at least once!) You can also warm up in over 100 stores and restaurants (American Girl Doll, The Leggo Store, and Victoria’s Secret). Warning: This area gets very congested; go early in the day if you dislike crowds.
Times Square: 42nd Street, New York, NY, USA. 4Day or night, Times Square is always a party. During the holidays it takes on a warmer, more festive tone. With the sheer scale of the buildings and lights it is fun to stroll the area. This section of the city is chockful of fun stores and trendy restaurants ( Disney Store, Jr’s Restaurant & Bakery, M&M Store, and Hard Rock Café). From here, it is an easy trek to Broadway and Restaurant Row.
Bryant Park: 6th Ave and W. 42nd St., New York, NY, USA. The Winter Village at Bryant Park is modeled after a European Christmas market. It offers over 150 kiosks with artisans selling wares. There is a free ice-skating rink on site (skates for rent). Next door to the park is the New York Public Library which is also decorated for the season.
Central Park: 5th Ave. and 59th Street, New York, NY, USA. Our itinerary takes in Central Park from 5th Avenue to Columbus Circle. Along this route you can easily veer off to explore The Pond and elegant Gapstow Bridge. You can take a carriage ride (LINK) through the park, or visit the 57’ USS Maine National Monument (LINK).
Columbus Circle: 59th St. at Central Park West, New York, NY, USA. The Columbus Circle Holiday Market is renowned for its stylish wares and handsome presentation. The fair is located at the entrance to Central Park by the Maine Monument. Shoppers can stroll the aisles taking in artisan jewelry, art, and textiles in a beautifully decorated setting.
Empire State Building: 20 W 29th Street, New York, NY, USA. The 102-story art deco skyscraper offers exhibits on the construction and history of the building, two observation decks, and unparalleled city views. It’s windy, cold in December, and unforgettable. Highly recommended.
Grand Central Terminal: 89 E 42nd St., New York, NY, USA. Held in the historic Vanderbilt Hall, the Grand Central Holiday Fair is fun to explore. It is smaller than some of the other Christmas markets, but is located in a splendid setting and has the advantage of being heated!
St. Patrick’s Cathedral: 14 East 51st Street, New York, NY, USA. The history, majesty, and spectacular architecture of St. Patrick’s Cathedral is always interesting to visit. At Christmas, there will often be caroling emanating from the church.
One Afternoon – Hitting the Highlights. Distance about 1.7 miles; plan for 4 hours
Begin at Columbus Circle Holiday Market. After exploring the market, cross the street to the Maine Monument. Proceed along 59th street. Stop to take a carriage ride (if you have booked ahead). When you reach 5th Avenue, cross the street and check out the lobby of the Plaza Hotel. Then, proceed down 5th Avenue taking in the sights until you reach St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Cross the street, and walk back toward Central Park until you hit the Channel Gardens of the Rockefeller Center. Explore the Rockefeller Center, crossing between 5th and 6th Avenues. On 6th Avenue, walk south until you hit Bryant Park. If you have time, shop the Winter Village. Then, proceed west on 42nd Street until you find Times Square. Spend the remainder of your time exploring Times Square, Broadway, and Restaurant Row.
One Day – All Inclusive Loop. Distance about 2.8 miles; plan for at least 6-8 hours.
Begin in Times Square. After exploring this area, walk east along 42nd Street to the Winter Village at Bryant Park. Shop the fair and check out the NY Public Library. Or, if it’s cold, proceed past Bryant Park to the Grand Central Terminal Holiday Fair. From here, make your way to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Next, head to the Rockefeller Center. Spend some time exploring the area between 5th and 6th Avenue. Then, walk to 5th Avenue and make your way to Central Park. Proceed along 59th street, stopping at to take a carriage ride (if you have booked ahead). When you reach the west corner of the park, visit the Maine Monument before crossing the street to shop the Columbus Circle Holiday Market. From here, proceed down Broadway until you hit Times Square. Spend the remainder of your time exploring this area.
Two Days – Relax and See It All. Distance day-1 about 2.4 miles; day-2 about 1.6 miles. Time variable.
Day One: Begin at the Grand Central Terminal Holiday Fair. From here, proceed to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Next, head to the Rockefeller Center. Spend some time exploring the area on the 5th Avenue side, then walk to 5th Avenue and make your way to Central Park. Proceed along 59th street, stopping at to take a carriage ride (if you have booked ahead). When you reach the west corner of the park, visit the Maine Monument before crossing the street to shop the Columbus Circle Holiday Market. From here, double back along 59th Street until you encounter 7th Avenue. See Carnegie Hall, then walk along 57th street until you reach 6th Avenue. Walk to 54th Street and take a quick detour to check out the Museum of Modern Art. Then, continue along 6th Avenue until the Rockefeller Center. Check out the Top of the Rock and / or take in a Christmas Spectacular show at Radio City Music Hall.
Day Two: Begin with a trip to the exhibits and observation deck at the Empire State Building. Then, walk along 5th Avenue until you reach 42nd Street. Check out the lobby of the NY Public Library, the Bryant Park Winter Village, and skating rink. From here, continue on 42nd Street to Times Square, and then onto Broadway. Spend the remainder of your time exploring this area and taking in a show.
Planning Details: Plan to visit anytime between Thanksgiving and New Year’s for the best decorations. Be aware that weekends get very busy. If you travel on a weekend, be sure to arrange a safe spot to meet-up should members of your group get separated. Wear your most stylish “city” clothes, but be sure to layer and have a wind/water resistant outer shell. Wear warm, comfortable boots and bring a hat and mittens. The city is windy, the cement sidewalks hold the cold, and you will be on your feet all day. Bring a map, cell phone, personal alarm, bottle of water, sanitizer, mask, and a cross-body bag with zippered compartments. Be aware, some locations will not allow large tote bags or backpacks. If you book a hotel, be sure to do it well in advance. Bring cash, but not too much. Walking is free!
Enjoy the spectacular! Laura and Randy
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