Everyone knows the tourist spots, the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, ice skating in Bryant Park, and perusing the store windows up and down Fifth Avenue. These are all classic ways to spend the holidays in New York, but there is so much more! Here are some of the more unique, lesser-known activities to help you get the most out of the holiday season in NYC.
Of course shopping is one of the top activities on many lists this time of year, but most can't afford the luxury of Fifth Avenue. Don't let that stop you! There are plenty of other options during the holiday season. Outdoor marketplaces pop up all over the city, with an emphasis on the crafty over the extravagant. Some of the more popular locations include the Columbus Circle Holiday Market, the Holiday shops at Bryant Park and the Union Square Holiday Market. These locations stay open until 8 or 9PM and can help you put a major dent in your holiday gift-giving list.
Off the Wall
On December 14th, 2013 intoxicated Santa's will take over New York. Santacon is an annual Santa Claus convention where the focus tends to be on bringing joy through alcohol. Even if this event doesn't sound like it is for you, don't underestimate the entertainment of watching Santa and his elves stumble around the city.
For something a little more wholesome, yet just as unusual, check out the annual Santa rescue (December 8 at 11:30AM) at the NYC Fire Museum (78 Spring Street between Varick and Hudson Streets). Watch the FDNY come to the rescue as Santa gets "stuck" on a nearby roof.
Ice Skating Rinks
Ice skating is a favorite winter time activity in New York, leading to long lines and crowded ice. Despite this, if you venture beyond the typical tourist spots you can find some room to skate. Rockefeller Center and Bryant Park are usually packed, but the list below contains a number of other additional options, which typically aren't as crowded:
Rockefeller Center (Between 49th and 50th)
Bryant Park (between 40th and 42nd Street)
Chelsea Piers (23rd Street and Hudson River)
Trump Wollman Rink (Central Park at 63rd Street)
LeFrak Center at Lakeside (Prospect Park Near Parkside & Ocean Avenue entrance)
World Ice Arena (Flushing Meadows Corona Park)
Van Cortlandt Park Ice Skating Rink (Broadway & West 242nd Street)
Get Out of Manhattan
Not all the fun is in Manhattan. A perennial favorite year after year is the Holiday Train Show at the New York Botanical Garden (2900 Southern Blvd, Bronx, NY). Watch model trains weave between New York landmarks built out of natural objects (plants, bark, nuts, etc). This event seems to get more popular each year so I would suggest ordering tickets in advance.
Continue your outer boroughs tour with a stop in Dyker Heights. With displays that would rival even the Griswolds, the houses in Dyker Heights are a wonderland for holiday light fans. The spectacular displays go up the day after Thanksgiving and stay on through the holidays. There is plenty of public transportation to the neighborhood, but if you are from out of town and don't want to navigate yourself I suggest the Christmas Lights & Cannoli Tour. The three-hour bus-tour hits all the best houses, and yes an authentic Brooklyn cannoli is included.
After a full day of racing around the city you are going to want a hardy meal and drink to finish the night. There isn't a better choice this time of year than Rolf's (3rd Avenue between 21st St & 22nd St). Decked out in Christmas decorations from floor to ceiling, Rolf's is the perfect mix of atmosphere and great German food. Although there are a lot of good options here, you can't go wrong with the Paprika Schnitzel and a Hofbrau.
Of course it's hard to argue with the allure of walking down Fifth Ave on your way to the Rockefeller tree on a crisp New York night, but if you step a little outside the norm I think you will find there is a whole lot more to NYC in December.