The holidays are a great time to visit New York City. Although, there is no "wrong" season to visit the Big Apple because any one of them in New York City is worth a visit. There is so much to see and do at any time of the year, each offering different highlights.
That being said, if you are only going to visit this amazing city once and need to zero in on the best time of year to select for your visit to the Big Apple, you may want to consider the winter. To me, the holiday season in New York City holds a special presence unlike any other time of the year.
During this time, New York City holds a distinct atmosphere that is just amazing to drink in. All the incredible sights, smells, noises and crisp feeling of winter all blended up in one. Some of the top reasons why I love to visit NYC during the winter:
Every year Macy's Department store kicks off the holiday season with a the famed Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade and runs beautiful displays in their store windows throughout the holiday season. While I haven't yet caught the actual parade (unless T.V. counts!), I have seen the displays many times. You can view the lovely animated exhibits through the glass windows. A word of advice though, if you are visiting the week of Christmas, you're likely to be met with crowds, especially on the weekends, because everyone comes to catch a glimpse of these terrific displays.
Take in a Show
New York City is well known for musical theatre and the shows are amazing. You can head over to Broadway and see one of the many running shows or you can target your theatre visit towards a Christmas show.
Radio City Music Hall puts on splendid holidays shows. I've done this twice in my life and the experience is totally memorable. If this isn't what you had in mind, many of the other theatres and concert halls located in Manhattan offer a variety of either traditional or more off-the-beaten path shows. If you love musicals, there are plenty of options of where you want to go and what you want to see.
In the winter at Rockefeller Center you'll find tons of holiday spirit. Between the giant Christmas tree, ice skating rink and other decorations, there is plenty to see over at 47th and 50th Streets and 5th and 7th Avenues where Rockefeller Center is located. It is definitely worth a walk over to see if you are in the city during the holidays.
The annual Christmas tree lighting typically occurs the first week in December and the tree remains up until January; the lights are shut off for the season usually sometime during the first week of the new year.
If you are able to make it for the evening of the lighting of the tree, be sure and get there early, and plan to be stuck for a few hours. The crowds are thick and it is hard to navigate around, but if you can get a good view, it's worth the effort. Other than that, I wouldn't do it again (if you don't mind the crowds, it is worth doing once though!)
The year my friends and I took the train down to see the tree lighting was fun, and we did score a front row space, but once was enough for me. After that, seeing the tree all lit up at a later time i the season was a more enjoyable experience for me.
Even if you don't see the actual lighting, just going to see its majestic presence is nice enough.
Photo of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree taken in 2004. I was standing a bit back to try and capture the full size of the tree.
Decorated Storefronts and Buildings
During the holiday season many of the storefronts across the city are stunningly decorated and it's a good idea to have a camera handy because chances are you won't see Christmas decorations like this anywhere else. If you make it over to Rockefeller Center, try and walk down and see Saks 5th Avenue.
Imagine the famous Cartier store wrapped up like a giant Christmas present, or the equally famed FAO Schwartz Toy Store during the holidays. While you're walking around, try and check out the window displays at Bloomingdales, Barney's and Lord & Taylor's too.
Cartiers all dressed up for the holidays during a mid-2000s visit to the Big Apple.
For over a century Times Square has been well-known for its huge New Year's Eve bash which attracts millions of visitors every year. To see the famous Waterford crystal ball close up is pretty impressive too.
New York City during the winter is full of holiday spirit and it is a treat just to experience the myriad of celebratory activity throughout the different sections of the city. One thing to remember - be sure and dress warmly! Chances are the weather will be cold and those sharp winds can chill you right to the bone. However, if you're dressed for the weather, you'll be so drawn in by the sites, you'll forget it is even winter because you'll be warmed by the holiday spirit. Well, OK probably a bit from the massive crowds too.
Even after the holidays are over, winter is still a great time to visit, there are still plenty of things to see and do even when the weather is brisk. I love New York City any time of the year, but winter is, hands down, my favorite time to go.