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When it comes to holiday travel, few spots in the US beat New York City.
Okay, so we might be a little biased given that our office is situated right in the middle of Manhattan, but this season is arguably the best time to visit the Big Apple. With festive decorations on every corner and a seemingly never-ending supply of cozy restaurants and bars in which to escape the cold, there’s tons to do during the holiday season.
But how do you know which tourist traps to evade? We looked to our editors for some non-clichéd, must-do activities. Whether you’re visiting for the holidays or live here and just want to explore a new part of the city, be sure to check out some of our top picks.
WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK:
Being that it’s somewhat of a New York City restaurant icon, be sure to add Balthazar to your list of eateries to hit this holiday season. Stop by for the brunch and get some pre-shopping fuel in, or drop in for a cozy evening, French brasserie-style. The wine list is reason enough to go.
80 Spring Street
Situated in the Nomad hotel, this spot is great for both a cozy atmosphere and an indulgent menu. Right off the larger dining room is a smaller room complete with a fireplace and booths to foster an intimate atmosphere. One editor called the Nomad’s truffle roast chicken the “best ever,” so be sure to order accordingly. If you finish your meal and want to extend your evening, head to the Library Bar and curl up by the fire with an Old Fashioned.
This little tavern is located on a corner in Greenpoint, and is the ideal spot for anyone in search of pub dining (yes, there’s even a fireplace). Actually, all of the Marlow-owned restaurants are pretty great for cozy dining—some other favorites include Marlow & Sons and Reynard, both in Williamsburg.
180 West Street
With wood-planked ceilings, exposed brick, and dim lighting, The Smile’s rustic vibe makes it ideal for this time of year. Warm up inside this subterranean spot with some hearty and healthy options, like the braised brisket with cous cous or seasonal vegetables on a bed of quinoa.
26 Bond Street
The Carlyle Hotel’s upscale piano bar has quite the extensive drink menu, and is the perfect spot to grab a festive drink with friends. It tends to fill up quickly, but if you don’t mind crowds, then head over to make your way through the delicious cocktails. There’s even a “winter cocktails” section, including seasonal gems like a spiced cranberry margarita.
35 East 76th Street
Sometimes, you just need a really, really good breakfast sandwich. Gramercy Park bakery Daily Provisions is just the place: This casual eatery has a number of great breakfast and lunch options that can be enjoyed year-round. But if you need something quick and decadent before a full day of exploring the city’s festivities, get one of the egg sandwiches. (You can thank us later.)
103 East 19th Street
WHAT TO DO:
Go Ice Skating
Ditch Central and Bryant Parks (both of which tend to be overrun by tourists and locals alike) in favor of these more low-key locations. The ice rink at the Standard Hotel is a smaller, street-side skating spot conveniently located next to a cafe where you can stop by for a hot chocolate. (For the over 21 crowd, you can get your cocoa spiked.) Want to see more of the city than just Manhattan? Head to Brooklyn’s Prospect Park to hit the rink at the Lakeside Complex.
Hit the Museums
We’re not going to sugarcoat it: New York can get absolutely frigid. Take an afternoon to defrost and hit up some of the city’s many museums and galleries. We recommend the ultra-Instagrammable Yoyai Kasuma exhibit at David Zwirner (open through December 16) and the Louise Bourgeois exhibit at MoMA (open through January 28).
Walk Around Alphabet City (During the Daytime)
Although you might know this area largely for its nightlife scene, head down during the day and check out the little gardens scattered around the neighborhood. They’re always well-decorated for Christmas, and given Alphabet City’s relatively removed location from Manhattan’s touristy spots, it’s a quiet escape from the crowds.
See the Lights in Dyker Heights
One thing that city-dwellers might miss from the suburbs is the rows and rows of holiday lights lining the homes on every street. New York’s answer to this is the Christmas lights in Brooklyn’s Dyker Heights. There are inflatable snowmen on every corner and multicolored string lights, and some houses even blast carols. You can take a guided tour of the area, but book soon, as tickets typically sell out quickly.
WHERE TO GET HOLIDAY SHOPPING DONE:
Designed as an apartment, The Line is definitely one of the more unique (and better decorated) stores in the city. You’ll find timeless, elegant pieces that will last a lifetime, and range from clothing and home items to stylish gift sets. Book an appointment to have a stylist show you around, and get expert assistance for all your gift shopping.
76 Greene Street, third floor
This uber trendy Soho boutique is also a gallery and coffee shop. Full of eclectic vintage finds, it’s carefully curated by its two owners who have backgrounds in art and fashion, and naturally includes only the coolest in apparel, accessories, and artwork.
135 Grand Street
Cross any home decor items off your holiday shopping list at this downtown boutique. The high-end store has both furniture and smaller gifting options like geometric coasters and pretty ceramics, so you’re sure to find something you love.
37 Orchard Street
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Go Pop-Up Hopping
There are so many fun pop-up shops cropping up around the city that the best way to make sure you see them all is to make a list and set aside a day to hit up your favorites. A couple of the ones topping our list are vintage furniture shop Jayson Home and textile and home goods boutique St. Frank—and of course, don’t forget to stop by our very own Domino pop-up in Soho between December 1 and December 23.
THE CLICHES THAT ARE ACTUALLY WORTH IT:
If you live in the city, taking visitors to see the NYC Ballet’s Nutcracker is a holiday stereotype worth following. Lincoln Center is super festive-feeling, and spending a night there will definitely be a memorable experience—especially if you pair it with an earlier (or later) dinner at one of the aforementioned restaurants on this list.
See the Festive Decorations on Fifth
But only late at night or early in the morning! Fifth Avenue tends to be packed with commuters right after work on weeknights or with shoppers on the weekends, so the best time to see the gorgeous decorations is either late at night on weeknights or early in the morning on weekends. Grab a late dinner with your friends or family, and spend some time wandering up the avenue until you hit the Plaza.
It’s been a beloved New York City tradition since 1933 for a reason: While the storylines are great for children, the talent of the dancers is impressive enough for all ages. The show—paired with the decorations at Radio City—makes for quite the festive evening. Tickets start at $40, but spots fill up quickly, so book ASAP to make sure you get a chance to see this iconic show.
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But do it strategically. Avoid weekends and Friday nights: Instead, opt for a late night viewing (the tree stays lit until midnight) to beat the crowds. It might not be worth a trip in and of itself, but if you’re walking back from grabbing drinks or are already in the area, definitely stop by and get the requisite photo. Interested in seeing a less touristy (but almost as famous) Christmas tree? The one at the Lotte New York Palace is pretty great too.
See more travel guides:
Why Seattle Is So Much More Than Just Coffee
The Best Places to Eat, Shop, and Stay in Charlotte, North Carolina
Why Jackson Hole Should Be on Your Vacation Radar
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