AAA Travel Tips / Five Ways New York City Sparkles as a Festive Destination

Five Ways New York City Sparkles as a Festive Destination

AAA/Jennifer Broome
By Jennifer Broome , Travel Journalist and TV Personality
July 29, 2019
From the Rockettes to the Rockefeller Tree, there are few places on Earth that sparkle during the holidays like New York City. There’s simply something magical about it. Seven friends and I caught flights for a festive long weekend of shopping, eating and experiencing the merriment of the city.
Christmas tree on display at Rockefeller Center in Midtown Manhattan in New York City
AAA/Jennifer Broome
Get on TV and See the Tree
Get up before the sun, bundle up and go be part of the sidewalk audience of your favorite national morning news show. It’s festive, fun and something you can only do in New York. Afterwards explore Times Square or go to Rockefeller Center to see the stunning tree adorned with 50,000+ twinkling lights. Skate some loops around the ice rink or go up to the Top of the Rock Observation Deck to add a little extra pizzazz to your tree stop. Make two tree trips—one in the day and one at night.
St. Patrick's Cathedral Roman Catholic church in New York City
AAA/Jennifer Broome
The Glitz of Fifth Avenue
Walk down Fifth Avenue and get wowed by the whimsical and avant-garde window displays at least once during the day and once at night. Of all the extravagant displays, my favorites were a giant snowflake hanging over the street and Cartier wrapped up in a dazzling red bow. The flagship Saks Fifth Avenue is 10 stories of shopping wonderment. Take the kids, or be a big kid, and re-enact the giant keyboard scene from the movie “Big” at FAO Schwarz.
While you’re amid the frenzied atmosphere of one of the most fashionable streets in the world, take a moment to reflect and remember the reason for the season at St. Patrick's Cathedral. Regardless of faith, all are welcome to step inside to admire the intricate stained-glass windows and ornate sanctuary. After catching a live morning news broadcast, I made a serendipitous stop and found the respite from the hustle and bustle to be heavenly, even for just a few moments.
Columbus Circle shopping in Manhattan in New York City
AAA/Jennifer Broome
Stroll Through Holiday Markets
A must on our gals’ getaway was shopping the holiday markets. My favorites are in two of New York’s prettiest parks.
Bryant Park turns into a festive fairytale-like scene with its European inspired open-air market. Grab a hot chocolate or cider to sip while you shop in the Winter Village as you dip in and out of tiny shops that look like rows of gingerbread houses. From pierogis to duck fat fries, there’s a smorgasbord of foods to try. Work off what you eat by attempting your best triple Lutz in the outdoor skating rink.
Central Park is wonderful any time of year, but it’s extra special during the holidays. Bundle up and take a carriage ride or enjoy a walk in the park. My two favorite spots are the Alice in Wonderland sculpture on the east side and the black and white “Imagine” mosaic homage to John Lennon in Strawberry Fields on the west side. Columbus Circle Holiday Market is at the southwest entrance. The aromas from local vendors cooking up everything from waffles to empanadas will draw you in. Peruse the vendor stalls for unique items like handmade dolls, vintage jewelry and Swedish dishcloths with cardinals on them. Cross the circle and head up to the Center Bar in Time Warner Center for a magnificent view of Columbus Circle and Central Park.
Holiday tree inside The Peninsula New York on Fifth Avenue in New York City
AAA/Jennifer Broome
Wine and Dine Galore
All of the restaurants and hotels are decked out for the holidays. Tip—make dinner reservations well in advance. New York’s Italian food scene is arguably second only to Italy itself. Il Corso, Serafina Broadway and Il Mulino all have elevated dining experiences. Head to Little Italy and eat at La Mela on Mulberry Street, which is something straight out of a mobster movie like “Goodfellas.” Say hi to Frank “Butch the Hat” Aquilino and sing along to holiday tunes being belted out by the strolling band in the restaurant. For the best brunch, nosh on the avocado toast at The Smith like we did at the Lincoln Square location. We could barely get in and out of The Blakely New York Hotel because of Black Tap Craft Burgers & Beer’s constant line for burgers and shakes, which are worth the wait. Browse the gourmet goodies in the original Dean & DeLuca gourmet market in SoHo. The Lower Manhattan neighborhood is filled with designer boutiques, galleries, unique shops like the bookstore Taschen and vintage shops on Broome Street. Head into the The Peninsula New York, decked out to the nines for the holidays, and splurge on a cocktail.
Since New York is filled with so many fabulous restaurants, I asked the AAA Inspector for more “must try” recommendations. For Italian, try Eataly Downtown, “Grandmother’s House” Casa Nonna and the family-friendly Gigino Trattoria. Grab a burger at Bill's Bar & Burger in the New York Marriott Downtown or a lobster roll at The Plaza Food Hall by Todd English. For French food, try Le Coucou or Le District. Two colorful spots you have to try are Tiny's and the Bar Upstairs in Tribeca and the Irish pub The Dead Rabbit Grocery and Grog close to Battery Park. I can’t wait to go back to try these restaurants and search for the best dim sum in Chinatown.
Rockette Christmas Show at Radio City Music Hall in Manhattan in New York City
AAA/Jennifer Broome
See Christmas Spectacular
One of the most dazzling performances I’ve ever seen is the Rockettes performing the Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall. The precision kicks are mesmerizing. So is the 3-D fly into the city with Santa and the iconic number “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers,” which has remained virtually unchanged since the first performance in 1933. From the multiplying Santas to the living Nativity scene, the show is filled with marvelous moments that kept all eight of us wide-eyed with childlike wonder. All of the technological magic happening immerses you into the show. When it was over, the first thing I said was, “Can I just stay here and watch it again?” That’s the magic of the Christmas Spectacular and how New York sparkles like no other city during the holidays.
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