A while ago, Andy and I decided that we would take each of our children on individual trips to New York City at Christmas time when they are 14 years old. Our three daughters have now participated in this beloved family tradition. We cannot wait to do it with our son when he turns 14.
Visiting New York City at Christmas time opens up the door for such magical opportunities! From seeing the famous Christmas tree at the Rockefeller Center to attending the fantastic Rockette’s Christmas program at radio City Music Hall, there is so much to do in this fantastic, bustling city during the holidays.
This four-day, three-night itinerary will take your family to all the can’t miss sites and allow you to experience an unforgettable Christmas time in New York City.
(NOTE: This itinerary is just for Manhatten. While there are many other Christmas things to do in the other boroughs, it’s a whirlwind itinerary that uses the Times Square area as a base of operations.)
Arrive in New York City. Drop off bags at the hotel (we stay at the Hampton Inn in mid-Times Square on 42nd and 7th, which is moderately priced, always clean, and allows a lot of flexibility). Then, go hang out in Times Square.
The first meal is always the best ramen noodles in town (and one of the absolute most unique experiences ever) at Ichiran for lunch or dinner.
As the afternoon turns to evening, we walk through Times Square to Rockefeller Center to see the beautiful Christmas tree and light display at Saks 5th Ave. This is one of our favorites and allows you to really take in the sights and sounds of the city.
We eat cupcakes and sip on hot cocoa from Magnolia Bakery on the way home. (There is always a line at this bakery, so be prepared to wait a little bit. But don’t let it deter you from getting the best banana pudding you’ve ever had in your life!)
There is nothing like your first walk through Times Square at Night, taking in the fantastic billboards, stores, and bustling NYC life.
Day 2 in NYC:
We eat the hotel’s complimentary continental breakfast (another reason we always choose this Hampton Inn) and walk back to Times Square and visit these fun stores:
Next, we walk back over to Rockefeller Center, this time to take in the Top of the Rock Observation Deck (we like this view better than the Empire State Building). We love walking through 30 Rock, with its captivating artwork and beautiful shops and restaurants.
Next, we head outside to ice skate at the iconic Rockefeller Rink. Please know that you used to be able to show up and skate, but it’s been years since that has been true for us. You have to make reservations EARLY! We usually do this the first night, but we could not get night reservations even four weeks out. (Here’s the link for reservations.) Enjoy lunch at one of the many places inside 30 Rock.
Right across from Rockefeller, we always stop in to visit the lovely Anthropologie and Free People stores.
After shopping, we walk down to Grand Central Station; it is absolutely stunning.
Afterward, we walked over to the hotel and rested up for a super fun evening on Broadway!
That night, we enjoyed dinner at Rosie O’Grady’s (reservations recommended). Then, we walked a couple of blocks to attend the Broadway play, Wicked. (Not before we dropped by Junior’s for a slice of cheesecake!)
We either choose to sleep in a bit this morning or visit Central Park! We’ve done both. And on this trip with Caroline, she wanted to sleep in. lol.
But Central Park is so wonderful, and if you visit, we recommend visiting these spots:
1. Imagine Mosaic in Strawberry Fields
2. Alice In Wonderland sculpture
3. Bow Bridge
4. Bethesda Fountain
5. Conservatory Water
6. The Loeb Boathouse
7. The Mall
After a slower morning, we attended the Rockettes show at Radio City Music Hall (Again, you will need to purchase tickets through Ticketmaster well in advance.) This show is a little cheesy, but it’s iconic, especially for our daughters. I don’t know that we will take our son here when it’s his turn, but our girls have each loved this show.
In the afternoon, we take the subway to the southern tip of Manhatten and visit the Statue of Liberty. We recommend getting the Pedestal ticket passes! You get to go up to the pedestal level, which offers gorgeous views. Of course, you need to get your tickets in advance. There are multiple ways to purchase these tickets. We have always been able to find a Groupon that has resulted in some significant savings.
PRO TIP #1: If you book early in the day, you will wait in extremely long lines. Our advice is to go later in the day. And be prepared for a little bit of a hectic security line to board the ferry.
PRO TIP #2: We are history buffs, and we still find that Ellis Island is (sadly) a little dry. It’s a unique and important historical location, and it’s not the wrong decision to include that in your Statue trip (you can take the ferry from the Statue to Ellis Island), but just be forewarned that other than seeing the building (which you can see from the boat), there isn’t much to it.
After our statue tour, we took an Uber to China Town for an authentic China Town dinner, “Great NY Noodletown”! It is an experience you won’t forget!
After dinner, we Uber back to the hotel for a much-needed rest.
Day 4 in NYC:
We woke up on our third morning and took the subway to DUMBO. You will enjoy walking around the beach area and just the general area at DUMBO. We ate brunch at Time Out and then headed to the Brooklyn Bridge.
We always love walking back across the Brooklyn Bridge. It puts you out near the financial district, which we walked through to get to the World Trade Center.
Next, we visited the World Trade Center 1 Observatory. This high-tech elevator ride to the top will be so fun for your kids, and the views are 360 degrees of the city. We bought tickets in advance once again using Groupon.
Lastly, we always visit the sacred 9/11 Memorial and Museum. You will want to spend 1-2 hours here. It is hard to describe how moving and emotional this is. There are always lines, so buy your ticket in advance. (TIP: We have twice bought tickets for a time slot only to get there and experience super long lines. They will honor your tickets if you come back at a later time when the lines are shorter).
This is our family’s guide to Christmas time in New York! We hope you enjoy it!
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