12.10.2019

Christmas in New York City Guide: Best Trees, Ice Skating Rinks, Restaurants + Bars (pt 1)


OMG, it's finally here! This post is a BEAST, so get ready to enjoy some serious holiday content. Little did I know, I've been getting prepared for this post for the past five years. I swear every year in New York I learn about a new place/show/tree/rink to visit, and while I try to hit them all, it's usually not able to be done!

Especially this year, since I'm leaving for the month, I've been trying to pack everything into a few weeks,and while it's super stressful, it's also been kinda fun! I love New York at Christmas time -- it is seriously the most magical place around,and it just keeps getting better. The crowds are kind of crazy,but if you know the best times + places to go, then you'll be fine!! 

I broke down the guide below into a few different categories: trees, ice skating, food/bars, store holiday decor, hotels, and shows. There are obviously a ton more options outside of what I have listed, but these are some of my top places or best recommendations (I've done about 90% of them!). I put in a picture where I can and added in a short description to help you visit yourself!

These photos are a mix of 2014-2019, so please ignore if I look super young/weirdly dressed (hello Waldorf Astoria Hotel) -- I know personally I am a big visual person, so I wanted to add as many photos as I could.

I really hope you enjoy this guide as I tried my hardest to make it not only super helpful but extremely comprehensive, so any questions you may have can be answered!! IF by chance they are not, please let me know down below in the comment section, and I'll get right to it!!

So without further ado... 

The Ultimate Christmas in New York City Guide

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Best Christmas Trees:

1. Rockefeller Center

(^our first date!)

It's a tried and true classic. Easily the most iconic (and biggest) tree in the city! The area around Rockefeller Center is holiday x10 condensed into two blocks. Aka there are a lot of people, and the crowds get pushy! But it's worth it to visit. The sheer size of the tree makes it amazing to see. It's New York's Christmas tree. Around you can get hot cocoa, go ice skating, watch the Saks light show, visit Radio City and easily find your way into midtown for dinner, drinks, or shopping!

My hot tip is to go at weird times during the day/night. Try and go late morning, during the week, or really late at night. The weirder the hour, the better... fewer people! It really can be like a zoo there. The best place to take a photo of the tree is on 5th Ave Between 50 and 49th Street. 

2. Lotte New York Palace


This is my favorite tree in the city. I'm a little sentimental because it's our one tried and true tradition every Christmas... but like, what's not to love about this tree? It's massive and has a full courtyard off the main crosswalk, so you're really able to get a good photo without a ton of people in it. Weekends are obviously crowded, but it's nothing like the Rock or Bryant Park Trees! I mean the tree is so big you can have people on all sides taking photos without seeing them.

My pro tip is to go in the morning or early during the week. When we shoot there, we try and go around 9am, and there is usually no one there!! You'll see that this is part of a larger hotel down below, but it's even more perfect inside, worth a checkout!

3. Bryant Park


To be honest, I always kind of forget about the Bryant Park tree unless I'm skating there (more on that below!). The Bryant Park Winter Village is fantastic to visit for Christmas, as there is literally everything to do all within two blocks: ice skating, shopping, food, decor -- you name it, they have it! The only thing is that it's always packed (can you get the sense that I don't like crowds of people? lol).

The tree is pretty, but it's not the best in the city. Worth it to visit just because of what's around. Pro tip: if you're looking to take a photo with the tree, your best bet is to either go early am or late at night. You can try and sneak in a picture from inside the rink (as we have done above), but be careful because there are no phones allowed on the ice!

4. Washington Square Park




The last phone was from like 2014, and I think since then, the tree has gotten a lot smaller (the first photo is 2019). When I went this year, I was pretty unimpressed. It's obviously an excellent setting for a tree -- having it under the iconic arch -- but if you're going to see it, go at night! Without it being lit, it's very bland and kind of boring.

Also (weirdly), the tree always seems to have some barricades around it, so it's hard to get too close for a photo opp. My pro tip is to take it from further away. If you get your angles right, you can see the Empire State Building behind it!

5. Madison Square Park 


This tree is big and beautiful at night, but, honestly, the best part of all is that its right next door to Shake Shack! The location of this tree is what makes it perfect. You're right in the heart of Flatiron, next to Eataly (more on that below), in a wonderful park, blocks away from the Empire State Building, and a ton of shops!

It's no Rockefeller or Palace tree, but it's still worth a stop by! My pro tip is to go on a clear night around dusk. If you line it up right, you can get a shot of the tree with the Empire State Building in the background!

6. South Street Seaport


This was my first year visiting downtown, and I LOVED it (even in the rain lol). I feel like this tree is not given enough credit because it's massive and really really pretty! It's also located in one of my favorite neighborhoods that I never visit lol (it's just too far away!).

South Street Seaport has come alive over the past few years and (I think) is one of the only places where you can get an authentic feel for old, old New York. The buildings and cobblestone pathways are stunning. In the few blocks, you're surrounded by food, shopping, an iPic theatre, and the pier! We ran from the rain in this little pop-up bar in the middle of the square that was adorable and smelled like Christmas.

If you're looking to avoid huge crowds of people, this is a great spot!!
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Best Ice Skating Rinks:

1. Wollman Rink, Central Park


You can't celebrate Christmas in the city without going to a few ice skating rinks! Hands down, my favorite is the one in Central Park. Not only is it the biggest (at least I think it is in terms of people/crowdedness), it also has the perfect backdrop of the park and the city! It's truly iconic!

The one thing to note is that it's cash only! I've forgotten that a few times, and it's super annoying. But I seem to go back year after year. Next time I want to go at night!!

2. Bryant Park


I've only been to the Bryant Park rink twice since I've lived here, but I always have a nice time. The only downside is that it's a smaller rink and it can get really crowded. There are a ton of people going too fast/too slow, and it can be scary at times! They also let in so many people at once. So if the line is not, do not fret! It will move fast. 

The best part about the rink is the winter village surrounding it (and vise versa), but you are in the heart of midtown, so there are really no non-busy times to go. At least not that I've found!

3. The Standard



The ice rink at the Standard Hotel is one of the smaller (if not smallest) rinks in the city. It's in their courtyard, and I've only been there once like 4 years ago for an event. BUT what I really liked about it was that no one was really there. I think the larger rinks are more popular/have more surrounding them, so they kind of leave this one behind. Which is my favorite thing about it.

I'm also a Chelsea/Meatpacking girl (as it was where I lived and worked for 5 years), so I may be a bit biased. The only thing to note is that they have weird times/hours and are slow to get it up and running -- like it isn't even open yet this year! Which, annoying, yes. But it can be worth the wait! I also remember them having these super cute penguins that you can hold on to and skate with that I was a fan of. 

4. Rockefeller Center


This rink is definitely a bucket list to visit/skate with some conditions: I need it next to empty lol. I actually got invited to a private skate event there the day we leave for our honeymoon, so I'm pretty bummed lol. There is just nothing more iconic than skating at Rockefeller Center! The rink isn't huge by any standard, but I'd say it's comparable to Bryant Park!

A thing to note is that lines get long here and just get ready to wait to skate! They do a good job making sure the rink isn't overcrowded. Which is great when you're on the ice, not as fun when you're waiting!

5. Brookfield Place 

 (image)

I haven't skated here either, but Brookfield Place/the surrounding area is very family and kid heavy, so the ice rink will be the same. It's great for families and young kids as it's not terribly big, but also it caters a lot to the set that cannot skate well. 

Not to mention that it's in a pretty great location sandwiched between the water and a massive mall. There are a ton of things to do, and it's pretty off the beaten path for tourists (as of now/compared to midtown), so if you're looking to shop and skate and eat, this is your place!



(image)

This I had never heard of but saw just yesterday when I was down in the South Street Seaport area! It's a rooftop ice skating rink with views of downtown and Brooklyn. This is on the top of my priority list for next year, as I'm all about a nice skate with a view.

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Best Festive Resturants + Bars:

1. SERRA by Birreria - Eataly Rooftop


(^2015)

Easily one of my favorite places to go to eat in the city. Eataly itself is terrific for food and wine, but there is also a killer rooftop bar and restaurant called SERRA Birreria. Every couple of years, they change up the theme and decor of the place but really seem to go all out around the holidays. Right now it's made to look like a cozy alpine Italian countryside restaurant, and the place is filled with lights. 

My girlfriends and I actually celebrated the holidays there last night and had a blast. Everything on the menu is amazing (obviously), but the wine and cocktail list is just as good with lots of festive drinks (I got a hot cider) or an expansive selection of wines (what my friends got). The place is expensive, so just beware! I think of it as a nice once a year treat. 

Obviously, call in advance and try and make a reservation. If you're not able to, just go in early (the earlier, the better) and put your name in. They will text you when your table is ready. In the meantime, you can hang out/grab a spot at the bar, or you can go back downstairs and shop around for some food and wine! We went last night around 5:45 and waited about 30 minutes for a table, but we found a table at the bar, so the wait was really not that long!

2. Serendipity 3




(blog post)

Talk about another famous place, I've never seen Serendipity 3 not packed. This is a place to visit all year round, but it just seems a little more cozy and fun around the holidays! You really need a reservation here, or else you'll be waiting a while since the place isn't that big. BUT the food is actually delicious. Their most popular item is the frozen hot chocolate, which is out of this world good -- so make sure to order it!

3. Rolfs

(blog post)

Ah, Rolf's. What is there to say, really. It's a really cool place because the decoration is one of a kind/over the top, BUT I actually hate it there lol. The food is not good, the service is subpar, and it's SO EXPENSIVE. Also, the line is usually around the corner/one in one out rule, and even when you're inside, it's packed so you can't actually move. I've just never had a good experience there.

But that's my opinion. Now with that, do I recommend going? Yes. It's how they get you. The decor is truly worth the trip. But snap some photos, soak it in and get out. Ashby and I went last week to do just that, and we paid $22 with a (mandatory) 20% tip for one drink at the bar. The drink list doesn't come with prices, so that's how they get you! 

When Andrew and I went a couple years ago, we were able to get a table, but we both ended up getting really sick after. There is also a new rule of one main dish per person and a time limit on how long you can sit. Just too many rules!!

My tip is to avoid any large eating hours like lunch or dinner. We went around 2:30 on a Thursday, and we got right in (it was still crowded, but we could find a place near the bar). Also, the earlier in the year, the better -- I'm pretty sure they put up the decor in November!

4. 230 Fifth Igloo Bar



230 Fifth (the name of the bar and the street address) is such a fun experience any time of year. If you're looking for a rooftop bar with a killer view, THIS is your place! It was a go-to when I first moved to the city, and I've always had a fun time. There's a real club/nightlife scene inside the doors, but outside, I found it was always more chill.

What's cool about the rooftop is that they decked it out with "igloos" for the winter. They are basically heated tents that are nicely decorated so you can enjoy the rooftop without freezing to death. Last year when I went with Caitlin, we grabbed some hot cocoa (that was very good) and just hung out popping in and out of tents.

I think it would be perfect to go as the sun is setting for a great sky but in general, the earlier, the better for when you should go! The tents aren't private, so you could be sharing a space with others. To make sure you get a seat, head there right after work!

5. Miracle Pop Up (9th or 12th St)


I tried to go here last night but wasn't able to make it! It seems awesome as it's just a pop-up Christmas bar in the city (one on 9th st and another on 12th st). Even more fun, for those of you out of town, is that they have bars all over the world. You can check out the spots here to see if there is one near you!

6. Paddy Macguire's Ale House



Rolf's has some competition down the street in Paddy Maguire's Ale house. It's literally two blocks south of Rolf's, so for those asking for Christmas spots that aren't very popular, head here when you realize Rolf's stinks! It's a true dive bar with all the classic things like pool, darts, TVs, well drinks... It's tacky, but it's fun!

7. Mr. Purple Clicquot Chalet

(image

Another 230 Fifth competitor, Mr. Purple, teamed up with Veuve Clicquot to pop up this "Clicquot Chalet" on the roof deck! Mr. Purple is a costly/trendy club that sits atop Hotel Indigo. I've been for a few events, and, on a clear day, the view is fantastic. Honestly, this pop up is brilliant as it's the perfect instagramable moment.  It was our plan to try and sneak in right when it opened for a picture, but the rain and traffic really put a damper on it, so please enjoy these press photos!

You need to make a reservation to get into the Chalet, and judging by their Instagram comments, everything is booked. But I think if you try and sneak in when it opens you might have a chance!

8. PHD Terrace (Midtown or Downtown)


So this one has layers. There are two PHD rooftop bars -- one in midtown and one "downtown" (aka in Chelsea). Both are decorated for the holidays, but when I went, they were both closed at the moment (I went to check it out around lunchtime). So the last photo is a press photo from the midtown location, BUT I did stumble across another fun decor set up in the lobby of the Dream Hotel (which is where the PHD rooftop is).

It was seriously a red bar filled with red roses. It was beautiful, romantic, and randomly in the hotel lobby. I don't know if it's totally Christmas, but it sure is fun!!

9. Arlo Soho


This was a new-to-me find this year, and I'm very excited about it. The Arlo Soho is a hotel downtown, but in it, they decided to create the perfect "Apr├Ęs Arlo" moment in their courtyard. You can grab a festive drink (or two) at the bar and hop outside into your little own winter wonderland. Ther are two cedar cabins outside that are fully open (first come first serve) to customers to sit, relax, and warm up in! 

You really feel like you're not in New York any more in this little backyard. The decor was so great, and the hotel itself seemed really nice! I feel like this will really put the boutique hotel on the map in New York!

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WHEW, that was a lot. So much so that I had to break it up into two posts (I am sorry for any inconvenience, but I swear if it was one post, no one would read it lol). I had over 100 images in here, and even I got bored scrolling through it. So tomorrow will be all about the best hotels, shops, and shows! Be back tomorrow at 8am to read more!!


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