I’ve said it a million times and I’ll say it a million more, I love New York City during the holiday season. From the parade, to window displays, decorations in Rockefeller Center, and all the restaurants that are decorated for the season there is nowhere with more Christmas cheer than New York City. This year my mom is coming in and I am so excited to get to show her all of my favorite holiday places.
There’s a LOT to choose from, so the point of this guide is to give you tips on where to watch the parade, Thanksgiving dinner tips and what to check out during your stay! NYC can be super overwhelming, with all of the subway lines to all of the different neighborhoods and thousands of restaurants. This guide will help you get around NYC for your holiday visit and make the most of it!
First thing is first, getting around NYC. I wrote a detailed guide here on how to navigate the city like a pro! TL;DR: Google Maps is your best friend. You’ll be using it a lot so I highly recommend carrying one or two back up phone batteries per person (not kidding! This city will drain the heck out of your battery!).
First stop: Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Macy’s in Herald Square is where all of the action is at, but there’s pretty much NO public viewing space there and the parade doesn’t make it down to Herald Square until much later in the morning.
Last year I was fairly lucky and got a great spot to view the parade and didn’t have to get there much earlier than 7 AM, and it was over around 11 AM. It’s still a long to be standing out in the cold, but something you HAVE to see if you’re not local to the area, but will be spending Thanksgiving there.
Hands down the best place to watch the parade is the Upper West Side, it’s closer to the beginning of the parade route so it starts earlier, it’s less crowded and the performances are better. Last year I watched from Columbus Circle. The mall was open which made it very convenient if we needed to use the restroom or grab a snack. This site has a map to route and suggested viewing places. I highly recommend getting to wherever you watch the parade around 6:30 AM.
If you don’t want to stand outside in the cold, several rooftop bars and hotels do offer tickets to watch from their roof/viewing room. These tend to be fairly pricey (around $150 pp).
After the parade we grabbed a snack and headed into Central Park. If you’re watching from the Upper West Side, you’ll be right by the park. We walked to the east side from there to walk down 5th Ave and see the window displays. Bergdorfs, Saks and Macy’s are the best ones, but all are worth seeing! Here’s a fantastic list of the must see displays. Also in this area is Rockefeller center and the Saks light show that starts at sundown, both are must sees.
After seeing the window displays, we headed down to Bryant Park since it was nearby and has a beautiful set-up for Christmas. I love the restaurant that overlooks the ice skating rink and from which you can see the winter village that surrounds the rink. Grand Central is in this area too. I highly recommend checking it out if you haven’t been here before, they usually have a little market set up for Christmas.
Next stop: Food. NYC on Thanksgiving can be tricky. Not because there aren’t a lot of options, but most places have expensive Prix Fixe menus and you need a reservation. I recommend doing a lot of research ahead of time. Pizza and Italian are solid go-tos if you’re having trouble deciding or if you want something a little less expensive. One of my favorites in Manhattan is Rubirosa, its in Little Italy, which is a must if you love Italian food and pastries. If you’re feeling a pizza, or maybe you’ve already done Little Italy any of the pizza near the West Village is fantastic!
Shopping in NYC is a little different from your typical black Friday experience, most stores are open on Thanksgiving throughout the day so you can start your shopping whenever. Personally, I would avoid the crowded stores of Times Square and head down to the Flatiron or SoHo. Less crowded, much better shopping experience. To be fair, the Loft and H&M in Times Square are HUGE and worth shopping in if you’re a fan of either one.
Other attractions: one of my favorite walks in New York City is the Brooklyn Bridge. I love the view and the park across the bridge is one of the best in the city. If you’re a pizza lover like me, trekking into Brooklyn is more than worth it for Juliana’s. Even if you have to stand in the rain for 30 minutes to get a table, still worth it. Even if you had pizza the night before, still worth it. Get one medium pizza for every two people and then have a cannoli afterwards, you won’t regret it.
Another reason I love New York City during this time of year is that several restaurants are decorated for the season. Two of my favorites are Rolf’s and Birrerria. Rolf’s looks like a convention of Santas threw up Christmas cheer everywhere, my kind of Christmas decorating! You will need a reservation for this restaurant as well, but I know a lot of people go just for dessert and beer so they can get a Christmas pic inside. Birrerria is decorated like a ski lodge and way more laid back.
The Chelsea market is also decorated for the holiday, it is incredibly crowded during this time of the year, but worth going to if you haven’t been before. If it’s nice out, a walk along the nearby High Line is a must!
This year I’ll be hunting out more holiday themed restaurants and places!
What’re you’re favorites?