December 5, 2011

Christmastime in the City: A Holiday Guide

No place is simultaneously more magical and maddening than NYC in December. The city's decked out in it's holiday finest, and tourists and residents alike are out en masse to take it all in. With the lighting of the Rockefeller Christmas Tree, midtown goes on pedestrian gridlock alert for the duration of the year, making our skill of weaving through crowds with ease obsolete. But look! The 3D snowflakes on the Saks Fifth Avenue facade are dancing! To music! And the light snow falling over the Bryant Park holiday market slightly quiets the city and turns exhausted adults into playful kids. And just like that, it's magical again.

Coming up are locations for holiday store windows, gift markets, ice skating, and hot chocolate. But first, some tips for visiting:
1. Be aware of your surroundings. Before visiting New York I was told, "Remember, people live there." True. And easy to forget when on vacation. It's good to keep in mind that this is a crowded, fast-paced city and our family sprawling space is limited. Walk staggered, like we do, and move out of the flow of traffic when looking at pictures, maps or anything else requiring prolonged attention.
2. Ask a New Yorker. If you're lost, want to know where to get good Italian or need to locate the nearest pub, just ask us. Most of us are pretty nice (despite the myths) and will gladly help you. But then we're done. Don't take offense, it's just not a stop and chat city. We're direct, helpful, and then gone.
3. Step aside. When you're done paying for hot chocolate, pizza, Band-Aids, roasted chestnuts from a street vendor or anything else involving a line, step aside. With 8.2 million residents alone, the city moves at a "next!" pace, so grab your goods, and your change, and keep on truckin'.
4. Hold on to your bags. The city's much safer than it used to be, but some of us will still try to steal things. Your things. So keep an eye on them. Don't put purses on the backs of chairs and don't assume the shopping bag you set down while taking pictures of ice skaters will still be there when you're done.
5. Skip the chain restaurants. You're in New York. We have endless food options. Explore, try a new cuisine. Or try a favorite cuisine, but made by a guy using his great-grandmother's recipes. Look on Yelp, Chowhound and Citysearch for restaurant suggestions. Or better yet, ask a local.

Holiday Windows
• Barneys (660 Madison Avenue at 61st Street)
• Bergdorf (754 5th Avenue at 58th Street)
• Bloomingdale's (1000 3rd Avenue at 59th Street)
• Lord & Taylor (424 5th Avenue at 38th Street)
• Macy's (151 W. 34th Street, between Broadway and 7th Avenue)
• Saks Fifth Avenue (611 5th Avenue, between 49th and 50th Street)

Holiday Markets
• Bryant Park (40th-42nd Street, between 5th and 6th Avenue)
• Columbus Circle (59th Street and 8th Avenue)
• Grand Central (87 E. 42nd Street at Park Avenue)
• Union Square (14th Street at Broadway)

Ice skating
• Bryant Park (Entrance closest to 42nd Street and 6th Avenue)
• Rockefeller Center (Enter 5th Avenue at 49th or 50th Street. Walk one block.)
• Standard Hotel (848 Washington at W. 13th Street)
• Wollman Rink (Enter Central Park at 59th Street and 6th Avenue. It's a 2-minute walk.)

Hot chocolate
• La Maison du Chocolat (30 Rockfeller Plaza: W. 49th Street, between 5th and 6th Avenue)
• Bouchon Bakery (Columbus Circle, Time Warner Building, 3rd Floor)
• City Bakery (3 W. 18th Street, between 5th and 6th Avenue)
• Jacques Torres (350 Hudson Street at King Street)
• Max Brenner's (841 Broadway, between 13th and 14th Street)

My friends and I like to end our annual Christmastime in the City Day at Burger Joint. Nothing beats tradition. And after all is said and done - the sights are visited, the crowds are waded through, and copious amounts of photos are taken - nothing beats Christmastime in New York. It truly is magical and maddening, just like the city itself. And we wouldn't have it any other way. Happy holidays!