I love New York City at Christmastime. It may be crowded and a little hectic, but I think that’s the Grinch-like way of looking at it. From intricate store window displays and statuesque Christmas trees to iconic ice skating rinks, holiday markets, magical decorations and more, New York City is such a fun and festive place to be this time of year. And even if you’re just coming in for a brief visit, you’ll still have time to experience a lot of it.
Of course there is so much to do and see across all five boroughs during Christmastime, but this self-guided walk is a great starting point of some highlights, and perfect if you’re just coming in for a day trip like we were.
Use the map at the end of this post to guide you on your festive day out.
A Self-Guided Walking Tour of Christmastime in New York City
Grand Central Terminal | 89 E 42nd St.
This first stop will be especially convenient if you’re arriving to the city on the Metro-North Railroad line.
The much-celebrated Main Concourse of this iconic New York train station is a sight to behold all year long, with its 60-foot high arched windows and vaulted teal ceiling adorned with reproductions of constellations.
During the holidays it becomes even more magical with giant wreaths and easy access to the station’s annual Holiday Fair taking place in the adjacent Vanderbilt Hall, with three dozen local vendors offering handmade products and unique gifts. Find details on market hours here.
Plus, returning to the station this year for the first time since 2019 is the New York Transit Museum’s Holiday Train Show, on view now through early 2024 in the Upper Level Shuttle Passage (also just off of the Main Concourse). Visitors can enjoy seeing miniature train replicas journeying through an intricate display of city landmarks on their way to the North Pole. Click here for hours.
Lotte New York Palace Hotel | 455 Madison Ave.
Exit Grand Central Terminal toward Vanderbilt Ave., walk along 43rd St. for one block, and turn right onto Madison Ave. In just a few minutes you’ll find the Lotte New York Palace Hotel, one of the city’s most festive holiday hotels. At over 30 feet tall, their courtyard tree is a neighborhood favorite, and it’s back in its full glory for the first time since 2020 after downsizing due to construction in 2021 and 2022.
This year the Palace is also offering a courtyard Winter Bar open Wednesday to Sunday with holiday beverages and sweet treats.
Plus, step into their Grand Lobby to see the hotel in gingerbread form. This annual Palace tradition is brought to life by their Executive Chef and pastry team over the course of 300 hours using 110 pounds of gingerbread dough and icing.
Visit their website for even more holiday details including visits from the Radio City Rockettes and Santa himself.
Cartier 5th Avenue Mansion | 653 5th Ave.
Take a left onto 51st Street and walk alongside St. Patrick’s Cathedral, spanning an entire city block, until you reach 5th Avenue. At this point you are steps away from the iconic Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center, so if you’d like to cross 5th Avenue to head straight there now, you can. But for this walk we’re going to save the tree and first head up 5th to see some of the classic New York boutique decorations, starting with the Cartier 5th Avenue Mansion.
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Fifth Avenue Seasonal Installations
In 2020, the Fifth Avenue Association decorated a span of 5th Avenue blocks with giant light-up displays including a yellow cab, a toy box, a hot air balloon, a mail delivery truck, and more. The installations were so popular that they continued to put them up through 2022. This year, they’re doing something a little different, but there will still be something special for visitors to look forward to.
For 2023, 150 Fraser and Noble firs will come together in festive displays set up between 47th St. and 61st St with a special photo arch on 59th St.
And if you happen to be visiting on a Sunday in December, you’re in luck! On December 3rd, 10th, and 17th from noon to 6 pm, Fifth Avenue will close to all car traffic from 48th St. to 59th St. to allow pedestrians full access to the area.
Pulitzer Fountain | 764 Central Park South
Seven blocks up 5th you’ll find the Pulitzer Fountain in Grand Army Plaza, located directly at the southeast corner of Central Park. The fountain is decked out for the holidays every year by the 5th Avenue Association.
During Hanukkah, the square is also home to the world’s largest menorah at 36 feet high. You can stop by to see it lit from December 7th through 11th at 5:30 pm, on December 12th at 3:30 pm, on December 13th at 8:30 pm, and on December 14th at 5:30 pm.
Bergdorf Goodman | 754 5th Ave.
Turning around to head back down the other side of 5th Avenue, you won’t want to miss the holiday window displays at Bergdorf Goodman, just one block south of the Pulitzer Fountain. Their theme in 2022 (shown here) was Magic in the Making, with each window celebrating a different type of artisan from dress-making and paper sculpture to mosaic, woodcraft and more.
The intricate displays take almost an entire year to plan for and create, representing more than 10,000 hours of work. The theme in 2023 is Isn’t It Brilliant, with dazzling, light-filled displays installed over three weeks.
The Peninsula New York | 700 5th Ave.
The Peninsula is another one of the most festive hotels in the city during the holidays. Even if you’re not a guest, you’re welcome to step into the lobby to see the beautiful display centered around their grand staircase and made even more dazzling by the detailed ceilings and giant crystal chandelier.
Rockefeller Center | 45 Rockefeller Plaza
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Some may call it cliché, crowded, touristy, and any number of other negative adjectives, but to those people I say – who hurt you?
Personally I feel like the tree at Rockefeller Center is every bit as magical as the believers claim it to be, especially paired with the ice skating rink and gilded Prometheus statue. Check it out up close but don’t miss out on the view from the far end of the Channel Gardens, lined each year with the plaza’s only permanent seasonal decorations, the Christmas Angels. They were created by Valerie Clarebout in 1955, using 76 miles of aluminum wire, brass and mini lights. Each one holds a 6-foot brass trumpet pointing toward the tree.
This is also a great spot to catch the Saks Fifth Avenue Light Show, taking place every 10 minutes from ~5 pm to ~10:30 pm (I’m seeing slightly different times on different sites) and lasting 3.5 minutes. This year Saks partnered with Dior to create “Dior’s Carousel of Dreams at Saks” for their decorations and the centerpiece of the light show is a giant zodiac display spanning more than 100 feet and illuminated with almost 300,000 LED lights.
New York Public Library | 476th 5th Ave.
To me, libraries are cozy and magical all year long. But at Christmastime, you can see Patience and Fortitude, the marble lions guarding the entrance of the New York Public Library’s landmark Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, donning wreaths to join in on the festivities.
For many years, the lions wore wreaths around their necks during the holiday season, but in 2004 it was discovered that the tradition was actually damaging the sculptures. For almost a decade the lions went wreath-less, until in 2013 the library enlisted Chelsea-based American Foliage & Design Group to create artificial Norwood Green Spruce wreaths. Several precautions were taken to avoid any further damage, including building the wreaths with no metal, which can corrode the marble, and using Marine-grade plywood to prevent water damage.
If you’re still looking to check some gifts off on your list, step just inside the building to visit their gift shop.
Bryant Park | 42nd St. and 6th Ave.
Just behind the NYPL, you’ll find the Bryant Park Winter Village. Similar to Rockefeller Center, Bryant Park has a Christmas tree and ice skating rink. The Winter Village also offers a European inspired open-air market, a lodge and food hall, rentable igloos, and a curling cafe. Learn more here.
From Bryant Park, it’s an 8-minute walk just a couple of blocks east to circle back to Grand Central Terminal. Or, use some of the suggestions below to continue your sightseeing.
Food and Drink
We wanted to keep the day as on-theme with the season as possible, so we looked for a lunch restaurant and bar for drinks that would be decorated and festive. We had lunch at La Grande Boucherie and an afternoon drink at Valerie and they were both cozy and lovely. La Grande Boucherie is a 10-minute walk northwest of Rockefeller Center, and Valerie is a 5-minute walk north of Bryant Park.
More Ideas in the Area
Extend your festive visit with the ideas below, all located near other parts of this walk:
- The Columbus Circle Holiday Market is located at the southwest entrance to Central Park, directly down 59th St. from the Pulitzer Fountain
- Wollman Rink, another option for holiday ice skating, is an ~eight minute walk through Central Park from the Pulitzer Fountain
- More iconic holiday window displays can be found at Bloomingdale’s (59th St. and Lexington Ave., east of the Pulitzer Fountain) and Macy’s Herald Square (151 West 34th St., south of Bryant Park)
- Radio City Music Hall, home of the annual Radio City Christmas Spectacular starring The Radio City Rockettes, is a 5-minute walk from Rockefeller Center.
- Enjoy a pick-me-up right at Rockefeller Center at the Ralph’s Coffee truck and while you’re there, don’t miss the festive window displays at The Lego Store. Both of these are located one block north of Rockefeller Center in Atlas Court, where you can also see the iconic Art Deco Atlas sculpture. Any 30 Rock fans out there will definitely recognize this one!
To do a full loop starting and ending at Grand Central Terminal, this route clocks in at just under three miles with an estimated walking time of one hour and five minutes. Of course, I recommend taking your time and enjoying each stop thoroughly! This is a flat route and wheel-accessible due to being fully on sidewalks.
Use this map to guide your walk.
What are your favorite ways to celebrate the holiday season? Let me know in the Comments!
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