Nothing is more magical than the sparkle, twinkle and glitter of New York City at Christmastime. Add a little snow and the smell of roasting chestnuts and you have the experience of a lifetime. Here are some ideas of what to see. Keep in mind many of them are FREE.

It’s the time of year when New York City is transformed into a magical winter wonderland sprinkled with twinkling lights, Christmas trees and red ribbons. Children walk around with eyes open wide in amazement and adults become children again.

It all begins with Santa’s arrival in Herald Square during the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The appearance of this popular celebrity officially starts the holiday season in New York City. It means the glitz and glitter of a winter wonderland, for young and old alike, is just waiting to be explored. If you’re in New York City at Christmastime, you don’t want to miss…

Rockefeller Center

With Santa finally in town, the magic of the holiday wonderland can begin. The traditional lighting of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree is a few days after Thanksgiving. Huge horn-blowing angels of lights point the way down Rockefeller Plaza toward the skating rink where chilly skaters bundled in winter coats and scarves glide across the ice to Christmas music. Above the skaters and the golden statue of the god Prometheus towers the world famous Christmas tree aglow with over 78,000 lights. The tradition of the Rockefeller Plaza Christmas tree began in 1933. It’s always been a Norway spruce at least 65′ tall and 35′ wide. The Rockefeller Plaza Christmas tree spreads its joy through December and into the New Year when the tree comes down.

Radio City Music Hall

Around the corner from Rockefeller Center is the beautiful art deco Radio City Music Hall. The magnificent 6,000-seat music hall and its mighty Wurlitzer pipe organ have dazzled audiences for over 75 years at the annual Christmas Spectacular. The grand holiday show includes the Parade of the Wooden Soldiers, New York at Christmas, a living nativity and the famous Radio City Music Hall Rockettes in bright, holiday red, kicking up a storm with precision choreography.

FAO Schwarz

If there ever was a “Toyland,” this is it! The three-story toy store is bustling with kids of all ages interacting with toys. Yes, touching is OK! This is the store where you can find the floor piano made famous by Tom Hanks as he played it with his feet in the movie “Big.” At certain times during the day, dancers come out and perform on the floor piano. There’s also a beautiful working carousel inside the store.

Macy’s Holiday Window Display

At Macy’s 34 Street, children walk through the “real” Santa’s Workshop, with its busy elves, as they make their way to that all important meeting with the big man in the red suit. Grown-ups are especially intrigued by the enormity of Macy’s. The 1902 art deco department store covers an entire city block, has ten floors of shopping and boasts one of the few wooden escalators still in operation.

Bryant Park

This outdoor European-style holiday market with over 120 artisans has a unique selection of gifts from around the world. The 100 individually crafted and decorated booths are located throughout the park and around the pond. Brave the cold and make time for some free ice-skating on the park’s rink or take a spin on Bryant Park’s Le Carrousel.

Central Park

Plopped right in the middle of New York City’s Manhattan Island are the 843 beautiful, wooded acres of Central Park where hills, trees and lakes are crowned by skyscrapers in the background. At Christmastime, the trees surrounding the famous Tavern on the Green restaurant are covered from top to bottom with twinkling white lights, giving the appearance of a beautiful winter ice storm. When the air is crispy cold and still, you can hear the clop clop of horse hooves as horse drawn carriages make their way through the park dressed in holiday ribbons and greens. Volunteer led tours thorough the park are available and free.

Grand Central Station

The famous Sky Ceiling, walls, and pillars of Grand Central Terminal are the backdrop for a spectacular laser light show display. The laser lights comes alive every 1/2 hour and are sure to grab everyone’s attention. In between light shows, enjoy shopping the Christmas craft and gift market in the 12,000 square foot Vanderbilt Hall, where 76 vendors of unusual and exotic international goods will give you a good reason to buy just one more gift. If you’re there on Christmas Eve, you might even catch the indoor fireworks!

Saint Patrick’s Cathedral

St. Patrick’s Cathedral, across the street from Rockefeller Center, dominates Fifth Avenue with its height and grandeur. This beautiful, Gothic Cathedral first opened its doors in 1879. Visiting its large nativity display is an awe-inspiring experience. There are many beautiful churches in New York City all dressed up for the holidays, but this is one you won’t want to miss.

Holiday Train Show at Botanical Gardens

If you can imagine the distant jangle of a steam engine rounding the bend right now, you know just what time of year it is. And no, I don’t mean to suggest that the MTA is bringing back a line dedicated exclusively to old-time trains. But for the next two months, The Botanical Gardens is. With fall well underway and the snows of winter likely headed in our direction soon, it’s once again time for that beloved yearly tradition of lights, locomotives, and masterful miniature architecture. Starting November 16, the Holiday Train Show® returns to the Garden!

World Financial Center – Winter Garden

One hundred thousand lights flood the inside of this tall, glass domed pavilion. The atrium is 125 feet high includes 2000 panes of glass. In the garden among 16 forty foot palm trees you might see Santa and his elves and carolers too. A stroll around the Winter Garden is spectacular enough, but you can check their website for schedules of their many free holiday events, as well.

Time Warner – Shops at Columbus Circle

Experience an indoor “snowfall” every half hour in the Great Room of The Shops at Columbus Circle. For fifteen minutes, all is transformed into a snowy winter wonderland, and then, like magic, the snow disappears. In addition, twelve 14-foot stars suspended from the towering 150-foot atrium ceiling of the Center’s Great Room dance in color to holiday music during the festive Under the Stars show. The three – minute light shows of choreographed colors are programmed to run every fifth-teen minutes between 4 and 10 PM. Fridays through Sundays, through December 21st.

Greenwich Village Christmas Caroling

If you feel like stepping back in time, consider joining the West Village Chorale on the Friday night before Christmas for a free Caroling Walk through the Dickens-like historic neighborhood of the West Village. Don your mittens, scarf and muff for a stroll beside old brownstone houses twinkling with lights and decked with red ribbons. Later, browse decorated storefronts as you explore the Village’s many shops and boutiques.

Finally …
This is the short list. For it to be complete would require a list as long as Santa’s. But, I assure you…Everywhere you walk in New York City is aglow with the color, joy and the excitement of the holiday season. Lights twinkle, colorful Christmas trees pierce the sky, and happy, smiling cheeks are rosy from the cold. Treat yourself to the thrill of a lifetime. Take a bite of the Big Apple for the holidays.

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