NYC With Kids: Holiday Dos and Don’ts

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The Skyline at the NYBG train show (Photo: Applied Imagination)

By Eileen Gunn

I’ve always just assumed the holiday song Silver Bells was written about New York City. New York is a vibrant—if somewhat crowded—place to get into the holiday spirit, which is why so many people do.  As a lifelong New Yorker there are things I make sure to do year after year after year and other things I avoid at all costs.

Here are my Dos and Don’ts for a holiday season trip to the Big Apple

Do: Brave the crowds to see the Christmas Show at Radio City.

There is a plethora of shows you can see in the city for the holiday season but this is the only one for me. Radio CIty Music Hall is a city classic that’s worth a visit all by itself. The show and those Rockettes really are spectacular. You could see it in July and walk out ready to deck the halls. But if you go, brace yourself. The crowds around Rockefeller Center are thick when the shows let out.

Don’t: Wait in line at Serendipity.

I enjoyed many ice cream sundaes at Serendipity when I was in high school (and had a faster metabolism). They’re yummy. And the frozen hot cocoa is all it’s cracked up to be for chocolate lovers. And there was the John Cusack movie that was filmed at the café. But it’s expensive and hot fudge is hot fudge. Go for it it you happen by at an off-hour but don’t wait in line.  While it is good, it’s not wait-45-minutes-in-the-cold good.

Do see the decked-out department stores.

Start at 59th Street and 5th Avenue and visit FAO Schwarz. I never ever got to buy anything here when I was kid, but boy did I love looking. And it’s only gotten better over the years.

Make your way down to Rockefeller Center to admire the giant tree. Saks 5th Avenue, across the way, has historically had one of the best windows in the city but it’s been disappointing the past few years. Take a peak at but don’t wait in line for a front row view.

Stroll down to 39thStreet to Lord & Taylor. It’s not Christmas for me until I’ve seen the holiday windows here. The details, the special effects and the creativity are awesome. If you’re cold and footsore back track one block and say hello the New York Public Library Lions. There is a new and comfy children’s section in the basement of the library that’s a nice place to warm up.

From here you can  head over to Toys ‘R’ Us in Times Square (7th Avenue and 44th Street) and try out the Ferris wheel, or just continue south to Macy’s at 34th Street and Broadway. The store really goes all out to transport you to the North Pole and even offers a 30-minute puppet version of Miracle on34th Street this year. Santaland is worth a visit, even if you don’t say hello to the big man himself.

Don’t: Underestimate NY winters.

Dress warmly and wear sturdy walking shoes for this 25-block holiday hike.

Do: Go ice skating

Nothing is as magical as skating in Wollman Rink in Central Park. You have the park’s hushed woods around you and the city skyline in the background. It’s handy to bring a lock but you can rent everything you’ll need at the rink.

Citi Pond at Bryant Park (42nd Street) is a fun place to skate as well. It’s free if you have your own skates, but renting them is $14. Checking a bag is $7, so bring a lock if you can.

Don’t: Skate at Rockefeller Center.

You will never catch a real New Yorker at the Rock Center rink. It’s small, the lines are long, the prices are high and the skate times are short.

Visit the FG Hotel Guide to New York City.

Do: Catch the Nutcracker.

The most kid-friendly ballet. Ever. The New York City Ballet’s colorful full-scale rendition is a worthwhile splurge for kids 12 and up.

Don’t: Make smaller kids sit through the full ballet. 

There are several abridged (45-minute to one-hour) versions around town that are more intimate and will match their attention span better. They’ll be easier on your wallet, too. TONY Kids has a good list. If you’re in town this week, try the free show at the World Financial Center Tuesday. It’s casual and no one will care if your tot does her own pliés in the aisles. It was a hit last year with my 3-year-old.

Do: Visit a holiday market.

Union Square has a fun outdoor market where you can buy quirky and cool gifts at prices that aren’t bad. Snack on waffles and hot cocoa in between trying on Tibetan hats and funky earrings.

Go on Monday, Wednesday, Friday or Saturday and you can also check out the city’s biggest outdoor farmer’s market. Nosh on yogurt shakes, pretzels, fruit, hot cider and baked goods from local purveyors.

Don’t: Leave Union Square without visiting the playground.

New, large and awesome, the playground is at the north end of the park. Preschoolers are happy with a winding jungle gym just for them. Bigger kids love scaling the giant silver globe and clambering over rocks to get to the tube slide.

Do: Visit the Bronx

The Holiday train show at the New York Botanical Garden is unique. Kids can’t get enough of the trains. Parents appreciate the surprisingly authentic renderings of city landmarks made from twigs and leaves.

Time it so you can have lunch or dinner in the Bronx’s old Italian enclave on Arthur Avenue afterward. It’s a five-minute drive or cab rider (or a one-mile walk). Dominick’s is famous, but you can’t go wrong with whatever restaurant looks good to you. Make sure to pick up some cannoli and pignoli cookies from a local bakery on your way home.

Don’t: Just show up.

Local families love the train show. Order tickets online before you go and show in plenty of time.

Yes, I do believe in Santa! (photo: ABC Home & Carpet)

Do: Visit Santa.

Our favorites are the vintage-styled Santa at ABC Home & Carpet (weekends only) and the Fire Department’s Santa rescue at the New York Fire Museum (December 11).  But there are plenty of others to choose from. Local blog A Tree Grows, has all the details for you.

Don’t: Feel you have to see him at Macy’s.

If you happen to wander into the store on a weekday morning and the line isn’t too crazy you’ll be rewarded with a memorable Santa visit. But with all the great Santas to be had around the city, why make the kiddies endure a long line?

Not when there are so many more city sights to see.

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3 Responses

  1. I loved this article. I’m now wanting to convince my husband and daughter to visit NYC next year. It may be a bit late for us now, but it’s certainly made me look!

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  2. Great suggestions! The sights and sounds of NYC during the Holidays is pure magic!

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