Updated: Jun 26
All you need to know about exploring the iconic city like you live there
Visiting NYC at Christmas time: Must Sees & Free Adventures in the City
This itinerary is a 3 day guide to making the most of your time and hitting all the best spots! Feel free to linger longer if you have more days. Have a question? Feel free to ask, I am happy to help you enjoy every minute and save as much money as possible while doing it!
Day 1- The 60th Street and 5th Avenue Walk:
Start early! I recommend beginning this day at either the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Natural History Museum. Both are amazing and could easily be a full day. Hit either museum in the morning, and then proceed with the walk down town beginning around 12 noon. This route is full of pit stops you can go inside and warm up along the way.
Another Museum option is the Cloisters, in Fort Triton Park – the renaissance museum in a castle overlooking the Hudson. Although not as central, or as huge of an art selection, a real place that will make you feel like you have left NY for another time and place. If you have an extra day this is a GREAT place to wander and take photos. More on that later...
The Met Cloisters 10-5
99 Margaret Corbin Drive
NY NY 10040
If you go here don't miss the unicorn tapestries.
The Met Fifth Avenue 10 - 5:30
1000 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10028
If you go here – DO NOT miss the Egyptian section or the roof top view.
American Museum of Natural History
Central Park West at 79th Street New York, NY 10024-5192 Phone: 212-769-5100
If you go here – Do not miss the dinosaurs 4th floor.
The Met and The Natural History Museum are both are separated by Central Park – and could both be their own full day- I’d say do half of central park and one museum on two separate days if time allows – or stick to the 3 day plan, see Day 3 for more on prices and discounts for museums...
After emerging from your morning of art in your chosen place:
Go inside the Lincoln Plaza shopping mall – Upstairs on the second floor are the big holiday stars that change colors and light up – SEE THIS DO NOT MISS
Aka the Shoppes at Columbus Circle – on floor 2 star exhibit ** BEAUTIFUL **
Once you have chosen a warm Museum to begin your day.... Then:
*Begin your walk headed East along 60th Street, the border of Central Park, at Columbus Circle
*Walk from West to East along the bottom of Central Park to 5th Ave
*Eat hot dogs/ good street food (also good and cheap souvenirs in this area)
*Wander into Central Park and see some really awesome sites/ landscapes
*Do a little pit stop for Rock Climbing in Central Park
*Start walking down 5th Ave – admire windows, street lit snow flakes and take your time window shopping.
There are Decorations all around
Windows are always displayed well!
5th Avenue –
Even if you can't afford to shop at Cartier or Prada, you must stroll down NY's famous shopping row. Have your own little breakfast at Tiffany's or peek into shops along the way. There are also more accessible options like H&M and Sephora. Apple and Rolex are impressive pit stops also.
*Dress warm! Invest in those gloves that allow you to touch your phone screen so you don't have to freeze every time you want to take a picture!
*Walking from fifth avenue and 60 St. (Central Park) going South in direction, plan the following stops: Rockefeller Center, St. Patrick's Cathedral, The New York Public Library and stop in Bryant Park's Winter Wonderland. It should be around dusk by then, and the sun setting over the Chrysler building will set the mood for the evening nicely. *Walk over to The Plaza, act like you’re staying there, just stride into the Grand Lobby. Get a good look at the Palm Court Restaurant, and all the shops inside; then stroll out like you’re going somewhere, as the dressed up bellmen opens the big doors for you. OK...then you’re back on 5th Avenue, and Trump Tower is just across the street, with Tiffiany's beside it. First, go into Tiffany's and oooh and aaah at the Tiffany Diamond. Then hit the Trump Tower, under the scrutiny of lots of guards. (Mr. Trump is famous now of course, for being President. Like him or not you can get a feel for the territory!) Wander all around the atrium, go up the escalator, and enjoy the views. Next stops are Bergdorf Goodman and Sax. Farther down 5th Ave is St. Pat's Cathedral and Rockefeller Center to explore. That little stretch of 5th is a GREAT thing to do with kids who are old enough to appreciate it, and it's free. It’s also hard not to be impressed no matter how old or young you are. The lights and the cold, along with the city hustle and bustle are like no other place in the world.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral - stop for art and prayer
(Right across from Tree)
Address: 460 Madison Avenue, New York City, NY 10022
Phone Number: +1 212-753-2261
Go inside, warm up, see beautiful architecture. St. Pat’s is right across from Rockefeller Center and next door to Saks Fifth Ave. dept. store. The place is always full of tourists taking photos. Go inside and warm up! See Christmas displays and admire the beauty. People walk around inside looking at the many displays, and there is usually quite a crowd.
*If you're exploring the holiday windows, be sure to stop long enough outside Saks Fifth Avenue to enjoy the light show (it runs every 8 minutes or so).
Rockefeller Plaza – STOP FOR TREE
Walk around the square plaza. See the tree and angels from a variety of view points and find the best photo! NY never skimps on Christmas spirit, although the crowd may be difficult and the weather cold!
KEEP walking down 5th Ave until you reach the….
NY Public Library https://www.nypl.org
*When it opened, the NYPL was the largest marble building in the country, and home to over a million books – you will know it by the two large marble lions on either side of the steps.
Warm up and go up to the 4th floor for some REAL architectural beauty.
476 Fifth Avenue (42nd St and Fifth Ave)
New York, NY, 10018
SUN - 1 PM–5 PM
MON - 10 AM–6 PM
TUES, WED -10 AM–8 PM
THURS - SAT 10 AM–6 PM
Bryant Park – STOP to take in the majesty of the Chrysler Building rising up over the Public Library (bonus: watch at dusk as the tower begins to glow). Bryant Park is a 9.603-acre privately managed public park located in the New York City borough of Manhattan. It is located between Fifth and Sixth Avenues and between 40th and 42nd Streets in Midtown Manhattan.
There is a Winter Wonderland exhibit set up here and you can walk through and get candy, Hot Cocoa, see cool stuff AND ICE SKATE FOR FREE – if you have your own skates. If not you can rent them!
Walk over to….
Grand Central Terminal
Address: 89 E 42nd St, New York, NY 10017
89 E 42nd St, New York, NY 10017
Grand Central Terminal is a commuter rapid transit railroad terminal at 42nd Street and Park Avenue in Midtown Manhattan and.... Great place for eating – if you want fast and cheap try the food court, also to warm up – or stop at the Oyster Bar if that more meets your needs. There is a whispering gallery outside of the Oyster Bar if you are into that sort of thing. Look up! The Zodiac ceiling, the Clock, you will feel like you’ve been there before because these are featured in so many places. From there, catch a train up to Broadway/ Times square if you don’t want to walk…. Or if its too cold! It would not be cool to say you went to NY and didn’t ride the subway. There are usually some street musicians down there playing, and maybe a hustler offering to give you a ticket for some cash…. Keep your eyes open and look like you know where you are going!
Broadway – Cool strip to walk and people see, if this is not your thing skip and walk through Times Square. DO NOT GO TO Central Park in Dark. Stay in busier areas.
If you want to see a show, and don't care what you see (and don't mind waiting in line), snag discounted, day-of tickets at the TKTS booth in Times Square. It opens each afternoon and offers tickets that haven't yet sold at 20-50% off. The TKTS app will tell you what's available each day. Arrive at the booth early, as the lines will get long. Head off of Times Square for better pre- and post-show food and drink. Restaurant Row (46th St. between Broadway and 9th Ave) has a lot of great options, as does Hell's Kitchen. You will experience shorter lines at the TKTS booths at South Street Seaport or the Brooklyn location.
Question: Can I really go to a Broadway show in casual clothing?
Answer: Yes, that's what most people are doing now.
If it fits your traffic pattern and you prefer to freshen up, feel free- If not do not miss the opportunity!
ALL of that was one well planned day – the 5th Avenue adventure! That is the Christmas time MUST!
If you followed this plan your route looks like this:
This shows beginning at the Museum of Natural History which makes the easiest traffic pattern)
Lower Manhattan Day!
The Spirit of NY down in the financial district will move you like nowhere else. This day is not as spread out as the first, there is a lot of action clumped into the Lower Manhattan area. Walking will be the fastest way to navigate the busy streets. Just take a taxi, Uber or train to the Statue of Liberty to begin.
Statue of Liberty/ Ellis Island/ Battery Park
National Museum of the Native American
The freedom tower and WTC memorial
South Street Sea Port
Statue of Liberty –
If you know you are coming and want to see this attraction, book your tickets in advance.
Tickets are $25.50/ person for a reserve or pedestal ticket, $28.50 for crown access, and sell out 6 weeks in advance typically. So check your options as soon as you know your travel dates. Late afternoon tours, after 2PM and 3PM, will not have enough time to stop at Ellis Island Immigration Museum.
Regardless of if you are going up into the statue or not, the ferry ride and Ellis Island are worth the trip. The views of the skyline, historical presence and monumental significance are awe inspiring. Dress for the weather, plan for some lines and a security check to enter.
National Museum of the Native American
10 AM–5 PM daily, Thursdays to 8 PM - except December 25
Admission is FREE!
There are tons of exhibits and history under one roof, with some cool hands on activities under one roof! Great place to spend a few hours.
Walk up Wall Street to the Bull
Ok so it’s just a sculpture right? Well not exactly, it’s a pretty famous little landmark that signifies fighting through the hard times. After a black Monday market crash in 1987, a Sicilian sculptor dropped it off there illegally in 1989 to thank America for the opportunities it afforded him. Since, its been photographed countless times, from both the front, and the back! Pick your angle.
Walk over to the Freedom Tower – WTC memorials
It is the tallest building in the US, the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere and the 7th largest in the world. Definitely worth a stop! But seriously, the draw here is the WTC memorial. Two large square imprints of the ground zero towers engraved with the names of all who were lost on that horrible day. The water falls and names could not be more thought provoking of the magnitude and reverence we feel. An excellent place to pause and reflect.
The Oculus in NYC is a newly opened artistic landmark within walking distance of the World Trade Center. The transit hub, serving the PATH, cost four billion dollars, making it the most expensive train stop in the world. With its modern design, it immediately became an attraction! The entrance can be accessed through 4 World Trade Center from Liberty Street. Nearest metro train (subway) stations are Cortland St., Fulton St. and Chambers Street. Come and eat, shop or commute! (Window shopping is also appropriate)
Surrounding the WTC and freedom tower is Liberty Park, home to The Sphere, the iconic sculpture salvaged from the World Trade Center site. Another statue, America's Response Monument, can also be found close by. You are already there, so the stroll is convenient.
Walk to Trinity Church
Trinity Church Wall Street 120 Broadway New York, NY 10271 212.602.0800
*Right now (2019) the church is closed for some renovations, but still an awesome pit stop.
Visit the place First President George Washington worshiped during the brief period that NYC was the capitol of the United Stated. Many graves mark the ground on both sides of the famous little church, and serves as the final resting place for Alexander Hamilton, his wife, and son. More recently, it served as a refuge to many on September 11th, 2001 and suffered no damage on that day in spite being so close to the tragic destruction. You many remember this church for the movie National Treasure.