Tons of visitors descend upon New York City during the holidays, and for good reason. After all, few places boast such a cheery holiday spirit with beautiful window displays, Christmas lights galore, and holiday pop-up shops on every corner — and this all in a place where “get out of my way” is usually considered a friendly “hello!” So if you’re heading to the Big Apple soon — or are here now — take a look at our list of the best holiday activities that will be sure to spread plenty of cheer. And we’ve included the best places to stay as well, of course!
Holiday Activity: Ice-Skate in Central Park
Open for more than 25 weeks during the cooler months, Wollman Rink (officially “Trump Rink” these days) has been a New York City staple since 1949. Locals and tourists, amateurs and professionals all meet on the rink during public session hours, which are extended on holidays such as Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve.
Where to Stay: JW Marriott Essex New York
This large, luxurious Art Deco icon, located on the southern edge of Central Park (some rooms overlook the rink), evokes the opulence of bygone times. A 2007 re-design put modern technological amenities in the rooms, and the Essex is moving comfortably into the future.
Holiday Activity: Visit Rockefeller Center
Made even more recognizable by 30 Rock, Rockefeller Center is one of the most visited spots in New York City, particularly during the holiday season when it boasts a massive Christmas tree. Lit by more than 30,000 colorful lights, the 80-foot, 10-ton spruce sparkles and visitors can enjoy it from the shops, streets, or ice rink below.
Where to Stay: The Jewel facing Rockefeller Center
The Jewel, opened in 2009, is a no-frills, 135-room boutique hotel boasting a prime Midtown location across from Rockefeller Center. Rooms feature contemporary decor, flat-screen TVs, and iPod docks; some have kitchenettes and pull-out sofas. Floor-to-ceiling windows capture city views, and the “Club Rooms” on the 11th floor have private balconies overlooking St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Radio City Music Hall.
Holiday Activity: Sip drinks by a cozy fire
There’s no better way to escape the wintry cold by ducking into a cozy bar and warming up with a liquid blanket. Numerous bars and restaurants offer seasonal cocktails, such as egg nog and spiced cider, and the best ones have roaring fireplaces to get patrons toasty.
Where to Stay: The Bowery Hotel
With 135 flawlessly appointed rooms, 24-hour room service, free Wi-Fi, and free bike rentals, the Bowery Hotel redefines class in a gentrified downtown neighborhood where punk rock and squalor once ruled. But the super-hip bar, tucked away in the nostalgic, velvet-filled lobby, is the highlight with comfy leather chairs, cozy wood-paneling, and plenty of cognac and brandy on the menu.
Holiday Activity: Attend a performance of Handel’s Messiah
Due to its biblical theme, Handel’s Messiah is often performed around the holidays and this year, Lincoln Center is hosting five performances. The first kicks off tonight at 7:30 p.m. and the last will be at the same time on Saturday, December 22nd.
Where to Stay: The Empire Hotel
For the price, you’ll be hard-pressed to find this level of on-site amenities at any other New York hotel. The Empire’s rooftop bar and pool, both with excellent views of the upscale Upper West Side (the hotel is across the street from Lincoln Center), make this 422-room hotel one of the city’s best values, despite the small rooms. It’s even a popular choice among celebs.
Holiday Activity: Ride in a horse-drawn carriage
So its not a sleigh — but its pretty darn close! Riding through Central Park on a horse-drawn carriage is sure to get even humbug types in the holiday spirit. Toasty blankets keep riders warm and drivers take the carriages on a nice loop around the park, including a pass by Wollman Rink.
Where to Stay: 6 Columbus
Opened in late 2007, the futuristic 88-room 6 Columbus is two minutes from Central Park in Midtown West. Sleek style and high-end comforts like 400-count sheets and C.O. Bigelow bath products keep pace with its famed SoHo sister, 60 Thompson, but there’s no gym, business center, or celebrities.
Holiday Activity: Go to a Rockettes show
The Rockettes’ performance has been a holiday tradition for 85 years now, and it attracts tons of tourists and locals to Radio City Music Hall. Even if you don’t make it to NYC before Christmas, you can still see the Rockettes through the end of the month.
Where to Stay: Dream
A quintessentially stylish New York hotel, with small rooms, noisy streets outside, and two popular bars attached. Rooms aren’t overly fancy, but they nail important features like comfy beds, flat-screen TVs, and Bose stereos. The location — blocks from Radio City and Central Park — adds additional appeal to a hotel that usually offers good value for the money.