New York: Things To Do At Christmas Time


It will soon be that time of year again, and if you’re heading to New York this Christmas you won’t be able to escape the holiday spirit. And why would you want to? This city does it better than anywhere else on earth…


Lighting the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree

The annual Rockefeller tree-lighting ceremony has been a holiday tradition for decades, starting from humble roots during the Great Depression when it was launched as an effort to cheer the nation during hard times. Nowadays it’s a country-wide televised event, but it’s far better to witness it in person. This year the lighting will take place on 28 November at Rockefeller Plaza, between West 51st and West 48th Streets, and Fifth and Sixth Avenues.


Also at Rockefeller is the famous seasonal ice-skating rink, which has become a quintessential winter New York experience, set against the towering backdrop of the Rockefeller Center’s glittering lights and Christmas tree. The rink is now open and will remain so until April 2013. The famous Wollman Rink in Central Park opens on 22 October 2012.


The Rockettes at the Radio City Music Hall

If it’s the run-up to Christmas, it means The Rockettes are in town. Radio City Music Hall’s Christmas Spectacular returns for its 85th anniversary run, with this year’s show featuring old favourites, re-imagined numbers and amazing special effects. There will also be a brand new, interactive exhibit at the Radio City Music Hall to celebrate the past, present and future of the Rockettes. Check out our feature from last year to learn more about the history of the show and the exacting nature of the precision dance routines. Runs from 9 November until 30 December.


The Holiday Train Show

One of New York’s most beloved Christmas traditions, the family-friendly Holiday Train Show takes place every year at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx. The show features model trains that ride through more than 100 intricate replicas of New York City landmarks, including the Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge and Yankee Stadium, all made from natural plant parts like bark, nuts and leaves. If you happen to be in town on opening day – 17 November – you can join in carols with the Westchester Chordsmen and watch the lighting of a spectacular conifer display.


Other events running alongside include Gingerbread Adventures – where kids get the opportunity to enter a child-size gingerbread playhouse and decorate their own gingersnap cookie – and The Little Engine That Could Puppet Show, featuring the talents of New York City’s puppet master Ralph Lee. The Holiday Train Show runs 17 November until 13 January.


The Christmas Lights of Dyker Heights

Dyker Heights is a mostly Italian-American neighbourhood in southwest Brooklyn famed for its wildly extravagant and over-the-top displays of Christmas tree lights every season. The twinkling spectacle attracts big crowds of visitors every night during the holiday season, with the best displays found along the blocks between 83rd and 86th Streets from 11th to 13th Avenue.


Other than taking the subway and then traversing the area on foot (you’ll need to walk approximately one mile from the D train subway stops at 79th Street or 18th Ave to reach the main stretch) the most enjoyable way to explore is to take the Slice of Brooklyn’s Christmas Lights and Cannoli Tour, which is a three and a half hour guided bus tour of the neighbourhood leaving from Manhattan. The trip includes a visit to an authentic Brooklyn pastry shop for proper Italian cannoli and hot chocolate. Departs every night at 7pm from 30 November to 31 December.

The Nutcracker presented by the New York City Ballet

George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker is one of the city’s favourite annual productions. Featuring every single member of the Company plus students from the School of American Ballet, the performance features 150 costumes (including a cape from the original 1954 production) with 57 people working backstage to co-ordinate the costume changes, lighting and scenery.


The amount of detail is staggering. A one-tonne Christmas tree grows from a height of 12 feet to 40 feet during the show, while a continuous sprinkling of crystalline snowflakes fall overhead (conserved for re-use after each performance). On each of the Candy Cane costumes are 144 jingle bells, the Sugarplum Fairy’s tutu is made from seven layers of tulle, and the gargantuan gown of Mother Ginger is lowered by pulley over the dancer’s head.


The Nutcracker © copyright Paul Kolnik/New York City Ballet The Nutcracker © copyright Paul Kolnik/New York City Ballet



Where to stay

We’ve recently written about a couple of New York’s historic hotels, but if you’re looking for a modern well-located alternative in the heart of Manhattan, then check out the five different options offered by DoubleTree by Hilton, who have three properties in Midtown, one in Chelsea, and one in the Financial District.


Our favourite is the DoubleTree by Hilton Metropolitan New York City which has just undergone an extensive $25 million refurbishment. The hotel, located on the corner of 51st Street and Lexington Avenue on the east side of Midtown, is an original design by the maverick of American hotel resort architecture Morris Lapidus, whose striking 1962 building was configured in a gentle “Z” shape to increase natural daylight in the rooms.

The well-executed transformation harks back to Lapidus’ mid-century heyday and we like how the new geometric guestroom interiors are full of subtle references to his legacy. The spacious rooms are warmly decorated with plenty of natural light, supremely comfortable beds and an ample working desk with ergonomic chair. The best views are those looking down on the streetlife of Lexington Avenue, and some rooms have wraparound balconies. Just off the lobby the Met Lounge is a buzzy, comfortable place to chill after a day of heavy sightseeing. The hotel is right next door to the 51 Street subway stop and only five minutes from Fifth Avenue and the Rockefeller Center. Oh, and did we mention the freshly-baked chocolate chip cookie on arrival? Yum.

DoubleTree by Hilton are part of Hilton Worldwide, so if you’re a Virgin Atlantic Flying Club member (and if you’re not, here’s all you need to know) you can earn miles with any stay. Here’s how.

Virgin Atlantic operate daily direct flights to New York from London Heathrow.

Header photo © petercruise

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About Maxine Sheppard

Maxine is the co-editor of the Virgin Atlantic blog. Travel and music are her joint first loves, and despite having written for Virgin for more years than she cares to remember she still loves nothing more than jumping on a plane in search of new sights and new sounds.
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