A luxury Christmas in New York. What could be more electric and exciting than that? Largest Christmas tree? Check. Largest Menorah? Check. Dazzling holiday windows, music, and restaurants? Check, check, and check. Plus, the Rockettes, the Nutcracker, Bergdorf’s, Bloomingdale’s, and Barney’s. Game over. If you decide to spend the winter holiday season in one of the great cities of the world, surely Gotham should be your first choice. But how can you do the holiday in New York like a luxury insider?
the must-do list – the classic icons
If you decide to visit in search of a luxury Christmas in New York, what should you be sure to do?
We asked some of our local correspondents who are lifelong New Yorkers – and some who are transplants – about their absolute favorite holiday activities in the city.
There are some classic iconic experiences that you should definitely do.
For example, if you’ve never spent a luxury Christmas in New York, be sure to do the following: a stroll through Central Park; and window-shopping or actually shopping on upper Madison Avenue. Visit SoHo; and Rockefeller Plaza. Stroll through Times Square and see a Broadway show. Get a dose of culture at the MoMA; the Whitney; and the Met.
Our Food Editor has already shared her up-to-date recommendations on where to have outstanding meals for Hanukkah and Christmas – you should definitely visit one or more of these eateries while you’re in town.
the must-do list – the insider luxury experiences
Assuming you’ve checked off all the obvious destinations on your list, here’s our Dandelion Chandelier list of the top 10 ways to have a luxury Christmas in New York. These are the experiences that we’d recommend for an authentically posh visit to the City that Never Sleeps during the most magical time of year:
1. Music and dance at Lincoln Center.
New York’s cultural offerings are bountiful, and never more beautiful to be a part of than the holiday season. The center of much of the action is Lincoln Center, and choices abound (you’ll find “real” New Yorkers at all of these performances, as they’re cherished rituals for many). There’s George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, performed by the New York City Ballet; the New York Philharmonic, which performs The Messiah, Beethoven’s Fifth, and other classics during the month of December; the Metropolitan Opera, which is presenting “family friendly” performances of Hansel and Gretel. And Jazz at Lincoln Center, where you can hear the great Wynton Marsalis and his Orchestra play big band holiday favorites. Have a drink beforehand at the Center Bar or The Aviary at Columbus Circle, and dinner after at one of the Upper West Side’s best restaurants. Personally, we love the Atlantic Grill , Porter House, Asiate and Bar Boulud.
Our Food Editor knows Brooklyn well, and she happily shared her inside view on the best restaurants in Brooklyn right now. We asked her to clue us in on the very best places for holiday fun. Her recommendation? Head for Williamsburg. Stay overnight at the William Vale Hotel if you really want full immersion. Either way, be sure to eat at one or more of the following places: Westlight (a rooftop bar with spectacular views); Du’s Donuts (Chef Wylie Dufresne’s ground-floor donut shop); or Mr. Dipps (a rooftop airstream serving burgers, fries, and ice cream) – all three are inside or adjacent to the William Vale. Restaurant Lilia, owned by Chef Missy Robbins, gets rave reviews. We love her new place, Restaurant Misi. Ditto the wine bar Four Horsemen; Aska, which serves a Nordic tasting menu with over 20 courses; and the Llama Inn, which serves Peruvian fare.
3. Museum Mile on the Upper East Side.
Walk down Fifth Avenue, and visit three jewel-box museums all in a row: the Cooper Hewitt Design museum; the Frick Collection, and the Neue Galerie. Be sure to stop at the iconic Guggenheim. If you want more, head one block over to Madison Avenue to the Met Breuer. The restaurants in the area that are perfect for a restorative lunch or afternoon coffee include Cafe Boulud; the buzzed-about Flora Bar at the Met Breuer, and Cafe Sabarsky at the Neue Galerie.
4. Ice Skating.
There are some splendid outdoor ice-skating rinks in New York in winter. The best-known one is The Rink at Rockefeller Center. It’s quite small and very crowded, so serious skaters may find it too tame — but it is at Christmas Central, right under the famous tree. The rink at nearby Bryant Park is larger, and the surroundings are really pretty – it’s right behind the Public Library, and its been transformed into a Winter Village. There’s a holiday market adjacent to the rink and really good food options only steps away, so you can make a fun few hours out of it. The Wollman Rink in Central Park is larger still, and skating there is an iconic experience in its own right, especially if you’re lucky enough to be there when it’s lightly snowing.
A great day in Harlem during the holidays would look something like this: take a stroll through the bucolic campus of Columbia University, and stop in at the Wallach Art Gallery at the Lenfest Center of the Arts. Then have a bite at Marcus Samuelsson’s Red Rooster. Catch a jazz concert at Minton’s Playhouse, or attend the service of lessons and carols on Christmas Eve at Riverside Church or St. John the Divine. Services at the Abyssinian Baptist Church, the city’s first African-American Baptist church – founded in 1808 – are always deeply moving. And do not leave without paying a visit to the Studio Museum in Harlem.
6. Window Shopping (and actual shopping).
The holiday windows of Midtown are must-see; each of the iconic department stores is fully decked out. We’ve whittled down the list to the very best ones this year and shared our recommendations in a previous post, since you won’t have time to see them all. When you’re ready for actual shopping, here are some of our favorite streets to roam: upper Madison (between 57th and 96th) is a shopper’s paradise and there are charming cafes and restaurants all along the way. Bergdorf’s has an incredible selection of luxury Christmas tree ornaments. the Meatpacking District is the opposite in terms of vibe — it’s edgy and fun — and definitely worth a visit. Spring Street in SoHo and the surrounding blocks are excellent ways to visit the large global luxury brands in storefronts that feel like Old New York. And we love Barneys Downtown — the merchandise is beautifully edited.
This neighborhood is alive with creative energy of all kinds, and it’s totally infectious. You can visit the Whitney (definitely see the new Andy Warhol exhibit); the gorgeous elevated urban park the High Line (the plantings are seasonal, and the public art on display is also always changing). We love the cool and ever-changing retail store Story; and highly recommend having a cocktail or an overnight stay at the 4-star boutique High Line Hotel on Tenth Avenue.
While you’re in town, how about an afternoon art gallery crawl in SoHo? Art galleries are open to the public much of the week, and they have spectacular works on view. Stop by Artists Space, the Team gallery, the Swiss Institute, Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, and the Clifton Benevento gallery. Finish your adventure with an “artisanal slushie” at the stylish bar Mother’s Ruin.
9. Afternoon refreshments and cocktails.
Depending upon your mood – and upon the hour – you might feel like a nice afternoon high tea, or a late afternoon cocktail. Either way, New York City has you covered. We really love going to tea at the swanky St. Regis Hotel in midtown – it’s a proper high tea in a gracious and refined setting. If cocktails are more your fancy, you could hop over one room to the King Cole Bar at the St. Regis. We also love the bar at the Baccarat Hotel; the one at the Four Seasons Hotel on 57th Street; and the one at the Mark Hotel on the Upper East Side. But our very favorite is the one at the NoMad – it was named Best Bar in the World this year, so it’s not just us who feel this way. And if you want a truly fun holiday-themed experience with sophisticated cocktails in the mix, you have to go to Miracle on 9th at Mace on the Lower East Side. It’s a terrific bar that is currently doing a Christmas-themed pop-up. The cocktails all incorporate holiday themes and flavors, and they’re seriously tasty. We went last week and highly recommend it.
The center of gravity in Manhattan continues to move south, and no holiday visit would be complete without a stop downtown. The Financial District, Battery Park and the surrounding area are alive with new shopping and fine dining experiences galore. Head there to see the Oculus, the spectacular transit and shopping hub; historic Trinity Church; the intensely moving 9/11 Memorial; the new Brookfield Place; Mario Batali’s latest Eataly (which focuses on bread); the swanky new Four Seasons Hotel; and the 5-star Beekman Hotel, with restaurants from Keith McNally and Tom Colicchio. Brave the cold wind whipping off the Hudson and go to Battery Park and watch the ships coming in. You’ll be immersed in the oldest part of Manhattan, and you’ll feel as if you’re in another world.
the wrap: many joys of the city are absolutely free
So many of the authentic luxuries of New York City during the holidays are free — the slices of life you see when people-watching, the overheard conversations that will make you laugh, the holiday windows, ice skating at Bryant Park, church services filled with music — that’s part of the joy of the experience.
If you open yourself up to it, serendipity is almost guaranteed. However you decide to make the city your own, everyone here at Dandelion Chandelier is wishing you a splendid holiday season and a wonderful New Year.
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