BY: JEFF DOBBINS
New York City is justifiably renowned for its dazzling holiday decorations. Every winter the city swells with visitors who flock to its glittering displays, shop its stores and markets, and attend its festive events. Fortunately for theatergoers, many of NYC’s finest holiday treats and traditions are within walking distance of the Broadway District. Here are New York’s superb holiday sight that can easily be visited before or after a Broadway show.
1. Macy’s Herald Square
Just a few blocks south of Times Square, this immense department store has been a New York holiday institution since 1902. It even inspired a classic Christmas film, Miracle on 34th Street. In addition to holiday shopping, be sure to see the store’s extravagant animated windows on Broadway and along 34th Street. The store’s main floor is also a sight to behold, decked out in glistening garlands and ornaments. And don’t forget to head up to the eighth floor to visit Santaland, where you can present your wish list directly to Santa Claus (that is, unless you’ve been naughty). Lines to visit Santa are long at peak times, but if you’re short on time there’s an option for a “quick peek” at Santa.
2. The Empire State Building
While on 34th Street, be sure to look up for a terrific view of the iconic Art Deco skyscraper. During the holiday season, the building’s top floors are illuminated in holiday colors like red and green for Christmas, and blue and white to celebrate Hanukkah, and the spire sometimes becomes a red and white-striped candy cane.
3. Lord and Taylor
Just a few blocks northeast of Herald Square you’ll find the famous department store, Lord and Taylor, with holiday window displays that have been a New York City tradition for nearly 70 years. In fact, Lord and Taylor was somewhat of a retail visionary, when it presented the world’s first animated Christmas windows in 1938. Every holiday season New Yorkers make the pilgrimage to see the dazzling window scenes that feature animated elements, colorful lighting, and festive music.
4. The New York Public Library Stephen A. Schwarzman Building
Just a few blocks north of Lord and Taylor, this venerable marble palace celebrates the season by draping holiday wreaths on its famous Fifth-Avenue lions (their names, by the way, are Patience and Fortitude – attributes which seem particularly apropos for the holiday season). In addition, inside the main lobby, the library erects a tall, lavishly-decorated Christmas tree.
5. Bryant Park Winter Village
Directly behind the library you’ll find one of the city’s great holiday destinations—the Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park. It features a bustling holiday market of kiosks offering handmade gifts and tasty treats like melt-in-your-mouth chocolate, as well as a massive Christmas tree and a roster of events. The “village” is anchored by its huge ice-skating rink, which happens to be free if you bring your own skates. The Winter Village is a terrific destination to shop for gifts and souvenirs or enjoy a bite while people-watching.
6. Grand Central Terminal
Two blocks east on 42nd Street, the legendary landmark gets in the holiday mood. Enter from 42nd Street (directly under the viaduct) to find the Grand Central Holiday Fair, a gathering of stands manned by local vendors. Directly across Vanderbilt Hall is the Great Northern Food Hall, an excellent spot to relax over a high-quality coffee, pastry or light meal (and free, fast Wi-Fi). Marvel at the terminal’s monumental Main Concourse on your way to the New York Transit Museum Gallery Annex and Store, which presents its annual Holiday Train Show this time of year. Model trains chug through a wintery scene that includes mini versions of famous NYC sites, including the Empire State Building (look for King Kong hanging around) and, of course, the grand terminal itself.
7. Saks Fifth Avenue
The animated windows at this famous department store are a must-see holiday destination. Brave the crowds, enter behind the sidewalk stanchions and be enthralled by the creative tableaux featuring animated creatures, music, lighting effects, and even video elements. Then cross Fifth Avenue to enjoy the sound and light show on the store’s facade that repeats every few minutes.
8. St. Patrick’s Cathedral
This cathedral is the spiritual heart of New York’s Christmas season. After admiring its grand Neo-Gothic facade (pristine after its recent cleaning), step inside to see the soaring apse with its 110-foot vaulted ceiling, the massive pipe organ, and vibrant stained-glass windows. Even when it’s packed, you can find a sense of peace inside its walls.
9. Rockefeller Center
This Art Deco area is the epicenter of NYC’s holiday celebrations. Begin at the top of the Channel Gardens (Fifth Avenue between 49th and 50th Streets) to see the glistening white angels that line the central fountains. Follow the angels into the heart of Rock Center to its towering Christmas tree, a New York City tradition since 1931. Beneath the tree is the famous ice-skating rink, flanked by gold and white flags. This celebrated location inspired another holiday classic; it was on the rink that Buddy received his first kiss in the film Elf.
10. Radio City Music Hall
On the corner of Sixth Avenue and 50th Street you’ll find the historic theater that is a visual wonder. The facade is adorned with Christmas decor and the marquee sports an enormous illuminated tree that changes colors. Radio City is home to one of the city’s most beloved holiday traditions, the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular. The grand pageant includes musical numbers, dazzling sets and costumes, and the legendary Rockettes. Performances are often sold-out, so tickets should be purchased as early as possible.
11. Decorations on 6th
The sidewalks on the west side of Sixth Avenue feature a couple of NYC’s most popular Christmas decorations. The plaza between 48th and 49th Streets features a gigantic string of Christmas tree lights. The fountain between 49th and 50th Streets includes a pile of enormous red Christmas tree ornaments. Be sure to bring your smartphone—these decorations are Instagram gold.
12. Time Warner Center
Five blocks north of the Broadway District is the Time Warner Center, which offers one of the city’s most popular light shows: Holiday Under the Stars. Every day from 5 p.m. to midnight, illuminated 14-foot stars hanging in the atrium change colors and twinkle to the sound of holiday music. The venue also presents several events for the holiday season. It also happens to be a pristine shopping mall – one of the few in the city.