How to Have a Magical Christmas Eve in New York
From seeing Dyker Heights' Christmas lights to enjoying famous frozen hot chocolate, have a Christmas eve to remember in New York.
'Twas the night before Christmas and all through New York, Plum Guide properties are boasting about how incredible they are. But don’t worry – there’s plenty else going on as well. Christmas is a classic time of year to visit New York City, and one of the times when it’s at its best. Don your warmest coat and your waterproof shoes (because the weather here isn’t a joke at this time of year) and get ready to explore New York at its festive prime. Here’s our guide to Christmas eve in New York.
Skate at the Rockefeller Centre
Yes, it’s cheesy. Yes, it will be busy with tourists. But is there anything more Christmassy than gliding past that famous Norway spruce on Christmas eve? No, there is not. The rink is open every day from 8.30am until midnight, so you have the luxury of picking the time of day that suits you best. Perhaps be careful about skating post-dinner if you’ve had a few Christmas cocktails, however.
The rink’s open from October, which is also when tickets cost less ($22 as opposed to $33 on Christmas eve), and you should prepare yourself for the probability that the rink will be very busy on this day. That said, the experience of skating past the bronze gilded statue of the Greek legend Prometheus will be something that your lucky children will remember forever.
Check out the winter wonderland at Bronx Zoo
Bronx Zoo is magical at the best of times, with more than 6,000 animals calling the place home. Aardvarks, gorillas, big cats, alligators and owls use this place as their personal catwalk. Stepping into the Bronx Zoo around Christmastime truly is like entering Santa’s workshop in the North Pole, however. The whole place is dressed up for the holiday season, with too many Christmas trees strung with lights to count, carol singers joyfully harmonising and carnival performers making magic for all to see.
The main attraction is the zoo’s famous lantern safari. This is an illuminated tour taking in the sights of animals from all over the world, including polar bears (very seasonally appropriate), giraffes and sea turtles. Once the safari is done, take your hot cocoa over to watch the nearby ice carvers at work.
Sip on a Frrrozen hot chocolate at Serendipity 3
A real New York joint, Serendipity 3 has been open on the Upper East Side of Manhattan since 1954. And although it’s kind of a cliche, there’s a reason that the crowds still flock here. The interior is pure OTT New York drama, with marble tables and Tiffany-style lamps, so bring your camera for some classic holiday snaps.
The food is 50s diner style, but let’s be honest – what you’re really here for are the desserts. We all know that calories don’t count at Christmas, right? It’s a good thing they don’t, because you’ll have a hard time choosing which dessert to try. Whatever you pick, make sure to order the famous Frrrozen hot chocolate, whose fans include both Jackie Kennedy and Oprah. At Christmas you can enjoy a festive mint edition. And be aware that although their decor is from the 50s, the prices are decidedly not so (but that’s exactly why you work so hard at that boring office job, after all).
See the lights at Dyker Heights
If there’s only one thing you do on Christmas eve in New York, it should be taking part in the beloved tradition of going to Dyker Heights to see the wonderfully elaborate Christmas lights which people decorate their houses with. This Brooklyn neighbourhood doesn’t know the meaning of minimalism, and is all the better for it.
The houses here decorate their roofs, walls and front yards with life-size santas, armies of snowmen and light shows coordinated to music. All you need to do is wrap up warm – the cold is biting at this time of year – bring some hot chocolate in a flask and stroll the blocks and avenues of Dyker Heights drinking in the warmth of the season.
Head to Little Italy to shop for Christmas decorations
New York does Christmas well. Italy does Christmas well (who doesn’t love a panettone?). Why not combine the two?
Little Italy is a charming part of the city, and strolling around the neighbourhood is a great way to spend your Christmas eve in New York. Kitsch is the name of the game here, with merchandise from The Godfather and mafia license plates around every corner. Your final destination, however, is the year-round Christmas store. Here you can shop until you drop for all of the weird, wonderful and oddly specific decorations that you never knew you needed. It’s also the perfect place to pick up easy-to-transport gifts for your loved ones back home. When you’ve finished browsing, we recommend popping over to the nearby Caffé Palermo to pick up a cannoli (or two, or three).