I’ve just stepped out of a yellow taxi in NYC on a Saturday night, a few days before Christmas and I’m brimming with Buddy the Elf-like levels of enthusiasm at every sight, smell and sound around me.
Everything feels like a glitteringly special moment I have to capture this very instant. I reach for my camera to take a shot of the reflection of a neon sign in a giant dirty puddle. I am glowing with joy, seeing magic in the mundane and glitter in the grime. There’s probably a puddle right behind me all lit up with my sparkling silhouette being captured by another starry-eyed tourist… I am ‘Congratulations! The world’s best cup of coffee – you did it!’ excited.
Being anywhere in New York at any time of the year feels like stepping on to a movie set but to be here at Christmas time is what I imagine arriving at Santa’s Grotto in Lapland feels like for a child.
I have a list of ‘do-this-see-that’ as long as my arm but I’m only here for three days so I need to prioritise and have shaped my list around themes I want to experience and remember forever.
I’m staying in a Sonder apartment in the Financial District which is now one of New York’s trendiest, most cosmopolitan areas and not the Gordon Gekko style habitat that you might think.
This means I am just a five-minute walk away from Brooklyn Bridge and the best views of downtown Manhattan.
I’m an early riser so I’m on the bridge for sunrise, it’s quiet so I can capture all the images I want and after a bracing walk, I’m ready to head down to explore the charming cobblestone streets of DUMBO at the other side.
I grab some coffee to warm up my stroll along the shoreline at Brooklyn Bridge Park and of course snap that Insta famous shot of the Manhattan bridge with the Empire State Building peeping through the middle from Washington Street while there’s hardly anyone around.
Sunday brunch in New York is a must whenever you’re visiting but a trip to the Temple Court Bar Room at The Beekman Hotel, the No 1 Hotel in New York (according to Conde Naste Traveller) marks my official step into Christmas this year.
One of the city’s first skyscrapers, sitting on the doorstep of Brooklyn Bridge, The Beekman is one of those grand, old New York buildings that you associate with 19th century wealth, old world glamour and late-night tales of opulence and extravagance – a ‘if the walls had ears’ type place. Entering the building is like taking a step back in time to when the good times really rolled.
The Bar Room sits on the ground floor of the nine-story Victorian atrium, underneath celebrity chef Tom Colicchio’s Temple Court restaurant, a moody, dimly lit, swanky, intimate space with velvet sofas and chairs, wooden floors, tasseled lampshades, vast antique rugs, bookcases, art filled walls and jazz.
It is cosy, sophisticated and comfortable and Sundays are jazz brunch day so my cocktail menu perusing is accompanied by the background tinkle and brass of the Latin ensemble with their vintage, tropical ‘Ipanema beach in the 60s’ style sultry tones.
A couple of sips of peach and ginger Bellini and I’m whisked away to another era… There are lots of light dishes to choose from – oysters, tuna salad, chicken liver parfait, steak tartare, eggs Benedict and a dreamy baked Alaska that wins me over for desert.
The staff couldn’t be more friendly and chatty – the General Manager hails from Glasgow so lots of tales from home are exchanged.
You are never far from a showstopping Christmas tree in NYC. My apartment is next to the New York Stock Exchange, illuminated in red and green for the festive season so I have one of the biggest trees in the city quite literally on my doorstep.
Bryant Park is home of a jaw dropping 55 foot, 90-year old spruce decked out in red, blue and silver baubles and of course there’s the famous Rockefeller tree, towering above the ice rink made famous in many a Christmas movie at 77 feet tall.
The tree is a world-famous symbol of New York at Christmas which draws 750,000 visitors a day. Gaze upwards in awe at its 50,000 multicoloured fairy lights and Swarowski crystal star (it has 3 million crystals…).
Head to Greenwich Village and away from the crowds to see the 45-foot tree sitting under the arch in Washington Square Park for a slightly more sedate Christmas experience.
Bright lights and baubles
If you’re visiting the Rockefeller tree, do a quick 180-degree swivel to catch the Saks Fifth Avenue, ten storey tall Christmas light show.
The dazzling two-minute show runs every fifteen minutes; it’s one of these experiences you’d quite happily wait another 13 minutes to see again.
One of the most photographed Christmas images of New York is the giant red Christmas baubles which you’ll find on Sixth Avenue across from Radio City Music Hall.
Check out the giant reindeer and Nutcracker themed figures at the Peninsula Hotel on Fifth Avenue too and pop in to the lobby to see the 30ft tree standing magnificently at the bottom of the two staircases adorned with Christmas garlands and baubles.
The Christmas Spectacular with the Radio City Rockettes is probably the highlight of my Christmas in New York experience and that says a lot as I’m not big on shows (although Andrew Llloyd Webber was on my flight so he was perhaps put there by the jazz handed Gods to get me in the mood…).
This however, is like nothing I have ever seen. Sitting in the grandeur and amber glowy glory of the iconic Radio City Music Hall watching the orchestra rise up from nowhere before 100 candy cane striped high kicking precision dancers parade across the stage is probably the most New York thing I will ever do. This is the bit in my trip where I feel like Orphan Annie.
Radio City Music Hall is an experience in itself. Arrive early and enjoy a festive tipple whilst soaking up these famous Art Deco surroundings under the 50 ft crystal chandelier, which comes out once a year for Christmas.
Dante in Greenwich Village has recently been named the world’s best bar, so it’s top of my list to try at 4pm on a Monday afternoon because hello world, I’m not doing the school run today…
The Italian style aperitivo bar has been there since 1915, a place where local Italian immigrants would gather to chat with an espresso and over the years has attracted locals, visitors and many a famous face in search for a little piece of Italy.
Dante is as you would expect, famous for its Negronis (in fact it has a dedicated Negroni Sessions happy hour) of which there are 12 different varieties. Since it’s Christmas, I’m going for the one with the gold flakes, the Negroni Sbagliato (meaning ‘mistaken’ in Italian) which uses Prosecco instead of gin. I will be holding on to those Negroni memories of this friendly, buzzing little slice of cocktail heaven to power me through many an end of day school run to come.
Get cosy outside, six storeys up in the cold, crisp Manhattan air at the McKittrick Hotel’s ‘Lodge at Gallow Green’ rustic rooftop bar and restaurant, a secret garden escape where you can sit next to the firepit with a hot wine cocktail, gazing upwards at the West Chelsea warehouses, loft apartments and stars.
This charming, rickety, winter lodge style hideaway with its cosy, wooden nooks and crannies, fir trees and pine cones takes its inspiration from Scottish bothies, so you’ll find hiking boots hanging from ceilings, old fashioned maps of Scotland on the wall and a tasteful amount of tartan.
The menu will warm your heart too – go for the French Onion soup with port and gruyere and the steak ciabatta for a classic après-ski style eat.
Head uptown to The Skylark for some late night glam and sophistication indoors and sip your cocktails 30 storeys high, taking in the most breathtaking views of the surrounding Manhattan skyline over the Hudson river, and a straight on view of the Empire State Building.
The late-night bar bites menu with its mini burgers and pizzettes is the perfect accompaniment to that bottle of champagne.
It is definitely my most glamorous destination at midnight on a ‘school night’.
You can do Fifth Avenue without melting your credit card by taking a stroll past some of the high-end stores where you will almost certainly want to pull your camera out and get snap happy in front of the Christmas window displays.
Cartier is literally all wrapped up with a giant red bow, Gucci and Louis Vuitton are an explosion of neon colour but Bergdorf Goodman pulls out all the stops and does ‘holiday windows’ like nowhere else.
This year’s theme is ‘Bergdorf Good Times’, with its seven main displays dressed to bring to life parties, board games, amusements and all manner of revelries.
If you’re feeling like a treat afterwards, head round the corner to The Plaza Food Hall for a glass of champagne and salmon caviar blinis, a coffee and a cupcake or just a wander to take it all in.
In NYC you will walk, a lot. Thousands and thousands of steps so be prepared to build up a bit of an appetite before you choose from the city’s 27,000 plus restaurants. After a day pounding the streets, I’m keen to indulge in a bit of French chill out so head a few blocks down from Bergdorf’s to db Bistro Moderne and settle myself down with a French 75 and their classic menu.
This is home of the famed DB Burger, a sirloin patty stuffed with foi gras, short rib and black truffles. Created by French chef Daniel Boulud, db Bistro Moderne is where the gourmet burger craze started and this one is on every ‘Best Burger in NYC’ list you’ll find.
Lively, casual but refined enough to feel very special, this bistro is one of the top rated in New York and is an absolute must visit for a long relaxing lunch in cosy modern surroundings. Oh, and the snails to start is garlicky heaven on earth and a must try.
The Bryant Park Winter Village surrounds a 17,000 square foot area of ice magic.
Get your skates on, literally and have a twirl on the ice beneath the skyscrapers before wandering round the 170 wooden huts in the village for food and Christmas market shopping with a hot spiced cider. A totally warming experience, full of seasonal spirit and festive fun.
New York at Christmas is a glittering playground for grown-ups. Everything is a moment, a memory in the making. It doesn’t even matter what your budget is. You can come here and buy wonderful, luxurious experiences or you can come on a budget and experience just as much magic for free. It’s all around you and I suppose if you feel it inside, you’ll see it outside, so puddles become neon mirrors, a crowded downtown train is a cosy people watching get together, a skyscraper rooftop morphs into an alpine lodge and a flat white in the sub-zero Central Park temperatures really does feel like the world’s best cup of coffee.