New York: Things To Do At Christmas Time

By: Maxine Sheppard

December 3, 2018

Christmas in New York © Shutterstock

Christmas in New York © Shutterstock

It’s 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…

The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree

The annual Rockefeller Centre Christmas Tree 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. Find the tree 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 Center’s glittering lights, the rink is now open and will remain so until April 2019. The famous seasonal Wollman Rink in Central Park is also now up and running.

Rockefeller Center © petercruise / Flickr Creative Commons CC by 2.0

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 annual run, with this year’s show featuring old favourites, re-imagined numbers and amazing special effects. The 6,000-seat theatre has also recently installed a state-of-the-art new sound system, bringing the production to a whole new level and allowing audiences to feel even closer to the performers.

The Rockettes at the Radio City Music Hall © Kevin Poh / Flickr Creative Commons CC by 2.0

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 175 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. Running until 21 January 2019, this year’s show shines the spotlight on Lower Manhattan, with the first-time appearance of One World Trade Center and the Battery Maritime Building, as well as two vintage ferry boats and other new replicas of Manhattan’s best skyscrapers.

Holiday Train Show © jenn / Flickr Creative Commons CC by 2.0

The Christmas Lights of Dyker Heights

Dyker Heights is a mostly Italian-American neighbourhood in southwest Brooklyn famed for its extravagant and over-the-top displays of Christmas tree lights. 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.

Dyker Heights Christmas lights © Shutterstock

Other than taking the subway and exploring 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 Original Christmas Lights Tour of Dyker Heights, a three and a half hour guided bus tour of the neighbourhood leaving from Manhattan. Departs every night in December except Christmas Day.

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 40 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 41 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.

Virgin Atlantic operates daily direct flights to New York.


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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