New York: Things To Do At Christmas Time

Ice skating at the Rockefeller Center © petercruise / Flickr Creative Commons

Ice skating at the Rockefeller Center © petercruise / Flickr Creative Commons

***Updated for 2016***

It will soon be 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…

Lighting the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree

The annual Rockefeller tree-lighting ceremony 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. Nowadays it’s a country-wide televised event, but it’s far better to witness it in person. This year the lighting will take place on 30 November 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 Rockefeller Center’s glittering lights and Christmas tree. The rink is now open and will remain so until April 2017. The famous seasonal Wollman Rink in Central Park is also now up and running.

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 is also debuting its brand new sound system bringing the production to a whole new level and allowing audiences to feel even closer to the performers. Check out our previous feature to learn more about the history of the show and the exacting nature of the precision dance routines.

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

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

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 100 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. Opening for 2016 on November 19, this year’s show sees a big expansion with more trains, a brand new Queensboro Bridge, and a fabulous finale featuring a tribute to the Coney Island amusement park.

Holiday train show at the New York Botanical Garden © Lori L. Stalteri / Flickr Creative Commons

Holiday train show at the New York Botanical Garden © Lori L. Stalteri / Flickr Creative Commons

The Christmas Lights of Dyker Heights

Dyker Heights is a mostly Italian-American neighbourhood in southwest Brooklyn famed for its wildly extravagant and over-the-top displays of Christmas tree lights every season. 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 © Sergii Rodiomov / Flickr Creative Commons

Dyker Heights Christmas Lights © Sergii Rodiomov / Flickr Creative Commons

Other than taking the subway and then traversing 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, which is a three and a half hour guided bus tour of the neighbourhood leaving from Manhattan. Departs every night in December except Christmas day and runs until the 4th January 2017.

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 57 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 40 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 operate daily direct flights to New York from London Heathrow.

About 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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