Oh, December in New York. It is arguably the most romantic and exciting month to be in the city. With Christmas season in full swing, the entire grid truly comes to life. Extra lights, bigger Broadway, endless shopping and extravagant parties are plentiful. So, what’s one to do with all of these options? Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered on what your priorities should be.
But, first, a PSA: don’t forget to give the Salvation Army some change! You know the folks I’m talking about. This is the time of year when Salvation Army workers energetically sing and dance in the freezing, frigid cold for hours and hours just to collect a few dimes and quarters from passersby for charity. Go on and give them some extra change whenever you can. It adds up and it’s for a great cause.
Now, onto the top 5 things to do in NYC in December…
1. Take a Mental Health Day
First things first. During the holidays, it's as if NYC is on steroids. So, whether you live here year-round or are just in visiting for the week, I strongly recommend carving out a day to do absolutely nothing. It’s safe to assume that almost anyone reading this post will attend at least 2-3 holiday parties over the next few weeks, not to mention an office party or two, family get-togethers, and then maybe SantaCon and a New Year’s Eve bash on top of it all. That’s a lot of drinking and talking and a huge lack of solid sleeping, probably. You don’t want to get so burnt out that by the time you make it to the end of the month, you are sick for the few days you have off around the holidays. Also, it’s simply nice to have a completely free 24 hours, every now and then. If you can take vacation on a random Friday, do so. If not, carve out at least a Friday night > Saturday afternoon where you have nothing but your favorite delivery and a good book on the calendar. (Okay, and maybe a massage.)
If you’re a tourist: I’m sure you have about 100 things on your checklist, but I would highly recommend crossing off a few and taking some time to enjoy the city you’re visiting. At the very least, sleep in a little and indulge in some room service or a late weekday, breakfast (may I suggest The Little Owl?) before heading out for the day’s activities.
2. Hit up the Holiday Markets
New York is known for its shopping. If you’re fancy, there’s Fifth Avenue. If you’re a bargain hunter, there’s Canal Street. But if you’re a little more middle-ground and looking for a unique gift as well as the opportunity to experience the season, the holiday markets are where it’s at! Enjoy skating? There’s the Bryant Park Shops. Want to stroll through Central Park? Couple it with the Columbus Circle Shops. If you want to enjoy a downtown vibe while supporting local artists and grabbing up one-of-a-kind gifts, then Union Square Holiday Market is your go-to. Better yet, check out the 2-day only (December 13th and 14th) ETSY Holiday Handmade Cavalcade in Chelsea Market. For other indoor and outdoor fleas and fairs, check here. There’s something for everyone.
3. Get Down with some Jazz
Jazz music and Christmas time seem to just go together, don’t they? Maybe it’s the melodic, old-school romance or the fact that jazz clubs tend to give way to smoky, underground lounges that just beg you to sit down, relax and share a cozy cocktail with someone. Take a breather from the constant Christmas tunes and the hectic mess that is Midtown and head down to the West Village to scope out Jazz for free at Garage, with board games at Fat Cat, or cocktails at the ever-reliable Smalls.
4. Take Part in the Rockefeller Tree-lighting Tradition!
The lighting of the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree is tomorrow, December 3rd. While I would never suggest you actually go to the tree lighting ceremony itself (cue: cold weather, big crowds, poor view), there’s no reason you can’t enjoy it from the comfort of your own home or, if you’re visiting, a good ol’ Irish pub. If you head to a pub, ask for a Hot Toddy or an Irish Coffee, depending on your mood. If you’re watching it from home, whip up some Wassail. No, this is not a foreign animal, it’s a spiced wine recipe. Brew burgundy with cinnamon sticks, cloves, real sugar, frozen orange juice, and a few slices of lemons and oranges. My mom makes it every year and it’s delicious. It’s pretty much Christmas in a cup. If you miss the lighting, NBD. You can always stroll by the tree in person. Though, for a more enjoyable time, I’d recommend making a reservation at The Sea Grill – the restaurant right next to the Rock Center ice rink and tree. Of course, there’s always the tree at Bryant Park, the window displays at Macy’s and a thousand other Christmas gems to enjoy.
Rolf’s is an ordinary German restaurant in Gramercy, generally snubbed for 11 out of 12 months of the year. Come December, though, Rolf’s is just as much of a staple as the aforementioned window displays as Macy’s or the tree at Rock Center. Shrouded in warm strings of Christmas lights and green garland, the atmosphere is only matched, in slight part, by Panna II. This is German food we’re talking about, so don’t get too jazzed up about the meal. Instead, settle on the potato pancakes and bratwurst (notably the best items) and really enjoy those Hofrbau drafts – after all, that’s why you go. For more holiday spirit, round the bend to Peter Dillon’s, New York’s oldest operating bar, and stroll the brownstone-lined streets of Gramercy Park.