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The Most Wonderful Time of the Year: Christmas in New York City

Author: Ben Szweda
Date of Trip: December 2013

In June, American Airlines sold round trip direct fares from Cleveland, OH, (CLE) to New York City’s LaGuardia Airport (LGA) for just $118.

Getting a hotel did not break the bank either. Since I had lots of Hyatt Gold Passport points saved up from previous stays, I was able to redeem points for free nights at the Hyatt Place Midtown South (52 W 36th). I also had a voucher for one free night, which is given annually to all Hyatt credit card holders.

Christmas is my favorite time of year so this holiday season I was excited to be able to spend 4 days in New York at a great value. In addition to visiting the places included in the CityPASS booklet ($106 for adults, $79 for under age 17) I was looking forward to enjoying all of New York’s Christmas trees and department store decorations.

When I arrived at LGA, I queued up for a cab. After about a 7-minute wait I was driven to my hotel, without running into too much traffic.

The hotel was located in a great central area of town, which allowed for a short walk to many places and quick access to one of several subway stations. The room felt spacious and was a generous square footage for New York. For the best rooms, request one with a view. My 21st floor room provided an amazing view of the Empire State Building. As with all Hyatt Place properties, breakfast and in-room WiFi are provided free.

Inspired by the view, I decided to visit the Empire State Building right away. While the CityPASS ticket to the Empire State Building does not include a skip-the-line pass, it was not necessary at the time of our visit Wednesday afternoon. If you have the CityPASS booklet there is a free coupon in the back for an audio guide. Even if you have to pay extra for the service, I highly recommend it! It makes the whole experience worth it! On the observatory platform there are numbers indicating what number to key in on the audio guide. The guide explains what you are looking at, what various buildings have been used for over the years, a bit of neighborhood history, and really helps give you a lay of the land.

Following this tour, I decided to become even more familiar with the area around my hotel. I walked to Macy’s to check out their storefront windows. I wandered through Times Square and Grand Central Terminal. Near the library, I found Bryant Park. Here there was an ice-skating rink, a big collection of holiday pop-up shops, and lots of festive decorations.

The shops ranged from food stands to booths with local artists selling both holiday themed and non-holiday handmade goods. I really enjoyed wandering amongst these shops and recommend you seek them out if you have a holiday visit coming up. In addition to Bryant Park, I found more shops at Columbus Circle and Union Square.

Of course no visit is complete with a walk through Central Park. On my second day in town I started off here. Before heading into the park I stopped for lunch in The Plaza Food Hall (1 W 59th). The Plaza Food Hall and the Todd English Food Hall are in the basement of a hotel and residence building. It is a great spot to stop in for lunch or a snack. There is over 30,000 square feet of dining and shopping space. Not only is it a really cool concept worth seeing, but also it allows for people with different tastes and appetites to all eat different things, in the same place.

To get to the park after lunch, just cross the street. I chose to walk through the park on my way to some of the museums that are included in the CityPASS booklets. The Guggenheim Museum, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the American Museum of Natural History are all north of The Plaza Food Hall and a walk through the park will take you right to them.

I really enjoyed the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA). Here you can see the work of Jackson Pollock, Pablo Picasso, and Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night. MOMA is close to Rockefeller Center so after touring the art exhibits a visit to the big Rockefeller tree is a must.

On your way there, walk down 5th Ave and enjoy the decorations in all of the storefronts. Really walking anywhere in New York at Christmastime is enjoyable. Every office, hotel, and residence building has a really impressive Christmas tree in the lobby worth looking at.

Returning to the hotel to prepare for a night out, I wandered into St Patrick’s Cathedral. The church is undergoing major refurbishment works both inside and out. Feet after feet of scaffolding obscure most of the church’s beauty, but the main alter and the chapel at the front right of the church still offer a glimpse of what I’m sure is under all the tarps and ladders.

For the evening I recommend a rooftop bar. There were many lists online suggesting where might be the best; I randomly chose Haven Rooftop (132 W47th). I used the Uber car service app to arrange a ride for myself and was soon on my way to Haven. Upon arrival, there was complimentary coat check. After a brief wait for the single lift to return to ground level I was on my way to the 10th floor for dinner.

Now, the 10th floor may not seem very impressive. It is true that it is not the highest rooftop bar around, but the entire roof and all the walls are glass enclosed. Therefore even in the winter you have a great view of all the skyscrapers towering above you; a very cool vantage point.

Dinner was categorized as French, and was really good. It was a fascinating atmosphere to be enjoying an upscale French dinner as a DJ played club style pop music. Reservations for dinner are definitely required as the rooftop doesn’t offer a ton of seating.

On my last full day in town I had pre-booked a food tour in Brooklyn. I’m glad I did because the man narrating the Empire State Building audio tour said “you haven’t really seen New York, until you’ve seen Brooklyn.” The tour operating company is called Urban Oyster. The tour originated from a cheese shop, called Stinky, in the Carroll Gardens neighborhood of Brooklyn. Our guide took us through three more Brooklyn neighborhoods, and into 7 more shops. All the food was really amazing that we got to taste. Even better was the historical commentary our guide, Joe, kept up throughout the tour.

Saturday, I had just half a day before I had to head back to LGA. On recommendation from one of my New York friends, I headed to the East Village for brunch. Before heading to the restaurant I made a small detour through Washington Park to see one final Christmas tree – this one situated under the Washington Arch.

I arrived at Café Mogador (101 St Marks Pl) just as they were opening at 9am. They offer a brunch menu; I recommend anything with the special Moroccan sauce! Before or after eating take the time to walk down St Marks Place a bit further – it cuts through an interesting, eclectic neighborhood.

I took a leisurely walk back to the hotel along the High Line. What a wonderful concept; locals are lucky to have it. The High Line offers some sun and great Hudson River views. In the warmer months you could even plan to hang out awhile. There are these really cool wooden chase lounge chairs built onto the old railroad tracks that used to run the length of the High Line. If you’ve garnered up enough strength from a hearty brunch, you can push the chair along the tracks to move it closer to your friends or away from strangers.

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