Back in 2014, to finish off the year, my family and I spent Christmas in New York City. For someone who’s grown up watching Christmas movies like Elf and Miracle on 34th Street, visiting NYC in winter has always been a dream of mine – it has such a magical atmosphere and you feel like you’re at home, even if you’re thousands of miles away.
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Visiting New York City has been one of my favourite trips, and I’ve planned on going back many times (covid managed to ruin my last plan to go for thanksgiving last winter, oh well.) but I cannot wait to go back soon, and visit all the places I missed last time, and maybe see a broadway show! I’ve wanted to write about this trip for the longest time, and since I’m currently planning another trip back to the US after covid, what better time than now?
Here’s a little overview of the month I spent in the winter wonderland and places I recommend to visit. I hope it entices you to start planning your next trip there.
If you’re interested in checking out more spots all year round, make sure you check my Must See Places In NYC post!
Brooklyn and the Brooklyn Bridge
Brooklyn was definitely one of my favourite places aesthetic wise, even though I think we stayed in quite a poor area when we went. That being said, I am still absolutely in love with the architecture there, and seeing things like the houses and the Brooklyn Bridge leave me in awe. We also visited a flea market on one of our few days in Brooklyn, and honestly it’s one of the best memories from the trip – the vibe and atmosphere in that building was so mesmerising, I can’t wait to experience it again.
In terms of seeing the Brooklyn Bridge, I couldn’t recommend it more. Seeing such a well-known piece of architecture like the bridge honestly really makes you feel like you’re in some kind of movie, or maybe that was just the numbness from the cold… Regardless, seeing the Brooklyn Bridge is definitely a must-see for any trip to NYC, even if you just go for the views of the city.
I would absolutely adore spending a longer period of time in Brooklyn and really get a proper authentic feel of that part of the city. It’s such an experience in itself to even just ride on the subway across the bridge along to Manhatten, and the brownstone buildings are something else in person. It’s amazing to see how such a simple looking building can hold so much character and have such a homely feel – especially after the copious amounts of films they have been featured in over the years.
Staten Island and House Sitting
For the majority of our trip in NYC we stayed in Staten Island while house sitting over the holidays. House sitting is genuinely one of my favourite experiences for a lot of our trips – I highly recommend it as it’s a fantastic way to find free (or sometimes at a fee) accommodation in places such as cities, which can sometimes be unimaginably expensive.
While there, we looked after a cat Roxy, a dog Honey, and a parrot Thea (who loved to listen to jazz music!), and it was such an amazing experience as it really makes you feel like you’re actually living in the city, rather than just visiting.
I think Staten Island is a great place to stay if you don’t want to be constantly around the hustle and bustle of Manhattan – rather like staying in Greenwich in London. Going on the ferry now makes me think of Spiderman: Homecoming whenever I look back on it, and you get great views of Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty on both journeys.
The journey is completely free and only takes about 25 minutes to get to and from Staten Island and Manhattan. Although the only downside is that it’s not great for if you’re ever planning to stay out late, be it watching a Broadway show or at an event, as you will have to factor in the journey time getting to and from Manhattan, and getting to the centre of the city can still take a little while.
Okay, Manhattan is definitely where all the magic happens when you go to New York City, it’s the section of the city that everyone associates with The Big Apple. It’s been made famous from movies and pop culture, it’s been called a winter wonderland from the snowfall and Christmas stories being portrayed there. I’m gonna break this up into a few different sections of the best sights.
Central Park is a MUST for any trip to the Big Apple, regardless of what season you are visiting. When we went, it was absolutely covered in snow, and when I tell you it was magical, it really was. When I look back at it, I honestly I feel like I was a part of Fantastic Beasts or Gossip Girl, it’s genuinely got some of the best vibes. I would love to go back in the autumn, as it would be an amazing place to go for a picnic! We went here after it had snowed one day and I love how much it’s separated from the busy city and so quiet.
The Empire State Building was one of the places I wanted to go to the most. Growing up reading the Percy Jackson, I so so badly wanted to go up to the 600th floor – but sadly I only got to see the magnificent building from the outside. Regardless, I couldn’t recommend going to see it more, especially if you go at nighttime as it lights up too. You can go up and visit the 86th floor ($44 each), which has 360 degrees view and you can sometimes see the 6 surrounding states!
Another amazing skyscraper that’s a must-see for any NYC trip is the art deco Chrysler Building on the East Side of Manhattan. It’s currently the world’s tallest brick building with a steel framework, and it’s an absolutely stunning piece of architecture. I remember while we were sightseeing, we found the BEST pizza right next to the skyscraper from an independent pizza joint for $1 a slice. I would definitely recommend trying out some of the local eateries, not only do they help out the smaller communities, but they taste amazing too!
Grand Central Station features in almost every silver screen story set in New York City, such as Madagascar, Avengers Assemble, and Gossip Girl. Like the rest of the city, the station has Beaux-Arts style interior design and architecture that really captures the eye and makes it feel magical and cosy. It can get quite busy during the day, but by visiting at night you also get a great view of the Chrysler Building all lit up. I’m not sure what it is, but I absolutely love visiting old train stations, even if I’m not going anywhere. Sometimes it’s just really nice to be among the hustle and bustle, while also getting to appreciate the architecture and history of the building.
One amazing memory I have of visiting the Big Apple was walking out of St Patrick’s Cathedral after sunset to see it snowing. Could it get any more magical than that? It didn’t snow for the majority of the trip (it was too cold, so incredibly icy), so just when it was a few days until Christmas, seeing the snowfall in the evening, it dancing around the streetlight and cars, honestly felt like a movie scene. Although you don’t necessarily have to visit this cathedral (for any reason you have), I do definitely recommend it as it’s such a stunning example of the Gothic Revival architecture. What’s more, it’s situated directly across from Rockefeller Center, so you get a great chance to see the Christmas tree too.
It wouldn’t be Christmas in NYC without visiting Rockefeller Center across from 5th Avenue. It’s such a magical part of the city – you could stare up at the gigantic Christmas tree like Kevin in Home Alone 2, or skate around the ice rink that debuts every winter and pretend to be Buddy the Elf. It’s definitely one of my favourite spots to visit after going window shopping along 5th Avenue.
Now although I didn’t get to see the ball drop in Times Square for New Year’s Eve, I would love to try and see it one day, and I definitely recommend you try seeing it if you get the chance. I’ve heard it can get incredibly busy in Times Square as everyone wants to be there for the turning of the new year, but there are loads of other places you can always stay to watch the fireworks too. We tried to time it with catching the ferry back to Staten Island, but instead the ferry docked just before midnight and the fireworks were barely visible over the river.
Since we were back on Staten Island for the New Year, one of our traditions for New Years Day is to go to the beach. I always recommend going to the beach for the first day of the year, as it’s a really great way to set your new intentions for the year, as well as feeling refreshed from the sea air. Although it would be great to spend the day also in Manhattan, it’s also nice to spend a quiet day where most places are closed in the city that never sleeps.
Now I’m not even sure where to start with Times Square. In a way, you feel like a movie character spinning around in the centre, trying to take in as much as you can at once. You’ve got all the electronic billboards with adverts and news reports, broadway show plaques of every kind, as well as the magnificent clock in the centre. You could easily lose track of time and spend an entire day in Times Square without a doubt, whether that’s just from looking at the hundreds of billboards, or going to see a West End show such as The Lion King or Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, both on adjacent streets to the square!
You couldn’t have a trip to NYC without visiting the World Trade Center. The WTC will always have an unforgettable history and reputation – even after the collapse in 2001. It’s featured many times on the big screen, including Trading Places, Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, Superman (1978), and When Harry Met Sally, though it was quite hard not to miss back then. You can still go visit where the North and South towers once stood by going to the National September 11 Memorial, where you can see the two square reflecting pools that were built in 2011.
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