Were you feeling the holiday spirit last year? Every year around Christmas time, New Yorkers flood the streets of the city looking for the best places to bask in extravagant light displays, skate across the ice, or just relax with a cup of hot cocoa. 2023 was no exception and the pickings were not slim.
For the past month, the city has been bustling with beautiful Christmas trees, quaint holiday markets, and everything in between. With all the options available, it might be difficult to figure out which ones are a must-see for next year and which spots you can probably skip. Fear not- this article is here to help you find the best (and the not-so-great) holiday attractions from the past year.
- Bryant Park Winter Village & Ice Rink
Starting off strong, the Bryant Park Winter Village is arguably the best staple of the Christmas season in NYC. From the 17,000-sq-foot ice skating rink, the bustling holiday market with over 180 kiosks to explore, the curling cafe and bar, and even more to explore, Bryant Park was one of the busiest places in New York City this holiday season.
Many New Yorkers are saying Bryant Park was their favorite holiday destination to visit this year.
“My favorite thing about Bryant Park was the apple cider and apple cider donuts,” English teacher Mr. Olivierre said. Mr. O often explores the city with his wife during the holiday season.
There are over 180 kiosks and eateries to peruse through at the holiday market, but certain shops have become the talk of the town. Here’s what some city goers had to say about their favorite shops.
“There was a Canadian onesie shop called Pook. They have the nicest, softest onesies with butt flaps,” Mr. O said. “We weren’t sure about it at first, but they’re the most comfortable things we own.”
Others also enjoyed the Bryant Park experience.
“I felt whole because I felt like I was a part of the background like I was in a romcom,” 18-year-old student Izzy Brown said. “It felt peaceful and I didn’t have to exist, I just had to take in the surroundings.”
While some were delighted by Bryant Park, other city goers had different opinions on the experience.
“Maybe I was just in a bad mood, but the prices were too high for my friends and I to truly enjoy,” senior Srimon Anida said. “I get that it was NYC, so the prices are always high, but the biggest problems were the seating and how there was barely any open space.”
In every picture you see of Bryant Park, you can tell it’s definitely crowded and always bustling with city goers. Seats tend to be taken up at all times, leaving nowhere to go for those trying to relax and enjoy their food while watching the ice skating. Srimon described this excessive crowding as “inevitable” considering that New York City is one of the most densely populated cities in the world and everyone is looking to get out and about during the holidays.
Aside from the high pricing and overcrowding, Bryant Park is definitely a gem and hopefully some improvements can be made to the experience in the future.
- Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree
The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree is seen by many as the most famous Christmas tree in the United States. This year, the beautiful spruce was adorned head-to-toe in 50,000 gleaming multi-colored lights and topped off with a star covered in over 3 million Swarovski crystals. After gawking at the tree and taking some awesome pictures, visitors can grab something to eat from one of Rockefeller Plaza’s many eateries like Magnolia Bakery and Chip City.
Despite being undoubtedly mesmerizing, this attraction definitely has its downsides. This is one of the busiest attractions in NYC during the holiday season, and with that brings massive overcrowding and not much space to take it all in.
“Everything was super fast,” Izzy said. “It was beautiful but it’s very consume-and-go. You take your pictures, get your food, and go eat it somewhere else.”
Others agreed with this sentiment, but were still able to find enjoyment in Rockefeller Center’s holiday spirit.
“Yes, it was insanely crowded when I went, but I genuinely enjoyed watching people embrace the holiday season.” Srimon said. “The families were just admiring and it was cool to see people my age taking pictures and just experiencing.”
Although there are mixed opinions on the Rockefeller Center experience, one thing everyone can agree on is that the tree is beautiful and this famous New York City tradition will definitely continue for years to come.
- Saks Fifth Avenue
Ending off the list with what might just be the worst reviewed holiday attraction of this year, here we have Saks Fifth Avenue’s annual Christmas light show and window display.
Let’s start off with the good! This year marks the first year in history that Saks has partnered with a luxury fashion house (Christian Dior!) for its holiday light show. The light installation features 300,000 lights covering the full 10 stores of the luxury department store. The most notable part of the show is the Dior Carousel of Dreams, a clock-like light display featuring all of the different zodiac signs and many other decorative graphics.
The light show attracts thousands of visitors every year, but not all of them are happy with the quality of the experience.
“It was not that exciting, the payoff is not worth it,” Mr. Olivierre said. “It’s like fighting through mad people to go see a movie that’s 2 minutes long.”
If you still decide to go see the light show, consider yourself warned. Try your best to make the most out of the experience despite the congestion!
There are plenty of factors that can go into what makes a holiday attraction great or not so great like the wow factor, the congestion, and pricing. Many New Yorkers feel like a lot of holiday attractions are lacking some of these qualities.
One quality that New Yorkers feel like holiday attractions lack is a rounded cultural perspective of the holiday season.
“I’d love to see an attraction that celebrates different cultures during the holiday season,” Srimon said. “We all celebrate differently and some of us don’t at all. I wish there was something for everyone.”
Others also agreed with this sentiment. “It would be nice to be able to feel Christmas from different lenses,” Izzy said.
Another quality some would like to see more of is interactivity. “All the holiday experiences in the city force you to either buy or just look at something,” Mr. Olivierre said. “Places should be more interactive so you feel like you’re a part of it rather than just experiencing the experience.”
Perhaps next year we’ll see some places in the city improving to include some of these factors, or even some new attractions popping up. Until then, happy new year and I hope you enjoyed the holidays!