New York Holiday Travel Guide with Kids!
Welcome to my New York Holiday Travel Guide! Christmastime in New York is truly magical! The festive decorations and store displays on Fifth Avenue, seeing the New York City Ballet company perform The Nutcracker at Lincoln Center and The Christmas Spectacular with The Radio City Rockettes are just a few of the amazing things you can experience in New York at Christmas time.
I surprised my seven year old daughter, Camille, with a trip to New York a few weeks ago and it was an experience we will never forget. I came up with the idea back in July and begin planning immediately. I’m a Capricorn and a planner by nature, so I’ve read just about every blog post you can find on Christmas time in New York in order to plan an amazing trip. I’ve shared on my Instagram a few snippets of our trip and received a lot of requests asking me to write a blog post on what we did, stayed and tips. Well, I figured I would write a New York Holiday Travel Guide for those of you headed to the Big Apple! So lets get into it shall we??
Lets start with ….
Where to Stay??
So this is a really personal choice when it comes to where to stay. I’ve been to New York several times and have learned that I prefer to stay away from main tourist areas like Time Square and I must, I repeat, I MUST stay in a spacious hotel room. If you havent heard, most New York hotel rooms are very small so space is something to treasure when staying in the city. I stayed in a hotel in New York once where the room was so small, I felt like the walls were closing in on me. So now when I visit New York, I scour the internet for video of the room I’m interested in and I check out the square footage on the hotel room site. Its that serious!
Also, I am not one of those people who say they can sleep anywhere or that the hotel room is just to sleep. I want an enjoyable experience when I vacation and travel from start to finish. I want to stay at a nice hotel no matter what. So if that means paying a little more, then I will.
So anyways, think of what is important to you when staying at a hotel. For me, I wanted..
1) a spacious room, double/queen size beds for us both,
2) I wanted to be close to Midtown to where we could do a 10-15 minute walk to certain tourist attractions or near a subway line if it was necessary to take the train.
3) I also wanted to stay somewhere quiet, so not near super busy streets with lots of street noise.
4) I didn’t want to stay near Time Square (too touristy and busy), Downtown or Soho (too far from our activities) or in another borough like Brooklyn, Williamsburg etc (again too far.)
5) Price. I knew going to NYC during Christmas, I was going to pay more for a hotel room because its peak season. So I had a budget in mind on what i wanted to spend nightly. Again, I prefer 4-5 star hotels when I travel because I want a luxury experience.
My Hotel Selection
So where did we stay? We stayed at the Intercontinental Hotel-Barclay in Midtown New York. It was perfect! I was told by front desk, that I got the larger size Double room. However, when I booked, I reserved the Premier room which had about 280 sq ft of space. See the image below of what our room looked like. The hotel location is about a 10 min walk from Grand Central Station and Rockefeller Center area which was great. The room and hotel met my expectations and all of my requirements! If Intercontinental Hotel is not a choice for you, some other hotels on the same street are Hotel 48LEX, The Lexington Hotel, or Resident Inn by Marriot
What to Do?
Well this is a loaded question because in New York there are tons of things to do! On our trip I created a daily itinerary of the things I wanted to see or do. Because we went during Christmas time, most of our activities were holiday related. If you plan to travel outside of the holiday season, there is still lots to do. But, lets run down what we did on my trip first!
1.Christmas Spectacular Starring The Radio City Rockettes: Simply amazing and magical! I highly suggest getting tickets to this show. Performances typically start the week of Thanksgiving and end in December. This has been on my bucket list for some time and it did not disappoint. Camille was blown away by the imagery and special effects. The Rockettes performance is so precise, engaging and full of surprises. Definitely make this a priority! I purchased our tickets back in Summer time and got great third row seats. So definitely purchase early if possible!
2. George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker Ballet at Lincoln Center :
Camille loves seeing “The Nutcracker” every Christmas season so I knew I had to get us tickets to see this famous production of “The Nutcracker” in New York. If you want to see this ballet, I highly suggest signing up to New York City Ballet email list so that you can be informed as to when tickets go on sale. Let me tell you, its not a game!
Tickets this year went on sale I think beginning of October at 12 noon EST. Once you log on to the site to purchase, you are placed in a queue. Please note that when I logged on right at 12 noon EST, the queue was already at 700s, so I had to wait online as they slowly allowed people online to purchase tickets. Plan ahead and look at the seating chart before ticket purchase so you know what seats you want as soon as you are in queue to buy. A great resource is “A View from My Seat”, a website where you can see actual seating view photos from various venues worldwide. If you want great seats, do not wait around. I was able to get front row Orchestra seats where we could see the orchestra pit and had a great view of the stage. Totally worth it!
3. See Santa at Macy’s- Santaland on 34th Street in Herald’s Square:
How can you resist seeing Santa at the ICONIC Macy’s store on 34th street?!
In order to see Santa you have to book a reservation. Reservations are available beginning the day after Thanksgiving. Please keep in mind that reservations open up five days before your visit. So if you plan to visit on a Friday, head to the site five days prior to book your reservations. Expect a hour wait even with reservation. You walk thru the Santaland area as you wait your turn. I believe there is an option to skip the Santaland part and honestly, I say skip it. Santaland is a cute, decorated area with trains and other adorable holiday decor, but you aren’t missing much by skipping it. The experience with Santa is truly unique and I was so impressed with the set up. Totally recommend doing this with your kids!
4. Afternoon tea at The Plaza Hotel: I dont know about you, but when I think of The Plaza Hotel, I think of elegance, a five star experience and Home Alone 2! Lol! I mean, come on, Kevin staying at The Plaza Hotel looked so cool and fun.
Anyways, I took Camille for afternoon tea at The Plaza and we had a great time. They have a children’s, Eloise tea service, which is based off the character from the book “Eloise.” So we got dressed up and had a wonderful time together.
I would say this is a one time experience. I don’t have to go back and do it again. Please keep in mind that Afternoon tea at The Plaza is per person (no sharing or splitting) and very expensive. So please review the pricing before you go and be sure to make reservations at least a month out! They appear to be very busy during the holiday season and reservations are necessary! I would not recommend walking in!
If you would like to do afternoon tea with your little, but do not want to pay The Plaza hotel pricing, check out Alice Tea Cup! Its a super cute tea parlor that have children tea options as well. This was my second choice if I couldn’t score a reservation at The Plaza.
5. The SUMMIT One Vanderbilt: This has got to be the most coolest, innovative, unique observation deck in New York. Yes, we know New York is known for its iconic observation decks such as The Empire State building or Top of the Rock at Rockefeller center, but this observation deck is just next level. It just opened this year and let me tell you, definitely check it out! Its basically all glass/ mirrored observation deck that is 91 floors high. Check out the website to learn more about this experience.
New York Attractions You Should Check Out
As I said there were a few things I wanted to do that we just didn’t have time for such as check out Christmas Markets like the one at Bryant Park to see different shops, food stalls and small businesses at the market. My hope was to get a beautiful ornament or something to remember our trip. But, time did not permit spending time in Bryant Park.
I wanted to see the Statue of Liberty but didn’t get a chance. Did you know that you can see the Statue of Liberty for free by taking the Staten Island ferry which goes past this iconic landmark? I would suggest doing a little research on Youtube on the best way to get there and how this all works. There are tons of videos about this free option! What’s also cool about the Statue of Liberty is that there are quite a few boat cruises that passes by Lady Liberty such as a Hot Chocolate & Carols cruise, brunch & dinner cruises and more. Check out Viator, a great travel & attractions website, to see what cruises are available during your visit.
I REALLY wanted to go to FAO Schwartz in Rockefeller Center, a renowned toy store known worldwide (remember the movie “BIG” with Tom Hanks and the huge floor piano?). We tried to go Saturday morning, but the store wasn’t open yet and again Saturday evening, but the streets in the area were PACKED with people. It would’ve been a huge challenge to get there. My suggestion is to go as soon as the store opens as many stores in the Rockefeller Center area had lines to get in. Lastly, a carriage ride in Central Park for our last night in the city, but we were so tired from our day, we decided to stay in the hotel and relax.
In my research, there is a Holiday train show at New York Botanical Gardens that seemed like a pretty cool family activity. You also cant forget ice skating in the middle of Central Park at Wollman’s Rink. How dreamy would that be? And lets not forget shopping! Of course, New York is full of amazing stores where you can shop till your heart’s content. But, stop by Brookfield Place for some shopping and go in the evening so you can see the beautiful light display there. Its beautifully done!
That being said, make a list of your “MUST SEE/DO” first and then another list of your second & third choices of things you want to do. You will NOT be able to do them all and give yourself grace for that. New York is definitely a place you can return to time and time again to see and do new things! So plan to return back!
On our trip we mostly did Uber/Lyft or walked to our destination. Again, I picked our hotel for its proximity to the things I had planned. I knew ahead of time that we were at least a ten minute walk from or to some of our destinations on my itinerary. Of course, you can always take the subway as New York has a huge transit system. I chose not to go this route on our trip because we were constantly on the move and I didn’t want to have to figure out stops and routes to different locations.
Also, safety was a huge concern for me as I was traveling with a young child. So I preferred to do ride sharing with Uber/Lyft instead of the trains. Please know that its important to be careful on ride shares too! Be sure to check that the license plate matches the driver information in the app so that you are getting in the correct car. People are crazy and you don’t want to run across anyone who isn’t an actual Uber/Lyft driver. What’s great about Uber/Lyft is that you can share your ride location with others. So I would often do so with my husband just in case. Ultimately, decide what is best for you!
How to find out about events & attractions happening currently
Instagram! Listen yall, if you haven’t found out by now that Instagram is like another search engine, because it is! I followed quite a few Instagram accounts from New York content creators who shared events and happenings in the city. These were great resources to me because I was able to find out what was happening CURRENTLY, not last year or months ago. I definitely recommend searching hashtags on Instagram to get ideas of local restaurants, events, things to do or even where to take Instagrammable pics if that’S your thing.
Pinterest! I saved so many New York Holiday Travel Guides blog posts to help me plan my trip. Basically, I searched for “NYC WITH KIDS” or “NEW YORK CHRISTMAS” etc etc which gave me so many ideas and suggestions to plan a more thought out trip. I would suggest creating a Pinterest board so that you can have all these great resources in one place. Check out my Christmas in New York board on Pinterest to read all of the blog posts I saved!
I highly suggest doing your research before attempting to visit New York. Preparation is key to stress free trip!
Where to Eat
Ok, so on this trip, let me just say we didn’t have much of a foodie experience. I didn’t really make too many reservations outside of our afternoon tea at The Plaza. We either did room service, ate at the restaurant in the hotel or grabbed a quick bite at Starbucks. We did eat lunch at Eataly in Flat Iron District which was good! So my recommendations below are for restaurants I have eaten at New York on previous trips that I’d recommend.
Listen… if you want to eat an amazing brunch, this is the place to go!! They have this pull apart bread topped with a strawberry cream that is AMAZING! Their French toast is top notch too! Just trust me on this, head there for brunch and thank me later. Reservations are strongly encouraged!
Eataly is an Italian market place that serves Italian goods/ groceries and has restaurants within the market place that serves great food! Its so cool to walk around and see the different cheeses, seafood and other items on display. So prepare yourself for crowds on the weekend and make a reservation!
Chelsea Market is a food/retail market in Chelsea with a variety of restaurants and stores inside. I love walking through the market and checking out the different food stalls. You can find anything from fresh made donuts, seafood markets bakeries and cool shops. This is certainly a place where you can pop in for lunch or casual dinner.
Traveling to New York During Covid
Please, please, please, if you dont take away anything from my blog post, pay attention to this! Please check for New York vaccine mandate and requirements before and while planning your trip! The New York Vaccine Mandate requires proof of vaccination to eat indoors and to participate in most if not all tourist attractions. It is IMPERATIVE that you constantly stay abreast as to what their requirements are in order for you to ensure you can do all the fun things you have in mind for your trip!
At the time of our trip, children under 12 were not required to be vaccinated to attend events or eat indoors. The requirements at the time were to wear masks or have negative Covid test. She did have to have a negative COVID test to attend The Nutcracker ballet. All of the activities I mentioned above that we went to checked for proof of vaccination upon entry! And yes, these places really did check!
I strongly recommend checking the COVID requirements/protocols for EACH event you are planning so that you are aware of what is required. Now I have read that starting December 14th, children age 5 to 11 must have proof of vaccination of at least one shot in order to enjoy indoor dining, fitness and entertainment.. I strongly recommend checking the COVID requirements/protocols at NYC.GOV in addition to checking the requirements for each event you are planning so that you are aware of what is required before you go!!
NEW YORK TRAVEL GUIDE RECOMMENDATION FOR KIDS
One last thing! When traveling with kids to a new city, its definitely helpful for them to be familiar with some of the sites you plan to visit. I mean we may know the history or the popularity amongst different things and why its exciting. But, they wont! What i found helpful was this “Kids Travel Guide to New York City” book on Amazon. It breaks down all of the different landmarks or popular sites in the city along with some history facts such as how did the Statue of Liberty arrive in New York, what transportation looks like in the city and there were also fun activities to complete too. This gave Camille an idea of what to expect and when she saw something from the book, she got excited! I highly recommend!
PLAN AHEAD AND HAVE FUN!
I hope this New York Holiday Travel Guide provided some insight into planning a trip to the Big Apple! There are so many great resources and blog posts online that can also assist you in your planning. Remember to get rest too as you’ll be on the go so much, your body will feel it, trust me!
What was important to me was that Camille had an amazing experience. Many times throughout the trip, “thank you so much mommy for taking me to New York.” She’s mentioned wanting to come to New York a few times, I was so happy to be able to give her this experience!
I hope you enjoy yours!