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We are at that time of the year in America where every conversation starts and ends with “Happy Holidays”. An army of tourists descend upon New York City all keen to discover a little holiday spirit and live out their white christmas dreams. The truth is….the Hollywood version of NYC at Christmas is more fantasy than fact. In reality…New Yorkers are angry all year round and Christmas is no exception. Sorry to sound like the Christmas Scrooge but forget fluffy white snowflakes…snow in NYC looks more like brown slush quickly dissolving into icy puddles – sure to ruin your day and your cute new winter boots.
But…before you start throwing copies of Miracle on 34th st at me… here are my best of NYC activities and hotspots for your ultimate holiday experience.
1. Ice skating at Bryant Park…if there is anywhere in the city you are going to find the Christmas spirit – this is it. You can sip hot apple cider, do some shopping at the markets, try out your moves on the ice rink and sing along to a christmas carol or two. My advice…If you want to avoid the lines…get their early.
2. Jazz at the Lincoln Centre…get a table – order a bottle of wine and sit back and enjoy world class jazz and epic views over Central Park.
3. The Guggenheim… I am an architecture/art nerd so this place pretty much rocks my world.
4. Basketball at the Barclay Centre… I haven’t been yet but I am super psyched to take my family there when they join me for Christmas. Also a great opportunity to explore downtown Brooklyn.
5. Gramercy Park…this is the only private park in NYC – so while you can’t enter – I still find it romantic to walk around the perimeter and dream. I am pretty sure being granted entrance to Gramercy Park is the definition of ‘making it’ in NYC. Plus…they have a beautiful Christmas tree that looks magical with the city lights.
6. Union Square…is amazing for people watching. It is also home to (in my opinion) the best Christmas markets in the city. Plus…every Monday, Wednesday, Friday & Saturday it hosts a farmers market…it’s a one stop shop for all your Christmas needs. Be sure to check out the huge Barnes & Noble and stop in for a boozy milkshake at ‘Coffee Shop’ – a coffee house famous for only hiring models during it’s prime in the 90’s.
7. The Highline…an old railway line converted to a park in the sky. That’s right – a park in the sky! Make sure you rug up…the breeze/gail force wind coming off the water can get chilly/freezing.
8. The Slipper Room…my favourite Burlesque show in NYC plus it’s located in the Lower East Side (LES) ….an eclectic neighbourhood for nightlife and a sneak peak at a grungier side to the city.
9. House of Small Wonders…a cafe in Williamsburg that resembles a tree house. This is my favourite place to escape the city & unwind. Plus – they bake their own pastries in house and I am addicted to their chocolate croissants.
10. East River Ferry…this one connects the fore mentioned & the following. Take it from Williamsburg at the end of N6th to Dumbo. You get great views of the Brooklyn Bridge and you can see the Statue of Liberty in the distance.
11. Dumbo…an acronym for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass. I love going to Dumbo and catching up for coffee with my photography friends at The Brooklyn Roasting Company. Take a stroll around the cobblestone streets and enjoy the view of the Manhattan skyline. It also happens to be the best place in the city to watch the sunset.
12. The Brooklyn Bridge…walking the bridge at night time in my opinion is the single most romantic activity in NYC. However…in winter it’s too chilly for my liking and more of a day activity.
13. The Levy…in Australia we call them pubs but in America they are dive bars. Located in Williamsburg – The Levy has all the ingredients of a good dive bar; its seedy, plays metal music, has a pool table – dart board – Buckhunter and serves decent beer. As a bonus they also have Jenga! Anyone who knows me – knows I am intense about pool and Jenga and more than happy to school any unsuspecting opponent.
14. Fat Cat…My favourite bar in NYC. Pool tables, Ping Pong (Table Tennis) and Jazz=Happy Kirra. As a bonus…there is also a cigar shop across the road for anyone (like me) who enjoys finishing their night in style.
15. The Boom Boom Room (Standard Hotel)…super exclusive rooftop bar with amazing views of the city. The bathrooms have floor to ceiling windows so you can have a ‘hello world’ moment whilst relieving yourself. Or if putting on a show is more your style…perhaps you can join the long list of celebrities famous for having sex in the bathrooms. Who doesn’t love a bit of exhibitionism? Hit it up on a Sunday between 6-9pm when it plays host to …one of the hottest salsa bands in the city. Make sure you step out in style and be prepared for your credit card to take a bashing…the drink prices are a little hard to swallow.
16. Comedy…you can’t come to NYC without seeing a comedy show. Personally my favourite is the Upright Citizens Brigade in Chelsea (UCB). It’s a practical training ground for Saturday Night Live talent and at only $5 it can be touch and go. I have seen the best and the worst comedy here….it’s like a lucky dip for laughs. I guess that’s part of the appeal. If you are after something more reliable…The Comedy Cellar also comes highly recommended.
17. The Flatiron Room…this place is sexy and they have jazz/blues every night from 6pm. Try a drink from their extensive whiskey selection or my personal favourite – The Matador. A spicy tequila based drink that brings out my inner alcoholic.
18. The Raines Law Room…this place has pretentious down to an art. They don’t take bookings and the cocktail bar is underground behind an unmarked door. You knock, wait – someone attractive pops their head out and gives you an up and down. They take your number, send you away and call (usually in the next 30mins) when they have a table available. Is is the sort of place that refers to their bar tenders as mixologists and makes you pay for the privilege. Personally…I think this is all part of the Manhattan experience and I enjoy being on the ‘inside’.
19. The Library – Nomad Hotel…walk all the way through to the back and turn left. Pack your fancy pants and be prepared to wait for a table. The Bourbon Old Fashioned is my drink of choice.
21. Food Tour…Ok so I am spoilt. One of my closest NYC friends grew up in china town so my food tours are private and one of a kind. If you are not so lucky – take your pick from any number of food tours on offer.
22. Foot massage…NYC is exhausting. Remember to pack a pair of comfortable shoes – it really is a walking city. After few days trekking the city and a delicious meal in Chinatown, there is no better way to treat yourself than a Chinese foot massage. These guys don’t mess around though. In this case…pain=pleasure and after taking a beating you will float on out – good as new.
23. Murray’s Bagels…I recently discovered bagels. I had no idea what I was missing. My personal favourites are a poppy seed bagel with cream cheese, smoked salmon & capers or the classic egg and bacon for the perfect post drinking pick me up. Murray’s hand roll their bagels and don’t toast. If they are good enough for Sex and the City…they are good enough for me.
24. Toby’s Estate (Coffee)…American coffee sux – which is surprising considering many New Yorkers have mastered the art of existing on coffee and cigarettes alone. Toby’s is the exception but they are an Australian roaster…just saying.
25. Magician to the Millionaire…magic show in a private residency at the Waldorf. I haven’t been but I really want to. One of my favourite bloggers hit it up recently. Check out her review here.
26. Sleep No More…Loosely based on Macbeth- this is an interactive theatre show sort of like a sophisticated horror house. I haven’t been but I must be the only person in New York that hasn’t. It comes highly recommended and is on the top of my holiday to do list.
27. The John Dory Oyster Bar…This is the seafood restaurant attached to the very fashionable Ace Hotel. Try the Lobster Roll and the oysters from Long Island. I went on a bad date here but it was worth it for the food.
28. Alvin Ailey...This professional dance company will be touring through NYC December & January. My dance friends tell me it is a must see.
29. Mani/Pedi… In Australia this costs a fortune…In NYC you can get a great deal for $30. Gotta love capitalism but it’s not just for the ladies – it is common place to see men (even straight) keeping their nails in check…I guess it goes with their fancy suits.
30. Afternoon Tea at the Plaza…”Hi Dad…thanks for flying all they way to NYC to visit me. Can we go to the Plaza now?” This is on my NYC dream list and I plan to become one of the ladies who lunch if only for an afternoon. Dress code calls for ‘Business Casual Attire’ which translates to…dress like a lady. Movies filmed at The Plaza include ‘The Great Gatsby and ‘Home Alone’… Mmm…I believe The Plaza to be the destination for all your NYC dreams.
Ok so…Hollywood may have fed you a lie but it doesn’t mean the reality isn’t just as good. These are my favourite places in NYC for now but thats the thing about the city….you can never get bored. I am sure this time next year I will have discovered a whole new NYC.