This month, Flea and I felt in need of a New Adventure and so – on the spur of the moment – I booked a trip to New York City.
New York is one of our favourite places to visit, and we’ve not been back since Flea was eight. Flights were booked and a week before Christmas we were off! The trip was a complete surprise for Flea – she only found out when we got to the airport, as you can see below:
We took a morning flight from Manchester, meaning we landed at lunchtime in New York. The snow was falling, and the temperature hovered around zero for most of our stay. The wind blowing off the Hudson River is cold, so be prepared with hats and scarves!
For our first night, we stayed in the city at the painfully hip Hudson Hotel. It’s pretty affordable, and just five minutes walk from Central Park. Be warned though – the rooms are TINY – not that you’ll mind, you’re in New York! Who wants to hang out in a hotel room?
Today I thought I’d share some of my highlights of things to do with kids in New York at Christmas.
There are loads of things to do in New York’s Central Park at Christmas but you might want to start at the Wollman Ice Skating Rink at the Southern end of the park. I have to confess – we didn’t skate here because the rink is now co-owned by Donald Trump and I’ve personally got no interest in supporting anything Trump-related, but if you feel differently, it’s a lovely spot.
Otherwise, head up to the Hecksher playground at 61st St where you can clamber up on the rocks to take amazing selfies with the city skyline behind you.
From there, walk North to explore the park’s highlights – at 64th St there’s the children’s zoo, while 72nd St is the famous boathouse where you can get hot chocolate while looking out over the frozen lake, then 74th St to see the famous Alice in Wonderland Statue.
Greenwich Village and Magnolia Bakery
It’s great fun to explore Greenwich Village, with its indie shops, art galleries and rows of brownstones. If you’re a Sex and the City fan, you have to check out Magnolia Bakery on Bleecker – the cheesecakes are pretty epic, and the red velvet cupcakes we bought were absolutely delicious.
Top of the Rock
Lots of people visit the Empire State Building to get views over Manhattan but for my money Top of the Rock is a better option – the views are incredible, the glazed observation desks keep off the worst of the freezing wind, and the queues to get to the top of the building are so, so, so much more reasonable.
We booked timed tickets, which meant we spent less than 10 minutes waiting to go up in the elevator and the views? Oh, the views. I heartily recommend booking a sunset or post-sunset tour, incidentally. There’s something completely magical about seeing the whole city lit up underneath you.
When you come down, you can skate at the Rockefeller Center, and see the famous Christmas Tree in the plaza – it’s the biggest in the city, and looks spectacular at night. Be warned though, the crowds here are BRUTAL – we could hardly see five feet in front of us for other people. If you want to skate, it’s worth pre-booking a VIP package if you can afford it, otherwise the lines to skate are pretty soul-destroying.
Lexington Candy Store
While you’re uptown, go retro for lunch at Lexington Candy Store on the corner of Lexington and 83rd. This 1925 diner hasn’t been refurbished since the 1940s, and serves some of the best cheeseburgers, shakes and sundaes in New York City. It’s added entertainment trying to name all the stars on the walls that have eaten here, and posed for photos with the owner. The food’s great value too, with lunch well under $20 a head.
Lots of kids will love visiting Macy’s to shop, but the real highlight at Christmas is Santaland – the eighth floor of the store at Herald Square is turned into a winter wonderland with singing snowmen, reindeer, elves and the whole Christmas cast of characters. It’s completely FREE but you will need to stand in line.
Once you get through Santaland you can meet the man himself and take your own photos or buy a professional set. Do arrive early though – by midday the line can easily be two hours long.
Don’t fancy waiting? Head up to the 9th floor to the Macy’s Christmas shop which is almost as much fun as Santaland – there are dozens of huge, themed Christmas trees, with thousands of decorations and toys. Want to get inspiration for a surfing themed tree, or a tree decorated entirely with baked goods? Here’s where you’ll find it.
One of the definite highlights of a trip to NYC is taking in a show. This time, we headed to the New Amsterdam Theater to see Aladdin. If you get the chance to see the show (and I know it’s playing in London, too) then I totally recommend it. Really funny, great songs, and suitable for the whole family. The Twizzlers were a bonus 🙂
The family-friendly tag isn’t one I’d apply to Avenue Q, an adult take on Sesame Street, which we saw a few days later Off-Broadway at the New Stages theater. In fact the usher felt the need to ask me if I was aware of the show’s content when he saw me walking in with Flea. There’s a lot of swearing, and what might be called adult-themes, throughout.
That said, there was nothing Flea wasn’t comfortable hearing. The show was hilarious, moving and a lot of fun. As a bonus, we’ve both now memorised the words to our two favourite songs from the show, “If You Were Gay” and “The Internet is for Porn”.
Have lunch at Serendipity3. This little gem isn’t great for parents of little ones (buggies and pushchairs aren’t allowed) but if you have older kids, they’ll love the sundaes, and you’ll love pretending you’re on a date with John Cusack (this might just be me). The frozen hot chocolate is worth a visit all on its own. You can reserve in advance if you’re eating a full meal here, which I recommend – it always seems to be packed when we go here.
Check out a Museum
You could spend a month in New York and not see all the museums. If you have little kids (under 7s) then I absolutely insist you visit the Children’s Museum of Manhattan on West 83rd. This place is a paradise for little ones with creative exhibits and loads of interactive play spaces.
This time around, though, we felt Flea was ready for something a bit more challenging, so we opted to visit The Met. This is one of the few museums in the city that is still free to visit (there’s a suggested donation of $25, which I think is absolutely worth it). The museum is completely enormous but we focused on the Egyptian wing and the European paintings section which are beautiful.
Lower East Side Tenement Museum
It’s sometimes hard to bring history to life, but the Tenement Museum does it perfectly. Down on Orchard Ave, this museum is based in a tenement building that was abandoned in the 1930s and left empty for 50 years.
The tenements were where immigrant families arriving in the city lived from around 1850 to 1930, and here you can see first hand what their lives were like. We took a tour around the apartments occupied by two immigrant families – one in the 1860s, another in the 1930s. You can see how they cooked, bathed, slept – and hear amazing stories about their struggles, captured in the New York City records.
Flea found this tour fascinating and it was also really great to hear about the immigration issues of the time – and how spookily similar the conversations we hear in 2016 are to those being had 150 years ago.
Now Flea is a little older, I always take a spare case on a trip to NYC. These days, she wants to head out to American Eagle, Abercrombie and Fitch, Pink, Gap, Hollister… the good news is the Christmas Sales in these stores are EPIC and in many stores, there was 40% or 50% off everything, meaning we got some great bargains.
While browsing Fifth Avenue it’s the LAW you have to buy hot dogs and eat them while you window shop. And while you’re on Fifth Ave, check out Christmas and City, a three-storey shop selling only Christmas decorations. It’s GENIUS.
If you’re buying lots of clothes, it’s worth considering hopping across to Jersey where there’s no sales tax on clothes (sales tax in Manhattan can be 8% on some items).
We had a fabulous time in NYC – it really is especially fun at Christmas.
Top 3 Tips for New York At Christmas
- Book ahead where you can, online. Many attractions including the Met, the Tenement Museum, Top of the Rock etc will let you book online, meaning less time standing in line.
- Visit attractions early. Jet lag means you’ll usually be up by 8am, so make the most of that and avoid crowds by visiting some attractions early (but I TOTALLY recommend Top of the Rock at night)
- Take one more case than you think you’ll need (or pack a flat, soft bag inside your case). Honestly, if I had a penny for every time I’d found myself in Macy’s mid-way through a trip to New York, buying another suitcase to lug all our shopping home…