If you are like me and get excited about the early appearance of Christmas decorations popping up in shops, then this post (and this location in December), is perfect for you. Two years ago, we had a four-day stopover in New York on route from Australia to Europe. It was early December, so the perfect time before schools broke up in America and before other holiday makers started vacationing. The city had a festive buzz but was not crazy busy like it would have been closer to Christmas and New Year’s. There is so much to do in New York throughout the year, but there is something magical about this city in the lead up to Christmas. We had booked a few activities before we arrived to make sure we didn’t miss out on things we really wanted to do and see but we also included some last-minute attractions too.
We stayed at the Yotel Hotel in Manhattan which was a great location. It was far enough off Broadway and Times Square to avoid the hustle and bustle but close enough that we could walk right into the centre. The hotel itself was perfect for what we needed. It was very clean and super quirky. The rooms were small but certainly cleverly planned. On entering the room there was lots of space to move around and store our suitcases etc. At night, the bed was extended with the push of a button to reveal its full size…super clever engineering! The hotel offered a complimentary service of tea/coffee and muffins each morning in the hotel lounge and there was also a bar for residents… perfect for a night cap after a busy day exploring.
Things to do
We had booked a couple of activities that were at the top of our list prior to our trip and were glad we did. It gave structure to our short time in the city and encouraged us to plan the remaining time efficiently so as not to miss out on other attractions.
Basketball – Richard’s choice was to catch a basketball game while in New York. Due to the time of year we were visiting, it was basketball season as opposed to baseball so we got to experience the Brooklyn Nets and the Philadelphia 76’s playing in Barclay Centre in Brooklyn. The atmosphere at the game was electric, even for someone not very sporty like myself. There was an incredible pregame demonstration to introduce the line-up of players, very dramatic and like a show in itself. There were also the iconic things that caught my interest such as the cheerleaders and the infamous Kiss Cam. The whole night was exciting and an experience I have only had in America.
Tip: If going to the Barclay Centre, it is a bit of a hike from Manhattan so plan ahead your day or at least your evening to ensure you get there on time. We were feeling adventurous and took the subway over to Brooklyn which was an fun experience. It was great too as it meant we then had our subway passes and continued to use them for the rest of our stay in the city.
Broadway – Obviously, my choice for this evening’s entertainment but Richard was also enthralled throughout the entire show! We went to see Aladdin, a show any Disney lover would dream of seeing on stage. It was truly magical and everything from the settings on stage to the voices of the actors were mesmerising. We didn’t have the most expensive tickets in the house but we had a great view from our seats in one of the balcony’s. The theatre was an old-style beauty in the middle of Broadway with the most authentic atmosphere to add to our overall experience.
Tip: The seats were a little squishy and at quite an incline so if you do have an issue with heights, perhaps consider going for a seat on the main floor of the theatre (although these tickets may be more expensive).
Central Park – This amazing respite in the middle of a concrete jungle certainly did not disappoint. You could spend days on end exploring this beautiful sanctuary and still not have seen it all.
One of the major highlights for us was the horse-drawn carriage ride we treated ourselves to through the park. The man driving was very friendly and told us lots of interesting titbits that we wouldn’t have otherwise known about the area. I think it was even more romantic at that time of year too as we were all wrapped up in out winter woollies and had a fleece blanket to snuggle up under as we rode through the park…it truly felt like a scene from a movie!
After our fantastic trip in the carriage, we took a wander through other parts of the park. We wandered past baseball pitches, over beautiful little streams and had a rest in the gazebo that featured in my all-time favourite Christmas movie, Home Alone: Lost in New York.
After a little persuasion, I convinced Richard to take a spin with me on the carousel in the middle of Central Park. In this beautiful setting and at such a magical time of the year, this was another memorable experience (for me at least lol). It was like something from an old, romantic movie.
After a long afternoon exploring the park, we went in search of an icon that had been recommended to us, Tavern on the Green. This is an amazing venue, that serves both food and drinks in an elegant setting. It has both an indoor bar area as well as courtyard and garden seating for diners. We decided to sit inside as there was a spellbinding jazz singer and band performing, setting such a tasteful ambience for an afternoon drink. Richard opted for a homemade mulled cider that came with a generous dash of whiskey, certainly one to warm you up on a winter’s day! I had a delicious cocktail (or two!!) while we soaked up the incredible atmosphere. We ended up going back the next day and had some lunch which was certainly worth the second trip. We would highly recommend this venue for a casual afternoon drink or a special dinner out at night.
Times Square – One of the many iconic areas of the city, you can’t miss the photographic opportunities in Times Square. On walking into this area initially, it feels like you have walked onto the set for a movie. With the enormous flashing billboards and hordes of people rushing in all directions, it just doesn’t seem real. Times Square has many attractions, from delicious street side food carts selling freshly baked pretzels to some of the coolest stores you can think of. A few of our favourites had to be the M&M shop, the Hersey’s store and Toys R Us. The M&M shop was nothing short of chocolate heaven with floors full of M&M varieties and merchandise. If you are after a unique gift for someone or a special touch to an upcoming event, you can get personalised M&M’s created with names or a special message (this would be perfect for wedding favours!).
The Hersey’s store is one you can’t go past when in New York. This American staple is laid out in the most tempting manner here in Times Square. Again, floors of delicious varieties of mouth-watering chocolates tempting you from the moment you step foot inside. The complimentary Hersey’s Kisses we received as we walked in was a clever ploy, we certainly didn’t leave there empty handed!
Our final big spend in Times Square was in Toys R Us. This was truly a child’s paradise! There were two-storey high Lego creations in the store, with details like I had never seen before. There were drones and airplanes flying around (by skilled employees of course), to dazzle and impress the large audiences of admiring little children (and big children!) that had gathered to appreciate the displays. You couldn’t possible think of a toy, game or cartoon character that wasn’t represented in some form in this shop, as well as the huge number of educational activities and games that were on offer too. No stone was left unturned here and I can only recommend that you allow yourself lots of time when visiting as there is just so much to see.
Finally, I can’t express how much joy we got from just walking through the streets of New York city at this time of year. There were carol singers on every corner, the shop windows were like productions of entire shows in themselves and the lights and Christmas trees that adorned every street and park could lighten the heart of the Grinch himself! This city is an amazing one to visit at any time of the year but I can’t express how magical it feels to be there in the run-up to one the happiest times of the year.
Even writing this post makes me long for a trip back, with my woolly coat and beanie while sipping on a hot chocolate and staring into the window of Saks on Fifth Avenue. It will be a trip we never forget and one we will cherish forever.
Now I better get off my computer before I book flights that I can’t afford!
We really appreciate you taking the time to check out our blog and share in these special memories with us. Next time, I will share some of the tantalising food discoveries we made on this trip…but for now…
All our best,
Richard & Michelle.