Since it was the first time visiting New York for our kids, rediscovering tourist spots like the Statue of Liberty and Empire State Building became a must, while my husband and I managed to add a little something new for ourselves with the MET and New York Public Library.
The kids and grownups alike got a ‘kick’ out of watching the spectacular nimble-toed Rockettes and bigger-is-always-better Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.
In between all that must be done in this vibrant and always-awake city, our family discovered hidden gems of sights and eats that may not be on every tourist’s agenda, but are truly worth checking out…
So here’s our list of 17 must-see sights and eats of NYC this holiday season, with some handy tourist tips thrown in…
1. Visit the New York Public Library reading room; it’s a calm oasis right in the heart of a bustling metropolitan city (a big thanks to Kat from Travel. Garden. Eat. for this one, check out her awesome pictures and post here.)
2. Drop by Olympic Pita, a delightful Israeli-style ethnic restaurant on W38th and try their fresh Shawarma Humus with warm Laffa, also called Taboon Bread, a cross between Naan and Pita made in a super hot tandoor-like oven called ‘Taboon’.
3. Spend some time standing at the Grand Central Terminal balcony, looking up at the ceiling and then down at the crowds, to feel a real sense of your role in this microcosm of humanity.
4. For an Indian street food kick, my vote goes to the ‘Chicken Tikka or Sheesh Kebab Anda Kathi Roll’ (fresh naan cooked with a layer of well-beaten eggs and served as a wrap with tikka or kebab and chutney) at The Kati Roll Company, a chain of casual restaurants tucked away in the streets of New York.
5. Holiday markets are all around the city at this time of the year, we loved the winter wonderland atmosphere and colorful shops and eats at Bryant Park, right behind the NY Public Library and steps away from Times Square.
6. At any given opportunity, treat yourself to a colorful flavored macaroon, chocolate croissant or delightful sandwich at any of the popular French cafés like Au Bon Pain, Pret A Manger, Francois Payard Bakery, Le Pain Quotidien; it’s as close as you’ll get to the real thing.
7. Walk up and down 5th avenue viewing the stunning display of professionally decorated holiday windows and entire buildings wrapped as gift boxes; each one is best viewed from the opposite side of the street for maximum effect.
8. Munch on warm honey roasted nuts and chestnuts as you walk the streets; they’re sold at street carts on every corner (wish I’d discovered this handy book before I left for New York.) And nothing says New York like a hot dog from a street cart, try out as many variations and combinations as you can, like chili, sauerkraut or just good ole warm mustard and ketchup.
9. Since we visited both these attractions on this trip, I recommend avoiding the tedious snaking lines to reach the observatory at the Empire State Building, and instead getting a timed ticket to the Top of the Rock, an observation deck at the Rockefeller center which offers equally breathtaking views of every important landmark of New York City, even the Empire State Building. Plus the Rockefeller plaza below houses the famous Christmas tree and other holiday festivities.
10. Brave the lines to pay homage at the 9/11 Memorial and see the resilience of the great American spirit. (Tip: book your time slot online in advance; it’s the best way to save time during the visit.)
11. Tired of standing in lines? Grab a freshly-made Belgian waffle from any of the ‘Wafels and Dinges’ street carts. Dinges as we found out, is Flemish for ‘things’ or ‘whatchamecallits’ and refers to toppings of your choice. I prefer a simple chocolate or maple syrup, but they also have fresh cream, fudge and fruits.
12. Stand at any point on Columbus Circle near Central Park and take in all the sights around you that say New York, and then warm up with a cup of coffee at the festive indoor shopping center of the mirrored-façade Time Warner Center.
13. Don’t miss out on the Metropolitan Museum of Art, better known as the MET. Must-see exhibits at the MET include the impressive Asian collections, Leutze’s painting ‘Washington Crossing the Delaware’ in the American wing and the ancient Egyptian ‘Temple of Dendur’ in the Sackler wing. (Tip: their entrance fee is only a recommendation, although I’d recommend paying that amount if you can, and kids always go free.)
14. Ready to bring out your inner child? Customize a mixed bag of unique candy flavors at the M&M store in Times Square. Pay a visit to FAO Schwarz at 5th, the oldest toy store in the US, and dance on their big floor piano, or drop by Toys R Us at Times Square to ride their indoor Ferris wheel. (Tip: compare prices on your phone app before buying, I found a significant price difference online on this Lego set my son wants for Christmas and Dip-er-do-11 stunt plane, a perfect stocking stuffer.)
15. Catch a Christmas Spectacular show at Radio City Music Hall; the flexible synchronized Rockettes are true family entertainment. (Tip: go at least half an hour early to the hall; they have a real crowd management issue.)
16. Challenge yourself to sample a different flavored New York style bagel each day & make sure to have on a good layer of fresh cream cheese on it.
17. While walking around Wall Street, NYSE and Trinity church, make sure to check out the exact historical spot where George Washington took his oath as President, at the front of the Federal Hall in 1789.
Two highly recommended eats we missed out on:
1. Gyros at Halal Guys on 53rd and 6th.
2. ‘Cronuts’ from the Dominique Ansel Bakery.
So much like my native city of Bombay (now Mumbai) in its vibe and character, New York City touches the hearts and souls of all who visit and live here. I look forward to hearing about some of your favorite spots and eats of NYC…
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