A Tourist’s Guide to Christmas in NYC

There are a lot of places on my travel wish list. Greece, Instanbul, Rio De Janeiro, the Great Wall, Texas (one of the 12 states I haven’t visited), London at Christmastime, Spain, etc etc. Some of the places on my travel wish list are conveniently located in America, like NYC at Christmastime, which happens to be only 4 hours away from where I live. So this past Saturday, Rahul and I loaded up my car (if you count packing banana bread, nutri-grain bars, water, and an apple as “loading up”) and drove up to NYC for the day.

We hit the major Christmas spots: Rockefeller Center, Bryant Park, Macy’s, Central Park (Home Alone bridge), and more. We oohed and ahhed at the pretty Christmas lights, window shopped at Saks Fifth Avenue, and bought some delicious treats at Chelsea Market. We also mastered the subway, only getting turned around once. All-in-all, it was a fantastic day, full of Christmas cheer and enormous crowds.

I’m minimally familiar with NYC, in the sense that I know what direction the major tourist attractions are. I can tell you how to find Central Park and am really good at pointing at the big buildings in the sky (and how to differentiate between the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building). That being said, I figured there are other people like us (aka non New Yorkers) who are venturing to NYC for a Christmas day-trip and might appreciate a little advice from another tourist POV.

A Tourist’s Guide to NYC 

1. If you only have time to see the Rockefeller tree once, then do it at night. It’s so much prettier because the lights hide how droopy the tree is (and it was kind of disappointing during the day). Plus, the lights make everything look magical. Be prepared to overhear fun things like “YOU like the crowd, I don’t like the crowd” and a child responding “I hope I get lost!” after a mom said “Stay close, you don’t want to get lost.” Put your fight face on to maneuver through the crowd.

In case you need more convincing to go at night…

2. Don’t wait in the line to ice skate at Rockefeller Center. Not only is the ice skating rink tiny tiny, you’ll be standing in a line in the cold. Rahul and I chose to watch the skaters from above instead. Plus, we got our ice skating fix in at the Sculpture Garden Ice Rink a few weeks ago. Plus plus, there are tons of other rinks in the city (we saw at least 5, and we definitely only visited about 5-10 % of the city).


3. Take cash. I know this seems so obvious (and I can hear my parents’ voices in my head admonishing me for never having cash on me), but some of the subway stops accept cash only. Plus, toll roads.

4. Speaking of toll roads, if you are driving, be prepared to pay. Also, don’t pull a Katherine of 2012 and get so overwhelmed by the honking drivers on the New Jersey Turnpike that you speed right through the “EZPass only” lane. They will find you and send you a notice with the money you owe. If you enter the “no toll roads” option on Google maps, pay attention to the map, or you might end up stuck in immobile traffic for an hour (that didn’t happen to us or anything…).

5. Paying attention to the map is a good rule in general. Have a general idea of what leads where, and don’t go down roads that lead away from the island if you are trying to stay on it. It’s like the rule my family and I created when we visited DC when I was in high school: DON’T GO IN THE TUNNELS. They lead you somewhere completely different than where you were trying to go.

6. Except for the Rockefeller tree, hit the major attractions early: the Empire State Building, Macy’s, FAO Schwartz. Save “easy” attractions, like Central Park, for empty spaces during the day, as Central Park is huge and, unless you are wanting to use the ice skating rink, there are no lines.


Central Park ice skating rink.

With the Home Alone bridge (except you can't really see the bridge).

With the Home Alone bridge (except you can’t really see the bridge).

7. Speaking of lines, DON’T wait in line at Grand Central Terminal to use the bathroom. This is where Rahul and I had lunch (Shake Shack!) and there was a ridiculous line for the ladies bathroom. Go over a few blocks and use the bathroom at the NY Public Library, which has a much smaller line and allows you to reenact scenes from The Day After Tomorrow.

8. Speaking of the NY Public Library, it’s beautiful inside! Plus, it backs up against Bryant Park, which features a Christmas market, skating rink, and a Christmas tree. This tree was much less disappointing during the day (the ornaments help).


9. The decorations at Macy’s and Saks were beautiful, but save your shopping for elsewhere. You can buy a Kate Spade purse anywhere. Personally, I liked Chelsea Market. There were tons of small shops inside, including an Etsy pop-up shop, where local Etsy sellers were selling their stuff in person, an Anthropologie, and a flea market with several individual boutiques, including Pamela Barsky. I’m set on my Christmas shopping, so I didn’t buy anything, but we did have lobster straight from a fish market (new experience for both of us) and delicious mini doughnuts that I probably overpaid for….



10. Speaking of the “money” factor, I’m a big supporter of using your money for food and drink over shopping. I know many of you probably have a vision in your mind of shopping on 5th avenue being fabulous, but if you’ve never been to NYC before, let me break it to you: each store on 5th Ave. is overwhelmingly packed with tourists, even the fancy ones. Most people are walking around and taking pictures (especially in places like Macy’s), and you don’t get much space to breathe. If you must buy something, buy something representative of the place, not a shirt that you could probably buy at home. Instead, spend your money on food! There are tons and tons of restaurants and food trucks and other food places (like the Doughnuttery in Chelsea Market that I probably overpaid for) that are delicious and will make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

That’s it! Many of these are probably no-brainers but if you’re like me and google “what to see in NYC at Christmas,” you might also appreciate a list of tips from a NYC outsider. Saturday was, of course, busy because it’s Saturday, but we aren’t able to go during the week. Plus, it was amusing (at first) to see all the Santas dressed up for Santacon (which I didn’t know was a thing until we saw a bunch of them at Grand Central), then annoying after a while. Once you’ve heard one drunk idiot yelling about how drunk they are, you’ve heard them all. Plus, it was nerve-wracking watching some of them try to catch taxis.


Grand Central was our first Santacon sighting. At first, I thought it was some charity thing (which I think it technically does raise money), but then I heard “selfie!!!”

Stay safe, kids, and remember this:



Swanson’s Got Swagger the Size of Big Ben Clock

This past Thursday, I was able to spend ten glorious hours in good ol’ London town. My last flight to India was direct, but this one had a layover in London. And I have to say, I give a big … Continue reading

Touristy in D.C.

Lydia the Tourist.

This past weekend, my oldest friend visited and we got all touristy.

Tent City with the Capitol in the background.

To put it simply, Lydia and I have been friends for a really long time. She is that person that will always be my friend, no matter what—you know everyone has someone like that.

WWII Memorial.

This was her first trip to D.C., which is really exciting to me, as I think D.C. is a city everyone should visit at least once. Of course, I love D.C. for the non-touristy reasons but, every once and a while, it’s nice to revisit all those places that make D.C. one of the best tourist destinations on the East Coast.

Good ol’ Abe!

Just to give you an idea, here are all the things Lydia and I saw within a 2-3 hour span in D.C.:

The St. Patrick’s Day 8K that shut down all the roads by the Capitol and the National Mall.

Vietnam Memorial.

The National Mall itself.


The Washington Monument (crack and all).

The World War II memorial.

The pleasant walk from the WWII memorial to the Vietnam Memorial—gutted Reflecting Pool and all.

Vietnam Memorial with Washington Monument in background.

The Lincoln Memorial, where a high school band was entertaining the crowds on the steps. Even though I liked the band, the Lincoln Memorial is better when the air is peaceful and undisturbed. Provides a great thinking spot and, apparently, a drinking one (Wedding Crashers, anyone?).

The Korean War memorial.

Marching Band outside the Lincoln Memorial.

The walk toward the Tidal Basin! This area is gorgeous, especially on a Sunday morning when the crowds are a bit thinner. Sidenote: If you come to D.C. in the next few months, you are fearless. School trips + 100th Annual Cherry Blossom Festival = MADNESS.

Back of the MLK Memorial with Jefferson hanging out across the Tidal Basin.

The MLK Memorial, despite disappointment over it.

Walking along the Tidal Basin is a must. It’s not as long as you think it’s going to be and, on a nice day, it’s a super nice walk.

The FDR Memorial. Which, FYI, is wheelchair friendly, and features lots of fountains.

Korean Memorial.

The view of the Air Force Memorial, plus the view of D.C. Incredible view of D.C., in fact.

The Jefferson Memorial. This one is impressive and looming, one of my favorites.

Hello, Jefferson!

Secret’s out—Sunday morning is the best time to walk the monuments. And these were just the things we got done on Sunday! Saturday meant 5 hours in the Holocaust Museum; Friday was museum day, the White House, and delicious Founding Farmers. Proves that even in just three days, a pretty good feel of the nation’s capital can be established.

Other exciting updates as of late:

Lydia, making her own rules….

SPRING BREAK! I am so exhausted and have been falling asleep in class. I need this.

My other good friend Alex visited for St. Patrick’s Day Wedding Weekend.

The men I live with are awesome.

Rahul helped me ghetto-ly download Scramble with Friends only to get it on the market the next day. Either way, that means YAY.

Beautiful Tidal Basin.

Less than two weeks before I see my Cape friends again! Can barely wait!

I’ll be spending a week in Provincetown, MA this summer for a writing conference.

Locating the building on Maryland’s campus that the National Treasure 2 cast walks out of in the movie. Say what you want about this, but I’m excited.

Spring is officially HERE. It is so nice. I just want a few good ol’ April showers.