When I lived in Manhattan, the holidays meant one thing: Throngs of tourists outside my Rockefeller Center office gawking at a tree. No thanks. Now that I've been away for a few years, I felt nostalgic for a visit at the holidays (and I can always use a business trip back there).
With my mother and sister in tow, we attempted to see a few of the main attractions without feeling like cheeseball tourists. We succeeded. Sort of. In the meantime, I garnered a few tips for experiencing New York at the holidays in the least painful way possible.
Pick a convenient hotel location. Mom wanted to be uptown; I wanted to be anywhere but Times Square. I decided on 6 Columbus Hotel, which opened four years ago as part of the Thompson Hotels chain. It's located across from the Time Warner Center, on the southwest corner of Central Park. From there you have easy access to the shopping (and festive store windows) at Saks, Barneys, Bergdorfs, Henri Bendel, Tiffany and more. There's also a Whole Foods across the street, which I love for easy meals. And most subways stop across the street at the Columbus Circle station, which means getting downtown (or further up) is convenient. Plus, the bellmen at this hotel are helpful and charming. The rooms are chic and minimally decorated so they don't feel claustrophobic. And with Blue Ribbon downstairs, you can get a sushi fix anytime before 2 a.m.
Avoid Rockefeller Center at night and on the weekend. Everyone comes to see the tree then, because it looks its best at night, all lit up. But walking with the masses is nauseating, so go on a weekday a week or two after the tree is lit for the first time. The store windows look good in the day or night, so you can saunter past those on a weekday. But an evening walk down 5th Avenue is mandatory to see the decorations at Fendi and Cartier.
Make reservations. New York is full of amazing restaurants, and I consider it a crime to eat at an overpriced tourist trap. Research where you want to eat and make a reservation well in advance. The most popular reservation time is 8 p.m., so if you're amenable to eating early or late, you'll have a better shot of getting a table. There are low-key options as well, such as 'wichcraft in Bryant Park, where you can watch ice skaters fall while you nosh on a toasted sandwich. Or I love the upstairs cafe at Fairway grocery store on the Upper West Side.
Figure out the subway. I realize it's daunting if you've never done it, but it's worth it. Nothing is more infuriating than sitting in a cab, watching your meter creep up as you inch forward in traffic. Plus, you get to do some great people watching in the subway and get from A to B much faster than you would in a cab.
Wear layers. The early winter weather in NYC can be moody, to say the least. You might have sunshine and 60 degrees one day only to see the temperature plummet to 36 with rain the next. Popping into stores, cafes and museums can have you disrobing on a constant basis, so the easier you can make it on yourself, the better.
As much as I complain about the tourists and crowds that flood New York at this time of the year, it really is a magical season there and well worth a trip.