The Christmas season is one of New York City’s busiest times of year. Tickets for Broadway shows and hotel rooms go for premium prices, and lines for top attractions are long. But some of the best and most beautiful things to see and do around the city during the holidays are free. Here are five of them.
Many of the city’s best-known retailers go all out with spectacular holiday window displays that mix art, fantasy, technology and tradition. For example, Saks Fifth Avenue’s windows at its flagship Fifth Avenue store at 49th Street depict six classic fairy tales — Rumpelstiltskin, Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Rapunzel, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty — in art deco style.
Other stores known for razzle-dazzle windows include Macy’s at 34th Street, Lord & Taylor on Fifth Avenue between 38th and 39th, Tiffany on Fifth Avenue between 56th and 57th, and Bergdorf Goodman on Fifth Avenue at 58th Street.
A menorah that’s 32 feet tall will be lit each night of Hanukkah, Dec. 16-23, near the entrance to Central Park on Fifth Avenue and 59th Street, across from the Plaza hotel. All lightings take place at approximately 5:30 p.m. except for before and after the Sabbath. The Friday lighting will take place around 3:30 p.m., and the Saturday night lighting will be around 8 p.m.
Rockefeller Center tree
The tree overlooking the skating rink at Rockefeller Center has become a symbol of Christmas in New York City. This year’s tree is an 85-foot Norway spruce decorated with more than 45,000 LED lights and a gigantic star. The tree’s former home was outside a century-old farmhouse in Danville, Pa.
Thousands gathered to watch the annual lighting ceremony live on Dec. 3, even as hundreds jammed nearby Fifth Avenue within sight of the celebration to protest a grand jury’s decision to not indict a police officer in a chokehold death.
Cathedral of St. John the Divine
The Cathedral of St. John the Divine at Amsterdam Avenue and 112th Street is the world’s largest Gothic cathedral. Each Christmas, the church hosts a “peace tree” decorated with hundreds of paper cranes. The tree is usually installed in early December.
The cathedral is open daily 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Services are free and open to public, including Christmas services. (Suggested donation of $10 is voluntary, but tickets are sold for concerts and other special events.) The church is Episcopal but hosts worshippers from many faiths.
Also currently on display at the church are two monumental sculptures of phoenix birds by Chinese artist Xu Bing suspended from the cathedral’s ceiling.
Skating at Bryant Park
Free ice skating in midtown with an incredible view of skyscrapers and the Empire State Building every time you come around the rink? Yes! All you have to do is bring your own skates to the rink at Bryant Park. Admission and lockers are free; if you don’t have skates, you do have to pay for rentals.
It’s a magical spot even if you don’t skate, though it’s crowded at holiday time like everything else in Manhattan. The rink entrance is off 40th Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues; details, WinterVillage.org. The park also hosts a holiday market of 125 shops.