How To Navigate The Crowds And Have The Best Christmas In New York

October 19, 2018

|Oliver G. Alvar
new york christmas vacation

Christmas is a magical time in New York, so much so that too many people look to enjoy it. But don’t worry, here are some tips to deal with the tourist horde during the holiday!

With Christmas right around the corner, planning a holiday trip is one of the top priorities for the season. And what better destination to get the ultimate Christmas experience than New York City? After all, the Big Apple is one of the most emblematic cities whose thematically-decorated streets, holiday events, climate and atmosphere are, to be honest, second to none when it comes to celebrating Christmas. 


But with great fame comes great… crowds. True, that’s a big problem for tourists in New York’s peak-season, with so many people trying to experience the city’s magic. Accordingly, this can easily lead to stressful times for those who are unprepared. But fear not: there's always steps you can take to overcome this issue and have the best Christmas in New York this year!


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(Photo by Matt Kieffer)


Plan ahead

A simple yet powerful (and repeatedly neglected) advice truly is an obvious one: don’t just go blindly into the fray. The main things to do in order to avoid standing in line or aimlessly wandering through crowds of thousands of tourists is plan ahead, have a strong itinerary, and book in advance. So, make sure you make reservations for your favorite restaurants, buy tickets for the shows way in advance, book your hotel as soon as possible (and get your New York City Pass to save money).


Sure, this means you won’t be completely spontaneous, but it has the advantage that you’ll actually get things done. You can always choose any day to be spontaneous, but don’t let your whole vacation revolve around this romantic notion—unless you want to get frustrated in the end. 


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Give yourself extra time

Avoid the stress of having to rush everywhere by allowing plenty of extra time between each item in your itinerary. You must consider New York is a busy city, especially in the holidays, and you simply won’t have control over traffic conditions or unexpected obstacles. Keep this in mind especially when your destination is moderately far away and you can’t walk there. Do yourself this favor so you actually enjoy the ride (which is a big part of the New York experience after all!)


Avoid taxi or car rides

The streets of New York City are chaotic. Traffic jams are an everyday occurrence and the craziness just gets out of hand around Christmas-time. So avoid traveling in a vehicle whenever you possibly can. Take the subway if it’s an option (and even that will probably be packed, so be prepared). 


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Dress for the occasion

Nothing ruins a day out quite as much as being in a crowd wearing uncomfortable clothes. If you’re going to be walking, don’t take heels or awkward shoes, and please wear layers so you can remove them in closed areas when human warmth is just too much to handle. It sounds obvious, but people often think it’s a good idea to change comfort for looks. We can’t stress enough how big a mistake this would be. If you’re going to spend a whole day out among thousands of people, an angry expression in fancy clothes will make you look worse than a happy expression in comfortable clothes. Also, check the weather and pack appropriately! 


Know your events (and places)

Location, location, location. Or, rather, location at the appropriate time, location at the… you get the idea. Going to specific events with prior knowledge will help you avoid the common destinations and allow you to decide which popular ones are worth your time. It’ll also help you get previously familiar with many shows and places and their ideal schedules, of which the average (unprepared) tourist will probably not be aware. This will give you an undeniable advantage. 


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To give you some examples, here’s a list to help you out:


  • Rockefeller Christmas Tree: This one you can’t miss. During Christmas, the Rockefeller tree becomes as important a landmark as the Statue of Liberty or the Chrysler Building for New York, so be sure to go. But try and go there at night, after most people have left and the lights are still sparkling (they are turned off after 11:30 p.m. on most days.)


  • Ice skating: A classic Christmas experience, but if you want to avoid crowds, perhaps it’s better if you go to Wollman Rink in Central Park rather than the Rockefeller Ice Rink. There will still be people there, but probably not as many.


  • Window-seeing: You can always walk up and down Fifth Avenue to watch the department stores’ classic window decorations. It’s truly magical and the atmosphere is as Christmassy as it gets.


  • Ornaments: Speaking of walking around town, you should head to midtown Manhattan and see all the amazing Christmas decorations around the city.


  • Christmas shows: New York is famous for its prestigious stages any time of the year, and Christmas offers even more opportunities to enjoy performances in one of the cultural capitals of the world. Here’s a list of the best shows in town this December. Be sure to scroll all the way down to read about Christmas-specific events.


  • The parks: there are so many parks in New York City, and it’s especially amazing to walk across them in the snow during Christmas season. Head up to Central Park for the best experience, and also consider visiting smaller ones like Gramercy Park farther south, which is uniquely open to the public during Christmas day!


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(Photo by Tomás Fano)


Also, keep in mind that in order to avoid crowds in your photographs, you should either be an early bird (when the crowds are yet to arrive), a night owl (when the crowds are gone), or simply take a selfie stick with you to get a high angle. 


Prepare your mind and body

There’s no way around it. If you’re in New York City during the holidays, you’ll find crowds at one time or another. So, perhaps the wisest advice we can offer, once you’ve taken care of all the rest on this list, is to get mentally ready for it. Just prepare, relax, and accept the facts. Bring water and snacks with you and expect to get stuck in a herd from time to time. Consider it an essential part of the experience and try to make the best of it. After all, if you follow this list closely, then you shouldn’t have to worry too much anyway. 


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There you have it. Follow our advice and don’t let overcrowding get in the way of truly experiencing New York at its finest during the best time of the year. Regardless of what you end up doing, you surely won’t regret your trip. Happy holidays!


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You'll also be interested in these other articles!

The Coolest Street Markets In NYC You Should Hit Up This Weekend

10 Broadway Shows You Can't Miss If You Spend Christmas In New York

The Secret Park In New York Where Only People With A Key Can Go

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Oliver G. Alvar

Oliver G. Alvar


Creative Writer
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