FAIRYTALE OF NEW YORK
With the Christmas Season fast approaching, for me there’s only one place that springs to mind…New York City!
As a popular city break destination at Christmas, here’s my guide to 72 hours in ‘The Big Apple”
Why not get straight into the festive spirit by starting the day in Bryant Park. This 9 acre park is situated in Midtown between 5th & 6th Avenue and 40th & 42nd Street. At this time of year the park transforms into The Winter Village, complete with ice skating rink, giant Christmas tree and a European inspired Christmas Market.
If you're visiting during the weekend, start the day off with brunch at the Bryant Park Grill. This stunning restaurant offers a tasty menu consisting of classics such as Eggs Benedict and French Toast, all whilst overlooking the ice skating rink and the Christmas Market.
Ice Skating is free, that's if you have your own skates, which you obviously packed into your suitcase, or if you desire you can hire skates for $20. The selection of holiday shops stock a variety of stocking fillers such as bespoke jewellery, home goods, speciality foods and clothing.
On the 5th Avenue side of the park is the New York Public Library, the 4th largest library in the world. Constructed in the early 1900’s, the structure was a Beaux-Arts design (a combination of Neoclassical and Greek Revival architectural styles) and was the largest marble structure up to that time in the United States.
This large impressive hall features stucco and ornate murals by Edward Laning on the walls and ceiling. The New York Public Library has featured in many Hollywood blockbuster movies including ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ ‘Ghostbusters’ and the ‘Sex and the City The Movie’
After warming up a little it’s time to head back into the cold and walk north along 5th Avenue. Here is where you will find upscale shopping from the worlds major designer brands. Holiday window displays have become a tradition in their own right with the major department stores competing against each other to create the most dramatic and unique.
Opened in 1924, Saks Fifth Avenue is one of the most famous luxury department stores worldwide, situated directly opposite the Rockefeller Center. When darkness falls the entire building comes alive with a dancing light show choreographed to music.
Directly across the street from Saks is the Rockefeller Center, a must for any Christmas visitor. Along with the numerous shops and restaurants, the main draw has to be the ice rink and world famous Christmas Tree, which has been a New York tradition for over 75 years.
Leading down to the ice rink and the legendary Christmas tree, is the beautiful Channel Gardens. Twelve wire-sculptured angels designed by Clarebout have stood proudly since 1954 and are a permanent fixture to the Rockefeller holiday decorations.
Whilst here, in my opinion, going to the top of the Rockefeller Center is best view in Manhattan. Top of The Rock is the observation deck 70 stories high with expansive views of Manhattan including Central Park to the north and The Empire State building and Lower Manhattan to the south. Tickets start at $28.
After the dizzying heights of the Rockefeller Center, it’s time to get your feet back on the ground and a visit to St Patrick’s Cathedral. Opened in 1879, the church provides a moment of calm and solitude in the madness of the city, plus a great place to thaw out.
Heading back onto 5th Avenue, passing the many Salvation Army Bell Ringers, the decorations displayed by the stores are attractions in their own right. The Cartier store is the last remaining Mansion House in Midtown, built in 1904. Cartier converted this Mansion and opened its flag-ship store here in 1917, situated on the corner of 5th Avenue and 52nd Street.
Each year the exterior of the store is ‘wrapped’ like a giant present with a bright red bow, complete with the brand’s signature Panthère de Cartier, shining like a huge diamond piece of art.
Continuing up 5th Avenue the decorations continue to impress with Salvatore Ferragamo, Tommy Hilfiger, Harry Winston and Tiffany & Co, along with numerous others showcasing opulent holiday décor.
My favourite has to be Bergdorf Goodman. The luxury department store was founded in 1899 and the company moved to its current 5th Avenue & 58th Street location in 1928, where they built their Beaux-Arts style store.
These intricate displays are all hand painted and take over 9 months to create. As you enter the store the décor continues to wow. The newly remodeled ground floor is stunningly beautiful with Holiday décor designed by New York event designer, David Monn.
Bergdorf Goodman has created the most breathtaking Christmas décor and is hands down my favourite year on year.
By now it’s certainly time for a little bite to eat, located on the 7th floor of Bergdorf Goodman is the BG Restaurant. The restaurant features sweeping views over Central Park and the interior is elegant and sophisticated with pastel sage greens, blues and gold tones. Designed by Kelly Wearstler, the interior feels as if Central Park has entered the building, albeit in its most elegant form.
For the afternoon, pop over to Grand Central Terminal (Station) on 42nd Street & Park Avenue, it covers 48 acres and features 44 platforms, more than any other railway station in the world. The original building opened in 1871 and saw many changes throughout the decades that followed.
In 1994 after years of neglect, especially during the 1970’s when New York City faced near bankruptcy, Grand Central Terminal had a major renovation to bring this iconic building back to its former glory.
The Main Concourse features an elaborately painted astronomical ceiling conceived by French artist Paul César Helleu. A large American flag hangs proudly, which was displayed days after the September 11th terrorist attacks and has remained in place ever since.
Grand Central Terminal features 68 shops, 35 dining locations and for the holidays in the Vanderbilt Hall, The Grand Central Holiday Fair. Since 1993, 40 holiday vendors have been coming each year to create a unique Christmas market within this remarkable building.
After mooching around the holiday fair a well deserved drink is in order and the perfect spot is the exclusive Campbell Bar located inside Grand Central. Formally the luxurious office of the 1920’s mogul John W. Campbell, it has now been transformed into a sophisticated cocktail lounge with an old school, gentleman club feel.
As darkness falls and the bright lights of Times Square light up Manhattan, a night at the theatre is in order. Frozen The Musical is playing at the St James Theatre on 44th Street in one of Broadway’s original theatres. Complete with a Beaux-Arts façade which was popular in New York during the 1900’s, it also houses, an Art Nouveau interior.
To round off day one, pop over to the Lanterns Keeper bar at The Iroquois Hotel on West 44th Street for a cocktail or two in the serene atmosphere, in complete contrast to the hustle and bustle going on outside.
Whether you’re recovering from the cocktails from the night before or fresh as a daisy, lets start day two in Central Park. The world-famous park is over 843 acres and is the most visited urban park in the United States. Grab a quick coffee (don’t panic, brunch is coming up later) and start at the South-East corner of the park by 5th Avenue & East 59th Street. Here you can take the Horse Drawn Carriages around the park or simply explore on foot
The first point you must stop at is 'The Pond' anyone familiar with the classic holiday movie ‘Home Alone 2: Lost in New York’ will recognise this view, with The Plaza Hotel in the background.
Not far from 'The Pond' is where you will find The Wollman Ice Rink. Nothing says Christmas in New York City more than ice skating in Central Park. Prices start at a bargain $12, plus ice skate rental from $9. A little tip, they only accept cash so make sure to have it with you before you go.
After working up an appetite on the ice it’s time for a spot of brunch and no where more perfect than the Tavern on the Green positioned on the west side of the park. Originally constructed in 1870 to house sheep (who knew Central Park had sheep?) it was converted into a restaurant in 1934.
Opening daily at 11am, the green wood paneled walls and reclaimed white-oak parquet flooring, mimic the colour of the park beyond. There is a subtle nod to the building’s history with hand carved sheep heads in the fireplace mantel. In the bar area is a equine light fixture, showcasing gilded horses that the restaurant owner originally had designed for his daughter’s bedroom.
There is so much to see and do in Central Park you could literally spend all day just exploring. As time is of the essence however, I recommend walking through the heart of the park past 'The Lake' and up to the East side to The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
At the intersection of 5th Avenue & East 82nd Street, the MET opened in 1880, with the 5th Avenue façade built in the Beaux-Art architecture, commonly used in New York during this period.
The museum is the largest in the United States and houses a vast amount of art from around the world. The museum’s Christmas tree is an annual tradition, a vivid eighteenth-century Neapolitan Nativity scene which was a result of the late Loretta Hines Howard’s collection of crèche figures. The MET opens seven days a week from 10am and tickets are $25 for adults.
After the culture of the MET, a spot of retail therapy is in order, head over to 59th & Lexington to Bloomingdales and check out their iconic Christmas window displays. A block away from Bloomingdales on East 60th Street is one of the most amazing dessert cafes around. Serendipity 3 is famous for it's ice cream sundae’s and desserts, even serving a $1000 ‘Golden Opulence Sundae’
The cosy brownstone building features an interior surrounded by Tiffany glass lamps. Serendipity 3 is a huge favourite of celebrities, with Andy Warhol declaring it was his favourite sweet shop, and paid his ‘chits’ in drawings.
For the afternoon why not spend a couple of hours in the Upper East Side at The Guggenheim art museum at 1071 Fifth Avenue. The building was designed by one of my favourite architects Frank Lloyd Wright in 1956 and is a key design in the 'Mid-Century Modern' design era. It has an iconic exterior and interior which consists of a round funnel like space holding a winding spiral ramp.
By now it’s probably time for a little relaxation, where better to relax than treating yourself to Afternoon Tea in the festive surroundings of The Palm Court at The Plaza Hotel.
Entering The Plaza Hotel, you are greeted with a floor to ceiling Christmas tree dressed elegantly in gold, bronze and white. The theme continues into The Palm Court where for over 100 years 'Afternoon Tea' has been served on custom tableware and bespoke furnishings.
As the evening draws in, no visit to New York City at Christmas would be complete without seeing The Rockettes Christmas Spectacular at Radio City. A New York Christmas tradition since 1933, this precision dance company perform a magical musical show with 150 cast members.
Highlights include the iconic scene ‘The Parade of the Wooden Soldiers’ and perhaps their best-known routine, an eye-height leg kick in perfect unison which they include at the end of every performance. Tickets start at $46.
To end the day, jump in a cab and head down to the beautiful Nomad Restaurant at 1170 Broadway. This Michelin star restaurant not only boasts incredible food, but it's wine list is extensive. Impersonating the old school glamour of grand European Hotels, the interior is dark and atmospheric with rich textures and refined furniture.
For the final day in New York City lets start by heading down The High Line, an elevated park that was transformed from the disused New York Central Railroad, starting at West 34th Street.
The park winds through Chelsea down to The Meatpacking District, two of my favourite neighbourhoods in Manhattan. Jump off the High Line (not literally) at 9th Avenue & West 15th Street and visit Chelsea Market, a large indoor food and retail complex housed within the old National Biscuit Company building where the Oreo cookie was invented and produced.
Here you’ll find numerous eateries to grab a little light breakfast, such as the Creamline café serving all day breakfast items.
Wandering back onto the streets of the Meatpacking District, you are surrounded by numerous shops, bars and restaurants. Take a moment to meander the streets around West 14th Street, heading south to Gansevoort Street, many designer stores are located here along with one-of-a-kind boutiques.
As you stroll the streets, make your way down Bleecker to West 11th Street and stop by the Magnolia Bakery, renowned for their ever-changing daily menu of cupcakes. Why not pick up a little treat to enjoy whilst you sample the unique shops and cafes as you make your way south to Perry Street. Make a right on Perry and again onto Bedford Street; here at 90 Bedford Street is where you will find the apartment building used in the hit US TV Series, ‘Friends'
A short 20 minute walk and you find yourself in the Soho District, personally, I think the best area for shopping. Soho is bustling with a mixture of major high street stores such as Urban Outfitters and H&M along with designer brands such as Dior and Chanel. Combine this with with independent boutiques, eateries and art galleries, it's my number one neighbourhood in Manhattan.
After all that Christmas shopping, a well deserved lunch is in order, right in the heart of Soho is the uber cool La Mercerie. The restaurant serves French inspired cuisine for breakfast, lunch and dinner in the gorgeous surroundings of the interiors store, Roman & Williams Guild.
For the afternoon, no visit to New York City would be complete without a visit to the site of the World Trade Center. The 9/11 Memorial and Museum is an emotional experience but beautifully executed. Two waterfalls now represent the exact footprints of the original ‘Twin Towers’
The area has received a thoughtful regeneration and now includes the architecturally brilliant Oculus, a landmark construction housing a Westfield shopping mall and a transport hub. At a build cost of $4 Billion, it is considered the most expensive train stop in the world.
Whilst you're in the area just a couple of blocks away, stop for a little tipple at The Beekman Hotel. It is one of the finest (in my opinion) interiors I have had the pleasure of visiting. Housed inside a historic building, which was one of Manhattan's original skyscrapers, it was completed in 1883. The Bar Room is an elegant lounge area to relax and take in the atmosphere of a fine example of New York's pioneering architecture that led the way to today's giant structures.
Carry on your little alcoholic tipple for an afternoons bar crawl and head down to Stone Street. A little pedestrianised cobble street surrounded by historic red brick buildings which have been lovingly restored into bars and eateries. In the summer months the street is lined with outdoor seating but as it’s winter, why not have a little pub crawl along with the local Wall Street traders and get a real feel for New York City life.
A little stumble from Stone Street is one of the best small bars in Manhattan. Belfast bar veterans Sean Muldoon and Jack McGarry from the acclaimed Merchant Hotel in Northern Ireland, have created a 19th Century style working class boozer, The Dead Rabbit at 30 Water Street.