Christmas in New York City: Is it Worth the Chaos?

With its year round tourism and the dreamy appearance created by famous films such as Elf, Miracle on 34th Street, and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, New York City has established a glamorous reputation for the holiday season. But, is spending the holidays in the Big Apple really all it's cracked up to be?


As a disclaimer, I have been to New York City multiple times and happen to absolutely love it, but never for the holiday season, which can be quite a different story. So, in order to get a feel for the holiday atmosphere, I made sure to visit some of the most touristy spots.


First, Macy’s Christmas Windows:

Similar to the famous Marshall Fields’ Windows in Chicago, Illinois, Macy’s in Herald Square is known for its decked out Christmas display. At first I was a little disappointed because most of the windows were simply covered in snowflakes and advertised items inside the store.

As I kept walking, however, there came a bunch of windows that were not only decorated specifically for Christmas, but followed a Christmas story for kids to stand and read. There was a classic tale about Santa Claus and the Christmas spirit of giving. But they also brought in a new addition to the iconic concept with their theme “Believe in the Wonder of Giving” which featured a snowman named Sunny the Snowpal. While these windows and outdoor displays were well done, they were mainly for children and families, so the majority of people passed them by, especially since most people are simply trying to get inside the store.


What I found to be far more impressive and open to shoppers of all ages was the inside displays. What I particularly liked about these were the level of grandeur and detail. It made Macy’s feel much more high-end and glamourous with all the crystals and floor-to-ceiling decor. Additionally, I appreciated that they stuck to their age-old message of believing, whether it be in Santa Claus or the magic of the holidays or your dreams.


Second, I visited Rockefeller Center:

Out of all the places I visited, Rockefeller was probably the most famous and the most ridiculously crowded.  As well known, Rockefeller Center is home to New York’s biggest Christmas Tree display as well as the famous ice skating rink, Radio City Music Hall, Top of the Rock viewing deck, and the Radio City Rockettes. So, it’s understandable for most tourists to want to visit this iconic location; however, the amount of people was insane. To describe it in simple terms would be to reference the saying, “Packed like Sardines”. At some points, there wasn’t even room to move, and everyone was touching everyone. It was just all too much. I personally don’t get anxious or freaked out by crowds like this, but for someone who does, Christmas at Rockefeller could be really bad and potentially harmful. And to be completely honest, since it was so chaotic, we really only came and went, despite our couple of seconds to take photos. There was no point in prolonging the stay there because all the restaurants, bathrooms, ice rink, and attractions would be just as packed and take hours to actually see. If it isn’t already apparent, Rockefeller was my least favorite location. It’s far too overhyped during the holidays, and as a person who has visited in the off-season, Rockefeller is just as great and even more fun without the absurd crowds. If you want an enjoyable experience where you can take your time to visit the museum, Top of the Rock, ice rink, shops, restaurants, and more, I recommend going some other time, such as fall or spring.

Third, 5th Avenue- St. Patrick's Cathedral and Saks:

Saks on Fifth is another well-known department store with crowd-pleasing window displays. As a lover of fashion and glamour, Saks on Fifth is definitely the place to go for windows. The windows were far more like art. They each had different themes, but they all utilized dramatic colored lighting and took on the image of extravagant photoshoots. I was honestly very impressed and drawn in by their windows. Not only were they lovely to look at but effective in getting customers to enter the store, and although this article isn’t a review on effective store windows, I think it’s an important factor to mention.


Right to the left of Saks on Fifth is St. Patrick’s Cathedral, one of the most famous Catholic churches in New York City. While it doesn’t seem like as big of a tourist attraction as other locations, its appearance in numerous films and Christmas appeal, given that Christmas is a Christian holiday, does in fact attract a lot of visitors. Between Saks and St. Patrick’s, Fifth Avenue was just as packed as the flooding crowds two blocks away at Rockefeller.


Fourth, Times Square:


For Times Square, I visited twice. Once before New Years and once after New Years. For the visit before New Years, it was crowded but manageable. It honestly wasn’t anything too crazy. People were taking photos, buying things from street sellers, watching street performers, and of course gazing up at all the billboards. In regards to others times that I’ve visited, it really wasn’t that different, which truly shocked me because surrounding New Years and especially New Years Eve, Times Square is packed with people. For that reason, I definitely did not attend the Rockin’ Eve. Instead, I watched it on TV and enjoyed being all comfy in my aunt’s house. But then my family wanted to visit literally the day after New Years Eve, the 1st. I was hesitant because the streets were still pretty messy and crowded. And although there were the usual crowds, once again it wasn’t nearly as chaotic as Rockefeller. However, the streets were still pretty full of garbage and random pieces of decor from the night before. One really cool thing that made it special, though, was that confetti was still flying through the air. Though this is probably terrible for the environment, it gave me all the celebratory feels of spending New Years there but without actually attending. Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by Times Square.

Locations that I also visited but won’t being going into detail on include The MET Museum, Central Park, World Trade Center Memorial, SoHo, Chinatown and Little Italy, and Ellis Island. I toured all of these after New Years, and the crowds were far more manageable, thus making the experience far more enjoyable. If there was one thing I gained from my holiday experience in New York City, it is that New York is beautiful year round, and it's honestly not worth the chaos. Ultimately, the decision is up to you. The chaotic crowds are definitely an experience that I won’t forget, but my suggestion is to go in the fall or spring. For any future New York travelers, I hope this helped you a little bit, and for everyone, have safe and fun travels wherever you may be going!