Christmas for Free in New York City
Free Things to do at Christmas in New York City?
New York City is admittedly one of the most expensive cities to live in in the world. Given this fact, one would expect the city to be a mecca of costly events and extravagant affairs in a season known for excess. However, Christmas time in New York City abounds with free ways to experience the magic of the Christmas season. Here are a few ways to follow the lead of the locals and enjoy the great city without spending a dollar this Christmas
1. See the Christmas “Windows”
When New Yorkers speak of the windows at Christmas time, they are really referring to the extravagantly dressed Christmas windows of the major department shows between Seventh Avenue and Fifth avenue in mid-town Manhattan. Beginning in early December, the windows of Macy’s, Lord and Taylors, Bergdoff Goodman and a slew of other favorite stores come alive in a way that is uniquely New York.
Each window can best be described as a show in itself. Come late November New Yorkers and their kids start guessing at what the windows might hold for that year. Last year (2015) a Macy's window showed an interactive piano that responds by playing music every time a child plays the keys of a corresponding piano posted outside the window. In the same year another window showed a twist on the Santa story: instead of people's home, Santa was shown visiting the planets of the Milky Way solar system in an animated sleigh that flew around the planets. If you are taking a young child to New York City, this is a great activity to enjoy with her. Whatever the windows turn out to be, everyone is sure to enjoy the inventiveness of the New York designers who make these windows an enjoyable and free part of Christmas in New York City.
To get to the windows, take the A, C, E, 2,3 or F trains to the 34th Street stop, walk up to 7th Avenue where Macy's windows begin. Continue up 7th, then turn unto 6th and 5th avenues for a festive and free evening of even more colorful windows.
New York City's Holiday Windows
See New York City Transit Museum's Free Holiday Train Show
This train show is a favorite with locals over the holidays. Beginning in the middle of November each year the New York City Transit Museum brings its free holiday train show to the Grand Central Terminal building. The long running show is really a small scale replica of the city’s train system travelling through a realistic looking scene that changes each year. Themes of previous years include a homage to New York City when it was just a small town of immigrants (2014's show) and a celebration of the city's icons like the Grand Central Terminal itself. Watch as the small train replicas throttle away through realistic looking tunnels and past beautifully depicted scenery. Look out for homey cabins and town scenes along the trains’ journey. The kids will love trying to catch the lightning fast black train that zooms in and out of mountainside tunnels and is a feature of each year’s show.
Leave the free train show and head into the main floor of the Grand central building which is itself a treat. Look up for a sight to behold. The Grand Central Terminal’s ceilings are covered with intricate paintings reminiscent of the Sistine Chapel. Admire the paintings and the architectural grandeur of the building, then head to the Christmas Fair for some exquisite window shopping at the pop up stores.
To get to the train show, take the 4,5,6 or 7 train to Grand Central Terminal/42nd street stop and walk to the Transit Museums store located inside Grand Central.
See the Free Gingerbread Extravaganza at Le Meridien Parker Hotel
The Gingerbread Extravaganza hosted by the Le Parker Meridien hotel is actually held each year for the benefit of a charitable organization. City Harvest is a well- regarded foundation that feeds the less fortunate in New York City. Every Christmas Le Parker Meridien hosts a gingerbread house competition in the lobby of its 56th Street hotel for the foundation's benefit. The competition attracts New York City’s best pastry chefs who create the most unbelievable gingerbread houses for a show that is free to the public. The gingerbread houses on show elevate the Christmas staple from child’s play and into an art form. The amazing creations from previous years include a Audrey Hepburn covered 'Breakfast at Tiffany' themed Gingerbread house (2014's show), and one featuring Sesame Street’s Cookie Monster eating New York City! The show is free to the public, but many visitors make a small donation to the charity by paying a small fee to vote for a winner (about $1).
Gingerbread House from Le Parker Meridien's Free Extravaganza (2014)
Ice Skate for Free at Bryant Park's Winter Village
Ice skating is the perfect activity for those white winter nights. Normally visitors to New York City have to pay a pretty penny to enjoy the activity, but each Christmas the Bank of America sponsored Winter Village in Bryant Park opens up its skating rink for free skating to those who have their own skates (those without have to pay the fees).
Go ice skating with a huge Christmas tree and a romantic carousel as your view in the beautiful Bryant Park where couples and families often go to enjoy the great seasonal events. After skating, check out the rest of Winter Village for free samples of apple cider and other holiday treats. The Winter Village is a colorful cocktail of festive stands selling all things related to the holidays for those who want to do last minute shopping. Past years have seen vendors selling everything from Christmas ornaments to fruitcake. To get here, take the B, D,F or M train to Bryant Park/42nd Street stop. Check www.wintervillage.org for more information
The Christmas Tree and Free Ice Skating at Bryant Park's Winter Village
Admire one of New York City’s Larger Than Life Christmas Trees
No Christmas is complete without a sparkly, colorful Christmas tree overladen with ornaments and lights. Visit one of New York City’s public Christmas trees for an extravagant wonder. It is not strange that the city is home to the most famous Christmas tree in the world: this is a city where the Christmas trees are larger than life and richly decorated.
Visit the famous Rockefeller tree at its free lighting or on any other evening after that for a grand tree which seems to reach the sky. The Rockefeller Tree lighting is an event in itself. Expect to see live performances around the 80 foot or taller tree which is often decorated with Swarovski crystals and more than 40,00 lights. The tree normally stays lit until the middle of January, but gets crowded every night. If the crowds at Rockefeller Center is too intimidating, take a trip to the colorful tree in Bryant Park, where there will be less people hanging around and the chance of getting a good family photo is much better.
Check www.rockefellercenter.com for the date and time of the scheduled lighting of the Rockefeller tree, and for directions to Rockefeller Center. To get to Bryant Park take the B ,D, F or M train to the 42nd Street/ Bryant Park Stop, and walk to the park.
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