Yu "Fish" Cui
Your NYC Christmas Guide
Updated: Mar 29
December is always one of the most exciting months of the year! There's never too much celebration for the holidays! Besides, all the holiday markets and Christmas decorations are around the city now. Are you ready to start your holiday celebration? Here is the list of my favorite places to go during this time of the year. I'm so excited to share my photo tips with you so you can get your perfect holiday pictures!
Radio City Music Hall
Radio City Music Hall is one of the major attractions that puts up their Christmas decorations earliest. As soon as the decorations are up, you can feel the festive spirit in the air! Right across the street are the giant ornament balls, also one of my favorites! With all the string lights on the trees, this is definitely one of the loveliest holiday night views in the city!
Photo tips: I highly recommend you to go there at night. This spot looks even more gorgeous when the lights are on. You will have a better chance of getting awesome shots late at night, after 10PM, since this area is super busy during the day.
Cartier Fifth Avenue
The Cartier store on Fifth Avenue is all decorated and ready for the holiday season. What could be cuter than the entire building dressed up like a giant gift box? This decoration is so brilliantly designed, and all the details give me the perfect holiday vibes! This classic New York City street view is hard to beat!
Photo tips: Since Fifth Avenue is one of the busiest streets in the city, the traffic can make photos more difficult. This is another spot that requires patience and good timing. Going there earlier in the day is always better.
New York Botanical Garden Holiday Train Show
Going to the Holiday Train Show has been a Christmas ritual for us for years. Each time, I am blown away by the craftmanship, imagination, and creativity of the artists behind the exhibition. More than 175 iconic NYC architectural landmarks are recreated in minature with leaves, branches, and other natural materials. It is a holiday wonderland and something you have to see to believe.
Direction: Easy to get to via public transportation-Take the Metro North Harlem local line at Grand Central to Botanical Garden Station.
Photo tips:The Train Show can get pretty packed, especially during the weekend. Weekdays or later in the day may have fewer crowds. Don't forget to appreciate the details; they are splendid!
The holiday season and hot chocolate always go hand in hand. Maribelle in Soho offers one of the most incredible gourmet chocolates in the city. The shop is a perfect place to pick your sweet chocolaty holiday gifts. The chocolates here are pieces of art. You can also enjoy the creamiest hot chocolate and a delightful afternoon tea in the cafe. They have quite an amazing menu.
Photo tips: The decoration here is classy and ravishing. Any spot is picture-perfect.
Rolf's has definitely earned the reputation of being the most decorated Christmas restaurant in NYC. The entire restaurant is instantly beautiful and screaming Christmas! It has been a tradition for the restaurant to do the holiday decoration for many years, and each year it is expanding. You would be amazed by the details and thought that are put into the decorations. It is truly a Christmas wonderland and worth a visit.
Photo tips: Rolf's can get super crowded during the holiday season. Try to visit there on weekdays or in the afternoon to avoid the peak dining time and crowds.
Serra by Birreria
Serra by Birreria always has brilliant seasonal decorations. But this year, it really has outdone itself! I am obsessed with the ambiance here. It takes me into a snowy, dreamy winter forest. What a perfect place to dine with friends and family. Our must-order here is always: the bread, the meatballs, and their freshly made pasta!
Photo tips: The entire restaurant is very photogenic. If you go there right at opening, there are usually great opportunities to snap some pictures before it gets packed.
Lotte New York Palace
We all know the famous Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center, but Lotte New York Palace has one of the most spectacular Christmas trees in my heart. The tree is so gorgeously decorated and beautiful from every angle. Be sure to stop by when you are in midtown. It is just one avenue away from major holiday spots like Saks Fifth Avenue and Cartier.
Photo tips: This place is very picture-friendly. It is open to the public. Even though there are often people here, everyone gets a chance. The staff at the gate will kindly help you take a picture too.
Saks Fifth Ave Light Show
The light show and window display at Saks Fifth Avenue is a must-see for Christmas, even for New Yorkers. The light show starts at 5 pm and ends at 11 pm every day and replays every 10 minutes. It transforms the front of Saks Fifth Avenue into fairy tale land. The window display this year is the theme of Frozen II.
Photo tips: If you are looking for a moment to take a picture at the light show, I suggest you go there after 10 pm. Even though there are still many people around, it is for sure less crowded.
The Peninsula New York
The Peninsula Hotel has a dazzling lobby decoration this year. It puts me into a fun nutcracker world immediately. Each detail is packed with colors! Don't forget to take a closer look at the Christmas trees; they are fully decorated with lovely ornaments.
Photo tips: The lobby has a warm tone lighting and can be dim at times. The staff is very kind and patient with people taking pictures.
Our experience at the LuminoCity Festival was like walking into a dream. I was so wowed by the vibrant colors and all the cute lights. The Lantern Festival is a tradition in China to celebrate the Chinese New Year. Seeing the lights there brought back lots of memories for me. The Winter Fantasy section looks like a real-life Frozen set. The Sweet Dream is a giant candy land that fulfilled all my wishes when I was a child. One of my favorite sections is the Panda Reserve. It has lots of elements inspired by Chinese arts and culture, which I really appreciated. By the way, the food there is very delicious too. We got our dinner at the food trucks in the back and tried several desserts at the market! It made me feel like being a kid again and brought me pure joy.
Photo tips: Each theme area is perfect for pictures. They all have dazzling and lovely colors. We went on a Sunday night, and even though there were many people, it was relatively easy to take pictures. Be prepared to wait around for the good photo opportunities!
Bryant Park Winter Village
Bryant Park Winter Village is one of the biggest, and my favorite, holiday markets. Not only do they have dozens of shops for you to pick your holiday gifts, but the food here is super yummy! What I love this market the most is the variety: artwork, jewelry, ornaments, funky socks, spices. There are so many choices for different groups of people. If it's too cold outside, there is also an indoor setting area "The Lodge" to keep you warm. If you visit this Winter Village, make sure you try a cup of hot chocolate. Many shops have it, and so far, every cup I've tried is rich and delicious!
Photo tips: The Christmas tree at Bryant Park Winter Village makes it a beautiful photo spot. It can get pretty crowded during the day, espeically on weekends. The holiday desserts here can also be a part of a cute holiday photo!
Baked Cheese Haus
Nothing beats a warm sandwich with freshly baked Raclette. Half wheels of Raclette melt under traditional Swiss warmers and get scraped directly to your sandwich. If you love cheese, this is a must-try!
Artisan Chimney Cake
This is hands down my favorite dessert here. Each one is made right in front of you and packed with sweet flavors. One is enough to be shared by two because it is so rich! My goal is definitely to try all the flavors!
No Chewing Allowed
This shop has one of the best chocolates around! And remember, just let it melt in your mouth, there's no chewing allowed! I also got some packages of hot chocolate here this time so that I can enjoy a cup of rich chocolate at home!
Bolivian Llama Party: This place has delicious fries! We tried the queso one and it was so satisfying. They also have small bites and sandwiches, which look amazing! I'm looking forward to trying more there!
Union Square Holiday Market
I love this holiday market almost as much as Bryant Park's. Though some vendors are the same, Union Square has some fantastic art shops and the cutest ornament shops. This market is not huge but packed with shops and laid out like a maze. You can feel the holiday spirits here.
Photo tips: At night, when the lights are on, this holiday market looks super festive. It is usually very packed all day long. Good timing and patience are the keys!
If you want something hearty and rich, you have to try the duck fat burger and fries here. I got a classic burger, and the sauce was super delicious. Lots of people also get cheese fries and poutine there. I have to try them next time!
This pretzel stand has so many different flavors of pretzels, from salty to sweet. Every time I have such difficulty picking just one, so I keep coming back. Hot pretzels and holiday market, what can be a better combo?
Breezy Hill Orchard
The homemade apple cider doughnuts and hot cider there are so hard to resist. I usually get a cup of cider and walk around the market, then pick up a box of doughnuts and bring them home!
Wafels & Dinges
You can smell the freshly made waffles in the air feets away. This is a must-try for sweets lovers! There are so many options on the menu and they are all so heavely. They also have a permenent location at Bryant Park. If you miss it at the holiday market, you can always come back!
Four Seasons Hotel New York Downtown
This cute little winter garden is right outside of the downtown Four Season Hotel. For those of you who are looking for Christmas lighting installations, this is a spot to check out! If you are visiting Oculus or World Trade Center, take a quick stop here along the way!
Photo tips: This area is open to the public and not crowded at all! It's super easy to take a holiday shot there.