A first-timer’s guide to NYC at Christmas, plus three tips you need to know

Twinkling lights, skating in central park and the hum of a vibrant city being brought to life by dropping temperatures and the fast-approach of Christmas Day. It’s a picture we’ve seen in countless holiday movies over the years (Home Alone 2 anyone?) and was *finally* my reality when I visited the Big Apple this month.

If visiting the city that never sleeps at Christmas has been on your bucket list for as long as you can remember (guilty) then you might have a list of places saved to visit when the time comes around. But – as someone with a long list myself – planning the trip felt a little overwhelming. With a hotel on every corner, and sponsored ads for ‘the best Christmas activities in NY’ popping up on my feed, I decided to wade through the noise to find the things to do that were *actually* worth my short time in the city.

So, scroll on down for my first timers guide to New York at Christmas, and start manifesting a magical trip to the city for winter 2023…

The Christmas show you can’t miss

The Rockettes Christmas Spectacular featuring the Radio City Rockettes is not only a part of New York City history, but a classic part of the Christmas festivities there. The first performance was in 1933 and has been dazzling audiences every year since then.

Radio City Music Hall decked for festivities

It’s a 90-minute musical holiday stage show which features more than 140 performers and an original musical score, combining singing, dancing, and humour with feel-good scenes that are perfect for the whole family.

Seriously, the audience was filled from the smallest of children to the most glamorous of older people and everyone was having the best time. And the iconic soldier fall? Still trying to figure out how they pulled that off.

The iconic Radio City Music hall is decked to the nines in festive touches, and inside is just as impressive. There was no filming inside the building, but trust me when I say that you’re truly in for a treat. If there’s one show to get tickets to while you’re there, it’s this one

The best ice rink in the city

Skating at Wollman Rink

Ice skating in New York is probably on your bucket list if you’re heading to the city for festivities, and even though i’m a bit of a Bambi on ice, it was an experience at the top of mine. When thinking about skating, the iconic Rockefeller rink came to mind, but the best rink, in my opinion, was the Wollman Rink in Central Park. It’s a huge rink surrounded by all the park has to offer, with crisp ice and plenty of space. What’s not to love? It’s around £15 per person, with an additional £10 for skate hire. I’d advise booking in advance, and getting there around 30/40 minutes early to allow enough time for queuing for entry.

The food and drink you’ll want to try

I could write endless pages about where to eat in NYC, and there definitely wasn’t enough time to check off every place in our short stay there, so instead, I’ve included a list of all the recommendations I received before going, so you can add them to your list too!


  • Joe’s pizza
  • Prince street pizza
  • Ace’s pizza

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    • Rolf’s
    • Canary club (there’s even live music wed to Sat)
    • Skin contact wine bar
    • Le dive wine bar
    • The Bowery Hotel
    • The Peninsula Hotel
    • Eavesdrop

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      • Jack’s wife Frieda
      • Butchers daughter
      • Empire diner
      • Carnagie diner
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        • Bar Piti pasta in the west village
        • Puglia

          Healthy eats:

          • Kiki’s Greek
          • La Esquina
          • Puglia
          • Jack’s Wife Frieda

            The hotel worth your money

            The hardest part of the trip as a first-timer was finding somewhere to stay. As a Londoner, the thought of staying anywhere near central London sends chills down my spine, yet somehow, being as close as possible to the hum of Times Square was inviting. But which area was the best for what we wanted to do? And where was going to give us that Gossip Girl Manhattan feel without the chaos that comes from a big city during the holidays?

            After some research and recommendations by friends, we settled on The Moxy Chelsea Garden, which turned out to be 100{d8a8d447f05f03c64398acf0d3c5a745c9c41fc784ba89cd5aecd37177dc7d51} be the right decision.

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            Located on 28th Street, it was right around the corner from Madison Square Garden, a 20-minute walk to Times Square, and conveniently located next to the subway for easy city access. It’s tucked away on a quiet street, and has an incredible cafe just adjacent to the hotel where guests can make use of free coffee from 7-10 each morning, or enjoy one of the fresh pastries and baguettes. Plus, if you’re a bed and breakfast guest, you’ll receive a $30 credit to use at the hotel bar or restaurant per day.

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            Now, space isn’t exactly something that the city has lots of, but the Moxy Chelsea makes use of what they do have to provide a cosy, yet sophisticated environment. The bedrooms are flooded with light thanks to floor-to-ceiling wall-to-wall windows, and if you’re lucky like we were, you can see the Empire State building from the comfort of your own bed. There’s a large TV with Netflix ready to go in case bad weather or jet lag comes calling, and the unique industrial design really gives off a true ‘NY loft’ feel.

            The view from our room

            But the views. Can we just take a moment to appreciate this. Waking up to this each morning truly made the trip so special. And if you’re searching for even more great city views without leaving your room, you can pop up to The Fleur Room, a glass-enclosed rooftop lounge with panoramic, 360 degree views and a bar serving cocktails until the early hours.

            The best views of the Empire State, without leaving the room

            In the lobby of the hotel, guests can find a roundup of all the activities they have on at the hotel that week: from resident DJ’s at the rooftop bar, to mindful painting classes and even drag queen bingo nights. There really is something for everyone.

            Speaking of something for everyone, if you’re like us and love to get a holiday workout in, the hotel have started their #SweatAtMoxy exclusive series of rooftop fitness classes to offer world-class workouts right at the hotel. The classes will feature high-intensity, low-impact sequences that combine strength training, cardio, and stretching for all levels, so you can sweat and take in the city views at the same time.

            The Moxy have locations all around the city too, so there’s one for wherever you need to be. You can book your stay here.

            Tips to keep in mind

            Whether you’re there for a week or a fleeting visit, you’ll there are a few tips that I learnt while there, that definitely made the trip easier as a first timer:

            Plan your days by area

            After compiling a long list of places we wanted to visit, the next step was to add them to a map and split them out by area. This way, you have an idea of where to head each day, and see what you want to see, but still have time to explore the hidden gems each neighbourhood has to offer. We did this on both google maps, and Mapstr, which is really handy for putting everything in one place.

            Don’t be afraid to walk

            We started our trip by getting Metro cards, only to realise that we were going to walk most of the places we wanted to, and when we weren’t walking, we could use our contactless bank cards on the Subway. But, walking around the city truly is the best way to see what it has to offer. One of the days, we took a wrong turn down a street and found the best place for breakfast that we ended up visiting again. But don’t forget the comfy shoes – walking 20k steps a day is no joke.

            Invest in a CityPASS®

            As a first-timer, a lot of the sights I wanted to see were top tourist spots, so our CityPASS® tickets came in handy. Once purchased, the pass allows you access to some of the city’s favourite spots, including:

            • Top of the Rock
            • The Empire State Building
            • 9/11 Memorial Museum
            • Ferry ride to The Statue of Liberty
            • American Museum of Natural History Museum

              You can buy your pass here

              Bookmark NYC Go

              If you’re looking for an entire site of handy tips, guidebooks and the latest openings in the city, NYC Go is *the* online site to have saved. You can even break it down by area, so you’re never too far from the hottest new restaurant, gym, or activity.