Are all of these holiday activities making you feel a little too warm and cuddly? Cool way down by starting your new year off with an icy dip at Coney Island. The New Year's Day challenge is free for swimmers, though a voluntary donation of $25 helps to keep this swim going year after year. Registering early will keep you out of queue on the day of the swim, so all you have to do is show up, strip down and jump in. That's easier said than done though, so if you're not interested in participating, observers are also welcome to come and snap some priceless pics.
For many children around the country, The Nutcracker was not only their first introduction to ballet, but also a shining symbol of the holiday season. The Nutcracker in New York, which debuted in February 1954, pays homage to that tradition with elaborate staging and some of the finest performers in the world. All in, the show features 90 dancers, 62 musicians, 32 stagehands and 2 separate casts of 50 students that re-create Tchaikovsky's beloved world flawlessly. If you can only see one show this holiday season, don't even hesitate. Make it The Nutcracker. The show runs from late-November to early-January, giving you plenty of time to catch a piece of the magic, even after the new year.
Make the trek over the bridge and into Brooklyn's Dyker Heights to see a dizzying display of Christmas lights. Each year, the neighborhood comes alive with decorations and displays that can only be described as over-the-top. For optimal viewing, plan on going in mid-December and consider taking a car. While the subway gets you close, many of the most impressive displays are a mile or more from the station, and younger ones might have an issue traipsing the crowded neighborhood by foot. If a car isn't an option, there's always the bus. One thing is for sure: it doesn't matter how you get here, just that you make it.
While we advise steering clear of Rockefeller Center for ice-skating, we're more than happy to recommend that you visit for a show. Specifically, the Radio City Christmas Spectacular starring The Rockettes. Founded in 1925, The Rockettes are a dance troupe best known for their long legs and high kicking chorus lines, a cultural sensation and key staple of their Christmas show. Show attendees can expect to hear classic tunes including "Rocking Around the Christmas Tree" and "Here Comes Santa Claus" while The Rockettes entertain through a mixture of modern dance and ballet. The family-friendly show kicks off in early November and runs through New Year's Day.
Romantic movie fanatics will remember this restaurant from the 2001 John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale film, Serendipity. In the movie, the two stars share a dessert that kick starts their love affair and consequently cements this spot in lover's minds forever. Due to the popularity of this dessert haven and their now infamous frozen hot chocolate, be prepared to wait before being seated. However, if you're willing to eat more than just dessert, the restaurant takes reservations for dinner. Looking to pull off a romantic stunt of your own? Serendipity's "The Golden Opulence Sundae" may be your answer. Covered in 23-karat edible gold leaf, this creamy treat costs $1,000, making it one of the most expensive desserts money can buy.
Ice-skating in Rockefeller Center sounds perfect in theory, but the reality of the situation is that it's often a madhouse with a steep admission fee. Instead, toss on some skate in the shadow of the New York Public Library at The Rink at Bryant Park, which runs this year through March 3rd, though the holiday shops shutter on January 2nd. While we're not promising that there won't be hordes of skaters here, admission is free, which makes queuing up a little easier to stomach. If you already own skates, feel free to bring them with you. Otherwise, skate rentals will cost you $15. And here's a pro tip: locker space is also free, but bring your own lock or else you'll be asked to fork over another $9.
Once you've overcome the sticker shock on 5th Avenue, make your way a little further south to Union Square. Usually home of the city's largest green market, radishes and rhubarb are replaced during the holidays with a bevy of gifts made by local artisans. Helmed by Urbanspace, coordinators of the popular summer pop-up Madison Square Eats, the market opens this year on November 15th and features everything from hand-crafted jewelry to brew-your-own beer kits. As you weave your way through the stalls, strike up conversations with the artists and get an inside peek at that their process. That way, when your sister-in-law thanks you for her dog's new couture collar and leash, you'll be able to tell her all about the woman who made it.
Every year, millions of New Yorkers and visitors walk down 5th Avenue to peruse the windows of Bloomingdale's, Macy's, Saks, Barneys and countless others that pull out all the stops for their annual displays. While it's true that you'll find this activity on nearly every tourist's to-do list, don't let that diminish your excitement for this long-running holiday tradition. These high-end retailers plan all year for their grand unveilings and no detail is overlooked. As each window looks to trump the one next to it, the result is a strip of pure magnificence in the form of literal window watching and bright, shining light shows.
Not so fast there, parade-goer. Instead, we recommend turning your attention away from parade day for just a moment. On Thanksgiving Eve, the night before the big show, a not-so-secret tradition has been taking place since 1927. Taking up two full city blocks around The Museum of Natural History, people gather to watch the parade's famous balloons take shape. It's a great way to see favorites like Snoopy, Big Bird and Spongebob without waking up with the sun and elbowing for a place on the parade's front lines. The inflation event opens to the public at 3PM the Wednesday before the parade, and closes around 10PM.
If you're looking for stunning views alongside your holiday cheer, look no further than One World Observatory, the indoor observatory at the top of One World Trade Center. With panoramic, 360-degree views of the Big Apple, you'll have your head in the clouds as you snap pics in all directions. During the holidays, the observatory transforms into a "Winter Onederland," with Santa available (by reservation) for photos over the weekends. Tickets range from $34-$67, so while it's certainly not cheap for a family to take in NYC's most coveted view, it's a unique experience that no one will soon forget.