New York City, NY

9 COVID-friendly Holiday Things to do in NYC This Year

Laura Head

Photo by Guzmán Barquín on Unsplash

I’m bummed about this holiday season. I’m used to filling in my December schedule with visits to my favorite boutiques to window-shop their holiday gifts. I’m used to frequenting my favorite cafes and restaurants to taste-test their seasonal novelties. I’m used to going into cathedrals and churches and listening to the choirs as I admire the stained glass windows.

This year, I can’t really do these things. Or, if I can, I’m distracted by the virus that’s got everyone wearing masks and keeping 6 feet of social distance.

So I've revised me holiday to-do list to avoid the most noxious of social outings. Here’s a list of things that you can still do in New York City that will make your holiday season merry.

  1. Saks Fifth Avenue Light Show I suspect this sight is well known, but part of my appreciation for it comes from the fact that I wandered into it myself by happenstance. The Saks Fifth Ave Light Show outlines its commercial buildings in lights to make them look like a castle, complete with colorful parapets, steeples, and stained glass. You could look up photos online, or you could walk up to it in person, letting the display tower over you and fill you with unparalleled holiday cheer.
  2. McCarren Park A stop over in Brooklyn, McCarren Park travels on for a number of blocks, interrupting the neighborhood railroad apartments with grassy spaces, tennis courts, running paths, and a dog park. And when a fresh snow has fallen, the artists come out of their abodes to build their own variations on the classic snowman. Most recently, I’ve even seen the New York City Subway Rat made of snow.
  3. The Highline There’s no time of year in which the Highline disappoints. In Spring, the old renovated railroad track is decorated with an array of wildflowers, but the winter juxtaposes fresh snowfall against the perennial colors. Following the plowed path, you get to take the city in at a bit of a distance. Take a glimpse at the Chelsea art galleries, the Hudson Valley water taxis, and even a corner of Times Square from above. Feeling introspective? Take a walk on the highline and lose yourself in thought.
  4. The Christmas Tree The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree has gained a new allure this year: It’s newly-arrived seasonal tree looked about as beat up and worn out as the rest of us feel at the end of a long and weird 2020. Normally a predictably scenic view punctuating the holiday season, this year’s tree is different in the sense that for once, we can all relate to it. Still, whoever it is that’s in charge of the tree has gussied it up with its lights and spirit, and now it stands perhaps as a hopeful omen for the cheer that 2021 could bring.
  5. Union Square Greenmarket When I lived in the city, I took a lot of walks without agenda. I’d hop off the subway and head in any direction, invariably uncovering on my own terms a landmark that’s been discovered and lauded a million times over all across the internet. The Union Square Greenmarket may have been the first among these. Having been a New York City transplant directly from Paris, France, I was charmed to find an outdoor market hosted by local farms and artisans. The people in line were after the freshest and cleanest produce, but also for a chance to exchange a few neighborly words in a city where everything else moves too fast. So if you’re looking for some heirloom tomatoes, Ostrich eggs, or just a friendly conversation, be sure to make a stop at the Union Square Greenmarket.
  6. Union Square Holiday Market It was five years before I made it to the Union Square Holiday Market, and in hindsight, those first four years really were a wasted opportunity. Erected in the same location as its timeless Greenmarket, the seasonal Holiday Market is home to local crafters, indie creators, and soul-warming drinks and snacks. Think of it as the IRL version of It’s one of those places you can wander through without having conceived a list of holiday gifts for friends and family, and walk away with all of your shopping done.
  7. Brooklyn Bridge Park - I’ve frequented the Brooklyn Bridge parks for runs with friends, on dates, for solo promenades, picnics, and day-drinking tours. There’s nothing that the Brooklyn Bridge Park doesn’t welcome you to do. The park carries on for a few miles, lining the Western waterfront of Brooklyn and staring Manhattan’s Financial District in the face from across the water. From Jane’s Carousel and the piers to the art installations and colorful apartment faces, the park’s many attractions leave you finding something new every time you visit.
  8. Bryant Park Ice Skating If you’ve got your own skates, it’s free. And I haven’t been yet this year, but I’ve heard that crowds are more sparse that they’d normally be. If you’re looking to exercise your athletic side, or just jonesing for a broken ankle, lace up your old blades and go take a spin.
  9. Delacorte Clock in Central Park If you go to New York City without a traipse through Central Park, did you really even go? Central Park is home to the Delacorte Clock, whose animal motif echoes the feel of the neighboring zoo. Ordinarily singing nursery tunes at the hour marks, the animal band brings out their seasonal repertoire this time of year. Christmas and Hanukkah tunes sound out through the park, offering an auditory cue to match the snow.


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Passionate educator writing insights on learning, sharing travel thoughts, and whatever else comes to mind. Founder of Heads Up Learning, K-12 educator, blogger, and ☕️ addict.

New York City, NY

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