Sunday, December 9, 2012

comprehensive (by which i mean LONG!!!) 2012 nyc holiday windows tour (with master plan!)

a christmas tradition you've heard me talk about plenty of times, is the day, each december, that my mother and i spend in manhattan, strolling up and down fifth avenue, drinking in the amazing department store decorations, shopping at the holiday markets, and generally enjoying all the fun and festivity of "christmas time in the city". something i've not done before is include the logistics of our route and specific locations of the "must see" windows. but it occurs to me that anyone who lives within a train ride of new york (or is planning a winter vacation here?) might like a few hard facts, so i'm going to make this a kind of semi-travelogue, for anyone who's interested!  (for anyone who's not interested, c'mon back tuesday morning, for a lovely holiday card!)

give my regards to broadway, remember me to herald square!

we usually arrive in new york via new jersey transit train to pennsylvania station (31st-33rd streets between 7th and 8th avenues) and by leaving the station complex from the main entrance across from the grand old hotel pennsylvania, it's only about a block and a half walk to...

stop #1:  macy's, herald square (34th st and broadway) where the holiday windows are always quite a feature, and even the building's facade, crowds, and ancillary decorations are lovely. an uptown N, R or W subway train... (there are maps, apps, and whole websites devoted to the ny subway system, also known as the MTA; plus, fellow riders are surprisingly helpful; if you stick firmly to the tourist trail, you should not be afraid to use this awesomely useful resource!) ...from the herald square station to the lexington avenue/59th street stop will whisk you quickly to...

 i'm not sure they've ever refurbished the frontage of bloomies... and why would they?

stop #2: bloomingdale's (59th st and 3rd ave) i call this a must-see, but if you really, REALLY want to avoid the subway or need to knock a couple of blocks off your day's walking, you can skip it. it's a gorgeous store, though, and again, the windows never disappoint. (also a good place to grab a snack, a meal, or a bathroom break!) 

not xmassy, but i love the juxtaposition of the historic plaza hotel and the apple cube on 5th ave

walking west a couple of blocks and turning left onto fifth avenue lands you in the heart of the "windows tour": between 59th and 38th streets, just keep walking south, and you'll see branches of nearly every luxury brand you can imagine (from apple to tiffany to american girl to versace), all the big department stores, some of the cooler old hotels (the plaza, the peninsula), fao schwarz, st. patrick's cathedral, rockefeller center, etc.; you'll need to cross fifth avenue a number of times back and forth to see everything, and when you get to the bigger stores, be sure to go around the corner of their cross-street, because sometimes the side windows have cool stuff, too. i'll name the highlights below, but there's no way i can be comprehensive because there's just too much good stuff. keep your eyes peeled, and allow extra time for diversions. ready? let's go!

my mom, central park south, on one of the most beautiful days of any december, ever

stop #3: bergdorf-goodman (5th ave at 58th st) as with macy's and bloomingdales, this is another series of 5-6 windows with a comprehensive theme and a big budget, though these generally contain store merchandise rather than animated figures or a mechanical display. worth seeing, for sure, though.

 bergdorf's had an art deco theme this year

stop #4: tiffany + van cleef and arpel across the street from each other (at 5th ave and 57th; bulgari and harry winston are in the next block, too) there's always a bit of friendly competition as to who can produce the flashier display. the winner is YOU, as you drink it all in! (for the record, i almost always love tiffany the most, and this year was no exception.)

a tiny tree, signature boxes, and lots of reflection at tiffany

stop #5: henri bendel (5th ave at 56th st) this year we voted bendel's the best for souvenirs, there's a whole room right at ground level with amazing smaller gifts and stocking stuffers; of course NOTHING is cheap in new york, but there were some pretty irresistible trinkets here.

you don't even have to be an anthro junkie to love the decor

stop #6: saks (5th ave between 49th and 50th streets) has a cool snowflake light show every 10 or 15 minutes after 5pm that's worth seeing; also it's directly across the street from rockefeller center where you can see the ice rink, the biiiiiiiiiiiiig tree, and plenty of other decorations. the windows at anthropology on 50th street (about half a block into the complex) are always worth the trip, and inside the center are more shops, restaurants, bathrooms, and more. 

(the viewing deck at top of the rock is definitely worth a visit, but costs about $25 per person, and will consititute a diversion of a couple of hours, in order to encompass waiting time, an interesting film, and finally the taking of 1,000,000 photos of the new york skyline, so might best be left to a different occasion. if you ask me whether i prefer it to the (similarly priced, but possibly even-longer-lined) empire state building for panoramic purposes, i'd have to grudgingly say, "yeah" because the only thing you cannot PHOTOGRAPH from the top of the empire state *is* the empire state... just sayin'...) 

ice skaters at rockefeller center

when you're done wandering around rockefeller center, head back to fifth avenue, and continue walking south.

stop #7: barney's (5th ave at 47th) more window finery, usually with a bit of video or animation.

now... there's quite a long gap between here and your next venue, lord and taylor, at 38th street, but the windows there are usually quite wonderful (our faves this year, actually!) and if you're headed back to penn station at 34th, it's directly on the way. however, if you're beat, this is a good time to either jump in a cab OR walk more directly towards your train via times square if you don't mind being in a SERIOUS CROWD (walk west on 42nd street for 3 blocks and you'll run right into it).

alternatively, the holiday shops in bryant park (42nd st behind the main branch of the NY public library which fronts on 5th ave) are worth seeing, bryant park also boasts a substantial christmas tree, and an ice rink that's smaller (but also cheaper and with less of a wait!) than the one at rockefeller center. add in some pretty good outdoor food venues, a (pricey!) sit-down restaurant, and surprisingly elegant bathrooms... usually with a very long line!

if you divert into bryant park, you'll need to walk back to fifth avenue, and continue proceeding south to get to...

one of the whimsical, magical windows at lord and taylor

stop #8: lord and taylor (5th ave at 38th street) i mentioned that these were our favorite windows this year, and this is not the first time it's happened. more than once we've been tempted to skip this stop, and occasionally we do skip it, but we've never got here and been sorry. it's really up to how tired you are when you've got to 47th, and what time you wanted to head for home.

after this stop, we usually walk a block west and then head south on sixth avenue, so we can grab another glimpse at macy's, afterall, it's right on the way back to penn station... just one more block west and you are all set to catch your train home!

the tree at the metropolitan museum should probably get its own day

however, i'd be remiss if i didn't at least mention a few fun holiday add-ons; though frankly, there is no way you can do ALL OF THEM in one day, so don't even try! but here's the info:

1. the inside of the flagship macy's at herald square (34th st and braodway) is well-known to have one of the best "santalands" in new york... and the lines reflect that, so plan on amusing your little guys and gals during a considerable wait to see the man himself. on the plus side, the store itself is quite nice, with fabulous 1920's wooden escalators, five levels of an entire city block of shopping, a few cafes, and an entire top floor dedicated to the display and purchase of every conceivable type of christmas ornament and decoration. this is also a great warm-up and/or bathroom-break spot!

2. there are outdoor holiday markets with an emphasis on unique and interesting gifts, art and jewelry at union square (14th-17th streets, between broadway and park ave), columbus circle (59th st at the SW corner of central park), and the aforementioned bryant park (42nd st & 6th ave); there's also a very up-scale "holiday fair" inside vanderbilt hall at grand central station (42nd st & park ave). if you happen to hit upon a very cold day, the latter is a nice way to warm up; grand central also has restaurants, some lovely (permanent) shops, nice bathrooms, a food court where you can sample many only-in-ny chain restaurants... oh yeah... and trains, too! (both subway and above-ground rail connections in and out of the city.) 

3. the christmas tree at the metropolitan museum of art (5th ave at 81st st) with its elaborate 18th-century italian nativity scene and renaissance-style angel decorations is my favorite in the city, but it's admittedly a bit of a trek to get to the upper east side to see it, and the $20 museum entrance fee is enough that you'll probably want to spend a few hours touring the museum while you're there. on the plus side, it's arguably one of the finest "all round" art museums in the world, boasting a collection which includes a genuine, full-sized first century BC egyptian temple, a complete frank lloyd wright living room, greek and roman statuary, egyptian mummies, musical instruments from around the world, tiffany glass galore, a fine collection of modern paintings, amazing arms and armor, furniture, silver, pottery, tapestries, altarpieces and religious artifacts... basically if you can think of a well-known artist or artistic style, the met owns at least a couple of really nice examples! there are dining options ranging from the very reasonable cafeteria to the ultra-ritzy trustee's dining room, and again, if you've chanced to hit the city on a very cold (or rainy!) day, it's a nice weather-proof haven!

an amazing fused glass panel from one of the shops in bryant park

a few bonus tips to make your trip even better:

1. don't drive in to the city. unless you're a local or will absolutely NEED a car whilst actually in manhattan, you are fighting the tide! trust me, the traffic is a headache you don't need, and the prices for parking might actually make your head explode. buses and trains arrive daily from all over... try to be on one if it's humanly possible!

2. wear comfortable shoes!!! you'll be walking. a lot. all day long. it's a new york thing. no one will be looking at your feet anyway, i promise!

3. wear comfortable shoes!!! ok, yeah, this may sound a lot like tip #2, but over the years i've discovered there is no possible way to over-stress this point. if your feet hurt, you will be miserable. seriously. it's not worth it.

4. wear warm clothes. this past tuesday it was 62 degrees, and we strolled around in light jackets. this is the first and only time that has EVER HAPPENED!!! 35-45(f) degrees is much more normal, but it could even be 20-25. and there really isn't an "indoor option" for most of this itinerary, so you'll want a hat, a scarf, some gloves, and warm (not to mention COMFORTABLE, see above, and then above that, lol!) shoes.

5. don't count on there being a ladies' room! many new york shops and restaurants-- especially the smaller ones-- genuinely just do not have bathrooms, so if you're in the train or bus station, a museum or department store, think twice before you sail past that restroom. additionally, be prepared for there to be a longish line of ladies in front of you, all of whom need the facilities as much as you do, so plan accordingly; even with a crying baby, a double stroller, and "emergency status"... you will likely not be able to skip to the front of the queue without risking serious injury. to sum up: don't wait till the last minute, k?!

6. be AWARE of where you are! i don't mean in an "it's the CITY, we're gonna get MUGGED" kind of way because every place i've mentioned-- including the subway-- is firmly on the tourist trail and quite safe; what i mean is: don't get to the top (or bottom) of the escalator and stop to take a photo, don't stand in the middle of the crowded sidewalk to consult your map, don't block the doors of the subway car when people are trying to enter and exit. and if you think this is advice so glaringly obvious i shouldn't even have bothered to mention it, i must tell you that i've never, ever, been in new york without having one (or all!) of those things occur in my presence. you may be on vacation, but your good manners ought not to be! your fellow visitors will REALLY appreciate your courtesy!!! ♥♥♥

7. have a ♥WONDERFUL♥ time and take LOTS of photos... then come leave me a link! :)


  1. Great pics! So full of Christmas! What a fun tradition!

  2. Great blog post. Wow! I've never been to New York City. I would love to go during the holidays and see it all decorated up. Good to know about the bathroom situation. I am always ducking into one, because I'm always drinking something. lol.

  3. i LOVE your "tour" :) i for one will never go to NYC (no crowds for me!) so was great to see it from your trip :)

    got the BEAUTIFUL AWESOME christmas card you made :) thanks so much!!!

  4. Lauren, I almost felt like I was there!!! Beautiful photos and know that it's even prettier in real like. I haven't been to NYC since I was a small girl so this really was wonderful! Thank you!

  5. Oh my gorgeousness! And I laughed out several times at the bonus tips. Especially the manners on vacation....of course, this assumes that people HAVE manners to bring with them ;) lol

  6. Excellent. All points firmly noted for my Winter trip and shall foryhwith send myself to sleep chanting my new mantra - "Comfy shoes. Have a wee. Mind yr manners. Comfy shoes. Have a wee. Mind yr manners. Comfy shoes. Have a wee. Mind yr manners. "

  7. Sounds lovely. However, I think I will live vicariously through you on these tours. I'm so over the crowds and the noise and the WALKING! GAH! You just go on ahead and keep posting pics. :D *sits back and puts up feet*

  8. What a wonderful city. I would love to come back someday. At Christmas time would be wonderful. Thanks for the wonderful tour of your city.


  9. What a wonderful tour ... and I so love seeing the pictures ... many thanks Miss L!

  10. Thanks for the awesome tour!!

  11. What a great and inspiring blogpost. Thank you for all the good advice and not to mention great pictures. I almost felt I was walk along with you and your mother. A great tradition. Hugs and kisses.


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