How to Enjoy New York City Over Winter Break
It's perfectly OK to do all the touristy stuff. Here are our favorites, as well as some not-so-touristy tips.
Rockefeller Center is bustling. Broadway has reopened in a big way. Here’s the Philadelphian’s guide to visiting New York City over the holidays.
How to Get There
Amtrak will get you from 30th Street Station to New York City’s Penn Station for as little as $24 each way (kids starting at $12) this time of year. Yes, we checked, and found lots of trains available at that price — if you book in advance. If you miss out on those advance fares but still want to take the train, there’s always the Septa-to-Trenton/New Jersey-Transit-to-NYC move.
Plenty of bus companies like Greyhound, Megabus, FlixBus, OurBus and Peter Pan run multiple trips daily from Philadelphia to New York. Those fares can start at under $10 each way.
But for my family’s last two trips to New York City in 2021, we drove. If you use an app like Waze, you can avoid all or most of those nightmarish NYC traffic stories you’ve heard about. And by using the SpotHero parking app, we were able to find all-day valet parking one block from our Broadway theater destination for $28 in November. On a trip over the summer, we used SpotHero to land three nights in a lot two blocks from our hotel for $80 total. Driving into New York doesn’t have to be stressful or expensive.
Where to Stay
New York City has several hundred hotels, from cheapo fleabag joints (learn from my experience: a $50 hotel room in New York is not a good move if you want to avoid a dirty, smelly and buggy stay) to the most opulent destinations this side of Dubai. On our family visit over the summer, we opted for the Loews Regency, the flagship of the luxury brand you may know from its location on Market Street in Philly.
The Loews Regency is a grand Park Avenue hotel that dates back to 1963 but is thoroughly modern and boasts some positively exquisite large (as in 2,300-square-foot) suites, which are perfect when you’re bringing the family. We loved the location. The Loews Regency is a block from Central Park. And it’s far enough away from the hustle and bustle of the theater district and Times Square and yet close enough that you can walk there in less than 30 minutes. For New York City subway takers, the 4, 5, F, N, Q, R and W trains all stop near the hotel.
Where to Eat
If you can get a table at Kochi in Hell’s Kitchen, do so, and enjoy a Korean feast that recently earned the restaurant a Michelin star. The team behind Kochi also just opened Mari, a Korean hand-roll restaurant that is sure to be hot right from the start. Both of those are close enough to Times Square, Broadway, the Loews, etc., to not be a pain in the ass.
On the (much) less expensive end of the spectrum, my family adores Margon, a hole-in-the-wall Cuban cafeteria just off Times Square that seems like it has been there forever and probably has. Get anything. Get everything. And then when you leave, your belly full of delicious Cuban food for an unbelievably low price, you can laugh at all of the tourists waiting to get a seat at the chain and other tourist-trap restaurants. And my kids insist that I tell you about Biryani Cart, which is exactly what it sounds like it is. Biryani Cart is a food truck a quick walk from Rockefeller Center that serves up biryani that my kids say rivals that of their Indian grandmother. Just don’t tell her that.
What to Do
Naturally, you’ll want to strap on a pair of skates at Rockefeller Center, and for that, you will need timed tickets. Want to get your 10,000 steps in? Central Park is the perfect place for that this time of year — well, any time of year, really — and there’s probably somebody you’re buying gifts for who would adore a caricature of you by one of the numerous Central Park caricaturists.
The Museum of Modern Art, a.k.a. MoMA, is one of New York City’s best museums and happens to be located close to Rockefeller Center, Times Square and Broadway. Students 16 and under are free at all times. If you’ve never done the Intrepid Air & Space Museum, that’s a straight, walkable shot west of Times Square and well worth a visit. And if you can’t decide which observation deck to visit, by all means, stick with the classic: the Empire State Building.
Broadway has very much reopened, and there’s something for everybody. (My daughter just saw Six and can’t wait to see it again.) I’ve been hearing great things about the Company revival and not so great things about Mrs. Doubtfire and Diana, the latter a regrettable musical about, yep, Princess Di.
My kids are 14 and 15 but were still mesmerized by FAO Schwarz during a recent visit, so you’ve got to go there. Sure, you could buy the LEGO lover in your life a new LEGO set online, but there’s just something more fulfilling about buying it at the LEGO store in New York. There’s also the Disney store and about a million other brand-name retailers happy to take your money this time of year.
The COVID Thing
Obviously, the pandemic is not over, and New York City has some of the strictest measures in place to prevent transmission. Plan on showing proof of vaccination (including for children 5 and up, as of December 14th) to enter restaurants, cafes, movie theaters, museums, all Broadway theaters, etc. And you’ll need to be masked in any indoor public space unless you’re eating or drinking. Be sure to check the latest rules before planning your trip.