Laura is a design enthusiast and former member of the Nest.co.uk family. Six months ago, she packed her bags and moved to the Big Apple. Here she shares her story and reveals what New York’s really like in the season of good cheer.
I remember the day it happened so clearly. It was a Sunday night and my partner and I were sat on the sofa watching TV when an email popped up from a former colleague. ‘Fancy moving to the US?’ We both looked at each other with a mix of fear and giddiness in our eyes. The excitement was palpable. Was this one of those once-in-a-lifetime-opportunities, the kind that happened to other people? We weren’t sure. But we knew we had to take it, whatever ‘it’ was.
Fast forward 12 months and we’re here, living and breathing city life, and soaking up all this glittering metropolis has to offer.
The prospect of moving to a new country is a daunting one, but our transition to New York was surprisingly easy. It’s a friendly city, more so than guidebooks or TV shows would have you believe. And it’s convenient – everything you could ever need or crave is right at your fingertips, so we didn’t want for anything. And though it can be frustrating at times – the subway is mind-bogglingly confusing, it’s noisy and a bit dirty in places and you cannot find a decent cup of tea anywhere – the wonder and endless possibility the city offers more than make up for its inconveniences.
We live on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, one of the five boroughs that form New York City. It’s an island only 13 miles long and two miles wide, but it certainly packs a punch for its size. Filled with breath-taking architecture, a world-class art scene, beautiful parks, secret speakeasies, creative cuisine and more, there’s so much to see and do here all year round. The same, too, goes for Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island, each contributing its own unique vibe to America’s unofficial capital.
But it’s in December when the snow falls and the streets glisten under a thousand lights, that the city truly comes alive.
Festive feel in Midtown
Known for being one of the best places in the world to celebrate Christmas, New York certainly had a lot to live up to. But once Thanksgiving’s all wrapped up and the city transforms itself into a winter wonderland, there was no way it could ever leave you disappointed. The dizzyingly tall trees, oversized decorations, lights, sounds and smells all add up to create an unforgettable festive experience. Head to Midtown after dark to find the best the city has to offer.
Take a twirl on the ice
There’s a reason everyone goes ice-skating in New York at Christmas – it’s genuinely one of the best things to do here. Avoid the crowds at the Rockefeller and instead, go to the Wollman rink in the south-east corner of Central Park. When you’re on the ice and look up at the glittering skyscrapers you’ll wish you could stay forever.
A leisurely stroll in Central Park
Having an 850-acre park in one of the biggest cities in the world is rare, but locals know how lucky they are. Even in the snow, this park is buzzing with life. If you have time on your hands, take a meandering walk past the ice skaters and up the elm tree-lined Mall to see Bethesda Terrace – it’ll get you feeling festive in no time.
Refuel with New York grub
You won’t find a proper English Christmas roast, but you will eat some of the tastiest food you’ve ever had in your life, especially if you make a trip to the Lower East Side. Katz Deli gets all the press for its pastrami on rye, and with good reason – it is simply divine. But if you don’t fancy waiting in line, try Russ & Daughters just around the corner for a traditional smoked salmon bagel. It’s New York on a plate.
And for your caffeine hit, head down to the Citizen M coffee lounge. You’ll be able to fall into the welcoming arms of a Vitra Polder sofa and admire the tangle of George Nelson Bubble lamps overhead, all while sipping the best flat white in Midtown.
Wrap up your Christmas shopping
New York has a reputation for being the shopping capital of the world, and come here at Christmas and you’ll see why. From the finesse of 5th Avenue to the vintage markets of Brooklyn – this city has something for everyone on your list. Oculus, the new retail destination at the World Trade Centre designed by Santiago Calatrava, is a stunning architectural feat and certainly not one to miss. But if you’re here in December, Midtown is where it’s at. The high-end department stores will keep you busy for hours, and kids will stare, wide-eyed, at the magical window displays.
Embrace the Christmas spirit
New York has entertainment a-plenty at this time of year. The Rockette’s put on a dazzling show at legendary music hall Radio City, while ballet lover’s flock to the Lincoln Center for a world-class performance of the Nutcracker. But it’s the ad-hoc, everyday performances dotted around the city that really put a smile on your face: the Santa hat-clad buskers at the Subway, and the carolling, bell-jingling charity workers on seemingly every street corner brighten up commuters’ and tourists’ days alike.
A design haven
For a moment of calm amongst the Christmas madness, take a trip to the Noguchi Museum in Queens. Designed by the American-Japanese designer and sculptor, this reflective space features galleries where you can see his work – including all of his iconic Akari lights - and a serene outdoor sculpture garden that’s open year-round.
Featured: Vitra Akari 55A Suspension Light.
Drink to the season
Of course, it wouldn’t be Christmas without a drink or two, and New York has more options for a tipple than you can shake a stick at. We discovered the 230 Fifth rooftop bar in our first week in New York and, even though we’ve frequented a fair few others since we still think it’s the best on the island. An enviable view of the Empire State, cosy igloo pods to keep you toasty in sub-degree temps and an awesome cocktail list make this the perfect place to celebrate the season.
New York certainly isn’t short of cool spots to rest your head. The Ace Hotel has a young and edgy vibe, while The Standard brings a touch of luxury to the gritty Meatpacking District. But it’s the Wythe Hotel, a converted factory in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, that gets my vote. Yes, it’s over the water, but the views of Manhattan from here are incredible – and that’s one thing you can’t get when staying on the island. They also have a lovely bar and lounge area with comfy Hans Wegner Bear chairs, which is worth a visit whether you stay here or not.
So, six months in and we’re loving every second. Who knows where this journey will take us? But, for now, we’re happy soaking up the sights and sounds of the city, and fully appreciating our first ‘holiday season’ in the Big Apple.
The thought of spending Christmas anywhere else? Fuggedaboutit.
Want to see more of New York during the festivities? Enjoy more of Laura's pictures in our slideshow.