There’s nothing more magical than holiday time in New York City – that is, until you have to push yourself through hordes of tourists and mouth-breathers.
The Grinchy, TLDR-version of this article is that virtually everything you plan to do in NYC over the holidays that usually draws a crowd is overrated. Sorry.
But take heart! There are some exceptions to this rule – and plenty of alternatives to choose from that won’t result in you and yours getting overheated, trampled, mobbed, and then some.
To find them, Business Insider consulted staffers who live and work in and around New York City.
Here some of the most overrated things to do in NYC over the holidays, along with some caveats and alternatives.
The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting
- Daniel Goodman / Business Insider
“The event packs all the blocks around the tree with selfie-stick-wielding tourists, creating a crowd that can induce claustrophobia, especially for those who (like me) don’t care about oversized Christmas trees that much,” Science and Innovation Editor Dana Varinsky said.
“And the thing is: The tree will be up for the entire season, all lit and everything, exactly as it looks on that first night, but with less crowds and better photo ops.”
Intagramming the perfect picture of the Rockefeller Tree
- Daniel Goodman / Business Insider
“It’s always super crowded in Midtown during the holidays, and there’s no such thing as the perfect shot – unless you want it to include a bunch of random tourists in the background,” said Insider Picks Editor Ellen Hoffman, who’s been in New York for more than eight years.
An anonymous Business Insider employee who has lived in New York for five years suggested going to see the Washington Square Park tree instead.
Going anywhere in Midtown
In fact, Hoffman said going anywhere in Midtown ever, but especially during holidays, is a nightmare.
“The massive crowds will swallow you whole if you’re not used to walking around NYC,” she said.
Visiting every outdoor holiday market
- Andrew Burton/Getty
“The outdoor holiday markets all have the same products,” Video Producer Matt Stuart, who has been in New York for 13 years, said. “You don’t need to visit all of them.”
He recommends skipping the more packed markets and hitting up the Union Square Holiday Market.
Ice skating in Bryant Park
- REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
For INSIDER Associate Editor Chloe Pantazi, who has been living in New York for four years, “the long lines, the crowds, and the risk of falling flat on your butt on freezing cold ice and incurring an injury over the holidays” while ice skating in Bryant Park aren’t worth it.
“One time I was there on Christmas Eve and an ambulance turned up for some poor soul,” she said.
“You can skip the crowds by ice skating at Prospect Park,” Stuart said.
Going to see the Rockettes as an adult
- Drew Angerer/Getty Images
“Unless you have small children, the show is terribly underwhelming and clearly aimed at elementary schoolers,” says an anonymous Business Insider employee who has lived in New York for five years.
“If you’re over the age of 10, you do not want to waste your money on this show,” Hoffman says. “Trust me.”
Stuart recommends going to see Company XIV’s Nutcracker Rouge instead.
INSIDER Video Intern Larissa Delgado, who grew up in Queens from the age of six, begs to differ, though.
“If you get your tickets early enough, you can find them for around $50, which isn’t bad as far as musicals in New York go for,” she said. “It’s iconic, entertaining, well-done, and definitely full of the Christmas spirit if you’re a big holiday person.”
Visiting the Macy’s Santa — at certain times
- Elf/New Line Cinema
“Macy’s Santa is just like any other mall Santa – with a longer line,” said Editorial Partnerships Editor Hannah Schaffer.
Vice President of Talent Margaret Bowani, on the other hand, loves it, and includes a stop to visit Santa at Macy’s on her annual “Elf Tour” with her youngest.
“Elf is our favorite movie, so we hit all the stops from the movie – with the exception of walking through the Lincoln Tunnel,” she said. “And one of those things is visiting Santa at Macy’s aka Gimbels.”
She says the experience is worth it – but you have to time it right.
She suggested going early around 10 a.m. during the first or second week of December.
“The Santas are AMAZING, and it’s a really great experience for little ones who still believe,”Bowani said. “They work really hard to make sure it feels totally authentic to the kids.”
The Holiday Train Show at the New York Botanical Gardens in Bronx
- REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
“The train models were really cool, but the space is so crowded that you can’t do anything but shuffle forward a few inches every couple minutes,” said INSIDER reporter Caroline Praderio, who has lived in New York for more than three years. “And even when you get the opportunity to move, there’s always someone holding up the traffic in front of you by stopping to take a million photos on their phone.”
Bowani and Stuart disagree with this assessment, however. Yes, there may be crowds, but they said it’s worth it.
“NYC is the best during the holidays, but i feel like every inch of the five boroughs is crowded from Black Friday through New Years’,” Bowani said.
And Stuart said the crowds aren’t always so terrible – it just depends on when you go.
“The train show even has bar car nights so you can have a nice cocktail and watch the trains,” he said.
Dyker Heights houses
- Hollis Johnson
Having grown up in Dyker Heights, a neighborhood in Brooklyn where people’s houses are lit during the holiday season with elaborate Christmas lights and decorations, Andrew Meola finds the displays and crowds they draw now to be “incredibly obnoxious.”
“Now it’s become so commercialized that tourists are taking buses from Manhattan and sitting in traffic, both vehicle and human, for hours just to get a glimpse,” the 19-year resident said.
He said the people that live in the neighborhood have to virtually lock themselves in their homes every weekend in December because the streets are all closed.
“I’d tell tourists to avoid that,” he said. “It would take them half a day just to do it all. Not worth it.”
Delgado, on the other hand, recommends visiting Dyker Heights.
“It’s best to go towards the end of the Holiday season, when there’s less people,” she said. “But even if you go when it’s crowded, it’s beautiful, the decorations are insane, and overall a must-see. Feels like a literal Christmas wonderland.”
Times Square on New Year’s Eve
- Flickr / Anthony Quintano
Tech reporter Antonio Villas-Boas, who has lived and worked in New York for eight years, calls watching the ball drop in Times Square “an awful, awful experience” for several reasons:
· You have to get there hours early to get a decent spot
· It’s freezing cold
· It’s crowded
· You can’t drink
· It’s hard to eat
· It’s hard to go to the bathroom
“You can watch it on TV from the warm, food-and-drink-filled comfort of your home or friend’s home with a non-public bathroom handy,” Villas-Boas said. “I would never recommend anyone go to Times Square for New Year’s Eve. Ever.”
“If you go, wear an adult diaper. You may need it,” said Science and Technology Correspondent Dave Mosher.
NYE in Manhattan in general
“Going out in NYC on New Year’s Eve in general is the worst – getting into bars is expensive and there are lines everywhere,” INSIDER Syndication Intern Corina Pintado, who was born and raised in New York, said.
Pintado said that “people get sloppy, rude, and overall stupid” on New Year’s Eve, and it’s 100 times worse than a regular night out in New York City.
“I saw a minimum of three fights break out last year on my way home,” she said.
“Do yourself a favor and just stay in when ringing in the new year,” she said.