A year ago, Rainer Jenss traveled around the world with his wife and two sons, and blogged about his experience here on Intelligent Travel. Now he’s back stateside and sharing his tips on traveling with kids.
If you ask the average New Yorker what their plans are for the holidays, my guess is most will not put the tree lighting at Rockefeller Center, shopping at FAO Schwarz, or ice skating at Wollman Rink high on their priority list. Having worked right in the epicenter of Manhattan’s holiday attractions — Fifth Avenue — for most of my adult life, I can personally attest that the last place I’d want to spend my precious weekends leading up to Christmas was in the heart of midtown. The crowds this time of year can be particularly overwhelming, especially if you have young children. Yet that’s precisely where I found myself with the family this past Saturday, entertaining an out-of-town friend who wanted to see the sites.
I must admit that despite the throngs of tourists crowding the sidewalks and lines of shoppers waiting to get into the stores, we actually managed to really enjoy ourselves. Knowing the neighborhood pretty well, I suggested lunch at Joe’s Shanghai restaurant on 56th Street for their famous soupy dumplings, which served as a nice reprieve from the day’s busy schedule. After our meal, we serpentined our way a little north up Fifth Avenue to 58th Street to check out the windows of Bergdorf Goodman, which in my humble opinion are much more interesting and much less crowded than what Saks offers ten blocks south. This eventually led us to Central Park, where despite the long line and horde of skaters, we happily circled our way around Wollman Rink with its beautiful views of the park and surrounding buildings whose lights were just turning on in the twilight.
But perhaps the day’s biggest highlight came when we traveled to Brooklyn to check out the now famous Christmas lights of Dyker Heights. To be honest, I didn’t really know much about this Italian-American neighborhood or its extravagant annual display of holiday spirit until a friend told me about it a year ago. So last December, we recruited two other families and joined a group of tourists for a sightseeing trip from Manhattan with The Slice of Brooklyn Bus Tours to visit these festive homes and eat some cannolis. The 3-1/2 hour excursion also took us to Bay Ridge, which certainly had its own impressive display of Christmas pageantry, but the “Dyker Lights” took the prize.
Every town in America probably has a house or two that gets a little carried away this time of year, but the over-the-top decorations, which include oversized inflatable holiday characters and motorized Christmas displays, don’t just adorn a few houses, they completely take over six square blocks! The competition to outdo one another has gotten so intense, in fact, that professional designers have been commissioned to up the ante, much to the amusement of the growing crowds that now gather here every year.
Even though I had the luxury of driving there this year (set your GPS coordinates to 84th Street and 12th Avenue – the heart of the action is between 11th and 13th Avenue and from 83rd to 86th Street), another option for the more adventurous is to tour the area by bicycle. Bike the Big Apple Tours offers the Dyker Heights Lights at the conclusion of a broader ride around Brooklyn.
Have a favorite place to see out-of-this-world Christmas lights? Let us know in the comments. And for more local takes on holiday traditions, check out our My City Celebrates guides submitted by our readers and The World of Christmas, festive suggestions hand-picked by hotel concierges in cities around the world.
Photo: Rainer Jenss