What to do in NYC with your holiday guests

Are your in-laws / folks / cousins / siblings / friends coming to town? Here's where to entertain them.


Showing your guests why it’s the most wonderful time of the year in NYC is exhausting. We’ve rounded up a cheat sheet to make it less stressful. Photo: Industry City

‘Tis the season for holiday lights, magical snowfalls, giving gifts…and a never-ending stream of out-of-towners trickling through your front door. Besides blowing up the air mattress and pouring some mulled wine, how else can you keep friends and family busy without losing your mind this holiday season? Let us count the ways…

For your picky friends, the newly opened Faurschou Foundation provides some heavy-hitting art, without having to leave Brooklyn. Photo: Meredith Craig de Pietro.

Find Art in Some Unusual Places

Give guests the culture they crave by bringing them to NYC’s world-famous museums and galleries. Even if your friends and family aren’t art connoisseurs, there’s something here for everyone this time of year. For your college girlfriends who fly into town wanting to do more than brunch and shop, entice them to The Jewish Museum for Rachel Feinstein: Maiden, Mother, Crone which examines the idea of “the feminine” as it appears in our collective consciousness using sculpture, painting, drawing, and video (1109 5th Avenue, Manhattan through March 22). And then don’t miss the retrospective of the futurist designer, Pierre Cardin, and his high-concept, space-age garments such as illuminated jumpsuits, unisex knitwear and origami-inspired ensembles at The Brooklyn Museum (200 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn through January 5). Siblings who descend upon your apartment might enjoy exploring the newly renovated MOMA, where a showing of Betye Saar’s haunting prints is currently on display (11 W. 53rd St., Manhattan through January 4). For visiting families with kids, stop through the VR exhibit, Arcadia, where you’ll “journey” through the earth while also learning about lifestyle changes that can benefit the planet (718 Broadway, Greenwich Village.) For your pretentious friends who scoff at the hierarchy of institutionalized art, impress them by seeing some major artists in Brooklyn. The newly opened Faurschou Foundation just opened a 12,000 square foot exhibit space in Greenpoint. The inaugural exhibition The Red Bean Grows In The South features art-world big wigs like Louise Bourgeois, Tracey Emin, Robert Rauschenberg, and Ai Weiwei among others (148 Green St., Greenpoint through April 11)

Leave it to David Byrne to unite both sides of the political landscape in America with a new Broadway show, just in time for the holidays. Photo: American Utopia

See a Show

The holiday spirit resides at TKTS, according to all of the tourists jovially lining up at 5am for discounts to Broadway shows. Although the Brooklyn TKTS booth has closed (RIP!), your guests can still avoid midtown by going to the South Street Seaport location. Although you won’t find Hamilton tickets on discount, you could find tickets for Freestyle Love Supreme, the original hip-hop musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda. (Booth Theatre, 222 45th St., Theater District). Also, even guests who may not be interested in musicals might spring for David Byrne’s American Utopia, a theatrical concert that I’ve heard from many sources is worth the admission price. For real wizardry, why not a magic show? Chamber Magic, a solo show by “the Millionaire’s Magician”, aka Steve Cohen, performs in a swank location in front of an audience wearing cocktail attire. This might just be the fancy holiday event you were waiting for. (Lotte New York Palace, 455 Madison Avenue, Midtown). In preparation for Greta Gerwig’s highly anticipated movie, Little Women, which opens on Christmas Day, bring your out of towners to the Gallery Players’ performance of the story. If you’re familiar with the book, then you know to expect a family drama starring the March sisters, Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy, and afterward you can discuss which character you are all more like (199 14th Street, Park Slope). 

Whether your guests need a lot or a little holiday spirit, there’s a festive restaurant for them. Photo: Lillie’s Victorian

Wine and Dine Them

Out of town guests want the fancy Nobu treatment but balk at the top of the line prices. Luckily, there are still some impressive restaurants that won’t leave your guests too broke for brunch. After trolling the holiday windows, skip tea at the Plaza, and take the escalator downstairs to the Todd English Food Hall. There you’ll find celebratory choices like Olma Caviar Bar, Lady M Confections or Vive Le Crepe, in a casual setting (Plaza Hotel, Fifth Avenue at Central Park South). If your guests expect a little more champagne than coffee, reserve a table at the tiny back cafe at Petrossian. Splurge on a bit of caviar, or just order champagne and a smoked salmon tartare and enjoy feeling like a VIP (911 Seventh Avenue, Central Park South). If you must eat near Times Square, do yourself (and your guests) a favor and bring them to Danji, an upscale Korean restaurant with unbelievable food, and even sometimes celebrity sightings (346 W. 56th St., Times Square). Or splurge for the tasting menu and be prepared to eat until you almost burst. For a classic choice, wow your visitors with a seat at Grand Central Oyster Bar. Take a seat at the bar and order up a dozen freshly shucked oysters and a nice glass of wine and take in the grandness of this decades-old spot (Lower Level, Grand Central Station, 89 E. 42nd St.) For an over-the-top festive vibe, skip Rolf’s (which is booked out so long in advance) and make a reservation at Lillie’s Victorian, which will impress your guests with the insane Christmas decorations, if not the food (249 W. 49th St., Times Square or 13 E. 17th St., Union Square). Maybe your guests would prefer to see what the buzz in Brooklyn is about. In that case, book a table at Insa Brooklyn, a Korean BBQ place by the chefs behind Red Hook favorite, The Good Fork. It’s a great place for groups with long communal tables, and afterward settle into a karaoke room for a night of loud debauchery (328 Douglass St., Gowanus). If these options don’t suit your guests, find even more options in our round-up of our favorite festive venues.  

Although you can’t see movies here, this gorgeous renovated movie palace will impress any cinema buffs you have in town. Photo: @kingsbklyn

Take Them Back in Time to a Classic Movie Palace

A night at the cinema might not usually include dressing up or riding in a limousine (ala Daddy Warbucks and Annie at the 1936 film “Camille”), but are there any opulent theaters left? The storied Ziegfeld theater in midtown closed to become an event space known now as the Ziegfeld Ballroom. But that cinematic splendor can still be found in NYC. For movie buffs who want the curated cinematic experience, there’s Metrograph, a movie theater whose mission includes creating “a world of hospitality harkening back to the great New York movie theaters of the 1920s.” With a mix of newer and older films, it’s a dream for film enthusiasts. Stop by for their out-of-the-box Holidays at Metrograph” series which include unusual holiday fare like “Phantom Thread” and “Eyes Wide Shut.” Afterward, make sure to stop in the Metrograph Commissary for a Jack Lemmon salad or a Banana Split (7 Ludlow St., Lower East Side).  History lives on at the beautifully restored Kings Theatre. Although the Hip Hop Nutcracker has already happened this year, there are still a few Happy Hour Tours left for 2019, where visitors can go behind the scenes of the restorations paired with a glass of wine (1027 Flatbush Avenue, Flatbush). 

Step into a sci-fi movie set, and shop your way through this architectural feat (and the attached Westfield Shopping Center.) Photo: @oculuswtc

Shop Till They Drop

Lots of guests from out of town like to go shopping while they are here. But with temperatures in the 20s and frigid wind tunnels around every corner, it’s not so easy to traipse through the Lower East Side or Williamsburg. Head instead, to indoor markets that allow serious spending with all the comforts of a mall. Chelsea Market offers so much more than quick lunches for busy Google execs. From finding unusual gifts at Artists & Fleas to exotic scents at Spices and Tease, there is a lot to see and shop. Just choosing a place for lunch from all the incredible choices will keep guests busy for an entire afternoon. (75 9th Avenue, Chelsea) Further downtown, the Oculus/ Westfield World Trade Center is a jaw-dropping transportation hub that looks like the bones of a giant whale. Connected to this architectural behemoth is the Westfield Shopping Center that includes luxe stores such as Apple, Montblanc and Stuart Weitzman. After your group has built up an appetite, take the escalators all the way up to the downtown branch of Eataly. Mario Batali’s recent sexual assault allegations had him step down from his businesses, so your money spent here shouldn’t be going into his pocket. (Westfield Shopping Center, 185 Greenwich St., World Trade Center) Too cold to even trek into Manhattan? Industry City’s line up of holiday events include a holiday market, a Shop the Guild event, and Seasonal Crafting. Plus, you can stick up on stocking stuffers at Japan Market. And for all your design friends, ABC Carpet, Flavor Paper, and DWR all have outposts here (Industry City, 220 36th St., Sunset Park).

The holidays practically beg for a booze tour. Brooklyn Kura’s sake is a festive option for trying some holiday spirits. Photo: Brooklyn Kura

Tour NYC’s Food and Drink Scenes

New York is known for some of the best specialty food in the world. Your out-of-town guests will expect you to know all the secret spots. Don’t stress! Let someone else do all the planning, and sign up for a culinary tour, cooking class or walking guide through some of the best eats in the city. You can book a food-focused tour through Airbnb’s Experiences section (which is not just limited to the culinary treasures of the city). Gain a thorough knowledge of the dim sum scene as you eat your way through Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens with this handy guide/ map by The Infatuation. Everyone knows that New York pizza is the best, but there is much discrepancy in which pizzeria slings the best pies. Join up with one of Scott’s Pizza Tours ($45-$65 per person) and taste some of the finest slices through Manhattan or even the outer boroughs, while you learn the difference between coal, wood, and gas-fueled ovens and debate the importance of imported tomatoes. If your guest has a sweet tooth that only chocolate can cure, there are four chocolate factories in Brooklyn we recommend, where you can go behind the scenes taste testing along the way. But maybe your friends want to focus on just drinking, and there’s a tour for that as well. For beer, nothing beats Brooklyn Brewery where a two-hour small batch tasting tour ($18) can be reserved ahead of time or a free ten-minute tour happens every half hour during the weekends (79 N. 11th St. Williamsburg). For the hard stuff, there are lots of options, but why not discover the Brooklyn Navy Yard’s Kings County Distillery? Tours are $16 and include an hour-long tasting tour and a visit to the “boozeum.” (299 Sands St., Brooklyn Navy Yard). If your group is too large and unruly for an organized tour, bring guests to Brooklyn Cider House, Brooklyn’s first cidery, where big communal tables can accommodate large groups. Book a dinner and “catch” cider in between your courses (1100 Flushing Ave., Bushwick). For something a bit different, get a sake tasting at the NYC’s only sake taproom, Brooklyn Kura in Industry City, where you can pair sake with some light snacks, and on Fridays, they’ve partnered with Union Sushi for a raw bar option (Industry City, 220 36th St., Sunset Park).

Tire out even your most active guests, with a glide around an ice skating rink. At Industry City, you also have tons of food and drink options to warm up when you’re through. Photo: Industry City

Lace up Your Skates

When in doubt, embrace the winter weather and enjoy some of the most beautiful outdoor rinks anywhere. Although it seems like a headache to rent skates, and dangerous to flail around on razor blades, once you are out there gliding it is actually an overwhelmingly pleasant experience. The Rink at Bryant Park is one of the most charming surrounded by skyscrapers and centered around a giant Christmas tree. Also, it’s free if you have your own skates but otherwise skate rental is only $20 for an entire day of fun (Bryant Park, between 40th and 42nd St.). The Standard Hotel’s Ice Skating Rink is tiny in comparison, but is oftentimes less crowded and offers heated ringside seats and an incredible food and drink menu if you’d prefer to get your hot toddy on. Adults pay $13 to get on the rink and $4 to rent skates (The Standard Highline, 848 Washington St., Meatpacking District). Brooklynites don’t need to leave their borough for perfect skating opportunities. LeFrak Center at Lakeside is a lovely place to glide no matter what skill level. It’s a large space with indoor and outdoor ice and a cafe area that serves pretty good food, where you can eat without unlacing. Weekdays $7/ Weekend and Holidays $10 plus $7 skate rental (Prospect Park, Lincoln Road and Parkside Ocean Avenue entrance). Also, new this year, Industry City has converted their courtyard into an ice skating rink complete with a DJ spinning tunes. $10 adults; $6 kids plus $9 to rent the skates (220 36th St., Sunset Park). If your guests have their heart set on skating en masse at The Rink at Rockefeller Center, remind them that peak rates through the holidays run $32 per person, but if you want VIP passes, which include access to the “heated igloo” and 90 minutes of skating, it could run up to $150 person. Is your guest still interested? Have them treat (The Rink at Rockefeller Center, 5th Avenue between 49th and 50th).

Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)