NYC Christmas Windows - an Illustrated Guide

Around the holidays, people flood to New York City's department stores. Some come in search of the perfect gift while others choose to window shop. As befits the Greatest City in the World, New York's Christmas windows are a magical pageant of light, color, and design. Here, I'll share my favorite way to see them in a day.

I like to start at 34th Street and work my way uptown, avoiding the worst of the crowds at Macy's (there are lines just to see the windows by mid-morning) and giving me options of how I'd like to extend my day once I hit Central Park. This twenty-three block stretch of Manhattan contains some of the most famous shops in the world and in December, you'll get to experience them at their most iconic.

151 West 34th St.
Perhaps the best-known windows, given their connection to the Thanksgiving Day Parade, Macy's designs cater to the whole family. Displays are typically kid-centered, and are often inspired by popular movies and TV shows like Peanuts, A Christmas Story, or Miracle on 34th Street.

Lord & Taylor
424 Fifth Ave. 
Lord & Taylor serves as a sort of bridge between Macy's displays and the ones uptown, with a mix of miniature scenes and life-size fashion show-stoppers. The displays rely on sophisticated whimsy and hidden details to appease every kid-at-heart.

Bryant Park
Fifth Ave. and 40th St.
If you're ready for a break, Bryant Park - a great park at any time of year - becomes a winter wonderland in December. Aside from its usual eateries, the park features a Christmas tree, market, and free ice skating on a more spacious rink than Rockefeller Center's.

Madison & Vine
299 Madison Ave. (inside the Library Hotel) 
If you'd prefer a warming beverage of the more adult variety, Madison & Vine is known for their spiked hot chocolate. This bistro and wine bar is located inside one of Manhattan's most interesting hotels.

Saks Fifth Avenue
611 Fifth Ave.
Saks windows often reflect the glitz and glamor of nearby Broadway. Full of dramatic flair, past windows have included art deco, travel, and fairy tales themes aimed toward fashionistas.

The Tree at Rockefeller Center
45 Rockefeller Plaza
Directly across the street from Saks, you'll find the most famous Christmas tree in the world. Sometimes floated down the Hudson River from upstate, the Rockefeller Center tree overlooks the skating rink and golden statue of Prometheus. This may be the most packed spot in the city around the holidays - the earlier you get there, the less crowded it tends to be.

Radio City Music Hall
1260 Sixth Ave. 
 Home of the Rockettes Christmas Spectacular, Radio City Music Hall is worth lapping the block for even if you're not going to a show. You'll also find some of the city's favorite oversized Christmas decorations lining Sixth Avenue, a nice photo-op for tourists.

St. Patrick's Cathedral
Fifth Ave.
This midtown cathedral is beautiful at any time of year, but especially when decorated with wreaths and poinsettias.You'll walk past as you return to Fifth Avenue, headed uptown.

Henri Bendel
712 Fifth Ave.
Henri Bendel features a small but dramatic storefront, its large glass windows giving plenty of real estate for vertical decor. At street level, expect to see displays that feel like New York-meets-Alice in Wonderland, by way of Paris.

The Giant Snowflake
57th St. and Fifth Ave.
Around the holidays, many city streets are decorated with lights, but the most impressive is probably the giant, glittering snowflake that hangs at the intersection of 5th Avenue and 57th Street. You have arrived at the heart of New York shopping!

Tiffany & Co.
727 Fifth Ave.
The windows at Tiffany's are small, as you'd expect from a jewelry store. At Christmas, each one becomes a glittering jewelry box. In recent years, displays have drawn on the architecture of the city and have heavily featured Tiffany's trademark robin's-egg blue.

Bergdorf Goodman
754 Fifth Ave.
Bergdorf Goodman's windows are absolutely insane, a baroque fever-dream of NYC and art history splendor. The attention to materials as windows are filled beyond what you'd imagine to be possible makes this my favorite store front during the holidays.

660 Madison Ave.
Barneys window dressers aren't afraid to go a little avante garde. These are the windows that may give small children nightmares, with previous displays invoking a blend of Cirque du Soleil and Steampunk.

1000 Third Ave.
After the riot of windows on 5th Avenue, Bloomingdale's windows are restrained almost to the point of being disappointing. They're still a classic and I would recommend seeing them, as you'll pass by anyway on your way to our next stop.

Serendipity iii
225 E. 60th St.
Featured in the 90s rom-com of the same name, Serendipity iii is a great place to stop for lunch, desserts, or a hot beverage. Lines can be an issue - it's best visited on a weekday - but the ridiculously large chocolate and ice-cream based treats are legendary.

Central Park
Fifth Ave. and 59th St. (and north)
If you'd prefer a healthier end to your day - or a walk in the park after gorging yourself - Central Park can be lovely around the holidays. 90s kids can pop in the Plaza Hotel, then cross the street to the park as Kevin McCallister did in Home Alone 2.

All illustrations copyright Polly Beam, 2016. Please ask before using.


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