Top 15 Travel Moments of 2015

Gullfoss in Iceland
Gullfoss in Iceland

Each year, I like to reflect on the very best travel moments of the year. 2015 was a very well-traveled year for me. In November alone, I went on three trips. Throughout the year, I spent 45 nights in hotels and traveled on 27 planes. I visited five foreign countries, three continents, 18 cities, and nine UNESCO World Heritage sites.

How incredibly lucky am I?!

With only two weeks of vacation, I’ve somehow managed to spend a good chunk of my life living out of a suitcase. I can still have all the comforts of home—a nice apartment and a great job I love—but I have the ability to go out and experience the world. I’m happiest when I’m planning trips, gazing dreamily at maps, taking photos of a beautiful landscapes, and ultimately, setting foot on a plane to a new destination. It’s what I live for; it’s the part of my life that fulfills me the most.

So, let’s take a look at my top 15 travel moments of 2015:

Abroad:

  1. Revisiting Florence. It’s the place that opened my eyes to a larger world, and made me fall in love with travel. Florence and I will always have this strange, love/hate relationship, but I’ll never stop being grateful to it. It was beyond incredible to go back five years after I studied abroad there, and retrace my footsteps (sans map!) with a little time, perspective, and travel under my belt.
    Il Duomo
  2. Falling in love with Rome. I never saw that one coming, which made it one of the sweetest surprises of the year. When I visited Rome back in 2010, I was completely unenthused. It was loud, dirty, and busy—all the things I hated about Florence, only amplified. I reluctantly agreed to go back to Rome because Kyle wanted to see it, and because our Mediterranean cruise was leaving from a nearby port. Imagine my shock when I found myself eating spaghetti and sipping an Aperol spritz while staring in complete awe at the Pantheon. We spent hours walking around the city that evening, marveling at the glow of the ancient sites at night. That evening, Rome quickly became one of my favorite cities on earth.
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  3. Crossing Santorini off my bucket list. Greece had long held a top spot on my bucket list—and no place more so than Santorini. It’s the subject of every Pinterest travel board: the white-washed, blue-domed buildings of the glittering, volcanic island in the Mediterranean. The jewel in the Greek crown. The afternoon we spent there only left me wanting more. I know there’s a wall somewhere in Oia with my name on it, just waiting for me to come back and sit there to watch one of those famed sunsets.
  4. Setting foot on my third continent. I’ll admit I hadn’t done much research about our cruise port Kusadasi in Turkey. I was too excited about our two-day stay in Istanbul, which ended up being canceled. I felt like a typical uniformed tourist when three hours into our stop in port, someone welcomed us to Asia. How could I not know that 97% of Turkey is in Asia? (Istanbul is part of Europe). Although it still feels a bit like I’m cheating, saying I’ve been to Asia, I couldn’t have been more surprised by the sites I saw there. The ancient city of Ephesus was absolutely incredible, and I highly, highly recommend a visit there.
    Visiting Ephesus
  5. Spending an entire evening staring at the Eiffel Tower. Yes, it’s true—I spent hours of my brief time in Paris simply staring at the emblem of the city. It was the final day of three weeks in Europe. Kyle had gone home, and I’d moved on to France for a quick work trip. I had ten hours to spend in Paris before catching my flight home. I loved Paris during my first visit five years ago, and was even more enthralled this time. I went on a driving tour of the city, had dinner on the Seine, and visited the Eiffel Tower three separate times. Watching it sparkle in the night sky will never get old.
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  6. Witnessing the power of nature in Iceland. Untouched. Mighty. Pristine. Those are a few words I kept saying while in Iceland. Whether it was standing in the presence of a geyser, watching water careen over jagged cliffs, or soaking in the Blue Lagoon, the power of Mother Nature constantly surrounded and astounded me.

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  7. Standing on a beach on Thanksgiving Day. Who would have thought that I’d take my typical beach feet picture at the end of November on a black-sand beach during the middle of a graupel storm, while wearing three layers of thick socks and heavy boots? Certainly not me.

     

  8. Enjoying the first snowfall in Reykjavik. We didn’t know it at the time, but on our last day in Reykjavik, the city experienced its first significant snowfall of the year. Pristine doesn’t even begin to describe the beauty of the fresh snow by the harbor. We took a long walk that morning, marveling at the snow globe we seemed to be in.
    Looking out over Reykjavik after the first snowfall.

In the U.S.

  1. Gazing in wonder at the Red Rocks in Sedona. I just couldn’t seem to stare long enough to take it all in. The drive into the valley was one of the most gorgeous I’ve ever taken, the rocks getting higher and higher, redder and redder, around us. We spent three amazing days in Sedona at the beginning of our Arizona road trip, and we loved it so much, we went back for another night at the end. I think it’s true what people in Sedona say: “God created the Grand Canyon, but he lives in Sedona.”
    Enjoying the view from Chicken Point.
  2. Feeling small at the Grand Canyon. Catching my first glimpse of the monstrous expanse over the edge of the South Rim, I’d never felt so small in my life. Miles of painted nothingness—all carved by the seemingly meandering river at the bottom. Talk about the raw power of nature slapping you in the face! You realize what an insignificant place you occupy in the world, and yet somehow, you can’t help but feel grateful for the sheer privilege of just being there to take it all in.
    Taking it all in.
  3. Standing atop Horseshoe Bend. After a long hike from the parking lot, you’re rewarded with the most wondrous of sights. I’d seen pictures, but nothing could have prepared me for the inedible beauty of Horseshoe Bend, the 270-degree bend in the mighty Colorado River. It’s this kind of mystical place, hidden away in the middle of nature. Photographers and fellow travelers sat quietly in awe as the early evening light painted the walls of the canyon.
    Admiring the view.
  4. Watching the light shift in Antelope Canyon. I’ve wanted to go there since I saw the famed National Geographic cover. Two photogenic slot canyons (Upper and Lower) in the middle of Navajo land represent the quintessential American Southwest I longed to see. We visited the Upper canyon—the most popular and easiest to access. Spiral rock formations rise up around you as you make your way through the canyon. At high noon, light beams shoot down to the floor of the canyon, showcasing the fleeting beauty of moments in Antelope Canyon.

     

  5. Being wonderfully captivated by Chicago. I love nothing more than being completely surprised by a destination. I went on a work trip to Chicago in November, and while I was excited to go, I wasn’t expecting much out of the city. I knew about the giant, mirrored “bean” in a park, but that was about it. My first day there, I quickly became entranced with the architecture, attractions, and overall vibe of the Windy City, and I used every spare moment to soak it all in.
    Chicago
  6. Visiting the 9/11 Museum and Freedom Tower at Ground Zero. I’d been there before—this hallowed ground that holds such a significant place in all of our histories. It’s always sobering to visit there, watching the water fall into the seemingly bottomless reflecting pools demarking the exact footprints of the towers. This time, I visited the 9/11 Museum, a tasteful snapshot of the events of that day. My favorite part was seeing the massive installation by visual artist, Spencer Finch, called Trying to Remember the Color of the Sky on that September Morning. It’s a massive work, compete with 2,983 individual squares of Fabriano Italian paper hand painted different shades of blue, representing every person killed in the Sept. 11 attacks and in the 1993 World Trade Center Bombing. The museum was incredible, as was the view from the recently opened One World Observatory, where you really can “See Forever,” as their motto goes.

     

  7. Getting my first foray into travel photography. I’ve always loved taking phots of my travels, and have been wanting to gain a deeper understanding of photography for a long time. A week before my solo trip to NYC, I bought my first quasi-professional camera, the Sony a6000, and my new BFF. I’d always admired the HDR travel photography of Trey Ratcliff with Stuck in Customs, so I purchased one of his recommended cameras, and headed off to NYC where I’d join his photo walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. I’d never been to that part of the city before, and after quite the struggle to figure out how to get out of Manhattan, I was rewarded with one of the most spectacular sunsets I’d ever seen. It was a great first introduction to a new part of the city—and my new camera—and since, I’ve really started to dive headfirst into the world of travel photography. And I love it!

     

    Here’s to more wonderful adventures in 2016!

View from the Top of the Rock in NYC

My favorite view of NYC.
My favorite view of NYC.

New York City is such a vibrant place. It’s the city that never sleeps. The hustle and bustle of it all—the people coming and going at such a hurried pace—it’s all a bit overwhelming. NYC is probably the only place in the world where people can fit 25 hours’ worth of activities into a 24-hour day. It’s chaotic. It’s messy. It’s Manhattan.

But from high above it all, the city seems quiet. All the details fade away. Everything becomes background noise to the beauty and grandeur of the place that’s called the greatest city on earth.

Rockefeller Center.

Rockefeller Center.

My respite in the city is the Top of the Rock. The view from the 70th floor of Rockefeller Center is truly unmatched, and gives you some perspective on what’s going on below. I love this view for several reasons. Most first timers to NYC want to stand atop the Empire State Building, but at the Top of the Rock, you get that iconic building in all of your pictures! And, you get a bird’s eye view of Central Park, dotted with thousands of picnickers on a warm spring day.

Sure, you’re sharing the view with several hundred pushy, loud tourists, but somehow that doesn’t matter as you gaze out over the city that just seconds before you were a part of. 40 seconds is what separates you from the chaos of a NYC sidewalk, and your perch on top of the world.

Here are some of my favorite views from the top.

The view from the Top of the Rock.

The view from the Top of the Rock.

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What to know if you go

Make sure to book tickets in advance, or plan to stop to get tickets early in the day.

Places

Top of the Rock

Top of the Rock, Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY, United States

Top of the Rock

Top of the Rock, Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY, United States
http://www.topoftherocknyc.com/

On Location in NYC: The City’s Best TV and Movie Sites

On Location Tours.
On Location Tours.

Last weekend, one of my best friends, Ali, and I made a whirlwind trip to New York City. Since I live only about 4.5 hours from the city, I have the luxury (?) of going down and back in the same day. Ali had never played tourist in NYC before, so we tried to hit up as many of the must-sees as we could in under 12 hours.

I’ve been to NYC a number of times in the past 15 years—including last Christmas—but have only recently found my bearings. Since I tackle the Big Apple in very small bites, I’ve never gotten to see all of Manhattan in the same day. I’ve always wanted to take a bus tour to get the lay of the land. I knew the hop-on-hop-off bus was an option, but I wanted to dig a bit deeper. I had done a movie tour in San Francisco last fall and loved it, so when I found a similar one in NYC, I knew that was the way to go.

Ah, New York City!

Ah, New York City!

On Location Tours “straddles fiction and reality” as you tour the major sites featured in hit movies and TV shows. The tours are run by actors and actresses hoping to make it big. Some have played small parts in major movies and TV shows; some have taken on theatrical or comedic roles. Our guide, Courtney, holds Off-Broadway credits, and even won top female performer on Israel’s version of American Idol.

On Location Tours generously upgraded us to priority seating at the front of the bus, which allowed us to get great pictures out the front window. It’s definitely nice, but if you don’t want to pay the extra $10 to sit there, you’ll still have a great time on the tour.

Here are some of my favorite spots along the way:

The tour starts just a few blocks north of Times Square, affording great views of the iconic heart of the city. Too many productions to count have used this spot, including Letters to Juliet, Captain America, Glee, Smash, and of course, New Year’s Eve.

Times Square.

Times Square.

The Empire State Building has been immortalized (and romanticized!) by classics such as An Affair to Remember and Sleepless in Seattle.

Empire State Building.

Empire State Building.

The beautiful Flatiron Building in Madison Square was used in Spider-Man and Godzilla.

Flatiron Building.

Flatiron Building.

We got out at Washington Square Park on Fifth Ave. to see the replica of the Arc de Triomphe in France. This spot has been used in lots of productions, including Enchanted, When Harry Met Sally, Friends, Remember Me, and Big Daddy.

Washington Square Park.

Washington Square Park.

Across the street is the gorgeous set of row houses used in Hitch.

Building from Hitch.

Building from Hitch.

A couple of fun stops included Hook & Ladder 8 on North Moore Street, used in Ghost Busters, and this quaint little café in Greenwich Village that just so happens to be the apartment building from Friends.

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Some views along the way were iconic on their own—no lights or cameras required. This resolute building means so much to so many, and it was nice to have a quiet moment to take it in.

One World Trade Center.

One World Trade Center.

The tour ends at McGee’s Irish Pub, the place that inspired MacLaren’s on the hit show How I Met Your Mother. Naturally we had to go in for lunch!

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And just across the street is the Original Soupman from Seinfeld. Even though I’ve never seen a single episode, I could appreciate the beautiful architecture surrounding the building.

No soup for you!

No soup for you!

What to know if you go

On Location Tours operates TV and movie tours in NYC and Boston, with many themed tours to choose from in both cities. I took the New York TV & Movie Sites Tour, which runs daily at 11 a.m. It takes approximately 3.5 hours and costs $41 per adult.

Places

Visit Ithaca Encourages People to do Exactly the Opposite

Due to a "ridiculously stupid winter," Visit Ithaca encourages people to go to Florida instead.
Due to a "ridiculously stupid winter," Visit Ithaca encourages people to go to Florida instead.

Let’s be real. It’s freaking miserable in New York State right now. February is always a rough month, but for some reason, it’s particularly bad this year—“ridiculously stupid,” you might say. Although the snow totals aren’t as great here in the Finger Lakes as what our neighbors to the northwest experience in Buffalo, it’s not too much fun to be here in the winter. And anyone who tells you differently—aside from hardcore skiers and kids with a snow day—is lying.

But that’s not stopping national news outlets from talking about a small Upstate New York town today—and for once, the story isn’t about an impending snowstorm!

Visit Ithaca, the tourism board for Tompkins County—one of 14 in the Finger Lakes—decided that with the wind whipping outside and the temperatures dipping below zero, they’d rather be in Florida. And so should everyone else.

The VisitIthaca.com homepage pop-up encourages people to visit the Florida Keys, causing one Florida tourism rep to wonder about job security.

The VisitIthaca.com homepage pop-up encourages people to visit the Florida Keys, causing one Florida tourism rep to wonder about job security.

“That’s it. We surrender. Go to Key West instead.” That’s what the pop-up banner on VisitIthaca.com read on Monday, February 16. Despite how “gorges” Ithaca may be—and it is beautiful in the winter, too—the tourism folks aren’t sugar coating how much that fresh layer of powder actually sucks. It’s too darn cold to enjoy all that beauty. Come in the spring.

I’ve lived in Corning, NY, all my life—just under an hour from Ithaca. I love living here. It’s so picturesque. The 11 glacially-formed, crystalline bodies of water stretch out like fingers. 130+ wineries and vineyards dot their shorelines. Idyllic small towns that have been equated to Norman Rockwell paintings are in abundance, each one more charming than the last. It’s one of those gems of a destination. You come here, and you know you’ve discovered someplace special.

But there’s a reason winter is the slowest season.

I used to work in tourism marketing for the Finger Lakes region, and while there are a lot of things to do here in the winter, a mid-February vacation wasn’t always the easiest sell. Any talk about Upstate NY in February is about leaving it.

Except for today, ironically enough.

Sure, when the Today Show, CNN, Yahoo! Travel, People magazine, and a whole host of other outlets covered the story, they relayed Ithaca’s message to “visit the Florida Keys this week,” because “it’s for the birds here now.” But what that actually did was put Ithaca—a town encased in snow and ice—on everyone’s radar. Not convinced? Their webpage that typically has 1500 hits a day during the winter got more than 80,000 today!

It seems so counterintuitive. What tourism organization in their right mind would use those precious tourism dollars to promote another destination? Even a representative for the Florida Keys was surprised, calling it the “wackiest thing I’ve ever seen in my life from a tourism marketing standpoint.” But a county tourism office couldn’t dream of buying the publicity that Ithaca got today. It’s genius, and I bet there’s a lot of PR people out there who wish they’d thought of it first. Despite the fact that no one wants to come here in February, people may now be more apt to visit “when things thaw out”—just as Ithaca suggests. Which, let’s be honest, is good for the entire Finger Lakes region.

So, I tip my PR hat to you, Visit Ithaca, for suggesting people do exactly the opposite. What a brilliant way to ensure visitors to the region for many months to come.

The 14 Best Travel Moments of 2014

Rainbow over Costa Rica
Rainbow over Costa Rica

Each year, we like to look back on some of the highlights from our year of travels. Check out the post from 2013! We did a lot of traveling this year, going everywhere from Washington D.C. to New York City, Charleston to Orlando, Cancun to Costa Rica. We’ve decided to each pick our seven favorite travel experiences, and share them with you in no particular order.

Feel free to share your favorite travel experiences in the comments below!

Kim’s Top 7

Be Free, Little Turtles!

What fun it was to release several hundred baby sea turtles to the ocean one evening in Cancun. I got to hold three of them, feeling their flippers beat against my fingers as they squirmed to be set free. There is no flash photography allowed, as it could disorient them, but watching the tiny turtles slip and slide their way to the ocean in the dim light is something I won’t forget anytime soon.

Escape to Alcatraz

After a failed attempt to see Alcatraz last year due to the government shutdown, I was bound and determined to see the famed prison this year while I was at a conference in San Francisco. It was surreal to walk the hallways and see the cells that hardened criminals once inhabited. And what an eerie calmness passes over you when you go out to the courtyard area of the prison which overlooks the city, seemingly a world away.

Science, Stars, and Sharks… Oh, My!

Exploring the Nightlife of the California Academy of Sciences was a real highlight for me this year. What a fun place! With a rainforest, aquarium, natural history museum, and planetarium, this place has a little bit of everything. This adults-only event happens every Thursday night, and I just so happened to be there for Sharktober, which was awesome!

Christmastime in the City

As an Upstate New Yorker, I’ve long wanted to go to NYC to see the Rockefeller Christmas Tree and the beautiful seasonal window displays, and this year, we finally got to do it! The City is one that always hustles and bustles, but there’s something special—almost magical—about it on an evening in December, and I’m so glad I finally got to experience it, cup of hot cocoa in hand.

Home Away From Home

I’ve often heard that some people find their “home away from home” while on vacation, but it hadn’t happened to me before. That all changed in Costa Rica. The nine beautiful days we spent at the Beach Bungalows in Tamarindo were absolutely perfect—both in our surroundings and the company. Our hosts Trish and Claudio were the friendliest, most generous people we’ve had the pleasure to meet while traveling, and they made our time there an absolute joy. And, of course, we loved spending time with their beautiful dogs, Stella and Parker. What a paradise they have created in this seaside town!

Soaking in the Hot Springs

I have wanted to go to Costa Rica since high school, and one of the things at the top of my list was to soak in some natural hot springs. Tabacon Grand Spa Thermal Resort was certainly the place to do it, with the beautifully manicured grounds, and gloriously warm water cascading throughout the resort near Arenal Volcano. Whether you wanted to sit under a waterfall, or relax in a shallow pool, the options were limitless, and there seemed to be enough room for everyone to enjoy the water—something I had been worried about since it’s such a big attraction. It was a great way to spend an afternoon!

Christmas in Costa Rica

Kyle and I have been talking about spending Christmas at a beach for a long time, and this year, we finally did it! How amazing it was to spend the entire day splashing in the waves, and soaking in the sun. This year convinced me I’d trade a snowy Christmas for a sandy one any year!

Kyle’s Top 7

Visiting the Newseum in D.C.

Opened in 2008, the Newseum was created to educate people on the five freedoms provided by the First Amendment. Out front is a display of the front page of a newspaper from every state (and several countries) for that particular day. Aside from this very cool street-side display, the Newseum has some fantastic exhibits worth checking out. Highlights for me included sections of the Berlin Wall, a collection of historically significant headlines (e.g. outbreaks of war), a memorial to fallen journalists including a truck shot up in Sarajevo and a truly touching 9/11 memorial. Overall, I can’t think of a single exhibit that was lacking when compared to the rest – this is a must for anyone interested in some of the biggest moments in history for the last two centuries.

Whitewater Rafting in Costa Rica

I’ve been whitewater rafting a couple of times in the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon when I was a kid. The rapids are class II/III there, but are overall pretty easy to navigate. The opportunity to go again in Costa Rica was one of the things I was most excited for, and the Río Colorado just north of Liberia did not disappoint. We took a tour from our hotel in Tamarindo to reach the Cañón de la Vieja Adventure Lodge – about an hour drive. This tour featured several activities, which we’ll write about in the future, but the rafting was by far the best. There are a handful of calmer spots for you to catch your breath and overall, beginners will have no trouble tackling these rapids; however, there are a couple of thrilling drops to ratchet up the experience. You WILL get wet and it is awesome!

Wormsloe Historic Site

I wrote about this one recently, but let me sum it up for you. Wormsloe is a beautiful plantation built by one of the members of the party that founded Savannah, Georgia. Unlike other plantations in the south, this historic site doesn’t feature an extravagant mansion with large, well-groomed grounds. Instead, Wormsloe is more like a nice nature park centered on the long-abandoned ruins of one of the first homes in the area. It is known best for its gorgeous driveway, which is frequently photographed, but I really liked the tabby ruins themselves. This was my favorite part of Savannah.

Xcaret: The History of Mexico

Part of a group of attractions aimed at educating people on the history, traditions and ecology of Mexico, Xcaret is a park about an hour outside Cancun’s Hotel Zone that features a dinner show similar to Medieval Times – except that this one is infinitely better. The food is good, but the show is awesome, transporting you from ancient Maya to present day and highlighting much of the musical tradition of Mexico. Standout moments included a recreation of two ancient sports from the region: pok-ta-pok and pelota purépecha (similar to field hockey, but with FIRE). This was one of the handful of touristy things that we got to do in Cancun while we attended TBEX and it was a real joy to experience.

Visiting Charleston Plantations

More plantations… really? How many plantations can one person enjoy in a year? Yes – more plantations, but only because each plantation has its own feel. Magnolia Plantation & Gardens features the traditional southern plantation home surrounded by gardens that have been allowed to grow in a more uncontrolled fashion. This means it has a much more natural look and ensures you’ll see more wildlife – we saw alligators, turtles and a bald eagle here. Middleton Place on the other hand is beautiful in that aristocratic sense – its gardens are carefully manicured and beautifully kept. Overall, both are absolutely worth the visit.

The Rides in Disney

We had a rough time in Florida this year, but problems aside – Disney has world-class rides. I’m a big fan of Expedition Everest – I love everything about it from the set dressing to the rapid shifts in direction. Kim on the other hand – she’s all about Space Mountain.

Visiting Central Park for the first time

Despite having been to New York City a number of times, somehow neither of us had ever managed to make it over to Central Park. It’s kind of a weird oversight, I know. We visited in late spring and lucked out as the weather was perfect. As we walked around, Kim pointed out that this was the first time she’d ever really liked NYC. Until that moment, both of us had always seen NYC as a dirty, busy, necessary evil that we had to visit for work or to see a Broadway show. It took us walking around the oasis that is Central Park to understand that NYC doesn’t have to be about fighting your way through crowds and running all the time. Instead, you can enjoy lunch by the boat pond, watching as people of all ages sail their miniature boats. You can stroll about, just taking in the well-kept park as people walk their dogs or play pick-up games around you. Finish out your trip by riding the carousel at least once – it certainly isn’t the most amazing carousel of all time, but it just feels like something you have to do. Overall, walking through Central Park was a standout New York moment for both of us.

Cheers to many more adventures in 2015!

It’s Christmastime in the City

Christmas displays in NYC
Christmas displays in NYC

City sidewalks, busy sidewalks, dressed in holiday style. In the air there’s a feeling of Christmas…

Despite the fact that when I tell people I’m from New York, they automatically assume I live in the Manhattan, I only get to the City about 2-3 times per year. I’ve always wanted to see it at Christmas—those iconic sites you see in the movies: Rockefeller Center, Radio City Music Hall, Central Park—all aglow with holiday flair.

Kyle and I try to give “experiences” for Christmas as often as we can. We decided it would be lots of fun to take his parents to NYC with us as their gift this year, since his dad had never visited. We would get to do all those fun touristy things you have to do on any first trip to Manhattan, but somehow, it would be just a bit more magical at Christmas.

And it was. I’m not going to lie, I become a different, slightly more aggressive version of myself in NYC crowds, but despite all that, the City really is beautiful all decked out for the holidays. We began our day with a visit to Bryant Park to check out the Bank of America Winter Village. Although it didn’t exactly have the European ambiance I so desperately want to experience again, we had some ridiculously decadent hot chocolate that was to die for—and some people may have! It was fun to sip what I can only fathom was pure, melted Ghiradelli chocolate while perusing the little huts filled with treasures crafted by artisans, and watching ice skaters fly around the rink.

Next, we walked up to Rockefeller Center—we had a mission to see it in daylight and darkness. We were almost unimpressed by day, but at night, the tree absolutely came alive. (And so did the masses).

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A highlight of any New York City trip at Christmas is seeing the elaborate window displays. We passed by Saks Fifth Avenue, marveling at their fairytale-themed windows, depicting the stories of different characters. We wandered into Tiffany’s to get a better look at the massive trees all decked out in that iconic blue. And I couldn’t help but drool over the incredible façade of Harry Winston.

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It was a nice day, so we took a stroll through Central Park. Even in the wintertime, it’s such a beautiful place. I first visited on my last trip to the City in April. I’d always had this love-hate relationship with NYC, but walking through Central Park last spring, seeing that New Yorkers really do take a moment to stop and smell the flowers in this little bit of an oasis inside this bustling city, made me realize that I really do love New York. And winter is no different. I loved seeing all the horses and carriages decked out in rich reds and deep purples for the holidays.

After our stroll, it was time to see the City from above. Most people go to the Empire State Building on their first trip to Manhattan, but I think the best spot is the Top of the Rock (aka, Rockefeller Center). You get the same view, plus you’re directly across from the Empire State Building, and thus, it’s in all of your pictures. The view never gets old. It looks so quiet—so peaceful—high above it all. That speedy elevator ride transports you 70 stories to a parallel universe. Pro tip, though: Leave your pocket knives at home. Somehow Kyle always brings the pocket knife I got him in Switzerland—and his dad had his, too—so Kyle had to stay with them on the ground. Luckily we had done the Top of the Rock last year, so he was perfectly content to go shop the NBC Store while he waited for us.

View from the Top of the Rock

View from the Top of the Rock

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No NYC trip at Christmas is complete without heading to Radio City Music Hall to see the Rockettes preform the Christmas Spectacular. Kyle’s mom had seen the show in high school and remembered it fondly. Honestly, I knew it would be great, since nearly every show in NYC is, but I had only seen Broadway shows (mainly Wicked three times!) so I really didn’t know what to expect of this show. But it was fantastic from start to finish, aside from the bouncing children “sitting” in front of us. The use of light displays and even 3D was really impressive, and the different scenes were both fun and poignant. I especially enjoyed the “New York at Christmas” scene where the Rockettes dance on a double-decker bus, and the “Living Nativity,” complete with live camels and sheep. It was hard to believe 90 minutes had gone by when they got to the last of 14 scene. I highly recommend this show if you ever find yourself in the City at Christmas. It’ll get you in the spirit of the season!

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Since we caught the 4:30 p.m. Rockettes show, the City had completely transformed while we were inside. Manhattan by night is an experience all its own. The famed Rockefeller tree was absolutely dazzling, surrounded by literally thousands of people trying to take that perfect selfie. Despite the crowds, it really is worth it to venture there to see it, so put on your body armor and your game face, and witness one of the iconic symbols of Christmas in America.

Rockefeller Center

Rockefeller Center

Just as we did, make some time to shop Times Square. It’s completely touristy, but an absolute must for any first-time visit. We went in all the clichéd shops from M&M’s World to the Disney Store. And we saw that beautiful Waterford Crystal ball that will drop is less than two weeks—yikes!

For me, every single NYC ends on a sweet note: a visit to Cake Boss Café. It’s a Thompson family tradition—seriously. We typically travel to and from the City via bus, and Port Authority is conveniently located next to this little decadent paradise that helps me endure the 4-hour bus ride home. The personal tiramisu cake is my absolute favorite!

I’m so glad I finally got to experience NYC at Christmastime. I’ve always said NYC really is beautiful if you don’t look too closely, but this time of year, the beauty is truly in the details. In a year when I haven’t put up any decorations of my own, it got me feeling very festive, and I’m so glad we could share it with Kyle’s parents. I love helping people experience new aspects of travel for the first time.

Wherever you find yourself this holiday season, look for some beauty in your corner of the world. Whether it’s an elaborately decorated tree in the center of town, a local merchant’s window display, or a festive wreath on a neighbor’s door, appreciate the details, and soak in the spirit of the season.

Happy holidays!

Places

Rockefeller Center

Rockefeller Center, Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY, United States

Places

Radio City Music Hall

Radio City Music Hall, Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY, United States

Places

Bryant Park

Bryant Park, New York, NY, United States

Places

Central Park

Central Park, New York, NY, United States

Places

Times Square

Times Square, New York, NY, United States

Rockefeller Center

Rockefeller Center, Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY, United States
http://www.rockefellercenter.com/

Radio City Music Hall

Radio City Music Hall, Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY, United States
http://www.radiocity.com/

Bryant Park

Bryant Park, New York, NY, United States
http://www.bryantpark.org/things-to-do/wintervillage.html

Central Park

Central Park, New York, NY, United States
http://www.centralparknyc.org/

Times Square

Times Square, New York, NY, United States
http://www.timessquarenyc.org/index.aspx
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