By Eileen P. Gunn
Sure, Rockefeller Center, the Rockettes and Macy’s get the most attention in New York at Christmas. But in the nooks and crannies of neighborhoods and boroughs far from midtown there are plenty of opportunities for interesting, fun, less expensive and less insanely crowded holiday activities. Here are some of my favorites.
• Up in the Bronx, there’s the Annual Holiday Train Show at the New York Botanical Garden. Kids love the clickety clack of model trains whizzing by, but the wow factor comes from the replicas of landmark New York City buildings from Yankee Stadium to Gracie Mansion to the Statue of Liberty, all made out of leaves and twigs. (Through January 13)
Time your visit so you can have lunch or dinner on nearby Arthur Avenue, the Bronx’s Little Italy.
• Wave Hill, a 28-acre Riverdale estate where Teddy Roosevelt once summered, offers cozy fires and great family activities in the winter. There’s holiday crafting every weekend this month including opportunities to make wreaths, pop-up cards, gift baskets and tree ornaments. Admission is free on Saturday mornings and there is a shuttle to and from the 1 train.
• Latkes are awesome; no question about it. Raise a fork to this Jewish culinary triumph at the Annual Latke Festival at BAM. It’s $55 per person and there’s no kids ticket. So it’s probably best for parents with babies in Ergos or kids old enough to appreciate creative twists on this crunchy potato pancake from Fatty ’Cue, Stone Park Café, Berlyn and other area restaurants. (December 10)
• If you want to add a little bling to your holiday season head to Dyker Heights, around 84th Street between 11th and 12th Avenues, where the lights and decorations are notoriously over the top. Go in the early evening, then take a quick drive up 86th Street to L&B Spumoni Gardens for Sicilian pizza and ice cream..
If you don’t want to drive or don’t have a car, hop on the Christmas Lights & Cannoli tour bus, which delivers exactly what it says it will.
• New Yorkers love our Fire Fighters and everyone loves Santa Claus. The two come together during the New York City Fire Museum’s Annual Santa Rescue, during which local fireman rescue the jolly old elf after he crash lands on a SoHo rooftop. (December 9)
• The Annual Solstice Celebration at St. John the Divine is a treat because the music is wonderful, the Cathedral is awe-inspiring and you get to howl at the moon. (December 13-15; with a matinee on the 15th)
Hungry? Try one of the numerous inexpensive and family friendly restaurants around the Columbia campus while the students are on break.
• The wonderful Queens County Farm holds a free open house after Christmas. Explore the restored farmhouse, drink cider, do crafts, and if the weather permits walk the grounds and say hello to the animals. Buy honey made from the farm’s bees in the gift shop, then pinch yourself to remember you’re still in New York City. (December 26-28)
• There are plenty of Nutcracker’s dancing around town at this type of year, but some are more kid-friendly than others. For smaller kids, try the very affordable Nutcracker Suite at Flushing Town Hall. (two shows on December 22nd)
Don’t leave Flushing without sampling one of the many the authentic and yummy Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants on the side streets off of Main Street.
Show your love for storm-battered Staten Island this December by enjoying a holiday tea with Mrs. Claus at the La Tea Da Tea Shop. Make a reservation (this is a must), round up a handful of little girls who like to play dress up, and enjoy an afternoon of raised pinkies and sweet treats in a lace-curtained cottage.
Make a reservation to take a Candlelight Tour of Historic Richmond. Tour the village, warm up with wassail and sweets and learn a little bout this history of the holiday season in the New World. (December 15).
Eager to get out and about New York City this holiday season or in 2013? ParentMaze and FamiliesGo! are giving away a set of 4 CityPass Passbooks for New York City. They include admission to the Museum of Natural History, MoMA, Top of the Rock and other popular attractions. Value: $300. Enter by visiting the Contest Page on FamiliesGo!
Eileen Gunn is the editor of FamiliesGo!, a growing website with a hotel guide, destination advice and tons of tips for making family travel easier. You can follow FamiliesGo! on Facebook and Pinterest.