During the holiday season, two of New York City’s major draws – the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree and ice skating rink – also tend to be the most crowded. To enjoy both without the crush of people they typically attract, it’s going to take some sacrifice and an alarm clock.
Early mornings, by far, provide the best tree viewing opportunities. Every
day, from the time the
tree is lit at 5:30 am to the time when the sun rises at approximately 7:15
am, there’s a nice window to see the tree’s 30,000 lights twinkle minus the
masses. If darkness is not a prerequisite, the weekday hordes don’t start
arriving until about 9:30 am, but then they don’t stop for the next 12 hours. On
the weekends, Rockefeller Plaza is mayhem until the tree is turned off at 11:30
pm, providing less opportunities to see the tree glimmer without elbowing your
way through the mobs.
The 74ft-tall Norway spruce is located between West 49th and 50th
Streets, with the entrance on 5th Avenue offering the easiest access and the most
dramatic vantage point. This path also puts you on a direct collision course
with the ice skating rink, located at the base of the tree.
ice skating rink is open from 9 am to 10:30 pm Monday to Thursday, and 8:30
am to midnight Saturday and Sunday. But like the tree, the rink is best enjoyed
during the early hours when it first opens to the public. Not only are the
crowds smaller, but the ice is also at its smoothest. Due to all the foot traffic
and its small size, the surface can get dicey pretty fast, making the actual
act of ice skating all the more difficult, especially for amateurs. The rates
for adults are $10 for skate rentals and a $21 entrance fee during the
For those less concerned about costs and ice quality, the rink does
offer a pricey alternative: pay $75 per person (includes admission and skates)
and you’ll be able to skip the line to get on the ice. This option is only
available via an online
reservation system before you arrive, assuming the slots aren’t sold out.
If you don’t want to be confined to Rockefeller Center’s smallish arena,
there are two cheaper options within walking distance: the iconic Wollman Rink in
Central Park and the festively reoccurring Citi
Pond in Bryant Park. Though larger
in size, both of these rinks also fill up pretty fast, so if you are going to
skate there, treat it like Rockefeller Center and plan on arriving about half an
hour before they open. Otherwise, your day on the ice will end up feeling a lot
less like skating and a lot more like roller derby.
Bucky Turco is the New York City Localite for BBC Travel. He's also the editor of animalnewyork.com.