Tour guide picks for where to take out-of-town guests this holiday season


When you have guests in town for the holidays, it can be a lot of pressure to come up with a list of things to do and places to go to make their New York City experience a memorable one. The week between Christmas and New Year’s Day leaves a lot of time to fill, so we asked three New York City tour guides to offer up their picks for a visit to the city your friends and family won’t soon forget.

Check out a special tree that’s not at Rockefeller Center

Most people visiting New York want to see the main holiday attractions, including the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, but Jeremy Wilcox, a tour guide and board member with the Guides Association of New York City, said there is another, lesser-known holiday tree in the city worth checking out.

A memorial tree in Central Park’s Ramble dedicated to long-lost pets.

Courtesy of Jeremy Wilcox

An evergreen dedicated to long-lost pets stands in a 36-acre section of Central Park known as the Ramble. Wilcox said it commemorates all sorts of pets, not just dogs and cats. People decorate the tree with photos, ribbons and other mementos to remember their beloved animals.

The branches of this tree in Central Park’s Ramble are decorated with photos and other mementos honoring long-lost pets.

Courtesy of Jeremy Wilcox

“You see how much people’s pets meant to them … it is this very organic thing not really organized by the parks department or the Central Park Conservancy,” Wilcox said.

It’s unclear when the tradition started, but Wilcox said it likely dates back 10 to 20 years. He said because so many trees are barren this time of year, the tree is not hard to find.

Take in the lights way off Broadway

If basking in the joy of holiday lights is your group’s jam, Andrew Silverstein and Dan Shaki, co-founders of Streetwise New York Tours, recommend heading to Queens for the Amaze Light Festival at Citi Field. Shaki said it is a “big festive experience” where you would not expect it.

“It’s sort of like you’re driving up towards Mecca and then you see the lights and you arrive at this thing and you’re like, ‘Oh, I didn’t even know this was here,'” Shaki said.

You can also follow the string of holiday lights, so to speak, to Dyker Heights in Brooklyn.

“Neighbors in the tight-knit community compete to try to outdo each other by decorating their houses with lights and with ginormous lawn decorations,” Silverstein said.

One of the many elaborately decorated houses in Brooklyn’s Dyker Heights at Christmastime.

Marco Bicci/Shutterstock

Walk through history and marvel at old and model trains

For Wilcox, a stroll through Brooklyn Heights is worth putting on your list.

Brownstone facades and row houses at sunset in Brooklyn Heights.


The neighborhood is known for its historic brownstones, as well as a promenade along the East River that offers amazing views of Manhattan. While in the vicinity, Wilcox recommends exploring the history of the subway, bus and commuter rail systems at the New York City Transit Museum at 99 Schermerhorn St.

Speaking of trains, the Holiday Train Show at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx is highly recommended by all three tour guides we tapped for suggestions. There you can watch model trains chug around replicas of New York City landmarks made from plant materials like twigs, leaves and bark.

Put the crowds on ice if you want to skate

Ice skating at Bryant Park.

Jeff Gynane/Shutterstock

New York City is full of places to ice skate, but Shaki said if you want to avoid the crowds at Rockefeller Center and Bryant Park, there are options outside of Manhattan. His pick is the World Ice Arena at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. It’s indoors so, “if it’s 15 degrees outside while you’re here, you can still enjoy it without suffering out in the cold.”

Take a plunge

If you don’t mind the cold, you can head to Coney Island to walk on the beach or take part in the annual polar bear plunge on New Year’s Day. “That’s a very non-touristy, very authentic New York thing to do,” Silverstsein said.

A scene from the annual polar bear plunge on Coney Island.

a katz/Shutterstock

Say a prayer or light a candle

Saint Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan is a beautiful place to visit, but it is often packed with visitors this time of year. If you want to escape the hustle and bustle, Wilcox recommends heading uptown to Morningside Heights to visit the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, which is one of the largest gothic cathedrals in the world.

The Cathedral of St. John the Divine.


“It’s a beautiful church, although famously, permanently kind of unfinished … it’s always being expanded or worked on,” Wilcox said. If you make the trip there, Wilcox recommends exploring the surrounding neighborhood, which includes Columbia University.

Raise a toast

There’s no shortage of watering holes in New York City, but Silverstein and Shaki suggest having a libation at one of the city’s historic bars, namely Pete’s Tavern.

Pete’s Tavern is one of the city’s oldest continuously operated taverns.

Leonard Zhukovsky/Shutterstock

It is one of the oldest bars in the city and is where O. Henry is said to have penned “The Gift of the Magi.” Silverstein and Shaki said the Gramercy Park neighborhood, where Pete’s Tavern is located, is also worth exploring.

Take in the entire city in one place

The front entrance of the Queens Museum in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.

Felix Lipov/Shutterstock

The panorama of New York City at the Queens Museum is a must-see, according to Shaki. He said it is often overlooked by visitors to the city, but well worth the trip to the museum in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park to check out. The nearly 10,000 square foot architectural model of the city was originally built for the 1964 World’s Fair. The museum’s website depicts the panorama as a “metropolis in miniature,” featuring 895,000 buildings constructed prior to 1992 and representing every street, park and some 100 bridges.

“You think it’s just like one thing and you go see it for five minutes and then what do you do? But you really can spend … 30 minutes, an hour just sort of circling this exhibit, watching planes take off, watching nightfall happen,” Shaki said. “I think it’s a really cool way to sort of see the whole city at once without having to run all over the city.”


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