You can't beat New York for festive fun

When it comes to city breaks, New York reigns supreme - particularly at this time of year, says Ruth Jackson.

When it comes to city breaks, New York reigns supreme, particularly at this time of year. If you are lucky enough to visit the city during the festive period, then a day spent admiring the Christmas lights and decorations is well worth it no one does Christmas quite like the Americans. The Rockefeller Center just off Fifth Avenue is famous for its enormous Christmas tree and it isn't a disappointment the tree is 84 feet tall and covered in around 30,000 lights. The ice-skating rink in front of it attracts hordes of skaters. Even if you don't fancy a go, it's still an excellent place to do some people watching many talented skaters hit the ice, alongside equally entertaining novices.

Those still keen to shop despite the plunging pound should visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art shop in the Rockefeller Center. The large store is a treasure trove of goodies, from beautiful jewellery and scarves to ornate vases. Other stores that are worth a visit are luxury goods retailer Saks and upmarket toy shop, FAO Schwartz.

St Patrick's Cathedral is a great place to visit at anytime, but at Christmas it's a must-see for its enormous nativity scene. Hard as it is to believe now, when Archbishop Hughes proposed the new cathedral in 1853 he was ridiculed the site he chose was considered too far out of the city. But Hughes rightly believed the city would grow and now the cathedral lies in the heart of New York between Fifth Avenue and Madison Avenue.

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If the crowds of Fifth Avenue become too much, then try a stroll in the vast Central Park. After a few minutes walking you escape the noise and bustle of the city streets. The caf by the lake is worth avoiding, though the hot drinks are vile and, at least when I was there, the whole place smelt pungently of the lake.

Perhaps the best tourist experience in New York is the Circle Line boat tour. The tours are well-run, comfortable and the tour guides are both interesting and very, very funny. It makes an excellent starting point for a first-time visitor to New York looking for a good overview of the city.

A trip to the 86th floor of the Empire State Building is probably on most people's New York 'to do' lists. But all those crowds converging on the iconic skyscraper mean the queues are huge. The whole experience isn't made any more pleasurable by the hordes of hawkers taking advantage of the long lines to try to sell souvenirs to a captive audience of tourists. If you have the patience, the view is certainly spectacular, but if you're pressed for time, give it a miss.

Fortunately, there's a quieter way to get a great view of New York. Head for dinner to Asiate on the 35th floor of the Mandarin Oriental hotel. The restaurant's 16-foot high windows offers great views across Central Park and the city. The food is excellent, with the wild boar and the duck vying for top dish on the menu. And those in need of a drink won't be disappointed as the restaurant houses 1,300 bottles of wine in impressive floor-to-ceiling racks.

Where to stay and how to get there

New York offers a wealth of accommodation, and one of the best places to stay is The New York Palace. Situated in Midtown between Madison and Fifth Avenue, many city sights are right on your doorstep. The large rooms have huge beds and great views. Guests staying in executive rooms also have access to the hotel's executive lounge on the 39th floor. It offers complimentary food all day as well as an extensive free bar. All this, plus a fantastic view of St Patrick's Cathedral, make the lounge well worth the extra expense.

As for getting there and back, Virgin Atlantic's premium economy cabin is the ideal choice for anyone wanting a bit of credit-crunch luxury. The seats are wider with more leg room than those in economy. A wealth of thoughtful little touches, such as good-quality china tableware, add up to make a pleasurable journey rather than a test of endurance.

For more information on The New York Palace visit, or call 00 1 212 888 7000.

Virgin Atlantic flies from London Heathrow to New York five times a day. Fares in economy start from £329 and in premium economy from £699 inclusive of taxes and can be booked either online at or by calling reservations on 08705-747747.

Ruth Jackson-Kirby

Ruth Jackson-Kirby is a freelance personal finance journalist with 17 years’ experience, writing about everything from savings and credit cards to pensions, property and pet insurance. 

Ruth started her career at MoneyWeek after graduating with an MA from the University of St Andrews, and she continues to contribute regular articles to our personal finance section. After leaving MoneyWeek she went on to become deputy editor of Moneywise before becoming a freelance journalist.

Ruth writes regularly for national publications including The Sunday Times, The Times, The Mail on Sunday and Good Housekeeping among many other titles both online and offline.