If you missed Christmas in New York City this year, you can still live the winter dream by visiting anytime from now until April. The flight prices are likely down no matter where in the world you are traveling from and the magical atmosphere lives on. The crowds are gone now that the ball has dropped in Times Square, and you’ll find bargains everywhere. If the cold weather has kept you from Manhattan in the past, have no fear. There’s nothing better than warming up in one of the thousands of coffee shops or the always warm underground world of subways and secret passageways between buildings. Here’s a fun itinerary to try on the first day of magical winter in New York City.
Exploring Grand Central Station
A great starting point is Grand Central Station at 42nd Street, arguably the world’s most famous meeting point. It’s full of fun spots to enjoy with a friend or even on your own. Two hundred and fifty thousand people commute through the gilded terminal daily, and half a million more walk through it every day. Many of the locals never really notice their surroundings or the history behind them, but if you open your eyes, you’ll be astounded.
Since this is your first stop of the day, you can start out with a beverage from the coffee bar on the lower level. The easiest way to explore is to take an inexpensive audio tour with 22 stops and takes about an hour to complete.
Most of the stops have additional “secret” information that you can select. The “secret” facts are especially interesting. For example, there is a hidden staircase connecting the information booth on the top level to the one below it. The lower booth is now the high-end refreshment kiosk where you likely sip your first cappuccino of the day.
Also on the lower level, you’ll find The Oyster Bar Restaurant, which opened in 1913 along with the rest of the terminal. In its heyday, it was a place to be seen for Hollywood celebrities just stepping off the red carpet or New Yorkers who wanted to dine at the glamorous new world transportation hub. The restaurant was famous for its oyster stew but didn’t really feature much seafood in those early days. After declining years, the Oyster Bar was reinvented in 1974 and is now a premier restaurant serving 30 varieties of oysters and a long list of fine seafood and wines.
Just outside the entrance, you can try out the secret whispering columns. If you stand by one and have a friend go across the way to the diagonal column you can talk to each other secretly. At any given moment now, you will see people experimenting with this astounding acoustical marvel!
The terminal was commissioned by Cornelius Vanderbilt, the “Commodore”, who made his fortune in shipping and later amassed more millions with railroads. He wanted to leave his family mark at the terminal, so visitors should be on the lookout for the Vanderbilt family symbols of oak leaves and acorns, which are even featured on the chandeliers.
If you keep looking up, you will be amazed by the constellations that fill the blue sky overhead. People at first complained that they were in reverse order, but Cornelius Vanderbilt swore that it was intentional – it was God’s view of the sky, not man’s, that he wanted to recreate.
Food and Drinks at Grand Central Station
When you’re ready to take a break from sightseeing, you can find something to suit any budget from the lower level Dining Concourse fast food to the much more exclusive The Campbell Bar or Cipriani Dolce where you can eat overlooking the concourse.
The Campbell Bar was once the office of John W. Campbell, a financier from the roaring twenties who epitomized the era of jazz and high living. Stop in for a drink later in the day and you’ll feel like Jay Gatsby might be strolling by any minute to admire the 25-foot high painted ceilings before finding a seat next to the massive fireplace.
You can also visit the Palm Court with its palm trees or the Terrace with its full bar. And check for Jazz Nights when the music will also take you back to a bygone era. Just remember that living like a legend doesn’t come cheap. You’ll be drinking $20 cocktails, but they are worth every penny to have entree to a New York City legend. G
The New York Public Library and Bryant Park
Leave Grand Central via the 42nd street doors and take a right. Take a short walk to Fifth Avenue where you can take a look at the New York Public Library. The very familiar lions, Patience, and Fortitude, will greet you. They probably won’t spring to life when they see you as they did in the Wiz movie, but they are still pretty impressive.
There are free tours at the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building (the main branch) each day which will give you access to areas which are normally off limits to tourists. Check out their evening events too if you want to experience an inexpensive evening in a once-in-a-lifetime venue.
The library calls their Friday night soirees the city’s most cerebral happy hour. In addition to getting smarter at the lectures, you’ll hear music, sip cocktails and have behind-the-scenes access to this Beaux Arts gem. And don’t forget when you go up the marble steps to remember Carrie when she was on the same staircase and thought she was on her way to marry the elusive Mr. Big in the library that day.
Right behind the library, you’ll find Bryant Park, which has transformed from a drug-infested Needle Park in the 1970s to an upscale area of shops and restaurants. Winter is one of the best times to visit, because you’ll get to enjoy free skating at their rink until March 3. The Winter Village is centered around the skating rink and now includes the Lodge, an enclosed area of food stands and a cocktail bar.
There’s also a s’mores bar for chocolate aficionados. If you don’t feel like skating, you can still be a part of the action by having a snack, sipping a hot drink and becoming a real New Yorker on a magical winter day.