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Four things you have to experience in New York City during the holiday season

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 12/11/2019 Morgan Hines, USA TODAY
People as seen ice skating in Manhattan, New York City NY at the Rockefeller Center rink in front of the Christmas Tree 2019 at the 5th Ave (Photo by Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images) © Getty People as seen ice skating in Manhattan, New York City NY at the Rockefeller Center rink in front of the Christmas Tree 2019 at the 5th Ave (Photo by Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

It's the most wonderful time of the year, especially in New York City. 

That means an influx of visitors. According to NYC & Company, New York's destination marketing organization and visitors bureau, the city can expect to see 7 million visitors between Thanksgiving and the new year. It's the busiest time of year for domestic travel to New York City.

Growing up, I was one of those visitors. My family and I jostled among the crowds –vying for a position to see the tree at Rockefeller Center and bustling through Saks Fifth Avenue trying to take in all the holiday scenery.

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It was magic. All of it – including the crowds.

There's a reason the season brings so many to the Big Apple. Holiday delights are everywhere. There are decorations, lights, shows, displays. The list of entertainment options, free or for a fee, is practically endless. It can be overwhelming to decide what to do and for some, the crowds can be overwhelming, too.

a christmas tree in front of a crowd: The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, with Swarovski Star on top, during the 87th Annual Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony at Rockefeller Center on Dec. 4, 2019, in New York. © John Lamparski, Getty Images The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, with Swarovski Star on top, during the 87th Annual Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony at Rockefeller Center on Dec. 4, 2019, in New York.

After living here for a few years, I've gained perspective on the best ways to enjoy the city during the holiday season.

Walking tour: Department store windows and displays

The best way to see any city, in my personal opinion, is just by walking around. This continues to be true during the holiday season. Each year, department stores deck the halls by mid-November, filling windows with festive displays or creating a winter wonderland within. 

Some of the department stores with the most popular displays include Macy's in Herald Square and Saks Fifth Avenue, on Fifth Avenue, both in Manhattan. 

This year though, there's a "new kid on the block." Earlier this year, Nordstrom graced New York with a bright and shiny, 320,000-square-foot, seven-floor store on 57th and Broadway.

The company has incorporated Scandinavian-inspired Christmas decorations throughout the store, a hat tip to the Nordstrom's founder, John W. Nordstrom, who was a Swedish immigrant.

Holiday hack: You can see the windows two ways: Keep an eye out as you wander around, or you can take a walking tour of the windows. Green Global Travel offers a free walking tour map on its website for some of the most popular windows.

The Christmas Spectacular

The first time I saw the Christmas Spectacular I was in third grade, and we evacuated the theater due to a fire alarm – I'll never forget watching camels walk down the street.

The issue was resolved and the show went on.

And the Christmas Spectacular was exactly as the name states: Spectacular. Since then, I've seen it twice in adulthood. It doesn't get old. Each time, it's been an experience worth repeating. 

Featuring performances by the Radio City Rockettes, known for their high kicks and precision dance, the 90-minute show runs through Jan. 5. 

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A post shared by Radio City Music Hall (@radiocitymusichall) on Nov 8, 2019 at 11:06am PST

Holiday hack: The Rockettes offer more than just a show. If you're looking for a gift to give a dancer in your family, consider purchasing a dance class with the Rockettes

Rockefeller Center Christmas tree

Whether you're from the area or are visiting, nothing says Christmas more than the massive tree that stands in Rockefeller Center each year – a tradition, formally, since 1933.

The 2019 tree is a Norway Spruce and stands at 77 feet tall and hails from Orange County, New York. It's decorated with more than 50,000 multi-colored LED lights on nearly five miles of wire. 

The tree is lit from 6 a.m. to midnight each day and is lit for a full 24 hours on Dec. 25. 

Holiday hack: Visit the tree at an off hour if you want to avoid crowds. My tradition is to go around 6:30 or 7 a.m. Rockefeller Center is quiet, and the tree has begun to shine before the masses arrive. Plus, if you're looking for a cappuccino before taking on the rest of the day, there likely won't be a line at Ralph's Coffee truck, which opens at 8 a.m. 

Bryant Park

Bryant Park is a holiday haven. 

As the fall progresses, Bryant Park slowly morphs into a winter wonderland atmosphere that includes a free admission ice skating rink, holiday shops and a bar and food lounge. 

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A post shared by Bryant Park (@bryantparknyc) on Nov 21, 2019 at 4:03pm PST

Holiday hack: If you have your own skates, bring them. Though admission to the rink is free, skates are not

Other notable stops, activities

It's hard to name what the very best things are for everyone to do for the holidays in New York City. Here are a few other notable options:

Related video: The 7 State Parks You Should Visit (Provided by Buzz60)

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