- I visited an iconic New York City holiday market to see if it lived up to the hype.
- The Bank of America Winter Village is at Bryant Park in Midtown Manhattan, a short walk from Times Square.
- I expected it to be overcrowded with tourists, filled with cheesy souvenir shops, and completely overrated.
- But it was actually a lovely NYC holiday experience and I think everyone should visit.
It’s in Midtown Manhattan, a short walk from Times Square, and it’s on top of five subway lines, so I was sure it would be packed with people.
The market, which opened on October 27 this year, includes more than 170 holiday pop-up shops, an ice skating rink, and a heated lodge with food and a cocktail bar. There are also various eateries mixed in with the boutiques.
To my surprise, the market was actually far from overcrowded. Even when it got busier as the evening wore on, I could always walk freely and I never felt like I was being surrounded by too many people. The atmosphere was calm yet festive, the shops sold artisanal wares from all over the world rather than just cheap tourist souvenirs, and everybody just genuinely seemed to be having a lovely time.
Here’s what the market is actually like, and why I suggest any New York City local or visitor should give it a visit.
Bryant Park is in Midtown Manhattan, a short walk from Times Square.
I got there a little after 4 p.m. on a weekday in mid-December, just as it was starting to get dark.
The footpaths surrounding the park were busy with wandering tourists and with locals leaving work. You can access five subway lines at the park, so the area always gets busy around rush hour.
But when I stepped into the park, it was immediately calmer and quieter, which took me by surprise.
It wasn’t cold enough outside for Bryant Park’s fountain to freeze, which happens sometimes.
The Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park, which includes pop-up holiday shops, an ice skating rink, and a heated “lodge” with food and drinks, opened on October 27 this year. The holiday shops are open through January 2, while the rink and the lodge will close after March 3, 2019.
I was immediately surprised that the market wasn’t packed full of people. Last time I went to a holiday market in New York City was at Union Square last year, and it was so crowded at times that I could barely move.
I walked by the Southwest Porch, an al fresco restaurant and full bar, where people were gathered under heat lamps.
There were a few fire pits set up as well, which several people and at least one little dog seemed to be enjoying.
Surprisingly, there was plenty of free seating.
Thanks to the heat lamps, it actually looked like a cosy, chill place to hang out and have a drink or some snacks.
I saw a large tour group gathered at the edge of the park and braced myself to navigate through more large groups, but I didn’t see any others the whole time I was there.
Bryant Park’s holiday market includes more than 170 pop-up boutiques selling “local crafts, artisanal food, and goods from around the world,” according to its website. The winter village is inspired by European open-air markets.
Source: Bryant Park
The eateries included plenty of hot drinks such as cider and hot chocolate, but also doughnuts, fried pickles …
… Belgian waffles, and much more.
I was expecting the shops to sell cheap tourist souvenirs.
But I found myself intrigued by many of the offerings. I actually did some Christmas gift shopping from two different shops, which I had absolutely no intention of doing.
Some of the shops were distinctly holiday-themed, such as “Santa’s Workshop,” which sold Christmas ornaments.
Others were pop-up versions of chic boutiques based in the city.
It’s actually a great place to shop for different types of gifts without having to trek all around the city.
I came to the holiday market with low expectations, expecting crowds of tourists and cheesy attractions. But I found myself reluctantly having a very pleasant time.
Christmas music was drifting over the park from the skating rink. I understand that Christmas music is hated by many when it’s played incessantly in grocery stores and shops starting in October, but this was exactly the right setting for it.
Even the surrounding buildings were lit up in festive red and green.
And looking up, you had a clear view of the Empire State Building.
As I watched friends, families, and couples shopping and wandering, I only wished I had someone else there with me to enjoy the market.
It was quite romantic, actually. “I should come here with the girl I like,” I heard someone say to his friend as they passed by me. I wanted to tell him that, yes, he totally should.
There were plenty of people on the rink, as I’d expected, but it wasn’t insanely crowded.
Skating is free for those who bring their own skates, or $US20 to rent. The rink is open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Despite varying ability levels, everyone seemed to be having a good time.
Source: Bryant Park