New York City is one of the most popular settings of holiday films and TV shows.
I visited locations from “Miracle on 34th Street,” “Elf,” and others to see what they’re like in real life.
It was a day filled with Christmas cheer, NYC magic, and very long lines.
As soon as Santa rides in on his sleigh during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, it feels like New York City becomes a winter wonderland almost overnight.
There’s already so much to do and see in New York City on a normal day, but the holiday season adds another festive layer to the city. It’s easily one of my favorite times of year to walk around in Manhattan.
And with all that magic, it’s no wonder that so many writers choose to set their holiday films and shows here.
I mapped out a route from Union Square to Midtown so I could visit as many holiday movie locations as possible. This is the route I took.
I started at the Union Square Holiday Market, then headed downtown to the iconic Strand Book Store. Then I hopped back on the subway and arrived at Macy’s flagship store on 34th Street at Herald Square.
From there, I stayed on Fifth Avenue and walked uptown, stopping at Rockefeller Center to see the Christmas tree and the ice-skating rink, the Plaza Hotel, and the Wollman Rink in Central Park.
Then I headed into the Upper East Side to see the famous Serendipity 3 dessert spot. To cap off my journey, I went back downtown to visit the Seagram Building on Park Avenue. My day was done, after many stops, lots of Christmas music, and 18,395 steps.
My first stop was the holiday market in Union Square. Recently, it was featured as a location in the sweet Netflix series “Dash & Lily.”
Something I appreciate about the Union Square subway stop is that, if you can figure out how to navigate it, you can climb up the stairs directly into the market.
The market is kind of like a maze — it’s here where Dash and Lily almost run into each other for the first time. I can see how the two miss each other.
Especially if the market had been more crowded, like in the pre-pandemic days, I don’t know how anyone would be able to find anyone else.
Here’s what it looks like in the show.
In the show, Lily is caroling with her friends while Dash is just trying to get out of the market without thinking too much about his ex.
Unfortunately, there were no carolers when I visited, but I did secure a hot chocolate to keep me warm on my journey.
Next up was another location from “Dash & Lily,” and an important one at that. It’s the place where Lily leaves her red notebook for Dash to find.
The show, which is based on a YA novel called “Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares” written by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn, dropped on Netflix last winter.
It follows two diametrically opposed teenagers — Dash hates the holiday season (in fact, he calls it “detestable”), while Lily is all-Christmas, all the time. Lily’s brother convinces her to leave a notebook in the bookshelves of the Strand, hoping for the right guy to pick it up … which, of course, Dash does.
The two bond over doing different NYC-related dares via the notebook. One of the biggest scenes in the finale also takes place in the Strand, on New Year’s Eve. Highly recommend: It was one of my most comforting 2020 watches.
Here’s the inside of the Strand, which is on Broadway between 12th and 13th Street, just south of Union Square.
The Strand Book Store is one of the most famous book stores in New York City. It’s been open since 1927 and famously has 18 miles (29km) of books inside.
If you happen to love book stores like I do, it doesn’t matter what time of year it is — the Strand will always have a bit of magic. But when it’s all decked out for the holidays, it’s perfect.
Here are some of the shelves in the aisles …
You could easily spend hours just combing the shelves for a special red notebook.
… like the one Lily leaves her notebook in.
Of course, the real Strand does not have this same cozy, warm lighting. It also would never be this empty, as it’s a huge tourist destination.
My next stop was the Macy’s flagship store on 34th Street, the site of many holiday films including, of course, “Miracle on 34th Street.”
The flagship store has 1.25 million square feet of retail space and a whopping eight floors, making it the biggest department store in the world.
The “Believe” sign is a reference to “Miracle on 34th Street,” as the plot of the film revolves around proving that the Macy’s Santa Claus is, in fact, the real Santa.
This is what it looked like in the 1947 version of the movie.
Macy’s doesn’t use this logo anymore.
The inside of Macy’s is decorated throughout.
Overall, my time in Macy’s was festive but very crowded. I had to get off the first floor as soon as possible, or I would’ve been sprayed with at least five different perfumes.
Notably, when I got past the first two or three floors of Macy’s, the escalators switched to old-fashioned wooden ones, which helped me feel like I was going back in time to the era of the ’40s film.
On the top floor of Macy’s is where the famed SantaLand is. I couldn’t get in to see the actual Santa without reserving a ticket, but this is what the outside looks like.
I heard the “elves” telling some kids that they grow smaller as they get older to explain why they’re larger than the elves at the North Pole, and that they only speak Elf, but learned English just for the holidays.
SantaLand has nods to its iconic beginnings, including a poster for the original 1947 “Miracle on 34th Street.”
The movie was remade in 1994 starring Elizabeth Perkins, Mara Wilson, Dylan McDermott, and the late, great Richard Attenborough as Kris Kringle.
SantaLand also has windows — just like store does outside — but theirs depict moments from the movie.
The Macy’s holiday lights are legendary.
Walking out of Herald Square, I saw my next destination: the Empire State Building, seen in “Elf,” “Sleepless in Seattle” (to me, a holiday classic), and “Home Alone 2.”
I’ve lived in New York my whole life, and I’ve still never stepped foot inside.
The Observatory line was long, and it costs $US42 ($AU60) to get up there … so I settled for the view of the line.
The revolving doors Buddy spins through over and over again are around the block on 33rd Street.
Turns out, the best way to look at the Empire State Building is from a few blocks away.
Here’s the lobby of the Empire State Building as seen in “Elf.”
In “Elf,” Buddy — a human who thinks he’s an elf — meets his real father, Walter Hobbs. Walter works inside the Empire State Building at a publishing company. There’s a memorable scene when Buddy pushes all the buttons on the elevator, making it look like a lit-up Christmas tree.
As I continued on my journey, I passed the New York Public Library — fittingly, the lion statues out front were adorned in their holiday best.
The statues were named Patience and Fortitude (seen here) by Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia back in the ’30s. Each year, they rock a holly wreath during the holiday season.
I also passed Saks Fifth Avenue, which has holiday windows that rival Macy’s.
The Saks Fifth Avenue is on (of course) Fifth Avenue, between 49th and 50th Street — conveniently, it’s right across the street from my next stop, 30 Rock.
The Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center and its accompanying ice-skating rink have been featured in multiple movies and TV shows.
This whole area of NYC is completely decked out for the holidays — even the bus stops are decorated, and you can’t go more than 10 feet (3.05m) without hearing Salvation Army volunteers blasting music.
It’s impossible to be a Scrooge when the streets look like that.
Each store has its own take on decorating.
This store is lit up to look like a wrapped present.
Before I knew it, I’d reached the Pulitzer Fountain on the edge of Central Park. It’s been transformed to an Arctic ice-skating rink with penguins and polar bears.
It took 5,000 feet (1,524.00m) of lights and handmade icebergs and sculptures to complete the transformation of the Pulitzer Fountain, which was built in 1916 and is across the street from one of the most famous hotels in NYC …
To my left was the Plaza Hotel, which is looking a little less glamorous than usual due to scaffolding and construction.
The Plaza opened in 1907 and is one of the most famous (and expensive) hotels in the world — besides its legendary appearance in “Home Alone 2,” the Plaza has also been part of “Bride Wars,” “Eloise at the Plaza,” “Funny Girl,” and “Sleepless in Seattle,” to name a few.
Much of the hotel is off-limits for tourists, but the decorated lobby is open for all to look at.
It was decorated beautifully.
The Palm Court is right off the entrance — it was decorated as well, and filled with guests.
In “Scrooged,” a modern re-telling of “A Christmas Carol,” Bill Murray’s character works at the Seagram Building.
It essentially looks the exact same — the trees on the side of the plaza are just lit up for the holiday season.
As “Scrooged” isn’t the most traditional holiday film, it felt fitting to end my tour here, before I got Christmas-ed out.
As I started my walk back to the subway, I came across this fully decorated restaurant. Even though it’s not a famous movie destination, it proved that the holiday spirit is all around us — you just have to look.
I’ve never felt more Christmas spirit than how I felt after this walking tour of NYC, and I got to see some iconic destinations that I’ve never gotten around to visiting.
Now, it’s time for my Christmas movie marathon to begin.