A lot of people would say that traveling to New York City during the holidays is a pretty special occasion. And though it’s slightly more expensive to visit New York during the holidays, the city during this time of year just can’t be missed. (It is also one of the rare times of year when you will see the majority of New Yorkers smiling.)

Why are they smiling? Because the energy of the city is merry and bright. At any other time of year, that sentence would be just cause for someone to revoke my Brooklyn tough-girl street cred. During the holidays, though, it’s really true. This is a time when we happily freeze our buns on the makeshift ice skating rinks at Central and Bryant parks, whistle to the tunes of Salvation Army carolers, and slow down to admire the treasures often found in the many pop-up holiday markets.

Before you take on the holiday markets, it’s good to know how each of them differ. This enables you to make the most of your experience, since each market has something unique to offer. Sure, all of the markets have candles and animal-themed wool hats (which, by the way, only are cute on an adult during December, when we New Yorkers are too drunk with holiday joy to call-out such things). Other than that, they’re all different. Here are three New York City holiday markets I visit every year.

 

Happy Holidays from Times Square

 

Bryant Park

The holiday shops at the Bank of America Winter Village in Bryant Park are No. 1 in my book. The park one of my favorite urban oases year-round, and during the winter months this place is downright magical. There are more than 20 holiday shops selling items such as food (try the hot chocolate at the Max Brenner Chocolate shop with donuts from Carpe Donut NYC), jewelry, clothing, and crafts. When you are done shopping and eating, go ice-skating or sit by the fire pit and people-watch. The Winter Village even hosts family movie nights, all free of charge. The trendy Bryant Park Hotel is right across the street, and the Bryant Park Grill makes for a romantic date night experience. 

Columbus Circle

The Columbus Circle Holiday Market is fun because of its proximity to so much New York City greatness. Central Park is right there; the Lincoln Jazz Center and the Time Warner Center are, too. People who come to this market will find some similarities to the Union Square Holiday Market further downtown, and that’s because both are managed by the same group (it’s called UrbanSpace). In my opinion, Columbus Circle has a little bit more to offer in terms of sights and activities. My perfect day here would comprise shopping at the holiday market, taking in the Big Band Holiday concert over at Lincoln Center, and ending the night with dinner at the Time Warner Center while admiring the holiday lights display.

Viewfinder Tip: Some vendors at holiday markets don’t take credit cards, so it’s always a good idea to carry extra cash.

Grand Central Holiday Fair

Another great holiday market in New York City is the Grand Central Holiday Fair. Here I’ve purchased everything from beautiful one-of-a-kind jewelry from local artists to cute sweaters for my dog. The market is the least-crowded of my three faves. It also is closest to the greatest amount of local history; while Grand Central Terminal is a busy transit hub, it is a sort of living museum, complete with Art Deco architecture and wonderful art. (Oh, and the food court on the lower level is one of the best public food courts in the city, with favorites such as Two Boots Pizza, Shake Shack, and Magnolia Bakery.) Visit the holiday market, take a tour, have a meal, and check out the Holiday Train Show, which takes place every year at the New York Transit Museum.

One final word to the wise: Go before it’s too late. The markets open every year around Thanksgiving and usually remain through Christmas Eve. Happy shopping!

Where are your favorite holiday markets?