15 Things To Do within 10 Blocks of Radio City Music Hall before the Show
— by Frances Page
It's on just about everyone's top 10 list for the holidays in New York City—The Christmas Spectacular starring the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall—and it is indeed a treat. But what do you do before the show when there's not enough time to head uptown to a museum or downtown to see sites like the Statue of Liberty? We've picked 15 great things to do that will add a special extra to your visit and get you to the show on time. Pick just one or two so you don't miss the curtain and come back again to check out the remainder on another wintry day.
Publisher's Note: This article was originally published in October, 2008 and has been updated to reflect 20011-12 season events.
Rockefeller Center has lots to do on a short timetable. The Tree at Rockefeller Center perched over the skating rink is so obvious, we won't even count that one. If you have a little more time you can lace on a pair of rented skates and stretch your legs under the great Prometheus statue. The rink is tiny but there are frequent sessions and room for everyone to take a turn around the most photographed skating rink in the country at least once.
Top of the Rock looking at Empire State Building Photo Courtesy of Adeline Parkinson
Rockefeller Center's Top of the Rock has really taken over as the favorite tall building and vantage point to see the city skyline among New Yorkers and visitors. Top of the Rock makes the visit easy with timed tickets that let you reserve your visit within a 15-minute arrival window. This ensures more control over getting up and down with plenty of time for the show. Arrange this visit when you order your Christmas Spectacular tickets and don't forget to allow for at least 1/2 hour at the top plus travel time up and down. There are several levels and the views are enchanting so you don't want to feel rushed. If you don't have time to go up, take a trip down below to the concourse shopping level of Rockefeller Center where the Top of the Rock store and photo pick-up is. The staff is friendly and inventory includes books, games and puzzles related to Rockefeller Center and a great supply of NYC ornaments.
Now that we have you in the concourse of Rockefeller Center, maybe its time for a snack. There aren't a lot of mid- or low-priced restaurants in this neighborhood so the food court here is welcome. There is plenty of seating, good restrooms, a ground level view of the ice rink and a nice selection of food choices. After you nosh, visit the shops in the concourse including the Swarovski Boutique. Brides know this brand's sparklers for gowns and veils but did you know that the star on the Tree at Rockefeller Center is covered with Swarovski Crystals? The concourse is a little underground city so it's a really nice spot to know about if the weather is cold and wet. You'll find lots more to do including a shoeshine at Edie's Shoe Repair on the 6th Avenue side. Head out of the concourse on the 6th Avenue side (aka Avenue of the Americas) for easiest access to Radio City Music Hall's entrance.
If there is still more time and shopping is on your mind, head for the Channel Gardens (between the skating rink and Fifth Avenue). Amidst the greenery and lifesize angel sculptures is The Metropolitan Museum of Art satellite store with really terrific and reasonably priced jewelry, scarves and paper goods. Also along this corridor of shops is the stunning window of Swiss Teuscher Chocolates which will attract and entice you inside. And don't miss the very helpful staff at Librarie de France, the first retail tenant of Channel Gardens which sells books in French and Spanish. Many New York stores stay open late during the holiday season.
Directly across from Channel Gardens is Saks Fifth Avenue on Fifth Avenue between 49th and 50th Streets. Check out the holiday window displays. Do not miss a visit inside where the first floor is transformed into a winter wonderland. Upstairs, if the cafe is open, you can have a drink with a front-row view of the Tree at Rockefeller Center.
St. Patrick's Cathedral Photo Courtesy of Adeline Parkinson
Next door to Saks, St. Patrick's Cathedral rises up over Fifth Avenue between 50th and 51st Streets. You can walk around (if mass is not being celebrated) or sit in a pew and gaze up to the soaring clerestory, windows and religious statuary. You can even light a candle for someone. Be sure to stop by the creche on the left aisle.
Tucked away on 51st Street midway down the block from Fifth Avenue is the Olympic Tower Atrium with a small Greek cafe, a break area with tables and bathrooms and, downstairs, a free museum dedicated to Hellenic Art and its influence in the world. The museum's shop is on ground level opposite the break area. If you are feeling sad because you could not get to the Met on this visit, consider this a really terrific consolation prize.
From here you aren't far from the American Girl store a few blocks south or some of the city's most iconic stores heading north. The window shopping is free at Bergdorf Goodman, Tiffany & Co., Bulgari, Fendi, Escada, Henri Bendel, The Disney Store, Godiva, Gucci, Fortunoff and more all within 10 blocks of Rockefeller Center. If you wander all the way up to Bergdorf's and the Apple Store on 59th Street allow a good 20 minutes to get back and over to 6th Avenue (1/2 hour if you don't like to walk at a brisk pace). If you bought too much, stop back at the concourse under Rockefeller Center and see the nice people at the UPS Store.
Heading south on Fifth Avenue, look for the diamond-shaped torches flanking the opening to 47th Street between 5th and 6th that welcomes pedestrians to the Diamond District. The whole block is devoted to diamonds and precious jewelry businesses. Good to know how close this is since the Tree at Rockefeller Center is one of the most popular wedding proposal locations in the city (and perhaps the east coast). If you get the urge, head over to the Diamond District first.
There are two great museums near Radio City. MOMA and The Paley Center. Haven't heard of the Paley Center? It used to be called the Museum of Television and Radio and is located at 25 West 52 Street between 5th and 6th Avenues. Their permanent media collection contains more than 140,000 television and radio programs and advertisements. The Paley Center is open Wednesdays to Sundays 12:00 to 6:00 pm and 12:00 to 8:00 pm on Thursdays. A daily tour for visitors is free and lasts about 40 minutes. Link to their site for a schedule of the upcoming week's screenings and displays to see if anything catches your eye. The center also presents seminars and panels that are often open to the public.
At MOMA (Museum of Modern Art at 11 West 53rd Street betweeen 5th and 6th Avenues) immmerse yourself for an hour or two or three among the massive but well organized modern collection. In addition to the permanent collection, this season's exhibits includes a deKooning retrospective and Cy Twombly's sculptures. Don't forget the MOMA Shop across the street where you'll find designs based on museum originals, interesting toys and books.
Christie's Auction Gallery located on the southern side of Rockefeller Center allows the public to attend freen viewings prior to each auciton. This season the Elizabeth Taylor estate is on view from December 3-16. Her jewelry, film memorabilia, costumes, accesories and more will be on diplay prior to the December 13-16th auctions of The Collections of Elizabeth Taylor. Check the New York City/Rockefeller Center viewing calendar here for times, mostly between 12-6pm but some days open as early as 10am. (Through the end of November Christie's is showing Important American Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture in its viewing galleries.)
FOX News Headquarters is also along 6th Avenue (1211Avenue of the Americas), a few blocks south of Radio City. You will know you are there when you see the red-lit news ticker running around the side and front of the building. Morning people may see the early crew and news hosts of Fox & Friends out on their plaza shooting a segment or interacting with pedestrians.
By now you may have noticed the plethora of street carts with hot and sometimes spicy foods from around the world parked next to the more familiar hot dog and pretzel carts. Follow your nose and a local or two to find the best spot for a little (or large) snack al fresco. If you are not sure which to choose, ask someone in one of the lines. New Yorkers love to recommend their favorites and introduce others to something good. Take your food purchase over to the open-air plaza on 6th between 49th and 50th (1251 Avenue of the Americas) with the giant red Christmas ornaments piled into a pyramid. Here's your holiday photo opportunity. Take the shot from the plaza's southwest corner and you can capture your family and Radio City Music Hall in the background all in one.
If fine dining is more your style or you'd like to relax with a drink while the rest of your party shops 'til they drop, we recommend Morrell Wine Bar & Cafe just south of the Tree. It is sometimes crowded and hard to get a table, but the short wait will reward you with a fun and extensive wines by the glass and bar menu. Back on 6th Avenue, there's Del Frisco's (1221 Avenue of the Americas) one the city's power lunch spots that's also open for dinner. Reservations are a must but you can stop in for a martini downstairs at the testosterone-fueled bar or upstairs in their quieter bar. If you are looking forward to a fine meal after the show La Cite (120 West 51st) and Ben Bensons (123 West 52nd Street) are also in the neighborhood.
World-class art, shopping, dining, spectacular views, skating, a TV studio, and a very famous cathedral. You can see any of these without worrying about straying too far from showtime.
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