It is no secret that New York City has been hit pretty hard by COVID, and there are so many businesses struggling or permanently closed. There is no way that I can start off this post without acknowledging that all the concerns being expressed by health officials are 100% real and though I know that people will be traveling this holiday season, including to my hometown, I am not advocating for anyone to do so at this time, especially from overseas, and most especially if you have not been tested, have not been wearing a mask, come from a high-risk area, and don’t plan to quarantine.

I arrived in NYC after my 30-minute ride from NJ after having had what would be now my 3rd negative COVID test result. I believe that there are safe ways to explore the city, though the holidays in NYC are a bit different now, and that if we all take the necessary precautions and respect the guidelines set in places around the city – including wearing your masks – that it is very possible to still enjoy the city at this time.

I visited New York for a long birthday weekend with my husband and this is how we made the most of it (and some of what you too can expect).

Early December sunset in Central Park

BEST TIMES FOR MUSEUMS

Most museums in New York City have a suggested admissions fee. I love this approach because it allows for the arts to be accessible to everyone – students, low-income visitors, and even large families. Even through the pandemic, this practice remains, but like any other time, if you can pay the full fee, I really, really hope that you do. One thing you will notice when in New York City, like across the country if not the world, is how hard the arts and culture scenes have been hit. Our beloved Broadway District has gone dark. Even some of most iconic cultural resources, from bookstores to theatres are under threat of shuttering forever. So, to be able to go to a museum and supported financially as best we can, is a gift that will long outlive us, as it has those who established them in the first place.

Museums, from large to small, are taking reservations and allowing for specific time blocks for your visit. You can often reserve online. Our list for visits was long and our aim was two museums a day – an ambitious goal as you can easily spend more than a day touring any one of these New York City treasures. The museums we enjoyed during our visit were the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art, and the Poster House. This wasn’t even half of our list, but with only 2 days to explore it was the most we could do without rushing.

What we learned was that the earlier reservations, especially if on a weekend, the better. This may require an early wake up on a Saturday or Sunday, which no one loves, but it also means you get to experience the museum almost exclusively. Even with the blocked times, things start to fill up later in the day and we saw long lines and crowds beginning to form as we left.

All museums could use our support, but more so if they are smaller, niche, and community-based. Some of my favorites are El Museo del Barrio, Queens Museum, Brooklyn Museum, The Studio Museum in Harlem, and Museum of the City of New York.

Dining out

Since writing this post the Governor of New York has implemented a no-indoor dining mandate in an effort to reduce the increasing number of COVID cases in the city. Many restaurants are still offering take-out and your support is greatly needed.

Reservations are needed. Outdoor seating is not always guaranteed, but harder to find is outdoor AND heated seating. This is the reality for most of the dining scene in New York City right now. It’s important to ask about social distancing because some places offer indoor seating and will book at whatever capacity they are allowed to, which can feel like a lot even with spacing in place. A few places where we had a wonderful dining experience and felt completely at ease were SERRA by Birreria.

When the weather is nice the rooftop is opened, and even when it is closed, surrounding windows remain open. It’s important to note that we arrived pretty early in the day. During evening hours the lines to get in can get long as they don’t take reservations, and space is limited even for the stand-only bar area. It’s also important to note that indoor dining guidelines are subjected to the ever-changing mandates around safety restrictions as we continue to work to manage the pandemic.

For breakfast, we enjoyed a wonderful meal at Hole in The Wall (the chili scrambled eggs was a generous dish and so, so delicious!); and Blank Slate Tea (the Tumeric quinoa bowl was lovely). For dinner, we ordered in from Ajisen Ramen. Our hotel, the Moxy Chelsea, normally has wonderful restaurants in house, but because of COVID are not opened for business. Nevertheless, it was a wonderful stay, with epic views. It’s also important to note that except for check-in, our entire stay was contactless. Even check-out. And we never had our room cleaned during our stay.

We also had dinner at The Smith, a favorite of mine and one I go to over and over again because they never disappoint. The food is always amazing, the service is great, and I always have the best time. The tables are well-distanced from each other, with barriers and space in between, and every interaction with the wait staff requires you wear a mask at every point of conversation between them.

HOLIDAY MARKETS AND FESTIVITIES

This is where we felt the most difference. The holiday markets by Columbus Circle and at Vanderbilt Hall in Grand Central Terminal are closed.

The Winter Village at Bryant Park is open, but it felt different without the large enclosed “lodge”. Instead, there were bubble huts to rent for those who want to keep warm and tables, some with heated lamps for eating and drinking. The holiday shops are also there, as well as the different kiosks with more food and drink options. And of course, the ice-skating rink is open for business with restrictions to adhere to distancing and limitation of crowds. If you go during the day, on weekends especially, it is terribly crowded. But go later at night and it is more airy and pleasant.

The holiday lights and windows are in full display. As is the Rockefeller Tree, though this year you can only admire it from afar. The flow of people is heavily controlled and the later you are there, the lighter the crowd. I loved how easy it was to walk and move, without the usual packed sidewalks or groups in line to see the window displays.

The Rockefeller Tree

The city is not “dead”. It is, after all, New York City – the greatest and most resilient city in the world. The things we as New Yorkers have survived and overcome really speak to the courage and strength of its people. I loved taking in the scenes and the hours of walking miles and miles. It is still possible to enjoy the city and support the businesses there. But we should also remember, the balance is delicate and we all need to do our part to heal the city and all of us.

So, if you do visit, enjoy every minute. If you live there, support the local businesses as much as you can, if you can. And show your extra love of our beloved city by staying safe and being safe. We are all in this together.