After a couple of years being cooped up at home, I decided, “That’s it! Let’s pack up the family and travel to New York City for the holidays.”
On a whim, I booked a hotel directly in Times Square. Just two days before Christmas, our family—including my husband, our 12-year-old child and 95-pound dog—all crammed into the car on an adventure to spend Christmas in the Big Apple.
During our visit, we logged marathons worth of miles on our feet making sure to explore every crevice of the city within walking distance of the hotel. All along the way, scads of people from every nationality and walk of life bustled around us as they scuttled to their destinations. Though New York City didn’t disappoint with its energy, we missed the Mt. Lebanon charm at home.
New York boasted endless sights, smells and sounds during our stay. Yet much of our visit could be compared to Pittsburgh, just on a smaller hometown scale. We barely scratched the surface of the juggernaut of a city but in our slice near Times Square, we found similarities to home with every destination.
- Rockefeller Center serves as home to a grand Christmas tree staged at the base of the building. The tree, adorned by 25,000 multicolored lights, watches over novice and expert ice skaters alike. Compare that to PPG Plaza with a colorful tree planted directly in the middle of an ice rink. Bonus points for Pittsburgh since the rink at PPG Plaza actually offers more ice surface than at Rockefeller Center.
- The Top of the Rock, an observation deck at the top of Rockefeller Center, requires just a short elevator ride to reach the building’s rooftop so you can experience an uninterrupted view of the city. Though one will be completely surrounded by skyscraper lights on all sides, Pittsburghers retain bragging rights for the view from Mt. Washington. It costs no more than time and a ride up McArdle Road. Our city view inspires visitors regardless of weather condition or time of day.
- Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum showcases hundreds of wax-sculpted celebrity lookalikes poised for a realistic photo op. This is where I learned that Ryan Seacrest’s stature makes me feel like a large oaf compared to him. But locally, one of our several Carnegie Museums allow visitors to take in a rich history of everything ranging from dinosaur times to the future of science.
- Central Park takes up residence in NYC. It lays out 843 acres nestled smack dab in the middle of a concrete jungle. Visitors of the city could take days to experience the park’s expansive sprawl. Carriage rides, carousels, ice skating and other activities await visitors. If staying local, a resident can explore Point State Park’s 36 acres while strolling along the river or tracing the fort’s concrete lines planted in the grass near where the rivers join together.
- Radio City Music Hall. OK, so the Rockettes are a must-see if spending any holiday time in New York City. But, if you still want a show but don’t want to leave Pittsburgh, we’re home to a rich cultural district. Pick a show from the Byham Theatre, Heinz Hall, O’Reilly Theater or others to find the perfect match to your cultural tastes.
- Bryant Park isn’t too far from Times Square. If you’re in the city, you may want to visit this destination during the holiday season. On top of multiple rows of shops, thousands of tourists and locals spend their evenings ice skating and sipping on hot drinks while indulging in a variety of food options. Don’t want to travel that far? Run down to Market Square in downtown Pittsburgh and you’ll also find temporary holiday hut shops, entertainment and of course, delectable treats.
- Saint Patrick’s Cathedral leaves visitors walking away with their mouths agape. People of all religious background sojourn to this spot to view the majestic architecture and ornate detail painstakingly designed within the church. During the holidays you’ll run into lines of visitors touring the church simply to admire the historic structure erected in 1808. In Pittsburgh, simply driving down Washington Road allows local residents to pass by a church basically on every corner. St. Bernard in Mt. Lebanon is one example and its history may not date as far back as St. Patrick’s, but the historic South Hills structure still holds many stories.
- Grand Central Station not only caters to commuters and travelers, but it’s also a destination for out of towners who simply want to see this gigantic railway station. Walking in to admire the grand entrance transports you to iconic movies featuring this significant landmark. Granted, the South Hills trolley line can’t compare with New York City’s massive transit options, but locals can still find a station to hop on a rail car and stop by one of many nearby local businesses.
Visiting New York City and spending Christmas Day there was a one-time trip for my family. The worthwhile experience remains burrowed into our memories but we never stopped comparing the vacation to what Pittsburgh offered us at the same time. There’s no replacement to waking up Christmas morning with presents magically placed under the tree. The Big Apple didn’t disappoint yet I will always be drawn to my locally loved and smaller scale destinations.