New York

How one family of Elf super-fans did New York this Christmas

Last updated 11th December 2023

No other city on earth is more like a movie than New York, so what could be more Christmas in New York than recreating Elf and Home Alone 2 for the holiday season? Tough task as that sounds, Brian Thacker and his daughter Jasmine were more than up for it this December. Grab the popcorn, snuggle up and enjoy!


Macy’s on 5th Avenue, Christmas in New York

Nothing is more like a movie than Christmas in New York

As I joyfully bunny-hopped across the pedestrian crossing in front of Macys on 5th Avenue, my 21-year-old daughter Jasmine rolled her eyes as she filmed me from the pavement.

I’m re-creating a scene from the family favourite Christmas movie Elf. Jasmine and I have watched this film every Christmas Eve since she was 10, and we’ve always talked about doing Christmas in New York to indulge in all things Buddy the Elf: with a bit of Kevin McCallister thrown in for good measure.

So after an arduous journey travelling through the seven levels of the candy cane forest and the sea of swirly-twirly gum drops, our Christmas wish finally came true.


Buddy the Elf, 86th floor Observation Deck, Empire State Building

Buddy the Elf! What’s your favourite colour?

When Buddy arrived in New York from the North Pole, he went straight to the Empire State Building to meet his dad Walter for the first time.

We walk through the same famous art deco marble lobby and are surprised to see the lobby’s window displays adorned with Elf collectibles for sale. We’d coincidentally timed our trip for the 20th anniversary of the launch of the movie.

However, we skip buying some Elf syrup or a Son of a Nutcracker makeup kit and instead shoot up to the 86th floor Observation Deck to meet Buddy himself or a life-size cardboard cut-out of him at least. So of course we join the line to take an Elf-selfie with the Manhattan skyline as a backdrop.


Home Alone 2 Sundae, Plaza Hotel, New York

Merry Christmas, ya filthy animal

Home Alone 2 is another favourite Christmas movie of mine and Jasmine’s, so we couldn’t go to New York without dropping into the Plaza Hotel.

If I’d had my dad’s credit card we would have stayed at the hotel, but we do get to experience Kevin’s whipped-cream laden ice cream sundae for lunch! It’s part of the Home Alone 2: Fun In New York overnight package, which includes a 4-hour limo tour to visit the filming locations from the movie – while eating a cheese pizza, of course – as well as an ice cream sundae delivered to your suite.

The sundae is 16 scoops of vanilla and chocolate ice cream with whipped cream; maraschino cherries; M&M’s; brownie bits; chocolate; caramel, and raspberry sauce. Any guest can order it from room service any time for $300.

When the room service steward wheels the lavishly loaded trolley into the grand suite, Jasmine looks exactly like Kevin from the movie poster with her mouth agape. And even after we finish two large bowls each, we didn’t so much as put a dent in the frozen confectionary mountain.


Designer Christmas in New York, Saks Fifth Avenue

I’m singing! I’m in a store and I’m singing!

There are Christmas surprises around every corner in Manhattan as the whole city is glimmering and glittering under a magical mantle of elaborate typically Christmas in New York decorations and lights.

On our first evening we linger over the fantastical festive store windows of Bloomingdales, Tiffany & Co, Saks 5th Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman. Then I embarrass Jasmine once more by making her film me doing the splits à la Buddy on the escalator at Macys.

But it’s not just stores that get into the Christmas spirit in New York, many corporate buildings have monolithic Christmas decorations too, including baubles the size of cars, and even a cyclopean Candy Cane Forest.


Ice Skating, Rockefeller Plaza, Christmas in New York

Wow, that’s a big one!

The Rockefeller Center and Christmas Tree gets a double Christmas film starring role. Buddy goes ice-skating on the rink in front of the tree and has his first kiss with Jovie here, and it’s where Kevin has an emotional reunion with his mum at the end of Home Alone 2.

We start our second day with ice skating – or more like me slipping around waving my arms in the air trying to stay upright – underneath that famous Christmas tree. And it is a big one.

The 80-year-old, 10-ton Norway Spruce is 25-metres-tall and features a 400-kilogram 3D Swarovski star along with eight kilometres of wire strung with 50,000 coloured lights.

That night we line up for a view of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting. It’s a huge nationwide TV event with a two-hour pre-lighting concert – featuring Barry Manilow, Cher, Kelly Clarkson and Seth MacFarlane this year.

We get to see the start of the concert, but we don’t make it for the actual tree lighting because the frosty below zero temperature sent us scurrying inside the closest store to warm up our fingers and toes.

The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear

Kevin ran all around New York City. And so can you.

We join Fit Tours Christmas in NYC: Holiday Lights Running Tour, which combines sightseeing and exercise. Except we don’t run. We take the more sedate and leisurely walking tour.

Central Park is home to several scenes from Elf and Home Alone 2, including Walter’s apartment building; the snow fight bridge from Elf, and the ice-skating rink and pigeon lady bridge from Home Alone 2. And both movies feature Bethesda Terrace and fountain: here Jasmine threatens to disown me if I break into song.


The Oscar Wilde Restaurant, Christmas in New York

We elves try to stick to the four main food groups: candy, candy canes, candy corns and syrup

Christmas in New York has a veritable feast of themed restaurants decked out in dazzling decorations.

There was certainly plenty of Christmas cheer at the Victorian-inspired Oscar Wilde restaurant, with walls, ceilings and New York City’s longest bar artfully crowded with a mirthful mayhem of festive finery.

And if you happen to be feeling the Christmas spirit in the middle of July, drop into Rolf’s German restaurant which is swathed in Christmas trimmings all year round.


Dyker Heights dressed up for Christmas

Son of a nutcracker: lights you can see from space

We head out to the Brooklyn suburb of Dyker Heights where it looks as if Christmas has exploded in people’s front yards.

It’s by far the most impressive display of home decorations I’ve ever seen, with enough lights to be seen from space, a sleigh of giant inflatable Santa’s, singing Grinches and even a giant partridge in a pear tree.

Just get there before ten o’clock when everyone turns their lights off.


Jasmine, Empire State Building lobby

I just like to smile, smiling’s my favourite

On our final day Jasmine drags me reluctantly to a fried chicken restaurant in Times Square that she saw on TikTok.

As we sit down Jasmine gasps, “Look, an Elf costume!” On the wall is a glass case with the entire costume inside. Assuming it’s a copy, I go over for a look and read: “Original ELF COSTUME worn by Will Ferrell in the MOVIE.”

Right up to the very end of our Christmas in New York we are treated to a little bit of Elf magic.

How to plan Christmas in New York

How to get there

Direct UK flights to New York, from 8 hours, 30 minutes

Where to stay

Conrad New York Midtown, next to Rockefeller Center, family suites from £582 per night

Book Conrad New York Midtown

Ace Hotel Brooklyn, family rooms from £302 per night

Book Ace Hotel Brooklyn

Good to know

Home Alone 2: Fun in New York overnight package The Plaza Hotel, £1,829 per person

Home Alone 2: Fun in New York

For more on what to see and do in New York City

Visit NYC Tourism