Though New York City is full of iconic parks—Washington Square, Jacob Riis, Fort Tryon, and of course Central Park—none combines the dizzying, electric contradictions of the city better than Bryant Park. In the summer, its green lawn and great trees create an oasis in the middle of midtown skyscrapers.
In the winter, it's a bustling hub of light and life; the glassed-in booths of its Christmas market framing its open-air ice skating rink. And then there's the glowing, illuminated tree at the base of the New York Public Library.
Bryant Park's rollercoaster history is almost as famous as present-day beauty. It became a public park in 1847 (before that it was a burial site) and over the decades the park has seen the draft riots of the Civil War, the construction of the NYPL's beautiful Schwarzman Building, the rise and fall of the Sixth Avenue elevated railway, protests against the War in Vietnam, and the long dark slog of the 1970s and 1980s when the city's suffered at the hands of budget cuts, homelessness, and the drug epidemic. The park got its second major renewal in the 1990s, and since 2002, it's also hosted its Christmas market, the Holiday Shops. The free-admission skating rink, now a staple for any winter visitor to Bryant Park, first opened in 2005.
Open from October 30 to January 3 every year, Bryant Park's Holiday Shops feature over 125 boutique-style booths, many of which house small businesses and artisans who otherwise operate without a formal store front. In 2004, then-New York City's parks commissioner Adrian Benepe described the Holiday Shops in an interview as "a greenmarket concept expanded to crafts," and cited the inspiration of European Christmas markets as an inspiration.
Explore the near-magical charm of Yunka Mini Clocks, or the beautiful array of colors on display at United Leather. Prove the skeptics wrong by indulging the out-of-this-world delicious treats available at This Pie Is Nuts, which makes its vegan and gluten-free desserts with locally sourced, organic ingredients. Get cozy with the crazy array of pajamas available at the Snooze Shack, which offers footie pajamas for kids (and adults) of all ages. The Bayside, Queens, based t-shirt outfit Northern Tribe NY has designs for nearly every New York nook and cranny, from Forest Hills to Hell's Kitchen.
Don't miss the cast metal jewelry of Jessica DeCarlo or the eco-conscious designs of Mujus. Browse beautiful belts, bags, and wallets made with reclaimed cork tree bark, organic canvas, and denim at the Cliff Belts booth. Sample Turkish wares two ways, once at Grand Bazaar, which imports gorgeous dishware and ceramics, and twice at Enfes Turkish Food, which serves up fresh baklava and hot cups of salep. Bring the outdoors in at the Garden of Curiosity, which offers a wide array of lush terrariums and delicate hanging planters. Satisfy your inner child (or an actual one) with a visit to Kubiya Games, which produces beautiful, challenging wooden puzzles.
Join in the fun. After all, you won't be alone: Bryant Park's Winter Village attracts over a million visitors each holiday season. Just don't forget the hot cocoa.