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Tips for Travelling To New York City At Christmas In A Wheelchair

New York City is the ultimate destination for a Christmas city break. It’s my all-time favourite. If like me, you are a massive fan of watching festive films like Home Alone 2, Miracle on 34th Street, Elf and all the other Christmas movies based in New York, then you are going to love visiting New York City at Christmas.

These movies make New York look magical and incredibly festive. I was worried it wouldn’t live up to the movies, but it did.

Tips for Travelling To New York City At Christmas In A Wheelchair

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New York City At Christmas In A Wheelchair

We visited New York during Christmas 2014. Every Christmas since, we reminisce about our time there and hope one day to return (hopefully with my nephew – he is also a fan of Home Alone).

Here are some tips for travelling to New York City at Christmas in a wheelchair.

Remember before travelling to New York you must apply for an ESTA visa. You don’t want to travel all that way to the Big Apple and not be allowed through immigration simply because you forgot to apply. Yikes! I would recommend filling in the ESTA application form as soon as possible.

1. Plan The Best Time To Visit

Visiting New York City is amazing at any time of the year. Visiting at Christmas time is extra special. I have been lucky and visited twice in September, but we really wanted to experience a dream of ours and visit in December during the lead-up to Christmas. We are both big fans of the Home Alone movies, especially the one where he gets lost in New York. It seemed only right that we went during the Christmas season to see what all the fuss was about. It was magical!

You need to decide when the best time is to visit if you want to see the Christmas decorations. The famous Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree lighting ceremony will take place on December 4th this year. You don’t want to miss the beautiful tree lit up. We visited between the 17th and 23rd of December, which allowed us to experience all the Christmas magic.

A view overlooking the ice rink and Rockefeller Centre Christmas Tree at night.

2. Find An Accessible Hotel

New York hotel rooms have been known to be smaller, so finding one that best suits your access needs is very important. We stayed at The New Yorker in an accessible room with a large bedroom and decent-sized bathroom. We have also stayed at The Ameritania at Time Square, which had a smaller bedroom but a larger wet room bathroom with a roll-in shower. Lastly, we stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn Midtown East, which had both a tight bedroom and bathroom.

The location of your hotel is also important and you will want to take that into consideration. Being close to the main points of interest is a great idea, especially if it’s your first time visiting New York City. Expect extremely low temperatures and the possibility of snow. Having a hotel close by will be good when it’s super cold outside and you want to get back to our cosy room quickly.

Giant Toy Soldiers standing outside a hotel in New York City at Christmas.

3. Book Airport Transports

New York City is a city that never sleeps. It’s always busy, but like many cities, it’s busier during the Christmas season. Book airport transfers and plan journeys in advance, as this will make things go much smoother and be less stressful. Pre-booking airport transfers with Super Shuttle or an accessible transportation company can save you a lot of time waiting around the airport when you arrive.

We’ve used Super Shuttle, an accessible transportation company, as well as the AirTrain which connects to Newark Liberty Airport Station. We then boarded the NJT bound for New York Penn Station.

Several accessible yellow taxis driving through Times Square in New York City at night.
Courtesy of Nissan.

4. Getting Around The City

Have you ever visited New York without taking a yellow cab? Thankfully, it’s easier to ride in a yellow cab as they now have wheelchair-accessible taxis, which you can hail on the street or request via Accessible Dispatch.

The subway is possibly the quickest way to get around the city, but not all stations are accessible. Most buses are wheelchair accessible, with ramps or lifts that the driver will deploy for you to get on board. The driver will then secure your wheelchair in place with safety restraints. We used the subways a few times but found the buses much easier to use. You can get out of the cold for a while and enjoy the Christmas lights and decorations from the bus. It will also save your wheelchair battery.

Nothing beats getting a feel for a city than exploring on foot/wheelchair though. You’ll get to see and experience things you won’t see while sitting on a bus or in a taxi. Being outside will allow you to really soak up the festive spirit.

A close up side on shot of Emma from the shoulders up. She is wearing a grey knitted headband. She is surrounded by trees covered in Christmas lights.

5. What To Pack

The weather in New York City at Christmas is very cold. Expect extremely low temperatures and the possibility of snow. We experienced temperatures below minus 6, and with the wind chill, it felt much colder. It even started to snow on our last day. If your hotel has a kettle or you have your own travel kettle (tea lovers; I’m talking to you), then be sure to pack a hot water bottle. Thank me later. It was my best friend every night when we got back to our hotel. Or a small electric heat pad like this one may be ideal, and it won’t take up much space in your luggage.

My thick, fluffy-lined jacket with a furry hood was also my best friend during our visit to New York City at Christmas. I had hats, scarves, gloves, and winter boots to keep the cold at bay. My advice would be to wear as many layers as are physically manageable for you to stay warm. I wore lots of layers, which reduced my already restricted movement, but I wanted to try and be as warm as possible. I wish I had bought hand warmers because I struggled to control my wheelchair because my hands and arms were frozen.

Funny story: whenever we went to a restaurant, Allan had to hold my hands to try and warm them up because I couldn’t hold the cutlery. My hand was stuck in the position of holding my joystick controller. Any excuse to hold my hand, I’d say 😉

A close up shot of Emma from the shoulders up. She has her huge furry hood up. The busy New York traffic is behind her including a yellow cab.

6. Visit The Rockefeller Centre

The Rockefeller Center is one of New York’s most recognisable landmarks. Other than being a complex of commercial buildings, it’s also where you see the spectacular Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, thousands of lights and the skating rink. Remember the scene in Home Alone 2 where Kevin is reunited with his mum? Well, you can stand or sit in that very spot, just like in the movie. Bear in mind that it’s incredibly popular, so it’s always going to be a busy spot.

Going up to the top of the observation tower, also known as ‘Top of the Rock’ is a must. You will get the best view across Manhattan, the skyscrapers, and Central Park. It’s pretty awesome. Personally, I liked Top of the Rock more than going up the Empire State Building because you get to actually see the view with the Empire State Building in shot.

Emma and Allan taking a selfie at theRockefeller Centre Christmas tree

7. Radio City’s Christmas Spectacular

If you can drag yourself away from the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, make sure you check out the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. This famous annual musical holiday stage show at the Radio City Music Hall takes place each year and is sure to give you all the festive feels. The performances from the famous Rockettes are amazing. The dancing and high kicks will leave you mesmerised.

We loved it! Our accessible seats gave us a great view of the stage and all the action. We left at the end of the show feeling full of Christmas spirit.

The Rockette's dancing on the stage at Radio City's Christmas Spectacular.
Radio City’s Christmas Spectacular

8. Roll Around Central Park

Central Park is one of my favourite places to visit in New York City. It is beautiful all year. By visiting in December, there is a chance of some snow. Central Park with a sprinkling of snow is stunning. Not too much though. I don’t want my wheels to get stuck. Rolling around Central Park is wheelchair accessible, and I never experienced any problems getting around in my wheelchair. It was also nice to watch everyone skate around Wollman Rink with great views of the city.

A view overlooking the Wollman Rink in Central Park, New York. The buildings are lit up in the background and people are skating on the ice rink below.

9. Go On A Christmas Film Tour of New York

It’s no secret that one of my all-time favourite Christmas movies is the main reason for us visiting New York City at Christmas. I remember watching the likes of Home Alone and seeing the magical Christmas scenes of NYC and dreaming of seeing it in real life one day. As cheesy as it sounds it was amazing to be there and visit the film locations, like the Plaza Hotel (where Kevin stays in Home Alone 2), the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, Radio City Music Hall and many more. You can visit these locations on foot or take a bus tour like Big Bus Tours to some of the big New York Christmas movie locations.

Kevin McCallister meeting Santa outside Empire Diner.
Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. Courtesy of

10. Shopping On 5th Avenue

Many people go on a shopping spree when they visit New York City. If that’s what you enjoy doing, then there is no doubt you will be in shopping heaven. Personally, I don’t bother with shops when I go on holiday. Although a souvenir magnet is a must!

Anyway, there is no better place to shop till you drop than 5th Avenue. Even if you don’t want to enjoy shopping, I’d highly recommend window shopping along this famous shopping avenue. Don’t get me wrong it’s super busy, but the Christmas window displays are spectacular. Christmas lights, glitz, and festive cheer all around.

Saks 5th Avenue store decorated for Christmas.
Saks 5th Avenue. Courtesy of Matt Kieffer @flickr

11. Visit The Christmas Markets

Christmas markets are a great way to pick up festive souvenirs for yourself or unique Christmas gifts for family and friends. We visited Columbus Circle Holiday Market and Union Square Holiday Market for a look around. We couldn’t leave without buying a keepsake, so when we spotted two turtle doves’ Christmas tree ornaments, we just had to take them home with us. The turtle doves were also a reference to Home Alone 2 (told you we were fans). Hot chocolate, mulled wine, and roasted chestnuts will help you warm up while browsing the market stalls.

Columbus Circle Holiday Market.
Columbus Circle Holiday Market. Courtesy of

12. Museums, Performances And Festive Displays

You may not initially consider museums to be all that festive, but you will be surprised. Many museums, like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, are great places to visit during the Christmas season. The Met, for example, has its very own special Christmas tree as well as festive performances, displays, and choirs. You are sure to get into the Christmas spirit after that.

Emma inside the American Museum of Natural History. She is sitting next to a Christmas tree decorated in origami.
American Museum of Natural History

New York City for Christmas

Have you visited New York City at Christmas in a wheelchair? Do you have any travel trips for New York at Christmas? What were your favourite accessible things to do in New York City?

You May Also Enjoy

7 Top Tips for Wheelchair Users Visiting New York City
Tips For Disabled And Wheelchair Accessible Travel
How to Survive a Long Haul Flight as a Wheelchair User

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Meet Emma

Hello I’m Emma. My mission is to show you the possibilities of accessible travel through my travel guides, tips and reviews. I also share personal stories, live event reviews and more.

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2 Responses

  1. Good write up! Almost makes me want to go to New York for Christmas!

    How did you find Newark Airport? I did a ‘day trip’ to the USA (like you do!) spending one night there. Newark Airport was AWFUL. I blogged about the problems I had (see web site link for landing page, continue to blog for “Dear Newark Airport: This is an Accessible Toilet”) including not having an accessible toilet on the departure concourse and awful security. Turns out, they do have a toilet, they just didn’t have any signs to point them out and their staff didn’t know! Hopefully this has now been rectified.

    Also, despite contacting them in advance and asking at check-in, the ‘accessible’ room at the hotel had a low bath, rather than a roll in/walk in shower. Feed back from US wheelchair users is that this isn’t unusual, hotel’s understanding of ‘accessible’ is not always what we would consider it to be, so if needing one, you may have to be particularly specific before booking.

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