Taking a leisurely stroll from Macy's to Barneys to look at all of the magical holiday windows is a long-standing tradition for my family. In our pre-parenting days, my husband and I took this walk during the wee hours of Christmas Eve. Once our son was born, we moved it to Thanksgiving weekend at a much earlier hour. It's a wonderful and totally free way to kick off the holiday season, and it creates lasting memories that our son will cherish long after he's outgrown the toys under the tree.
For the fourth year in a row, my son and I were joined by fellow Mommy Poppins blogger Raven and her daughter. Fantasy seemed to be the overarching theme this season, with Macy's interstellar Santa adventure, Saks fabulous fairy tales with an NYC twist, and Barneys outrageous collaboration with Hollywood director Baz Luhrmann, featuring live performances right in the windows. Of course the kids went gaga for Bloomingdale's display since it involved playing video games!
Read on for all the details and click through our slide show for a peek at what you'll see on your NYC department store holiday windows walk. You can find lots of other seasonal activities in our Holiday Fun Guide.
Macy’s Herald Square
151 West 34th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues
As always, Macy's has two different displays on view. On the 34th Street side is a revival of the store's Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus windows from years past. The brand-new Sixth Avenue windows, Santa's Journey to the Stars, depict the retro sci-fi holiday story of young Alex and his dog, Bella, traveling the solar system with old St. Nick. The trio experiences Christmas on other planets before returning to Earth just in time for Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Each of the six windows offers a unique seasonal scene, like the amazing toy workshop run by Santa's elves on Venus, the festively decorated red planet Mars, and the galaxy's biggest snowball fight between Uranus and Neptune. These magical windows overflow with intricate details and thousands of LED lights. Of course, our kids especially enjoying the interactive video game Santa's Sleigh Dash, which you can play in the lower left-hand corner of the Uranus & Neptune window. If you long to see the Miracle on 34th Street windows Macy's has featured in the past, you can check out parts of the display inside the store in the Santaland waiting area.
Lord & Taylor
424 Fifth Avenue between 38th and 39th Streets
Gawk at a magical mansion decked out for the holidays by peeking into room after room of enchanting animations. One window is full of magnificent cardinals perched atop elaborate white birdhouses. Another is a glittering Fairy Tale Garden with doll-size fairies and flapping butterflies ensconced under glass. The Heritage Gallery features walls of painted and digitally animated animal portraits, and the Hall of Wisdom is crawling with adorable mice librarians.
Saks Fifth Avenue
611 Fifth Avenue between 49th and 50th Streets
Saks Enchanted Experience windows place glammed-up fairy-tale characters like Cinderella, Snow White, Little Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel in iconic NYC settings such as Times Square, the old City Hall subway station and Fifth Avenue. After dark, you can catch the store's brand-new light show projected on its facade. It's best seen from across the street, where you'll also find the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree.
Tiffany & Co
727 Fifth Avenue at 57th Street
More NYC landmarks! The iconic jewelry store's holiday windows feature sweet holiday vignettes set in classic city spots like Rockefeller Center and Times Square. The entire building is decorated, too, with lights arranged to look like priceless gems. Be sure to look up: UNICEF's stunning sparkly snowflake is suspended right above this intersection.
754 Fifth Avenue at 58th Street
As usual, Bergdorf's opulent holiday display is a knockout. While they're not traditional (not a Santa nor tree in sight), kids and adults alike will ooh and aah at the windows, which celebrate the arts including film, music and literature in unexpected ways. My favorite was the blueprint-inspired architecture window highlighting lots of NYC landmarks, but the kids preferred the eye-catching illuminated marquee in the theater display.
660 Madison Avenue at 61st Street
Barneys always collaborates on its display with someone big like Jay-Z or Disney. This year, the brand worked with Hollywood husband-and-wife team Baz Luhrmann (director of Strictly Ballroom, Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge) and Catherine Martin (Oscar-winning costume and set designer). Expect sensory overload as sights, sounds and even live performers dazzle in four windows under an amazing sculpted awning. In the Truth window, an enormous, steampunk, robot owl recites words of wisdom to a remix of Madonna's 1980s hit "Holiday." Beauty is a mesmerizing, swirling metal snowflake sculpture. But the big draws are the live performances in the Freedom and Love windows. Freedom features a twirling ice-skater trying to escape her frigid prison (shows take place twice an hour Monday-Friday 2-6pm, Saturday 1-6pm and Sunday noon-5pm). In Love, a pair of mischievous elves break-dance in a glittery gold set anchored by an enormous boombox (shows take place twice an hour Wednesday-Friday 2-6pm, Saturday 1-6pm and Sunday noon-5pm). There are also musical performances by Luna and Solar Queens on the Juliet balcony on the second floor weekends 1-6pm on the hour). Catch a sneak peek at the live performances on Barneys website.
59th Street and Lexington Avenue
Although these were the least visually interesting windows of the bunch, our nine-year-olds loved them. That's because Bloomies display is completely interactive. There's a photo booth window where you can pose for a pic, others where you can play holiday-themed video games using your smartphone and another where you can Tweet your seasonal wishes to a scrolling ticker. Don't forget your smartphone!
While you can do all of the department store windows in one shot, it may be a bit much for younger children (or cranky adults who hate crowds). You can either skip the out-of-the-way windows like Macy's, Lord & Taylor and Bloomingdale's, and concentrate on the others, which are all within 10 blocks of each other. Or you can catch one of the many MTA buses that go down Fifth Avenue (M1, M2, M3, M4 and the M5). If you do decide to hit all of the displays in one go, consider taking a play break at Bryant Park, where you'll find a carousel, an ice-skating rink, a fabulous holiday market and, most important of all, public restrooms. Need to warm up? You're right by the main branch of the New York Public Library, which has a great Children's Center.
If you'd like to relive the windows of yesteryear, check out our holiday windows posts from 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013. You can find even more seasonal fun in our Holiday Guide and great gift ideas in our NYC Shopping Local Gift Guide.