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DNAinfo's Survival Guide to Midtown's Holiday Crowds

By Mathew Katz | December 17, 2012 7:45am

MIDTOWN — Forget peace and joy — trying to navigate Midtown's sidewalks during the holidays is prone to trigger road rage.

Throngs of tourists cascade down every block. Slow-moving out-of-towners gawk at lights, stores, and one very large Christmas tree.

It's enough to turn even the most festive New Yorker into a downright grinch.

DNAinfo.com New York has collected a Midtown Holiday Survival Guide packed with insider advice on how to combat the pre-holiday traffic rage, and even enjoy some of the area's unique seasonal offerings.

Midtown Holiday Survival Guide Tip No. 1: Avoid restaurants at lunchtime

If you work in the area, don't even consider setting foot into your favorite Midtown restaurant at lunch time. If you can't eat at off-hours, bring your own to avoid the outrageous lines at your favorite to-go eateries.

Eric Weinstein, 28, said he brings his lunch and eats it sitting on a bench at 6 1/2 Avenue, a hidden thoroughfare that cuts between Sixth and Seventh aves.

"I like to eat my lunch here, even on cold days," said Weinstein. "It's a great way to avoid the holiday hustle."

Nick Ramsey, 31, who works at Rockefeller Plaza, said as soon as the famous tree goes up, he brings all the supplies he needs to get through the day so he never has to leave the building until it's time to go home.

"I come to work armed not only with a travel mug of coffee, but I also have a full thermos in my bag so I don't have to go downstairs," he said.

"As beautiful and nice as that tree is, that is the signal that the chaos is upon us."

Midtown Holiday Survival Guide Tip No. 2: Stay away from Fifth Ave.

The Rockefeller Plaza tree itself can be quite a sight to enjoy, but not when you're being shoved by slow-moving crowds. The tree is lit from 5:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. daily, so your best bet to get a look is either early in the morning or just before it's turned off.

"It’s so hard to enjoy these things when you’re getting pushed and shoved by hundreds of people," said Justine Bottles, a fan of all things Christmas who typically avoids the tree even though it's close to her Sixth Avenue office.

Security guards in the area also recommend you avoid approaching the tree from Fifth Avenue, as there's often huge crowds coming in to go skating.

Midtown Holiday Survival Guide Tip No. 3: Skate at off hours

Staff at the skating rink at Rockefeller Center encourage skaters hoping for less rink-side shoving to come around 10 a.m. or between 10:30 p.m. and midnight for the least crowded skate times. For $25, you can use an online tool to reserve a spot on the rink right when it opens at 7 a.m. 

If you don't mind walking a few blocks, Citi Pond at Bryant Park is a less-crowded, free alternative as well. 

Midtown Holiday Survival Guide Tip No. 4: Do Your Shopping Before 11 a.m., or online

Most locals tend to avoid Times Square during the holidays, for fear of the crush of crowds that swarm the area from mid-November to mid-January.

But according to the Times Square Alliance, the area, with its multitude of big-name stores, can be an excellent place to get some one-stop shopping holiday shopping done, and guards at many major stores say the big crowds don't arrive until after 11 a.m.

Those willing to shop early can check out some of the stores and restaurants along less-trafficked Eighth Avenue.

Mike K., 31, who lives near Herald Square, has another shopping survival tip — stay on the internet.

"It's 99 percent Amazon for me," said Mike, "I won't go anywhere for my shopping. If I have to go shopping anywhere, I'll go somewhere else, to another neighborhood."

Midtown Holiday Survival Guide Tip No. 5: Use Secret Passageways

When the sidewalks are so packed that you'd rather walk headfirst into oncoming traffic than wait behind another pack of tourists, consider using one of the several mid-block passageways in Midtown that can make your trip a whole lot faster.

Many hotels in Times Square have lobbies that cut between streets, allowing the savvy local to sneak through them while avoiding busy avenues. There are also passageways like Anita's Way, which links West 42nd Street to West 43rd Street, between Broadway and Sixth Avenue.

For a more tranquil environment in the upper sections of Midtown, there's 6 1/2 Avenue, a collection of public plazas connecting West 51st Street and West 57th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues.

Some commuters said they use their unlimited Metrocards to swipe into the turnstile and walk a few blocks underground to avoid the throngs of tourists aboveground.