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Let me tell you experience gifts - pottery making
Photograph: Shutterstock

Let me tell you—give the gift of an NYC experience this year

From bonsai classes to comedy clubs to spa packages, we've got something for everyone on your list.

Rossilynne Skena Culgan
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Rossilynne Skena Culgan
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“Let Me Tell You” is a series of columns from our expert editors about NYC living, including the best things to do, where to eat and drink, and what to see at the theater. They publish each Wednesday, so you’re hearing from us each week. Last month, Things to Do Editor Rossilynne Skena Culgan advised to look up to discover NYC’s ghost signs hiding in plain sight.  

Still shopping for the holidays? Have you read every gift guide and feel like your eyes are glazing over? Don’t worry, you’ve come to the right place. 

Forget the shaving kit for your boyfriend, the cute kitsch for your mom and the candle for your office White Elephant party. Instead, give the gift of an experience. There is no shortage of amazing experiences to be had in NYC, but sometimes it takes a little effort to go outside of your neighborhood staples (OK, sometimes it takes effort to even go outside of your apartment, we get it!)

RECOMMENDED: Best Christmas things to do in NYC for a magical time this holiday season

If you're paying to live in the most expensive city in the world (shudder), take advantage of all this city has to offer and help your gift recipient do the same. What better gift than that?

Before we get to the list, allow us to sell you on why experience gifts are so great.

First, they’re fast. If you need something last-minute, you can buy tickets to something right now, print them out (or even email it), and you’ve got a thoughtful gift in seconds. Speaking of thoughtful, they are! Whether you’re going to attend the activity with your gift recipient or not, planning a special day for someone is truly caring. Next, they’re eco-friendly and don’t contribute to the growing collection of things in tiny apartments. Finally, they offer the delight of something to look forward to, which keeps the joy of the gift going even after it’s unwrapped. 

Sold? All right! We've got four experience gift categories to try out this year. 

The interior of the Wu Tsai Theater at David Geffen Hall
Photograph: By Michael Moran / Courtesy of David Geffen Hall | The interior of the Wu Tsai Theater at David Geffen Hall

1. Tickets to a show

Broadway, the ballet, the opera, the philharmonic, comedy, live music, we've got it all here, folks. Pick a show you think your recipient would like and order those tickets. If you're planning well in advance (and if you're as neurotic about your Google Calendar as I am), send a calendar invitation to your +1 with a title like "Hold January 28 for Christmas surprise," so they make sure to keep the day open and enjoy the suspense along the way. 

Even if you don’t have an exact show in mind or you’re not sure what day of the week would work for your recipient, that’s OK. I’m not above those cute little coupon books we used to make as kids. Make a grown-up version of a coupon telling your recipient that you’ll take them to a Broadway show of their choice in spring 2023, for example. (Shhh, nobody tell her, but that’s what my mother-in-law is getting for Christmas.) Just be sure to follow through so you actually do book the show and make it happen! Need some help? Here’s our complete list of Broadway shows from A-Z.

Finally, if you’re not looking to spend Broadway money on a gift, that is totally fine! There are plenty of cheaper options. Our recommendation: a comedy show. We could all use a laugh, especially on those gray winter days. We’re especially into the recurring show "New Material Night" at QED Astoria where seasoned comics try out new jokes. It's only $8/person, so you can buy two tickets and two drinks for around $30.  

Planters in progress at Wilcoxson Brooklyn Ceramics.
Photograph: By Rossilynne Skena Culgan / Time Out | Planters in progress at Wilcoxson Brooklyn Ceramics.

2. Admission to a cool class

It's always fun to learn something new and make something with a friend. From cooking classes to make-up classes and brewing to jewelry making, here's our full list of classes to try. I want to highlight two in particular that I'm excited about right now.

First, there's Wilcoxson Brooklyn Ceramics in Greenpoint, which offers fun classes teaching you how to make mugs, planters, tableware or even sushi sets. My partner and I had a blast when we visited recently, learning how to make planters successfully even as total novices. 

Next, there's Bonsai Bar. The name really says it all: Make bonsai in a bar! The pros from Bonsai Bar will teach you the fundamental skills and techniques behind the art of bonsai while you sip your drink and have some fun with your friends. The teachers will also help you as you pot, prune and design your very own bonsai tree. There are upcoming workshops all around the area, including at Brooklyn Brewery and SingleCut Queens Taproom. Happy little trees indeed. 

A plate of pasta.
Photography: Kathryn Sheldon

3. A dinner reservation 

Are you the kind of friend who will sit online and wait until the Carbone reservations are released? If so, thank you, the world needs more people like you. (Hot tip: There are a few reservations left for Carbone's winter patio on NYE.)

Seriously, though, making a special dinner reservation for your loved one is truly a love language in itself. Need some guidance? Consult our list of the 50 best restaurants in NYC to find a new spot to check out, make that reservation and get ready to treat your +1 to a delicious night out.

Outdoor saunas at The William Vale.
Photograph: Courtesy of The William Vale

4. A day of relaxation

After the hubbub of the holidays, some moments of relaxation will feel much needed (especially if you’re a parent who has a rogue Elf on the Shelf at your house). 

How does a day at the spa sound right about now? We can already smell the cucumber slices. We've got more than 20 spas featured on our round-up here, from ancient baths to places with hot stone massages and even a waterfall. There's also an outdoor spa at the William Vale hotel  in Brooklyn that feels like a Scandinavian retreat.

And finally, one that's on my list for Santa: A trip to the head spa at MASA.KANAI on the Upper West Side offers aromatherapy and massages while healing your scalp. The spa promises “the ultimate Zen relaxation experience,” and that’s something on anybody’s holiday wish list.

Time Out Tip: If you need more ideas, we have an entire experiential gift guide right here.

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