There's only one way to celebrate the holidays in the Big Apple: elaborately.
From the festive window displays along Fifth Avenue to the Waterford Crystal ball that counts down the final seconds to the new year in Times Square, New York is a popular destination for tourists and locals alike looking for a picturesque winter wonderland.
While NYC & Co., the city's tourism arm, doesn't specifically track total visitors during the holidays, it estimates that a staggering 12.3 million people flooded the city during the fourth quarter of last year, spending nearly $8 billion.
The number of visitors is expected to increase to 12.5 million this year.
"It's a very unique experience," city tourism czar George Fertitta said of New York's "magical" appeal. "We have so much going for us. There's this extra veneer of joy and happiness, and even when the weather isn't particularly good, the streets are filled."
Fertitta, who describes his job as "selling the greatest product in the world," says people typically spend money on shopping and attending iconic shows, such as the "Radio City Christmas Spectacular."
Outside of the summer, December is the biggest month for sales of the New York City-PASS, which allows users to get discounted rates at well-known attractions and skip the long lines, said spokeswoman Deborah Wakefield. The popular sites include the Empire State Building and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
To help visitors know when some of Manhattan's more iconic attractions are the busiest - and clogged with sightseers - the website GoCrowdless.com aggregates "check-in" data from the social-networking app Foursquare.
For instance, the most crowded time to visit the ice-skating rink at Rockefeller Center is 8 p.m. Fridays, while the best time - for early birds, anyway - is at 8 a.m. Sundays, according to the website.
Interested in perusing the holiday shops at Bryant Park without muscling your way through a crowd? Go in the mornings, while generally avoiding late afternoons.
George Ward of Neiman Labs, the website's creator, called the tool a "helpful snapshot" of real-time data.
"Visitors to New York can make a more informed judgment," he said in a statement.
Holidays by the numbers
People who came to Times Square to celebrate New Year's Eve in 2010
Occupancy rate for the city's hotel rooms during the fourth quarter of 2010
Amount spent by tourists in the fourth quarter of 2010
Retailers with elaborate window displays, including Macy's, Bloomingdale's and Saks.
(Source: Times Square Alliance, NYC & Co.)