Christmas in NYC – On a Budget?!
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Christmas in NYC – On a Budget?!
Christmas in NYC features on many a bucket list. We were recently fortunate enough to spend a whole week in New York City with my parents and our son Leo. Surprisingly we managed to do it on a relatively small budget. My partner and I spent £672pp on our flights and hotel room, we even splashed out on a bigger room with a view to accommodate our son (and my need for a NYC skyline view!) How did we spend Christmas in NYC on such a tight budget? I’ll detail everything below!
Booking our trip
New York City is famous for its magical Christmas atmosphere and extortionate prices.
It has long been on our bucket list but had always been too expensive. It was whilst I was scouring the British Airways January sale at the start of 2021 that I found direct flights for just £259 return – I snapped them up for my family and I without giving it a second thought! Hotels were quite expensive at this point and given it was a whole year until we would go, I wasn’t in a rush to book a place to stay. We ended up booking our hotel during a peak of covid, when travel to the USA was banned and prices fell as a result. We took the gamble and hoped that borders would be back open by December.
We booked to stay at “The New Yorker” hotel which is in a great central location. We booked their “Two double beds with view” room as the double rooms have no capacity for a cot bed for our son. The room cost us £826 for the week, which is incredibly cheap for New York. The room offered free cancellation up to the day of check in, so we didn’t have to worry about losing money should we not be able to travel.
Finding the cheapest rooms is a bit of a game, you need to swoop in at the right time but also consider less central locations. The subway is a great way to get about NYC, and booking a more peripheral location close to a subway station could be a budget friendly option.
Search for your budget Christmas flights in the January sales. Click here to get an idea of the current prices.
- Norse and JetBlue offer some excellent value budget flights to New York
If hotels are expensive now, don’t feel rushed to book. Keep an eye out over the coming months to see if prices fluctuate. Use our search feature to get an idea of current prices and what type of accommodation you can get for your budget.
You will spend very little time in your hotel as there is so much to see and do in NYC. Don’t waste money on something luxurious, get a budget friendly room and use the money you save to enjoy your time there.
We live in Yorkshire and so had to consider how we would get to London Heathrow Airport for our flights. There were 4 adults and a child travelling. We were quoted £550 for the return taxi (my parents love a taxi, I said absolutely not). Train tickets were well over £100 each. We ended up finding a park and ride (Purple Parking) right by the airport for just £55 for the week. Splitting this cost and the petrol between us all made this by far the cheapest option. The drive was only three hours and I was more than happy to be the designated driver. I put £40 in diesel into my ultra inefficient car and this got us there and back. The car park was really easy to find, there is a bus departing to all terminals every 20-30 minutes so we parked up and got straight onto the bus. The flight to New York from LHR is relatively short, 8 hours going and just under 7 hours returning. The direct flight made it easier for us travelling with a Toddler. During this time we were served a proper meal and then a snack before landing. Alcohol is complementary during this BA flight, so enjoy yourself! We managed to get a night flight coming home which meant our son slept the whole way back and was no trouble. If you have a baby under 2, call ahead and request a bassinet seat. Your baby doesn’t need their own seat, but by booking a bassinet you will be given extra leg room seats and be provided with a lay flat bed for your little one. They can’t always guarantee availability, but it’s always worth asking.
Consider how you will get to the airport. Finding a park and ride and driving to the airport can be cheaper and most convenient when travelling a long distance. Especially if you are a larger group who can car share.
If you have a baby under 2 years old, don’t waste money by booking them their own seat – Call ahead and request a bassinet.
Check if your hotel offers a cot and if they do, check whether this is free or for an extra cost. It’s important to clarify before you choose your hotel as this extra charge can really add up.
To get from JFK airport to Manhattan we first used the most budget friendly option and got the AirTrain to a station called ‘Jamaica’ – you pay for this when you arrive at the station and it is around £4 per person. Once at Jamaica station, follow the signs for ‘Sutphin Boulevard–Archer Avenue’ subway station. From Jamaica we then got on the subway (£2 per person) to ‘Penn station’ which was right by where we were staying. The AirTrain and subway run 24 hours a day, and can actually be faster than a Taxi which may get stuck in busy traffic. A taxi from the airport to Manhattan takes around 40 minutes and costs around £40 plus tolls and tip. We preferred to use public transport for the experience (and because we are tight!) If you don’t fancy the subway, a middle ground would be to take the commuter train from Jamaica station. Follow signs for ‘The Long Island Railroad’ – you can buy tickets at the ticket office or at the machines in Jamaica station. It will be more expensive if you buy them on the train. The train will often be less busy, more comfortable and a more direct service than the subway.
The New Yorker Hotel where we stayed is in the perfect location, the interior is a little tired but the view we had from our room and the central location made up for that. If you can find cheap rooms for this place I would highly recommend. The staff are very attentive, when our sons shoe went missing from our room (we assume accidentally taken by the cleaners) the hotel quickly asked the price and refunded us that amount. We were able to store our luggage at the hotel on our last day while we explored prior to our night flight. They charged us $5 per bag (storing luggage is something I’ve never had to pay for before, but this is NYC!) The price for this hotel tripled leading up to Christmas (and as the borders reopened), we wouldn’t have booked this place for more than what we paid. If you are struggling to find anything under £1000, consider looking just outside Manhattan but close to a subway station. You will spend little time at your hotel anyway and the subway is an efficient and cheap way to get around.
Getting around town
Getting around NYC is really easy, for the first few days we walked everywhere. We used google maps to plan our routes and weren’t fazed by hour long treks as there is so much to see as you stroll around.
Below is a list of just some of the FREE places we visited. You could spend your whole trip just walking about and enjoying these without spending a penny.
Brooklyn Bridge – get the subway to the “high street” station in Brooklyn (£2 per ride). The start of the bridge is then only a short walk away. By crossing from Brooklyn to Manhattan you get great views of the Manhattan skyline for the whole walk. It is flat the whole way so we had no issues with our pram.
Rockefeller Christmas tree – An iconic thing to see and photograph. It is close to times square so combine the two activities. Both are much better in the dark to properly appreciate the lights.
Times square – We ended up walking through here on our way to most of our day time activities. It is absolute chaos in the evening, but you have to experience it even if just for half an hour! Beware of the Disney characters who will insist you take pictures with them and then demand money!
Saks light show – runs regularly throughout the festive period. Just show up on fifth avenue and enjoy the show! It is right by the Rockefeller tree so you can do this on the same evening.
Statue of Liberty – You can use binoculars at the view point by Battery Park in south Manhattan. For a closer view you can either pay for a cruise such as the one we did (Circle line cruises included with our CityPass – see below) or take the FREE Staten island ferry. It is a free commuter ferry that runs 24 hours a day, every 30 minutes and offers great views of the Statue of Liberty, Ellis island and the Manhattan skyline. The ferry journey is around 25 minutes each way, you will possibly have to get off and re board at the other side if it is busy.
Central Park – This 834 acre park provides endless activities for those on a budget. You could spend days here and not see everything. Some of our favourite and most photogenic areas included: Bethesda Terrace and fountain, Belvedere castle, the many bridges (over 40!) that are dotted around the park, the Carousel, Wollman ice rink with its city backdrop and The Mall (you will recognise this area from lots of movies!). You can find these places using google maps when you are there.
9/11 memorial – You can pay your respects at the memorial for free, the museum requires tickets. Entry to the museum is included with the CityPass. This was one of our favourite stops, but obviously the most sombre visit during the trip. The sadness and grief is palpable as you walk around reading the names of all the people who lost their lives. The museum is definitely worth a visit to learn about the heroism which was displayed by so many on that awful day.
The High line – The High Line is a 2.3km raised walk along the southern west side of Manhattan. It is built on a disused section of the New York Central Railroad. Along the High Line you can enjoy greenery, sculptures and views of the city and Hudsen river.
Hudson Yards/ The Vessel – By the end of the High line, Hudson yards is New Yorks newest and most glitzy neighbourhood. A great place to do some window shopping, enjoy a nice meal or just walk around and enjoy the lights! ‘The Vessel’ is a 150 foot high, $200 million, latticed, stairway to nowhere perched in the centre of the plaza.
Grand Central Station – an iconic must-see whilst you are in the city. Packed full of history, amazing architecture and dining options this is a great place to spend an hour or so of your day. Things to look out for include the zodiac ceiling in the main concourse, the information booth clock, the whispering gallery and Grand Central market.
Covering almost 30,000 steps a day eventually took its toll, so on day four we got to grips with the subway. It is a bit intimidating when you first walk down and haven’t got a clue what type of ticket you need or which direction you are going, but it ended up being quite simple once we got the hang of it. Because we would only get one train a day, we found using our contactless cards to scan through the barriers was the most convenient way to go. It ended up costing £2 per journey. I downloaded an app called MYmta – you put your starting station and where you want to go, it then tells you exactly which line you need to get and which stop to get off. If you plan to do a lot of journeys on the subway you can get a metro card. This can be a 7 or 30 day unlimited ride card. Alternatively you can buy the card for $1 and then add credit to it. If you plan to do more than 12 subway trips in 7 days, the most economical option would be the 7 day unlimited ticket (currently $33). Otherwise just scan through with a contactless card on the odd occasion you use it!
Food and drink
This will either make or break your budget. Like anywhere in the world, it is up to your what you choose to spend on eating and drinking. Some people are happy to eat whatever is cheap, others want to enjoy the environment of a fancy restaurant. We did a bit of both. If you are just eating to survive then you can get a slice of pizza for 75p, one night we bought a HUGE pizza for £13 which fed four adults and a baby, we got an AMAZING Mexican takeaway one night (Taco Bandito – you can order online and then collect) – Huge burritos were around £4, Tacos for £1.50, a big tub of nachos with all the toppings was £5. There are street food stalls everywhere you look where you can get hotdogs / kebabs etc for next to nothing.
If you want to eat somewhere nice then its going to cost you! OpenTable is a great app to find somewhere with availability. They use $, $$, $$$ and $$$$ to indicate the price of the food so you can pick somewhere within your budget. You can then make your reservation via the app. If you have a particular place you are dying to visit, you should book in advance. Last minute reservations are limited and the most popular places have prime dinner times booked up months in advance.
We ate at a couple of $$ restaurants and one $$$.
The first $$ was Tick Tock Diner – I spent £13 on a huge Philly cheese steak and chips -and £7 on a glass of wine. It was fun to have a “Diner” experience and for NYC restaurant pricing, this was good value.
Another $$ place we ate was “230 fifth rooftop bar” – we didn’t need a reservation and of everywhere we ate this is the place you HAVE to visit. The 360 views from around the rooftop are fantastic, especially at sunset. It is right by the empire state building so you have a great view of that (see picture below). Happy hour is Monday – Friday, 2-5pm. We arrived around 4:30 so caught the sunset and had half an hour to stock up on cheaper drinks! During happy hour a bottle of coroner was $7 (£5.20), I had a frozen Margarita for $10 (£7.40), a “Wells cocktail” which is essentially spirit plus mixer for $9 and a glass of wine for $8 (yes we ordered all this in half an hour then nursed our many drinks!). They have igloos and cabins that you can reserve for a substantial amount of money (which is then taken off your bill). When we arrived the cabins were free and they said we could help ourselves to one. The food menu is what i’d call “pub food” in the UK – we had some mini burgers, fish and chips and some humous and pitta. You can see the menu on their website.
We ate at a $$$ restaurant called Wolf at Nordstrom NYC. The reviews said it is “New Yorks best kept secret” and I would have to agree! It is an Italian restaurant hidden in a shopping mall, once you find it you are transported to a Michelin star like experience. The staff are extremely attentive, the food and wine are fantastic and the prices reasonable. We paid £120 with the tip for a three course meal with a bottle of wine between the two of us.
Room: £413 (£826 / 2)
£106pp for the CityPass (I will do a separate post on this pass but it gives you entry to six top attractions, we were lucky enough to be gifted this but I will include it in the price)
Food and drink:
Transport (including within NY and getting to and from London Heathrow airport):
£50pp – Petrol and car parking was divided between 4 adults.
TOTAL PRICE FOR THE WEEK: £1028pp
(we have mixed our sons cost in with ours, it would have been cheaper if we were travelling as a couple!)