Despite the holiday season being one of the most expensive times to visit New York City, many travelers still come eager to see the city all lit up. Taking part in many of the festivities can be surprisingly affordable (and even free) if you plan accordingly.
Are you trying to wing a last minute trip? Check out our online New York City guide for our favorite affordable picks and look to travelers in our Forums for help planning your trip. This recent topic is also a particularly good starting point.
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8 Budget Tips for a NYC Holiday Trip
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1. Hit the ice
While Rockefeller Center's rink may be more on more tourists' radars due to its proximity to the center's famous looming tree, you'll save time and money if you head to Bryant Park's The Pond. Skating is free; skate rentals are $12. The Pond opens November 6th and you can make reservation online in advance---but not quite yet.
2. Knock out your Christmas shopping at the Holiday Market at Union Square
This large market stretches across Union Square kicks off the day before Thanksgiving and runs through Christmas Eve (the market is closed on Thanksgiving). You''ll find a mixed bag of small retailers selling everything from hats, gloves, art, and housewares. You may be able to negotiate prices down, especially if you're considering purchasing several of one item for multiple people on your list. Keep in mind that this market is all outdoors; be sure to bundle up!
Nearby coffee break: City Bakery
3. Go caroling
Fodor's member k_brklyn recently posted that the Church of St. Luke in the Fields will be hosting a caroling walk in the Greenwich Village on December 18th. If attending a holiday concert is more your speed, there are several around the city, both choral and instrumental. In years past travelers in our Forums have recommended concerts at Cathedral of St. John the Divine, Miller Theatre at Columbia, and Avery Fisher Hall.
4. Don't wait to book your hotel
If you plan to come to New York this holiday season and you haven't booked your hotel, it's time to! This is one time of year in New York that it doesn't typically pay to wait. Travelers in our Forums recommend several ways to tackle finding a hotel on a budget at the last minute, including using hotel points, taking your chances with Priceline, researching local B&Bs, and opting to stay across the Hudson in New Jersey. Share your specific situation and budget in our Forums and they may be able to help.
5. Savor New York's tastiest soups
Need a meal that will warm you up? Want to dine in style but without the heftiest of price tags? Think soup. For something quick and on the go stop at one of the city's several chain eateries that are known for good to great soups, including Hale & Hearty, Whole Foods, and Au Bon Pain. For a higher-end experience, try the goulash at Café Sabarsky at the Neue Galerie, the clam chowder at Grand Central Terminal's Oyster Bar, or a grilled cheese sandwich with tomato soup at Bouchon Bakery.
6. Endure the crowds to see Manhattan's spectacular holiday window displays
The holiday crush of humanity in New York perhaps reaches it's zenith on the sidewalks of Madison Avenue in midtown. Seeing the big department stores' heralded window displays are holiday must-sees for many tourists (and locals) and for good reason. Here's a Google map featuring the locations of the most popular displays. For best viewing, go in the late evening to see the windows at their brightest, while still avoiding the peak crowds.
7. Get over your fear of the subway
New York's streets are particularly clogged during the holidays; it's best to let go of the notion that you need cabs to get around. You'll save money and time by opting for a subway pass. The cars are warm and toasty and large stations typically boast surprisingly good musical talent who will most likely be playing seasonal tunes. There are several handy online trip planners out there for navigating your route---try either the MTA's site or HopStop. Not sure what pass to buy? This topic in our Forums exhausts the subject.
8. Carefully consider your flight options
Hopefully you booked your flight long ago---but if you haven't be sure to research fares on multiple days for the lowest price. Search for flights on a search engine website like Kayak.com, which features an option to search for round-trip fares for the dates you enter, as well as the lowest fares available on the surrounding dates. I performed a quick search there for holiday fares from several major hubs to New York and found that prices generally were the lowest for itineraries that included arrivals on Monday, December 21st or Friday, December 25th. Unsurprisingly, some of the priciest itineraries included return flights on Saturday, December 26th, Saturday, January 2nd, and Sunday, January 3rd.