Christmas in New York on the Cheap

Christmas is a terrific time of year to visit New York City, especially if you have family in the area. Its snowy climate, combined with how it’s served as a backdrop for many holiday movies, has turned New York into a major Christmastime destination.

Unfortunately, Christmas is also when budgets tend to run dry — and New York is already very expensive for many tourists. Famous New York holiday activities, like the Radio City Christmas Spectacular and ice skating at Rockefeller Center, tend to be very pricey.
The good news is there are plenty of ways to enjoy New York during Christmas, without breaking the bank. Here’s a quick guide to how to enjoy the holidays in New York.

Getting There and Staying There

All kinds of fares tend to spike during the holiday season. Transportation companies and hoteliers know people need to visit home, and the city tends to to see an upswing in tourism during the holiday season. Many businesspeople will charge what the market will bear.
As soon as you’re planning your trip, book your tickets and lodging. Keep your eyes peeled for deals, but don’t let that delay your booking or you might find yourself in a fix.


If you hope to get out and see the town, you might plan your own itinerary. This way, you can customize your trip around other aspects of your visit, like shopping and seeing family.
But if it’s your first time in the city, or if you’re planning to hit up many major tourist destinations, consider getting a tourist pass or a discount card. Many large companies will bundle tickets into major attractions, so you pay less overall. Picking up one of these in advance is also the best way to ensure admission during the busy holiday season.

Buying Gifts

Big-name stores will have considerable markdowns during this time of year, but they’re not where you’ll find the best deals — or the best gifts. Even with sales and coupons, they tend to be expensive, and what they carry is largely interchangeable with other stores’ offerings.
Instead, look for a local holiday market. Union Square or Columbus Circle are two of the city’s most notable, and they feature small stalls with unique, inexpensive gifts from artists and craftspeople from around the city.

Eating Out

New York City is blessed with remarkable ethnic diversity, and an excellent assortment of restaurants. Two of these come together in a way that may be unexpected to many outsiders: the city’s large Jewish population, and Chinese restaurants.
Historians have wondered how eating Chinese food — especially on Christmas Eve — became a tradition among American Jews. It’s possible that the lack of milk or cheese in Chinese cuisine helped Jewish diners keep kosher. Or maybe Chinese restauranteurs didn’t showcase the same anti-Semitism as much of the rest of the American population.
Whatever the case, if you’re looking for somewhere to eat on Christmas Eve, many Chinese restaurants in New York City will be open, and you’ll be in good company. Check out local legends like Atlas Kitchen near Columbia University, or Szechuan Absolute in Flushing.
Christmas in New York City doesn’t have to be expensive. By making arrangements early, shopping smart, planning out your sightseeing, and taking advantage of local traditions, you can enjoy everything this unique city has to offer during Christmas — without stretching your budget thin.

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