Hey JoJo here from Laptop Jetsetters.
I’ve just returned from an awesome Christmas in New York City! I hope this blog can help you plan your visit and really make the most of The Big Apple at this wonderful time of year.
So it’s Christmas 2018 and 4 months ago my husband and I moved our life across the world from the UK to live in Ontario Canada. Our family are home in England and we miss them, so it would be rude not to cheer ourselves up with a trip to New York City and take advantage of the 1 hour 30 minute flight!
We spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day there so we will be sharing our top ten tips for a really magical Christmas in NYC for a couple.
If your looking to do a lot of attractions whilst your in New York check out city pass as this will save you a ton of money and can be used at some of the big attractions.
TOP TIP FOR ARRIVING IN NYC: If you arrive into La Guardia Airport and want to save some money getting into Central NYC then you can take the free shuttle bus called MTA. You will find this on the second floor outside by the green stop. Ask anyone and they can help direct you. Well perhaps not anyone, someone who looks like they know things ;-). If you do this both ways you could save up to $120 in taxi/cab fares! Which means more money for the fun stuff!
TIP #1:BROOKLYN BRIDGE AT SUNSET
Check out the exact times of sunset and plan to get to the bridge at least 45 minutes before so you can really enjoy the changing colours of the sky! If you are visiting at Christmas, you want to be heading there around 3.30pm-4pm. This is of course brilliant on a clear night (which we were lucky enough to have) but I am sure wonderful even with some clouds!
We took the subway to the Staten Island Ferry Port around 2pm giving us time to walk along South Street Port towards Brooklyn Bridge and giving us awesome views from afar. With tons of photo opportunities it also built the excitement to get on the bridge!
We loved watching the light bounce off and behind the buildings of Manhattan whilst gazing across to Brooklyn and how majestic it all is as the sky turns pink.
The great thing about this is…it’s totally FREE! There’s a Starbucks on the Manhattan side so you could always grab a coffee and a bagel and take it with you or if you want to spend a little extra perhaps finish the evening at The River Cafe for a delicious meal with spectacular views of Brooklyn Bridge lit up at night. Be sure to make a reservation though as this is one of the most popular places to eat in the city and will set you back a little.
TIP #2: COMEDY CELLAR (Adults only)
This was a recommendation from a friend and we are so glad we gave it a shot! We had a brilliant evening. The Comedy Cellar is located near Greenwich Village. The show started at 8pm and we were treated to an array of around 6 comedians all taking short slots. The highlight for us was Gary Vider! Some of the biggest comedians of all time have played here and often the big names pop in for a surprise spot. They have lots of shows happening so check out their website for the one you fancy most.
It will cost you $17 a ticket at weekends (a little less on weekdays) however you can reserve your space beforehand for free online! It’s important to know that there is a two item minimum per person (soft drink, food, or alcohol – any two menu items). It’s a small intimate venue with comfy seating and a bohemian feel.
Afterwards I would highly recommend a drink at The Olive Tree Cafe your table doubles up as a chalk board, so as you chat and drink you can get creative. You can make reservations through The Comedy Cellar.
TIP #3: THE ROCKETTES CHRISTMAS SPECTACULAR
The best time to see this show is Christmas Eve or at least before Christmas Day. It is suitable for families with children and adults of all ages just as long as you are not a Christmas grump!
I cannot recommend this show highly enough. The cost of tickets to any show on Broadway at Christmas is astronomical so if you have to choose one then this would be it! We bought tickets on the highest tier, the third mezzanine and we had an incredible view of the stage. Don’t be fooled into thinking you need to purchase the top priced tickets to enjoy the show. Not only are you sitting in one of the most prestigious and famous venues in the world at Radio City but you are watching a first class production. The dancers are synchronised perfection, the musicians are the best and the whole history of The Rockettes and the fact this show has been running since 1933 makes it a very special place to be. The seating is very well tiered for easy viewing wherever you sit. The show is only 1 hour 30 minutes with no interval so make sure you visit the washroom beforehand. The queues for the bars were madness on the ground floor but if you head up to the third mezzanine you won’t wait as long.
TIP #4: STAY CENTRAL
With so much to do and the weather cold you want to ensure you are central to everything. This may mean spending a little more but you will save on taxis and transport! Bring a big warm coat and comfy shoes or boots. Be prepared for a warm or a freezing Christmas. We had sunny skies but NYC has been known to be totally under snow during December.
We walked almost everywhere or caught a subway which is mega cheap usually $3 for single. Both times I have visited NYC I have stayed very close to Carnegie Hall. I stayed at The Wellington the first time which is a little more affordable and traditional in style and have seen lots of good deals for this place on Expedia.
This time we wanted somewhere a little bit classier so went for The Park Central which is modern and fabulous but more expensive than The Wellington. Both these hotels are directly opposite each other so location is the same.
You are a 5 minute walk to Central Park and Times Square with subways one minute away.
However my big tip in terms of hotels and accommodation is don’t worry too much as honestly you will spend hardly any time in your room. Anyone who comes to NYC at Xmas and stays in their hotel is mental! Unless they just got married 😉
So think location and get something affordable for your budget. Spend your money on exploring the city.
TIP #5: ICE SKATE AT THE ROCKEFELLER CENTRE
We did this on Xmas eve before heading to Radio City for the show. It was totally magical.
You have two options: VIP PACKAGE: This is $150 per person and you can prebook which gives you direct access to the ice. This means you don’t have to queue. They also provide complimentary hot chocolate and refreshments and a place to warm up off the ice.
USUAL ENTRY: This can’t be prebooked you just turn up! The cost is $45 per person including skate hire. This is what we did as we certainly didn’t want to spend 3 times the amount of money to skip a queue. We waited for 1 hour and 30 minutes but it went really fast as the Christmas music was playing, we were chatting and we had a treat of watching someone propose on the ice whilst we waited and the crowds cheered.
I’m also a big believer that waiting adds to the excitement so once we got on the ice it felt great! There’s nowhere to get food or drinks if you opt for this though so I would advise taking refreshments in your bags especially if you have small children with you that will get thirsty and you don’t want to have to leave the queue and loose your place!
You will find mixed opinions on the best place to skate in NYC. Rockefeller is probably the most expensive and the longest wait however to me it was a dream come true. If you want a shorter wait and cheaper price try The Wollman Skate Rink in Central Park or Byrant Park Winter Village, both are also really lovely options.
TIP #6: EAT AT JOJO RESTAURANT
We looked on open table for weeks before. Initially we had our hearts set on Christmas dinner at The Plaza however the cost was just insane so we decided to head to The Plaza for after dinner cocktails and to enjoy the Christmas tree and exploring the hotel!
For Christmas dinner Mike found JoJo restaurant by the esteemed chef Jean-Georges. Of course as my name is JoJo this was perfect for us. It was located just off Central Park in the upper east side and had a Michelin star.
It was superb. From the moment we walked through the door we were made to feel special. The food was honestly the best meal I have ever tasted and the ambience was perfect. I am so glad we booked here.
Our 3 course meal at JoJo Restaurant cost in total with drinks $200 USD for two, which isn’t cheap but to be honest for good food and 3 courses in NYC you are not going to get anything for much less.
Use open table to hunt around for restaurants and tables, we swear by it wherever we go. However, a hot dog in Central Park and a horse and carriage ride would also be wonderful if this is all your budget can stretch too, it’s who your with that counts!
TIP #7: BRYANT PARK
Hanging out at a Christmas Market is a must and Bryant Park is my top choice for stalls.
It is located on 42nd Street between 5th and 6th Avenues. The rink in the park is also a great place to ice skate! It is a great place to wander around for an hour or two and grab a bite to eat. It’s very busy but we loved looking in the market stalls, watching the ice skaters and trying the food samples!
TIP #8: GET A BIRDS EYE VIEW
We chose to visit the Freedom Tower. Your first thought may be that it’s not the happiest place to be at Christmas and perhaps you are right however it was important to us to do it. The Freedom Tower was built in place of the twin towers which were destroyed on September 11th in the historic attack on NYC World Trade Centre. This is now the tallest building in the whole of North America and it’s superb. Alongside it you can also visit the memorial pools and etched around the sides are the names of all those lost in 9/11. It was nice to pay our respects especially at this time of year and to see how a great nation rose from the ashes of a tragic and terrible day.
TIP #9: WALK 5TH AVENUE
Walk 5th Avenue and take in the delight of the Christmas lights! To save some cash perhaps get some food on the go to keep you warm, we liked Pick a Bagel! It was totally rammed but we somehow managed to grab a table and it felt very New York. You choose your bagle and then your filling! A great start to the day.
I would also recommend grabbing a slice of pizza at Rays Pizza. It’s become quite famous in the area and the pizzas are delicious with lots of of toppings to choose from.
TIP #10: RIDE THE SUBWAY
As I said earlier you can pretty much walk and subway everywhere and it’s a fun experience! We sometimes struggled to find the elusive stations as the entrances are sometimes quite hard to spot. The best part about riding the subway is the buskers. They get on and off the subways and perform to the whole train. I have never seen anything like it before. My best memory was a fantastic 75 year old black singer who introduced himself as Justin Bieber and proceeded to sing songs to different people on the train, first to a “boy in the a green coat” and the next to “the lady with the phone”
Make sure you have a stash of one dollar notes as these people bring so much joy and deserve it. The worst thing is when you want to tip and you are scrambling around for small change or having to open your wallet in front of everyone.
BONUS TIP: FOR AN AMAZING CHRISTMAS IN NYC: HELP SOMEONE
It’s Christmas after all and you’re in the city that next sleeps. Do something nice for someone. Perhaps buy a homeless person a cup of coffee or ask them to join you for dinner. Make a new friend or tell someone they look lovely. I met a girl on Brooklyn Bridge she was travelling alone. She asked me to take a photo. So I took her phone and took lots of photos of her, getting her to change position on the bridge so I caught the very best shots of her. I made an effort to tell her how awesome she looked. She was so happy and I knew it meant so much to her to have some nice photos to send home to the family. Be kind to people as after all that’s going to make you feel better than anything!
Have a fantastic time in New York! Let me know how you get on, I would love to hear about your adventures in the comments below.
Happy Travels and Warm Hearts