Updated: Apr 8
In 2019 I whisked my family away to New York from the 22nd-27th December and we had the most amazing time, experiencing things I will probably never experience again. The reason was that my husband turned 50 that November and I had been saving up for the years beforehand to surprise him with the trip of a lifetime. The kids obviously had to come too and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. When people think of a trip to New York at Christmas, they think of pound signs, no way could we afford that! But what if I was to tell you we managed to spend Christmas in New York, staying in a good hotel right on Times Square, and visited the Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty, 9/11 Memorial, watched the wrestling at Maddison Square Garden, saw the Lion King on Broadway on Christmas Eve, visited Central Park Zoo and dined on Christmas dinner at the Rockefeller Centre overlooking the ice skating rink for under £3500? For a family of four? Let me show you how.
If you read the first post in my series, 'How to Travel the World With or Without Homeschooling - Touring Italy', you know that I believe anyone can travel the world and you don't have to homeschool to do it. You just need to stop visiting the same holiday destination with your precious annual leave and go somewhere new every time you travel. It might take time, but eventually, you'll have the whole world covered! Here's my New York at Christmas Itinerary.
New York at Christmas
What will you see?
Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island
F.R.I.E.N.D.S Apartment building (optional)
Broadway show (Lion King for us)
Empire State Building
Visiting shops like Bloomingdales and Macy's
Tavern on the Green
Central Park Zoo
Treat the kids at F.A.O Schwarz
Maddison Square Garden (we watched the WWE)
How long will it take: We arrived during the afternoon of the 22nd December and left on the evening of the 27th, arriving home on the 28th. (5 nights 6 days)
How much will it cost? £3447 for a family of four
Sunday 22nd December
We actually traveled from our home in Birmingham to the Premier Inn, London Heathrow on the evening of the 21st. But the flight wasn't until 12:30 pm so we could have left home early on the 22nd. The hotel cost around £64 for a family room and then we drove our car the next day to London Heathrow parking which we booked via Holiday Extras.
We arrived at JFK Airport at 3:20 pm and queued for a taxi which took no longer than 15 minutes. We booked two 20kg cases so that we could bring some Christmas presents with us. I actually ordered a pop-up tree from Amazon in the US, to be delivered for when we got there so we had a tree to put our presents under! We didn't wrap the presents, just in case they needed to be checked.
I won't lie, if I had my time again I would probably have taken the subway. As soon as we arrived in central New York it was gridlocked. There are traffic cops doing their best to keep the movement of cars and buses flowing, but it is super busy at Christmas in New York and we must have sat for about an hour just a few blocks from our hotel. Just a tip! (Click on the picture to get your pop-up tree).
Accommodation and Flights
Total cost £1135.51
Spending for the trip: £1000
Our hotel was a double room (two double beds) at the Crowne Plaza on Times Square. The hotel and flights came as a package with Expedia. I usually never book package holidays, preferring instead to tailor my own holiday which always works out cheaper. But the deal with Expedia was too hard to beat at just £1135.51 for the four of us. The hotel was really nice. One of the reasons I picked it was because it had a swimming pool which I thought would be great for the boys, but sadly it was closed during our stay. Apart from that, the hotel was great and in the perfect location.
We didn't get breakfast included in our stay, but the location meant there was plenty of places to go to for a cheap breakfast and meal. There was a bakery just opposite our hotel, a McDonald's a short walk away, Appleby's, and street vendors which were our main choice to keep costs down. There's also an on-site counter selling fresh pastries but this was closed during our stay, and the hotel does offer breakfast in one of its two restaurants. For me though, it was a bit pricey so we stuck with the eateries outside the hotel.
23rd December - Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Brooklyn Bridge, and the F.R.I.E.N.D.S Apartment
Cost for Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island: £60
All excursions with the exception of the Central Park Zoo were booked in advance of our trip. One of the things to consider about New York is the weather. In December it's typically very cold, in fact, we expected to have snow and only took warm snow boots with us. But the weather was unseasonably mild. Some days we didn't even need a coat! Let's just say my feet did sweat quite a bit.
The location of the hotel was super close to everything. A short walk to the Rockefeller Centre and that famous Christmas tree, Radio City Music Hall and so many more great places. Most importantly, there are subway stations everywhere and this was our means of travel whilst in New York. It's super easy to use and so convenient too.
Our first trip was a flying visit to see the Brooklyn Bridge before our time slot to be at Battery Park to get the ferry to Liberty Island. There is lots going on, on the Brooklyn Bridge, everything from joggers who have no patience for the tourists, to street artists, market sellers, Instagram influencers shamelessly posing, and the odd eccentric. Just before you get to the bridge the area itself is bustling and full of activity. While we were there, there was a group of young men performing to a growing crowd. It's good fun and being on the bridge itself is quite an experience.
After a quick bite to eat from a food cart whilst watching the street performers, we took the subway to Battery Park. The ticket instructions for the Statue of Liberty are quite explicit in that they don't appreciate you showing up before your booked time slot. When we arrived there were staff making sure that people who join the queue only do so for the time on their tickets.
Despite the timed ticket booking, there's still a queue to get onto the ferry itself. We waited for around 20-30 minutes to board and once you're in the queue, there's no leaving it, as we found out when one of my kids decided they needed the toilet. I won't tell you what we did to relieve his situation!
Our tickets included going inside the Statue of Liberty and up to a certain level, but not inside the crown. Sadly, this was fully booked when I purchased the tickets, so if going inside the crown is important to you, make sure you book months in advance! The island itself is nice to walk around and spacious enough not to feel like you're in a cattle wagon. There's only one place to eat though and one large souvenir store. Trying to get food can be an ordeal if it's busy, so either take a packed lunch or head over on the next ferry to Ellis Island where there's a much quieter restaurant.
Make sure you have a good camera for this trip! The views of Manhattan from Liberty Island and as you travel back are simply unbelievable. If you can, don't pick a time slot that's too early. Ours was about 1 pm which meant when we headed home, it was getting dark and we got to see Manhattan all lit up.
Ellis Island is really interesting. Learning about immigrants and their journey trying to get to the promised land of New York was quite humbling. It's well worth a visit so make sure you head over after your trip to Liberty Island.
One of the things I really wanted to see whilst in New York was the famous F.R.I.E.N.D.S Apartment building. Our schedule was jam-packed so the evening we landed back at Battery Park after visiting the Statue of Liberty was our only opportunity. It almost turned out to be a disaster! Our phones died and we had been using them for Google maps so we had to rely on what little we had researched to find what we were looking for.
The apartment is on Bedford Street in West Village which is actually a nice little part of New York. We managed to find it but only had our digital camera to get a picture which wasn't up to scratch at night. Make sure you are prepared for long days out by taking battery packs with you! It was still an amazing experience to see it and afterward, we headed to a cheap little Italian restaurant for dinner.
One of the lovely things about New York at Christmas time is seeing all of the department stores dressed up for the festive season. There are literally Christmas trees on every corner too so make sure to capture some of them as you're heading for the subway.
December 24th Empire State Building and The Lion King on Broadway
Empire State Building & Observatory Cost: £125
The Lion King at the Minskoff Theatre: £552
We kicked Christmas Eve in the Big Apple off with pancakes at Appleby's before our day began. The Empire State building is an absolute must whilst visiting New York. The view from the observatory is breathtaking. It's all very well organised when you arrive and there's plenty to see as you travel to the top including a museum about the story of the construction which is fascinating. We walked from our hotel to the Empire State building which took about 20 minutes and was a good chance for us to see the sites. Afterward we bumped into some New York cops who were happy to have their picture taken with our boys.
For the evening of Christmas Eve, I had booked tickets to see The Lion King on Broadway which was just a short walk from the hotel. This was a bit of an extravagance but you simply can't visit New York without seeing a show on Broadway. It was totally worth it too. The show was absolutely amazing!
Just a little tip here, take your own snacks with you. The price of crisps, chocolates, and drinks was extortionate! I'm talking around $60 just for snacks and drinks. You can't take pictures of the show itself, but trust me, it's something you will never forget. By the way, don't get caught up in your row position when booking tickets, the theatre we went to is actually quite intimate, it probably would have been just as good an experience no matter where we sat.
After the show we headed back to our hotel, got changed into our Christmas Eve Pyjamas, and used Uber eats to order a Mcdonald's dinner to our hotel. It was great! We sat in bed and watched a movie and when the boys fell asleep, we wrapped the Christmas presents and tucked them under our pop-up tree.
Christmas dinner at the Rockefeller Centre: £335
Central Park Zoo: $50
The boys were delighted that Santa had come all the way to our hotel in New York when we woke on Christmas Day. We had a lazy morning enjoying playing with new toys, before heading off to Central Park. Our main aim was to find the Gapstow Bridge from the movie Home Alone 2. We also strolled over to the Tavern on the Green, famous for scenes from Ghostbusters. We went inside, hoping to have a drink, but being Christmas Day it was extremely busy so we just walked from one end to the other and back out again! Whilst strolling around we haggled with an artist and paid him to draw a charcoal caricature of our boys which we absolutely love and still have displayed in our living room today.
Central Park Zoo wasn't originally part of the plan but when we saw it we decided we might as well go, there were hours to kill until our evening meal reservation and besides, we might never get the opportunity again. Before the Central Park Zoo, we visited the Children's Zoo too, which is really more of a petting zoo with mainly farm animals, but nice for younger children. The zoo was really good and doesn't take too long to go around. There's plenty to see, places for the children to play and there's also a 4D cinema showing.
The 4D cinema queue was huge and one of my boys decided they didn't want to wait. So, whilst my husband joined the queue with one child, my other son and I headed off to check out a must-see building in New York. The Plaza. Famous from the movie Home Alone 2. We headed over, assuming we would be able to head inside and have a nose around. You can't. There's a separate entrance that leads to some basement stores, but unless you are a hotel guest, there's no getting inside. We managed just a quick glimpse inside the lobby.
Deciding we wanted to find somewhere to sit and grab a hot drink whilst we waited for my husband, we strolled past the Plaza, intent on heading inside another hotel to find a bar or restaurant. All of the hotels along that row are quite exclusive and intimidating. In the end, I just walked into the Ritz as if I belonged there, and found the bar. Just before the bar, there's a cafe area. We found a table and enjoyed hot chocolate and cookies in the warmth and splendor of the Ritz.
It's incredibly busy in New York on Christmas Day. Nothing at all like the quiet streets of England. This truly is a city that simply does not sleep.
As an extra special treat, I had booked Christmas dinner at the Rockefeller Centre for that evening. This was a bit of extravagance and completely optional. You can keep costs much lower by picking somewhere else. But I wanted it to be special, this wasn't just for Christmas after all, this was for my husband's 50th too. The big thing I didn't expect though, was the unbelievable crowd gathered to see the Rockefeller Christmas tree on Christmas night.
We had walked past the Rockefeller center almost every day since we had been in New York and hadn't seen a crown like this one. We had to create a human chain, gripping each other tightly, to try to make it through the crowds to get to the restaurant. It was actually quite stressful so be prepared if you do decide the Rockefeller Centre is the place for you for Christmas dinner. Perhaps pick an earlier time slot.
It was worth fighting through the crowds to get there though. We enjoyed a three-course meal overlooking the ice skating rink and even got to see the rink cleared for a very special moment. A young man proposing to his girlfriend. Everyone was cheering, it was so lovely.
December 26th - Boxing Day
9/11 Memorial - £65
Maddison Square Garden - WWE - £175
Boxing Day in New York will forever be the most memorable day. That's because of the 9/11 memorial. It was an incredibly haunting experience. Visiting the site where the Twin Towers stood, reading the names of those lost, and hearing stories that I had never heard before, about that day, was painfully sad and humbling.
There is staff that works there who are more than happy to talk to the children about aspects of that awful day. We saw the remains of a smashed-up fire truck, and a man who worked there stopped and told the children all about it. About how the ladder company crew that had been in that fire truck, had finished their night shift and were clocking off ready to go home when they heard about the planes crashing into the twin towers. He told us how those men put their helmets back on, fired up the truck, and reported for duty. He told us how those men did not survive but how they helped to save others.
There are lots of stories like that, parts of the building you can see and touch. It's honestly the most incredible thing you will ever see. Eventually, you will get to a section of the memorial where they advise you to think before you take children inside. Thankfully, we decided not to. Taking it in turns, we went into a sectioned-off area and watched footage never before seen on TV of people jumping from the building. It was extremely sad to watch. This is, of course, an optional aspect of the experience, but it truly makes you feel a connection, being in that place and feeling so close to it, then seeing those images. It is something I will never forget. It was a brilliant way to teach the children about that day too, and they really did enjoy the experience.
After the 9/11 Memorial, we decided to head off to Bryant Park, famous for its Christmas market and ice skating. We queued to ice skate which is something you just have to do in New York at Christmas, but the wait was too long. You can book this on your phone before you go so if you do decide this is the trip for you, make sure to book ice skating in advance. We walked from our hotel to Bryant park which took about 25 minutes and along the way we got to see the New York Central Library. For me, when spending a short time in a place, you need to see as much of it as possible, in any way that you can. For lunch, we enjoyed corn dogs, and for me being a vegetarian, the best vegetarian burger I have ever eaten, all courtesy of Appleby's.
If visiting New York at Christmas as a family, treat the kids to a trip to F.A.O Schwarz. My boys had some pocket money to spend and joined the queue to be let into this famous toy store, right next to the Rockefeller Centre.
That evening, as a treat for the boys on the last night, I had booked tickets to see the wrestling at Maddison Square Garden. It was well worth it, they had a brilliant time and it was an amazing experience to go there. Take a look before you go at what's on offer, there are all sorts of things going on so if wrestling isn't for you, pick something else, anything to enjoy the experience of one of the most iconic venues in New York.
For our last day in New York, before having to head off to the airport, we headed over to Grand Central Station to see inside and popped into a few of the department stores too. With our suitcases taken care of by the concierge at the hotel, it was a great last chance to see a few more of the sites.
Upon our return to Heathrow, we had booked an overnight stay at the same Premier Inn we stayed at before our departure from London. This gave us a chance to rest before the drive home, particularly being in completely different time zones and suffering from jet lag.
Christmas in New York as a family was the most amazing experience and one I will never forget. I really do think that for everything we experienced, for the time we were there and for the hotel we stayed in, the price was unbeatable. This is also a trip that could be tweaked to make it more affordable. Christmas in New York doesn't have to be expensive. For me, I will probably never go back now that 'I've done it', and that was my outlook before we went, which made me want to squeeze as much out of it as I could.
If you want any more advice about visiting New York at Christmas as a family, don't hesitate to contact me!