THINK New Year’s Eve, and New York comes to mind. Images of Times Square lit up like a disco ball, of crowds a million-strong cheering as a glittering sphere (covered in 2,688 Waterford crystals) descends into the ‘crossroads of the world’.
Spectacular as it is to experience Times Square on New Year’s Eve, you’ll need to shed an equally spectacular amount of cash to get there.
If you can wait a few days to take a bite of the Big Apple, you’ll not only save on flights, but could bag the year’s cheapest hotel rates.
Here’s why. Firstly, after the high of Christmas and New Year’s Eve, New Yorkers and visitors hit a slump. January is the coldest month of the year here, with average temperatures hovering around zero degrees. The next pay packet is a month away, and humankind has gone from rollicking celebration to steadfast resolution, so you’ll practically have the place to yourself.
Well, not really — but you get the point. Once you dress for the weather (gloves, hats, scarves, thick socks and good walking shoes), you’re all set to bag the bargains. Throughout January, New York is crawling with sales, it’s easier to get tickets for Broadway shows, and you can eat on the cheap, courtesy of New York ‘restaurant week’ and its cut-price, set menus.
The Baltic weather has its upsides. The ice-skating rink at the Rockefeller Centre is still open (www.rockefellercenter.com, $20 adults/$12 children), as is the Wollman Rink at Central Park (centralpark.com; from $11 adults/$6 children). There’s something magical about floating (or falling flat on your face) beneath the skyscrapers of Manhattan in the early evening darkness, frosty breath dissolving into the flickering night lights.
Then, there’s the shopping. Think of the iconic Apple Store on Fifth Avenue, open 24/7, 365 days a year. Or Macy’s, the department store that could eat Dundrum Town Centre for breakfast, with 10 fabulous floors chockablock with fashion (it’s full-on, so visit weekdays before lunch, when the crowds are thinnest).
Another tip: foreign visitors can bag an extra 10% discount by downloading a Welcome International savings card (visitmacysusa.com/visitors/savings.cfm).
A feature of the city since 1858, Macy’s is in the midst of a $400m makeover, with recent upgrades including the world’s largest shoe floor, which has 250,000 pairs of women’s shoes in displays inspired by the city’s trendiest neighbourhoods.
In New York, shopping till you drop is a badge of honour. Take Soho, with its street stalls, vintage shops and high-end boutiques. Take the haute couture magnificence of Midtown. Take luxury totems like Tiffany’s and Saks on Fifth Avenue, where you can play Holly Golightly as you come the heavy with your credit card. Or take Alexander McQueen’s flagship store in the Meatpacking District, the urban playground made famous by Sex and the City.
Where else would an art gallery like MoMA come with its own design store (momastore.org)? Visit, and you’ll find prints from the likes of Matisse, Rothko and Pollock selling side by side with Ottoman stools and Obsessive Chef chopping boards.
Woodbury Common (premiumoutlets.com) is another favourite of Irish visitors. Set in upstate New York, an hour’s bus ride from Manhattan, it’s like Kildare Village on steroids — with 220 designer outlet stores rolling from one sale to the next. Round trips from Port Authority cost $42/€32, and you can check ahead for in-store promotions on its website.
There’s lots to do in New York besides shopping. There are ways to spend as little as possible. MoMA is free to visit every Friday from 4pm-8pm. The New York City Police Museum (nycpolicemuseum.org) is free all the time, and others, like the American Museum of Natural History (amnh.org), have suggested contributions. The latter, housed over four city blocks on Central Park West, has dinosaurs, including almost complete T-Rex and stegosaurus skeletons, or, for $19/$10.50pp, take the Night at the Museum tour!.
January can throw up surprisingly low rates in hotels. Rooms on Manhattan are notoriously small and expensive, so look beyond the island — to Long Island City in Queens, for example. It’s 10 minutes from Midtown by subway, has breathtaking skyline views, and more affordable rates. Some, like the Z Hotel (zhotelny.com), provide a free half-hourly shuttle to Manhattan. Going to press, it had rates from $155/€118 per night in January.
Other free stuff? The wind will chisel the nose off your face, but a walk across Brooklyn Bridge, or a trip on the Staten Island Ferry (siferry.com), gives awesome views without the entrance fees. Ferry trips from Whitehall Terminal take an hour, and you’ll see the Statue of Liberty, and skyscrapers like One World Trade Centre.
You can recruit a real New Yorker as a guide, without spending a cent, by filling in a request form with Big Apple Greeters (bigapplegreeter.org). The service matches visitors with locals for tours of neighbourhoods — there’s a no-tipping policy, although you can make a donation. Make contact weeks ahead.
If you’re on a budget, familiarise yourself with the subway (taxi fares quickly add up). Consider a city pass (citypass.com; $89) if you want to tick off sights like the Empire State Building, Top of the Rock or the Met — if you visit all six listed attractions, you make a saving of 46% on tickets.
New York won’t disappoint. This is hands-down the greatest city break, a location constantly on film, a cultural melting pot in which anything goes, and where eight million people speak 100 languages.
I’ve made several visits over the years, on a tight budget, and have always come away just as stoked by the big hits (the Chrysler building, MoMA, Ellis Island) as the little things (ghost stops on the subway, the fact that Woody Allen still plays Monday night jazz at The Carlyle).
I also loved standing in Grand Central Station during rush hour, staring like an eejit at the constellations painted across the big, beautiful Beaux Arts ceiling as commuters caught their trains.
It was smaller, and less of a global tradition than Times Square on New Year’s Eve. But it didn’t cost me a cent, and I’ll remember it for longer than anything I put on my credit card.
Aer Lingus (aerlingus.com), United (united.com), American Airlines (aa.com) and Delta (delta.com) fly direct from Dublin to New York. From Shannon, you can fly with United and Aer Lingus. Aer Lingus currently has a sale, with prices from €299 one-way.
Airport, Immigration & Customs
Aim to arrive at the airport three hours before transatlantic flights. Irish travellers must also register with the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta). It costs $14. If you’re shopping in the US, remember that VAT and import duties can be levied on goods above the individual allowance of €430. See revenue.ie for more.
Where to stay
There’s great value on packages to New York in the new year. With indirect flights, Tour America (touramerica.ie) has three nights at the three-star Holiday Inn Midtown from €465pp, based on four sharing and a Jan 18 departure. With direct flights, Sunway (sunway.ie) has three nights at the four-star Milford Plaza from €645pp, departing Feb 1.
Where to eat
The latest New York Restaurant Week runs from Jan 14 to Feb 8 (nycgo.com/restaurantweek). With hundreds of participating restaurants charging from $25 or prix-fixe menus, there’s no better time to take a bite of the Big Apple.
Shopping & shows
January sees sales at Diesel (1 Union Square West), Suarez handbags (5 W. 56th Street) and Sigerson Morrison shoes (28 Prince Street), amongst countless others. For Broadway bargains, try the TKTS desk (tdf.org) on Times Square for unsold tickets (available for ‘day-of’ shows at discounts of up to 50%). Alternatively, check broadwaybox.com.
The official visitor guide to New York City is online at nycgo.com, a regularly-updated resource with the latest on all five boroughs of New York City. Alternatively, to speak with a New York specialist at the Irish office of NYC & Company, call01-6319604.
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