New York – a winter escape on a budget

by Monique

Fewer tourists, less perspiration, and lower prices – what’s not to like about New York in winter?

Instead of seeking out places to escape the cold, embrace it, and try something different! There are many advantages to experiencing Manhattan in the winter - lower prices, fewer tourists and unexpected beauty.

What to see

The cheapest and easiest thing to do is walk. Get those walking shoes on and traipse the pavements. In particular explore the villages – East, West and Greenwich Villages are filled with shops and scattered markets, particularly at the weekends. Head down Bleecker Street for the height of the action, and to find some great restaurants too.

An obvious but failsafe cheap day out is exploring Central Park. Breathtaking whatever the season, it has as much to offer in the winter as it does in the summer. Gone are the sunbathers and the picnickers, and out come the truly devoted exercise junkees and rugged up dog-walkers. If you’re lucky it will snow during your time in New York, and there is nothing more beautiful than watching the horse and carts trotting through the pristine landscape. Grab some skates (available for hire) and go for a glide on one of the rinks situated around the park. While there is a fee, weekdays generally cost less than weekends, and check for opening times, rates and facilities, as prices vary between rinks. If this is out of your budget, simply walking around the park will more than suffice. Explore and get lost – that’s the best part!

For a fun, budget night out get yourself to a television network and be a part of a studio audience. It’s free, exciting, you get to see behind the scenes, famous personalities and you might even make your debut on international television! All it will cost you is some time in the morning to stand in line for tickets. I recommend getting there around 7am for shows at NBC Studios, 30 Rockfeller Plaza (212-664-4444,, but details can be found on the different network’s websites. Some shows will even let you buy tickets in advance so you’re guaranteed a spot – but half the excitement is standing in line bleary-eyed, coffee in hand, and then being one of the lucky chosen few!

Where to eat

The Big Apple is not short of a bite or two to eat, and it is very hard to choose, but given the budget, I’ve narrowed it down to my favourite places for tasty mains and treats.

Take a break from the multitude of hot dogs and pretzels and get some nutrients into you at The Hummus Place (various locations, 212-924-2022,, which, as one might gather, serves possibly the best hummus known to man. Sticking to a policy of doing one thing well, rather than many things poorly, they only serve hummus and one egg dish as mains, with most main dishes priced at $5.95. All ingredients are organic, and why not wash it down with some home-made lemonade or iced tea?

Are we all sick of hearing about Magnolia Bakery of Sex and the City fame? For something a little different and, dare I say it, better, try Crumbs Bakeshop (various locations, 1-877-CRUMBS-0; With over 50 different varieties of Crumbs Signature cupcakes, this experience is pleasantly painful as you have to choose a few to try! With flavours such as Oreo, cappuccino, coffee toffee and this month’s (Nov 2009) chocolate pecan pie, this place will have you drooling. Did I mention their ‘Signature size’ is almost double your average supermarket cupcake - six ounces of mouth-watering pleasure. Enough said.

Where to drink

Cafe Wha? (115 MacDougal, between Bleecker and W 3rd , 212-254-3706, is a must-see and popular with locals and tourists in the know. In its heyday it saw the likes of Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix grace its stage, as well as then newbie comedians Bill Cosby and Richard Pryor. Nowadays it is most well known for its fantastic house bands covering all kinds of music, from R&B to Motown to modern rock. Plan to head along here on a Wednesday or Sunday night to take advantage of no cover charge.

Sometimes considered a bit tacky and a tourist trap, during the winter season is the time to experience TGI Fridays as it is relatively quiet and you can get a great seat looking out at the glitz and glamour of Times Square. Situated in the heart of all the action (604 5th Ave; 212-767-8335;, head here between 4pm and 7pm for the happy hour to experience the buzz at affordable prices. There are often deals on food as well (until the end of 2009 there are half price appetizers) but make sure you sit at the bar, as often this is the catch to getting the cheap deals.

Where to stay

The Chelsea Spot (341 W 30th St) is a hostel to be remembered. While at first glance it appears a bit ramshackle, with uneven flooring, slanted staircases and scary looking men at reception watching NBA at all hours of the night, this place grows on you. The rooms are small but well heated, and it is value for money. Prices in New York are not cheap to say the very least, and this is such a fantastic location, a stone’s throw from Madison Square Gardens, walking distance to the Empire State Building, Times Square, Greenwich Village and many other hotspots. It is located right near Penn Station which has access to all of Manhattan’s major train lines. There is free tea and coffee in the kitchen, and the guys on reception become your friends who end up sharing invaluable local knowledge with you, as well as a room upgrade if you’re lucky. If you can talk basketball with them, all the better! Prices start at $23 for a shared dorm, up to $100 for a private room with a king-sized bed.

Alternatively, just metres down the road is the Chelsea Star Hotel (300 W 30th St) – similar name, same fantastic location, except as well as dorms (approx. $35pnpp) there are also double, superior and deluxe rooms which are your more standard hotel rooms with all the comforts you would expect to find, still at decent prices (ranging from $79pnpp for deluxe, to $305pnpp for deluxe). An endearing feature of this hostel/hotel is the themed rooms. Designed by European designer Robert Graf, each room has been hand-painted by local artists in line with a theme. So whether it is Dali, Cleopatra or some Mexican luxury you are after, there is something to suit everyone!

Further afield

Many realise one of the ‘must-do’ things in New York is to walk over the Brooklyn Bridge. But once you’re in Brooklyn, you can feel at a bit of loss as to what to do. Try browsing through the Williamsburg branch of kitschy Beacon’s Closet (88 N 11th St, 718-486-0816, for some unique vintage and modern clothing at bargain prices. While you’re in the area, revel in the second-hand boutiques and markets, and when you can shop no more grab a bite to eat at Sea Thai Restaurant (114 N 6th St, 212-228-5505,, which was featured in the film Garden State, for some tasty and affordable noodles.

There you have it! Go, enjoy, and say hello to the Big Apple for me!

Getting there

If you choose to hit up the States in the winter months, you can get flights for as little as £229 return, including taxes, from London to New York City.

Tip: Get the AirTrain / subway combination into Manhattan from the airport, rather than a cab. It takes around 40-60 minutes and will only cost you (at time of writing, November 2009) $7. A cab will cost up to around $45 and, if there is bad traffic, take just the same amount of time. While the subway is not as comfortable, it is certainly an experience and will give you a taste of ‘real’ New York. Plus nothing beats the shock value of being underground then emerging among the skyscrapers – it will leave you speechless!