A coworker and I were day dreaming one day about seeing the Christmas decorations in New York, and we thought…why the heck not, let’s go see them for a day! We caught a morning flight and then left in the evening, but man we packed a lot in, and all for under $100!
After taking the train in from Newark to Penn Station ($13 one way), we walked to Rockefeller Center to admire the iconic Christmas tree and skate rink. We got a peak at the filming for the Today Show next door too! I imagine the tree and rink are more dazzling at night, but the decorations surrounding the fountain leading to Saks Fifth Avenue were stunning! Shiny ornaments and musical angels drew the eye forward to the spectacular facade of Saks, which was decorated in ivy and lights to recreate a fairytale castle.
We were a bit cold and hungry, so we popped into the coffee shop in the Rockefeller area…and popped right back out! If you are on a budget, do not buy anything at the restaurants nearby, they are astronomically high! Instead, we walked over to Saks to view the window displays. Our hunger would wait for a better priced restaurant. The Christmas window displays throughout New York were witty and whimsical, and Saks was no exception. They recreated edgy Snow White sequences with their current fashion, and had delightful animatronics for the children. We followed the displays around the store until we ran into St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and had a peak inside there as well. We took advantage of any free viewing of NYC we happened upon!
On our way to The Plaza, we found a local coffee shop with French pastries and coffee (under $10), which we gratefully munched on while we warmed up. The weather was thankfully mild, but still winter, so were bundled up. Don’t be afraid to walk in and check the prices before you buy, you don’t want to be in shock after you order, because New York prices are no joke.
Unfortunately, they don’t let you view The Plaza unless you are a guest, but you can visit their shopping area and sneak a peak down their hallway. I loved the silky monogrammed pajamas and glittery watercolor prints they offered in their shop, but the prices were more in range for Eloise and her Plaza Suite!
We then took the subway to Chinatown ($3 one way), to grab an early lunch and explore the area. Our stomachs were enticed by the roasting duck hanging in the local restaurant window we spotted, but we should have done more research for a better rated restaurant. It was a great price (about $8 a plate), but the food was subpar. You can find great Asian food in Chinatown if you aren’t as impatient as we were! After lunch we walked around Chinatown and discovered practically every store attendant will try to sell you designer knockoffs, but that should come as no surprise. If you are looking for cheap baubles, Chinatown is the place to shop. As we walked down the streets and observed the locals picking out fresh seafood, vegetables and fruit from the Asian market stands, we ran straight in to Little Italy, our next intended destination.
Little Italy was more my style, for its laid back atmosphere and charming bistros serving Italian pastries and oodles of pasta. We stopped in Gelso & Grand for a Peroni beer (about $8) and to rest our feet. Mimicked after what I believe was the original function of the building, the restaurant was decorated like a vintage Italian market. We then wandered over to Broadway to do a bit of window shopping and admire the glamorous shops. We stopped in a quirky shop that seems to be a trend around NYC. The shop, called Artists & Flea, consisted of multiple curated “kiosks” of handmade goods, vintage clothing, and hip accessories. It was like a permanent artists flea market, but witty serious style. I purchased a stellar print of colorful cat eye glasses for $9, and ogled the mint condition vintage clothing.
We wandered back to Little Italy, in need of a restroom and place to rest our feet. Public restrooms are not common, so we stopped in a local’s bar for cheap(er) beer ($6), a restroom, and a place to sit. After our break…we decided the break needed to be longer because our feet had succumbed 20,000 steps and were feeling it. We perused quite a few menus from the bistros for an early dinner, but were drawn back in to Gelso & Grand. We shared an entree of spaghetti and meatballs ($21), and they were honestly the best meatballs I’ve ever had! Juicy, flavorful, and complimented well by the red sauce and basil of the pasta, it was a delightful dinner to counteract our subpar lunch.
We decided after our meal it was time to head back to the airport, which was another subway ($3) and train ($13) away, and our tired feet brought us back through the city, which was dazzling with Christmas lights and colorfully lit signs. Our journey back involved multiple broken down trams, an unexpected walk to the terminal (not normal practice if the tram is functioning, it’s quite a long walk), and 3 gate changes. But we rested easy with our free drinks and upgraded first class seats, so life really can’t really be bad!
Also, an invaluable aid to us during our trek through NYC, was constantly asking locals (mostly officers and help desks) for the best routes to get where we needed to go. My trusty GPS wasn’t always so trusty, and locals know the shortest routes. Don’t hesitate to ask, even if the first few people ignore you, you will find a helpful aid eventually (some New Yorkers are cranky!)
Realistically, a day trip to NYC isn’t feasible for $100 for the average traveler when airfare is involved, but if you have a long layover in Newark, JFK, LaGuardia, I highly recommend taking a train into the city and exploring a bit. My husband and I did so this past summer and even a few hours in the city can be quite exciting!