The Big Apple in December is glamorous and glittering, carried on a tide of spectacular department store window displays, floodlit ice rinks, Radio City Christmas specials and bell-ringing Santas on Fifth Avenue.
But that all comes at a price. A sky-high price, in fact, along with impossible-to-get-in restaurants, sold-out Broadway shows and claustrophobic, congested sidewalks.
So, smart travellers visit New York in January. Post Christmas, the city still looks and feels festive and celebratory but it is uncrowded and much cheaper. You can get tickets for the top Broadway shows, find a table at the best restaurants, such as Per Se and Jean-Georges, and stride at a decent pace along those broad sidewalks.
The Big Apple in December is glamorous and glittering but that all comes at a price. So, smart travellers visit New York in January instead
The Rockefeller Christmas tree remains lit up until January 7, the skating rinks are still fully operative until spring, and sales people are more customer-friendly than in hectic December. Plus, you’ll be hugging yourself with glee at the slashed costs of your hotel and air fare.
According to Chris Heywood, executive vice president at NYC & Company (nycgo.com), the city’s marketing arm, ‘more than seven million people visit New York between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day and that number evaporates in January. If you want New York to yourself, then January is the time.’
So, what’s not to like? OK, possibly the bitterly cold weather. But as the fellwalker Alfred Wainwright once said, there’s no such thing as bad weather, just unsuitable clothing, so you should be able to cope.
Just take your warmest coat, drape a scarf around you and wear a hat, boots and even earmuffs. The wind off the Hudson can cut like a knife, but the light is clear as a bell — and there’s nothing more romantic than Central Park after a January snowstorm.
Beds at bargain prices
Hotel rates drop dramatically after New Year’s Day. The Marlton, pictured, would cost £267 in December and just £128 in early January
Hotel rates drop dramatically after New Year’s Day. Take three hotels as examples: the five-star Peninsula on Fifth Avenue, The Edition on Times Square and The Marlton in Greenwich Village.
A double room at the Peninsula in December would cost £1,079 a night — and a month later would be £489, a saving of 55 per cent.
Similarly, a double room at The Edition would set you back £408 in December and £265 a month later, while The Marlton would cost £267 in December and just £128 in early January.
Flying on the cheap
Air fares between the UK and New York in January are the cheapest of the year.
Whereas you can expect to pay £1,212 for a British Airways economy return flight between Heathrow and JFK in mid-December, you’ll be paying £671 return in early January, down to £365 return in mid-January.
The Rockefeller Christmas tree remains lit up until January 7 and the skating rinks are still fully operative until spring. Pictured is the rink in Central Park
According to the doyen of New York concierges, the Peninsula’s Frederick Bigler, top restaurants that were impossible to get into in December are distinctly accessible in January. Le Bernardin, Daniel, Per Se, Jean-Georges and Thomas Keller’s new TAK Room are five he lists.
In New York, these five are among the best and you might just get a table, which is something you certainly can’t count on this side of Christmas. But book before you travel, even in January.
If you wait until the end of January, there are deals at restaurants across the city in New York’s Restaurant Week, with two-course lunches at £20 and three-course dinners at £33.
This runs from January 21 to February 9 and if you look at the NYC & Co website (nycgo.com/restaurant-week), you’ll find 400 participating restaurants, not just at the value-for-money end of the market but also some of the city’s top eateries, although none of the top five listed above is included.
Best of Broadway
There are deals for top recommended Broadway shows such as Moulin Rouge!, pictured, in January
Graham Boynton flew to New York with British Airways (ba.com), which with its partner American Airlines operates 12 flights a day between London and NY from £292 return in January.
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The top recommended Broadway shows are Moulin Rouge!, Tina: The Tina Turner Musical, Ain’t Too Proud To Beg, Freestyle Love Supreme (Hamilton’s Lin Manuel Miranda’s latest musical) and To Kill A Mockingbird, where Ed Harris has taken over the Atticus Finch role from Jeff Daniels.
There are deals everywhere and, most importantly, there are tickets for the top shows at prices that won’t require you to take out a second mortgage — at their peak, Hamilton tickets were going for well over £1,000 each.
For the first five days of January, A Christmas Carol and Christmas Spectacular are still on at Radio City.
Other noted plays that are closing in January, but are worth seeing if you are there in time, are Adam Rapp’s The Sound Inside, starring Mary-Louise Parker (closing January 12) and David Byrne’s American Utopia, which closes on February 16.
In January, you can expect to a) get in, and b) pay between 20 and 30 per cent less than December prices. Between January 21 and February 9, NYC Broadway Week (nycgo.com/about-nyc-broadway-week) offers two-for-the-price-of-one Broadway tickets.
The Winter Village, pictured, in Bryant Park, between 40th and 42nd streets off Sixth Avenue, which now rivals the Rockefeller Center as the heart of festive Manhattan
Two newly opened attractions worth visiting in January, not least because they will be a good deal less crowded than in the run-up to Christmas, are the enlarged MoMa (Museum of Modern Art), which reopened in October after a £341 million facelift, and the five-floor TimeOut Market.
With pop-up, communal-seating versions of 21 Manhattan restaurants, plus an all-day cafe that is open from 8am, the Market is just across the East River in Brooklyn.
Although it’s easy to reach by subway, it is a great deal more fun taking one of the ferries that depart regularly from Pier 11 at Wall Street. The £2.10 ferry (ferry.nyc) takes just four minutes and gives you a splendid view of the city.
Another wonderful attraction worth highlighting is the Winter Village in Bryant Park, between 40th and 42nd streets off Sixth Avenue, which now rivals the Rockefeller Center as the heart of festive Manhattan and offers a great alternative to the ice rink in Central Park.
Although the pop-up shops here close on January 5, the village’s rink remains open daily between 8am and 10pm until March. You can hire skates for £15 and it is as magical as advertised, especially after dark.
But avoid JFK
You may be lured into making last-minute bargain buys at JFK airport before the flight back home. Caveat emptor.
Apart from duty-free booze, JFK tends to overcharge: a pack of Trident gum, for example, is £2.50 here and just £1.50 in the city.
When you ask the staff about the high prices, they shrug their shoulders and say: ‘I know. I know.’
SHOP TILL YOU DROP IN NYC DEPARTMENT STORES
Now you’ve saved money on air fares and accommodation, you are free to spend it on shopping and entertainment.
The centre of gravity for bargain shopping may have shifted thanks to the flash pre-Christmas sales (Black Friday and Cyber Monday) and global digital sales (China’s Alibaba and Google Singles Day), but there’s nothing quite like spotting deep discount signs in a big New York store.
Bloomingdale’s, Bergdorf and Saks all offer at least 40 per cent off normal prices and even more off major U.S. fashion lines. At J. Crew, for instance, pave bow stud earrings cost £45.75, compared with £67 at its London store.
My favourite is Macy’s, where you can expect to pay £31 for a pair of Levi 512 jeans, which is 40 per cent off the list price and far less than the £56 you’ll pay at John Lewis in London.
In Macy’s, pictured, you can expect to pay £31 for a pair of Levi 512 jeans, which is 40 per cent off the list price and far less than the £56 you’ll pay at John Lewis in London
Macy’s may not be fashionable New Yorkers’ idea of a proper place to be seen shopping, but the midtown megastore carries top brands such as Thomas Pink, Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger at knock-down prices.
Likewise, the best bargains can be found at a store no self-respecting Manhattan socialite would be seen dead at — Century 21.
There are two stores in Manhattan, opposite the World Trade Centre Memorial and on the Upper West Side, and shoppers who are prepared to rummage through piles of fashion tat may well find items from Gucci, Prada and the rest for up to 60 per cent off the listed price.
The best bargains can be found at a store no self-respecting Manhattan socialite would be seen dead at — Century 21, pictured
Recent examples of discounts include the classic Prada Big Bag at £1,171 (standard retail price £1,953); a St Laurent silk dress for £780, down from £2,187; and a Patrizia Pepe jacket at £108, down from £351.
Salvatore Ferragamo sunglasses currently sell for £69.20, down from £240; Calvin Klein’s three-pack crew-neck T-shirts sell for £7.68, down from £30. Expect further discounts during the sales.
Digital audio and camera equipment is good value in New York and B&H, a few blocks from Macy’s, is a magnet for tech fans. Although January discounts are yet to be announced, there are always deals.
For example, a SanDisk 150 MB/s, 64GB memory card is £13, while at John Lewis the price is £59.95; a Samsung T5 1TB external hard drive costs £106 (£119.99 at John Lewis); and a SanDisk Extreme SDHC 16GB card costs £7.13, compared with £39.99 at a camera shop on Tottenham Court Road.