I recently travelled to New York with my husband & daughter where we enjoyed a fabulous week’s stay filled with adventure and excitement. New York at Christmas is a magical city filled with the sights and sounds of warm hearted people enjoying the holiday season, breath taking buildings, roof top panoramic views and great eateries selling every kind of food you could think of.
My husband and I had travelled to New York in the summer previously, however arriving in winter was to be a very different experience and we knew we needed to plan in advance, not just in preparation for the cold temperatures but, to ensure we kept to the sightseeing budget we had agreed.
I think it can be said that most people would prefer to use an organised tour company for convenience rather than book excursions independently. However after researching this trip we found we could book tickets or entrance times online, direct with the place we wanted to visit and the majority were cheaper or even free! Sometimes it can be too easy to get ‘sucked’ into the tourist traps, remember a bus company tour guide can spot a tourist two blocks away.
A trip to the Big Apple can be as expensive as you want to make it but, in reality we all have a budget to stick to and it’s worth tailoring your plans and sticking to your limits. When we booked the flights last February, we started to compile an itinerary to ensure we made the most of each day and to help get an idea of the sightseeing costs, if any.
Here are some of the free things we did during our stay:
The remarkable suspension bridge connecting Manhattan to Brooklyn over the East River is an iconic symbol of the city. It was completed in 1883 and is built out of limestone and giant granite rock. You can either walk or cycle it and we started at the Manhattan side and headed into Brooklyn for pizza. We think the best time to cross is at dusk as you get to see the great views of the Manhattan skyline awash with lights. Don’t just look straight ahead remember to also look down as you will see the traffic flowing beneath you. I took this picture when we were half way across and looking back at the Manhattan skyline.
Grand Central Terminal
Through my eyes this is much more than a train station, it is a master piece of art and design and the grandeur of the building is quite breathtaking. It was built in 1913 and takes up two city blocks in East Midtown. The fabulous marble floored main concourse is set under a ceiling painted with a turquoise Mediterranean night sky mural and the traditional meeting point, is at the four faced Grand Central clock in the middle of the concourse. There is a food hall in the lower ground and this is where you can get a glass of champagne and oysters at the Oyster Bar. I took this picture just before we headed to Pershing Square, with its bustling classic American bistro environment and located just outside the main station. In our view this is the place to indulge in the famous New York breakfast and at a snip of just ten pounds.
Despite being in a city surrounded by the hustle & bustle of everyday life, the 9/11memorial will remain with me as being the most tranquil and peaceful place we visited. It is free to enter via a timed pre-booked reservation system but you do have the opportunity to offer a donation towards the ongoing costs of building this place of reflection and remembrance. The memorial consists of two giant reflecting water pools located in the footprint of the twin towers and each pool is surrounded by a parapet, inscribed with the names of those who died in each tower. We visited early in the day thinking it may be a quiet time to visit and yet the memorial was full of people all having their own silent thoughts and memories of that fateful day. It was difficult to capture the cascades of water in my picture but I think the enormity of the pool says it all.
Located a stone’s throw from 5th Avenue, Central Park has to be one of the ‘must see’ free places in NYC with something to do for everyone. The 843 acre green belt in the heart of Manhattan has a zoo, a reservoir, a theatre, children’s playgrounds, beautiful bridges and fountains and in the winter two public ice rinks. Compared to our last visit in the summer, the park is definitely a different experience in winter, we found ourselves ankle deep in snow, taking part in a couple’s marriage proposal, throwing snow balls, drinking hot chocolate and watching the ice skating. We walked for miles and worked up such an appetite we stopped for an impromptu lunch at the romantic Loeb Boathouse Restaurant overlooking the Central Park Lake.
Here are some other free sightseeing ideas:
The Federal Reserve Bank of New York
Everyone has the opportunity to ogle at its high security vault which contains more than 10,000 tons of gold, 80ft below ground. The only way you can see a small part of the banks fortune is to sign on to a free tour, at least 6 weeks in advance and remember to take your passport or other official form of ID.
New York Public Library
This is a must see free attraction overlooking Fifth Avenue and is loyally guarded by two famous marble lions Patience and Fortitude. It is New York’s flagship library and when built in 1911 it was the largest marble structure ever built in the US.
If you are travelling on a budget or would prefer to spend your holiday money on shopping and eating out rather than expensive entrance fees, make sure you check online for special deals and discounts. By doing this you can save money, tailor your holiday to your own exact requirements and allow you to spend more quality time together in my favourite city, at the most popular time of the year.
I know my memories of this recent winter trip to New York will remain with me for a very long time and for all the right reasons. If you are also considering a short break to New York but have always thought it might be out of reach of your purse strings, think again and don’t put it off any longer.
I hope your experience of the one of the greatest cities in the world is as exciting and fun filled as mine was, to enable you to be a ‘Free’ Spirit and have a great holiday!