Best things to do in New York and save money

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Going to New York in December is probably the craziest idea ever. The city becomes three times busier, the prices are a few times higher, and the weather can get pretty unpredictable! Yet, on the other hand, it is a lifetime experience and a memory nothing else can replace. I always wanted to visit New York around Christmas time. I knew it wouldn’t be cheap and that’s why I did my homework, researched everything and found the best possible deals and options for us to be able to see everything we wanted for affordable prices. And of course – I wrote everything down for you guys, so you can do the same and save money in New York!

(Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which means if you do buy items or book hotels via these links, I will earn a small commission. This is at no extra cost to yourselves, but it helps me to run this blog ?)

Times Square

We visited Times Square the very first evening after we got to New York, so we were a little bit tired but still overwhelmed by all those billboards lining the skyscrapers and how busy it was at 11pm! There were people everywhere posing for their best Instagram shots and camera flashes blinding you almost as much as billboards. Times Square is insane, but on the other hand, it was a little bit disappointing in its size. The red steps looked much smaller than they were presented on TV  as was the whole square.

Crazy Times Square
Crazy Time Square
Times Square New York City

Central Park

The following morning, we escaped the busy city life and explored one of the most famous parks not just in New York but the world. Maybe to your surprise (definitely for mine), but Central Park is not the biggest park in New York, although it took us around four hours to explore it. I love Central Park and would definitely come back during the summer to be able to have a picnic by the lake! The only downside is that during winter months most of the grass areas are fenced off, so it won’t get damaged and be all nice and ready for the spring. You can hire a bike (all yea-round for about $15 or cheaper if it is a part of a deal), horse and carriage, walk, jog or ice skate. Or you can just sit down, chill and watch people passing by while feeding squirrels. You will find it peaceful, but I can imagine that during the summer the place gets crazy busy. We were lucky, we went there in the middle of December on a warm, sunny day and the area was quiet and enjoyable.



Central Park in New York in winter
Central Park

So many beautiful spots in Central Park

A beautiful December morning in Central Park

Tip 1: Be aware that even in winter there are so many people at the entrances trying to sell you things, make you rent a bike or hire a horse carriage (please, don’t do it, the horses are there all day long, it is a tourist trap and absolutely not worth it.)

Empire State Building

Want to see the entire city spread in front of you from the birds perspective? Then go to the tallest building in New York City – Empire State Building. Scared of heights? Suck it up and still do it. It is definitely one of those once in a lifetime experiences and although I am not a fan of tourist traps and again think it is a bit pricey – I will still recommend it. Do it at least once – and do it when is dark. We decided to go when we were actually passing by as the tickets, I bought in advance let us be flexible and just turn up any day and time we wanted. You can get tickets right away from its own website, but I actually built my own attractions pass and managed to save money in New York. So, as I mentioned earlier, we turned up around 7pm, and there was no one! We were first at the gate, first through security and first in the lift followed by a few others. You cannot take any selfie sticks or tripods to the top with you, they will take it off you at security and give you a ticket to retrieve it on your way out.



New York stretched in front of me - view from Empire State Building
New York stretched in front of me – view from Empire State Building

Tip 2:  Buy tickets and book restaurants in advance, you will not only save money in New York and avoid queues but will also prevent disappointment if any of the places are fully booked on the day!

Tip 3: I used ‘Build your own pass’ which is a great way to save money in New York on attractions where I picked what I wanted to see and paid. Simple as that. You can either print tickets out or download an app to your phone and turn up anytime, any day you want (be aware that the tickets are valid 30 days from the day you chose – so don’t book too much in advance otherwise they will be invalid.)

See how much I saved? $15 in New York is one cocktail, or two magnets, or one main meal or four 600ml cans of beer in 7/11 Supermarket! 🙂

Top of the Rock

I can imagine doing this attraction during sunset while the Empire State Building and the whole city is painted in a fantastic orange-yellow-pink tone and the entire view looks like a picture you’d have hung on the wall in your living room. When we built our own pass, we had no idea when we would go there, so we opted not to pay extra for the sunset time as we wanted to save money in New York and have the freedom to go when we wanted. The queue wasn’t too bad, we just had to wait to swap the pass for an actual ticket and go through security, so it took us maybe 15 minutes. There is a cloakroom next to the lift, but you can keep your stuff with you if you wish. If you are going with the City Pass, or any other pass other than the actual one purchased from their website, you still have to queue for the nearest allocated time slot before you will be able to get the lift to the Top.

The most famous view - Empire State Building from Top of the Rock
The most famous view – Empire State Building from Top of the Rock

Tip 4: If you can afford it, book a tour via their official website. A standard ticket costs about $39 while the sunset price is anything between $50 to $54 depending on the season. For the $54 you can get the Sun and Stars ticket which allows you to enter twice!




Ice-skating under Rockefeller Christmas tree

Ice-skating under Rockefeller Christmas tree has been on my bucket list for ages…well, you know that feeling when you are waiting for something, you are so excited, and when finally happens – it just doesn’t feel right? The whole experience was a let-down for me, maybe it was because we have been walking around New York the entire day and I already did over 25k steps I don’t know. I booked this experience for 11pm (bear-in-mind I booked it in July for December), hoping it wouldn’t be too busy and with a total cost of $47 including hiring the skates. Don’t get me wrong, I am glad I did it, but I wouldn’t do it again, and I definitely wouldn’t pay $47, and I don’t want you to spend that money either. This is not how you save money in New York; it is a tourist trap, it’s advertised better than it’s run. They want you to feel like you’re in a movie, but you won’t. It is super busy no matter whether you turn up at 10 am or 10pm, the skates are blunt, and the whole rink was bumpy. I have skated all my life, and I am used to skating on frozen lakes, but this combination was just a big no for me. The only positive side was the majestic Norway Spruce above my head with around 50 thousand multi-coloured lights.

Tip 5: No matter which ice rink you choose, they will be both busy. If you really want to do it, I strongly suggest booking the tickets in advance so you save money in New York. The cost is about $25 for general admission + you have to pay for skates, which is $10 to $15 (if you want to use a locker, yep you pay).

For more information about Rockefeller ice rink – visit this website

And for information about ice skating in Central Park – visit this website

Rockefeller Christmas Tree


Printable Travel Planner for you to plan your trip accordingly after the lockdown

Related: Christmas in New York

Rockefeller Christmas Tree from distance
Rockefeller Christmas Tree
Can you see me? 🙂



Radio City Music Hall

We walked around Radio City only because I wanted to see the famous giant Christmas balls and life-size Christmas lights. It is a pleasant stroll around but in my opinion nothing special. The area is actually full of people trying to sell you things like replicas of Michael Kors or Luis Vuitton handbags (which you can buy yourself on AliExpress for much cheaper.) We didn’t do any event in the Hall so I cannot judge that.

Giant Christmas Balls in front of the Radio City Hall

Dyker Heights

If you are visiting around Christmas time – DO THIS TOUR! This will definitely fulfil your Christmas Spirit and makes you feel like you are in some crazy American movie! I loved every second of it and would do it again and again! If you never heard of Dyker Heights, well it is a neighbourhood in Brooklyn where people pay crazy amounts of money to put Christmas decorations everywhere! When I say crazy money, I mean over $20 000! And this is the entire neighbourhood! The tour we booked was via this website, and it cost us £47 each, which was not cheap, but definitely worth it. If you are confident enough, you can Google and go by yourself from wherever you are staying in New York. We had to get to Union Square (easy) where they pick us up by coach, but they then took care of everything, even having friendly police on every corner to direct us in the correct direction.

There is nothing else I could say, check the pictures!

When words are no needed - Dyker Heights
When words are no needed – Dyker Heights

Dyker Heights New York City

Like a big kid while walking around Dyker Heights
Like a big kid while walking around Dyker Heights
Some of the exceptional houses in Dyker Heights
Some of the exceptional houses in Dyker Heights

Tip 6: To save money in New York, you can visit Dyker Heights on your own, but make sure you have Sat Nav in your phone or at least a map as some areas of Brooklyn can be quite dangerous. Be careful!


Cocoa and Carol Cruise

Another must-do if you are visiting in December. An evening cruise on the Hudson River accompanied by wine, hot chocolate, Christmas biscuits and a live jazz band who sings Christmas Carols. Not only do you get to see the entirety of New York from the river spread out in front of you, but you also get to sing Christmas Carols and meet the big Lady – Statue of Liberty. I booked the tickets for us via this website for about $135 together. In the below screenshot you can see that they offer so many other cruise packages regarding the weather, seasonal occasions and much more, e.g., Champagne and dinner cruise on Valentine’s, etc.

Carol and Cocoa Cruise and very happy Karina with the Lady!
Jazz Band at Cocoa and Carol Cruise
Statue of Liberty

Related: Christmas in New York

West Village, Friends ‘Apartment’ and High Line Park

When visiting New York, going to West Village ‘Celebrity Hunting’ is necessary. I mean, I am not personally obsessed with celebrities and seeing them, but the whole neighbourhood looks just like the one from Sex in the City where Carrie Bradshaw lived, and Sarah Jessica-Parker does live at the moment along with Daniel Radcliffe and many more.
Another thing that cannot be missed in West Village is the Friends Building. Who doesn’t love Joey or Monica’s obsession with cleaning? I bet when we were all younger (I’m staying young!) we all wished to live in an apartment with our friends just like all of them. We got there for about 10am, so we had the whole street to ourselves and time to take the perfect pictures. Bear in mind that half n hour later the street got crowded and people had to wait to get their perfect Instagram pictures.

If you haven’t had enough of walking yet, I do recommend the High Line Park walk. It is a 1.45-miles-long elevated linear park, greenway and rail trail created on a former New York Central Railroad spur open every day from 7am and shutting between 7-11pm depending on the time of year. I can imagine this to be a perfect walk during spring or summer, but because we visited in winter, we found it very grey and dull. But it’s free, right?

Beautiful narrow streets in West Village

American Museum of Natural History

Want to go back in time and meet dinosaurs?  Or meet that big head from Night in the Museum ‘Hey Dum Dum, you give me gum gum’? Just to warn you, it does not look like the scene from Friends, and it definitely doesn’t look anything like the Night in a Museum movie. The place has been renovated, is modern and fresh (though was very dark in some areas so not the best for picture taking) and has a few floors, so be prepared to spend a good few hours there. We bought tickets as a part of my Build my own pass, and when we got there, we paid $10 on top of the price to be able to see other parts of the Museum (a special edition which opens every half n hour). This museum is one of the largest in the world and contains over 33 million specimens, plants, animals, fossils, rocks and much more. The museum is located opposite Central Park in Theodore Roosevelt Park. If you are going during the weekday as we did – embrace yourself, the museum gets full of kids due to popular school excursions happening right there.

To save money in New York, again, get tickets as a part of your Build Your Own pass or order them in advance online.  Of course, you can buy them on the day too. The general admission cost $23 and can be purchased on their official website

American Museum of Natural History
American Museum of Natural History

Brooklyn Bridge

The icon of New York. Believe or not, is even more popular than The Statue of Liberty. We visited Brooklyn Bridge on our last day when we were flying back to England. Unfortunately, the night before it I got very poorly with high fever and body ache, so I am not going to lie, I did not enjoy the very last day in New York at all. I am glad we went to see Brooklyn Bridge and so should you, but we didn’t walk across it. We just stayed nearby, chilling by the river waiting for time to pass by.
Brooklyn Bridge

New York Public Library

New York Library had the most beautiful Christmas tree I ever saw. Yes – I liked it even more than the one at the Rockefeller Center. The tree and Christmas decorations with the contrast of old walls and marble floors – it filled my heart, and I felt like I was in a magical kingdom (Hogwarts), or somewhere else entirely out of this world. The entrance is free, and they also provide a free guided tour around places which are otherwise closed for tourists.

New York City Public Library
The most beautiful Christmas tree I have seen

Other Attractions

Grand Central Terminal

One World Observatory

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The 9/11 Memorial and Museum

New York Botanical Garden

Madame Tussauds

And many, many more – for more information visit this website


According to Google, back in 2016 the highest amount of people PER WEEKDAY using subway was 5.7 million. Say what? How much profit do you make if each person pays $2.75 per ride? Okay, enough of analytics, I don’t do maths – but you got my point. The easiest way to get around NYC without getting stuck in traffic, or injured on roads (I mean cyclist) is to get the subway. You can get a metro card for $1 and keep topping it up, each ride costs you $3 without the card, $2.75 with the card. The only thing I would say is always to make sure you are on the right side of the road as the subway goes both ways, but check with Google Maps and you will soon find your way around.

Tip 7: If you don’t get the metro card, each ride by subway is $3. Depending on where you go and how many trips – definitely get the card. Be aware though, not every subway station has a top-up machine what works – most of them don’t even work accepting coins or notes! We used our bank cards and made up ZIP Codes to top our metro cards, and it worked! No idea how but it did! If heading to the airport via train don’t give your metro card away to the people asking for it, you will need it else you’ll end up paying a little extra.

City Passes and Tickets

New York can cost you anywhere from $3.85 to $19 for a beer. That’s why it’s good to save a few pennies on attractions. I already mentioned a few ways of doing it in this article, but if you missed them, I’ll include a few other tips too.

Fun Fact: I went to the toilet, and in the meantime, Carl thought it would be fun to order a couple of jager bombs. Upon returning he had this guilty look about him, me being me I thought he had been chatted up, but nope, he just paid $30 for two jager bombs! I drank them and left as quick as I could, It’s safe to say he learned his lesson of always checking the price before ordering.

Anything from a one to a ten-day pass to all attractions where you are not limited to date and time: The cost is between $127 to $299, and you can visit as many attractions as you wish. The one I already mention is Build your own pass, you choose what attractions you want to see and have 30 days after purchase to use them. This is what I use and would use again. If you’re ready to book your perfect adventure in New York, here you go, some hotel tips too!

For more footage from New York, watch my New York in one minute video below:

I know this article has been way too long, but if you enjoyed it and found it helpful and you are ready to save money in New York, your feedback would mean a lot!

Printable Travel Planner for you to plan your trip accordingly after the lockdown

Karina x


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