5 Must-See NYC Holiday Spots That Won’t Break Your Budget
01 Dec 2016

5 Must-See NYC Holiday Spots That Won’t Break Your Budget

Ever since Macaulay Culkin graced my VCR on Christmas Eve circa 1995, my wide-eyed bushy-tailed pint-sized self couldn’t wait to follow suit parading around NYC’s Christmas oasis. This mischievous, havoc inducing child (attempted homicide or sticky bandits vigilante?) offered my first glimpse into the magical wonderland of Manhattan during the holidays- from escapades around the infamous FAO Shwartz Toy Store to skating through Bryant Park, and all glitz the in between. Twenty-something years later I found myself finally poised to fulfill my Home Alone dreams, only to find that the McCallisters must have had some SERIOUS credit limit- their Plaza Hotel suite alone would have racked up a grand PER NIGHT!

Anyone familiar with New York’s astronomical cost-of-living wouldn’t raise a brow, but I certainly wasn’t about to let budget stand in the way of my yuletide bucket-list. Four years later, I find myself well versed in New York City’s hidden holiday gems, and feel compelled to pass on my list of must-sees for friends who finds themselves balling-on-a-budget while seeking festivities in the most wonderful city, during the most wonderful time of year!


Union Square Holiday Market

Throughout the month of December, city-slickers make their way to the heart of downtown Manhattan in Union Square (14th and Broadway) to immerse themselves in the most adorable pop-up village that takes over the landmark’s iconic square. Step into this transformed urbanspace and suddenly, you forget you’re surrounded by skyscrapers and feel as though you’ve stepped out of a transportation device straight to the North Pole. Craftsmen, artists, and vendors all migrate here to boast their authentic holiday goodies throughout the hundred-something decorated tents, creating a world that tourists AND locals alike can easily get lost in for hours. The scent of got cider fills the air and mini-street Christmas trees line the perimeter. Perfect loca for picking up a unique gift for a loved one (or yourself), and they even have craft classes for you DIY-ers. Best of all, every artisan pledges their goods are 100% handmade in the USA and organic certified… An added bonus given our current political climate!



So, this is less of a landmark, more of New York City’s premiere post-collegiate equivalent of December Cinco-De-Mayo. Let me set the stage: New York City streets, mid-december, painted red and white with thousands of Santas pub-crawling from 10am to 10pm chanting carols while dozens of bars offer $2 shot specials throughout the day to keep the masses feeling “jolly.” Truly, this event makes Boston’s St. Patricks Day celebrations look like amature hour. While natives New Yorkers are split into two sectors, those who happily join the festivities, and those who avoid and eye-roll; if you have an affinity for yuletide joy and don’t mind imbibing with bros, Santacon is one city tradition out-of-towners need to experience firsthand. (Sidenote: The line “I caught mommy kissing Santa-Claus” takes on whole new meaning around 8pm. I actually have friends who have met their SO during their Santacon escapade- because nothing says “l-o-v-e” like Bad-Santas). Catch this year’s on December 10th, starting in Williamsburg ending in Lower East Side.


Rolf’s Biergarden

Located in the heart of Manhattan’s Gramercy neighborhood, there’s a magical little hole in the wall that puts the Whoo’s down in Hoo-ville to shame. The tinsel will blind you from a block away, but step closer toward the windowsill and you’ll think you’re about to dine INSIDE a Christmas tree. The staff spends over a month decorating the restaurant  head to toe with lights, tinsel, fir, ornaments, and even random dolls woven into the wall (only just a tad creepy), turning your run-of-the-mill bar into an Instagrammer’s paradise. Ugly-sweater attire encouraged, but if you go without make sure to try their signature-mulled wine to ward off the winter chill.

Insider tip: Skip the full meal and go for the drink, unless you’re a bratwurst enthusiast, in which case book your OpenTable appointment weeks in advance!


Standard Hotel Ice-skating Rink

Everyone who’s familiar with holiday movies knows the iconic Rockefeller Skating rink, but if you’re visiting and want a more intimate experience without the crowded tourist struggle, make your way downtown to the Meatpacking District’s Standard Hotel, where the ritzy hospitality destination boasts an adorable 3,000 foot slate. For $12 adults and $6 children (opposed to Bryant Park’s $16 rentals), you can get your Tonya Harding on in one of Manhattan’s chicest hoods. Perfect for date night, the “Hot Cocoa Hut” attached comes fully equipped with spiked hot chocolate, hot toddies, and specialty nutella crepes to munch on after burning all those cals skating. (If you’re like me and mimic Bambi on ice, there are plenty of cones to spare… or you can just sit out and munch on the waffle kind).  Once you’re on stable ground again, you’ll find yourself in the heart of Manhattan’s nightlife and restaurant district, with The Standard’s Biergarden nextdoor and the infamous highline walk above offering amazing views along the Hudson river. Could date-night be any more perfect? Now all that’s missing is my own Wayne Gretzky.


Fifth Avenue

Of all the economical holiday attractions in NYC, this might be the most bang for your buck! Carrie Bradshaw fanatics, this one is especially for you. For FREE99 you can peruse fifteen blocks of curated masterpieces, experiencing a new visual story at every window. From Tiffany’s to Barny’s, this avenue is akin to the unspoken suburbia competition where housewives try to “one up” each other’s décor, with each being more extravagant and jaw-dropping than the previous.

Case and point, Saks Fifth Avenue actually has a patented light show called “Land of 1000 Delights” where there’s literally a epilepsy disclaimer to the bedazzling performance that runs every night from 5-11p. For the creative soul, this stroll is more than perusing and more like walking through the MOMA. The masterminds behind each transformation range from Rob Pruitt to Matt Stone of Comedy Central’s South Park (still scratching my head on that one). Celeb-spotters can find the likes of Reese Witherspoon at unveiling ceremonies, because A-Listers are humans who like looking at sparkly-pretty works of art too! And for the feel-good-ers, there are often social conscious extensions, like Barny’s #LovePeaceJoyProject where $5 is donated for every hashtagged Instagram posted. Window-shoppers, rejoice!  

Let me know your plans for the holidays and share other hotspots you know! Send me photos too and we will post them on Instagram and tag you, can’t wait to hear from you!

Fiona Johanna

copyright (c) 2016 – Fitinyourdress.com – Purple Empower, Inc.

Photo Credit: 365travel.com

Fiona Johanna

Model and Video Content Strategist for Refinery29.com living the life in New York City.


  1. Wonderful article; makes me want to go to the Big Apple to see all of these attractions.

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