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NYC During Holiday Time 7 Things To Do, See, Eat On A Budget

Updated: Dec 24, 2021

As I'm writing this, unfortunately, some attractions including the Radio City Rockettes and some Broadway shows, have closed or postponed performances due to the rise in Covid cases in New York City causing some people to cancel or alter their plans to visit. But, there's still plenty to do outside to enjoy the city!

I visited again last week and found it to be very busy (and unseasonably warm!) including flocks of Santas walking the streets, accompanied by their counterparts (dressed-up elves) possibly on a break from some festive attraction. It was all-around a lively atmosphere and by the site of the crowds at Rockefeller Center on a Sat. night (you wouldn't think anyone was staying away from the city). By the way, DON'T go to Rockefeller Center or near there on a Saturday night. It's too crowded! Instead, get up early in the morning and go then.

Based on my experience, here are the seven things to do that are free or inexpensive if you only have a few days to visit the city:

1) WALK THE BROOKLYN BRIDGE AT NIGHT! I have been to NYC so many times and lived there for five weeks over the summer and it wasn't until my most recent trip, that I finally walked the bridge. Take the train to the Brooklyn side and walk over to the Manhattan side at night for the most spectacular views of the cityscape and the Manhattan Bridge. All free! Tip and short cut: Take the C Train to High St., cross the street to the park, veer left and walk on the path (about 15 feet) and you will see a staircase on your left built into the bridge. That will lead you to the entrance where all those infamous photos are taken!

Another TIP: Take a short subway ride to DUMBO (in cover photo) to view side of Brooklyn Bridge with Manhattan landscape; great at sunset too!)

2) ROCKEFELLER CENTER; LIGHT DISPLAY AT SAKS AND FOUNTAIN IN FRONT OF RADIO CITY MUSIC HALL. Again, all free! But, if you want the best experience and that instagramable selfie in front of these, don't go at night when its too crowded. Sneak peak on my instagram here:

3) Afterward, WALK DOWN 5TH AVE. to see more window lights and architecture including the New York Public Library.

4) WASHINGTON SQUARE PARK in Greenwich Village. What can I say? It's just iconic and must be experienced at least once in a lifetime!

Fun Fact: the stone arch was built by Architect Stanford White between 1890-1892 to replace the wooden arch erected in 1889 for the centennial of the inauguration of George Washington.

5) Then walk a few minutes to 129 MacDougal St. in the Village for some hot chocolate or espresso (there's an elaborate coffee and full drink menu) and great food (lunch, dinner or dessert) at La Lanterna di Vittorio (pictured), one of my favorite restaurants in the city which feels like a trattoria I've been to in Italy. Sit in the back enclosed garden (open year-round) or near the fire place. Plus, a great value - lunch specials under $15 and desserts under $8, and live jazz calendar (reserve ahead).

Or take a short walk to Mulberry St. in Little Italy for Lombardi's Pizza, first pizzeria in U.S., or try at least one of the many desserts at Caffe Palermo.

6) BRYANT PARK WINTER VILLAGE - NYC's winter wonderland with free ice skating (if bring your own skates). Reserve time ahead.

7) VISIT ST. PATRICK'S CATHEDRAL, ORIGINAL ST. PAT'S OLD BASILICA IN NOLITA or local church (you're bound to see it simply and beautifully decorated).



Best little secret in Manhatten is I was lucky enough to find this zen place over the summer and have stayed at both of their locations in Chelsea and the East Village, including during my recent stay in December. Both places are clean, inexpensive, have wi-fi, include simple breakfast, have friendly, helpful staff and linens are so comfortable and soft. As a female solo traveler, I also felt safe here. You can also contact

At the Chelsea location on 8th Avenue (a five minute walk from Madison Square Garden and Penn Station) accommodations are very small (basically a tiny pod room with a cot size bed and nightstand) but perfect for a solo traveler on a budget. Only about $70/night (a great value in December in NYC) and includes a communal bathroom, small lounge area and kitchen where there's always an abundance of complimentary fruit, sprawled neatly on the kitchen shelf.

At the East Village location on E. 3rd St., it's more like a cozy B&B ($110/night) with a few separate bedrooms (much larger than the Chelsea location); the room I stayed in can sleep three people. With soft background music playing continuously in the kitchen and lounge area, I immediately felt calm after a hustle-bustle day in the city.

What's also great about staying at Interfaith is that funds from their accommodations support their mission to provide hot meals to the homeless and those in need where they do daily pop-up serving kitchens on the street in Chelsea and the E. Village (near entrance of Tompkins Square Park). Guests can volunteer to help during their stay, which I have.


- Amtrak is a much more time-consuming way to travel but this time of year is at least $200 less round-trip than air travel.

- Take the subway or walk! A one-way subway ride is just $2.75 (with Metro Card) vs. an equivilent distance taxi ride which could be a minimum of $30 and likely, much more! Download the "My MTA" app for schedules, up-to-the-minute timing, etc. It took me a little while but I am no longer intimidated by the subway system in New York. It is fast, convenient and best value!

All photos by me.

For more NYC (and elsewhere) travel tips and photography, follow #redressjourney on instagram @lisasjourney7

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