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New York in December: Big bargains in the Big Apple

by , SmarterTravel Staff
Photo: NYC & Company
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on December 9, 2004. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: destination, guided tour, holiday, New York City, Rebecca Johnson, seasonality, shopping, vacation package, winter.

For many, the holiday season starts with Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade and ends when the ball drops in Times Square on New Year's Eve. Yet New York City has much to offer throughout the holidays: festivities, performances, and most importantly, bargains.

Why go in December?

As soon as Thanksgiving ends, visitors flock to New York for tree-lighting ceremonies and holiday shopping. Unfortunately, this is precisely the wrong time to go looking for a bargain. The first two weeks of December have the most expensive hotel rates of the year, and many hotels are completely booked. Fortunately, beginning the third weekend of the month, business travel dwindles considerably, resulting in better hotel rates for leisure travelers. These rates are among the lowest you'll find all year.

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Holiday performances and activities

Between holiday-themed performances, department store display windows, and illuminated buildings and plazas, New York City in December is a winter wonderland. The Radio City Christmas Spectacular features performances by the Rockettes and has up to five show times per day. This means tickets are usually easier to buy last-minute than shows that perform just once or twice a day like the New York City Ballet's Nutcracker. Tickets for the Radio City Christmas Spectacular start at $39; and, while perhaps harder to come by, Nutcracker tickets start at just $20.

NYCvisit.com offers added incentive to view the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, by offering a 25-percent discount on select performances of the show and subsequently offering buy-one-get-one-free deals to more than 100 New York City attractions, museums, and stores for Radio City Christmas Spectacular ticket stub holders.

Rockefeller Center, with its holiday tree and ice skating rink, is another popular December attraction. Tours are conducted every day and can be purchased online. However, if your main interest in the center is ice skating, be prepared to spend upwards of $20 for skate time and rental. Still, cheaper ice-skating options are available, including Chelsea PiersÂ' indoor Sky Rink and two rinks in Central Park, all offering skate time and rentals for less.

One of the city's biggest (and cheapest) draws is window shopping along the displays in most of the major department stores. This year, MacyÂ's theme is the Polar Express, but Bloomingdales, Lord & Taylor, Saks Fifth Avenue, and others all have displays as well. If you wish to avoid crowds, youÂ'll have better luck viewing the display windows before and after business hours when shoppers arenÂ't crowding the sidewalks. For more shopping, Bryant Park hosts the Fetes de Noel through January 2, 2005. This traditional European holiday market offers more than 120 shops of handcrafted items.

Decorative lights help to spread holiday cheer throughout the city in December. The Empire State Building is illuminated with blue and white lights for Hanukkah and red and green lights for Christmas. Also, holiday lights cover two miles of trees on Park Avenue, a 17-foot snowflake glows over the intersection of Fifth Avenue and 57th Street, and the world's largest menorah lights up the intersections of Fifth Avenue and 59th Street.

Another entertainment idea is the South Street Seaport tree-lighting celebration. The Big Apple Chorus performs twice a day on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays throughout the holiday season. Or you can catch the Metropolitan Museum of Art's tree-lighting service every Friday and Saturday evening at 7:00 pm.

Special deals

NYC & Company, the city's official tourism site, offers a comprehensive list of holiday entertainment ideas and activities that are either free, cost less than $10, or are otherwise discounted. If you are looking for accommodations, NYC Vacation Packages offers discounted rates on accommodations at some of the better-known hotels with popular holiday entertainment or city tour passes.

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