Yes, yes so we’re not supposed to mention the ‘C’ word before 1st December, but we’ve put together a Christmas shopping guide covering all of the best NYC neighbourhoods so you can get planning your winter holiday. Find department stores and their must-see festive window displays, cool vintage boutiques and some thrifty markets with our helpful guide.
You won’t have to lug your Christmas shopping loot far either because we can suggest some nearby hostels and cheap New York hotels. The sooner you can book the better. Leave it too late and all the best deals will be gone faster than Santa scoffing his milk and cookies.
Lower East Side, Soho & Little Italy
Generation-old Italian trattorias and Chinese food markets fall over each other in this spaghetti junction of accents, cultures and cuisines. Historically the wave of immigrants descending on the area made it the under-dog of Manhattan, now it thrives on quirky markets (got an eye for faux designer handbags?) and excellent thrift and vintage clothing stores.
There are quite a few university dorms in the neighbourhood so it’s not hard to stumble on cosy bookshops, coffee shops, open-mic nights and cheap bars. Yes, it might have become a star studded joint since it featured in When Harry Met Sally, but Katz’s Deli really is the best traditional Jewish deli in New York City. And after all, you’ll need plenty of sustenance before hitting the shops!
Shopping highlights: Catch the Hester Street Fair on Saturdays and Sundays for vintage finds, locally-grown foodie treats and special events like eco-focussed fashion days. The Dressing Room is a vintage exchange, cocktail bar and co-op boutique for up-and-coming designers, all rolled into one. Oh and don’t forget to start calling the area the LES too!
Accommodation: On Manhattan’s oldest thoroughfare, The Sohotel is budget New York accommodation at its best. The sparkley Christmas decorations add to the lovely interior design with bare brick walls, dark wooden floors and plush furnishings. For added luxury, all rooms come with Therapedic mattresses, complimentary toiletries and plasma TVs. Private rooms from €30pppn.
Chelsea & Meatpacking District
Things are a little less structured round here and combine a few cobbled streets with historic landmark buildings once home to artists and writers and you have yourself a European vibe. The utilitarian warehouses of the Meatpacking District now house chic industrial-style bars, restaurants and clubs. It also attracts a large gay community and squeezes in a few hundred art galleries dotted between 20th and 28th street.
In this buzzing neighbourhood, you might think there’s no chance of peace and quiet but a derelict elevated railway has recently been transformed into a mile-and-a-half long “park in the sky”. The newly named High Line runs through the Meatpacking District and is a sanctuary from the crowds and beeping of cabs.
Shopping highlights: Opening Ceremony is something of a landmark on the New York City shopping scene. Chelsea Market is one for the foodies and those with an eye for architecture. It’s housed in a restored New York cookie factory close to the High Line. Bloomingdale’s (junior) is handy if you don’t fancy the crowds and a trek to the Upper East Side.
Accommodation: Housed in a recently renovated 19th-century townhouse, Chelsea Inn provides individually furnished private rooms, studios and suites fitted with kitchenettes. They’ve great transport links and throw in with the deal a free daily breakfast voucher for the neighbouring family-run bakery, Nana Treats. Private rooms from €37pppn.
Upper East Side
It’s the more conservative and wealthy side of Manhattan. Safe, a little more family-orientated but rather charming too with old brownstone townhouses and historic mansions – classic New York. Here you’ll find Museum Mile (Jewish Museum, Guggenheim, Central Park Zoo and the Met) and joggers pounding alongside the East River or circling the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir. You’re also close to Central Park with plenty of breathing space if you fancy a break from Christmas shopping!
Shopping highlights: The staple New York department stores, Barneys and Bloomingdale’s always put on plenty of festive good cheer. Madison Avenue is a mecca for designer and couture labels. But even if you can’t blow the budget, you can at least dreamily soak up the elegant window displays.
Upper West Side
A great place to avoid the tourists, this neighbourhood is culturally rich with museums and performing arts venues including Broadway’s Lincoln Center with the New York State Theatre, the Metropolitan Opera House and the Avery Fisher Hall, home to the New York Philharmonic. The area’s best known resident was John Lennon and Strawberry Fields is just across the road.
It’s easy to understand why this largely residential neighbourhood is home to the rich and famous! You’re off the main tourist drag, sandwiched between two of New York’s most picturesque parks, Central and Riverside but the lights of Times Square are easy to get to. There’s pleasant strolling along Central Park West, West End Avenue and Riverside Drive which are primarily residential streets with lovely brownstone, landmark buildings.
Shopping highlights: A few big names along Columbus Avenue, but mostly boutiques and charming one-off shops. On Sundays, try the Greenflea Market (MS 44 Junior High) for vintage jewellery, clothing and retro furniture.
Housed in a historic Gothic-style building, Hostelling International-New York is a bustling place with plenty going on. Head to the bar at happy hour for a budget aperitif and join one of the city walking tours. Dorms from €22pppn.
The boutique Broadway Hotel and Hostel shows you can do budget chic. All private and dorm rooms are newly renovated with the private accommodation benefitting from TVs and iPod docking stations. The subway is 2 blocks away and guests can use the internet kiosks, cook in the stylish kitchen or hang out in the plush lounge complete with plasma screen TVs, ideal for watching movies. Private and dorm rooms from €25pppn.
There are pros and cons to being in the very centre of any city. Yes, although you yourself are a tourist, that doesn’t necessarily mean you want to mingle with the throng! With the likes of Times Square, the Rockerfeller Centre and the Empire State building on your doorstep, you better get used to them! However, being central also means you have great transport links so you can head off in all directions and explore.
If you’re here for the twinkling Christmas lights, Rockerfeller’s ginormous Christmas tree, Macy’s toy department and Tiffany’s star studded window display never fails to impress. Don’t forget to visit the stunning New York Public Library and you’ll understand why Carrie in SATC fancied it for her wedding venue!
Shopping highlights: This is department store central, especially along the infamous Fifth Avenue so expect some wonderfully Christmassy window displays. Try Tiffany & Co, Bergdorf Goodman (a high end version of New York’s other department stores), Macy’s, Lord & Taylor and Saks. If you fancy something a bit different, try the beautiful Japanese homeware and gifts from Takashimaya.
Broadway Rooms offers dorms, private rooms, apartments and studios all nicely furnished and some boasting romantic four-poster beds. Transport is 2 minutes away and breakfast is included in the private and dorm rooms from €51pppn.
The New York loft-style apartment at Urban Oasis ranked in the top 3 “most popular” in North America for HostelBookers Awards for Excellence 2010. Most rooms overlook the Empire State Building or 5th Avenue. Private rooms from €37pppn.
Every crevice at the Gershwin Hotel is filled with art. They offer a free ‘Art Hike Trail’, the lobby displays ever-changing exhibitions and hosts a number of comedy, music and fundraising events. There’s also a cafe specialising in locally-sourced produce. Dorm rooms from €29pppn.
Brooklyn: Williamsburg, Prospect Park and Clifton Hill
Perhaps you’ve visited New York before and fancy seeing a different side to the city, or perhaps you just can’t stand the tourist throng in the centre. Either way, Brooklyn is an easy 20 minute subway ride from Manhattan so getting to the sights in the centre is no problem.
At Christmastime you’ll need to brace yourself for a walk along the Coney Island boardwalk or across the Brooklyn Bridge offering a fantastic view of the NYC skyline. The neighbourhoods in Brooklyn offer a little insight into leafy suburbs and small town Americana with elegant brownstone buildings. Exchange Broadway for BAM (the Brooklyn Academy of Music) or visit the Brooklyn Art Museum on the first Saturday every month when it stays open until 11pm hosting talks, films and DJ sessions.
Shopping highlights: There’s something for everyone. Thrift hunters, head to Williamsburg and Beacon’s Closet for vintage designer bargains. Bedford Avenue and Grand Street is home to quirky boutiques and Park Slope’s Fifth Avenue has cool homeware, jewellery and fashion. Most of NYC turns up on Sundays for antique and indie buys at the Brooklyn Flea Market in Fort Greene.
Lefferts Manor Bed & Breakfast is a 19th century Brooklyn townhouse and a homely B&B on a historic tree-lined street. The interior is cosy with antique furniture and a well-stocked library. The nearby express trains will have you in Manhattan within 20 minutes but the surrounding area of Prospect Park and Park Slopes is charming to explore. Private rooms from €40pppn.