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New York City at Holiday Time – Free, Cheap or Worth Every Penny

Every year, the holiday season starts in New York. Children of all ages look for the lights and window displays, before starting their wish lists. Some start behaving extra-nice around Thanksgiving (find the decorations and hoping mom makes our favorite food). Others reserve a favorite spot on the couch. My favorite way to enjoy the holidays: sightseeing.

We’re not talking about your average stroll down a congested sidewalk. My idea of sightseeing consists of one or more of the below:

FREE Gawking at windows of Swarovski, Barneys, Bloomingdales – the list goes on and on. Find the stores that appeal to you, and block out the time to examine every detail.

WORTH EVERY PENNY Enjoying the butterfly conservatory or contemplating a spider silk tapestry at the American Museum of Natural History (or come out Wednesday night before Thanksgiving, and watch as the Macy’s balloons are prepared for the parade on Thursday)

Find updated listings including limited time events, by searching at NewYorkology (they even have NYC webcams, if you want to see the action without actually traveling).

If you have a daughter, you might take her to the American Girl store to help her pick accessories for her doll (maybe surprise her by picking up a doll, customize the features). One or two years ago my daughter and I went with a friend and her daughter. We walked in, marveled at the delicate work being performed at the beauty and hair salon. Before leaving, we were lucky enough to squeeze in for the dinner seating. My daughter did not have her own doll, and the management generously allowed her to choose one as a dinner companion. The meal was elegant but not pretentious. The current sample menu lists choices such as tic-tac-toe pizza, coconut chicken salad,  vegetarian quiche, grilled mahi mahi, apple cinnamon scones or french toast stacks. While we relaxed and enjoyed our meal, we made use of the conversation starter cards available at each table. As to budget, this store and meal are very much worth every penny. Don’t try to skimp on the experience.

For a respite from the crowds, you might stop in at Grand Central Terminal and look up. Yes, look up. Find a corner of the floor, or even better go to the top of the staircase after all the commuters run for their trains, and gaze at the ceiling. Those are astronomical constellations on the ceiling. Every Friday afternoon you can join a 90-minute Grand Tour of the terminal for free. If by chance you buy something at the shops, that’s beyond my control.

New Years Eve ball
New Years Eve ball

On the topic of exploring the neighborhood, this year my daughter and I discovered the Times Square Alliance Visitor Center. The Visitor Center has information and exhibits about the history of Times Square, from grimy and gritty to family-friendly. We watched a newsreel playing, and listened to the practice countdown before shouting out “Happy New Year”. For families with younger kids who fall asleep before the countdown, I highly recommend the Visitor Center.

Walk in, ask an employee about the confetti wishes, and write one. Go ahead, be brave! Drop your wish in the box and smile at midnight on December 31 when all the confetti wishes – including yours – are dropped on the brave souls in Times Square.

My daughter and I wrote our wishes in person, while chatting with the nice young man at the gift shop. We kept a safe distance from the Waterford crystal glasses. They are beautiful, and delicate, and spectacular. Just like the retired New Years Eve ball (also created by Waterford). See for yourself. It cycles through color changes as the countdown plays over the loudspeakers, three times an hour (:05, :25, :45). Once again, this attraction is free.

**UPDATE September 18, 2013 – if you want to submit your wish without traveling to the visitors center (ahem, stuck at work?) you can do it online.

NewYorkology is no longer operating online, but you can search MetroNY (a free newspaper) for events of the day.

The butterfly conservatory at the American Museum of Natural History is scheduled to open on October 12, 2013 and the spider silk tapestry is gone, but I promise it was breathtaking. Check the calendar of events to plan your visit**

I hope this article has given you some ideas for your next visit to New York City. If you have anything to add, please leave a comment below. And wherever you are, don’t complain of boredom. To quote Myrna Loy: “If you’re bored (in New York) it’s your own fault.”

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