Where’s the best place to spend Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and the start of the holiday season?
New. York. City. The ultimate destination to celebrate our nations holiday paying homage to the pilgrims and our oversized waistlines.
I have spent the past 2 Thanksgiving holidays in New York City, and I am here to give you some tips on traveling the big apple during the third Thursday of November.
My biggest piece of advice is to book your tickets early. Use travel websites such as Priceline or Skyscanner to get the best deals. Both years I booked my tickets in July and the average price for an airline ticket was between $400-$500. I recommend flying out on the Tuesday or Wednesday before, never on Thanksgiving, even if prices drop that day. Once it is time for you to fly out, get to the airport early. Thanksgiving weekend is one of the busiest of the year, and missing your flight could be travel suicide, potentially ruining your entire weekend. I’ve only ever flown into La Guardia Airport, it is a nice airport with easy access to the city by yellow cab, about $30 to get to the city from the airport.
I have been fortunate to be able to stay with a friend who lives in NYC the past two years, but from talking with people who aren’t as lucky while I was in New York, I’ve discovered a few tricks and secrets. Once again, the rule is to book early. Hotels in hotspots like Times Square and the Upper East and West sides fill up quick and get more expensive as demand increases. Hotels in this area include the Trump International Hotel, The JW Marriott Essex House New York, and the Doubletree Guest Suites Times Square New York City, and all of these will give you a great view of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. If you are looking to go a cheaper route, the Hilton New York is a prime location for parade viewing with a lower price tag. Brooklyn lodging is also always a more inexpensive option, just be aware that traveling into the city will be more of a hassle and more time-consuming.
What To Do
As far as the Turkey Day Feast goes, most hotels (including the ones I listed) will host a Thanksgiving dinner or buffet, and often when the room is booked, a package including dinner is an option. If you want to escape your hotel for the big meal, many restaurants in NYC serve a Thanksgiving dinner, just make reservations well ahead of your arrival in the big apple.
If you get to New York before Wednesday evening and have the energy to fight a crowd, going to view the inflation of the parade balloons is always a fun thing to do. The balloons are inflated the day before, typically from afternoon until later at night, and can be observed between 77th St. and 81st St off Central Park West.
Obviously, the highlight of a Thanksgiving stay in New York City is going to be the Annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The parade starts at 77th Street and Central Park West and makes its way to 34th Street where it ends in Macy’s Herald Square. If you are in a hotel with a nice view, you can watch the parade free from the crowd and in your pajamas. If you are like me and don’t stay in a hotel along the parade route, there are still solid options.
I have viewed the parade from 72nd and Central Park West, which gave us a good view of the balloons and was not too crowded when we got there 2 hours before the parade started, but be careful which side of the street you stand on. The sun rising from the east can interfere with the picture quality of the balloons. I have also viewed the parade from Columbus Circle, which is a great location because it is where the balloons turn down the street, giving viewers a more complete image of the grandeur of each balloon character. Both of these locations are great for a parade goer, just be sure to get there early. The parade starts at 9 a.m. and getting to a selected spot of viewing two hours prior is a must.
Beware of the crowds, people may try to shove their way in front of you, but stand firm and hold your ground. Also, stay away from groups with small children, from what I have encountered, their parents bring fold up step ladders so once the floats go by, Timmy the two-year-old will be towering over you, blocking your view. Don’t be too distraught by tall people and clusters in your way, however, the balloons are almost always visible because well, they are way up in the air.
Post-Thanksgiving Activities and fun NYC Finds
The Highline is a mile long park located in NYC that is a beautiful and unique walk to engage in, as it is much freer from tourist saturation than Central Park or other big points of the city. Located at West 22nd Street and 10th Avenue, this park is definitely one of my favorite parts of the city. It was originally an elevated set of railroad tracks, that have now been re-designed as a park, with plenty of green space and plants. Walking through a park that is suspended above the busy streets of the city is definitely a unique experience I would recommend to any traveler to NYC.
Chocoholics, look no further for your fix. Max Brenner, chocolate by the Bald Man is a delightful cafe located right by Union Square at 841 Broadway. Their hot chocolate is incredible, and they have an extensive and impressive menu of pastries as well as breakfast items and desserts. The restaurant is always busy, but don’t let crowds and lines scare you away, I’ve never waited longer than 10 minutes or so for a beverage, and believe me it is well worth the wait. Try a hot chocolate with choco-pops, a crunchy surprise in a favorite drink.
Dylan’s Candy Bar
As long as we are paying tribute to the sweet tooth, another favorite spot of mine is Dylan’s Candy Bar, located at 60th street and 3rd avenue. This candy boutique is a great spot to fill up on a huge variety of sweets and just take in the fantastic decorations and atmosphere of the store. I love getting a bag of a variety of candy and munching on it in the upstairs ice cream parlor area
Moving on from chocolate and candy, the next best thing in New York is the shopping.
Being in NYC over Thanksgiving is tough, however, as the Black Friday crowds will swarm the streets all day and night following turkey dinner.
If you’re like me, you will want to avoid a lot of mainstream chain stores that you can visit in your hometown, and instead, take advantage of the unique markets and independent boutiques scattered throughout New York City. Shopping in New York City is something one should do their own investigating on to personalize the experience, but I’ll include some of my favorite spots.
The Shops at the Bryant Square and Union Square Markets
A collection of local vendors selling everything from cheeses to charm bracelets, popcorn to purses and every trinket in between. These shops are a great place to find unique holiday presents and support local artists and crafters.
When in doubt and feeling the need for retail therapy, SoHo is the word. Tons of stores and a great area in New York to find whatever it is you’re looking for. The list of shops is extensive and many are independent and unique, so its a great place to find items that you might not encounter in your hometown shopping mall.
This street separates Chinatown and Little Italy and is the host to a wide array of kiosk-like stores selling all sorts of products, including a plethora of counterfeit merchandise. Personally, I avoid canal street except for small vendors selling pashmina scarves (which are the PERFECT gift for friends back home, typically $4-$5 each and come in a variety of beautiful colors and patterns).
Restaurants in NYC
New York City is obviously a place for foodies, hosting an enormous list of restaurants, bars, and cafes. If you have never been to New York before, there are a few places I highly recommend checking out.
With locations in Grand Central, Brooklyn and Times Square, you’re guaranteed to be passing by one during your explorations of NYC. Enjoy their world-famous cheesecake and awesome entrees, come hungry and expect to take home leftovers.
This is a great spot in Little Italy. Fantastic Chicken Marsala and various pasta dishes, great for an authentic NYC Italian experience, located at 167 Mulberry Street.
The Oyster Bar
Located in Grand Central Station, this restaurant has an ambiance of being an underwater sea cave with a huge variety of seafood. Although I must say I wouldn’t give this restaurant an excellent rating for service and the price for the quality of food is hard to justify, it is still a cool spot that is worth checking out.
Look no further for French fare, this restaurant boasts an extensive menu of excellent traditional French food and serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. An interesting detail about this restaurant is that it operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so it’s a great spot to stumble to for night owls.
My friends and I stumbled upon this place while on a quest for some Thai food. There are several locations in NYC, including the Upper East Side, West Village, and Union Square. Amazing food at great prices, the typical person can expect to pay between $10-$20, which is inexpensive for Asian food. I highly recommend their pad thai and Thai iced tea
That’s all for now, folks, I hope you find this information helpful as you plan your holiday travel to change up your annual Thanksgiving experience!