Thanksgiving in New York City on a Budget

Two years ago my husband and I really wanted to go to New York City for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Since it was our first Thanksgiving on the east coast together, I really wanted Todd to see the parade. My parents took us when we were kids when we lived in New York and it was magical (aside from the fact that I got separated from my family as a 6-year-old, but that’s a different story.) So we started researching how to have a fun trip without blowing our budget.


It’s no secret that New York City is an expensive city, especially during Thanksgiving weekend when tourists come from all over the world to see the famous parade. But just getting into the city can be extremely expensive if you aren’t careful. We knew that just the tolls alone getting into Manhattan would be expensive. Combine that with the outrageous parking garage fees in the city and you have already blown through your budget. So instead of driving all of the way to the city, we decided to take the bus. The bus options are pretty limited from North Carolina, we drove to Lorton, VA to get on the Vamoose Bus to New York City for only $40. The stop at Lorton felt very safe and you can leave your car for free. The bus ride from Lorton is only four and a half hours and the bus doesn’t make any other stops and drops you off right in the city. I recommend using Vamoose or the Bolt Bus over the Greyhound buses since they run straight to New York City from the DC area. Taking the bus allowed us to avoid the expensive toll fees, saved us gas money, and saved us from parking in the city.


Since hotels know that Thanksgiving weekend is a popular time to be in the city, hotel prices can be pretty steep. You’d be surprised at how many awful hotels can get away with hiking up their rates. So, we decided to try AirBnB for the first time, and it did not disappoint! We found two sisters who had a room available within walking distance of Central Park and the parade route. You get what you pay for with AirBnB, but we did not plan on being in our room much during the trip, so if you are looking to relax in a hotel, this may not be the best option for you. There are some beautiful rooms with views of the parade, but be careful because usually you have to commit to the entire week.


On the morning of the parade, we were up and out before 6 a.m. We stopped and grabbed bagels on the way to the parade route and secured our spots on the Central Park side two hours before the start of the parade. Yes, TWO HOURS. When we were kids, I remember sitting and waiting for the parade to start. You’d be surprised how many people try to stand in front of you or try to use the excuse that they have kids and try to stuff them in front of you. I totally get it, but my parents managed to get four kids under nine to the parade coming from Long Island in time to get front row seats, so you just have to plan on getting there EARLY. They also close the street and don’t let people cross to the Central Park side of the street, which makes that side much less crowded, so I highly recommend getting there as early as you can to get a good spot.


All bundled up for the parade: beanies, coats, fleece liners, under armor, hand warmers, scarves, gloves, boots, wool socks, 50 extra layers and STILL freezing but happy!

Remember that it is Thanksgiving and Black Friday, so a lot of restaurants are closed but most of the department stores are open. After the parade we walked through Central Park and grabbed macaroons at our favorite place, Ladurée. We also stopped into a cafe to grab lunch. Todd felt like he was in an episode of Seinfeld. Since so many restaurants are closed around dinner time for the holiday, we didn’t have many dinner options so keep that in mind if you are planning to eat out on Thanksgiving.


Shapeless blob in my many layers, but ready to stuff my face with macaroons!



All of the department store windows are already decorated and the tree is set-up but not lit until the following week. You can skate at the Rockefeller Center and still enjoy the holiday feel of the city. Another way we kept our trip to a budget is we walked A LOT. We occasionally took the subway, but we walked the majority of the city. My cousin is a former New Yorker and came to show us around on Friday for a few hours. Walking really is the best way to get around the city. Cab fares can be extremely expensive, so try to avoid them if you can.


Rainy Timesquare

We also spent our time doing free activities like running in Central Park, browsing the department store Christmas displays, visiting the free museums, waking up early to be part of the Today Show audience, and visiting all of the free sites including the Brooklyn Bridge, Wall Street, the High Line, Grand Central Station, and the Freedom Tower.




Running with my love through Central Park. Nothing motivates you to run like the freezing cold weather in NYC!


NYC Highline

One more piece of advice, it is FREEZING in New York City. The chill is insane and you are almost always in the shade because of all of the tall buildings. Starbucks was our best friend during the trip. I wore tons of layers complete with a set of under armor under my clothes everyday which is why I look so puffy in every picture. Everyone is dressed for warmth, so if you feel like a shapeless blob, just throw on a bright scarf and beanie like I did. Also, it’s not the time to break in new shoes. I even brought an old pair of Uggs and got blisters after the first day and ended up switching to my running shoes. Go for comfort so you can enjoy exploring the city without having to stop at every CVS to stock up on mole skin and bandaids.


Here’s a list of some of the places we ate at:
Eataly- Great Italian market and food.
Eat Here Now- small diner, Todd felt like he was in an episode of Seinfeld.
Laudree- Macaroons
Peanut Butter & Company- Get the Jerry Seinfeld, yum!
The Lobster Place- Lobster roll, shrimp roll, & salmon burger
Au Bon Pain (I have to get a cinnamon scone every time)
John’s Pizzeria
Junior’s (great cheesecake!)
Sprinkles Cupcakes (I always get a cupcake in every city!)
Pick a Bagel

New York City during the holidays is a must see for anyone who loves to travel!



3 thoughts on “Thanksgiving in New York City on a Budget

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