It’s no secret that New York is one of the best cities in the world for shopping. The city is home to a long list of famous department stores such Macy’s, Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdale’s - a store whose ‘little brown bags’ have become as much of a fashion accessory, as the designer products sold within the store.
There’s also a wealth of smaller stores in New York that hold up the city’s world class reputation for shopping breaks, including boutiques on the famous streets of Fifth Avenue and Madison Avenue.
New York is a great destination at Christmas time, regardless of whether you’re here to shop or not. Most of the famous landmarks are decorated for the occasion, especially Central Park (home to a giant ice skating rink), the Rockefeller Christmas Centre and the traditional Macy’s window display. Couple these displays with the amazing shopping opportunities in the city and you’ll soon see why New York remains one of the world’s favourite destinations for a Christmas break.
The heart of shopping in New York is found in the borough of Manhattan, which is traditionally the most upper class borough in New York. While you may find the best flea markets in Brooklyn, the stores that spring to mind when you think about shopping in New York are mainly found in Manhattan.
If you’re looking for a festive shopping experience to remember, you’ll find it in New York’s big department stores. The stores take decoration to a whole new level. A long standing tradition in New York is the department store window display. The big stores such as Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, Barney’s, Bergdorf and Saks all compete with each other to make the most ambitious window display. The results are simply breathtaking.
The stores are also just as festive as they are on the outside, with each store hosting a Santa’s Grotto. Macy’s in particular goes all out with their grotto and is the classic choice for those wanting to visit Santa. Most New York natives have a story about visiting Santa at Macy’s in their youth - it’s a tradition that lives on to this day. The stores also hire a lot of seasonal staff for the Christmas period, including a lot of friendly sales people who are more than happy to help you with your gift buying.
Most of the department stores are located on Fifth Avenue, one of the most famous shopping streets on the planet. Many famous brands also have outlets on Fifth Avenue, such as Armani, Gucci, Cartier and Ralph Lauren. Fifth Avenue is also home to the iconic glass cube-shaped Apple Store, which is amazingly New York’s 5th most photographed building. Not a bad rank for a city that includes the Empire State Building and the Rockefeller Centre!
Although not quite as famous as its neighbour to the east, Madison Avenue, has become almost as synonymous with shopping as Fifth Avenue itself. Madison is home to some slightly more boutique brands than Fifth and focuses more on quirky fashion. Both Avenues make the most of the Christmas season, with the attention to detail that many have come to expect from Northern Manhattan. The brands also have sales, meaning you can save a fortune on high fashion!
Eventually the glitz and glamour of Manhattan can become overwhelming. For this we recommend you take your shopping trip over to the borough of Queens, where you will find the Queens Centre Mall. The mall features several more high street-based stores like H&M and Forever 21, but also includes a Macy’s and Armani Exchange, providing a break from the glamour of Manhattan but still giving you access to the high life.
A trip between neighbourhoods can save you a small fortune in prices! The mall puts on a smaller Christmas display than Manhattan, which can feel rather homely after the extravagance of Fifth Avenue,
Finally, if you wish to escape the traditional shopping experience altogether, we recommend moving boroughs once again to the trendy Brooklyn district, home of Williamsburg and the iconic Brooklyn Flea. The Brooklyn Flea is a huge market full of antique furniture, vintage clothing and collectibles as well handmade crafts, jewellery and clothing from local artists and craftsman. The Flea is a great place to pick up a Christmas present for your quirkier or less fashion conscious friends and family.
New York offers one of the best shopping experiences in the world, but that can mean that certain products can be expensive. But that’s not to say you can’t still enjoy the New York shopping experience on a budget, you just have to be a little bit savvier.
If you’re looking for bargains and gifts that will be less expensive abroad than back in the UK, you’ll need to shop like a true New Yorker. The best deals are out there on a New York Christmas shopping break, if you know where to look! We recommend shopping out of town.
One of the best out of town shopping experiences can be found at Woodbury Common Premium Outlets in Central Valley, roughly 50 miles north of the city, with tour buses and shuttles buses making regular trips between the two. Woodbury features over 220 designer stores, including Chanel and Calvin Klein, that are a fraction of the price of their stores in the city. Woodbury is decorated for the season at Christmas time is famous locally for its Boxing Day sales.
For even better deals, you can venture out of the state entirely to New Jersey. New York City is on the border of New York State and New Jersey, which means that you can cross the state line without travelling far at all. The easiest way to do this is to get the bus from Port Authority Bus Terminal to The Mills at Jersey Gardens shopping centre. The Mills is home to many high end stores Saks Fifth Avenue Off 5th and Michael Kors. Like Woodbury Commons, The Mills offers many of the same items that you would find on Fifth Avenue but at a considerable out of state discount.
Holidays to New York can be rather expensive, especially if you intend to do your Christmas shopping while you are there. There is a great way to offset this cost though, and that is to shop smartly. Many items in the USA are much cheaper than they are in the UK, meaning that with some careful planning and reading up on custom laws, you could theoretically make a profit on your Christmas shopping break to New York.
Apple products have a huge markup on the price when they are shipped to the UK. A Macbook Pro costs £200 more in the UK than the exact same model does in the USA. The Daily Mail published an article in 2014 that worked out that you could actually save £26 on an iMac buy flying to the USA to buy one and bring it back! Apple also uses universal power, which means you will not need a transformer to plug in or charge your products back home. If you are in the market for a new computer or tablet, then waiting to buy one on your trip to New York could go a huge way to offsetting the cost of your trip.
Clothing is another item that is routinely cheaper in the US, especially in terms of American brands. For example, a pair of Levi’s 511 flagship jeans starts at £65 in the UK and can easily stretch past the £100 mark. Some stores in New York carry them from as little as $20! There’s a similar trend for other American brands such as Tommy Hilfiger, DKNY and Ralph Lauren.
Alcohol is also cheaper in the USA, although the main difference is in the price of a drink on a night out. Bottles of spirits and champagne are usually a couple of dollars cheaper, although not enough to take up room in your case that could be used for items with a higher markup. The good news though is that a drink in a bar or restaurant can be nearly half the price that it is in the UK, even in the more expensive establishments of New York. So while it may not make sense to stock up on Cristal to bring home, at least you can treat yourself to a few glasses at night without feeling guilty!
On the other hand, you will want to fight the base instinct that seems to hit most British people on holiday to stock up on cigarettes for friends and family. While a pack of 20 can cost less than $5 in Arizona, each state sets their own tax rates on tobacco and New York has the highest, costing on average $13, making it the only state that is actually more expensive than the UK.
No matter how much you may want to, you can’t spend your entire Christmas break to New York shopping, or you will eventually drop. This is a blessing though as if you were to be constantly shopping you would miss out on some of the amazing festivities that the city of New York puts on every year!
Christmas starts early in New York. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade ends with Santa riding in on his sled and stopping at the stores famous window that will hold the centrepiece of their decorations. St. Nick truly brings the season in in style!
One of classic Christmas time activities in New York is to go ice skating in Central Park on the iconic Wollman Rink. This timeless new York landmark has been featured in a range of films set around Christmas time, from Serendipity to Home Alone 2.
If it’s your first Christmas shopping trip to New York, be sure to catch the Radio City Christmas Spectacular at the Radio City Music Hall. This 90 minute show features 140 performers and an original musical score. The show combines music, dancing and comedy but the overall stars are The Rockettes, who are a women’s precision dance troupe. The show has been a New York Christmas institution since 1933.
The biggest event in the new York Christmas calendar though is the Rockefeller Centre Christmas Tree Lighting. The tree is usually up to 100 feet tall and is the most extravagantly decorated Christmas tree on the planet. This year’s lighting ceremony takes place on Wednesday the 30th of November and will feature two hours of live performances before the lighting.
New York is a huge city, meaning that if you book your hotel blind you could end up having a commute to the shopping centres that could take hours. Thankfully the areas around the best stores tend to have pretty distinct names, which make remembering them easier. Again, you will most likely want to book a hotel in Manhattan to be near the shops, but there are other options.
Midtown is the closest area to the major centres, like Fifth Avenue and Macy’s for shopping, and the Rockefeller Centre and Radio City Music Hall for Christmas entertainment. Midtown is incredibly handy for those planning to do some serious shopping, as it is only a short walk to drop off all of your bags. The only downside is Midtown is one of the most expensive areas in the whole of the city.
A cheaper option to Midtown is the Upper East Side, just above Central Park. The Upper East Side is the closest area to Madison, the major alternative to Fifth Avenue. The relationship between the Upper East Side and Midtown closely resembles that of their main shopping streets, the Upper East Side is slightly cheaper yet slightly more quirky than Midtown.
If the stores are the only thing that attracts you to Manhattan and you would rather spend your nights somewhere with a more interesting crowd we recommend considering the Williamsburg Neighbourhood of Brooklyn. Known as the “hipster capital of New York”, Williamsburg has many quirky and niche bars and restaurants that are guaranteed to be unlike anything you’ve seen before. There is even a shopping benefit as Williamsburg is home to the Brooklyn Flea on Sundays.
You have a variety of options when it comes to getting around the shopping districts of New York, including walking, cabs, buses and the subway. There are benefits to each but it really depends on your specific needs as to which would be best for you.
New York is a large city, but thankfully the shopping district is a fairly compact region of Manhattan. This means that it can be rather easy to walk between destinations. The benefits here are that you can take in the scenery and atmosphere and do some window shopping. The downsides are that it can be easy to get lost for first time visitors and of course it can get tiring carrying around all of your bargains all day!
The most iconic form of travelling in New York is the traditional yellow taxi that has been featured in countless films and television shows. The taxi is the easiest method of transport around New York, but it also the most expensive. However if it is your first visit to New York we definitely recommend riding in a taxi at least once, just for the experience.
If the taxi is the most iconic method of transportation in New York then the subway isn’t far off. The subway is cheap and very convenient but suffers the same setback as all subway systems, such as overcrowding and confusing layouts for first timers. Some of the handy subway stations for a Christmas shopping break in New York are: 34th Street-Herald Square for Macy’s, Lexington Avenue/59th Street for Bloomingdales, Fifth Avenue-59th Street for Saks Fifth Avenue, Woodhaven Boulevard for the Queens Centre Mall and the Rockefeller Centre has its own station.
The final way to get around New York is by bus. The bus system in New York is very similar to that of other cities. The bus is very cheap in New York, a one day pass is only $2.50 for unlimited travel around the city, saving you even more cash to spend on Fifth Avenue!
The important thing to remember when taking a Christmas shopping break to New York is the fact that you will have to bring your purchases back with you. Unfortunately this is more complicated than keeping within the baggage allowance that your airline gives you. You are limited to the amount of certain items that you can bring into the UK, such as alcohol and tobacco and since New York is outside the EU, you will face stricter limits.
Alcohol is one of the most heavily regulated items to import to the UK due to the high tax that the government puts on it. Ironically, this is the same reason that alcohol is usually cheaper in other countries. If you are over 17, you are allowed to bring 16 litres of beer and 4 litres of non sparkling wine and can choose between bringing one litre of spirits over 22% or two litres of fortified or sparkling wine and other alcoholic drinks under 22%. You can mix these limits however, for example you could bring back half a litre of vodka over 22% and a litre of champagne under 22% as both equal half of your limit.
Even though tobacco is expensive in New York it is still worth knowing the limits that you can bring into the UK. You are limited to 200 cigarettes, 100 cigarillos, 50 cigars and 250g of rolling/pipe tobacco. As with alcohol, you can mix this limit and for example bring back 25 cigars and 125g of rolling tobacco.
If you wish to bring back any more alcohol or tobacco you can, you will just have to duty, which can add up and may counter any savings so it is always worth taking the time to work out if you are still saving money. An run through of the rates for both excess alcohol and tobacco can be found on the government’s website.
You will also have to pay customs duty on any items worth over £390, this is 2.5% on products worth up to £630. Any products worth over £630 is subject to different charges based on the type of product. The government recommends calling their VAT, Customs and Excise Helpline ahead of time if you know that you will be bringing back any item worth more £630. It should also be noted that the limits apply to the item’s value in the UK, so for example if you bought an iPad that only costs $300 in the USA but the UK price is inflated to £500 you will have to pay customs duty.
If Christmas shopping breaks to New York sound like your ideal holiday, why not visit our website for cheap holidays to New York and many other destinations?