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Thrift Avenue: Save a fortune on Christmas gifts by going on a spree in New York

Published 13/10/2015

The legendary New York skyline.
The legendary New York skyline.
Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York.
Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York.
British Airways operates up to nine daily flights from London Heathrow to New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK)

It’s only 74 days until Christmas and whether we like it or not we are going to soon have to start buying those pressies for our loved ones.

One way of making it a bit easier (and save some money in the process) is to combine a pre-Christmas break with your shopping and where better to do so than New York.

Last year the number of people from the UK who flocked to the Big Apple for some Christmas shopping was up 84% on 2013 (*figures from Some reports said savvy shoppers could save up to £1,000 on gifts in the Big Apple. One of the reasons may be down to research that shows shoppers here are paying up to FOUR times as much for the same Christmas gifts such as toys, gadgets, toiletries and clothes as mall-goers in America.

New York really is a city for all seasons and all tastes but Christmas in the Big Apple is especially magical.

The Christmas season kicks off with the 89th annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade through Manhattan on November 26, a spectacle which will be watched by millions of people.

Be prepared to be mesmerised by the beautiful Christmas themed window displays in stores throughout the city. To help you on your way, here is Sunday Life’s guide to Christmas shopping New York style:

Where to shop

Price tags in the USA don’t show the state and city sales taxes. In New York City they total 8.875 per cent, although clothing and shoes below $55 are tax-free and below $110 subject only to the 4.375 per cent state tax. Stores in the USA don’t go all-out for Christmas until after Thanksgiving, which is always the last Thursday in November. However, everything kicks off the following day. Black Friday is regarded as the beginning of the festive shopping season, when stores open early and slash prices, especially on big-ticket items. These stores are worth a visit:

MACY’S Located in Herald Square (close to The Empire State Building), Macy’s — setting for the Christmas film Miracle on 34th Street and still with its original 1902 wooden escalators in operation — is the world’s largest department store. For sheer breadth of stock it’s hard to beat. You will find mid-priced fashion and designers’ diffusion lines for all ages, along with all the big beauty names. With a million square feet of space for merchandise, the nine sprawling floors offer practically everything you could want. An 11 per cent discount is available to foreign visitors (just take your passport to the Visitor centre for your special discount card). For information see

Bloomingdale’s After all these years, the little brown bag is still a girl’s best friend. The hundred-year-old-plus iconic New York City shopping experience is still dominating 59th Street and Lexington Avenue. Look for both trendy and luxury clothes, shoes, make-up and handbags. It has 10 floors of merchandise, including fashion, cosmetics, children’s clothes, homewear and luggage. The store also offers an 11 per cent discount to visitors from abroad. Visit

Century 21 Serious bargain hunters should head down to 22 Cortlandt Street where the store has bargains galore. Be ready to rummage! Go early in the morning to avoid large crowds. See

Saks The shoe department at this sophisticated store on Fifth Avenue even has its own zip code: 10022-SHOE.  The Saks flagship store occupies an entire city block, and boasts visits to in-store boutiques from the likes of Louis Vuitton and Chanel —

The Apple Store  The glass cube building that houses the store on Fifth Avenue is something to be seen even if you don’t want to join the masses inside. No discounts here but the iPods and iPads should work a little cheaper than back home. Check out the website:

Toys R’ Us This toy mecca in the heart of Times Square is worth a visit. It even has its own Ferris Wheel inside the store for the little ones to ride on.

Woodbury Common Outlet This discount designer village, just an hour’s bus trip from Port Authority, houses 220 high-end stores. Shops here offer between 25 per cent and 65 per cent discounts but at the information desk you can boost your savings by picking up a book of coupons for further reductions. Woodbury Common is a mecca for shopaholics, with top designers such as Tommy Hilfiger and Gucci jostling for space with high street shops such as Gap, French Connection and American Apparel. Check out

DUANE READE This chain of pharmacies offers great value for money. Surprise bargains include Boots No 7 skincare, now sold by Duane Reade pharmacies.

Where to stay

Grand Hyatt New York

With a premier location on 42nd Street between Park and Lexington Avenues, Grand Hyatt New York lies in the heart of midtown Manhattan. Attached to the legendary Grand Central Terminal, Grand Hyatt New York is just steps away from the city's best culture and attractions including Times Square, Broadway, art, culinary experiences and world class shopping. The hotel has 1,306 guest rooms, including 43 suites. Grand Club provides added luxury offering elevator key access, complimentary breakfast, afternoon snacks and evening hors d'oeuvres. For additional information, check out:


Food and drink

In this culinary capital you’ll be very hard pushed to find a meal you don’t like. There literally is something for all tastes. A special highlight on my visit included dinner at Maze by Gordon Ramsay at The London NYC hotel. This eatery showcases French-influenced seasonal cuisine in a casually sophisticated space. The food and the cocktails are all fantastic. Their four course tasting menu is good value at $50 (£33). Dishes include jumbo lump crab cake, lamb t-bone and strawberry shortcake. Visit

A bar with a local connection worth checking out is The Dead Rabbit Grocery & Grog, owned by two Belfast men, which has won the highest accolade in the bar industry.

Owned by former Merchant Hotel employees Jack McGarry and Sean Muldoon, the bar, which I can testify serves up some of the best cocktails you’ll ever taste, has been named the World’s Best Bar and also won the ‘World’s Best Cocktail Menu’ at the 9th annual Tales of the Cocktail’s Spirited Awards.

The three-storey pub in New York’s Financial District is a fusion of history from Lower Manhattan and Irish heritage. The menu includes bangers and mash, smoked salmon devilled eggs, chicken pot pie,  shepherd’s pie, and an Irish breakfast. You can even buy Irish groceries from behind the counter. Check out

What to see

After all that shopping you will have to take in some sightseeing. If you want to feel like a real New Yorker, take a stroll through Central Park, where hundreds of movies have been filmed.

You could also book the On Location Tours’ NYC TV & Movie Tour which will lead you to 40 of New York City’s best filming locations. Expect to see the apartment block from Friends and the Daily Bugle offices from Spider-Man. The NYC TV & Movie Tour runs daily at 10am and costs $43 per ticket. Check out

No trip to New York would be complete without a visit to the top of one of Manhattan’s famous skyscrapers.

You can head to the top of the iconic Empire State Building, the new One World Observatory at One World Trade Center or the ‘Top Of The Rock’ observation deck in the Rockefeller Centre. Built by the philanthropic John D Rockefeller during the Great Depression, ‘ Top Of The Rock’ offers views across Manhattan, overlooking the huge Central Park, up towards the Bronx and Queens as well as New Jersey to the west and Brooklyn to the south and east.

The Rockefeller Centre Christmas Tree Lighting takes place this year on December 2, and the tree can be viewed until early January (

I also took a Circle Line Harbour Lights Cruise around Manhattan. The two-hour boat trip took us past the Statue of Liberty before returning down for an awe-inspiring view of the Manhattan night skyline.

There are lots of festive shows worth catching including the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. It is probably one of the most popular and iconic holiday show in New York. There are up to six performances on some days from when the show starts performances on November 13 through the last show on January 3, 2016. From $105pp —

Of course all the usual shows are also running on Broadway including The Lion King which I would recommend (sing along to your heart’s desire).

Accomplished Belfast actress Rachel Tucker is currently starring as Elphaba in Wicked at the Gerschwin Theatre so also stick that on your to-do list to give her some home support.

Hope this helps you plan that pre-Christmas getaway and if it does don’t forget to bring us something back!

Travel factfile

British Airways operates up to nine daily flights from London Heathrow to New York John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK)

- British Airways provides excellent connectivity into London Heathrow for customers from Northern Ireland operating up to six flights a day from Belfast City Airport to London Heathrow

- All flights from Belfast City Airport now arrive into Terminal 5, the airline’s flagship Heathrow home so there is no need to change terminals when connecting onto long-haul destinations including JFK, allowing for smoother connections as a result.

- British Airways is currently operating a sale fare from Belfast City Airport to JFK with a starting fare of £379.61 return including taxes, charges and fees. The sale is on until October 15, 2015.

    For more information or to make a booking, log on to or contact your local travel agent.

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