Tips for Brits: Thanksgiving in NYC

If you’re a typical Brit like me Thanksgiving is something you will only know about through watching American TV shows.  We know it’s something about food, family and pilgrims but we don’t know more then that or ever think about it.  So imagine my total surprise when I mentioned to a friend the dates we were traveling to NYC and she pointed out that we were going over Thanksgiving.  There it loomed, on day four of our trip and we had no idea what it really meant to be in America during this period.  I found there was surprisingly little information on NYC during Thanksgiving considering that it is the home of the famous Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which is watched on TV across all states in a way I imagine is comparable to us watching the Queen’s speech on Christmas day.  I dreamed of some homely American family taking pity on us and inviting us kindly strangers in to join in their traditional family feast, but obviously that didn’t happen!  I had to make the most of it and take the bull by the horns, so here’s what we discovered about celebrating NYC as a Brit with no clue!

It’s Absolutely Freezing!

I knew NYC could get cold, we’ve all seen the snow filled sitcoms, but the temperature and the level of cold I actually felt seemed to have little correlation.  It snowed a little during the first day but nothing major and the temperatures were about the same as they were at home in London, so why was I shivering in my boots and taking any shelter I could get?  I think it has a lot to do with New York’s famous grid layout, sure it’s so much easier to find your way around with everything so neat then it is in crazy, crowded London but it is also effectively a wind tunnel!  The minute the wind picks up from one side of the island the wind travels the whole way through the city, so you are constantly subjected it wind chill to the bone.  We thought we were prepared, we knew where the nearest Starbucks were for hot drinks, we had thickest of thick tights, jeans, cardigans, jumpers, hats, coats, the whole shebang!  Still it wasn’t enough, Harry was wearing two pairs of jeans and was still freezing.  New York winters aren’t things to be messed with, pack thermals!


Coming from London I am used to city crowds but I had got it into my head rather stupidly that the crowds would thin out the closer we got to Thanksgiving.  The day before Thanksgiving is the biggest travel day in the US, everyone travels home to spend it with their families.  London is dead over Christmas so I reasoned New York would be the same.  Nope!  The crowds were actually fairly minimal when we arrived at the start of the week and just built day by day.  New York is home to Macy’s Day Thanksgiving Parade so I really should have expected this and yet….

Fall in NYC is Beautiful!

Ok so it’s cold and it gets dark quick but NYC in the fall is really stunning.  There’s an excited, holiday atmosphere about the place and the crisp blue skies against the autumn leaves are so beautiful, and nowhere is this more noticeable than in central park!

Almost Everything is Closed

This is the thing that most upset me when I found out we were going to be there over Thanksgiving, the city is basically shutdown.  Treat it the same as you would if you were exploring a city on Christmas Day.  Food-wise you will find places open (more on this in a sec) but with attractions you are limited to the NYC Zoo (which didn’t interest me) and the Empire State Building (which did thankfully).  We filled our day by having a Thanksgiving lunch, spending time in Central Park before it got dark, then heading to the Empire State Building to see the city at night.  

Get Your Thanksgiving Meal Booked ASAP!

Once I’d realised we were there on Thanksgiving this is one of the first things I did, it was actually really hard trying to choose where to go, especially on a budget.  In the end we settled for The Smith which had a special set menu for the day.  It was a modern twist on the traditional dinner and to be honest I’d have rather had a traditional experience but places sold fast.  The meal was good but I don’t feel like I got a very authentic experience.  

You get a Preview of the Famous Christmas Decor

New York is known as one of the best places to be during the Christmas season, it’s magical.  Whilst the official start of the Christmas period in New York is usually classed as the first Monday after Thanksgiving, much of the Christmas decor is already there to see.  In fact when walking through city in the afternoon on Thanksgiving we stumbled upon Saks Fifth Avenue Store which had its christmas lights dancing to music, it was quite spectacular!  I got the impression that Thanksgiving day only seemed to be really celebrated until after lunchtime, after which life somewhat returned to normal and Christmas was underway!

If You Want to See the Parade You Need to Get There as Early as 4am

I’ve got to be honest, we totally missed the parade and watched it on TV instead.  We’d only had a few hours sleep when the alarm went off at some crazy time in the morning and it was dark and cold and we just couldn’t do it!  If you do want to see it prepare to line the street in the middle of the night and bring as many warm clothing and layers as you can as it is beyond freezing!

Black Friday

We traveled home on the infamous Black Friday and to be honest it seemed like more of a thing the media were trying to play up then the crazy reality you might expect.  The news on Thanksgiving afternoon and all day Friday kept cutting to empty shopping malls and acting surprised no one was there, the only evidence we saw of it in NYC was a queue for a tech store we stumbled across in the early afternoon of people waiting for the midnight opening but there were only maybe 15 people waiting at that point.  Also I noticed a lot of places had sales at the start of the week then actually put the prices up on Thanksgiving before the Black Friday sale!  The Disney Store was the worst candidate of this as they removed all their sales and replaced it with a lesser one for Black Friday, so you’re not always getting the best deal.  

Expect Road Closures

A fairly obvious one but the evening before thanksgiving and much of the day expect a lot of the streets to be closed for traffic and/or the public so plan ahead!  

Overall out NYC Thanksgiving adventure was a bit of a happy accident.  I don’t think I’d choose to visit at that time of year again just because of all the closures but I’m glad we experienced it.


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