Looking for seasonal cheer without inflated prices? Then take your holiday spirit on the road — after Christmas.
It’s the season of lights, holiday markets and caroling. And it’s also a time of crowds and inflated hotel rates.
But many cities keep the seasonal lights on in January, when the throngs and prices ease. Many also add events to entice travelers, including food and arts celebrations.
The following cities make a thrifty financial case for celebrating the holidays in January.
Most of the seasonal displays in Chicago are up through Jan. 5, including the ZooLights at the Lincoln Park Zoo (free admission); Lightscape, a mile-long illuminated path with a tunnel and singing trees, at the Chicago Botanic Garden (from $17); “Christmas Around the World” at the Museum of Science and Industry, featuring more than 50 lighted trees (from $19.95); and heli-holiday light tours with Chicago Helicopter Experience ($159.99 a passenger).
The family-friendly Fifth Third Bank Winter Wonderfest at Navy Pier continues through Jan. 12 with an indoor holiday playground, inflatable slides, aerialist shows and carnival rides (from $20).
A Chicago resident, I start every New Year’s Day at the Skating Ribbon at Maggie Daley Park, an outdoor ice path (free; skate rentals from $13). There’s also free skating at nearby Millennium Park (through March 8).
It may be freezing, but as far as crowds go, January is an uncongested month to visit Chicago, with added attractions that include the Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival (tickets from $15; Jan. 9 to 19) and Chicago Restaurant Week (Jan. 24 to Feb. 9).
As the temperatures drop, so do hotel rates. The first weekend in January, Expedia recently had rates at the Ace Hotel Chicago at $131, about $100 less than in mid-December.
For 90 years, the Plaza Lights have brightened 15 blocks of buildings on Country Club Plaza, a Spanish-inspired shopping district built in 1922. Strings of lights outline rooflines, corners and windows though Jan. 12.
“Kansas City is a Sister City with Seville, Spain, and much of the architecture of the plaza looks like Seville,” said Diana Lambdin Meyer, a Kansas City-based freelance writer who has written travel guides to Kansas. “It has beautiful Moorish architecture you don’t expect to see in the Midwest and if you go late at night, when there are no cars and a little snow on the ground, it’s magical.”
At downtown’s Crown Center, the Mayor’s Christmas Tree — this year a 100-foot-tall conifer decorated in 10,600 white bulbs — will remain in place through Jan. 5. But ice skating at the adjacent Crown Center Ice Terrace will continue through March 8 (admission $7; rentals $4).
In recent searches, the Sheraton Kansas City Hotel at Crown Center didn’t show much fluctuation in rates between December and January, starting at around $134 on Orbitz. But a stay at the art-filled 21c Museum Hotel Kansas City dropped by about $100 a night in January to around $225.
Post-holiday, visitors can also take advantage of Kansas City Restaurant Week, which runs Jan. 10 to 19, featuring menus at $15 and $35 at more than 200 restaurants.
New York City
The epicenter of Manhattan holiday décor, Rockefeller Center, will keep its 77-foot-tall Norway spruce tree, strung with five miles of wire and 50,000 lights, illuminated until mid-January.
There are more displays in other boroughs, including Queens, where the Hello Panda Festival at Citi Field features seasonal light displays, contemporary art exhibitions and interactive games through Jan. 26 (adult admission from $25). Staten Island’s Winter Lantern Festival runs to Jan. 12 (from $23). In the Bronx, the New York Botanical Garden runs its Holiday Train Show through Jan. 26 (from $23) and the Bronx Zoo turns on its holiday lights Jan. 3 to 5 (from $22.95).
Hotel savings are significant: In early January, rates at the W New York – Times Square could be found on Google for $156 a night, hundreds of dollars cheaper than on a mid-December weekend.
“Travel in January is just so much more astoundingly affordable in New York,” said Pauline Frommer, the editorial director of Frommer’s and author of “Frommer’s EasyGuide to New York City 2020.” For continued festivities, she highlighted the No Pants Subway Ride (Jan. 12), Winter Jazzfest (Jan. 9 to 18) and NYC Restaurant Week, which offers discounts (Jan. 21 to Feb. 9).
Winter, she added, “is risky weather-wise, but so much of the action in New York is inside that it really doesn’t matter as much.”
During the holidays in San Antonio, more than 2,200 strings of lights drape the bald cypress trees that line the riverside public walkway known as the Riverwalk and stay in place through Jan. 13. Nearby, a new outdoor ice rink joins the 50-foot Christmas tree in downtown Travis Park, open for skating through Jan. 31 (admission $10; skate rentals $4). About three miles north, Light the Way, an installation illuminating the University of the Incarnate Word, runs through Jan. 6.
Reflecting its Latin American culture, San Antonio widely celebrates Three Kings Day, the day the three wise men presented Jesus with gifts, according to the Bible. The Puerto Rican Heritage Society Fiesta de los Tres Reyes takes place Jan. 5 and includes music and a telling of the story at downtown’s San Fernando Cathedral (free). In addition to its display of nine million lights, SeaWorld San Antonio will stage appearances by the kings from Jan. 1 to 5 (admission from $54.99).
David Gonzalez, the spokesman for Visit San Antonio, said hotel rates ran 5 percent lower last January versus December 2018. This year, several hotels are offering holiday packages, including the Hilton San Antonio Hill Country where rates start at $89 and include complimentary s’mores kits, outdoor movies and shuttles to SeaWorld through Jan. 13.
Many of the lights of London switch off after Jan. 5, including the LED curtain lights on Oxford Street and Hyde Park Winter Wonderland’s ice rink, roller coasters and an ice bar (free admission). But some remain on longer, including “Chromotherapy Christmas” at Eccleston Yards, featuring 500 suspended orbs in colors said to energize, calm or evoke happiness (free; through Jan. 11).
Others switch on in January, such as the Winter Lights installation at Canary Wharf, promising more than 25 installations that include grids of dangling light strings, illuminated fountains and projected images (free; Jan. 16 to 25). Lightopia comes to Chiswick House and Gardens Jan. 22 to March 1 (from 20 pounds, or about $26.25).
In addition to being free, many London museums, including the Tate Britain and Tate Modern, are less crowded.
“While January is one of the colder months in the capital, I’d argue that this provides the perfect opportunity to buy a new sweater in the famous January sales,” Laura Citron, the chief executive of London & Partners, the city’s tourism agency, wrote in an email. Most sales, often the only sale of the year, run through the month.
It’s also sale season at hotels. Google recently showed rates from $184 at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel London – Tower of London on a mid-December weekend versus $119 in early January.