I love the buzz of New York City. It’s one of my most favourite places to visit. I love the fact that the population density supports so many small mom and pop owned businesses. Many big cities can start to look very similar with the same globalised, franchised shops in every one. It’s a vibrant, walkable, big city with lots of things happening and fantastic attractions to visit. It is unfortunately, quite an expensive city. Nevertheless, there are still plenty of wonderful things to check out and do if you are on a budget. Here are my favourites.
Check out free attractions.
The stunning Central Park is free, massive and utterly beautiful. I visit every time I am in New York and the park is pleasing in different ways in every season. Check out the Central Park website before you go. They often have free special events and tours. We were lucky to get there when they opened the Hallett Nature Sanctuary to the public. This area is not usually accessible to the public. It’s a pretty, green, rustic haven which is as close to “natural” as you will get anywhere in Manhattan. There were also helpful volunteers happy to discuss their little waterfall or lend you binoculars to spot the cute raccoon sleeping in the tree.
Another free attraction is the 9/11 Memorial Plaza which is set within the footprint of the Twin Towers in downtown Manhattan. It costs to enter the 9/11 Memorial Museum but the plaza is free to access. It’s well worth the trip because the plaza is, in my opinion, is a well executed and touching tribute to those who died.
Suggested Price Only at the Two Big Museums!
The two big museums in Manhattan are definite must-sees in my opinion. Both The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American Museum of Natural History are utterly massive and absolutely stuffed filled with interesting and often astounding treasures. What is less well-known is that the ticket price at these museums is a suggestion only. You can pay as little or as much as you want. Don’t feel bad paying less. Most Manhattan locals never pay the full price to enter.
This is my favourite painting at the MET. It’s an oil painting by Pierre-Auguste Cot called Le Printemps or Springtime. Look at this romantic duo, totally and utterly smitten with each other! Beautiful!
Go up to the MET rooftop garden
This was by far the best tip I have ever received in NYC. When a French expat heard that I was heading to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, he recommended the rooftop garden. You will probably have to ask the museum staff how to get up to the top because it is a little obscure. Do it! Because the rooftop view is stunning. There is an amazing vista in so many directions. Due to the proximity of the museum to Central Park, you are at canopy level to the trees with a view of the skyscrapers of Manhattan as well. It was such a surprise and thrill to find this extraordinary spot!
Look out for “pay what you want” days
Do your research and check if your visit coincides with “pay what you want” times or days at the museum you want to visit. We braved the queue that snaked around the block to enter the Guggenheim museum during a “pay what you want” evening. I’ve adored this Frank Lloyd Wright building since I first saw it. Inside, you ascend the building on an ascending spiral ramp as you view the artworks displayed. It’s a modernist style, clean, white building with curves!
Whilst I love this building, I cannot say the same for the art they choose to display in it. I was so glad that I didn’t pay full price because I thought most of the modern art pieces inside were just terrible!
Go on “Tips Only” walking / food tours.
I love the “tips only” walking tours concept. These tours are often advertised as “free” and the idea is that you tip the tour guide what you think the tour was worth upon completion. I look for these tours in every city I visit and find the vast majority to be informative, fun and excellent value. How can such a good thing be improved upon? Add awesome food to it of course!! I’ve found in London and New York, there are “tips only” food walking tours. They are awesome. A bit of walking, a bit of history, some trivia and lots of delicious food stops along the way. It ticks all my boxes!!! I did the Greenwich Village food tour and the Flatbush Brooklyn Food Tour. Both were delicious and excellent.
My favourite thing about doing these tours is that you end up places that you would never ever find by yourself. In Brooklyn, we were walking on streets lined with these old style family homes. I would never ever expect these stately, beautiful homes set in green leafy streets to exist in Brooklyn, only a short subway ride from the dense, high rises of Manhattan.
Save money by Self Catering
We all know that you can save money by self catering. It’s also much healthier than eating restaurant food 3 times a day. Healthier for your waistline and for your wallet! Enough preaching, here are a couple of weird and bizarre things I learnt when self catering in New York City.
Firstly, there are no cheap, massive grocery shops on Manhattan. Our preferred choice tends to end up being Trader Joe’s as the prices are reasonable for Manhattan. The crazy thing about this shop is the queue’s. At busy times, the queues for the cashiers snake up and down the isles and there is a staff member at the end of the line who holds up a lollipop sign to indicate that “This is the End of the Line!” I’ve never seen anything like it!
Secondly, Halloween is big business in the US. I’m always amused at the efforts people go to with decorating their houses or businesses. There are pumpkin spiced products everywhere including pumpkin flavoured dog treats for your precious pooch! How insane!
Get cheap Broadway Tickets
If you are in New York, you should catch a Broadway show. The tickets tend to be quite pricey. There are several ways you can save money on the tickets. You can queue up for discounted, same day tickets at the TKTS booth in Times Square. Various theatres often hold back a number of seats to release as cheap tickets on the day of the show. Some theatres also hold a ticket lottery about 2.5 hours before the show. If you win, these tickets are at a significantly discount on full price. It helps to do your research to maximise your chances of getting a cheap ticket to the show you want.
If you are in New York for a very short duration and desperately want to see a particular show. You should buy tickets in advance. Many of the biggest named shows will never give out cheap tickets. These tactics I’ve suggested are more appropriate for if you have more time to spare and are less picky about what you want to see.
Use the Subway instead of Taxis
There is no need to use taxis in New York. The Subway system is safe and all of Manhattan island is within walking distance of a subway stop. Wear comfy shoes and ride the subway and explore! One thing I love about Manhattan is emerging from the subway station. There are so many varied areas that every time you surface from the subway, it feels like a different city with its own distinctive vibe.
Walk and Explore
Walking is free and Manhattan island is a very walkable city. Walk, window shop, check out the architecture on the tall skyscrapers and look out for the weird and wonderful just around the corner.
Check out this awesome street art on the side of a building in Little Italy.
We also found an empty block which had been converted to this charming community garden space. It’s a beautiful, quiet and magical sanctuary amongst the tall apartment buildings. A secret green haven to sit and have lunch or read.
Look out for special events
Look out for special events that happen during your visit to New York. These are sometimes free and give an interesting insight into the city. New York is such a big city that there is always something interesting happening.
We were visiting New York during the weekend of Open House New York. This is the one weekend a year that selected, important buildings are opened to the public. It’s a chance to check out some interesting architecture and design.
Also held that weekend was the Marco Polo festival. This is a festival celebrating the Chinatown and Little Italy historic districts. It’s only a small festival with a small parade and a stage set up for the local band and performances by school children. I love it because I’m always amazed that in such a big city, there can still be the feeling of community and family.
Ok. Those were my money-saving tips for New York City. Hope they were helpful. Let me finish up by showing you my favourite sculpture in New York City. This is Atlas holding up the heavens. He’s located in front of Rockefeller Centre. This photo is taken from the back of the statue to catch the blue sky above and the massive Neo-Gothic St Patrick’s Cathedral across the street.