New York City on a Budget!

Statue of Liberty

Statue of Liberty

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!


Le Printemps by Pierre-Auguste Cot

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!

MET rooftop

Panoramic View from the MET Rooftop

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!


Guggenheim Museum

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.


A Pretty Street in Brooklyn

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!

Pumpkin Dog Treats

Pumpkin Flavoured Dog Treats!

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.

Street Art

Street Art in Manhattan

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.

Community Garden

Community Garden in East Village, Manhattan

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.

Marco Polo Festival

Dragon, Marco Polo Festival Parade

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.


Atlas Statue at Rockefeller Centre

Nom Nom New York!

Food in the US is a punch in the face with flavour. It’s not mild or bland, it’s almost like turning up the volume on the taste. I find when I’m in the US that savoury foods are often too salty and sweet foods are too sweet. It’s all delicious though. It’s not healthy but it’s so damn good. It’s all that sugar, salt and fat! It makes our brains light up like Times Square!

Fine dining and Michelin star restaurants absolutely do not have the monopoly on tasty food. Often I think that food cooked with love, hospitality, generosity and plenty is the best. There are lots of cheap and cheerful places all over Manhattan with excellent food. We stayed in East Village and were thrilled to find a large number of excellent places to eat. We also did a couple of food/walking “tips only” tours which were great fun and delicious as well. Here are some of our eating experiences in New York. Nom Nom Nom!!

How can you go to New York and not have a “dirty water” dog! These are the famous New York Hot Dogs. They are called “dirty water” dogs because the sausage is cooked and left in a vat of warmish water and pulled out when a customer requests a hot dog. We were advised that locals would ask for a “dog” and not a “hot dog”. If you ask for a “hot dog”, you reveal yourself to being a tourist and then become exposed to price gouging. We found that most food cart vendors in Manhattan do not advertise their prices openly. This is against the law but they do this to price gouge unsuspecting tourists. Beware! Do not support these unscrupulous vendors. We made a conscious decision only to support food establishments which openly display their pricing.

Enough about pricing, let’s discuss the hot dog. Well, it was very small and underwhelming. The bun is made of fluffy soft white bread which has no substance. The entire hot dog is consumed in three bites and in 15 minutes you’re hungry again.

NY Hot Dog

New York Hot Dog

Instead of spending a few dollars on an average hot dog, get a taco instead with the money. We found Otto’s Tacos in the East Village to be so scrumptious that we went twice during our stay in New York. They prepare each taco as you order them with home-made corn tortillas (really authentic rustic flavour). The chosen proteins are accompanied only with some coriander and sauce. The simplicity allows the taste of the filling and the texture of the taco to really shine. It makes for a religious eating experience!

Ottos Tacos

Tacos from Otto’s Tacos

Also in East Village is an outlet of Xi’an Famous Foods. This shop boasts Anthony Bourdain as one of its biggest fans. They specialities include Spicy Cumin Lamb Burger and the hand ripped spicy noodles. Even though Xi’an is in China, this tastes unlike most Chinese food. Due to the heavy use of cumin, it tastes almost Middle Eastern to me. Xi’an is situated at the start of the Silk Road and it explains the fusion of flavours and Middle Eastern spices. The hand ripped noodles are a surprise with its addictively chewy texture and a spiciness that builds in your mouth as you work through the dish. The lamb burger was delicious. It reminded me of a kebab with the bread and the cumin spiced filling.  Everything is served in typical American style for this sort of cheap eatery on disposable plates which of course you throw away once you’re finished.


Spicy Cumin Lamb Burger from Xi’an Famous Foods


Spicy Hand Ripped Noodles from Xi’an Famous Foods

In America, one cannot visit without having a hamburger. The consumption of a hamburger is totally normalised in the US. It’s not so much an occasional treat but an everyday food. We chose to get hamburgers from Steak ‘n Shake based on a recommendation from a Californian friend. These burgers were indeed delicious but for health reasons, we limited ourselves to only one meal of hamburgers during our visit. Greasy, cheesy burgers are not everyday food!  The best burgers I’ve had in the US are from Red Robin, a burger chain on the west coast of the US. Those burgers are utterly divine but also a heart attack waiting to happen!  Anyway, what do you expect from the nation that brought us the Hashbrown Double and deep fried cheescake?

Steak n Shake

Steak ‘n Shake Burgers

One of the most fun ways I’ve found for discovering new places and food is to do “tips only” food walking tours. Whilst in New York, I did a food tour of Greenwich Village and of Flatbush Brooklyn. Both were excellent.

In Greenwich Village, we stopped for falafel at Mamoun’s falafel. These were nice but not the best falafel I’ve ever had. This was followed by two pizza stops. First was Artichoke Pizza followed by Bleecker Street Pizza. It does seem crazy to do two pizza stops in one tour but this is New York City, home of some of the best pizza in the world AND, these two pizza were so very different yet both distinctive and delicious. The speciality at Artichoke Pizza is of course Artichoke Pizza. It’s a bit like creamy artichoke dip on top of a pizza. The crust was more robust to support the topping. It was creamy, tasty and rich. I don’t think you can eat a lot of it. By contrast, the Bleecker Street Pizza had a thin crust and had “Nonna Maria’s” special tomato sauce on it. Much lighter, but still very tasty and the crust was just beautifully cooked and a little crispy.

Artichoke Pizza

Sign at Artichoke Pizza


Pizza from Bleecker Street Pizza

Onwards to arancini balls at Faicco’s. This store sells lots of different Italian Specialities but on the day, we tried the arancini balls. These are risotto balls coated in breadcrumbs and fried. When I bit into the arancini ball, I was surprised to find a very plain and simple risotto inside and yet the ball contained so much flavour. It was surprisingly good. Often, arancini balls are made with fancy flavoured risottos e.g. sun dried tomato or mushroom but even without the frills, these arancini balls were still so flavourful. Is it the use of parmesan for umami?


Arancini Balls from Faiccos

At this point of the Greenwich village tour, I’m getting quite full. We are now onto the sweet stops. First is a place called, Bantam Bagels which sell mini stuffed bagel balls. I tried one called “The Jack” which is a cinnamon and nutmeg spiced bagel filled with a pumpkin spiced cream cheese. This was a special flavour due to Halloween coming up. The cream cheese in the centre was yummy! In general, I don’t care for the texture of bagels. I think they are an underwhelming and dense bread and I can’t understand why they are so popular in New York. Give me a chewy sour dough any day!


The Jack from Bantam Bagels

Last dessert stop. I’m now rolling and waddling along the streets of Greenwich Village when we head into Molly’s Cupcakes for a seat and a cupcake. Due to my extreme state of fullness, I chose a Mini Molly Filled Cupcake. It was chocolate with chocolate icing and a chocolate mousse filling. How many times did I say chocolate in one sentence? Can you understand why I did not remember to take a photo. My mind was clouded in a chocolate fog! I had to laugh when I bit into this indulgent cupcake. It was intentionally tiny but between the icing on top and the filling in the centre, I was amazed at how little cake there was and how that tiny bit of cake could support all the icing and the filling.

Upon completion of that tour, all I wanted to do was to go back for a lie down while all that food digested.

A few days later, we’d arranged to go on a food walking tour in Flatbush Brooklyn. I had never explored Brooklyn before and this was a great opportunity. First stop was De Hot Pot serving classic Caribbean food and roti. Roti is an unleavened flat bread from India. What is awesome is how this Indian originated food travelled with the Indian diaspora to become an integral part of the food culture of the Trinidad and Tobago and of South East Asia (e.g. Malaysia).

In this shop, we tried a Trinidad street food snack called doubles. This is a sandwich of two pieces of fried bread with chick pea curry in the middle and a dash of spicy sauce. The fried bread is similar to poori, a deep-fried Indian bread.  What a delicious savoury snack! We saw the shop prepare roti for other patrons as well. Their rotis were huge, maybe 50 cm in diameter and goat curry was spooned into the centre along with other fillings and condiments and the entire thing wrapped up like a burrito wrap on steroids! If you ate that, you would not need to eat for 3 days afterwards!


Doubles from De Hot Pot

After a pie stop, at the Pels Pie Company for some sweet treats, we meandered along the leafy green streets and stately homes of Brooklyn before sharing a spicy cocktail at a neighbourhood cocktail bar. This was followed by Jamaican vegetarian food at Scoops & Plates Eatery.

We had a dish of soy based mock chicken and a vegetable stew called Callaloo on a bed of emperor’s rice. Callaloo is a Caribbean dish which varies depending on the region. This particular version was thickened using okra and contained dasheen bush. Dasheen bush is a leafy vegetable. The dishes were served with emperor’s rice or forbidden rice, black rice, so named because it was once reserved for only the emperor and royal family in ancient China.


Jamaican Vegetarian Food from Scoops in Brooklyn

At the next stop, we tried Jamaican Escovitch fish, which is deep-fried fish marinated in a spicy vinegar and served with pickled vegetables. This was really interesting because pickling the fish helps preserve it for a few days which makes a lot of sense back when refrigerators were not so widespread. Turns out, there are pickled fish dishes in many cultures. A quick Google search showed South African, Indian and Malaysian pickled fish recipes. Isn’t it amazing how the same basic need to preserve food safely has led to a similar approach in vastly different cultures?


Escovitch Fish

Our last stop on the tour of Flatbush Brooklyn is Jerk Chicken at Peppa’s Jerk Chicken. This place is unassuming but produces tasty and surprisingly tender jerk chicken. I can’t wait to try my own version of jerk chicken at home. I think an overnight marinade with jerk spices and a slow roast will give a wondrous result.

Jerk Chicken

Jerk Chicken

I learnt a lot during the Flatbush Brooklyn food walking tour. I had never tried food from Jamaica or Trinidad before. These are entire regions of food which are totally new to me. It always excites me to taste new food and learn new things about the origins of dishes.

I am now starving after writing this post and will now head off to start cooking my dinner!

Happy Exploring and Happy Eating!