A lot of people dream about visiting the "Big Apple," where they can walk down the same streets as Carrie Bradshaw did in Sex and the City, living that high-class lifestyle in New York City. And a lot of those same people never make it to New York because they’re afraid it’s far too expensive. While part of that is true – some of the richest people in the world do hail from NYC, living in penthouse apartments that cost more than a private island in some parts of the world – the fact of the matter is, you can experience New York on a budget. The catch is, you just have to know where to look!
First things first, you’re going to be hungry in NYC. Especially because you walk around here – A LOT.
Any tried and true New Yorker will tell you that for every 4 star Michelin restaurant, there is a cheap food truck around the corner that arguably serves food that’s just as delicious if you’re willing to get a little scrappy and eat while standing on the sidewalk. Or maybe you can snag one of the seats (and tables if you’re really lucky) at a public park. There’s tons around the city; big parks you see in the movies like Central Park, and smaller ones like Madison Square Park (home to Shake Shack’s famous burgers), or Union Square and McCarren Park in Williamsburg. You can order lots of different things from street vendors; for $6 you can feast on a Chicken or Lamb Gyro from the Halal Guys. Big, salty pretzels are about $2 at most carts, and if you act confident, you can bargain for a $1 hot dog at most vendors (never let them charge you more than $3! That’s the tourist price!). There are Nuts 4 Nuts chains all over the city that sell yummy snack sized nut portions. But if you’re looking for a sit-down meal, don’t be discouraged – there are places where you can get an entrée for less than $10.
You can head over to Chinatown for amazing, cheap meals in restaurants. If you time it right, you may arrive just in time for happy hour, so a beer or wine may be included with your meal. You can never go wrong with dumplings either. Vanessa’s Dumpling House is a trusted chain that’ll let you choose between steamed, fried or both – plus scallion pancakes and the works. Guaranteed you will be stuffed to the brim after $7 worth of dumplings. Likely New York’s best cheap food option is our $1 pizza. There are big chains like 2 Bros, and tiny shops all over the city, usually dotted with big signs offering a single slice for 99 cents, or 2 slices and a can of soda for $2.50. Guaranteed to be one of your best meals in the city; all the men in business suits chowing down on a slice for lunch can attest.
Now let’s talk about some other aspects of the city, shall we?
We mentioned you’ll be walking around a lot, and you will, but to cross a lot of things off your NYC Bucket List, it’s in your best interest to get a MetroCard. If you’re staying for a week, definitely look into getting a weekly unlimited card. You can use the subway as many times as you want for $31. Since each individual ride costs $2.75 without an unlimited card, that means you only need to ride the subway 12 times for the unlimited to be worth it! You can use similar logic for a monthly pass if you’ll be here a little longer.
Once you’ve got your MetroCard handy, you’ll probably want to experience some awesome NYC activities that won’t break the bank. If it’s nice out, there’s lots of fun things to do outdoors. The Highline is absolutely free and a total must see (bonus points if you visit for sunset). We mentioned the parks before, too, which are all free just to soak up and absorb. Union Square is a great cultural hub. You’ll find people playing chess, maybe promoting a new product, and singing songs just beneath you at the subway station.
If you’re into art and culture, you should check out any number of our amazing museums.
The MOMA is free on Friday nights (secret tip!) and there are a lot of other museums that let you “pay as you wish,” so give whatever you’re comfortable paying. The MOMA has an awesome subset in Long Island City called PS1 that’s always pay as you wish. The Met and it’s offshoot called Cloisters are also great, affordable museums. The Aquarium is also pay as you wish on Friday afternoons. A quick Google search will leave you overwhelmed with options if these haven’t gotten you excited yet!
A personal favorite of mine, and not necessarily an exclusive NYC thing is a SoFar show. They’re a cheap way to get a real sense of the music scene, and you meet some awesome people while sipping on BYOB drinks. Plenty of bars will offer free live music, not quite as many as Nashville does, but it’s an easy thing to find, along with Trivia Tuesdays, or cheap comedy shows in the Lower East Side (Don’t fall for those pricy, gimmicky ones in Time’s Square).