New York City is home to over 8 million people, over 400 subway stations, and almost 20,000 restaurants. 365 days a year, New York is brimming with activities: culture, sports, gastronomic, family-friendly, you name it. However, New York City tourists and locals often find that money in New York tends to rapidly disappear; how can it not, when there are so many exciting options on which to spend it? The truth is, as one of the most vibrant cities in the world, New York offers a slew of free or inexpensive options to keep the budget traveler satisfied and satiated. Read on to learn how you can enjoy New York City on a tight budget.
1. See the city from the vantage point of a bridge
New York City’s glorious bridges offer a free and beautiful way to experience the city from above. The Brooklyn Bridge is the most popular option; on a sunny weekend, expect hordes of walkers, cyclists, souvenir peddlers, and even a few daring runners. However, don’t let the crowds keep you away. Sure, you may have to do some weaving and pathway negotiating, but the views of DUMBO and Brooklyn Bridge Park in one direction and the sparkling Financial District in the other direction are well worth it. I recommend starting your walk from the Manhattan side (you can take the 4, 5, or 6 train to Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall or the J, Z to Chambers Street) so you can explore DUMBO or grab a slice of Brooklyn pizza once you’ve traversed the East River. For an even better bridge option, take the F, J, or M train to Delancey Street to start the stroll over the Williamsburg Bridge. The views from this bridge are stunning: you get a clear shot up the East River, and a colorful look at the industrial–not to mention rapidly developing–Williamsburg Waterfront. Best of all, the wide walkways and separate sides for cyclists and walkers ensure that the footpaths are never too crowded. (Insider’s tip: make sure you don’t end up on the wrong side, or you’ll risk getting reprimanded!)
2. Relax with a book in Sheep Meadow
One of Central Park’s most recognizable lawns, Sheep Meadow’s skyline views and soft grass are well worth the hype. For no money at all, you can find yourself a perfect patch of grass and sit back with a good book and your best discreet sunglasses for people-watching. From picnicking couples to sunbathing students, families to solo adventurers, Sheep Meadow hosts countless park revelers every day of the week. Join the crowds for a peaceful, beautiful afternoon. To get to Sheep Meadow, take the B or C train to 72nd St. or the 1 train to 66th St.-Lincoln Center.
3. Eat food from a street vendor
You haven’t experienced New York until you’ve grabbed a quick street dog from a vendor but try not to drip mustard on your sweater while crossing the street with it! As an ever-hungry New Yorker, I ate more street hot dogs than I’m proud to admit, and they were always perfect. Whether you find yourself getting “hangry” in Times Square, or you’re simply craving a mid-afternoon snack, you can’t go wrong with a piping hot NYC hot dog (for only 1 to 3 USD).
Another ultimate New York grab-and-go food option is a pile of lamb over rice from a halal food vendor. (The Halal Guys original, parked at 53rd Street and 6th Avenue, is a popular option, but I’m a fan of the truck on 14th Street just east of Union Square.) For 5 USD, you’ll get a hearty portion of greasy, salty fare, perfect for a late-night food run or an indulgent lunch.
4. Take advantage of free or discounted museum days
New York City boasts some of the world’s best museums, spanning history, art, entertainment and more. While the admission prices (or suggested donations) at the city’s museums can get pretty steep, luckily, travelers in the know can tour these museums for free if you plan accordingly. The expansive Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), for instance, offers free admission on Friday evenings from 4:00 to 8:00pm. The Museum at FIT, the Fashion Institute of Technology, features an impressive collection of textiles and fashion pieces from throughout history, and is always free to enter and explore. For history buffs, the New York Historical Society is worth a visit, and is free on Fridays from 6:00 to 8:00pm.
5. Explore the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens on a romantic winter weekday
From December to January, Brooklyn adventurers seeking some peace and calm can wander the snow-dusted paths of the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens for free. Even New York in the cold is beautiful, so don’t let the low temps scare you away. The trees and plants may not be budding like they are in the spring, but the atmosphere is just the same. Bundle up and get lost on the curving paths, take a break on a bench in the middle of an empty garden, and get toasty in the indoor conservatories such as the peaceful Bonsai Museum and the lush Tropical Pavilion. (And when you’re done with your winter garden stroll, you can warm up with a street hot dog!)
New York City on a budget is just as fantastic
Traveling to New York on a budget? You don’t need to worry. Even though it’s an infamously expensive city, there is no shortage of cheap and free options for the frugal traveler. Whether you’re exploring the city’s stunning outdoor attractions or taking in its rich culture, you don’t need to spend much to experience the eclectic beauty of New York.
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