On a tight budget you have to jump right into every day life. The result can be a richer New York experience where you spend your time more like a local, less like a tourist.
Feeling like you can't afford a quick trip to New York until you've saved up enough to enjoy all of its glamour and luxuries? Ok, but if you'd like to visit sooner than later realize that it's easier than you might imagine. The most important thing you need to bring to the experience is the mindset that you are coming to delight not in high-priced fun but in the vibrancy of the city.
A few basic tips:
Skip the hotels. Use Airbnb or stay in hostels (all ages welcome) instead. Manhattan and Brooklyn have some of the best in the U.S.
Avoid the $5 water bottle. Food, water and snacks are outrageously expensive in NYC. Carry a backpack that you can stock up with your easy-to-carry favorites to help you save. A visit to Trader Joe's or Fairway Market is worthwhile.
Keep your feet happy. Wear sturdy, comfortable shoes - not only will you need to walk to save, you'll want to - NYC sidewalks are where you fall in step with city life and encounter everything that is fascinating about this place.
Be a tourist but add a twist. See the sights as if you live here. Below, a few suggestions:
My Top 5 "Love 'em Like a Local" NYC Favorites.
1. The Middle of the Brooklyn Bridge:
Any time of day, in any sort of weather, standing at the very center of one of the most iconic symbols of New York is an exhilarating experience and offers an incredible panorama of old and new architecture. You will look windblown and be genuinely smiling when you reach the mid-point of the bridge. What a view! I list this favorite first because visitors usually save it for last then end up saying, "Oh well, we'll do it next time." Don't disappoint yourself - make this moment a priority.
Get Local: Time your visit for fewer crowds and more beauty - aim for sunset, sunrise, full moon eves, snowy days or crystal clear nights - amazing!
2. Off-beat Chinatown:
Every guidebook and app will lead you to this classic New York neighborhood. Follow their advice to arrive in the area. Then? Explore the side streets to escape the big crowds and to find the unexpected.
Get Local: Make a stop at Hester Street Playground to see Chinatown in the details of everyday life. It's a little pocket of peace in a loud, crowded neighborhood. Visit historic, peaceful Eldridge Street Synagogue. Shop inside the base of the Manhattan Bridge where you will find a market filled with small businesses, food stalls and intense aromas.
3. Sunbathing in Central Park:
Exploring NYC takes a lot out of you. Re-charge in Central Park. Enter from the Central Park South entrance at 6th Avenue and 59th Street. Meander toward Sheep Meadow, a green space that covers an area between 65th Street and 71st Street in the middle of the park.
On your way, climb to the top of the exposed bedrock near Heckscher Playground. It's a great spot to rest for a few moments on sun-warmed stone while taking in views of the skylines that surround the park. The bedrock dates back to the Ice Age.
Get Local: Bring chilled wine to celebrate creating a lovely, laidback moment for yourself in busy New York but know that while wine is slightly/sort of tolerated a bit during summer concert events in the park it's still not ok, officially speaking. Confused? That's ok, it's confusing. Bring a Frisbee too and enjoy.
4. Explore the Upper West Side:
It's one of Manhattan's most graceful neighborhoods and a beautiful setting in which to encounter the city's art, architecture and history. All you have to do is stroll tree-lined side-streets and boutique-lined avenues and you tap into the heartbeat of a great neighborhood.
Begin your walk at the 79th Street and Central Park West exit of Central Park and start zigzag-ing to cover as much of Central Park West, (The American Museum of Natural History, The Dakota, the New York Historical Society) Columbus Avenue (bakeries, boutiques and classic brownstones along every block) and the Lincoln Center area (art, music, bustling intersections) as possible before you get too tired or run out of time. You can do this walk in as little as 2 hours.
Note: The Upper West Side is my hometown and considered one of Manhattan's most family-friendly spots. It's a small town in a big city. Read more about it's history, culture, how to best explore it and what it was like to grow up in the area by clicking around here at City Girl Writes - it's one of my favorite areas to write about.
5. Take to the Water - Governors Island:
Board a ferry and pay $2 to enjoy priceless views of NYC. Governors Island is a 172-acre island surrounded by a 2.2-mile promenade that offers incredible views of skylines and water activity - sailboats, ferries, tugboats are all part of the scenery. While you're there take a tour of the island's historic fort. Remember to bring your backpack of food and snacks to save on the cost of your visit. Spend what you save on renting a bike to explore this wonderfully car-free island.
Get Local: Governors Island features special events all summer long - from a festival that highlights the many ways New Yorkers enjoy the great outdoors in an urban setting to art exhibits and, twice this summer, a favorite among New Yorkers: The Jazz Age Lawn Party. A visit to this tiny island is well worth your time.
So, those are just a few of my recommendations for enjoying highlights in expensive Manhattan on a budget. Sounds exhausting? It can be, especially when you are trying to save by only walking or taking subways to get around.
Treat yourself to an air-conditioned car ride between some of the sights I've listed above that are far apart. For example: after your time in Chinatown, Uber it uptown to Central Park. It's a long way.
Uber has offered me a promo code to share with you - a nice way to save money and a chance for me to say thank you for reading this very long post! Enjoy it knowing there are now more Uber vehicles in NYC than there are yellow taxis (according to the New York Post) so your wait to catch a ride might be as fast as a New York minute.
I'd love to hear how your visit to NYC goes - let me know in the comments section below.