When people dream of going to America, New York City definitely finds a big block on their itinerary. Well, why not? It is the cultural, financial and media capital of the world and as they say – It is a city that never sleeps! It is not only the largest, the most populous and most famous city of USA but also one of the most expensive cities in the world and therefore, tourists and travelers who run on truncated budgets get really confused with what to see and what to miss as the city has so much to offer.
Shed your travel muddles and join me on this fun guide where I will share some tricks and tips for exploring New York City without burning a hole in your pocket. Let’s get busy!
So last summer, I made way to the Northern Hemisphere and began my USA trip with New York City. I was damn lucky because I had a relative in the city and did not have to spend anything on accommodation. I stayed for about five days at my sister’s apartment in Manhattan and mapped a pocket-friendly plan to discover the finest portions of the city.
Before we go deep, let me tell you that New York City is a Mega City and how you go about seeing it depends a lot on its geography. There are so many streets, avenues, and crossroads that will drive you nuts so it is essential to plan the daily sightsee based on where you are staying, how much time you have and what’s your budget. Trust me, exploring New York will become super easy if you are mindful of its boroughs and neighborhoods because the personality and the culture of the city will completely change as you change the zone.
Let me make it simple for you – New York City is made of five regions which they call boroughs, namely – Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island.
I was mostly in Manhattan, visiting the nooks, corners, and neighborhoods, digging deep into the city culture. Therefore, my focus will be on Manhattan because that’s where even you are going to spend most of your time in NYC. It is definitely not cheap, but I will share some fun tips and tricks to do activities that are easy on the pocket or even 100% free.
When we think of New York City, we always picture the Cityscapes and Skyscrapers rising over a massive island. Ladies and Gentlemen, that’s Manhattan for you – the home to big-name attractions of the world such as the Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building, Rockefeller Centre, One World Observatory, Central Park, High Line, Times Square & Broadway, Wall Street & Financial District, Fifth Avenue, Radio City, Madison Square, Trump Tower, Plaza Hotel, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Brooklyn Bridge, City Hall and the list is unending. Manhattan is basically an island surrounded by Hudson, East and Harlem rivers, further divided into Lower, Middle, and Upper Manhattan. I will take you through all the places regionally so that you can efficiently plan your trip day wise.
Downtown is NYC’s home to world-famous financial institutions and features some of the historical landmarks.
What to See: Wall Street & Financial District | Charging Bull | New York Stock Exchange | Federal Hall | Statue of Liberty | 9/11 Memorial | One World Observatory | Brooklyn Bridge | High Line
You can walk around Wall Street and spot the Charging Bull which is one of the most iconic bronze sculptures in NYC. You will always find it surrounded by tourists who wait to get a picture clicked with the Bull. As you walk further, you are likely to see the New York Stock Exchange building which is the world’s largest stock exchange and the Federal Hall which is New York’s first City Hall and the birthplace of American democracy.
It is one of the most iconic statues of the world and stands proudly as a national monument on Liberty Island. It was a gifted to the United States by the people of France as a token of friendship. This is recognized as a universal symbol of freedom and democracy. You can visit the grounds, pedestal or the crown of the statue by taking ferry tours starting from $18.50 per person.
Tips and Tricks: Want to see Statue of Liberty for Free? Ride the Staten Island Ferry! Staten Island Ferry is the only non-vehicular mode of transportation that operates between Manhattan and Staten Island. The service is absolutely free but during the rush hours, it runs packed! Once you are on the deck, be ready to capture your New York moments as you will pass right by the Statue of Liberty and get a panoramic view of the skyscrapers and bridges of Manhattan. For a leisurely trip, you can board the ferry from Whitehall Terminal, Manhattan, get down at St. George Terminal, Staten Island and take the return ferry without wasting any time.
The 9/11 terror attacks at the World Trade Centre in New York took the whole world by a shock and the memories still haunt us. A Museum has been built on the grounds of WTC to honor the lives lost during the attacks. The museum features artifacts associated with the events of 9/11 and exhibits stories about the unique experience of each victim. The museum’s access free for the 9/11 family members, and the tourist ticket starts from $26.
Tips and Tricks: Visit 9/11 Memorial for Free! At Ground Zero, there is a 9/11 Memorial Pool which was the actual site of the World Trade Centre. Along the boundaries of the pool, the names of every person who died in the terror attacks are inscribed in bronze. You can go there to pay respects to those who lost their lives. The 9/11 Memorial is free of charge and open to the public daily from 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Positioned on the top three levels of the One World Trade Centre which is the tallest building in the United States and the 6th tallest building in the world, One World Observatory is an observation deck in NYC that offers panoramic views of New York City, its most iconic sites, and surrounding waters. You can choose experiences such as Forever Theatre, Sky Portal with Glass Floor, Virtual Reality Tour or even raise a toast at the One Dine Bar. Tours start from $34, and everything needs prior reservations.
It is one of the oldest roadway bridges in the USA and connects Manhattan to Brooklyn over the East River. The bridge has compartments where the main roadway is for vehicular traffic, and a wide elevated passageway is for the pedestrians and cyclists.
Tips and Tricks: Take a walk at the Kal Ho Na Ho Bridge!For Indians, Brooklyn Bridge is known as the Kal Ho Na Ho Bridge where a lot of scenes from the famous SRK movie were shot. The bridge is roughly 2 km long, and you can take a leisurely walk here for free. You can take pictures of the Manhattan skyline and the East River and even grab some $1 souvenirs as you walk the way.
It is a 2.5 km long elevated greenway cum urban park created on an abandoned NYC railroad. It is a remarkable contemporary landscape architecture in New York. The park hosts cultural events, art displays, temporary installations and performances on occasions and you can stroll here for free.
Tips and Tricks: Free Star Gazing at High Line! Every Tuesday, the Amateur Astronomers Association of New York organizes free stargazing activity at the High Line Park. You can take a closer look at the stars, eyeing through high power telescopes and even spot other celestial objects. The activity begins at sunset and runs only between April and October.
Midtown is NYC’s home to the most iconic buildings and skyscrapers and is the largest central business district in the world. The area commands the world’s highest rents in terms of residence or office space. Most of the commercial spaces, entertainments centers and media houses of NYC are in Midtown.
What to See: Empire State Building | Rockefeller Centre | The Macy’s Store | Times Square & Broadway | Fifth Avenue
This building is America’s cultural icon, featured in more than 250 television shows and movies. It is a National Historic Landmark and has been named as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers. It is believed that no visit to NYC is complete without experiencing the top of the Empire State Building. They have the main deck on the 86th floor which is the highest open-air observatory in New York and a top deck on the 102nd floor that provides bird eye views of New York City. You can even use their binoculars to get a closer look at all the popular places in NYC. It is also believed to be the world’s most famous and most photographed building. It even remained the world’s tallest building for almost 40 years until the completion of the first World Trade Centre tower in the 1970s.
Tips and Tricks: Buying Tickets for ESB.Once you visit their website and see the ticket types, you will get confused with what to choose. From my experience, do not go for anything Premium or VIP. The cheapest way is to buy the Standard Admission Ticket for Main Deck (86th Floor) which will cost you $38-$40 per person. Enter the tower by early evening and stay there till sunset. That way, you can experience both day and night views without unnecessarily spending on the AM/PM experience. Once you buy the ticket, it will be valid for a year.
It is a 3-tiered observation deck on the 67th, 69th and 70th floors of Rockefeller Centre and started operating recently. With 850 ft. above the ground, you can cherish the panoramic view of NYC. Standard Admission Ticket will cost around $40. You can also explore Rockefeller plaza and do some shopping.
Tips and Tricks – Empire State Building or Top of the Rock. Well, it is one of the most common Google searches on Things to do in New York City. Many people get confused about selecting the best observatory to view NYC from the top because they nearly cost the same. Even I contemplated
Though Top of the Rock is not as iconic as the Empire State Building and has a lower observation deck, the views from it are far grander and unobstructed. The deck is spacious too. And because it is infamous, the queues will be shorter, and you will have more time to spend on the deck. But the best part about Top of the Rock is that you can view the iconic Empire State Building from the deck and click a classic photograph, touching the tip of the world famous structure. Well, you obviously can’t do that from the Empire State Building. I went there late in the evening and stayed till sunset to capture the day and night transition in my camera. But if you are the kinds who have a bucket list for world famous things and places, then please go ahead with the ESB.
The Macy’s Store at the Herald Street is the world’s largest store, with an area of 2,500,000 square feet, rising up to 11 floors. The flagship store is more than 100 years old and can be best visited when you are on your way to the Empire State Building.
Times Square is a world famous commercial intersection in New York City decked with luminous billboards, flashy advertisements and loud announcements that do rounds on the big screen displays on various buildings. It is one of the busiest pedestrian areas and the world’s most visited tourist destinations. You can walk around, click pictures or even do some crazy street shopping. As the sun sets, you will witness a different kind of magic with the lights.
Times Square is also the entertainment hub of NYC and is home to the Broadway Theatre District that makes New York the cultural capital of Western Hemisphere. At Broadway, attending a musical stage show is a must, and it is guaranteed that you will have one of the best theatre experiences of all times. But the only drawback is that it will cost you a bomb and the price keeps fluctuating as per the demand! If you are not into theatre shows, then do watch some of the free street acts and stunts performed by local artists and donate a few pennies if you like it.
Tips and Tricks: How to buy discounted Broadway Tickets?The Theatre Development Fund (TDF) operates TKTS booths in NYC that makes art affordable. You can avail 20-50% discount on a wide range of Broadway musicals, plays, operas, comedy shows, immersive theatre and dance productions subjected to demand and last minute availability. You will easily spot it at Times Square when you will see people waiting in a long line to reach the booth. Go there only if you have the patience and time.
The other way and I the one which I tried is to go talk to the local souvenir stores in front of TKTS. They usually have their own mini booths and tie-ups with other organizations and websites that sell cheaper tickets. I got a steal deal for Frozen (The Hit Broadway Musical), played at the legendary St. James Theatre. The only thing you will have to compromise is the seat location because it can be anywhere in the theatre depending on availability.
It is one of the most expensive and elegant streets in the world, stretching from Midtown to uptown Manhattan. The portion located in midtown is a high-end shopping lane that features the upscale stores such as Tiffany & Co., Saks, Lord & Taylor, Bergdorf Goodman, The Apple Store, Louis Vuitton, Prada, Harry Winston to name a few. For those on a budget, it is a great place to window shop!
Uptown is perhaps the least touristy chunk of Manhattan and the quietest of all. If you want to spend some me time in NYC, you must head here.
What to See: Central Park | Museum Mile | Roosevelt Island Tramway
Surrounded by the uptown portions of Fifth Avenue, Central Park is the most visited urban park in the USA. It is a National Historic Landmark and also the fifth largest park in New York. It is 4 km and nearly 1 km wide. Despite being natural, the park has been professionally landscaped and is home to 7 man-made water bodies and more than 26,000 trees. The park also features some famous sculptures, bridges & arches, ornamental fountains, sheep meadows, bedrocks, hills strawberry fields, carousel, playgrounds, summer stage, and a zoo. You can walk around for free or take a Pedicab tour starting from $40 per hour where the operator will show you Central Park’s most impressive attractions on a Pedicab or a Tricycle and will share some interesting facts about the park. And if you want to experience some high-end royalty, then you can take a horse-carriage ride across the park.
Tip and Tricks: Central Park is a Food Haven! Central Park houses the landmark restaurant called Tavern on the Greens that has been capturing the essence of NYC since the 1930s. It offers classic American flavors and a creative menu of food and wine. And if you are looking for a romantic dining experience with your partner, sit by the lake and look at the rowboats pass by, then Loeb’s Boathouse is a perfect place.
If you an artist, you must visit the Museum Mile. It is long stretch along the uptown portion of Fifth Avenue that features the finest museums and art institutions of NYC and the world.
Tips and Tricks: Experience the 5000 years of global art forms at Met and enjoy the New York views for free!
Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Met is the largest art museum in the USA and the third most visited art museum in the world. It features a permanent collection of over 2 million works including sculptures, photographs, drawings and paintings, arms and armors, costumes, musical instruments, contemporary art, digital media, and libraries. It also has a beautiful secret that many people don’t know about – The Cantor Rooftop Garden and Bar. You can take the elevator to 5th floor and enjoy cocktails the museum terrace while looking at the spectacular Manhattan skyline and the green cover of Central Park. It is the best place to be if you don’t have the budget to visit the observatories. Adult admission is $25 but if you are a student, show your ID and get access at half the price.
If you want to enjoy aerial views of Manhattan, you must take a leisure ride on this aerial tram. The tram runs above the East River over Queensboro Bridge and connects Manhattan to Roosevelt Island. It will just cost you $4 for a round trip. There are lots of boardwalks near the tramway where you can take a stroll and enjoy scenic views of the East River and the Bridge.
We are not done yet. A visit to NYC can become more exciting if you happen to visit SoHo and Chelsea neighborhoods.
SoHo stands for South of Houston Street and features the greatest collection of cast iron structures in the world. It is a paradise for those who love art and fashion. It is a hub for fashion designers, celebrities, and socialites in New York. As you walk around this district in Downtown, you will come across shops and galleries that sell artworks, unique clothes, and designer pieces. There are some fantastic creative pop-ups and cafes that you will catch your attention.
It is home to traditional Italian bakeries and eateries and some of the oldest gift shops. Take a bite of delicious cannoli and the original gelato ice cream. You can even buy some freshly rolled pasta in different shapes and sizes.
It is an LGBT-friendly neighborhood and is home to the largest LGBTQ population in NYC. It offers a relaxed atmosphere where you can choose to chill at a club and enjoy the nightlife or even do bar hopping with your friends. You can also visit the Chelsea market which is a food hall cum shopping mall.
It is often said that New York is a city for only the very rich and the very poor, but I am sure we have found a middle way now. Be it the skyscraper jungles and the bridges or the gorgeous rivers and islands, the city of New York has always got something for everyone, and there is something happening at all times. It is truly a home to the Best, Brightest and Biggest standards in the world. So make sure you visit the place at least once in a lifetime!