No other city in the world evokes glitz and glamor like New York. From the towering peaks of its iconic skyscrapers to the bustling shoppers of Fifth Avenue and the famed hotels like the Plaza and the Waldorf Astoria to the beautifully aged theaters of Broadway, there’s simply no place that compares. That glitz and glam can be yours, but like everything in NYC, it comes at a cost, and the uptown life you see on TV comes at a premium. Now, you can and should see that side of New York, but if you’re on a budget, you’ll have to cut a few corners and see how the rest of New York lives. Goodbye Carrie Bradshaw, hello Bushwick.
1. Stay outside of Manhattan.
Forget those exquisite hotels mentioned above — where rooms regularly start at $500 per night — and get outside of Manhattan. You probably don’t even know there is a place “outside” of Manhattan. Guess what… there are a bunch of great places and a bunch of equally great people who live there! If you’re looking for the epicenter of cool, hit up Brooklyn, where you can easily find affordable Airbnbs and hostels for significantly less money than in Manhattan. In Bushwick, named one of Vogue’s coolest neighborhoods in the world, you can even find hotel rooms starting around $100 per night. The same for the other boroughs as well. You just have to widen your search away from the first place you know to look (Times Square, NO) and you’ll find a better deal and a much better piece of New York.
2. Seriously, use public transportation.
Here’s the deal, the MTA, New York’s public transportation system, can seem overwhelming at first, and the abundance of taxis hurtling around the city just seem so much easier. Yeah, they are easier, for everyone but your wallet. Say you’re in the city for a week: the cost a few taxi rides or car share services would easily equally up to a seven day, unlimited Metrocard. Meaning for nearly the same price as a trip from Wall Street to the Upper West Side, you could just pay $32 and go on essentially any bus or train for seven days without question. Plus, the subway and buses are part of the fabric of New York, so getting to experience them will help paint a more authentic picture of life in New York. Just please don’t tweet me when there are delays.
3. Listen to the hype about street food.
Nowhere else in the country can you get such a variety of authentic and diverse food as in New York City. Even better, the very best-of-the-best places won’t cost you an arm and a leg. When you find yourself feeling hungry, walk as fast as you can away from the tourist epicenters and get yourself to places like Jackson Heights, Queens, or Elmhurst. Here you can have some of the tastiest and most affordable Thai, Colombian, Bangladeshi, Lebanese… the list could go on and on.
Every trip also deserves some fancier-feeling sitdown dinner, though, and trust me, NYC’s got your back on that, too. Tim Ho Wan, in the East Village, is the world’s most inexpensive Michelin starred restaurant and keeps New Yorkers lined up for a chance to eat the best dim sum in the world for the same price as McDonalds. And if that doesn’t do it for you, there’s always a good ole dirty water hotdog.
4. Never pay face value for Broadway tickets.
Is there anything more defining of a New York trip than going to see a real-life Broadway show? No. But if you think you’re going to pay full price for a ticket, you’re going to blow most of your budget. If you think you’re going to buy tickets to see Hamilton, you’re going to need to sell an organ (and not the kind they used to have in theaters).
To get the best tickets to shows you’re going to have to get crafty and give yourself room to breathe about when and what show you’ll see. With the mobile app TodayTix, you can purchase discounted tickets up to 30 days before a show, get there an hour before it starts, and a friendly person in a red shirt will be there waiting for you, tickets in hand. Or, if you’re more willing to play it by chance, you can hit up one of the TKTS booths around the city for last minute, heavily discounted seats that sometimes aren’t available until an hour or two before the show.
And then, sigh, there’s the lottery. Sigh, because the lottery is the biggest tease of them all. Usually entered online, though sometimes in person, a lottery typically consists of 20 tickets that are given away from $10-$50 each. If you win the lottery you can either take a set or a single ticket for that performance, usually on the day of, and feel like you really won the entire world. Good luck, though, the chance of winning the Hamilton lottery is small, since over 10,000 people enter daily.
5. See the art (but don’t pay too much for it).
New York has plenty of very large, very beautiful, very impressive museums, and while you should absolutely go to those museums, be careful not to spend too much money. Most of the museums in the city have some sort of free night or hours where you either don’t have to pay anything at all to get in or just give a suggested donation to enter. Which brings us to a bigger point, the majority of the major museums in the city are always, wait for it, pay what you wish. This means that at places like the American Museum of Natural History you can, technically, pay nothing at all. BUT, you should certainly pay something, even it’s just $5 each. Don’t think you don’t have to look someone in the eye though, first, and tell them how much you think their museum is worth. (But hey, just adopt that New York attitude and don’t bat an eye).
6. Don’t go “up,” go out.
Once again, the movies will tell you that you have to get above the city to really experience it. You can certainly have a great time by heading up to the top of any of the major skyscrapers in the city, but they will… wait for it… cost you. So to get an equally good view of the city (and for the ‘gram), head across the East River to Brooklyn Heights Promenade for spectacular, sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline, the Statue of Liberty, and the Brooklyn Bridge.
Forget paying for the Statue of Liberty, too. Just jump on the Staten Island Ferry — which is FREE — and you’ll cruise right by America’s favorite green lady. Better yet, you can buy alcohol on this ferry so it’s possible to raise a toast to those who came before and made this land your land, and this land my land.
7. The beer + shot combo
Whatever bar you’re at, fancy as hell or the ultimate dive — and NYC has the best dives — just ask for the beer and shot combo and you’re guaranteed to save something, except maybe your dignity.