When you come to New York for the first time, or even the second or third time, you can’t help but want to soak up the entire city. It’s almost overwhelming how much there is on the menu. And even if you don’t want to be a cliché tourist, you find yourself caught up in it because this city is bursting with things you just have to see when in NYC.
With a city brimming with natural, cultural and gastronomical delights it’s hard to decide how to spend those precious pennies. If you love museums you could spend every cent going to everything from The Met, The Whitney or MoMA. If you love theatre your money could be gobbled up in as little as one brilliant show, or as many as three Off-Broadway shows if you get rush tickets. And if food and drinks your money and time might be spent exploring Nolita (my personal favourite), Chinatown or the West Village.
This article is just a tiny taste of what’s available if you want to get the true flavour of cliché NYC with just $100 in your pocket.
Where to start?
On your phone I recommend you download two things. A map of the NYC subway and an App that allows you to access a map without data, I use Google Maps.
Slap on your walking shoes because New York is a city of exploration which means the best way to travel around is on those two gorgeous legs you are gifted with. However, there are times you’re going to want and need to take the subway, so let’s get you a MetroCard.
To travel on the subway (or a bus if that’s your thang, it’s for sure not mine!) it’s a flat rate of $2.75 no matter which direction or how far you go. I usually get a standard card for $1 and then top it up as I need it. If you think you’re going to zip up and down all week like a kid on a rollercoaster then get the $32 unlimited card, but for today I recommend chucking on four trips worth for the times your boots are not made for walking.
Local Tip: When you use a credit card at the subway machines you need to enter a local postcode associated with the card, which as a traveller of course you don’t have. So, the magic numbers are 99999, enter those and your international card will work.
Cost: $12 ($1 for the card, $2.75 x 4 for the rides)
See and Do
So, I’ve already prefaced this by saying this is not a comprehensive list of everything you can do because there is an endless bucket list of things you can add to your NYC experience, this is just a small sample of options for you to explore.
What do you do in a city that’s already bursting at the seams with no more space to build new things– you go up! In the sky. This is where the Highline lives, created on top of the former New York Central Railroad. It’s a gorgeous and lush way to walk from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to West 34th street with greenery along the walkway, some key picture taking spots and even a cool bar.
Live Show Tapings
I love doing this when I’m in New York, I try to get tickets to as many live shows as I can, it’s free entertainment and so interesting to see behind the scenes. Amongst other shows, I got to see The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and it was like I was at a (free) concert. The house band is amazing, and The Arctic Monkey’s performed, plus Stephen is hugely talented and so enjoyable to watch live.
Local Tip: You can’t be even a minute late or you lose your priority status (if you got it in the first place), don’t bring a backpack you may be rejected and bring a jacket, it’s always freezing in the studios. If you get stuck, you can stash your bags at various hotel lobbies for just a few dollars.
Empire State Building
If you’re going to choose one cliché hot spot to splurge some dough I would choose the Empire State Building. The jury’s out if this or Top of The Rock has the best view, but even if it’s not the very best view of the city, it’s a bucket list location, so just do it.
Even the basic ticket is pricey and goes up if it’s peak, if you want priority lines or if you want to go up even higher to the 102nd floor. But it really is one of those locations and you need to do at least once, so let’s make it really special.
The sweeping 360-degree view of this incredible city is breathtaking, and they let just enough people up at a time so that you can get around and take it all in. But, I think I can help you make it even more special.
I made the decision to try and time it so I could get there for sunset. I took a punt and went there about 6:45pm (in June) and to my surprise and absolute delight there wasn’t a cue. At all. This funny time of the day meant that families were at dinner or over their day of playing tourist, so what I was expecting to be at least an hour and half wait turned into about 15 minutes. If you are pressed for time or just want to do something really different with your night try going late, it’s open until 2am which is pretty cool.
I got there with more than enough time to see and snap all the sights while it was full light, then I positioned myself about a half an hour before the sunset right in front of where the sun sets and waited. It was quite spectacular seeing the sun set on the city that never sleeps.
Local Tip: If you still want a similar view but don’t want to splash out, then choose any of the local rooftop bars like 230 fifth Rooftop Bar, Spyglass Rooftop Bar or Refinery Rooftop and get a taste of the view for free.
I legit can’t advise you where to go in this insanely huge space, my best tip is to make sure you wander around as long as your legs will allow you and then just park yourself on the grass if the weather permits and take it all in. Don’t be alarmed, you didn’t take a wrong turn and end up at the beach, you’ll see people in bathers, it’s just what they do here in all the local parks, go with it.
Statue of Liberty
You can pay a bit to actually go to Liberty Island and see the Statue of Liberty up close up in all her glory, or just jump on the free Staten Island Ferry, sail past her and take a lovely landscape shot and then tick, it’s another icon off your bucket list. Again, if you’re pressed for time, this is a 24-hour ferry, so you can take it at 3am if that so suits.
Local Tip: Go to the right side of the ferry, up the stairs and to the back of the boat for the best view.
Go during the day, go at night and I recommend checking it out really early in the morning (think 6am) when no one is around, it’s surreal.
A few other things you may want to consider doing:
Take me out to the ball game! A Mets game costs $15 return trip on the LIRR, $35 for not bad tickets and a lot to eat and drink (think $14 tap beer).
If you want to see a Broadway Show, try and get $40 rush tickets directly from the venue where your show is playing. Alternatively, you can search on the Today Tix App.
You can do Chelsea Markets on your own by just wandering around or you can join a local tour group and sample a few more snacks while learning about the history (like how it was the building where the Oreo was invented!).
Sex and The City is the reason so many of us are romanced by this sexy city, so it’s fitting to pop on your strappy heels and grab a Cosmo from Scout (which is actually O’Nieals Grand Street Bar,) on the Sex and the City Tour.
Also, if you want to know more about free events in the city join this mailing list, it’s hit or miss but it’s good to know what’s on.
Eat and drink
In a city that offers you bagels on every second corner it seems crazy that I would tell you to line up for over an hour for one little bagel, but you have to. The Ess-a-bagels are an institution in this city and if you’re lucky you may pick a time of day when the line isn’t out the door and half way down the street.
They have 14 different bagels plus mini bagels to choose from and about 35 different crème cheese spreads including lox (NY word for salmon) cream cheese, chocolate chip cream cheese or raisin walnut tofu spread for those who are dairy free.
I stood in the line for over an hour (palm please meet face) and spent $15 on a bagel, but, honestly, it was crazy yum. The bagel was super soft and sweet, the cream cheese was rich and smooth, and the lox was fresh. It was so big I couldn’t fit it in my mouth, so that took care of breakfast and lunch, ha!
Local Tip: Reduce your time by going straight to the express line in the far back where they sell the bagels, and a tub of cream cheese which you can then take to a park and smear on yourself. Saves you over an hour and a heap of cash!
If you find bagels on every corner for breakfast, you find pizza on every corner for every other meal of the day. You can pick up a $2 slice literally everywhere, and they are huge! But if you want to try arguably the most famous slice in the city, you have to go to a tiny store in The Village called Joe’s Pizza.
A standard slice is $3 or if you’re like me you might want to splurge on the fresh Mozzarella slice for $3.50.
But from here, there are rules on how to do a NY slice:
- Take your slice, on the cardboard plate and find 10cm of space to pop it down on a counter.
- Choose between herbs, garlic flakes, chilli or parmesan and sprinkle it on.
- Fold your pizza in half.
- Shove it in your face without thinking twice.
- Try not get oil drops on your top. #fail
Local Tip: Don’t you dare ask for a knife and fork to cut it up and neatly place it in your mouth.
I feel like there is no real way for me to advise you on the best place to get a pretzel as they are readily available at every cart in the city. I can tell you they are super salty and sometimes a little dry, so you’ll need to wash it down with something. You can generally get a $1 small bottle of water at the same cart.
Cost: $2 for the pretzel, $1 for the water
The ultimate way to round off the perfect day in NYC is on a rooftop bar, and if you have time for only one, it has to the 230 Fifth Rooftop Bar. It has uninterrupted views of the NYC skyline, the Empire State Building and is the perfect spot to watch the sunset. They also have a cracking happy hour from 2-7pm so you can grab a spirit for just $8, kick back and take in the city vibes.
Local Tip: Get there early, the lines out the front can be killer.
Also consider eating at a few other iconic NY venues
Shake Shack – We’re spoilt with the world’s best chips (fries) in Australia so I would stick to the burgers here. I always love a classic Cheeseburger which is their ShackBurger but if you want to try something different, order their famous Shake Stack which is a Cheeseburger and a ‘Shroom burger stacked. Look it up!
Katz’s Deli – Famous for their Pastrami on Rye, no more needs to be said. You can also now go to their original location or a mini version of their venue in the Dekalb Market in Brooklyn.
Magnolia Bakery – is the most well-known cupcake shop. I got over the cupcake phase years ago, but if you’re still into it, this is the place you should get to. Just for cliché sake.
There is no way I could squeeze somewhere for you to stay into $100 but I can tell you I was constantly looking around for deals and I think in this city there is a chance you can find a cheap central hotel over an Air BNB. Plus, having a concierge point you in the right direction is really helpful. The cheapest accommodation I googled was The Pod Hotels, I didn’t stay there myself, but I would recommend it given the location and price.
For the purpose of this article, tip and tax hasn’t always been taken into account, mostly because everyone chooses their tip amount and it can vary depending on how generous you feel or what kind of change you get. Count on 15% minimum being a ball park, and only at restaurants and venues, not when you just grab a coffee on the go.