Posted by Stephanie Weyant
Happy Summer! I thought we’d take a different route this month. Every now and then, I want to give you a peek into my backyard: New York City. Passing by thousands of tourists a day, I can’t forget that I live in a place where millions flock to each year. Usually a traveler, now I can give you an extensive local’s perspective on the city that never sleeps.
This month, I want to share with you a weekend in New York on the cheap: stay Friday through Sunday and it can only cost you $123 for meals, transportation, and entertainment – including museums and a Broadway show. Yes, in the most expensive city in the United States – it is possible! You’ll experience a lot but spend just a little. Your only splurge will be hotels, and even then, I’ve scraped together a couple of spots where rooms are under $200 per night. In a destination where decent summer rooms can set you back $400 a night or more, this is relatively inexpensive by comparison. So if you’re itching to get away on a Friday for the weekend, grab a friend and take a bite out of the Big Apple.
There’s a reason New York is consistently ranked as one of the greatest cities in the world. Several reasons in fact. These are just a few of them, and are suggestions that I too have taken part in/done/visited, places I’ve grabbed a bite. This issue certainly doesn’t cover all of the places to see in the city; we’ll save that for another article (or two!) down the road. So follow me: I’ll be your tour guide with the bright orange umbrella leading the way. Enjoy!
Welcome to New York! So you’ve just arrived at the airport: you’re either in JFK, LaGuardia, or Newark. All is unfamiliar, and random dudes offering you a ride seems sketchy…and it is. Don’t do it! It’s illegal of them to solicit you, and you’re asking for trouble – you won’t know if they’re insured or safe; plus, it’s not cheap anyway. Instead, make your way to the city (midtown Manhattan will be our destination) via one of these routes, depending on which airport is welcoming you:
If you’re in the northeastern United States, consider taking the Bolt Bus – as mentioned in my last article, the Bolt Bus is a cheap alternative to air and train travel, with rides as little as $1 each way, and many around $10 to New York.
When you arrive in the city center, check in at your hotel and drop off your bags. I recommend a few spots, selected for their convenient location and value:
where a compact room with a full-size bed will set you back a mere $122/night. Situated in the old New York neighborhood of Nolita (North of Little Italy), the rooms have been restored but maintain the communal quality instilled for World War II soldiers in need of temporary lodging after they returned from overseas.
Hotel prices relative to other U.S. cities may seem steep, but the cost of living in New York City on average is 125% higher than other cities. Real estate is nearly three times higher than the national average. So finding a decent place to sleep – albeit modest and small – for under $200 really is a bargain!
So you’ve settled into whichever hotel you’ll call home for the next couple of days – now it’s off to explore. Pick up a 7-day unlimited MetroCard for $30/person and don’t be afraid to ride the New York City subway system: it’s how 5.4 million people travel every weekday, and it’s cheaper and usually faster than a taxi. You may only be there for 2 ½ or 3 days, but this is the lowest increment for unlimited ride purchase. At $2.50 for a single ride, you should get your money’s worth, and won’t have to worry about running out. However, if you’d rather walk most of the time, then load up one card with $10, and reload if needed. Note as of March 2013, MTA now charges $1 for the card itself. Whatever you decide, just remember: the more you walk, the more of New York you experience!
From home base, head over to Grand Central Terminal to take in the grandeur and beauty of this century-old landmark. Still operating daily, the station sees more than 750,000 passengers per day, and houses the world’s largest Tiffany clock, found in the center of the station. Among its many attributes is the exquisite astronomical mural on the ceiling, representing the constellations present during a Mediterranean fall and winter. Little known fact: the sky was mistakenly painted in reverse! Grand Central is also the largest station in the world based off of the number of tracks and platforms, and cost nearly $1 billion in today’s dollars to construct.
Grab a bite to eat in the Terminal at one of many quick establishments – $7 will take you far here in the Dining Concourse. Once you’re stuffed, walk it off and head to the largest department store in the world: Macy’s Herald Square. Covering an entire city block and selling on 10 floors, it’s an iconic slice of American consumerism. Pick up something you might need or want – a new purse, a pair of earrings – a souvenir more useful than an ‘I ♥ New York’ T-shirt you’ll never wear again or a Statue of Liberty knick knack that will just collect dust! …Or just browse. Make sure you go up several levels to see the original 1902 escalators – wooden and worn, it’s a functioning throwback to the Victorian Era.
When the madness of 40,000 shoppers visiting on a typical day takes its toll, duck out and head to the MoMA – the Museum of Modern Art. From 4:00pm – 8:00pm every Friday, admission is free, saving you $25 per person for an adult ticket. Check out significant works by Picasso, Monet, Andy Warhol, Jackson Pollock, and countless others in this vast, open landmark. But watch the clock: you have an entire evening ahead of you!
Around 7:00pm, take off for the west side of town, and stop for a bite to eat at one of the first places I encountered and loved: Z Deli, on 8th Avenue between 48th and 49th Streets. Here, grab a large slice of pizza for $1 and then pick up some snacks for the outdoor summer movie series at the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum. Showing popular classics during summer Friday evenings on the Intrepid Flight Deck, this event is absolutely free. It’s also a great way to watch the sunset on a true piece of history among nearly two dozen aircraft including the WWII Avenger torpedo bomber and the Cold War A-12 Blackbird. Movies begin at sunset, and there is no admission after 8:30pm.
After the movie, head back to 9th Avenue for a nightcap if you’re not ready to hit the hay. Down at Rudy’s near 44th Street, order the $5 Recession Special – a pint of beer and a shot of whiskey. If you’re feeling peckish, ask the bartender for a free hot dog, and savor the vibe of this dive bar that dates back to 1933 – formally opened just after the end of Prohibition. You can also revel in the mystery of whether it was a speakeasy before that; supposedly Rudy’s has been around since 1919!
Wake up refreshed and ready for a new day – hopefully the city that never sleeps let you sleep – and grab breakfast on the go like many New Yorkers do. Visit Papaya Dog on 42th Street and 9th Avenue for a two-egg and cheese sandwich with a cup of coffee for $2.50, or hit any number of street vendors for the same with a comparable price. Then around 10:00am, walk through the theater district and find a Broadway show that may strike your fancy, and pick up rush tickets for a Saturday night performance. Sold in limited quantities the day of the show, rush tickets typically range from $25 to $40, and usually offer great seats. I’ve seen second and third row live performances by Jessica Chastain in The Heiress, Jeff Goldblum in Seminar, Philip Seymour Hoffman in Death of a Salesman, and many others for the cost equivalent of two movie tickets. If you’re a student with a school ID or under 30, even better – you’ll have even more access. Right now, shows like Once, the Tony Award-winning musical, and Annie, starring Jane Lynch, offer rush tickets for the day of performance for $40, limit 2. Whatever you decide, hit the ATM first: while most box offices take credit cards for rush tickets, some only take cash.
If you’re feeling lucky, hit up the lottery rush for the world famous Book of Mormon: you can get 2 first, second, or balcony row seats for $32 each – but bear in mind, usually 300-400 people show up for a mere 22 tickets, and each name called has the chance to get two tickets. This means that potentially (again usually) only 11 names are drawn. Kinky Boots, the most recent Tony Award-winning musical, also offers lottery rush tickets for the day of performance for $37, limit 2. There are also standing room tickets sold only when shows are sold out, generally for about $25, but be warned: you literally are standing for the duration of the show, sometimes upwards of 3 hours!
Get in a morning walk and go to Central Park, visited by 38 million people each year, covering 843 acres with 24,000 trees. Meander through the peaceful setting that lets you escape the hustle and bustle of the city, and visit the John Lennon Memorial Strawberry Fields, where you’ll likely find flowers and candles still paying homage to this lost legend. Sit on one of the 9,000 benches and ponder the meaning of life or what it might be like to live in this city – for better or for worse! Check out the architectural beauty of the bridges here as well: there are 36 to be precise, and many provide the perfect photo op for Instagram, or dare I say, a photo album.
As you head back south, imagine you’re one of the elite and window shop along 5th Avenue, taking in the latest trends of Fendi, Prada, Cartier, and many others. Looking doesn’t cost a thing! When you reach 51st Street, stop into St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Whatever your religion, this grand, impressive architecture is an historic landmark that you’ll surely appreciate. Completed in 1879, it’s currently undergoing exterior renovations but the inside is as beautiful and unobstructed as ever. There is no cost to walk through and take pictures; however, if a service is in session, just be mindful of the patrons attending mass. From here, walk west through Rockefeller Plaza and admire the art deco buildings and statues, and get a glimpse of where the Today Show broadcasts.
For lunch, take on any one of the street vendors and try any array of Afghani or Israeli cuisine, or even grab a cheesesteak; many meals will come with fries, rice, or salad for $5, and add a drink for another $1. Find a bench in Rock Center (there are many) to sit out in the sun and enjoy. Or, if you’re not hot-dogged out from Rudy’s the night before, there’s a hot dog/pretzel vendor at 8th Avenue and 50th Street where everything’s $1: half the price of nearby vendors. 8th Avenue has its share of fruit stands as well; you can pick up an apple for 50¢ or a banana for 25¢ – a nice snack to balance out the less healthy food.
At 8th Avenue and 50th Street, hop on the E train subway downtown to the end, the World Trade Center stop, and pay tribute to our fallen heroes from 9/11. A massive complex commemorating the nearly 3,000 men, women, and children who died that fateful day creates a haunting, sad, but touching and peaceful place to cherish their memory. Victims’ names etched in stone surround the two square waterfalls outlining the footprints of the Twin Towers, reinforcing the magnitude of the scale and scope of these attacks. A lesser-known tidbit is that a lot of the names – firefighters especially who lost their lives – are grouped by association: friends and comrades who worked together tend to be listed together. There is no cost for admission.
After visiting the 9/11 Memorial, take a quick stroll through St. Paul’s Chapel – Trinity Church, one of the oldest churches in Manhattan and previously visited by George Washington who attended service there many times. Still standing in the wake of 9/11 despite being a mere block away, the church has areas dedicated to 9/11 with mementos left by visitors from all over the world following the tragedy. Then walk along the shores of Battery Park to catch a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty, a gift of friendship from France dedicated in 1886.
Jump back on the E train subway and head uptown to the same stop where you started: 8th Avenue and 50th Street. By now, you’ll surely be famished and need a seat with an authentic, filling meal. Walk over to 10th Avenue and between 49th Street and 48th Street on the west side, you’ll find an unassuming bodega called Tehuitzingo Deli & Grocery. You would never know from the exterior, but there’s an awesome hidden restaurant inside. Walk through to the back – follow the green lights and piñata décor – where you’ll see a menu of Mexican staples, mainly tacos and burritos, for can’t-be-beat prices. You’ll likely order from a petite Mexican woman behind a mini-counter, and not pay more than $3 for a fresh, healthy-portioned taco. Order 3 and stuff yourself, and grab a beer out of the cooler up front while you wait for your order. There are seats along two counters to eat, and the atmosphere will make you think you’ve just stepped into rural Mexico. Don’t mind the Mexican soap opera playing in the background. This is a local joint through and through; I visit it often! Try the classic spicy pork taco or rice with chicken taco, or if you’re feeling adventurous, go for the beef tongue or pork ear tacos. Total cost for a dinner that will have you waddling out the door? Three tacos and a beer will be about $12.
Freshen up at your hotel before arriving at the theater with your rush tickets for a Saturday night show. Remember to switch off your cell phones – always do this, especially for a live performance…don’t be that person – and enjoy the show! At the end, if you’re a fan of getting autographs, stake out the stage door and be patient – the actors always come out and most are happy to sign autographs on your playbill. You can’t do that with a movie ticket!
Afterward, take a late-night stroll through iconic Times Square, and revel in the chaotic bright lights and advertisements. Create your own 15 Minutes of Fame by appearing on the giant billboard above Forever 21 – a photo is periodically snapped of passersby and projected on the screen for thousands to see, and even appears online in real time. Head back to your hotel before you get any urge to sign autographs yourself…
On Sunday, explore a new part of town: the East Village. Soak in the local flavor of one of the last Manhattan areas yet to be gentrified: here, you’ll still find mom and pop shops, one-of-a-kind small businesses, and a unique and edgy vibe reminiscent of the hard core drug and punk scene of the 1980s and 1990s. Much tamer and safer since the days of heroine and cocaine, it still holds that rebel, gritty attitude almost synonymous with New York City.
Stop at Cornerstone Café for a comfortable, sit-down breakfast and watch the locals pass by. Order eggs, potatoes, salad, and toast for $4; add coffee for $2, and tip generously – your waitress is probably a struggling artist! Food is fresh and delicious, and the wait staff is friendly. Wander through Alphabet City and St. Marks Place – another peek into the edgier New York of yesterday. See if you can find the shop Obscura: Antiques & Oddities – and venture inside. Don’t be surprised if you find human skulls, antique medical instruments, and a taxidermy alligator…all for sale. You’re stepping back in time as a Victorian record plays in the background. I recently found out this store is featured on a Discovery Channel TV show – check out clips online before you go, or wait and be surprised!
Heading west, make your way to the Meatpacking District where you’re likely to spot a celebrity or two dining al fresco at one of the many hot spots in the area. Take the steps up to the Highline – an outdoor elevated public park that was once the site for the New York Railroad dating back to the 1850s. Only open since 2009, the public park is a fun way to see the city and capture the skyline. On any typical day, you’ll likely see an art exhibit or other creative project free on display.
By now, it’s likely early afternoon and you’ve got a flight to catch. Grab your bags and souvenirs to begin the journey home. With any luck, you’ll be flying back in time to meet friends and share some great New York City stories before the weekend comes to a close. And hopefully you’ll be flying back with some money in your pocket.
Total cost per person over the weekend (minus hotel) – Friday, Saturday, and Sunday:
|– Airport to Manhattan Transportation||$15|
|– MetroCard Public Transportation (6 rides)||$15|
|– Tour Grand Central Terminal||$0|
|– Lunch at Grand Central Station||$7|
|– See Macy’s Herald Square||$0|
|– Visit the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)||$0|
|– Dinner on the go – Z Deli Pizza (2 slices + drink)||$3|
|– Movie at Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum||$0|
|– Nightcap at Rudy’s (2 drinks + 2 hot dogs + tip)||$8|
|– Breakfast on the go (egg sandwich + coffee)||$3|
|– Central Park stroll and self-guided tour||$0|
|– Window shop along 5th Avenue||$0|
|– Visit St. Patrick’s Cathedral||$0|
|– Tour Rockefeller Center||$0|
|– Lunch on the go (hotdog, pretzel, apple + soda)||$4|
|– Ground Zero / World Trade Center Memorial||$0|
|– Historic St. Paul’s Chapel / Trinity Church||$0|
|– Catch a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty||$0|
|– Dinner at Tehuitzingo (3 tacos + beer)||$12|
|– Rush ticket to a Broadway show (average)||$32|
|– See the lights walking through Times Square||$0|
|– Explore East Village||$0|
|– Breakfast at Cornerstone (meal + coffee + tip)||$9|
|– Walk through Alphabet City||$0|
|– Walk through St. Marks Place||$0|
|– Spot a celebrity in the Meatpacking District||$0|
|– Walk the Highline||$0|
|– Manhattan to airport transportation||$15|
An entertaining weekend from Friday through Sunday: $123
Splitting a hotel? You’re adding less than $200 to that total, bringing your trip cost to about $300 without airfare/train/bus.
So there you have it: an action-packed, entertaining, 3-day weekend in one of the greatest cities in the world, meals and transportation included, for an average of $41 per day. With hotel, it’s about $100 per day. This, my friends, is New York City. You have no more excuses – GO!