In New York City, sampling the arts, visiting the city’s spectacular public spaces and enjoying local delicacies like bagels and pizza can easily be done on a budget.
Sure, you could spend US$80 on the multi-course omakase at the Japanese restaurant Nobu, $101 to see the Broadway musical Monty Python’s Spamalot, and $800 at the Mandarin Oriental hotel for a view of Central Park. Or you could try a budget hotel in Brooklyn for $55, take the subway into Manhattan, and have a lot of fun for as little as $20.
Get a free subway map from any station kiosk and buy a $7 one-day Fun Pass for unlimited rides on subways and buses, valid until 3am. The subways are relatively safe, but leave your iPod at home. Those trendy white earphones have triggered a recent rash of thefts underground.
New Yorkers love to give directions, so feel free to ask anyone on the train how to get from Times Square to the East Village. Don’t be surprised if three people butt in with alternate routes (thereby demonstrating the local term ‘butt-insky’). Wear comfortable shoes, and walk fast to blend in.
Suggested admission at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Fifth Avenue and 82nd Street; 212- 535-7710; www.metmuseum.org) is $15 ($7 students), but they’ll let you in for whatever you can afford.
The newly reopened Museum of Modern Art (53rd Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues; 212-708-9400; www.moma.org) charges $20 ($12 students), but is free 4pm-8pm on Fridays. You’ll queue for an hour, but the building is so massive the crowds dissipate inside. From the top floor, you can power-walk down through the entire collection, which ranges from world-famous art by Van Gogh, Monet and Picasso to cutting-edge video installations.
The Whitney Museum of American Art (Madison Avenue and 75th Street; www.whitney.org) charges $12, (students $9.50), but there is a pay-what-you-wish admission 6pm-9pm on Fridays.
Skip the $14 fee and two-hour wait to get to the top of the Empire State Building and enjoy it from afar instead. It can be seen from all over Manhattan and serves as a useful landmark for figuring out whether you’re headed uptown or downtown (it’s at 34th Street and Fifth Avenue).
Many other famous Manhattan landmarks can also be experienced for free. Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge to behold the shimmering New York skyline, or take the Staten Island Ferry for the best view of the Statue of Liberty.
Stroll through Central Park and contemplate how well it still fulfills the vision that its 19th century designers, Olmstead and Vaux, had of an oasis from urban life, complete with meadows, ponds, bridges and fountains.
Times Square’s colourful lights are best seen at night; they are especially pretty in the rain. At Grand Central Terminal, walk through the waiting room (follow signs for Metro-North trains) and notice the chandeliers, 18m-high windows, and the ceiling painting of the night sky.
The TKTS booth (www.tdf.org/tkts) at Broadway and 47th Street sells half-price, same-day tickets to some shows. Prices vary, so $20 buys a discount ticket to some, but not all, shows. TKTS does not accept credit cards.
Some shows, including Rent and Avenue Q, hold lotteries for tickets – for details, go to www.talkin broadway.com/boards and click on Rush. The same site lists shows that offer discounted standing-room tickets, including Spamalot, tickets for which cost $21.25 for any performance that sells out.
The Metropolitan Opera (64th Street and Columbus Avenue; 212-362-6000) has student tickets ($25-$35), for some shows, and sells standing-room tickets at the box office each Saturday at 10am ($15-$20), for shows the same day through the following Friday; cash only
You can get free tickets for TV shows that are taped live, but plan ahead. A year’s wait is typical for attending Live With Regis And Kelly (www.livewithregisandkelly.com). However, many shows – including David Letterman’s (www.cbs.com/latenight/lateshow) – have same-day standby seats.
Alternatively, join the crowds watching The Today Show through the glass studio windows from 7am at Rockefeller Plaza. If your taste is more Kelly Clarkson than Katie Couric, head to MTV (Broadway and 44th Street), where the under-25 set gathers Monday to Thursday afternoons as guests arrive for TRL (Total Request Live) at 5pm.
Good music can be found all over Manhattan without emptying the nearest ATM. Jazz fans may enjoy the Knickerbocker (33 University Place; 212-228-8490; $2 cover), 9.30pm-2am Friday and Saturday, or the Zinc Bar (90 W Houston Street; 212-477-8337; www. zincbar.com; $5 cover).
You could buy a pint at Puck Fair (298 Lafayette Street; 212-431-1200), where you’ll find twenty-somethings partying until 4am to everything from hip-hop to ’80s top 40. Check the listings in Time Out magazine.
Sports and Coney Island
Bleacher seats at the Yankee baseball stadium in the Bronx are just $12, but the $8.50 beers could break your budget. In Coney Island, stroll the boardwalk, take a dip in the Atlantic (yes, the water is safe for swimming), or visit the Coney Island Museum (Surf Avenue and West 12th Street) for 99 cents. It’s open weekends from 12pm-5pm). Admission to the New York Aquarium is $1, but you can enter the amusement parks for free. Or, for $5, scream your head off on the legendary and relentless Cyclone rollercoaster. You’ve been warned.
Cheap and cheerful food
For breakfast, get a $1.25 bagel with cream cheese from a deli or pushcart. For lunch, a slice to go” costs $2 at the city’s ubiquitous pizza places, while hot dogs from street carts are about $1.50. For supper, go ethnic: Ali Baba (34th Street east of Third Avenue), has Middle Eastern meze dishes for about $12 while in Chinatown, main dishes cost around $10.
Make an evening of the East Village. Check out the scene in Tompkins Square Park, browse the vintage stores and sidewalk vendors, then dine on Japanese food at Kenka (25 St Mark’s Place), where beer on tap is $1.50 and a bowl of silken fried tofu is $4. Or go Ukrainian with pirogis and borsht at Veselka (Second Avenue and Ninth Street). Either way, you’ll find immigrants, students, punk-rockers and yuppies side by side.”