There’s no denying New York is going to pull at your strings, both of the heart and purse variety. This cool cat of a city has so many attractions you won’t even know where to begin. Visit Top of the Rock, lovely Lady Liberty and chuck in a Broadway show or two with your accommodation and you’ll start to wonder how you’re going to pay for that Shake Shack burger and fries you’ve just ordered (try a Smokestack Cheeseburger with Applewood smoked bacon and thank me later).
But never fear; a visit to the Big Apple doesn’t need to break the bank. Here’s a few things you can do to keep your pennies in your purse for the really important things, like sleeping somewhere larger than a pantry cupboard or getting that empire state of mind 103 storeys up the Empire State Building ($39AUD or $64AUD Express).
#1 Not Any Old Park
Sure, most parks are free to visit but this isn’t just any old park. Central Park is 843 acres of New York open space free to the people since 1858 and stretching from 59th Street and 110th Street between Fifth and Eighth Avenue. You’ve watched this park through the autumn of When Harry Met Sally to the winter wonderland in Home Alone 2. You’ve seen more dead bodies discovered here on Law and Order: SVU and Criminal Intent to fill a morgue or ten.
This is the place to come and watch the people of New York live and breathe – the buskers, the fitness fanatics, the suits and the students. This is their backyard, their playground, the heart of Manhattan itself. Wander its footpaths in search of statues and other iconic sites like the ‘Imagine’ mosaic of Strawberry Fields, a tribute to John Lennon.
Don’t miss the many free events held throughout the year, like the annual Summer Stage Festival which this year is celebrating its 30th anniversary with big name acts like The Kooks playing for zero dinero.
#2 Let Your Legs Guide You
Now they say you can’t get something for nothing but the Sandeman’s Free New York Walking Tour can be just that if you want it to be. A great way to get your bearings, this two hour tour runs daily from 11am starting in front of the Museum of the American Indian (closest subway station is Bowling Green) and will take you on a journey through New York’s history and streets from Broadway to Battery Park. Guides work for tips (whatever you can afford) and will reveal the city’s deepest secrets and fun facts you may not get from your guidebook so look out for them in their red shirts.
#3 Make the Most of Museums
It’s fair to say that entry tickets to shows, exhibitions and museums will take up a huge chunk of your NYC budget, but a little research can have you paying nearly nothing. Many museums or public buildings like the New York Public Library are always free to enter whilst some like the Museum of Modern Art (normally $32.10AUD) open their doors for free at particular times (MOMA is free Fridays from 4pm to 8pm).
Surprisingly, many of the museums like the American Museum of Natural History charge a “suggested” entry fee ($28.30AUD) rather than a set fee to ensure anyone can enjoy the exhibits. It’s up to you how much you can afford to pay or you can enter for free in the last hour (4:45-5:45pm).
#4 Life In The High Line
The High Line is like a garden oasis hidden above the streets of Manhattan’s West Side. Follow the 2.33 kilometre historic railway line that once carried goods to and from Manhattan’s largest industrial district and feel the buzz of local artists’ work scattered along the way. In the warmer months, volunteers run free guided tours 10am every Saturday and 6:30pm on Tuesdays.
#5 Bridge Crossings
No trip to New York is complete without a selfie on one of the iconic bridges that cross the lower East River. To get the most out of your day, start your walk in Chinatown and cross the Manhattan Bridge first. That way you get the complete view of the Brooklyn Bridge with the Statue of Liberty in the distance and the spectacular Manhattan skyline (particularly beautiful as the sun sets).
It also means you get to walk through the popular DUMBO (or Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) neighbourhood and waterfront Brooklyn Bridge Park. If you’re peckish, grab a slice of famous Grimaldi’s Pizza before returning to the city via the Brooklyn Bridge itself.
#6 Hunt for Antiques
Wander the stalls for old Americana and vintage furniture, clothing and collectibles at the Brooklyn Flea Markets, just one of many markets held across the city every weekend. Entry is free and stall owners expect a bit of haggling if you spot something cool to bring back home.
#7 The Other Park
Bryant Park is a hive of activity, especially in the warmer months when locals gather to meet, have lunch and socialise with free games and Wi-Fi available. Catch up on all the goss back home while relaxing in the sunshine or pack a picnic and watch a free movie as part of the annual Summer Film Festival.
#8 Grand Central Station as a Destination
More than just a place where the trains come and go, walk the grand staircase and see the four-faced brass clock that hangs central to the comings and goings of busy travellers at Grand Central Terminal (its official name). Don’t miss the free 90-minute walking tours at 12:30pm every Friday which will show you places like the “Whispering Gallery” and the Chrysler Building nearby.
#9 Live From New York…
New York is home to countless TV shows and big name stars so why not join in and be part of a live studio audience at one the many popular series tapings. Whether it’s getting your mug on TV at one of the daily news programs like Good Morning America filmed live in Time Square or providing audience laughs for live comedy shows like The Daily Show with Jon Stewart or The Late Show with David Letterman, this is a fun – and free – way to make New York memories.
Tip: Most audience tickets require a booking well in advance so research your favourite shows as soon as you can and good luck!
#10 Statue of Liberty on a Budget
Lady Liberty plays a special role in the hearts of Americans and travellers alike. However, the ferry tours to reach her cost upwards of $15AUD plus entry fee when there is a perfectly good ferry – the Staten Island Ferry – that will take you across the harbour and give you a killer view of The State of Liberty and Ellis Island for free. Leaving from Battery Park, hop aboard for the best free boat ride in the city.
Tip: If you wish to climb up to the statue’s Crown for the ultimate views, book online as soon as you can. Tickets sell out months in advance.
(Lead image: Aleks Ivic/Flickr)
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Siân Edwards is a Sydney-based freelance writer and food and travel blogger who has travelled to more than 20 countries. She has written for publications including Holidays for Couples and Go Camping Australia magazines and contributes to various online sites like this one. When she’s not travelling, she’s tweeting at @sianwithashh about how she wishes she was travelling (plus other cool stuff).