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Beginner’s Guide to New York City

New York City is famous for, well, everything — fashion, business, theatre, food, art, museums, and so much more. After six visits to the Big Apple, I still haven’t touched the surface. The possibilities are endless in this massive city. Uncovering everything in this intense city requires an entire lifetime devoted to this one task. Since that is not me (heck, I haven’t even lived in the city) this advice is very unwarranted, but I’ll attempt to do this city a margin of justice.

When to go

Although $50/day in NYC is nearly impossible, it also doesn't have to be $500/day. Here is my advice on how to do NYC on a budget!

NYC doesn’t have a monsoon season or boiling hot temperatures during the summer or deathly cold winter months, but it can get warm, rainy, and cold. Figure out what you can and cannot handle, then pick a timeframe within the “can handle” realm. Can’t survive the heat? Don’t go during the summer. Do you complain it’s too cold when the temperature is above freezing like I do? Don’t go during the winter.

Be aware of the different opportunities available during the different seasons. Ice skate with beautiful views during the winter, enjoy more color and cooler temperatures during the spring and fall, or watch an outdoor movie in the summer. Decide what your goals are during your time in the city and what you can and cannot bear.

Crowds are pretty average the entire year; even the difference between weekends and weekdays are minimal from my experience. The holiday season is the exception to crowds. I refuse to be packed like a sardine and therefore refuse to go to NYC during the winter holiday season ever again.

Accommodation

The best hotel or hostel deals are found outside of Manhattan. Booking several months ahead will provide more options. Groupon sometimes offers steals, so keep your eye out for those. Rooms during the week usually have slightly cheaper rates compared to weekends. Couchsurfing is huge in NYC, but just like with hotels or hostels, be sure to book early. If AirBnB is your accommodation of choice, be aware of aggressively enforced rental laws in NYC.

There are over 90 hostels available in NYC. This number may seem large, but for a major tourist destination and massive city it is rather limited. Be sure to book early if you want to stay in a hostel. I’ve heard recommendations for Jazz Hostels and the YHA, but haven’t personally stayed in either.

A cheaper hotel option is the Morris Guest House, located in the Bronx. There’s a kitchen available for use and restricted access inside the building. It’s only a block away from two subway lines. And, yes, I felt safe in the Bronx. The rooms share a bathroom, which was occasionally inconvenient, but the bathroom was clean and Morris was the cheapest hotel I’ve found in NYC. The website says AC is available, however our room did not. I’m not sure if this is hotel-wide or if you have to specifically request a room with AC. Either way, if you’re looking for a budget option be sure to check out the Morris Guest House.

Finally, finding a travel buddy can cut the rate in half.

Getting There

Although $50/day in NYC is nearly impossible, it also doesn't have to be $500/day. Here is my advice on how to do NYC on a budget!Planes, trains, and automobiles…and even ferries, buses, and bicycles. You have options and I encourage you to look into them all. I, however, prefer to arrive by bus.

Check out Wanderu for inexpensive bus tickets to the city. My last bus tickets cost $35 round-trip. Most buses offer free Wi-Fi, comfortable seating, and a bathroom. I was nervous preparing for my first bus to and from the city, but it is actually a super easy process. Drop-off and pick-up are centrally located in Manhattan. You usually need to arrive only 30 minutes before departure. Although buses may have longer travel times, they are overall much less of a hassle than planes and (in my experience) significantly cheaper than other transportation options.

 

Bonus tips about how to make a bus ride easier!

  1. I like to sleep on an early-morning bus and then spend the afternoon in the city.
  2. Print out your bus tickets before the trip.
  3. Write down the drop-off and pick-up location address plus a general description of the area and directions on a piece of paper and in your phone’s notes before traveling, just in case.
  4. Sit several rows away from the bathroom.
  5. Bring a small pillow and blanket. Bus drivers seem to like to keep the bus chilly.

Food

Street vendors and pizza slices for about $5 are just about everywhere, but slightly healthier options are available on a budget. Check out the variety of shops, cafes, and ethnic restaurants around the city. They all typically offer meals for about $10. Of course, the cheapest option is always buying food from a local market or grocery stores and cooking in your hostel/hotel/house.

If you’re craving something specific, a simple “good {food type} in NYC” google search will bring up lots of recommendations. I live by this tip in NYC and about everywhere else.

Transportation

Although $50/day in NYC is nearly impossible, it also doesn't have to be $500/day. Here is my advice on how to do NYC on a budget!I completely understand the overwhelming feeling of NYC the first time you visit. I get that feeling every single time.

The easiest option are taxis, but they are expensive.

Walking and riding the subway are the cheapest options to get around. Look at a map before visiting to try to understand the city’s fairly simple layout. It’ll make walking from point-to-point easier. I usually have Google Maps running just in case.

I love riding the subway. A 7-day transit pass costs $30, plus a $1 MTA charge. This pass is generally the cheapest option, even if you’re only staying for a few days. The standard subway fare is $2.50, no matter the time or distance traveled. I like to jump around the different neighborhoods and boroughs while in NYC, so the transit pass is easily the cheapest option to see and do more quickly. To put it into perspective, only 13 rides are needed to make the week pass the cheaper option.

Be sure to download the MTA app for a map of subway stations on your phone.

Activities

NYC offers plenty of free and inexpensive things to do.

There are a plethora of free walking tours, but here are just a few organizations that offer them: Municipal Art Society, Trinity Church, Brooklyn Brewery, and Big Apple Greeters. Although these tours are free, you still need to tip your tour guide a few dollars out of courtesy.

Most museums in NYC are free, have free-entry days, or offer student/military/senior discounts. Free museums generally ask for donations, recommending around $20; it’s polite to offer even a few dollars if $20 is too much.

Although $50/day in NYC is nearly impossible, it also doesn't have to be $500/day. Here is my advice on how to do NYC on a budget!Staten Island Ferry offers a free 20-minute ride across the harbor with views of the Statue of Liberty and the city skyline. The Downtown Boathouse, located at Pier 96, offers free kayaking. Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge is a long, but rewarding free activity. Central Park – or any other park in NYC for that matter – has a lot to offer and is naturally free. Check out free concerts and theatre productions in Central Park during the summer months, too.

TKTS offers Broadway show tickets for 40-50% off select shows. They are located in Times Square, South Street Seaport, and Brooklyn. If you can, check out the latter two locations to avoid extreme lines. Arriving about 20-60 minutes before opening gets you a wider selection.

Check Groupon for discounted last-minute deals. A few years ago, I bought a 2-hour harbor cruise for $20pp and heavily discounted weekend parking (for those crazy people wanting to drive into the city).

Do you have any other budget NYC tips? I’d love to hear them in the comments!A poor college student's guide to visiting NYC on a budget

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