Exploring NYC on a Budget: Where to Go and What to See!

Travel Tips and Tricks

Okay so let's set the scene. There's six days in New York City, five inexperienced students, four modes of transport, three unforgettable restaurants, (only) two major disasters, and one unforgettable trip!

There is no denying that New York is one of the most expensive cities in America. That however, doesn't mean to say it can't be explored properly by students on a budget. Yes, there's a fair bit of walking involved and you definitely can't stay in a hotel or eat at a fancy restaurant every night BUT it is all completely worth it. NYC is hands down one of the most beautiful and exciting places I've ever visited. Everything is huge and bright and flashy! Around every corner there's a film set or a celebrity in a blacked out car. And the food, oh my gosh don't get me started on the food! Anyway, for those of you that are wondering (look no further) because here's exactly what I did, with a cost break down. Plus there's a few cheeky tricks and tips to help anyone planning this kind of holiday.

Day 1: Arriving in New York and Our Hostel

Now, the key to a great trip is always your accommodation. For us a hotel in New York was unfortunately out of the question. However there are hundreds of fabulous hostels dotted across the city. After some research we ended up going with The Local NYC in Queens. It was simple and studenty, but most importantly it was safe at just $64 a night. It also had a beautiful rooftop view, lit up with fairy lights, which was great for chilling on in the evening.

On our first evening we decided to go to the Sugar Factory, a restaurant/bar that serves everything sweet. It was kind of like being in Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory, but an 18+ version where there's shots and fish-bowls and Pitbull. Of course we didn't try any of that stuff (all unfortunately being under 21) but we were perfectly happy with burgers and Milkshakes. We even managed to bag ourselves a couple of free boxes full of classic American Candy! 

Tip No.1: Always make it known you are British. Americans love the Brits and it got us lots of free stuff.

After that we left for Times Square and Broadway which is an obvious must see and probably one of my favourite places in the entire city. 

Tip No.2: The best and most cost-effective way to travel is by the subway. Don't buy single rides for $6 (it adds up quickly). You can buy a weekly pass for $30 that you can use any time across the whole city. Even if you're only there for a few days you can still get your moneys worth.

Disaster number one: While checking Jade into a separate hotel near our hostel, we found that she was unable to stay there because she was under 21. (Ridiculous I know.) After an unpleasant row with the manager and a visit from the police, we managed to secure her a room for the next five days under the condition that her Dad vouched for her if anything went wrong. 

Tip No.3: If you're under 21, be careful while booking accommodation. Many places in America don't accept unsupervised minors and often don't make it clear on their websites. Always call them and double check.

Day 2: 9/11 Memorial, World Trade Center, and Brooklyn Bridge

On our second day we decided to tick off a lot of the free touristy places. This involved a fair amount of walking but that's the best way of gathering your bearings while exploring a new place. Our first stop was the 9/11 Memorial and World Trade Center to pay tribute to the lives tragically lost there. As we walked around the memorial it was very emotional seeing all of their names engraved in stone. Above some victims names there were roses, which we later found out were placed there on their birthdays.

After that we walked across Brooklyn Bridge which provides some insane views of the city. It also gives the perfect opportunity for some some risky photos on the ledge (sorry Mum, it had to be done.) On the way back to the hostel we took our third mode of transport for the day, the Roosevelt Island Tram. 

Tip No.4: With your Subway pass you can also use the tram. These cable car type tram things give you an excellent view of the city and switches it up a little from constantly travelling underground.

Day 3: Brunch in West Village, Central Park, and the Mets game

My favourite morning that week had to be day we went for brunch in West Village. The whole place was much quieter and became a nice break from the madness of Manhattan, with it's quaint little cobblestoned streets and town houses. We decided to eat at a small restaurant called Jack's Wife Freda, which I highly recommend. From my bright green shakshuka to Char's florescent pink Eggs Benedict, we were truly satisfied with both the food and the service. (Plus if you're wanting a nice aesthetically pleasing spot for your insta post, this is your place!) From there we managed to stumble across Milk, a little dessert bar where the ice cream tastes just like the milk from the bottom of a cornflakes bowl. (Unusual, I know, but definitely worth a try!)

Tip No.5: When it comes to food, share everything. Wherever you go most menus are pretty pricey so sharing meals splits the cost. Even shared, the portion sizes for us were definitely more than enough!

From there we caught the metro to central park and explored the place via tandem (a bucket list experience I'm now delighted to tick off) and in the evening we attended our first professional league baseball game: San Francisco Giants vs. New York Mets. (Tickets were only $6 online!)

Day 4: Coney Island

On day 4 we planned a trip to Coney Island, the world famous amusement park, known for it's big wheel and 91-year-old Cyclone roller coaster. The park was way bigger than we'd first anticipated so we were able to spend all day there and even had picnic on the beach, surrounded by a bunch of fearless seagulls. It was also here that I learnt to never forget my suncream ever again. (Ouch) By booking tickets online on a fixed date, our tickets went from $69 to $45.

Day 5: Rainbow Bagel, Empire State and Stardust Diner

We were now coming towards the end of our trip but, as the famous expression goes, 'there is no rest for the wicked.' Day 5 was just as action packed as all the others, starting with a rainbow bagel breakfast from 'The Original Bagel Store' in Brooklyn. I'm not lying when I say that this is probably one of the most magical things I've ever eaten, even the cream cheese was multi-coloured!

Next came the Empire State Building. Having seen mixed reviews online, I was unsure whether or not the giant queue and a whopping $40 to the top would be worth it. In the end I decided there was no cheaping-out on this one, after all you haven't really been to NYC if you've not done the Empire State. Looking back I'm really glad I made that decision. There ended up being no queue at all and the views were just astonishing. My crappy little iPhone camera did none of it justice, but being up that high was absolutely breathtaking.

Then, our third and final restaurant of the week. (We definitely saved the best till last!) Introducing Ellen's Stardust Diner: Your original 50s-themed, all-singing, all-dancing restaurant. If you're a musical theatre fan like me, then this place is your heaven. Real life performers from Broadway are your waiters and they sing and dance whilst you eat. I never wanted to leave! Check out Ellen's Stardust Diner on YouTube to get a flavour of what I mean. 

Tip No.6: In any restaurant, if you're ordering a burger and chips, be sure to order a 'burger with fries.' Not to say that my cheeseburger and ready salted crisps weren't enjoyable!

Day 6: Grand Central Station, Urban Space Vanderbilt, and Statue of Liberty

Finally, our last day in the Big Apple, we decided to play Blair and Serena with our own mini Gossip Girl tour. You can pay for a proper tour, but why spend $59 when you can see most of the attractions for free? In the end we saw Chuck's Empire Hotel, walked down 5th Avenue, sat on the Met steps and visited Grand Central Station- success! A stone's throw away from Grand Central we found 'Urban Space Vanderbilt' which is definitely worth a visit. The small urban deli is full of local business vendors selling all kinds of wonderful food—from Mexican to America, Mediterranean to Vegan. It is a little pricey but if you've got any extra cash it's nice to help out a local business. (I recommend the doughnuts!)

The only thing we had left to see was of course, the Statue of Liberty. 

Tip No.7: Instead of spending $25.50 on a tour ticket, you can actually catch the Staten Island ferry (which drives right past the statue) for free! This is exactly what we did and got some really great views of Lady Liberty all lit up at night. The perfect finish to a truly unbelievable trip!

And here it comes, disaster number two: Whilst experiencing the best of America we were also unfortunate enough to experience a much darker side. On the coach to our next destination we were witnesses to a verbal and racial attack upon a group of innocent passengers. Sadly, it seems that this is a common occurrence in America. It was shocking to hear such hateful words come out of one clearly uneducated and bigoted woman. It wasn't until one of the girls travelling with me reported the abuse, that anything was done about the horror on-board. We weren't going to let this incident spoil our experience but this story inspires my final and most important tip.

Tip No.8: Stay safe by being aware of those around you while travelling. You never know who you're going to meet (nasty or nice.) If you witness anything suspicious, dangerous or hateful, report it straight away.

Thank you for reading, I hope at least some of this information was useful if not a little entertaining. To anyone planning a trip to New York, I hope you have a fabulous time! Stay safe.

Sugar Factory Milkshakes

9/11 Memorial

Roosevelt Island

Milk Icecream

Tandem in Central Park

Coney Island

Rainbow Bagel

Empire State Building View

Empire State

Urban Space Vanderbilt

Statue of Liberty

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