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New York City: How To Explore On A Budget

Updated: Apr 5, 2021

My close friend, Allie, from elementary school (we’ve known each other since Kindergarten!) moved to New York for a couple of years. She invited me up to stay with her and her fiance for a weekend during that time and I was more than happy to oblige.

I had been to New York once before, and the experience I had then was completely different than the one that I had with Allie. They were both wonderfully unique, and I have not yet been to a city who had that to offer. It makes you want to return again and again. Whether you have a more “living like a local” experience, or a completely tourist attraction filled one, be prepared for a lot of walking. Wear your comfy shoes, guys!

Knowing that we had to commute via subway to get just about anywhere from her apartment left it wide open to do more than was just in Manhattan (which is where we stayed on my first go around). That was the exciting, and potentially overwhelming part. Luckily I was with a local! With that being said, here are my recommendations for your next vacation to the Big Apple.

Things to do around New York City:

New York City is pretty tiny when you think about it, or look at it on a map, even though it seems ginormous when you’re physically there. And yet, there is always something going on. Depending on how much money you are looking to spend, the opportunities are seemingly endless. Here are a few recommendations.

Do the “touristy” things in (and around) Manhattan:

Times Square (at night and in the day time to get the full effect), Central Park, 5th Avenue, Wall Street, China Town (eat some food here!), Little Italy, The New York Public Library (Sex and the City fans, y’all will appreciate that one)…. all the things that you can visit without really having to spend money. The things that make you say, “hey I was there” when you see it on tv. The things that you can take pictures of and keep on strolling.

I’m personally a big movie buff (thanks to my fiance), so I love going to places where movies and shows were filmed. You could probably (and I would like to one day) spend a day just visiting different areas where movies were filmed, and most of them show up as alleys or store fronts, so you wouldn’t need to worry about paying to get in like you would for, say, a museum.

But also, spend the money to do some “touristy” things. Visit the Met, or any of the other tons of museums in New York City. It’s pricey, and typically crowded, but it really is worth it.

Take the ferry to the Statue of Liberty, visit the museum (or even just the monument *hint, free* of the World Trade Center), you’ll be happy to have those experiences. I was at least.

*Tip: Instead of waiting in the line and getting scammed by paying more for a “skip the line” pass to the Empire State Building, go to the Top of the Rock. It’s about half the price if I remember correctly, and the view from the top has the Empire State Building in it. Both attractions are crowded, but I enjoyed the Top of the Rock more, personally.

Coney Island:

If you’re wanting to venture out of Manhattan, I highly suggest taking a day trip to Coney Island. When I asked Allie what she recommend that we do before I went up there, the first thing she said was “have you been to Coney Island?!” I hadn’t, but was super excited that she suggested it. So we made a plan for one of the days that I was there to take a day trip and go. It’s about an hour or so train ride (the last stop) so plan for that (we had fun playing with SnapChat filters, but bring a book or your headphones to stay entertained) and try to get a seat ASAP.

Once you’re there, you have to get a Nathan’s Hot Dog! It’s a Coney Island staple. I cheated and got a corn dog, but it was still delicious and I could say that I ate there.

After we ate we walked around visiting the boardwalk and the fair. We got to watch the sunset from the boardwalk too which was gorgeous. We were there during peak season, so it was rather crowded. I’ve heard the boardwalk and Coney Island are magical during the off season when it is cold and deserted. I’d love to make it there during that time one day.

Revel in the History –

We didn’t ride many rides, but we did go on the Ferris Wheel and, of course, The Cyclone (another staple, but note that it is $10 to ride… I was reluctant to pay that at first, but for the experience the history I was glad that I went for it). If you aren’t scared of roller coasters (or maybe even if you are), definitely give it a go. It’s been around forever, so if you have any family that used to live in the area, chances are you’re reliving their history by riding it. My grandma and mom used to live in both Brooklyn and New Jersey, they rode it when they were young. I was excited to go home and talk about it with them afterwards and listen to the stories they had to share about a place we had all been to at different times in our lives.

Where To Eat:

New York City is distinctly known for its plethora of food options. And with so many well known chefs having their own restaurants there, it can be overwhelming to know where to go, what is worth the price or the wait, and what isn’t. Luckily, I didn’t need to worry about that this trip because I was on a budget. High end restaurants weren’t making the list. However, we still got to experience some delicious food. Here are a few places I recommend checking out:

While this isn’t in Manhattan, it’s a hole in the wall with mouth watering sushi at a really decent price. Allie and her fiance took me here as soon as they picked me up and I’m so happy they did. I felt like a right local. If you’re looking to venture out of Manhattan for sushi, I’d definitely give this place a shot.

You really can’t go to New York without experiencing the pizza. This is another hole in the wall in midtown Manhattan that Allie took me to while we were walking around the city. The service here leaves something to be desired, but you can get passed that when you taste the pizza. There are a bunch of different types to choose from and they slide each slice through the oven right before they hand it to you, so everything is melting hot. It’s something like $2 a slice and even sodas are about $1.

This breakfast shop has gotten some extra attention on social media lately for their rainbow bagels with funfetti cream cheese. If you have a plan to go to the Brooklyn Bridge (another free thing to do), make this a stop in your trek. The bagels are worth it! They are so doughy and delicious (not like one you would get at a Panera’s). And they don’t just have bagels; they have muffins, sandwiches, all kinds of things. But prepare yourself, the line seems to always be out the door. And they don’t take card (a number of places in New York don’t, I had come to find out). But this place is great and worth all of the hype that they received.


They say that New York is the city that never sleeps, so there is guaranteed to be some great night life everywhere. And a lot of places do have dress codes, which is foreign to me coming from Florida where shorts and flip flops are pretty standard. While we didn’t spend too much time out at night, we did make it to a couple of speakeasies, which was what I really wanted to do, as I’ve heard that New York has a bunch of great ones to check out.

This is by far the most popular of the bunch, and I think one of the hardest to get into. I could be making that up, but we had to try two different days before getting a reservation. Allie’s fiance had to start calling 20 minutes before they tell you to in order to get us all in. It is exciting though, you enter through a phone booth that is inside of a hot dog shop. Once you are in the speakeasy, you can actually order the hot dogs that are in the outside shop…. yum! They have a bunch of fancy drinks, all to different tastes, and the atmosphere is, of course, dim and cozy.

This one is stunning, and easily my favorite. It’s located down a side road in China Town, and you can recognize it by the “Chemist” sign. The bar is set up like an old apothecary and some of the bartenders are dressed in pharmacist coats. They have a bunch of drinks, but are known for their absinthe. It doesn’t come cheap, but if you can swing the price, definitely try it out. It’s prepared correctly and tastes delicious (and looks like you’re drinking a witch’s brew!). The bar gets crowded quickly, so don’t be afraid to go early.

Let it be known that Duff’s is a metal bar. As in metal music… as in it’s loud… as in it’s probably more of a local’s bar… as in… it’s awesome (especially if you’re into getting out of your comfort zone). Allie and her fiance’s roommate invited us here one night. Oh right, and it’s also not in Manhattan, it’s in Brooklyn. But the place is awesome. Again, it’s loud, but the atmosphere has a dark and twisty vibe that’s also lit by colorful string lights. It’s truly unique, and the drinks are cheap (we stuck with beer). I’m so glad we got to check out a place that felt most like a local’s bar.

So tell me, where are you favorite places to go in New York? Anything out of the norm? I’d love to go back during the holidays one year… so I’d love to hear your suggestions.




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