What to Do In: New York City almost for Free (Essentials!)

I am back in my home state and have finished getting settled in. I truly love New York and I am glad to be back. I’ve missed the parks, the culture, and variety of vegetarian food options! Not to mention the quiet. I never thought I would say that! Yes, New York City with all its crowds and cars is quieter than Santo Domingo. In Santo Domingo, cars honk, motorcycles weave through the traffic to get to the front, vendors shout about their wares (Aguacate! Aguacate y guineo!!), and merengue blasts. In New York, there is a quiet hum that covers all — cars whooshing by, people talking on their phones or to eachother, but overall the sounds are not disruptive. I reveled in it yesterday.

New York Skyline from New Jersey
New York Skyline from New Jersey

When my friend from Italy, who I met in Santo Domingo, told me he would be stopping through New York City for a day and a half en route back home, he posed me with the question that makes every New Yorker question all that is dear: What should I do in New York?

This question is interesting for anyone considering what to do in a limited amount of time because it means much must be sacrificed (guided tours? museums? the food? entertainment?) and that one must make a decision about what is truly “essential.” The answer to this question really is up to the individual and their preferences and what they hope to accomplish in The Greatest City in the World!

While he and I didn’t accomplish everything on this list in one day, we walked a lot and lounged about in Central Park. We had perfect weather, so given rain or colder days, this list should be edited as it includes much outside time. For those who do not prefer to walk a lot, take a subway or bus to your destination. You can’t beat the price.

I should also note that this list only includes sights in Manhattan and that there are plenty of things to do in the other boroughs. (Hint: more blogs to come!)

First, what you’ll need for this day:

  • Wallet, cash/credit card and ID (student ID a bonus)
  • Good walking shoes!
  • Weather appropriate gear such as an umbrella, sunglasses, sweater, sunglasses, etc.
  • Water bottle, although you can drink from the fountains here and there are plenty in the parks and at museums
  • If you have a smartphone, download the following free apps:
    • NYC Subway app from the MTA
    • Foursquare to find restaurants by keyword and location

And what we’ve all been waiting for, the Essential List of What to Do in New York City Almost for Free!

1) Statue of Liberty views ($)

A sailboat, and the Statue of Liberty from Battery Park
A sailboat, and the Statue of Liberty from Battery Park

Get out early and start at the bottom of Manhattan. Grab a bagel and coffee and take the 1 to South Ferry or the 5 down to Bowling Green and view the Statue of Liberty for free from Battery Park. If you have more time, take the free Staten Island ferry.  From the ferry you will have a great view of NYC and the Statue.

Cost: 2 subway rides
Time: 1.5-2 hours, depending on where you are staying. Give 2 hours for the ferry.

2) Get up to the High Line (free-$)

The view from the High Line
The view from the High Line

Take the 1 up to 14th Street and walk west to the High Line. This beautiful park, built upon an old train track, is about 1.5 miles long if you walk the whole thing. It has some great views and nice places to sit and enjoy a coffee or snack.

Cost: 1 subway ride
Time: 1 hour

3) Nature and Culture: Central Park and the Metropolitan Museum of Art ($-$$)

Belvedere Castle from the Great Lawn
Belvedere Castle from the Great Lawn

Take the subway to Columbus Circle and ramble amongst the beauty that is Central Park. My friend and I both like to walk a lot so this suggestion is not for the light of heart: Walk to Belvedere Castle! You will pass beauteous things along the way (try to find the Alice in Wonderland statue if you get lost), the fountain and Great Field. Belvedere Castle, by 79th Street, in the middle of the park, is free (but you can make a donation), and has wonderful views of the park.

Kale Falafel with Tzatziki Sauce at Mamagyro
Kale Falafel with Tzatziki Sauce at Mamagyro

From the castle, walk east to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. By this point, you will be starving (if you haven’t caved in an bought park food), and there are plenty of cheap lunch options on the Upper East Side on Lexington. How much walking is up to you. If you are on a limited schedule, shell out for park food. We went to Mamagyro on Lexington between 77th and 78th Street. It was amazing. We were starving but it was amazing.

Temple of Dendur at the Metropolitan Museum
Temple of Dendur at the Metropolitan Museum

You can’t see the whole Museum in a day (oh, how we tried) so pick 2-3 exhibits and focus on those. The recommended donation for entry is $25 but you can give any amount. A nice lady gave us a free ticket after we passed through security! Thank you, New Yorkers!

Cost: 1 subway ride, and more depending upon your generous self
Time: 4 (two for Central Park, two or more for the museum)

4) Times Square (free-$)

The quintessential New York for tourists. Do not go here during rush hours, which are approximately 8-10am and 5-7pm. Don’t linger or you will be sucked in. Do not eat here, unless it’s a street pretzel! Just take one picture in the middle of the mayhem and get out! Times Square is infinitely cooler after dark with all the bright lights so a good option is to have a relaxing dinner and then go to Times Square.

Cost: 1 subway ride
Time: As little as possible!

5) Experience local night life ($$)

Jazz at the Shrine NYC
Jazz at the Shrine NYC

My friend was staying in Harlem, so I recommended a few places there. I suggest the Harlem Tavern (near his apartment), but other great haunts are the Corner Social, the Shrine (my favorite for live music!), and Boulevard Bistro (for the food). But every neighborhood has a favorite bar, so feel free to explore, where ever you are.

Cost: $10-30 per person, and amount consumed
Time: 1 hour-???

What are your favorite things to do in New York City? What do you always recommend to visitors?

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