First time in NYC - got any tourist hacks?
October 31, 2019 5:45 PM   Subscribe

Any tips for cheap or free must-dos in New York City on a weekday next week?

I learned today that I won a contest to attend a movie premiere next week in NYC. Airfare and hotel for two nights are included, so it looks like I'll have one full day to do whatever I want, plus I get to bring a guest. Yay!

I've never been to the northeast part of the U.S., and I have very little money (I single parent five kids three nights a week), so I'm looking for hacks to save money while touring the city. I think my "free" day will be Thursday, if that matters.

I know about a few free things (walk through Central Park, visit Times Square, etc.) but would love other ideas.

posted by tacodave to Travel & Transportation around New York, NY (29 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Ferry ride to snap great skyline photos, just walk through the Village on a nice afternoon?
posted by Freedomboy at 5:46 PM on October 31, 2019 [1 favorite]

Brooklyn bridge.
There is a number of free museums.
The High Line.
posted by pyro979 at 6:07 PM on October 31, 2019 [4 favorites]

The Staten Island Ferry is free and gives you the most amazing views of the Statue of Liberty and the skyscrapers of downtown Manhattan, including the new tower that replaced the World Trade Center. You take it from downtown Manhattan, and then you have to get off at Staten Island...but you just walk through the station there and get back on again for the ride back. Highly recommended!
posted by BlahLaLa at 6:34 PM on October 31, 2019 [3 favorites]

If you walk through Central Park, you may want to warm up in one of the museums on either side of it, like the MET (mind blowing), or the NY Historical Society (amazing Tiffany lamp collection) also the Natural History museum, if that's your bag. Admission is about $25 each, I think.

The Strand book store is of course, free...and amazing.
posted by bonobothegreat at 6:37 PM on October 31, 2019

Also, if low-price tickets are in your budget, you can see a real NYC improv show at Upright Citizens for between $7 - $14. (There are 2 Manhattan locations, so just be sure which one you're getting tickets for.)
posted by BlahLaLa at 6:38 PM on October 31, 2019

Seconding the SI Ferry, for the cool views, plus being free! The High Line is free too and worth a short walk, but was cooler 20 yrs ago. The MET is pay what you wish, including nothing. LES Tenament Museum is uniquely New York. Not free but soooo worth it if you're into history.
posted by blaneyphoto at 6:41 PM on October 31, 2019

Sadly, the Met is no longer pay-what-you-wish for visitors from out of state. The American Museum of Natural History, on the other side of Central Park, still is. You just have to go to one of the ticket counters instead of the automated kiosks.
posted by lmindful at 6:57 PM on October 31, 2019 [2 favorites]

Cheap eats are half the fun of New York! Look up a great slice of pizza (and do not neglect the concept of the dollar slice; they are usually better than they have any right to be). Ditto bagels (do not get them toasted!) though that will run you $10 if you get lox etc (less if you are willing to just have butter or cream cheese). Halal carts are often delicious and you can look up the best ones in the neighborhood you'll be in. And I always tell people to try Xi'An Famous Foods - there is a midtown outpost and it is delicious and cheap and possibly not a cuisine you get back home (depending where you live).
posted by branca at 7:09 PM on October 31, 2019 [2 favorites]

A free trip for a film premiere? What fun!

Since it’s your first time in the northeast at all, just the sheer energy and pace of NYC is going to be a great thing to take in. The park, Times Square, the West Village, Wall Street, Brooklyn Heights, any given stretch of Broadway... it will all be An Experience. You really can’t go wrong, so don’t pressure yourself to pick something that will be your one experience, just pick a neighborhood and go. And yeah, get a decent bagel, and yeah pick a museum to visit (I vote for The Morgan), and yeah make time for a ferry ride. But mostly just show up and see what happens.
posted by minervous at 8:35 PM on October 31, 2019 [2 favorites]

The Oculus is amazing and free (and it's right at Ground Zero, if you're interested in seeing that).
posted by Mchelly at 8:44 PM on October 31, 2019

You can also go up the Vessel for free (timed entry tickets but it's easy to get them) - it's pretty touristy, but you'll get great pictures and hey, you're a tourist, so who cares what jaded New Yorkers think of it.
posted by Mchelly at 8:47 PM on October 31, 2019

I think the SI Ferry and Central Park, discussed above, are your best bets for free intro NYC. I personally would skip Times Square. The hassle far outweighs any minimal cool. If you do go, go in the evening, when the lights are more impressive, though the hassle is even more magnified. If you must, then get there around 5 pm or so so you can duck into the NYPL Main in Bryant Park nearby before it closes and take in the renovated Rose Reading Room first (free). And don't get your burger at Shake Shack, get it at Schnipper's two blocks away.

If it's a cool and brisk sort of day, when your walk in the Park is done you may want to pop into Cafe Sabarsky (in the Neue Galerie, but you don't have to buy a ticket to visit the cafe) for a hot chocolate and enjoy the atmosphere while warming up. (Cheap on an absolute scale, not cheap for a hot chocolate: $10.)

If you like classical vocal music at all, that evening the choir school attached to St. Thomas Fifth Avenue, which trains the premier boys' choir in the U.S., is celebrating its 100th anniversary with a concert. There are still a few $10 obstructed view seats left.

The Ferry and Central Park are at semi-opposite ends of Manhattan, so expect to spend a bit of time transiting from one to the other. Fortunately, many of both the east and west side subway lines converge on the Financial District, so whichever side you exit the park on, you should still be able to get the train down to the vicinity of the Ferry relatively easily. If you want a bit of a lunch splurge, Manhatta (on the 60th floor of 28 Liberty, maybe fifteen minutes' walk from the ferry) has an $18 soup and sandwich lunch deal from 11:30 to 1 and extraordinary views. There are a ton of decent-ish food carts in the Financial District, though, where you can fill up for ~$7.50 instead.
posted by praemunire at 9:49 PM on October 31, 2019 [1 favorite]

All of those suggestions are great. Not to forget, though, that people-watching is free, and holy moly, hard to get better people watching than Manhattan. A huge slice of the the human condition, all on one little island.
posted by Sublimity at 3:28 AM on November 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

Cheap food: pizza at a "corner slice" place. It may look dodgy but this is a New York institution. (Not the places that have a line stretching out the door - it'll be tasty but expensive.)

Or keep your eyes open for places called "Papaya King" or something similar - these are shops that offer hot dogs and fruit smoothies and that's it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:09 AM on November 1, 2019

Spend some time people-watching and strolling the holiday market in Bryant Park
posted by smokyjoe at 4:55 AM on November 1, 2019

Grays Papaya at 72 and Amsterdam on the upper west side is the original and the only one that remains a good deal.

The galleries in the Chelsea area near the Hi Line are free and range from nice/pretty to omg insane amazing how can anyone afford to build that and who has a living room big enough (any Serra). If the evening is free check for openings. (free wine;-)

Off off broadway shows are cheap, but hit TKTS for a big broadway show if you have never seen one, the booth at south street or lincoln center probably have shorter lines.
posted by sammyo at 5:39 AM on November 1, 2019

One more - if you go to 28th street between 5th and Broadway there's a parking lot on the north side of the street (next to a construction site now) where you can get the best unobstructed view of the Empire State Building that I've found in the city, for photos. If you walk from the 1 train at 28th during the mornings you'll go right through the flower district, which is almost like having an outdoor botanical garden tour.
posted by Mchelly at 7:55 AM on November 1, 2019

My full answers are going to depend a lot on what neighborhood you’re in because thebsuvway can add up. There used to be a one day unlimited card, but now it’s either a week unlimited or pay per ride. But here’s a smattering of inexpensive things I like:

Some suggestions:
Highline for a walk
Chinatown for dumplings
Dog parks for people (and dog!) watching
The Strand bookstore (even if you’re not in the market for books, it’s a great place)
Washington Square Park
posted by bilabial at 8:36 AM on November 1, 2019

Central Park is not at the other end of the Manhattan from the ferry terminal. In fact, it's kind of in the middle. Near the other end of the island you might be interested in visiting The Cloisters. Or maybe even the Dyckman Farmhouse which is near the Cloisters.
posted by mareli at 8:40 AM on November 1, 2019

nthing the High Line. The Vessel and Hudson Yards are near the north end of the High Line.

If you do find yourself at the north end of the High Line around sunset the wooden seating steps overlooking the Hudson are the best DIY happy hour spot in town. I've had a discreet paper coffee cup of wine there without any problems while waiting for my Megabus home (the Megabus pickup point is just outside of the High Line fence). If you want a heaping plate of great cheap Italian food with good service nearby-ish go to Sergimmo Salumeria at 456 9th Avenue, New York NY 10018. It's my go-to before getting the bus home. Sometimes they're cash only. If Sergimmo isn't open my fallback is Jax BBQ, 469 9th Avenue, New York NY 10018.
posted by jointhedance at 9:02 AM on November 1, 2019

If you do go to the Strand, Forbidden Planet is just a block north on Broadway for more genre browsing.

(Even Central Park South is five miles away from the ferry terminal; realistically, a half hour on the subway. A distance that requires taking into account for a person doing a one-day tour.)
posted by praemunire at 9:13 AM on November 1, 2019

Plan your days around transit! Practically everyone takes the subway (or walks) everywhere in NYC.
Make sure you understand how to get to your desired locations on the subway, and that the subway you're planning to take is running on the day/time you're planning to use it (weekend schedules are different).
Pick a headliner event (eg museum or restaurant or park), then look for also interesting things to see/do/eat in the same area so you don't have to zig zag all over the place. I usually plan for one "headliner event" per half day.
posted by dotparker at 11:10 AM on November 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

You can save on data charges if you download an offline google map of Manhattan before you leave home. I find that google transit directions are pretty good but the stations themselves can be confusing so allot some extra time. It's good if you're not shy to ask strangers (though I would bet people will be more helpful outside of rush hours). Here's how to buy the appropriate transit pass, so you're not fumbling to figure it out while a line forms behind you.
posted by bonobothegreat at 11:33 AM on November 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

Also be aware that on some subway lines, there are separate stations for downtown and uptown trains where you can't switch between the two (downtown and uptown are on platforms that don't connect). They're marked on the signs above ground, but if you're not looking for it, you can be stuck with either an additional fare to go out and back in again in the right direction, or lose the time it takes to go in the wrong direction for however many stops until you can switch to the right way again.
posted by Mchelly at 11:45 AM on November 1, 2019

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone!
posted by tacodave at 3:25 PM on November 1, 2019

Wear walking shoes, NYC is tough on people who can't walk. And, it's a big place. I agree to skip Times Square. It's just a very big, very busy, intersection. If you must visit a square, make it Union Square where there is a choice of places eat.
posted by SemiSalt at 3:46 PM on November 1, 2019

Seconding the suggestion to skip Times Square if possible. Certainly don't deliberately avoid it if you're passing right through but it's not worth a special visit IMO, it's become too garishly commercial; way too many tourists since it became family friendly.

But get great pizza anywhere; enjoy a slice while walking.
posted by Rash at 8:34 PM on November 1, 2019

Response by poster: It turns out that our hotel - Novotel New York Times Square - looks out over Times Square, so I'll definitely see it.
posted by tacodave at 3:05 PM on November 4, 2019

Response by poster: I had an amazing trip and I thank all of you for the great ideas. We saw tons of amazing sights and didn't end up spending too much money. Thanks for the advice!
posted by tacodave at 4:48 PM on November 12, 2019 [4 favorites]

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