How to do New York on a budget

Empire State BuildingIf you’ve been inspired by our April travel feature on visiting The Big Apple and beyond, here’s how to holiday in the city on a budget…

There’s something about New York that captivates the imagination and brings a jolt of excitement to the senses, no matter what your age. It’s also a city that is often linked to shopping, fancy dining and pricy entertainment – all things that can seem out of reach when the pressure is already on your pocket. Yet it is possible to enjoy the vibrancy of the city that never sleeps on a tight budget.

Whether you fly into Newark, New Jersey or JFK airport, your first expense is getting into New York itself. The fastest and cheapest option is to head for the trains. Convenient and comfortable, they are about a tenth the cost of a private taxi. Expect to pay around £10 for a single journey. Getting to grips with the subway is another great way to see the real New York too – especially in the central parts of the city. Free maps are available at most subway stations and a single ride ticket costs $2.50 (£1.60) via vending machines. You also have a choice of Metrocards, some of which give you a seven per cent bonus on every $10 (£6.40) you put on them, so could be more economical depending on how long you’re in the city.

If you need to adjust to the time difference and stretch your legs after the long flight, head to Central Park. You’ll be spoilt for choice in this 843-acre open space with its paths, lakes, two ice rinks, two zoos, a reservoir, tennis courts and bronze sculptures of famous people. There are often free open air organised concerts as well as impromptu entertainment to enjoy. Plan a visit to one of the world famous art galleries and museums near to Central Park when they have a ‘pay what you wish’ entrance fee. It’s available at the Guggenheim Museum on Saturday between 5.45pm and 7.45pm and at the Whitney Museum of American Art on Friday from 6pm-9pm, while the Museum of Modern Art is free on Fridays from 4pm-8pm. Check out NYC-Arts for a full list.

If you want photo souvenirs, then snapping the skyline from the water is a must. Circle-Line cruises are very reasonable for a two-hour evening trip on the Hudson River (adults $34/£21.90, children $23/£14.80), going as far as the United Nations building. However, you can get more or less the same trip for free by boarding the Staten Island Ferry from the terminal at Whitehall Street in Lower Manhattan. During this 25-minute trip you’ll have clear views of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island as well as the skyscrapers and bridges of Lower Manhattan.

If you must shop, do something a bit different and avoid the designer boutiques on Fifth Avenue and the big department stores like Saks or Bloomingdale’s. Instead, browse for bargains at the Sixth Avenue Antiques Market, between 24th and 27th Streets (free, weekends only) or try the famous flea markets at Columbus Avenue (Sundays only). Each market has a colourful vibrancy to it, and whether you discover a gem and bargain hard or simply soak up the bustling atmosphere, you’re sure to enjoy the experience.

Eating out in this city is an absolute treat. The quality of the food, the portion sizes and the value for money are legendary. To be fair, every street has fabulous restaurants so it’s hard to recommend something in particular, but a favourite with New York celebrities is Bubby’s at 120 Hudson Street, Tribeca. With its unpretentious homely feel and no reservation policy, you could even find yourself sitting next to your favourite sitcom star. But the food is the draw. A platter of sour cream pancakes stacked with strawberries and bananas costs just $15 and is plenty for two to share and still feel full all afternoon.

If you want to see a Broadway show, then head to the TKTS booth in Times Square from 3pm (2pm on Tuesdays) for discounted tickets for shows that evening. You may have to queue and you have to pay cash, but you can get up to 50 per cent off top show tickets.

Whatever you decide to do, if you take some time to plan in a few must-sees, you’ll make the most of your trip whether you’ve got a long weekend or a full week. You’ll never do everything in the time you have, but once you’ve tasted the flavour, we guarantee you’ll want to come back for seconds!

Don’t leave without…

Visiting the 9/11 Tribute Center and taking part in an incredibly moving and humbling tribute walk. It’s $10 for adults and $5 for children aged six to 12. Entry to exhibitions is extra.

Fact file

Currency: US Dollar ($)

Climate: Similar to the UK, just colder and snowier in winter and hotter for longer in summer

Time difference: GMT -5 hours

Flights: Prices are very reasonable. Expect to get a return (inc taxes) from £307 with Virgin Atlantic or check Skyscanner and Travel Supermarket for more prices.

Accommodation: Find good value rooms at the King & Grove New York, four blocks from the Empire State Building. Booking with Expedia we found rooms with queen-sized beds for £159 per night.

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