Home DESTINATION SPOTLIGHT Is It Possible to Do New York City on the Cheap?
Is It Possible to Do New York City on the Cheap? PDF Print E-mail

Let’s face the facts before we seasoned citizens go exploring New York City for low cost visiting. The Big Apple is the most expensive city in the world, except maybe for Tokyo and London. For instance, a cramped little hotel room in the choice Manhattan theater district is $300 a night. A suite in the ritziest resort in Las Vegas costs $150, and usually includes a free buffet. A touristy seafood restaurant in Manhattan could set you back $100 per person, while a more upscale place in Boston with a more extensive menu will serve a great meal for $35.

An orchestra seat ticket to a drama, musical or concert in Philly could go as high as $60. For the same exact program at a Broadway theater, the price could set you back $150 or more. A taxi ride from the Loop to O’Hare airport in Chicago costs $50. The charge for a taxi ride from midtown Manhattan to JFK Airport is $100, more if traffic is stalled, which is usually is.

However, despite the high prices, visiting New York City is always an exciting experience. So, if you want to indulge yourself for several days and nights of Manhattan’s terrific hotels, restaurants, museums and theaters, some penny-pinching and heavy homework could cut the outrageous costs down to merely overpriced.

If you’re flying in, check prices before you buy. Airlines offer all kinds of confusing schedules and prices, but the lowest are usually the red-eye (night) flights Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. If you’re within 200 miles of Manhattan, check bus schedules and prices.

Bus fares are not only much cheaper than flying, but they go directly from downtown to downtown, saving high costs of taxis or vans from airport to Manhattan. The same applies to train schedules, although if I’m traveling from Chicago or Los Angeles to New York City, bus and train trips are not worth the wasted time nor cramped discomfort.

By the way, if you’re coming in from JFK Airport, avoid hailing a cab.. Check at airport shuttle and van stands for the best one-way price. Don’t buy round trip, even though it could save you a dollar or two, because it limits you to using the same company to return to JFK. When you’re ready to return, check with your hotel desk for return van trip bargains and schedules.

Do you still believe any place you lay your head is OK? There are some relatively inexpensive hostels in downtown Manhattan, but unless you want to relive your summer camp, GI or Navy nights in cramped bunk rooms, you should spend more money for a bit more pricacy. Of course, you shouldn’t arrive in Manhattan and drag your suitcase around looking for a place to stay. If you have a trusted neighborhood travel agent, get some deals there before you travel.

Better still, do your own online homework and look for daily hotel bargains listed with online travel agencies such as TripAdvisor, CheapTickets, Travelocity or Orbitz. Another choice is to scan the internet 24-7 for NYC hotel ads, and you’ll find many today-only special promotions and discounts listed, especially during off-holiday and non-vacation times. If you’re a member of AARP, AAA, law enforcement or retired military, always ask if you qualify for further hotel and other discounts.

You may find the big, luxury Manhattan hotels way out of your league in price, so check with the smaller places, including in Greenwich Village. If you’re looking for a quaint stay, maybe check on some bed and breakfasts in Lower Manhattan. They’re not cheap, but if it’s not a holiday weekend or there are no big conventions in town, you may be able to get one for $100 a night, along with your ham and eggs in the morning.

A quick subway ride gets you anywhere in mid-Manhattan or just about any other destination. Forget about grabbing a cab just to go a mile or two. It will not only cost you $30 or $40 while the meter clicks in stalled traffic, but often you can get there quicker by subway, or if you’re in good health, walking while enjoying the tall buildings and city scenery.

If your NYC visit schedule is concentrated on Manhattan for theater, dining, museums and other personal plans, don’t book a hotel in Brooklyn or the Bronx just because it is cheaper. Remember, you’ll have to spend money for tedious taxi, bus or subway rides every day to get to your planned destinations in Manhattan.

When we were in Manhattan recently, we stayed with a relative several blocks away from Central Park. All the big restaurants nearby had great menus, but the prices were out of sight. We found some ethnic delis, ordered sandwiches and orange juice and ate al fresco on a park bench.

We also bought take-out meals from Chinese, Polish and Mexican delis and ate very filling dinners for about $5 each while overlooking the city on beach chairs on the apartment house roof. I hesitate to recommend it, because I don’t always trust the sanitary conditions, but eating from street carts and outdoor market stands can be very reasonable. Just make sure you see the food you’ll be eating fried or boiled while you’re there, and always drink bottled water, juices or sodas.

New York’s subway system is the envy of every big city in the world. We bought MetroCards with special pricing for seniors and roamed all over Manhattan for just a couple of bucks a day each. For another $10 or so, instead of being stuffed into a tourist boat for $50 to see Miss Liberty and other sights in New York Harbor, we rode the Staten Island Ferry. Buses in Manhattan are inexpensive, but like the taxis, they have to fight their way through the always jammed traffic.

For me, one of the most pleasant things to do in New York City is just sitting and strolling in Central Park in springtime. We also check for special free events in the park, such as band concerts, lectures, dances, festivals and exhibitions, and they add more pleasure. You could be lucky to visit when the free Shakespeare in the Park Festival is in session.

Of course, the city’s almost unlimited offerings of plays, musicals and concerts make it well worth any visit. Theater prices remain outrageous, except for at some of the smaller and experimental theaters in Greenwich Village, the so called off-Broadway presentations. Also, check out free or low-cost schedules of concerts at schools, colleges, community centers and churches.

Whatever your preference, before you buy expensive Broadway or concert tickets on line or at theater box offices, check each morning with special kiosks at various spots in the city, including those called TKTS. You may find tickets for that afternoon or evening performance at various theaters for half-price.

If you just want to gawk for free, get to NBC at about 6 am to line up to see the 7 am show, when the staff comes out on the sidewalk to talk while people shout, wave and show handmade signs to the people watching at home. To get in free to talk and quiz shows, Letterman and others, check online as early as possible before your travel to New York, because the booking may require two or three weeks’ notice.

For art lovers, there’s the Metropolitan Museum, Guggenheim, Museum of Modern Art, Museum of Natural History and many other smaller cultural venues. Check for times and days when entry is free at some museums, or when you can get senior discounts.

Unless you’re staying with a super-rich relative in New York City, a visit there can never be cheap. However, if you do some very smart homework, you can find many ways to cut posted prices on hotels, dining, entertainment and other expensive diversions.


New York skyline at night

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