I recently spent a month working in New York, and I was asked to share my experience on being30.com.
There are tonnes of companies who are willing to recommend things to do which result in you giving them money, so I have limited this to things to do without spending any of your hard earned cash. NYC costs a fortune to get to, and as we are deep in the credit crunch, everyone wants a few free things to do so here goes:
10 things to do in NYC on a budget:
1. Walk the Highline
An old (and fortunately now non-functional) railway line which runs above the west of New York City. Rather than leave it to rot, or knock it down, it was transformed into a risen flower bed walkway. It actually is a lot better than I had expected (I’m not particularly in to flowers and am more a fan of taxis than walking.)
If nothing else, you can rebel against all the people who told you as a child to stay away from railway lines, and if you walk North to South you end up in the Meatpacking district which is a great place to eat.
2. Watch the runners at Central Park (or join in)
I was lucky enough to be around when the New York Marathon was on, but most weekends have some form of race in Central Park. So, depending on your fitness and interest levels, you can either find your trainers and join in or spend a couple of hours cheering on the poor souls who have been running for ages and feel like collapsing by the time they get to the park.
Then have a wander around the park to help justify the enormous amounts of food you are probably eating.
3. Laugh at the lost tourists in Times Square
My walk to work took me through Times Square every morning. My walk home in the evenings should also have taken me through Times Square, however by the evening Times Square is overrun with tourists. These tourists seem to fall into two categories:
1. Those that move slower than a disabled snail.
2. Those that don’t move at all.
Times Square annoys me; but most people seem to want to see it so I guess it has to make this list. If you go in the mornings, then it is much less busy and there are often crews filming some form of TV show. Join the masses screaming and causing a fuss and you might just get your 5 mins of fame.
4. Sample the cheap food and do some window shopping at Grand Central Terminal
The terminal itself looks amazing, it has some decent shops especially if you need to buy gifts. There is also good food at reasonable prices on the food court and good food at cheap prices from the associated market. Definitely worth a visit.
New Yorkers get really annoyed if you call it Grand Central Station. They really need to lighten up.
5. Get some free education at NY Public Library
There are a crazy number of museums in NYC, but most of them are rather expensive. The public library is free and has some interesting exhibitions, as well as being housed in a building which is more impressive than most of the museums. It is also centrally located, so if you are out shopping and it starts to rain (it rains a lot in my experience – I did go in November) then this is a great place to hide from mother nature.
6. Play some games in Columbus park in Chinatown
I randomly walked into Columbus Park while drifting through Chinatown (South Manhattan) and found loads of people playing games, singing or practicing sports in the park. This is much closer to real New York than Central Park. Go to Columbus Park if you want to pretend to be a New Yorker, go to Central Park if you want to pretend to be in Friends.
7. Talk to some protesters at Wall Street
Occupy Wall Street isn’t a single group of people with a single cause. Many of these people have valid causes and are able to make well supported explanations of their views. Others are nutters.
Personally I find the nutters a lot more entertaining, and they tend to have a lot more handouts to share with you. They are friendly though, and if you are anything like me, you can easily spend a couple of hours finding out about alternatives to evolution or hearing why all of Americas problems are caused by not teaching drama at elementary school (seriously!)
8. See what rich people buy on Park Ave
Loads of people go to New York for the shops, and it would be a shame not to include this in the post. Park Avenue is home to the expensive and designer end of shopping. I don’t belong in this end of town, but I believe that some people like it. 7th Avenue is known as Fashion Avenue and has an abundance of more affordable alternatives.
Personally I have found this wonderful thing called the internet, which lets me buy anything I want without walking miles down busy streets and dealing with overzealous sales staff. But each to their own.
9. See the attractions your way
The viewing decks of the main attractions are expensive, and not really worth the money (in my opinion.) Why stand at the top of a building and have exactly the same view that millions of others have had and is available on a 10c postcard. These buildings are amazing but the best views come from the side streets. Experiment a bit: see the Statue of Liberty from the shore at sunset, or the Empire State Building at sunrise from the top of your hotel. (Most of the hotels and apartments are tall enough to have viewing decks which give views as good as the empire state building anyway.)
Get yourself a unique view, and pretend that you are a pro photographer.
10. Test your American knowledge at a bar trivia quiz
Americans love a pub quiz, though they do call them bar trivia. This is a stupid name, but the premise is good. All seem to be free to enter, and offer prizes if you manage to win.
Most will ask you questions about sports that the rest of the world doesn’t care about and will expect you to know all presidents in order, but if you can struggle through these rounds then you should walk to “Rest of the World” rounds which seem to consist of naming Oasis songs and European Capital Cities.
Get some Brooklyn ale and compete against the locals. The alcohol isn’t free, but there isn’t a single thing better to spend money on.
There are, of course, loads more things to do in NYC and if you are really nice to me then I might write a follow up; “Things to do in New York when you’re loaded” perhaps…