Friday, 27 May 2016

Exploring New York with a low budget!

I had been anxious in the build up to our NY trip as we were going with family who all earn considerably more money than us and enjoy a very different lifestyle.

However, it all worked out really well. We expressed our concerns and booked an airbnb in Queens with a very quick commute to their hotel in Manhattan (10 mins - so good). We met up with them for dinner every night but one (we saved our money for the food because we knew we'd be eating with them) and spent our days doing free/low cost things that we enjoy, letting them know our plans, should they wish to join us.

New York has some amazing parks which can be enjoyed for free - often with a view of the city AND nature. The blossoms were blooming during our trip which filled me with lots of joy and excitement.

One important tip - we got a 7 day unlimited metrocard for our stay, which meant New York was our oyster and we knew travel was paid and accounted for. We only travelled by subway or by foot.

I'm really only talking about how we spent our time, places we explored in New York for free/low cost but let me know if you'd be interested in how I found where to stay and how I budget.

The High Line

The High Line is a park that runs along an old train track that has been turned into a garden with plenty of seating, sculptures and a view of the streets of New York below you.

It gets busy, with tourists and locals - even during the day on a Friday it was pretty busy. Good for some people watching though!

It's not very long, it could be walked in half an hour if you don't stop to relax and enjoy the view! It's very different from one end to the other which is interesting - one end is near the Whitney Museum and restaurants like Bubby's and there's Chelsea Market. I didn't visit the Whitney but did wander through Chelsea Market which is pretty with fairy lights and has lots of fancy little food and art shops but is very very crowded. We didn't get to Bubby's as the family weren't interested on the day we hoped to go but it sounds delicious - this blog post from Hand Luggage Only made me want to go there a lot!

The other end of the High Line goes by the water and more industrial stuff, ships, trains and helicopters (these might have been those expensive helicopter rides over NY you can do if that's your thing) All interesting and worth waling it all but I think it's nicest to sit closer to the other end amongst the blossoms and relax.

Central Park

The obvious free park to be enjoying in New York is obviously Central Park. It's MASSIVE and famous and recognisable even to me. (I'm terrible at recognising anything, whether it's faces, places, music - need to work on my memory - kind of what this blog is for, reflecting on my experiences and driving them into my memory.)

We only saw a fraction of this enormous park but it's varied and exciting and pretty. Boat pond with real boats! Boat pond with little remote control boats! Piles of crazy rocks! Loads of jolly birds! Trees! Buildings! Sports areas! Playgrounds! Blossoms galore!

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

I adore The Met - when I last went to NY about 8 years ago, I visited it 3 or 4 times and it amazed me every time. In London terms, it's like The British Museum, The V&A and the Tates all rolled together! Awe inspiring.

It's free-but-not-free to enter - you have to pass the desk to get a sticker and there is a recommended donation amount but you can pay what you wish to donate. Technically, I believe you could say you are donating nothing but I'm not shameless enough or cheap enough to do that! We gave what we felt we could afford that day which was $10 for the 2 of us. I think the recommended donation is $25 per person which I think is a lot and maybe we look really cheap now but I think it all levels out. Some people will give more, some less. I do believe in supporting the arts and The Met is incredible but we needed to keep our spending minimal.

One thing I love in The Met is how they really set up the spaces so it feels like you step into the past. It feels like you really stepped into a royal Italian bedroom or a carved church. There's an amazing massive sunlit space with an Egyptian temple in it!! We couldn't get there on this visit and we thought maybe it was closed for maintenance or something although we didn't ask. There's so much else to see.

I hadn't previously realised they have this Tiffany window which I love! It used to be on my inspiration board when I was at college!

And I hadn't realised there is a roof garden! With views, a bar and more art.

Staten Island Ferry

New Yorker's are so lucky - they can have FREE boat rides whenever they fancy it! The Staten Island Ferry is basically a commuter boat between Staten Island and Manhattan. It runs regularly, pretty much all the time and it's totally free. You can see the Statue of Liberty from the boat, not super close but still a look and can't complain when you're on a free boat ride. I'm pretty into free boat rides.

Dog Parks

And apparently, dogs can't go off their leads in regular parks in NY so they have their own special parks for running around and playing with their dog friends! I was pretty excited about this intense hit of dogs! I spotted a few of these parks around Queens but this one is on the road leading from Battery Park towards the Freedom Tower.

Adding this little video because I've never seen so many dogs walking together and it was great!

We did drop by a fancy little shopping centre called Brookfield Place but not to shop, just to see this art installation by Amanda Parer called Intrude because GIANT BUNNIES.

Always worth checking what art/events are currently happening in any city as this sort of thing is often free. The bunnies are gone now but there's always something on in cities like New York or London etc.

Brooklyn Bridge

Another iconic free experience is crossing the Brooklyn Bridge. Yes, it's incredibly crowded. I still enjoyed it. Stu didn't. It is annoying how pedestrians and cyclists are cramming past each other on narrow paths so it really depends on your tolerance for crowds! Or, I bet it's fantastic if you can drag yourself there for sunrise! (That's what I wanted to do but Stu was asleep).

Spotted some very pretty street art near the Brooklyn Bridge on the Brooklyn side <3

And while we're on the subject of Brooklyn...

Prospect Park

Prospect Park feels so natural and sprawling and pretty without being overwhelming. Plus Smorgasburg on Sundays which is very worth eating your way through.

 And not forgetting Queens...


A sibling to the MOMA, MOMA PS1 is in Queens and showcases special exhibitions of contemporary art. We popped in on our first day! We were kind of jetlagged but the space is relaxed and fascinating (and we started with a coffee from their cafĂ©).

We saw the Cao Fei exhibit which was disturbing and haunting. Thought provoking too. I found it hard to watch her film 'La Town' - it seemed to be about (on one level) a sentient town which goes through cycles of violence and forgetting - all filmed with little scale models, which are also exhibited and are quite amazing (though gory). I liked another film she made in a depressing factory, showing repetition and blankness, then revealing the individual dreams and ambitions of people who worked there. Cao Fei's exhibition is on till the end of August 2016 if you are in New York before then.

Similar to The Met, there is a 'suggested donation' of $10. I think $10 is pretty reasonable though. There is also a shop specifically for magazines, loads of art and design and indie magazines, and you don't have to pay entrance as this shop is before you go through.

Gantry Park

This was honestly one of my favourite spots. Gantry Park is along the waterfront in LIC, Queens and has such a fantastic view of Manhattan as well as having seating, being super relaxed and it has a gigantic orange Pepsi sign.

Also, Stu and I walked back to our airbnb through Gantry Park at night and it was so romantic! <3

Pulaski Bridge

I'm throwing this in on the off chance that anyone, like us, stays in Queens and wants to walk across Pulaski Bridge to Brooklyn (or the other way round). If not, you're unlikely to cross this little bridge that links Queens and Brooklyn but I wanted to mention it because we crossed it a few times and adored the view, especially at night. And it was always pretty empty.

It was an amazing trip and I'm glad we didn't go over budget. I guess it's lucky that we enjoy parks, museums and exploring cities on foot though.

How do you keep costs down when on trips? What are your priorities?


  1. I'm trying to keep my cost low this summer, so thank you for this! I'm just a bus ride away from NYC, so I have a feeling I'll be stopping by this summer at least once. I love NYC's food carts--cheap and delicious! Lamb over rice <3 -Audrey | Brunch at Audrey's

  2. Yay, enjoy! How exciting to be able to take the bus to NYC :D