A Frugal Guide to New York City

If you’re a poor college student as myself and/or the economy is straining your wallet, and you’ve seen the Met, Guggenheim, Times Square, the Empire State Building, Central Park, and done all the touristy things there is to do, here’s a list of cheap alternatives I’ve all tried out this break:

See the White Bike

Photo by David Jacobs

This bike, parked on the corner of 6th Avenue and 36th Street in Manhattan, memorializes the death of David Smith, who was hit by a car in December of 2007, at the age of 65. It’s a beautiful piece of artwork, chained permanently to a post.


Take the ferry

Here’s a free ride that takes you across the Bay and gives you a beautiful view of downtown Manhattan as well as a good shot of Lady Liberty. Recommended for those beautiful days (and get to it before noon because the clouds start appearing then even on a crystal clear morning). Once on Staten Island, if it’s warm, make your way to South Beach for a nice non-Manhattan view and a majestic sight of the Verrezano Bridge.

Dine at Little Italy

Photo by Lorenzo De Leo

Little Italy is dwarfed by Chinatown right next door, but there’s always good food at reasonable prices, and if you’re a little hungry after a day’s walk, drop by some of the bakeries for authentic pastries and bread.


Have a picnic at South Street Seaport

While it’s a popular tourist destination, it’s also a good place to sit down and relax, have a picnic or take photos of the Brooklyn Bridge. You can also get good closeups of the helicopters leaving from the downtown heliport.

Ride the tramway

One of the lesser-known jems of New York is the Roosevelt Island tramway (featured in the 2002 film Spiderman) which allows you to see up the East River alongside the Queensboro Bridge. [Redacted: There isn’t much to see on Roosevelt Island] You’ll note in the comments that there is indeed much to do once on Roosevelt Island, in addition to a good view of the United Nations building and lots of seagulls.

Browse a used bookstore

Used bookstores are fun to check out and you really never know what you’re going to find, from Maupassant (upright next to a book on New York’s finest) or a fine collection of Wonder Book of Knowledge. The Strand (with the famed 18 miles of books) and the Westsider are two big favorites.

Check out Union Square

There’s usually an outdoor market and when it’s winter, the hot apple cider from the farms is a necessity. If it’s warmer you might come across Joe Ades, also known as the Gentleman Peeler, selling his wares for $5 apiece. There’s tons of stores around Union Square, too.

Visit Grand Central Terminal

With over 600,000 people coming and going through the station (more visitors than commuters) it’s grandiose structure and breathtaking ceiling, combined with the hubub of movement, makes for a wonderful experience.


Watch the planes

Watch the planes as they head towards landing at LaGuardia near 61st and Queens Boulevard. If you feel like walking there are a few interesting stores further west, near 40-50th streets.


Browse a street fair

When it’s warm outside you can peruse nearly every week a street fair that blocks of several blocks and allows vendors and people to pour out into the streets. A Google search for street fairs NY should return specific dates and locations.

Rotate the cube

Astor Place is home to Tony Rosenthal’s sculpture “Alamo”, popularly referred to as “The Cube”, which is capable of spinning on the one side it’s standing on.


Relax at Barbes New York

Listen to Slavic music, country tunes, singing or jazz. A strongly recommended cover charge of $10 is all you need to enjoy it all, with a tremendously wide selection of beer as the bar.


Hit it up at NYC.gov.

There’s a great listing of free events and if you’re bored and have nothing to do, hitting “Today” can give you a list of ideas.

View Comments

  • "There isn’t much to see on Roosevelt Island" FOUL! There is! Seven landmarks, New York City's newest park being constructed, a vibrant multi-dimensional community, good community theater, shops, a couple of good restaurants, and people enjoying NYC's greatest place to live. Bite your tongue

  • As a resident and trained tour guide for the island there is plenty to see on the island and I am not just taling about views of Manhattan from our beautiful promemade.

    We have many landmarks worth walking to including a lighthouse and former smallpox hospital (NYC's only landmarked ruin) both designed by the same architect that designed St. Patrick's Cathedral. We have one of the oldest farmhouses still standing in NYC, Blackwell House. We have the Octagon, a former Lunatic Asylum now conveted into an apt residence. We have one of two remaining trolley entrance kiosks now operating as our visitors center that has materials and photos detailing the rich history of the island.


    Did I mention our local bus only costs 25 cents to ride from the Tram all the way up to the Ocatgon from which you can take a short walk to our lighthouse !

    So before you say there is nothing to see think again as our island is richer in history than most neighborhoods anywhere in NYC.

  • I stand very much corrected. Changes have been made in the post to reflect things as they indeed are. Thank you!

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