New York City is home to thousands of restaurants, hundreds of museums, attractions, plays, and quirky things to do. You have to resign yourself to the fact that you can’t see the whole city in a matter of days, you may only see a fraction of the city whilst visiting. That is why planning is key. You don’t want to miss seeing the key attractions, eating in the best restaurants and of course, missing any vital photo opportunities.
Here is my guide to getting the best value for money on a trip to New York City.
Research Hotel Locations
Instinct is to search for the cheapest hotel possible but this might not work out to your advantage. You need to think about what you are going to do on your trip. New York City is massive and it can take time to travel between the different neighbourhoods. Basing yourself in the financial district yet spending the bulk of your trip at Central Park is going to cost you subway/taxi/uber money for each trip.
Take into consideration hotel taxes that you pay upon arrival. This usually allows you access to hotel amenities, for example, faster Wi-Fi speed and gym usage.
I have stayed at several hotels during my visits to New York, the most recent being Henn na Hotel. I would stay here again because of the room size, cleanliness and location.
I first travelled to New York City during my student days staying in youth hostels for under $20 a night, however other hotels I would recommend staying at include:
Using Public Transport
If you are travelling with a group, and depending on what airport you arrive at, it will be worth investigating whether or not to use public transport into the city.
The flat fare for a taxi from JFK into Time Square is $53 plus a $6 toll plus the usual 20% tip – for a total of $70. A taxi between LGA and Manhattan will cost around $35-$50 — not including tolls, tips, and any applicable surcharges. Make sure to factor this in, it can run expensive for a single traveller.
A taxi between LGA and Manhattan will cost around $35-$50 — not including tolls, tips, and any applicable surcharges.
If travelling from the airport, here is a handy guide to cheaper alternatives.
The Best Tours of The City
Start your trip off with a walking tour. The city is home to multiple walking tour companies offering tours in every niche you could imagine from historical tours to food and drink, television and film – if you like it, chances are there is a tour revolving around it. The big benefit of walking tours is that they offer a unique look at the city from a local guide who can answer any of your questions.
My recommendation for a great walking tour is Free Tours By Foot. I have used this company in multiple cities and they never disappoint. Whilst it states the tour is free in the title, the guides do suggest you offer whatever tip you feel the tour is worth at the end. The guides are extremely informative and have the best advice for places to eat and things to do.
New York City is known for its food and each neighbourhood specialises in a unique cuisine. I recommend the Secret New York City Food Tour if you want to sample local dishes from all the best spots. This is a great way to see the neighbourhoods and where the locals dine. Whilst eating out is expensive in the city, sometimes the tour guide can point out some hidden gems for you to go back to visit later during your stay.
Visit Neighbourhoods outside of Time Square
Ask any New Yorker and they will tell you about their hate of Times Square and Midtown simply because Times Square is where all the tourists are. But this area is also home to many of NYC’s most iconic sights like Times Square, Broadway, The Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center, and lots of shopping.
Greenwich Village is one of the most loved and most iconic parts of NYC (this is where Friends took place). It’s full of bars, restaurants, music venues, cafes, coffee shops, the iconic Washington Square Park, and peaceful tree-lined streets. The area has a youthful vibe as its home to New York University.
The East Village is laid-back and popular with a hip nightlife that skews towards the younger crowd. It’s full of vintage shops, tattoo parlours, dive bars, music venues, and other trendy spots.
Harlem is a vibrant neighbourhood in northern Manhattan. It’s famous for tiny jazz clubs, soul food restaurants, beautiful brownstones, a diverse population, and the Apollo Theater. The neighbourhood is quickly changing with more trendy restaurants, hip cafes, and cool coffee shops opening.
Venture across the Brooklyn Bridge
For the best views of the Lower Manhattan skyline head over to the beautiful tree-lined Brooklyn Heights Promenade. You can take the subway over however I recommend walking the Brooklyn Bridge for the best views on the way across.
Brooklyn Heights Promenade is a great spot to visit on a nice day and to catch the sunset. Furthermore, spend some time walking around the Brooklyn Heights neighbourhood as it’s full of beautiful old townhouses, cafes and quaint shops. Very picturesque.
Take the Staten Island Ferry
Taking the Staten Island Ferry is another free activity to do. The ride between lower Manhattan and Staten Island takes about 25-minutes each way and passes directly by the Statue of Liberty offering great views of the NYC skyline. It is operated by the New York City Department of Transportation and runs 24 hours a day, departing every 30 minutes (more frequently during rush hour).
Visit Central Park
Central Park is arguably the greatest urban park in the world and it’s a huge part of what makes NYC such an amazing city. The park is massive so give yourself a few hours to explore the park as there is so much to see/do there. As mentioned previously, Free Tours By Foot has a great guided tour of the park.
Enter Central Park around 72 Street. This will put you into the heart of the park. Alternatively, you can start near the southern part of the park (@ 59th Street).
Walk the High Line
One of NYC’s most popular attractions is the High Line. The Highline is a 1.5-mile long free urban park/walkway that was built on former elevated railroad parks. I recommend starting the High Line at Hudson Yard and finishing up in Chelsea so you can visit Chelsea Market.
Chelsea Market is an old industrial building that was converted into a food hall. It’s an excellent place to grab a quick lunch or dinner.
Visit Hudson Yards
Perched in Hudson’s Yard, visiting the Vessel is easily one of the best things to do in New York as it has become so iconic in the city. The 60-ton sculpture resembles a honeycomb, some say the larger-than-life art installation designed by British architect Thomas Heatherwick is New York’s version of the Eiffel Tour. Unfortunately, the Vessel is closed to the public due to the high number of suicides in the building.
Get a bird’s eye view of the city from The Edge Observation Deck. The highest outdoor observation deck in the Western Hemisphere takes you 65-feet into the sky making it the highest public balcony in NYC. The deck features panoramic views of the city’s skyline, and a large, see-through glass floor. Much like the Top of the Rock concept at Rockefeller Center, there’s a 10,000-square-foot bar, restaurant and event space on the 101st floor.
Hudson Yards’ luxurious shopping mall has all your bases covered. With 100 stores, shopaholics can visit popular chains like Aritzia, Uniqlo, Banana Republic, Brooks Brothers, H&M and Madewell as well as designer outputs like Dior, Tori Burch, and Kate Spade, Coach, Kenzo, Fendi and more. Once the shopping fatigue sets in, there are 25 restaurants on-site for lunch, dinner or just a simple snack.
Where to eat out
Dining out in New York City is expensive. It is best to budget for this. New York also has a variety of cheap eats, happy hours, and food deals that make it easy to eat in NYC on a budget. However, as a visitor, it’s often hard to know where to find the best deals. Do your research before you go as after a long day walking around the city the last thing you want to do is spend time looking for somewhere nice to eat.