A Few Days in New York City on a Budget
After visiting a few huge cities around the world, it felt like it was finally time to see my own country’s biggest and most famous location. The Big Apple, baby. We went for a few days in June and I tried my best to check all the classic experiences off of my NYC bucket list… all while trying to stick to our typical backpacker’s budget.
Quintessential New York Experiences That I Checked Off of My NYC Bucket List
1. Eat New York-Style Pizza & Bagels
We’ve both always been huge fans of New York style bagels and pizza, so it only seemed natural that we have them in New York. I think we had New York pizza three times over three and a half days! And bagels twice. What can I say? They were affordable and easy to come by. And delicious as well.
2. Exploring a Museum (MoMA)
It’s no secret that New York is full of world class museums. We only had a few days and were on a budget, so we decided we’d visit just one this time around. It was hard to pick just one but we ultimately decided on the Museum of Modern Art. We spent a few hours wandering around the galleries and taking in some of the most famous works of art in the world. Monet’s Waterlilies, Van Gogh’s Starry Night, Magritte’s Lover, Dali’s Persistence of Memory… Truly amazing to have the opportunity to see the brush strokes of these pieces up close.
3. Taking the Staten Island Ferry
Prior to our trip, I had read that the Staten Island Ferry afforded great, free views of one of New York’s most iconic sights: the Statue of Liberty. Not only did we get to pass right by Lady Liberty, but we had some wonderful views of the city as we cruised the Hudson River to Staten Island. After spending the whole day walking around Manhattan, the half hour ride each way was the perfect respite for our tired legs.
4. Trying Trendy Desserts
Other than the classic bagels and pizza, another type of food that I’ve always associated with New York City is trendy or unusual desserts. (Especially in today’s Instagram age of picture perfect presentations.) Food is usually one of our favorite ways to experience a place, so we had to try some trendy NYC sweets for ourselves. Our first stop was Momofuku Milk Bar which is undoubtedly one of the top most famous dessert locations in the city. I’d been hearing about their cereal milk ice cream and crack pie for years, so we waited in line for about 45 minutes to get into their Manhattan location. We ended up buying cereal milk soft serve with a salted cornflake topping and three birthday cake truffles. We loved the truffles but were honestly underwhelmed by the ice cream. (Unpopular opinion, we know). The cornflake topping was so salty that it almost ruined our taste buds.
Our second stop was to DŌ Cookie Dough in Greenwich Village. We got there right after they opened in the morning and there was no line at all. We got two scoops: fluffernutter and signature chocolate chip. DŌ is definitely worth the hype, both flavors perfectly satisfied our cookie dough cravings.
5. Visiting One World Trade Center & The National September 11th Memorial
Even though I was only ten years old when the attacks of September 11th occurred, I’ll never forget that day and how much it changed our country. Looking into the footprint of each of the Twin Towers and reading the names of the lives lost was intense. The serenity of the memorial was in such juxtaposition to the horrific images of that day that we grew up seeing. The sense of renewal and remembrance that the site now instills in visitors is an inspiring example of design. Visiting the Memorial is free and most definitely worth doing.
6. Riding the Subway
When we weren’t walking - and believe me, most of our days were spent exploring on foot - we used the subway like real New Yorkers. It was just as hot and dirty as I imagined. However, it is an extremely budget friendly way to get around the city relatively quickly. We were impressed with how easily we could get from Manhattan to Brooklyn without much wait. And other than hailing a taxi cab, what could be a more quintessential New York City method of transit?
7. Perusing 18 Miles of Books at The Strand
In case you didn’t already know, I’m a bibliophile. Books and bookstores are a very important part of my life. I’ve got a bookshop bucket list and one of the top entries was The Strand. The Strand is probably the biggest independent bookseller I have ever encountered. Their famous claim is that they have 18 miles of books but it turns out that in recent years, that number has risen to 26 miles with the addition of a few warehouses. There are carts and carts of used paperbacks for only $1 that line the street outside the store. Inside, well, it’s what you’d expect: endless books of every genre. I was overwhelmed and delighted. I would definitely like to go back with a bit more money and a lot more time. I could easily spend most of a day perusing the stacks at Strand.
8. Catching Some Live Music
Another thing that New York City is famous for is it’s nightlife. There is no shortage of clubs and venues featuring all sorts of performers of every imaginable kind. We saw two shows while we were in New York, both in Brooklyn.
9. Chilling Out in Central Park
Yet again, I couldn’t think about New York without thinking of Central Park. Thus, it was on our list of must-dos for our short trip. We spent a few hours one afternoon people-watching and chilling out on a rocky outcropping with our friends. The Park is lovely and really well kept - especially considering the heavy foot traffic every day.
10. Creeping Past Famous Architectural Sites
After a lifetime of watching movies and TV shows set in New York City, there were a ton of familiar buildings and sights that I recognized as we strolled around. We spotted the Flatiron, the Empire State Building, the Manhattan Bridge, 30 Rock, and more. It was pretty surreal to physically be next to the iconic sights of NYC. I think that’s why walking will always be my favorite mode of exploring a new city. There’s nothing like taking your time to see all the famous sights on foot to make you feel like you’re really in the city.
11. People Watching in Times Square
Last but not least, we walked through Times Square twice. It is a madhouse and not somewhere I’d want to loiter for long. Again, though, it’s such a necessary NYC bucket list item to at least see it and experience the craziness of the crowds there. And to spot some of the weird street performers as well.