Do it on a Dime

New York Travel Blog

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It’s no myth that when it comes to experiencing The Big Apple full throttle, you’re probably going to have to pay a pretty penny (unless, of course, you’re European and have a favorable exchange rate to contend with). With some hotel rooms that cost the size of a small house in rural America and the price of gourmet food enough to feed an African village, the thought of doing New York cheaply can be daunting and sometimes seem inconceivable. But it can be done, nevertheless. Here’s a start:

In a city littered with W, Le Parker Meridien and Waldorf Astoria-caliber hotels, surprisingly enough, a range of budget accommodation - from hostel-style dorm rooms to singles or doubles with shared bathrooms - can be found. The key is to know where to look. A general rule of thumb is, for the most part, the higher the street number, the cheaper the room. As most visitors prefer staying in the Downtown and Midtown regions, expanding your neighborhood search to encompass the 100s and beyond (or even, gasp, Brooklyn, Queens or Hoboken) will mean you’re likely to pay less. If you’re traveling alone or in company that doesn’t mind sharing with strangers, go the hostel route - more often than not, you’ll pay half (or sometimes even less) of what you would for your own room, and maybe even pick up some new friends along the way.

Still can’t find a room that fits into your budget? Be adventurous and join one of the many growing hospitality exchanges, including CouchSurfing and Hospitality Club, and lay your head to rest for free.

While it’s unlikely you’re going to stumble on a free unlimited supply of alcohol (hey, we can all dream, can’t we?), the majority of bars in the city offer some sort of happy hour every weeknight before a certain time (they usually all end at or before 8pm). The early bird had something going for him, so plan accordingly, and get your drink on before the sun goes down. Visit for a comprehensive guide of happy hours and specials in all corners of the city.

If you’re out on the weekends and looking to save while not sacrificing fun, check out the East Village scene. Catering to the NYU crowd, alcohol usually goes for under five bucks - a rarity for most parts of Manhattan. Harlem and the Upper East Side are also worth exploring, as the under-thirties and those sans legal identification tend to frequent the haunts in these mellower parts of the city. Avoid Friday and Saturday nights in trendy SoHo and Meatpacking District; with exorbitant cover prices, you’ll blow your daily drinking allowance before you make it through the door.

Brunch is a favorite pastime for New Yorkers of all age and class - so jump on the caboose before the train leaves the station. But not only is it a social rite of passage, it can be a smart economical choice, as well. As New York brunch hours run a broad gamut - beginning as early as 10 am and still going well after 3 pm - you can feasibly eat a large meal midday that will relinquish the need for dinner. Kudos if you can find a restaurant with a weekend brunch special: many offer prix-fixe menus that include coffee or tea, bread, a main course and an alcoholic beverage.

Want cheaper still? Ubiquitous chains like Gray’s Papaya offer meals for as low as $2.75. They may not be the healthiest choices, but they get the job done. It’s also not uncommon for dive bars to serve food - hot dogs, hamburgers, pizza - for free with the purchase of a drink.

Central Park is enjoyable at any time of year, and better yet, admittance is completely free! Spend leisurely days in the city’s greenest area by admiring the fall foliage during autumn months, sunbathing in the summer, engaging in a snowball fight in the height of winter, or joining in on a kickball game when spring rolls around. Free events like Shakespeare in the Park, poetry readings and Broadway show excerpts are not uncommon either. If the weather is pleasant, take advantage of renting bicycles, canoes and other athletic equipment for a small fee. Or hike to the top of the park’s resident castle at any time of year for a spectacular view from above. Check out for a complete list of park activities and goings-on.

A host of smaller parks - like Madison, Bryant and Washington Square - scattered throughout the city are prime spots for people-watching or catching up on that latest Danielle Steele novel, er Tolstoy classic, that’s been sitting on your nightstand with an uncracked spine for months on end.

For more on a budget Big Apple, check out a few of my favorite reads: The Cheap Bastard’s Guide to New York City, Mr. Cheap’s New York, and Frommer’s New York City for Free & Dirt Cheap.

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photo by: herman_munster