Thrifty Travel: New York City

Check out our favorite eats and sights in NYC on the cheap!

Around these parts, spring is in the air-ish. We’ve had a couple warm-weather teaser days that have us itching to get out and do stuff. To hold us over until the warmth is here to stay, we’ve been solidifying some of our plans for spring and summer road trippin’.

One destination we’ve got on our list is NYC for a few days. We’ve got some close friends to visit and bunk with, and Johnny and I are excited to revisit our old neighborhood while we’re there with our new little chubby companion. And if you’ve read even one post on this here blog, you know our fave stuff to do is inexpensive — cause that’s how we roll. So I wanted to share what we’ll be doing on the cheap in NYC so you (and your wallet) can benefit the next time you head to The Big Apple.

Fave Food Spots

Biryani Cart: $6/meal

We will most definitely be getting some kati rolls from the biryani cart located on 46th and 6th. Johnny held out on me big time and ate here for months before taking me. Their kati rolls are like Indian burritos that are spicy little devils, but they’re also so full of yumminess that once you pop, you just can’t stop.

Halal Food Cart: $6/meal

If you’ve never had halal food, it’s Middle Eastern fare that’s known for its lamb over rice meal with a yogurt-based sauce. And if you’ve never had street food, it’s food that’s cooked and served on the street. It’s probably as dirty as it sounds, but it’s some goooood stuff. There are lots of halal carts in NYC, but there’s one that rises far above the rest (to us anyway). It’s located on 53rd and 6th from 7:30pm to 4:00am. The line starts long before the cart is open for business, but it’s the fastest moving line you ever did see. Johnny and I have eaten there many times, but the best was at 1:00am after a summer concert at The Bowery.

Shake Shack: $5/burger

I’d be embarrassed to admit how many times Johnny and I ate Shake Shack while we lived in NYC, but we got to know that place real good. And it’s been calling my name ever since we left. And if you’ve got a sweet tooth, their daily frozen custard flavors are perfection in a tiny cup (or massive cup :)).

Fave Destinations

Central Park: $0

Central Park is an obvious destination, but it’s ginormous, and Johnny and I have our favorite parts. The path around The Reservoir is a beautiful one to walk (or run). It’s the perfect mix of nature with a cityscape backdrop. We also love entering the park by the Met and picnicking on The Great Lawn. I’m sure we’ll also stroll through the Mall and work our way to the Boathouse to admire the many people in row boats who don’t know how to operate paddles and crash their vessels. I love me some Central Park.

The Met: $5/each

The Met is our favorite NYC museum (and not just because it’s near our old stomping grounds in the Upper East Side). I could have gone there every weekend and just gotten lost inside. The admittance charge is $20, but unbeknownst to many tourists, that’s just the suggested donation amount. You can get in for free if you want. Johnny and I usually paid $5, though I once didn’t pay a cent when I went with some friends. I’m pretty sure they thought I was the cheapest person ever. We’ll be hitting up the Met on our trip down memory lane for sure.

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Brooklyn Bridge: $0

We’ve walked the Brooklyn Bridge in the evenings on several occasions and loved it every time. It’s big and old and provides some really Instagram-worthy views. And although we didn’t include Grimaldi’s in DUMBO as a favorite food spot, it’s our favorite pizza.

Trip Splurge

Top of the Rock: $25/each

While we were in NYC, Johnny and I never made it to the Top of the Rock. All our friends insisted its view was hands-down better than the Empire State Building during the day (and that the Empire State Building is best at night). We’re excited to check it out on our trip!

Just writing about our favorite haunts is making me impatient for our NYC trip in a few months. You still think a good time in NYC has to break the bank? Fuhgeddaboudit.

Are you hankering for a trip to the city that never sleeps? We’d love to hear some of your favorite eats/destinations in NYC!

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  • Reply Johnny Moneyseed March 19, 2013 at 8:20 am

    Didn’t you guys just have a post about wanting to eat healthier?? 🙂

    • Reply Joanna March 19, 2013 at 10:07 am

      What, a greasy cheeseburger from Shake Shack doesn’t qualify as healthy? I think there’s some kind of official code that says you have to eat unhealthy while on vacation. We wouldn’t want to defy that. 😉

  • Reply Pauline March 19, 2013 at 8:32 am

    thanks for sharing! I love NY and hope to go back soon..

    • Reply Joanna March 19, 2013 at 10:15 am

      Glad to hear it, Pauline! There’s always more to see and do!

  • Reply My Financial Independence Journey March 19, 2013 at 9:30 am

    I traveled in NYC a bit last summer. I especially like the museums. The only real money saving tip that I have is this: In most of the museums (even the classy ones), the food sucks and is over priced. You’re better off walking outside and finding a street vendor.

    • Reply Joanna March 19, 2013 at 10:30 am

      You are so right about museum food. We visited DC at the end of my pregnancy and after a long day of walking and not eating much, I started feeling super weak in the Natural History Museum. We ended up having to pay a pretty penny for some *really* bland food in the cafe. Awesome.

  • Reply Catherine March 19, 2013 at 12:45 pm

    I love Lombardi’s Pizza in Little Italy. SO GOOD. I also agree with Top of the Rock, but will add going at sunset so you can see everything in day/sunset/night. It’s really cool. NYC is one of my favorite cities in the world. Can’t wait to go back.

    • Reply Joanna March 19, 2013 at 1:00 pm

      Oh, good call on going at sunset! What a clever idea. We’ll most definitely give it a try. Thanks for the tip, Catherine!

  • Reply Pam E-P March 19, 2013 at 12:48 pm

    We went to NYC 2 summers ago and the only thing I regret is that we went on the NBC Studios tour. We were only there for a long weekend, so it took a several-hour chunk of our precious time and was kind of a waste of money. We saw empty studios and we only got to see the empty SNL set from behind windows! We bought a 2-day pass on the red bus line and used that to get around. I think we took a cab once just to save some time. We weren’t familiar enough to feel safe taking the subway system. If I’m going to be lost, I want it to be above ground!

    • Reply Joanna March 19, 2013 at 3:57 pm

      I’ll be sure we don’t do that tour when we go! 😉

      The subway was super daunting for me when we first moved there! I went uptown instead of downtown and ended up in Harlem at night by myself. And then I also neglected to hold onto the pole on the train and fell into a guy’s lap another time. Both of those experiences helped me catch onto the system really quick!

  • Reply Chris March 19, 2013 at 1:26 pm

    As much as I hate being around that many people, that food sounds delicious. It may be because it’s lunch time. I neeeeeeed to plan a vacation something fierce. The only plans I have so far for this spring/summer is to go to Las Vegas!…New Mexico…It’s not nearly as fun, I promise :). It always pays to know someone you can crash with!

    • Reply Joanna March 19, 2013 at 4:23 pm

      As long as you don’t visit NYC when it’s super hot or super cold, there are lots of good times to be had. We need to plan a vacation big time as well. We’re scheming dropping the little one off at my parents’ and hitting up a warm beach somewhere. 😀

      And don’t even get me thinking about Las Vegas right now… the dry heat, sunshine, a nice hotel room, and some In-N-Out sounds like perfection right about now (I’m hungry, too, if you can’t tell :)).

  • Reply Newlyweds on a Budget March 19, 2013 at 2:20 pm

    Thanks for this! The Mr and I just booked our flights to NYC for the end of April so this will come in handy! I love me some street food!

    • Reply Joanna March 19, 2013 at 4:25 pm

      That’s coming up soon! That will be a perfect time to be in the city. CP will be in full bloom, including cherry blossoms along the reservoir (my fave). You guys have fun!

  • Reply Chaney March 19, 2013 at 3:29 pm

    Love these suggestions! My husband has suggested a quick weekend trip to NYC a few times recently…and if we go, I’m showing him this post! Staying with friends is probably my favorite money-saver on trips, especially in a city like NYC, so we’ll definitely be doing that.

    • Reply Joanna March 19, 2013 at 4:32 pm

      Yup, staying with friends is the way to go if you can. If you take your car up there, you can repay your friends by letting them use it for a Costco trip! Anytime we could get our hands on a car when we lived in NYC, that’s what we did! 🙂

  • Reply HappyFund March 19, 2013 at 4:08 pm

    I have never been to NYC *gasp*. If I go visit, it would be to catch up with old friends. Knowing them, it won’t be this cheap, but would still be worth it to me.

    • Reply Joanna March 19, 2013 at 10:42 pm

      Most of my family has never been either. I tried to get them to come when we lived there, but no dice. If you do have some old friends you could stay with in NYC, that’d take away a big chunk of the expense right there!

  • Reply JMK March 19, 2013 at 4:26 pm

    I spent 48hrs in NY a couple of years ago on an organized tour that did a speed highlights tour of NYC before we boarded our Bermuda cruise. I booked at the very last minute and did ablolutely no planning or research in advance so I was at the mercy of the tour organizers. Fortunately they did a great job of covering all the major highlights in the limited time. Driving tour (Soho, World Trade memorial, Financial District/waterfront, iconic bridge views). We did the Top of the Rock (excellent but windy), we had a couple of free hours and I walked the best blocks of 5th Avenue and into Central Park. We also saw a Broadway show and witnessed Times Square at it’s frenzied best. The tour bus even crossed over to NJ? so we could photograph the skyline at night from a great vantage point. Didn’t have time to do any museums, but when I go back again that’s where I’ll spend most of my time. Also, most of our meals were prereserved at our hotel, or restaurants so there wasn’t much opportunity for street food, but that too is on the list for future visits. I realize NYC is known for it’s great restaurants, but I’d rather grab something yummy to enjoy while I walk the streets and enjoy the atmosphere. Unless it’s got a spectacular view, a restaurant is pretty much the same anywhere.

    • Reply Joanna March 19, 2013 at 10:43 pm

      Wow, I don’t think anyone has ever made as much out of a 48-hour trip to NYC as you did! I can’t believe how much you saw and did. And to top it all off by leaving on a cruise to Bermuda? Not too shabby! 🙂

  • Reply Do or Debt March 19, 2013 at 4:48 pm

    I miss NYC so much! I am dying to go back and visit and maybe try my hand at living there again.

    You should go to the High Line, which is also free. I recommend cheap eats anywhere in Chinatown. A stroll through Coney Island. Two brothers $1 pizza, any happy hour spots on St. Marks.

    I don’t remember if it’s that cheap, but the Museum of the Moving Image is totally worth it. You need to trek out to Queens, but I had an amazing time there. Many cheaper options for food there too!

    • Reply Joanna March 19, 2013 at 10:45 pm

      Oh my gosh. Johnny loves Two Brothers Pizza. That was his go-to lunch spot while we lived there. NYC may be an expensive city overall, but when it comes to delicious, cheap food, it can’t be beat!

      I’ve never heard to the Museum of the Moving Image. I’ll have to look it up! Thanks for the tip.

  • Reply Karie March 19, 2013 at 10:17 pm

    We walked through Times Square (free), took the ferry past the Statue of Liberty (free), checked out the NHL store, Toys R Us store, FAO Schwarz and American Girl store (you’ll be very familiar with that in about 7 or 8 years), went to see the 9/11 memorial (donation), went to Central Park briefly, went to Top of the Rock at night, stayed right near the Shake Shack (at the Milford) but the line ups were always really, really long so never got anything but ate at Junior’s and got their cheesecake! Also took saw a Yankees game and took the subway to get there $. We went Labour Day weekend last year and it was great but packed with people and lots of events and stuff going on!! Checked out free times or discounted times to go to museums but never got around to it. Something interesting we’ve done is go see a live show in the studio audience which is free- we saw Jay Leno and Jimmy Kimmel in California. We were going to go to one in NYC but we were traveling with kids.

    • Reply Joanna March 19, 2013 at 10:50 pm

      Sounds like you guys saw some of the best sights on your trip, Karie! Hearing about it makes me super excited to return… I didn’t even think of going to a baseball game, but that’s a must. I went and saw Jimmy Fallon with a girlfriend while we lived there, but I’m dying to go to a live show with Johnny. I know you have to request tickets a good bit in advance, so we’ll have to start planning that!

  • Reply Holly@ClubThrifty March 19, 2013 at 11:18 pm

    We were just in NYC last month but we didn’t have a ton of time to spend. We did do some touristy stuff and eat some great food, though!

    • Reply Joanna March 19, 2013 at 11:43 pm

      Good to hear, Holly! We can’t wait for our own trip to get here!

  • Reply Laura / No More Spending March 20, 2013 at 6:27 am

    I was going to mention the High Line at $0 and the Moma/Top of the Rock pass, which is currently $38. Picking up cheap Yankees tickets makes for a fun night out too.

    • Reply Johnny March 20, 2013 at 11:45 am

      You’re right, the High Line is a must. Especially during the summer. And the MOMA (and I think a few other museums) offer free Friday nights from 4pm-8pm. It might be a little more crowded than usual, but saving $25 is pretty awesome. And I’m always down for some cheap Yankees/Mets tickets on StubHub. No better way to spend a summer/fall night.

  • Reply JW_Umbrella Treasury March 21, 2013 at 6:33 am

    I love this post! So often, there’s a perception that NYC is uber-expensive (and it certainly can be). But it can also be really affordable. Thanks for sharing these tips!

    We love Central Park. One of my favorites dates was packing a picnic lunch to share in the park. So fun!

  • Reply Matt March 25, 2013 at 10:13 am

    I read this post when you guys first released it and then caught this headline today made me think of you guys and thought you may get a chuckle out of it…. Cheers!

    • Reply Johnny March 26, 2013 at 12:52 am

      Oh man, this is great. We’ll have to share it tomorrow on Twitter/FB. Thanks for the heads up, Matt!

  • Reply pooneh April 21, 2013 at 3:49 am

    Hey …thanks for all info , it was so good for me , my husband and I are about to come to NYC. we are from Iran 🙁 and here everything is messed up ! and now we have this great chance to continue our education at ford ham university so we wont lose it , although we dont have anyone in nyc , am sure we will handle everything …just like u did ! thanks again 🙂 by the way soryy my poor english 🙂

    • Reply Johnny April 22, 2013 at 1:05 am

      Congrats! You’ll have a blast! I’m sure it will be a little overwhelming at first, but just enjoy the chance to be in one of the greatest cities in the world. 🙂 Best of luck.

      P.S. Your English is really good! You’ll pick up the rest in no time.

  • Reply Meg January 3, 2014 at 3:49 pm

    I stumbled upon your blog by accident…and it might have been divine intervention. Your story sounds a lot like you guys are BYU grads and that Johnny did the New York program through the Comms department. (Maybe I’m wrong, but either way it was comforting to hear about someone in a similar situation.) I say that because I’m in the same boat, journalism track, heading to New York this spring for an internship. I’ve been looking at loans to fund it and freaking out, so it was SO good to read your story and realize that there is hope, debt doesn’t have to be forever.

    • Reply Johnny January 5, 2014 at 10:38 pm

      You pegged us right, Meg! BYU alum, Comms graduate, and NYC internship survivor.

      Have you looked at any of the scholarships/grants offered through the Comms department? If I remember right, there was a scholarship specifically for the NYC program. That helped cover a small portion of the costs. Regardless, best of luck. And go Cougars!

  • Reply judy January 4, 2014 at 10:24 pm

    Best dim sum ever… Nom Wah Dim Sum Parlor in Chinatown…. and cheap! A must for every visitor! Try the original egg rolls… you will be glad you did 🙂

    • Reply Johnny January 5, 2014 at 10:39 pm

      We loved the cheap eats in Chinatown. We were big fans of the little dumpling places, as well. Great recommendation.

  • Reply Azri February 3, 2014 at 11:12 am

    This is what I’m searching for. I’m planning to stay in the states for few months next year. With this info, I can save more $ for the trip. Thanks to the two wonderful people here. Hope I can meet the two of u next year in the states.

  • Reply Lily March 22, 2014 at 6:44 am

    I’m a little late with my comment, but oh, how I wish to have known all these things 5 years ago when I went to NYC! I only stayed for 5 days – not nearly enough time to grasp the magnetic beauty of the city, but I really hope to go back there and stay longer. I had to cross an entire ocean just to see NYC – it was a life-long dream. What NYC left me with is described here:

    Lovely post, guys!

    • Reply Johnny March 23, 2014 at 11:12 pm

      Thanks for sharing! It’s a magical city, and hopefully you’ll be able to make a trip back sooner than later.

  • Reply Katherine March 25, 2014 at 2:06 pm

    Going to NYC next week and your post is helping up make a few money saving decisions! Thanks!

  • Reply Mary January 13, 2015 at 2:51 pm

    The Fashion Institute has a cute little museum for free. If you travel to NYC in December there are holiday markets in many of the parks. They are free and they may inspire you to make a few things on your own.
    I like to go with my daughter because we can share meals and it helps to keep expenses down.

    • Reply Joanna January 14, 2015 at 11:32 pm

      I just read about that museum today, oddly enough! Sally and I will have to trek over there one of these days! And we love the holiday markets in December… so festive!

  • Reply Chrissy February 26, 2016 at 8:47 pm

    We are really excited about our trip to USA from NZ, I love reading all the do’s and dont’s and can not wait to come to NY in June. Thanks for sharing yrs

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