New York on a budget: 10 top tips for the Big Apple on a shoestring
The Big Apple can be expensive, but it doesn't have to be. Thomas Breathnach has 10 tips for the New York on a budget.
1. Wing it with WOW
NYC is go! For Irish travellers, the lowest transatlantic fares on the tarmac currently belong to WOW air. The Icelandic no-frills carrier recently launched winter flights from Dublin to JFK, with rates starting from €155.99 each-way as we publish (meals, bags and in-flight entertainment are extra). A stopover in Reykjavik lengthens the trip, but you could also see that as a silver lining. Passengers have the option to work in a few days in Iceland at no extra charge.
Need to know: WOW is best suited to those travelling light. Passengers are allowed one free 10kg carry-on bag, but check-in luggage will bump up your return fare by over €100.
2. Getting around
From JFK, fast-tracking downtown will cost you $6/€5.60 via the skytrain and subway. Once in Manhattan, it’s worth remembering that you’re in America’s most walking-friendly city. Factor in just one minute to walk a block, or three minutes to cross an avenue. There’s little point investing in a subway pass ($31/€29) unless you’re planning more than 12 journeys per week. A great alternative? Hire an NY Citi Bike: they’re fun, a cinch to operate, and cost just $24/€22.50 for three days. And don’t stop at just sharing your bikes — by downloading the VIA app, a clever ride-sharing cab service, you can get around town for five bucks per trip. Bargain.
Need to know: Big Apple Greeter (bigapplegreeter.org) runs free tours with locals showing visitors the city as they live it. Book three weeks ahead. Tips aren’t accepted, but you can donate online.
Details: See mta.info; ridewithvia.com and citibikenyc.com.
3. Tips on Tipping
Tipping can easily jack up costs, so it’s good to know your numbers if you want to do New York on a budget. Let’s start with the bad news... 20pc is the new 18pc when it comes to service industry gratuities nowadays, with anything less considered a little cheap by New Yorkers. That means waiters and taxi drivers are enjoying a spike, while at the bar, tipping $1 per drink or $2 for a cocktail is the new normal.
Need to know: The good news? Don’t fall for the “tip creep” phenomenon. Nowadays, everyone from food truck vendors to Starbucks baristas court tips for up to 30pc — most locals, however only tip sit-down service.
4. Money Matters
With Donald Trump’s US Presidential victory seeing the dollar soar to a 13-year high, the last thing your trip needs is extra costs, so plan ahead. ATM surcharges in NYC can be hefty (think $5/€4.60 from the US bank alone), so think about arranging some cash before you leave. A $100 bounty should cover areas like street food and markets for a week — An Post can hook you up with that commission-free to get you started. And never make the mistake Stateside of withdrawing cash using your credit card.
Need to know: Don’t forget to turn your Irish mobile data off — you’ll pick up WiFi at every second store in NYC.
5. Save on your stay
With some of the most expensive hotel rates in the world, it pays to shop around when booking your NYC base. The hottest solution? Check out Hipmunk; an excellent compare engine which uncovers the best room rates squirrelled away in cybersphere. The quirk here is that Hipmunk compares not only hotels but also Airbnb listings for any area: don’t be surprised to grab $100/€93.50 deals for Manhattan. But don’t just stick to the island. Casting your accommodation search net beyond Manhattan also broadens options. Look for listings in trending ’hoods like Bushwick in Brooklyn, Astoria in Queens or even Hoboken, New Jersey for the ultimate room with a view.
Need to know: January and February are the cheapest months of the year for hotel accommodation in New York City (the post-holiday period is good for shopping bargains, too).
6. Cheap attractions
Hitting the tourist trail in the Big Apple doesn’t have to cost a dime. Instead of expensive (and pretty touristy) boat rides on the Hudson River, hop aboard the ferry to Staten Island. It’s free, frequent and picturesquely skirts the Statue of Liberty (the WiFi is free too). Want a more dramatic view? Hop on the Q subway to Queens for the cheapest visual feast in town. Avoiding admission charges will also bolster your buck balance.
Need to know: For culture, many museums like The Met (metmuseum.org) work on donations rather than admissions; for kids, the Bronx Zoo (bronxzoo.com) offers free entry on Wednesdays and to get active, Shape UP NYC (facebook.com/ShapeUpNewYorkCity) runs free yoga and pilates classes daily.
7. Let NYC Entertain you
You’re in NYC, so who wouldn’t like some “lights, camera, action” on a budget? Start your morning at the epic Rockefeller Center, where ABC’s Today Show broadcasts daily outdoors. Tickets are free and it’s a fun way to catch live performances from acts that have ranged from Kings of Leon to Alicia Keys. Is comedy more your thing? Register online for free tickets for tapings of the likes of Trevor Noah at showclix.com. Gig-wise, free events circle every block from daily Bach concerts at downtown’s Trinity Church to blues and hiphop sessions at Brooklyn Academy of Music’s BAMcafé (bam.org).
Need to know: Dreaming of even more jazz hands? An NYC musical doesn’t have to be out of your price range. Visit broadwayforbrokepeople.com, an online lottery offering front row tickets for cheap seat prices (we’re talking $10).
8. Frugal food and Drink
Avoid sit-down service, and you’ll instantly shave 20pc off your NYC dining bill. For breakfast, skip the diner and head to one of New York’s best bagel stores (like Gezunte Bagel on West 19th). For lunch on the go, the tweat.it app tracks the best food truck deals in the city, while for dollar pizza (yes, it still exists), visit the acclaimed 2 Bros Pizza for a bargain slice of the pie. If you do dine out, remember that your dollar tends to go a lot further with lunch rather than dinner menus — check out Groupon.com for myriad deals across the city. Self-catering? Stock up at Trader Joe’s supermarket or the stalls of China Town for the best deals.
Need to know: Thirsty? Download the Happy Any Hour app: it directs you to the best live booze deals in the city. Then, take your phone to the bartender and he’ll honour that deal for an hour.
Details: 2brospizza.com, happyanyhour.com, traderjoes.com
9. Shop ’til you drop
A strong dollar (not to mention a weak sterling) means the glory days of bargain Calvin Klein and MacBooks may be behind us. But NYC still remains a budget shopper’s paradise. The good news is you don’t need to bus it to Woodbury Common for the best clothes deals. Saks off Fifth and Bloomingdales now run designer outlets in the city. For vintage finds, head to the holy grail of flea markets at Forte Greene in Brooklyn, or wander Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg for its bijoux box of secondhand boutiques.
Need to know: Looking for gadgets or electronics? You won’t beat the prices at Best Buy on Union Square, but compare their Black Friday and Christmas deals to those in Ireland before you purchase.
Details: saksofffifth.com, bloomingdales.com, bestbuy.com
10. Snap, post & remember
Capturing NYC’s iconic skyline is an epic way to mark your arrival — but try filtering out the traditional tourist trails. Climbing to the top of the Empire State Building or the Rockefeller Centre costs $34/€32), so consider some free street views instead. Brooklyn Bridge Park offers super shots of the two boroughs, or try 24th on Broadway for the optimum view of the Flatiron Building. Beyond the city, grab the PATH train to New Jersey for the ultimate skyline shot ($4/€3.75 return).
Need to know: Manhattan’s rooftop bar scene offers some awesome views for the price of... well, a Manhattan. For uninterrupted views of the Empire State Building, take a cocktail at the Strand Hotel. For the Chrysler Building, watch the sun sink from The Kimberly.
Details: topofthestrand.com, kimberlyhotel.com
NB: All prices subject to availability