Cheap Vacation Ideas for New York City

budget travel new york city

New York can be crazy expensive. $8 for a bottle of beer. $300/night for a hotel room. $400 for dinner at famed Japanese restaurant Masa. As someone who spent most of 2008-09 writing about the Big Apple for Gadling and who’s lived here over 7 years, it’s a sad fact I’ve come to know all too well. But here’s another shocking fact I’ve discovered about my adopted hometown: if you know the right places to eat, where to stay and what to do, New York City budget travel can also be a surprisingly rewarding experience.

Best of all, budget travel in New York doesn’t mean you have to give up on all the good stuff. Still want to eat like a king? Stay in a trendy new hotel? Experience New York’s legendary activities and nightlife? It’s all yours for the taking. It simply requires an adjustment in your approach.

We’ve scoured New York high and low and come up with the following ten budget travel suggestions. Want to learn how to visit New York on the cheap? Keep reading below!budget travel new york cityThree Tips on Where to Stay
Tracking down reasonably-priced accommodations is arguably the most daunting part of any New York budget travel experience. Visitors who so much as sneeze near popular hotel spots like Times Square can expect to pay upwards of $300/night for lodging. Budget travelers, fear not: if you want to avoid the sky-high prices (and the crowds) check out some of these wallet-friendly options:

  • The Jane (doubles from $99/night)The Jane, a hotel that effortlessly blends old and new inside a beautifully renovated building from 1908, oozes New York cool. Best of all, you’re just steps away from free attractions like the High Line.
  • The Harlem Flophouse (doubles from $125/night) – don’t let the name fool you; this “flophouse” is part of an emerging crop of intriguing Harlem lodgings that are easy on the wallet. Part B&B, part art gallery, guests can immerse themselves in the home’s one-of-a-kind decorations. All rooms have shared bathrooms.
  • The Gershwin Hotel (doubles from $109/night) – you can’t miss The Gershwin hotel from outside. This distinctive hotel is adorned with a one-of-a-kind facade of curvy glass lanterns. The intriguing interior decoration (and the prices) don’t disappoint either. Especially thrifty travelers should check out the Gershwin’s $40/night hostel-style “Bunker.”

Three Tips on Where to Eat
You probably already know New York is one of the best places in the world for eating. Did you also know it’s one of the best for cheap eats too? Thankfully, eating well and eating cheap in New York are not mutually exclusive. Here’s three of our favorites:

  • Xi’an Famous FoodsXi’an Famous Foods, which first found fame on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, recently opened an outlet of its famous Flushing noodle shop in New York’s East Village. Spice-lovers can grab a plate of the shop’s hand-pulled Cumin Lamb Noodles for under $10 bucks.
  • Super Tacos Sobre Ruedas – this unassuming taco truck, parked on Manhattan’s 96th Street, doesn’t look like much. Yet it’s one of an increasing number of under-the-radar New York spots to get outstandingly good (and cheap) Mexican food. Grab a cup of milky Horchata rice milk with cinammon and a couple Carnitas Tacos for just a few bucks.
  • Pies ‘N’ Thighs – think New York is all “fusion” cooking and snooty French cuisine? The down-home Southern cooking at Brooklyn’s Pies ‘N’ Thighs will prove you wrong. Enjoy Fried Chicken, biscuits, and apple pie at (nearly) Southern-level prices.

budget travel new york cityThree Tips on What to Do
Having fun and free are not opposites in New York. In fact, the city is filled with surprisingly fun activities and freebies for budget travelers looking to save a couple bucks:

  • Free Friday museums – even the city’s most famous cultural centers aren’t always expensive, particularly on “Free Fridays.” Venerable institutions like the Museum of Modern Art (Free Fridays from 4-8pm) and the Whitney Museum of American Art (pay-what-you-wish, Fridays 6-9pm) help art lovers enjoy these great institutions at low or no cost.
  • Wander Grand Central Station – It’s free to enter this gorgeously restored New York landmark. Gaze in awe at the vaulted ceilings in the Main Concourse, stop by the great food court and share a secret with friends in the Whisper Gallery. Here’s a few more Gadling Grand Central tips to help you out.
  • The High Line – New York’s High Line, the city’s newest and greatest park is built atop the ruins of an old elevated railway line. In its place is a beautifully designed park, complete with wild grasses, art exhibits and plenty of great people-watching.

One Wild Card
One of the most intriguing and cheap ways to spend a Saturday or Sunday in New York is at the Brooklyn Flea. This one-of-a-kind swap meet meets artisanal food tasting meets art show is one Brooklyn’s more intriguing weekend activities. Pick up inexpensive jewelry and handcrafted clothing and art from Brooklyn artists while enjoying cheap eats from local food vendors.

Just another surprising example of New York’s refreshing range of cheap accommodations, inexpensive eats and budget-friendly activities.

[Photos courtesy of Flickr users b0r0da, DanDeChiaro and albany_tim]

Undiscovered New York: Flea market mania

Here at Undiscovered New York, we often find ourselves wondering why our city is so expensive. It’s usually the first question from friends and family who come to visit us here in New York, and truthfully, they’re kind of right. Want a beer? That’ll be $7 (plus tip). Headed to a Broadway show? $60 for the cheap seats. Hotel room? Unless you’re staying at the Hotel Carter, expect to pay at least $100-$200 per night.

But as New Yorkers will tell you, there’s plenty of places to get a bargain if you know where to look. That is especially true when it comes to weekend flea market hunting, the city’s unofficial hobby. Whether it’s vintage clothing or costume jewelry, antique furniture or formica countertops, rare vinyl or a delicious vanilla pastry, New York’s flea markets offer a little something for everyone. And the best part is, New York’s vibrant community of artists and independent craftmakers ensure there’s just as much new merchandise for sale at flea markets as there is old gems.

So forget about blowing your vacation savings at Saks Fifth Avenue or down in SoHo. This week, Undiscovered New York is taking you inside some of New York City’s best flea markets and telling you where to find them. Click below for our picks of the best.
Annex / Hell’s Kitchen Flea Market

For the past 15 years, one of New York’s best flea markets was along 24th and 25th street in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood. That all ended in 2008, when rising rents forced the market to close and move shop. Thankfully, the change has been for the best, combining the fantastic variety of Chelsea’s once thriving vendor scene with the Hell’s Kitchen Flea Market on West 39th Street.

The market now combines an enormous range of items, everything from African tribal artifacts to Mid-Century Modern furniture to fine silver. It’s one of the first stops for the city’s bargain hunters and those on the lookout for a truly unique item to decorate their apartment, in New York or beyond.

Brooklyn Flea
True to the quirky and eclectic tastes of its neighborhood’s residents, the Brooklyn Flea is among the newest additions to New York’s wide array of weekend shopping markets. First opened in 2008, this smallish market is held each Saturday in the courtyard of Fort Greene’s Bishop Laughlin Memorial High School and during colder months at two smaller “pop-up” markets in DUMBO. Don’t let the size fool you though – what this market lacks in size it more than makes up in a very well curated selection of items and great food.

In addition to a great selection of vintage records, the market stocks a nice mix of interesting vendors selling home furnishings, jewelry handcrafted by local artisans and some of the best food this side of the East River. Even if you’re not the shopping type, it’s a fun place to spend a weekend afternoon chowing down on a delicious taco and checking out the crowd. If you want a unique New York souvenir, check out the vendor who sells vintage tin ceiling tiles!

The Market (Nolita)
Each weekend, a crowd of visiting trend hunters descends on Nolita, a hip neighborhood “North of Little Italy” that is home to a large number of boutiques and unique businesses. But before they browse Nolita’s sometimes pricey shops, New York City bargain-hunters head straight for The Market, a weekend market for young designers on Manhattan’s Mulberry Street. Unlike the Annex / Hell’s Kitchen market, Nolita’s The Market is all about brand new stuff. It’s also a great place to find unique one-of-a-kind items like clothing and bags you can’t find anywhere else.