New York on a budget: Your free day in New York

new york on a budgetVisitors to New York often think that to experience the culture of the city they will have to pay a fortune. To disprove that theory, here is an itinerary that will allow you to enjoy a free afternoon (well, you might have to pay $2.25 for the subway).

The walk begins in Rockefeller Center. Take the F, D, M, or B to to the 47th-50th St. Rockefeller Center stop, the N or the R to 49th St., the 1 to 50th St., or the 6 to 51st St. Begin your day by exploring the many shops, cafes, and studios in Rockefeller Center (tip: visit Rain to sample South African bath and body items and get free advice on how customize your perfect scrubs). Stroll through the Channel Gardens and Promenade and admire nature and art. There are also traces of art and history located around the entire Rockefeller Center, including oil paintings, stone statues, bronze sculptures, and more. Another fun free thing to do is to sit in on a live taping of the show. If you haven’t made arrangements in advance, you can try to get standby tickets when you are there. If it is winter, enjoy the feeling of Christmas in the air by watching ice skaters and characters in costume move around the giant lit-up Christmas tree that New York is so famous for.When you leave Rockefeller Center, begin walking down 5th towards 50th. Here, you will see the famous St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Explore the many sections of the church, including the crypt, chapel, sanctuary, baptistery, and more with a free guided tour.

After St. Patrick’s, continue walking up 5th towards 52nd street and make a right. Walk for less than a minute and you will come to the Austrian Cultural Forum New York. Located at 11 East 52nd St., this free museum hosts art and exhibits of all different forms, including oil paintings, photography, video, multimedia, sculptures, and more. Most of the artists have some kind of connection to Austria, whether they live, work, or grew up there. From now until January 3, 2012, the Austrian Cultural Forum New York is hosting their Beauty Contest exhibit, which uses different perspectives to convey and breakdown different concepts of beauty.

Get back on to 5th and continue walking uptown. Fifth Ave. is famous for its shopping, and while buying merchandise isn’t free, window shopping certainly is. The walk will allow you to peruse an array of shops, from the reasonably priced Forever 21, Hollister, and Abercrombie and Fitch, to upscale designer stores like Gucci, Fendi, and Prada. You will also pass the well-known Trump Tower.

If you would like to see some more of the religious structures in New York, you will pass both St. Thomas Episcopal Church and the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church on your left.

central parkOnce you hit 59th you will be able to enter Central Park, which is basically a day trip of its own. If you would like to keep your day free of charge, you can walk the park either by yourself or with one of the free walking tours offered by the Central Park Conservancy. There are many different tour focuses, such as art, the castle, a memorial walk, and many more. If you are going to explore on your own, you can either purchase a map (remember, the park covers more than 800 acres) or just have a spontaneous adventure by choosing your route at random (you will come to many different forks in the road as you explore). Visit the many memorial statues erected around the park, take photographs of the various ponds, fountains, bridges, and plants, play Frisbee in Sheep Meadow or chess at the Chess & Checkers House, be entertained by live performers, visit Belvedere castle and much, much, more.

Hungry? Head over to Tavern on the Green to check out some of the local food trucks. Enjoy a delicious, filling meal for under $10. You can also check out Ball Field Cafe & Beer Garden to sample sangria, discounted buckets of beer on ice, and meals such as burgers, hot dogs, sandwiches, and salads for a reasonable price. Sheep Meadow Cafe will also allow you to full up for free, with meals for under $10.

10 free things to do in New York

central park in new york is free to visitWhile New York can be an expensive place to live and visit, not everything costs an arm and a leg. In fact, some things in the city are completely free. Check out these classes, shows, parks, museums, and more at no charge.

Visit Central Park
Park borders include W. 110th, W.59th, Eighth Ave., and Fifth Ave.

Central Park is like a city of its own, with 843 acres of gardens, restaurants, lakes, rides, entertainment, sports, fishing, games, and more. Play on the adventure playground, take photos of the Alice in Wonderland sculpture, relax in the Arthur Ross Pinetum, visit Belvedere Castle, and more. Want someone to show you around? The Central Park Conservancy offers free guided tours.staten island ferry in new yorkRide the Staten Island Ferry
Battery Park runs from Battery Pl. to South St.

This commuter ferry runs from Battery Park to Staten Island and is completely free. Not only will you get a complimentary boat ride along the New York Harbor, you’ll also have the chance to see some big-name sites, such as the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, as well as photo-worthy city skyline views.

Experience contemporary art at the Swiss Institute
18 Wooster St., between Canal St. and Grand St.

While most of the museums and art galleries in New York have discounted and free days, the Swiss Institute of Contemporary Art is always free. While the original mission of the institute was to showcase Swiss art and artists for a predominantly Swiss audience, it has now become an “innovative international venue for art that provides a significant forum for cultural dialogue between Switzerland, Europe, and the United States”.

Also worth mentioning is that some of the best museums and art galleries in the city have a “suggested donation” as the admission, meaning you can pay what you can afford. Some of these include the American Museum of Natural History and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Explore the New York Public Library
5th and 42nd St. in Midtown

If you’re thinking there is nothing worthwhile to see at a library, then you have never been to the New York Public Library. In addition to its extensive collections, ranging from Accents and Dialects to Women’s Studies to Immigration and beyond, the library also features music, movies, classes, and museum exhibits.

st. patrick's cathedral in new yorkVisit St. Patrick’s Cathedral
Fifth Ave., between 50th and 51st

According to Heather Cross from, St. Patrick’s Cathedral first opened to the public in May of 1879. With the capacity to seat 2,200 people, it is the largest Gothic-style Cathedral in the United States. There are many opportunities to attend mass, as they are held at multiple times every day of the week.

Attend a live jazz performance at Rue B
188 Avenue B., East Village

Seven nights a week at 9PM, you can head over to Rue B for live jazz music. While the performers rotate, Thursday nights they feature their own in-house musician, Henry, a cabaret singing piano player who will perform standards, classics, and even pop covers.

Take pétanque lessons in Bryant Park
Between 40th and 42nd and 5th and 6th

For those who don’t know what pétanque is, it’s a French ball game that involves throwing metal balls as close as possible to the “cochonnet” (a smaller wooden ball). Most games are played in teams, and the New York City pétanque club, La Boule New Yorkaise, will teach you the tips and tricks you need to know to be successful at the game. Stop by Bryant Park Monday-Friday from 11AM-6PM for your free lesson.

Eat free food at The Mark Bar
1025 Manhattan Ave. at Green St., Greenpoint, Brooklyn

Dining doesn’t have to be expensive in New York anymore. Everyday from 6PM on enjoy free pizza at this laid back bar. On Sundays, The Mark Bar also offers free bagels and coffee, perfect for nursing a New York style hangover.

Tour the Chelsea Brewing Company
Chelsea Piers, Pier 59, W 19th St. at the Hudson River

Every Saturday, from 2PM-6PM, Manhattan’s only active brewery gives free tours. Not only that, but at the end of the tour visitors will get a free beer sample and will have the chance to ask questions to brew experts.

Learn the art of theater
254 W. 29th St., between 7th and 8th

A few times a month, the Magnet Theater hosts a free workshop lead by trained instructors called Intro to Improv. No experience is necessary and all are welcome to participate. Would you rather watch a show than actually perform in one? The Magnet Theater offers tickets from $5-$10, which many times will include multiple shows.

Biking the car-less streets of New York City after Hurricane Irene

I’ve suddenly found myself stuck in New York City after my 3-day Rome trip canceled. Watching the news last night, it looked like Manhattan would be without power and struggling even to survive the ‘storm of a lifetime’ on Saturday.

Instead, after Hurricane Irene passed through the city earlier this morning there was an erie calm. As I woke up, I wondered if we were in the eye of the storm.

It turns out, Irene may have some strong winds on the back side, but for now, a little fun could be had by biking through the empty streets of the city.

Here’s what I found at 5th Avenue, Central Park, Times Square, Grand Central Terminal, the U.N. Building the Queensboro (59th Street) Bridge and the East River. Wide open streets and unencumbered riding! A video is the best way for me to describe the morning:

There was a atmosphere in the city today. One biker told me he saw people playing Wiffle Ball in Times Square. Tourists, with nothing else to do, gathered on Broadway, umbrellas in hand, just to look at the streets.

New York is an amazing city, but after a snow storm or situation like we had today, the break in monotonous city life offers a chance look around them and see just how great this place is.

I thought I’d had enough of Irene after experiencing it from the air, but today Irene brought many of us a pleasant surprise, and some time to reflect on how thankful we are that it wasn’t worse.

Excavating Central Park’s forgotten village

Central ParkCentral Park is sometimes called the “lungs of New York City”. Locals and visitors alike come here to enjoy a bit of fresh air and greenery. The park was approved in 1853 in order to leave a green patch in the rapidly expanding metropolis. The city government took the land between 59th and 106th Streets, between Fifth and Eighth Avenues, by eminent domain. About 1,600 residents were paid for their property and forced to move by the summer of 1856.

While a beautiful park was born, its birth was the death of Seneca Village, a prosperous community of almost 300 people. Two-thirds of the population was black and it may have been the first community of middle-class black landowners is New York. The rest were white, many of them Irish immigrants. Of the village’s three churches, at least one was integrated.

Seneca Village was founded in 1825, two years before New York freed most of its slaves, and expanded quickly in the following few years. Living conditions downtown were unhealthy and property prices high (some things never change) so blacks with enough money were eager to move up to this area. The map, Columbia University, shows Seneca Village. Eighth Avenue is at the top of the picture. Seventh Avenue is at the bottom, with 82nd St. on the left and 86th St. is on the right.

Today archaeologists from the Seneca Village Project have finished the first-ever excavation of this historic community. After painstaking research through city records, they were able to locate the precise spots where many of the houses stood. They decided to excavate the property of two black residents: the yard of Nancy Moore, and the home of William G. Wilson. They found a wealth of nineteenth-century artifacts, including some porcelain imported from China, showing that some residents were quite well off. They even found a shoe that may have belonged to one of Mr. Wilson’s children.

If you’re heading to Central Park, check the project’s interactive map to see the history under your feet.

VIDEO: Take a stop-motion trip to 1983 New York City

In just under six minutes, you can take a (mostly) stop-motion trip to 1983 New York City in this short film called “N.Y.C. (No York City)” by Rick Liss with music by Laurie Anderson. The video follows a dizzying path through Manhattan, past familiar landmarks like the World Trade Center, the subway, and Central Park (check out the roller skaters!). While the clothes and cars may seem dated, in many ways, it’s not much different than 2011 New York City, except with more mimes.