Cheap Vacation Ideas for 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!Three 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.

Three 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: 5 reasons to visit the Upper West Side

Welcome to Gadling’s ongoing series, Undiscovered New York. Ask any New Yorker about their favorite parts of the city to visit, and you’re likely to get some fairly common answers. Anybody under the age of 30 will tell you that the neighborhoods south of 14th Street are the happening place to be. Brooklyn is an increasingly popular answer as well, with “cool” neighborhoods like Williamsburg, Greenpoint and “Brownstone Brooklyn” getting some love as well.

But I’m fairly certain nobody is going to tell you to go to the Upper West Side. You know what? They’re missing out on one of New York City’s best neighborhoods. Call me biased (I lived on the Upper West Side for almost 3 years) but this neighborhood located west of Central Park has a lot to offer, from fantastic parks, quirky attractions, unmatched cultural institutions, a burgeoning food scene and even some great nightlife.

It might be hard to believe, but dear reader, let me share with you 5 reasons why the Upper West Side deserves a few hours of your time during your next visit to New York.

Click below for Undiscovered New York’s top 5 reasons to visit the Upper West Side. I bet you’ll be surprised.
Reason 1: The Food!

If there’s anything you might have learned after reading Undiscovered New York, it’s that we’re pretty big on New York’s food scene. Perhaps then it’s not surprising that the Upper West Side is home to an increasing number of great food spots. First stop is Fairway – what might be one of the best grocery stores in the entire United States. Pretty much any delicacy known to man is available within the narrow aisles of this chaotic, wonderful supermarket. Imported olives from Italy and Spain, Beluga Caviar, bags of Ethiopian Arabica and freshly made New York bagels are just a few of the many delicacies on offer.

A little further north is the secret weapon of 96th Street – Super Tacos “Sobre Ruedas,” a tiny taco truck serving up cheap, authentic Mexican food to locals. For five bucks you can grab a goat tongue taco and a spicy chorizo along with a bottle of Mexican soda. The Upper West Side is also home to an increasingly great selection of new restaurants – try Kefi for some of the city’s best Greek food, Dovetail for some delicious New American cuisine and Barney Greengrass for top-notch smoke fish. Your last stop should be Grom for New York’s most authentic (and delicious) Italian gelato.

Reason 2: The Architecture
New York’s West Village might get all the tourists, but to really get a feel for some beautiful architecture one need only take a stroll on the Upper West Side, which is loaded with historic architectural gems. One of the neighborhood’s most famous structures is The Ansonia, a beautiful Beaux-Arts style former hotel at 73rd and Broadway. The building’s glitzy history includes stays by residents including Babe Ruth, the 1919 Black Sox and a former swinger’s club. Another famous Upper West Side building is The Dakota at 72nd Street and Central Park West, infamous as the residence of John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Beyond these two structures is an entire neighborhood of beautiful late-19th Century and early 20th-Century brownstones and apartments. Just pick a street and start walking.

Reason 3: The Culture
The Upper East Side might get all the visitors because of The Met, The Guggenheim and The Whitney, but the Upper West Side’s cultural amenities would put most large cities to shame. First there’s the American Museum of Natural History, home to all manner of dinosaur bones, insect specimens and a full size blue whale. But in addition to the Natural History museum, there’s a huge range of cultural options on New York’s Upper West Side. There’s also Lincoln Center, the beating cultural heart of New York and home to the Metropolitan Opera, New York City Ballet and New York Philharmonic, among others. Retro music fans can stop by the Beacon Theatre to see acts like Hall & Oates and B.B. King.

Reason 4: The Parks
Who’s buried in Grant’s Tomb? Why don’t you find out for yourself by visiting the real thing? The final resting place of U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant can be found nestled on the Upper West Side’s Riverside Park. That’s not the only notable sight in this beautiful waterfront park which runs the length of the neighborhood. You’ll find joggers, sailboats and some awesome views of the George Washington Bridge. In the warmer months there’s the Boat Basin Cafe, a wonderful spot to enjoy a drink or a burger and take in the fabulous view. Just south of the Cafe is a collection of derelict piers and dock machinery which makes for a cool backdrop for photos.

Reason 5:
The Nightlife
If you want to go out in New York City, you should probably head downtown, right? Wrong. The Upper West Side has a surprisingly diverse nightlife scene. Jazz fans will want to stop by Cleopatra’s Needle, a swinging Jazz joint packed with fans and some of the city’s best musicians pret
ty much every night of the week. There’s not even a cover charge – just buy a drink or two and settle in for some awesome live music. There’s also a number of great spots to grab a drink, including wine bars like Vintage, which features a huge selection of locally produced wines from Upstate New York and and Long Island. There’s also plenty of watering holes up near Columbia University. It’s no all-night party scene but it will certainly hold your attention for a fun night out.