NYC is on everyone's list and for good reason! Didn't every sitcom in the 90s take place there? Well, it finally made it to the top of my list with a family weekend trip. We went with my brother and mom for a few days in October. I get why people like this city. It's got it all! Art, parks, food, architecture, history. Every travel show features NYC and everyone has their own opinion on what the best way to do NYC is. For us, this was a weekend getaway. We had no expectations, we didn't plan much, and we didn't have a lot of "must see" places.
When researching for the trip, I was surprised at the prices on tours. We couldn't find a city tour for less than $50 per person. Being used to the Free Walking Tours in Europe (which I totally recommend) I was a little lost on where to start. We heard about the Staten Island ferry which is free and offers views of the Statue of Liberty but doesn't actually visit the monument so that was our plan. When we got to the ferry, there were so many other visitors in line, we knew we wouldn't be getting a window seat. So we jumped for one of the boat tours. Was it touristy? Yes, but we also got to walk around the open top areas of the boat, take photos, and they even had a full bar. We got our views of the statue and a little more! This tour took us around to several different areas and explained a lot of history that we would have missed on the free ferry. The tour guide even walked around and helped visitors map out directions to their next stop. Would I do this again? Probably not, but if it was my first visit, I absolutely would.
The Usual Stops
You have to go to Time Square, don't even try to avoid it. But do avoid the bars in this area as they are touristy and overpriced. Also go see the Rockefeller Center. If you are there during the winter, you can see the romantic ice rink and Christmas decorations! This area was surprisingly empty on a Sunday morning in October, which made it less overwhelming.
NYC really does have a crazy stand-up comedy culture that produced some of your favorite actors and SNL performers. After a recommendation from a friend, we booked tickets at the Gotham Comedy Club that happened to be hosting RACHEL FEINSTEIN!! We were mysteriously sat literally right underneath the microphone on the stage and avoided eye contact with all the warm up acts to avoid being made fun of. The poor saps beside us got ripped to shreds, probably because of too much eye contact if you ask me. The comedy club was a very cool experience. It isn't big or beautiful or grandiose. It's just a little venue where people come to laugh. There was a two drink minimum per person and the food was definitely previously frozen fried chicken tenders but you better believe we ate them! I would recommend getting tickets to a show, if not at this club than one of the other many comedy clubs in town, it's just fun.
Brooklyn really is as cool as every says it is. It's like ACTUALLY cool though. You feel like you can be whatever you want when you're in Brooklyn. Feel like wearing 70s themed clothes but also being on a skateboard? Go to Brooklyn, because Brooklyn literally doesn't care. With some of the best food around, you can't NOT go to Brooklyn on your NYC trip. In fact, if I went back, I would stay here.
Are you so cool that you are too cool for Brooklyn? Then head to East Village because this borrow is a level of cool I can't really explain. Think tattoos, graffiti, but also sky-high rent and artisan sandwich shops (yes we paid $18 for a single sandwich, and I would do it again!). We stopped at a hip bar called The Library that is punk rock themed and has B rated movies playing nonstop. This bar is like East Village in a nutshell: a hardcore appearance with a definite soft spot in the middle.
Historic Taverns, Bagels, and other overpriced but totally worth while food
There is no way New Yorkers eat these bagels and stay this thin. But get yourself one while you are visiting and ignore the calorie content. We went to Liberty Bagels, very close to our hotel. It's crowded, there's not a lot of room to sit, and it's loud, but that's New York right?? I got an everything bagel with vegetable cream cheese but my adventurous travel buddies got a plain bagel with honey bacon cream cheese (actual bacon pieces in the cream cheese) and a blueberry bagel with blueberry cream cheese. Don't worry about the seating, take yours on the subway like we did. Split a bagel with someone, because a "shmear" of cream cheese is no joke.
The sons of Liberty met at Fraunces Tavern, George Washington gave an historic speech here! This place is important and it definitely has a vibe. Go for happy hour Monday-Friday 4-7pm for $1 oysters and drink specials. Don't make a reservation for the dining room (that was our mistake). It's expensive and stuffy, the bar area is where the fun is happening. We were sitting in the almost empty restaurant, listening to the fun happening in the next room where the bar and happy hour patrons were living it up.
New York Pizza, man people can really talk about this. I'm not even going to try to tell you that I had some of the best pizza there is, because it's such a sensitive subject, I barely even want to say anything. We went to Pizza Suprema as soon as we got into town because literally everyone is talking about it. They have a giant picture of Anthony Bourdain hanging in the dining room. It's cheap, it's good, the service is loud and the place was crowded. But again, I think that's the New York charm. And the pizza was pretty damn good, so put your adult pants on and get in there and yell "TWO MEAT LOVERS" - you won't regret it.
Things are happening in New York, like all the time. Even in no-name bars that aren't on any lists or travel sites. For someone from a small city like Little Rock, I'm not used to this. You don't have to plan where you are going, you can walk around in select areas and find live music with no cover. Sure, some places are better than others, but sometimes the thrill of the find is more fun than the thrill of the plan.
Sort of free stuff to do
We took a day and rode the subway to each area of town and just walked around the neighborhoods. We stopped in a bar in each borrow and had a drink while plotting where we were going next. The subway is kind of fun. It's more straight forward than the London tub or the Paris metro.
NYC was in no way cheap. To stay within walking distance to anything was very expensive. If it wasn't for my mom's Marriott points, I'm not sure where we would have stayed. That is one reason it's taken me so long to get to NYC! When I look at booking a trip there and it costs more than a trip to Copenhagen, it's not an easy decision.
It's kind of hard to write about NYC for a budget travel blog because there aren't a ton of budget tips. Yes, you can walk everywhere or just take the subway, skip cabs and fancy restaurants in lieu of slices of pizza. And you should absolutely do that, but you will still be paying a fair amount of money just to sleep anywhere in the city. Yes there are free activities like Central Park and the free Staten Island ferry, but you are going to want to see more than that.
In spite of it's expense, you will still fall in love with the city, it's charm, it's rough edges, and it's lack of interest in tourists. NYC is one of those destinations where people don't look twice at you, because they've already seen it all. You aren't going to surprise them, and that's one thing I really enjoyed about the city. People just let you be.