New York City – 5 cheap ideas to enjoy its hidden charms

After a year in New York where my paycheck barely covered my rent, we found many ways to enjoy a day out on a tight budget, and often for free. So much so that our New York native friends would ask us, the legal aliens, to recommend places for them to visit on a weekend.

Here’s just a few of our favourite activities to get started:

NYC: Waldorf Astoria1. Hang out in the Waldorf Astoria. I don’t think the management encourage this, but as the Waldorf was around half an hour’s walk from our apartment on our way downtown, we found it the perfect place to stop for a rest, sit on the (very) comfy sofas, and people watch. Probably one of the best people watching places in the city, you can observe the rich and famous come and go through the lobby and imagine the stars, presidents and royalty who have trodden that carpet, all from the comfort of your chair. If you’re really cheeky you can take an elevator ride up to the rooftop ballroom and take a peek inside. In our defence we did actually stay here on our first trip to NYC, courtesy of an exceptional offer. Of course, the savings in our room rate were blown away by a single Sunday brunch, although that meal is possibly the biggest amount of food I have ever eaten in a single sitting.

2. Go to Roosevelt Island – if you’ve seen City Slickers you’ll remember the cable car ride that Billy Crystal would take for his daily commute. Squashed against the backdrop of the 59th Street bridge the “tram” takes you from Manhattan onto Roosevelt Island, where you can wander and enjoy both the village atmosphere of the island and the great views back to Manhattan. The island has fewer than 10,000 residents and is only 2 miles from top to bottom, while a good stone’s throw will reach the river from pretty much any point on the island. We stopped there for a good lunch in the only diner that was open on a weekend. Coming here really impressed our NY friends, none of who had ever been on the island!

3. Explore the wilderness areas of Central Park – did you know Central Park had a waterfall? Not many people do. While the lower part of the park is very busy at weekends, few people venture north of the reservoir, and in the north west corner when you drift away from the traffic noise it is easy to imagine yourself on a rural riverside walk, such is the tranquility and isolation that you will experience. We would venture up here when friends came to stay, and all remarked on how amazing it was that this secluded place is in the centre of one of the biggest cities in the world.

4. Catch one of the many exciting events in Central Park – in our time we went to see the Dalai Lama speak (ok, we stood in a line for three hours and eventually saw him wave as he was driven away), we went skiing courtesy of the Vermont Ski people who set up an artificial slope in the park and laid on food and drink too, and we watched a night-time outdoor screening of the 60s movie Hair, filmed of course in Central Park. There was always something going on, and a walk through the park revealed something new every time.

5. Visit the NY Central Public Library. Even if you’re not in the mood to read, the building interior is worth a visit alone for its incredibly grand hallways and stairways, adorned with chandeliers and ornate ceilings. Again, it is an important movie backdrop for many films; in recent times Spiderman and The Day after Tomorrow are just a couple. You’ll find it very close to the equally impressive Grand Central Station, well worth a visit if you are more familiar with some of Europe’s shabby main stations.

If you live in NYC, I wonder how many of these places you have visited, or what you would add to the list? Suggestions and experiences are welcome as always.

Author Information

Freelance travel writer

7 Responses to “New York City – 5 cheap ideas to enjoy its hidden charms”

  1. ArtChick1 #

    This is a very interesting post…what about ART… galleries in Chelsea where you can view Contemporary work which is fabulous.

    October 10, 2009 at 3:53 pm
  2. Andy Jarosz #

    Thanks for the comment. Your Gallery walks sound like a great idea. I hope you're getting plenty of eager people to show around.

    October 10, 2009 at 4:06 pm
  3. Rosa Blu #

    Another great way to explore the hidden spots in NY is to book a tour with your own local guide:

    Thanks for the ideas, we'll keep them in mind for our next visit!

    Greetings from Amsterdam!


    October 10, 2009 at 7:43 pm
  4. Andy Jarosz #

    Thanks for posting Rosa – I just read the Big Apple Greeter site – what a great idea! And free too! I'll look out for this next time I'm there too :-)

    October 10, 2009 at 8:00 pm
  5. Rob Eberstein #

    Thanks for the hints. I'm heading to New York shortly, and cant wait to visit your suggestions and send a postcard or two!

    October 10, 2009 at 9:52 pm
  6. Andy Jarosz #

    Thanks for visiting Rob. Enjoy the tips and I look forward to hearing more hidden tips that you discover during your visit.

    October 11, 2009 at 7:38 am
  7. Chow and Chatter #

    oh thanks for the tips going in Dec

    October 11, 2009 at 5:13 pm