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New York City bargain destination perfect for a 3-day weekend

New York City may be the most expensive place to live, but if you like to walk; it's a bargain to visit. Arrive by Friday late afternoon, and by Sunday evening you can knock off most of the must see places and eat without spending much money. By the end, you'll know a good bit of what makes this city so grand.

I recently tested out this method with a friend of my daughter's who is a high school exchange student from Germany. She wanted to see New York and I'm always up for a trip. We did stay with my brother, but I do have two budget hotel suggestions that have been used by people I know.

When going to New York, have a point of orientation. Mine is Union Square located at East 14th Street and Broadway. Union Square is a hub where the subway station below ground offers trains in every direction and the park above is a gathering place of street vendors, a community farmers market and people out for a stroll depending upon the season and the day. In December, there's a wonderful holiday market with creative, high quality items from around the world.

This is where we began our New York jaunt on a Friday morning about 10 a.m. after arriving at LaGuardia from Columbus in time for the first bus into Manhattan. (The shuttle bus from LaGuardia drops passengers outside Grand Central Station. We took the #6 subway downtown to the Union Square stop. The roundtrip bus ticket is $21,)

Day 1

From Union Square, after dropping our things at my brother's), we walked down Broadway to Ground Zero, a place I had been avoiding ever since September 11. The walk led us through Washington Square Park, New York University and the gallery district of SoHo. Along the way, we window shopped and admired the architecture. The American Thread Company, 260 W. Broadway is one that caught our eye in particular. The building gave me a chance to point out the city's industrial past and imagine life in NYC during the late 1900s.

Ground Zero is now a bustling construction site where it's possible to peek through the fence to see the progress of the new girders. Along the outside fence are building plans. As devastating as the area feels, there's also a sense of renewal and hope.

The other World Trade Center buildings are still bustling with commerce. The 3 World Financial Center-American Express Building is a wonderful mix of office building and shopping mall. With Christmas approaching, Santa was busy listening to children's wish lists. I couldn't help notice how the holiday lights, poinsettias and Christmas tree inside the building inside were such a contrast to what occurred outside eight years ago. From the top of the steps in the atrium, there's an excellent view of the construction site.

The American Express building also has a small display of the history of American Express. I particularly enjoyed the brochures that were developed to entice people to travel to far off places. On the second floor, above where the museum is located, notice the four murals. Each is of a major city in one part of the world. Venice, Istanbul and Rio De Janeiro are three of them. I think the 4th is Hong Kong. The title plate was behind a barrier so we couldn't read it. People who work in the building who I asked about the mural didn't know either.

From here we walked along the river to Battery Park where we purchased tickets to Liberty and Ellis Island. The walk on this end of Manhattan will take you by lovely apartment buildings and public spaces. Of note is the right before you arrive at the ferry terminal for the Statue of Liberty. There is construction site fencing around most of it, but the quotes from famous people added uplift to the day.

After a short wait, we were on an early afternoon ferry headed for the Statue of Liberty. The $12 ticket purchased at the booth operated by the National Park Service covers the ferry ride to Liberty Island and Ellis Island which includes the museum. We arrived at Liberty Island with enough time to walk around Lady Liberty and spend a few minutes in the gift shop before taking the next ferry to Ellis Island.

By this time we were starved, so after seeing the free movie about the history of Ellis Island's past as the gateway for immigrants, we bought lunch at the café. A bowl of chicken soup cost $4.50.

By 4:00 p.m. we were back in Manhattan heading to Union Square to meet up with my dad and my brother, then off to the Museum of Modern Art-MOMA. On Fridays from 4:00-8:00, the museum is free. To get from 2nd Ave. and 14th Street, two blocks from Union Square, we took a taxi--$17 including a tip.

From MOMA it's a short walk down 5th Avenue to Rockefeller Center and across the street from there is St. Patrick's Cathedral. During Christmas, be prepared to be jostled a bit while you look at the center's Christmas tree and watch the ice skaters. Give skating a pass. It is not budget travel.

Next stop, back to Union Square via subway where we headed to Chat 'NChew, 10 East 16th St. for a late dinner. Chat 'NChew's specialty is comfort food. I ate the red beans and rice-a dish under $5.

Day 2

First stop, Union Square's holiday craft bazaar where I bought non-alcoholic glugg for $2.50 before we headed to the School of Visual Arts Gallery via subway which took us to Chelsea. The walk was the chance to see the transition from a working class neighborhood to a warehouse district that has been changed to gallery spaces.

From there we walked to the Empire State Building on 34th Street, passing Madison Square Gardens and Penn Station along the way.

Before getting in line for our tickets to the observation deck of the Empire State Building, we ducked across the street to buy a slice of NY style pizza for $3.50. I had the spinach and feta cheese variety. When I forked over the $20 admission to the Empire State building, I swallowed the ticket price by seeing it as a contribution to preserving American history. The Art Deco architectural details are splendid.

We were blessed with a clear night so I was able to point out various buildings and bridges. Look for Times Square and the Statue of Liberty. The Chrysler Building is obvious.

Next was a walk past the Macy's windows decked out for Christmas on our way to Times Square and Broadway. As always, there's a surprise on some corner in New York. The biggest one this time was at Broadway where the annual Santa pub crawl was in full swing There were hundreds of people dressed up like Santa Claus milling about in the midst of .the flashing neon.

After our Christmas spirit fix, off we headed back to Union Square and a walk to Hollywood Diner at 16th Street and 6th Avenue. If you're with another person, split the appetizer platter. The mozzarella sticks, chicken wings and chicken fingers cost us less than $6 a piece.

Day 3

After breakfast on-the-go at Chomp on 14th Street near 2nd Avenue where a small cup of coffee and a bagel is $2 we went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art via the # 6 train. The museum has a suggested admission price of $20 for adults, but you can pay what you want.. Don't feel cheap if you pay less. I do. For a trip through the best of the world's cultural and artistic riches, here's the place. My favorite exhibit was The Amercans, photographsby Robert Frank who created a photo essay of his travels across the United States from1955 to 1956.

At the other side of Central Park from the Metropolitan is the American Museum of Natural History. We stopped here long enough to see the atrium where part of the movie "Night at the Museum" was filmed. The two large dinosaur skeletons make an impression. Since I had been here two weeks before and we were limited on time, this stop was brief.

The walk through Central Park took us past the Delacorte Theater, home Shakespeare in the Park in the summer. We stopped long enough to take a picture of a couple who had just become engaged. They made a fetching site and asked us to take their picture when we passed by.

Next on the list was The Dakota where John Lennon was killed. The building is not well marked. The entrance is on off of Central Park West.

From here it was on to Grand Central Station where we stopped by the holiday crafts show, the whispering wall and the train museum. The whispering wall is by the food court on the ground floor. Look for two arches in an entry way. If one person stands on one end of an arch and another person stands at the other, you can hear each other talk, even if you're whispering. Face the wall for it to work.

Next stop Chinatown and dinner at the Shanghai Café. on Mott Street. There were four of us. We had an order of steamed pork dumplings, chicken lo mein, chicken fried rice and a broccoli dish. The bill came to $24. From Chinatown, we headed up Mulberry Street through Little Italy. In a few blocks we came to Umbertos Clam House where we split a carafe of red wine and the high schooler had a cappuchino. The bill came to about $25, as much as dinner. No bargain, but a lovely way to end the evening. The half carafe would have been plenty.

With an early afternoon flight, we headed to the bus stop at Grand Central for the 11:00 a.m. (or thereabouts) bus and had enough time to go to the New York Public Library. Because you can't take luggage inside, I waited outside for my high school friend to visit. She proclaimed it to be the most wonderful library she has ever seen and marveled that it was free. The library has rotating exhibits so it is always worth a stop.

So there you have it. New York City on the cheap. In all we, spent about $18 each on subway rides. I lost track.

For an inexpensive place to stay near Union Square, try Hotel 17 or the Seafarers International House..

The only place on the high schooler's list that we did not see was Tiffany's but we did see Tiffany stained glass windows at the Metropolitan. She also hoped to see the Naked Cowboy, but all those Santas made up for it.

Filed under: Arts and Culture, History, Festivals and Events, Food and Drink, Stories, North America, United States, Hotels and Accommodations, Budget Travel, Nightlife, Travel Deals, Women's Travel

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