24 Budget-Friendly Hours in NYC

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Living in NYC for six years, you find a few hidden gems. You might find a special happy hour that starts your Thursday off perfectly, or a simple lunch that hits the spot week after week. Much of what you hear about the Big Apple requires an even bigger wallet -- that’s what we’re here for. It IS possible to have a jam-packed day of sightseeing, eating, and drinking in the famed city for significantly less than $100.  Follow us:

9:30 -  Start your day at the Westway Diner on 9th Avenue.  There you can grab a full American breakfast for less than $15.  Or hit Cafe Grumpy around the corner if you want lighter fare and a sighting of the Williamsburg hipsters you’ll cross later on.     
Price - $15 or less

10:30 -  Just a few minutes walk away is the Highline, where you can stroll facing both the city and the water, entertained by the likes of performance artists, greenery, stalls, and architecture that has sprung up along the risen trail.  
Price - $0

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12:00 - Grab the L train to get you from Chelsea to Brooklyn. Make sure to stop at Union Square for some of the best busking you have ever seen. One of my favorite discoveries, Too Many Zooz (first personally found in Union Square) went on to grabbing their own tour.   
Price - $2.75 for a single ride, but time-based cards will make inner-city transit much cheaper

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1:00 - Finish your L train ride at Lorimer, and make your way to Okonomi. This newly trendy restaurant fills in the evening, where people line up to try the famed ramen, but they offer a simple and beautiful Japanese set lunch for only $9. Not only is this meal authentic and cheap, but it looks like a million bucks.  
Price - $ 11 with tip

2:00 - Next, head down to Prospect Park for a break from the concrete jungle. An adult ticket to the Brooklyn Zoo costs $8, and we might be biased, but, it’s worth the trip.  
Price - $8

(We couldn't snap a pic of the adorably elusive Red Pandas, but we were inspired to get our own)

(We couldn't snap a pic of the adorably elusive Red Pandas, but we were inspired to get our own)


4:30 - Make your way back through Brooklyn to one of the many ferries that run throughout the burroughs. Costing the same as a subway ride, the ferry offers a gorgeous and romantic view of the skyline -  it’s faster than the subway, too.
Price - $2.75

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6:00 - After a quick freshening up, head out for happy hour! We have a few suggestions for this listed later, but to sneak a peek at one of the trendiest sides of the city that never sleeps, head to The Flower Shop. This sceney spot is the start t many a fashionable New Yorker’s nights, with drinks at $5 and oysters at just $1 from 5-7pm.
Price - $12

8:00 - When $1 oysters can no longer suffice, fill up at Tim Ho Wan in the East Village. It’s the first American iteration of the cheapest Michelin starred restaurant in the world, originally from China. Here, you will find a more authentic take than the usual, with sharing plates topping out at about $5. We recommend the barbecue buns, pumpkin porridge, and boiled lettuce.
Price - about $20 with tip

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10:00 - One of my favorite things about this city is the plethora of great comedy available at your fingertip. Everyone knows about the late night show tapings, but you certainly can’t count on snagging a ticket during a short stay. The Upright Citizen’s Brigade is a safe bet, but you know what’s better? Free.  Some of my faves are Lucky Jack’s on Wednesdays and Bitches Brew on Fridays. The drinks are cheap, and the laughs deep.  
Price - $10 for a drink

What’s your favorite New York deal?

Total price = $81.50


Honorable mentions:
Food (under $10 a meal):

  • Crif Dogs-  Cheap, filling, and nestled in the trendy East Village.  Has a delicious (but not so cheap) speakeasy hidden somewhere  inside.  (About $9)

  • The Dumpling Man- right across the street from Crif Dogs, featuring handmade dough with fillings ranging from soup to pumpkin -- we suggest these over Vanessa’s any day. (About $8)

  • Any Chinatown Bakery- brimming with all kinds of baked goods both sweet and salty, and usually offering a few carbless mains as well, anyone can fill up here for about $5.  You’ll also certainly find something you’ve never tried before. (About $5)

  • Any Halal Cart- a New York City staple feeding Manhattan for $5, this is usually my first stop when returning home.  Most are good, but my faves are on Spring and Lafayette or 43rd and 3rd Ave. (About $5)

Happy Hour:

  • The Botanica- one of the few dive bars left in the city, this spot offers cheap drinks all night, but happy hour makes them a steal. (About $6 for one drink)

  • The Cellar at Beecher’s Handmade Cheese- one of my favorite spots in the city.  Offering drinks at $5 and cheese plates at $8 during HH, this place is a little known gem. (about $15 for one drink and cheese plate)

  • Warren 77- with both a happy hour and rotating daily specials, this classic sports bar allows non Americans to get a taste of game day.


  • Central Park- well, obviously.

  • The Cloisters- on certain days entrance is free (like most of the cities museums) -- the trip uptown is worth it.

  • Art show hopping in Chelsea- accompanied by free wine and usually some cheese, many of the cities next big names are found showing during these Thursday and Friday show hops.

Sarah Engelland1 Comment