How to Spend an Affordable Weekend in New York City

Ah New York. The City that Never Sleeps! The Big Apple! The 212! The Empire State! The City so Nice they Named it Twice! What a place. What a dirty, expensive, unsettling place. I mean it though, I really love visiting. There’s just something so novel about going to Manhattan and being yelled at by a homeless man who thinks you’re Hillary Clinton. “You and your husband can rot in hell!” he says. Nice!


But all joking aside- New York is a really special place. That’s why it’s so expensive. And even though it’s a little weird and grimy, people will still pay absurd amounts of money to live there, even if in a rat infested, 800 square ft apartment. You get sucked in.

And everybody, even those of us without endless amounts of cash to waste on overpriced hotels, should be able to go. So by filling your body with complete, hot-off-the-sidewalk street-vendor garbage, instead of paying $23 for a side of asparagus at restaurant owned by a Top Chef, you too can spend an unforgettable weekend in one of the greatest cities in the world. Read on, my friends, to find out how!

Where to Stay

Air BnB

I think this is the only way to go for spending the night in New York. Hotels are stupidly expensive, and a lot of the hostels there I just wouldn’t trust. Maybe I’m not adventurous enough, but I just look at those and can’t help but think that they’ve probably served as inspiration for one too may episodes of Law and Order. But Air BnB’s aren’t too pricey, and as long as you do your homework it’ll work out fine enough for a night. Check out listings here.

Some tips before you book:

  1. Research the neighborhood– There are some dangerous pockets of New York, and if you’re planning on being out late, factor in a potential tipsy-walk back at 2AM.
  2. Read the reviews– All of them. This is the best way to make sure that although you’re lucking out by spending $80 for a night in New York, you’re staying somewhere safe and reliable.
  3. Don’t take the cheapest one– This is based on advice my mom gave me. If you have options for a product, the most expensive is probably overpriced and the least expensive is probably cheap for a reason. Yes- it’s only one night, and you can put up with a crappy apartment room for that long. But if you find a room that’s only $40 for the night, ask yourself why it’s so cheap. Probably not out of the good of that person’s heart.
  4. Book a few weeks ahead of time– These go kinda quickly, because you can book up to like four months in advance. Don’t put it off until the last minute and end up having to pick from the leftovers.

How to Get Around

The Subway is relatively cheap and a good way to get around the city. I suggest picking an Air BnB that’s a little removed from the main area of Manhattan, and then taking the metro in and out in the morning and night. It’ll cost you like $5 or less.

Walking is a great way to get around after you get in with the Subway. Get some exercise and move ya legs. It’s a really walkable city and you’ll get to see more of it on foot! Plus, you’ll get the full New York experience if you ask for directions and get ignored 1,000 times by the people walking by. Classic.

Uber and Lyft are probably going to be a little more expensive than what you’re used to because you’re in a big city with high demand for drivers, but they’re cheaper than cabs. Take one of these if you’re out late at night and don’t feel safe walking back to your BnB (this is me assuming you’re following my post to a T, because of course you are).

Don’t take cabs. They tend to up-charge, and if they smell tourist on you they’ll take the long way to get wherever you’re going because they know you don’t know up from down. Plus, you just don’t need to be spending that money. This is the cheap-o’s guide to the city, we don’t waste cash on taxis! 

Where to Eat

Street Vendors

These are the way to go if you’re trying to keep it real cheap. And honestly, ignoring the comment I made at the top of this post which was obviously exaggerated and dramatic, eating here usually won’t disappoint you.

  • Hot Dog Carts are such a New York staple, I would even suggest getting one for kicks if you had the money to eat at some ritzy-rooftop restaurant. It’s fun! And only $2!
  • Dollar Slices are also a big New York thing. $1 and you get a really tasty slice of pizza. I don’t think you can even really mess up pizza, except when people try to make it healthy. So no big risks being taken here.
  • Street Tacos are another great option. I stick to a theory that the cheaper tacos are, and the sketchier the place is that they come out of, the better they taste. I have yet to be proven wrong, especially in New York.


Tasty Dumpling is awesome if you want, you guessed it, dumplings. And related foods. Cheapest not-off-the-street option. Find the menu and locations here.

Piadina Ristorante is more expensive ($10-15) but I feel like when you come to New York you have to do Italian food right. They’re known for their bread, and are a family run business that feels really warm and genuine. Go here for dinner, New York is the second best place to get Italian food next to Italy itself. Take advantage of it! Find the menu and location here.

Johnny’s Luncheonette is one of my favorite options on this list because they serve amazing breakfast all day long. Prices range from $7-$13, so not super cheap but doable. It’s also got a nice old-school vibe to it that I really enjoy. Find the menu and locations here.

What to do During the Day

Central Park is completely free, because it’s a park, and it’s really beautiful for being in the middle of a huge city. Obviously the best time to walk around and sit in a park is when the weather is warm and nice, so probably early fall or late spring. However, if you dress warm it can be even more fun in the winter. Think snowcapped trees and horse drawn carriages. Mmmm.

The MET is a New York classic, and the prices is a *suggested* $12 for students and $25 for adults. You can buy tickets online, too. Gossip Girl fan? Get a pic on the steps just like Blair!

The MoMA is one of the best art museums I’ve been to. $14 for students and also $25 for adults, it’s a pretty good deal for a high tier museum. There are a ton of big name artists with pieces on their fifth floor, but watch the time because that one area closes at 5:00, while the rest of it closes at 9:00.

The Staten Island Ferry gives you a great view of the Statue of Liberty and the New York skyline, and the best part is it’s FREE!! It’s about a 20 minute ride there and a 20 minute ride back, so it’ll take up a little chunk of time. And it gets a little boring on the way back when you’ve already taken your pictures and seen what there is to see. But free.

Times Square is just one of those things you kinda have to do if you’re a tourist. I’ve gone a bunch of times, and it’s still fun and a little overwhelming. You’ll get great pictures, and there’s a ton of shopping and places to eat in the area. Just watch out for the costume characters. First, because they’re just really frightening. And, because they’ll like, make you take a picture with them and then heckle you for a tip.

What to do at Night

See Saturday Night Live, Live. You can get tickets to either the dress rehearsal or the live taping by waiting in the standby line outside of Rockefeller the morning of the show at 7am. You can also enter into a lottery in August that’ll get you tickets when the season starts, but both of these options can’t be guaranteed.

Watch a taping of Late Night with Seth Myers. Go to his website and look at the calendar. I suggest trying to get tickets (that are FREE by the way) at least a few weeks or maybe a couple months, in advance if you can. They’re not really something you can get the day or week of.

Watch a taping of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. Here you can find instructions on how to get Fallon tickets. It’s basically the same gist of Seth Myers.

Go to a Comedy Show. The Upright Citizens Brigade is a hilarious comedy troupe that performs in New York, and tickets to see their performance are only like $5-$12. There are two locations: This is the East Village schedule, and the Hell’s Kitchen schedule will be posted this month (December 2017). Fun fact- Amy Poehler trained with them before getting hired at SNL!

If you want to splurge…

On city sights

You can go to the observation deck of the Empire State Building for $36, the Top of the Rockefeller for $34, or the observation deck of the World Trade Center for $32. Honestly, if you’re paying for it anyway, the Empire State Building is the most iconic and just classic New York, so I’d recommend that. The Rockefeller view is cool because you get to see the Empire State Building from it, though. Don’t do more than one though- it’s all tall buildings and a river. They pretty much look the same.

Empire State Building View // Top of the Rock View // World Trade Center View

On food and drinks

Black Tap, which is where the Freakshake originated. Think, diabetes in a glass. It’s a milkshake with ice cream scoops and sometimes a slice of cake thrown on top and maybe an ice cream sandwich while you’re at it and if you’re lucky, candy too! My dream, I am not kidding. However, be careful when you go because the line can get up to 3 hours long. I got lucky and happened to snag a 15 minute wait time, but that’s nearly unheard of. So just be prepared. Menu.

Photo courtesy of Hello Magazine

230 Fifth is a rooftop bar and appetizer restaurant that gives you an amazing view of the city. You have to be 21+ to get in at night, but the sometimes let you in if you’re under 21 if you’re in a big group of of-age people. Or with your parents. They also have heated outdoor Igloos that you can eat and drink in from November to April, just get there early because they’re first-come-first-serve. Menu and Location.

(Photos courtesy of 230 fifth)

Westlight is a restaurant across the river from Manhattan, and gives you a really good skyline view of the water and the city. The prices aren’t too crazy either, but you have to make a reservation. They allow under-21 before 8PM. Menu and website.

Photo 1 from Gothamist // Photo 2 from Yelp

On Holiday Cheer!!!

Ice Skating in New York is straight out of a Hallmark movie, but it’s disappointingly expensive. You have three options to do this if you’re willing to spend the money:

  1. Go to Rockefeller Plaza and pay $25-$32 for admission depending on when you go and $12 for skate rentals.
  2. Go to Central Park’s Wollman Rink and pay $12-$19 depending on the day and $9 for skate rentals.
  3. Go to Central Park’s Lasker Rink and pay $8 for admission and $7 for skate rentals. Less pretty than the top two, which is why it’s so much cheaper, but if you’re going to skate and you don’t need the fluff this isn’t a bad option.

Rockefeller Plaza // Wollman Rink // Lasker Rink

A Few Extra Tips:

  1. Check the weather before you go. New York is extremely humid during the summer, and pretty cold during the winter. It also snows a good amount. Make sure you know what you’re getting into so that you can pack accordingly.
  2. Wear comfortable shoes. I need to emphasize this one!!! You’re going to be doing a ton of walking and those heeled booties, that I’m sure are adorable and make your legs look amazing, aren’t going to do it. I’m so sorry. But wear tennis shoes or sneakers in the warmer months, and FLAT booties and snow boots in the colder months. You’ll thank me for this one. And if you don’t listen, next time you will.
  3. Watch out for scams. That sounds silly, but since New York is such a huge tourist town there are tons of people who try to take advantage of newbies who don’t know the city. One off the top of my head is don’t buy third-party tickets to the Empire State Building or the Top of the Rock. They usually don’t work, and you’re better off sucking it up and paying the real price if you want to go that badly.
  4. Brush up on your street smarts. If you’re not naturally somebody with a high city IQ, just try to keep your wits about you when you’re there. Don’t like, be terrified and paranoid the entire time, but also don’t be a dumb tourist who looks like an easy target. Cities are just more dangerous than other places, but if you’re smart about it you’ll be fine.

2017 Gift Guide (21)


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