How to spend a weekend in New York City if you're traveling on a budget. An itinerary filled with the best free and bargain activities, as well as the best cheap eats in the city.
1. Soup Dumplings at Joe's Shanghai | 11 a.m.
46 Bowery St, New York, NY 10013
One of the most popular Chinese restaurants in the city, get here early within the first half hour so that you won't have to wait in sometimes hour long lines. While popular with tourists, many locals still swear by this restaurant and it hasn't lost any of it authenticity. Serving Shanghainese food, be sure to get its famed Xiao Long Bao (or soup dumpling), both in the original pork flavor as well as with the crab roe. The dumplings come hot in a steamer and the proper way is to nibble a bit to drink the soup first before eating the dumpling. The other dishes, including the appetizers like drunken chicken and jellyfish, as well as the Shanghainese noodles are not to be missed. The service is very rushed and curt, but is well worth it for the excellent food.
2. Latest Boba Craze at Tiger Sugar | 12 p.m.
197 Canal St, New York, NY 10013
While in Chinatown, don't miss out on getting some boba as an after-lunch dessert. Imported from Taiwan, Tiger Sugar is famous for its brown sugar boba, which is the latest popular boba of choice. The boba is placed into a cup with milk or milk tea on top and then sealed. When you flip the cup over, the streaks of sugar flow down the cup like a tiger's stripes, hence the name. You're taught to shake the cup 15 times to mix it well. It's a fun and delicious drink to sip on while you walk around and take in the sights of Chinatown.
3. Enjoy the Outdoors at Central Park | 1 p.m.
Take the green or yellow line north to midtown and get off when you get to Central Park South. Enter Central Park, which is one of the largest urban parks, and is a great place to relax, take a walk, and to absorb the lush green scenery. Many will rent a bike to ride through the park or bring a frisbee to play in the fields. For those looking for activities, there is the Central Park Zoo as well as the Carousel and a boathouse by the Lake in the northern part. There is also an ice skating rink during the winter months. Lots of locals and tourists can spend the whole day relaxing here.
4. An Education in Art at the MET | 3:30 p.m.
1000 5th Ave, New York, NY 10028
Take a break from the outdoors to visit the largest museum in the western hemisphere. The museum takes a suggested donation for entry, but you are free to pay your desired amount. Inside, you'll find halls complete with ancient Greek and Roman art, Renaissance and European paintings, American pieces, modern art, and so much more. Highly recommended are the Monet and Picasso pieces, but there is something here for everyone.
5. When Harry Met Sally at Katz's | 6 p.m.
205 E Houston St, New York, NY 10002
Head down to the Lower East Side on the green line to get dinner at Katz's, which is one of the New York institutions. Get the pastrami on rye, which comes in huge portions and is enough to feed two. The pastrami is incredibly tender and flavorful and is a must-eat if you're in New York. The place is also famous for one of the scenes from When Harry Met Sally and they mark the actual table where they sat.
6. New York Nightlife | 8 p.m.
Stick around in the Lower East Side, where there are lots of bars and restaurants and you can experience the New York nightlife. The places here are generally more affordable as well as more approachable and casual than the rest of Manhattan. Top Hops (Yelp) is a relaxed craft beer place with a reported up to 700 types of beers. Pianos (Yelp) is another bar with a fun vibe and cheap drinks with DJs and sometimes live music. Feel free to explore around the area and going from place to place to enjoy the night out.
7. Stroll Along the Iconic Brooklyn Bridge | 10:00 a.m.
Head out in the morning to take a walk across the iconic Brooklyn Bridge to get to the borough of Brooklyn. The walk is a casual stroll which can be completed in about 45 minutes, and offers a great view of Brooklyn and of the Manhattan skyline when you look back. It's a perfect way to get some exercise and sunshine, as well as to get some amazing photographs of the most famous bridge in New York.
8. Try One of the Best Pizza in NYC | 11:30 a.m.
1 Front St, Brooklyn, NY 11201
When debating the best pizzeria in New York, Grimaldi's Pizzeria is often in the conversation. With red checkered tablecloths and brick walls, this is as classic as you can get. It serves Neopolitan style pies that are thin-crusted and is softer in the middle. Order the margherita, and you'll taste the amazing freshness of the ingredients and the slight char of the crust. Just be prepared to wait in line if you don't arrive early just in time for the open.
9. Always Room for Dessert | 1 p.m.
14 Old Fulton St, Brooklyn, NY 11201
Save room after pizza to go by the waterfront to the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory. The small ice cream shop keeps it basic with the flavors and the old school cones, but it's tough to beat a refreshing ice cream while overlooking the river to the Manhattan skyline.
10. Brooklyn Botanic Garden or Museum | 2 p.m.
Take the red 2/3 line further into Brooklyn to Prospect Park. Here you'll find the Brooklyn Botanic Garden (Yelp) as well as the Brooklyn Museum (Yelp) right next to each other. Spend the afternoon depending on your interest, or even go to both. The botanical garden is especially famous for its cherry blossoms in the spring. However, you'll have to time it correctly to view it in the few weeks where it's in full bloom. Otherwise, the garden has plants and flowers from all over the world to satisfy those with a green thumb.
For those looking for a more cultural experience, head over to the Brooklyn Museum, which has collections from all around the world. It's especially known for its extensive Egyptian and African art. Admissions to both the Garden and the Museum are about $15 to $20 each.
11. Create a Global Cuisine Sampler from Around the World | 6 p.m.
Take the green train back to Manhattan, and this time we're going to St.Mark's street in the East Village. This is close to the NYU campus, and thus will have a lot of students wandering around as well as a ton of cheap and diverse places to eat.
A favorite of everyone is Mamoun's (Yelp), which serves some of the best falafels in the city. 2 Bros. is right next door, which serves $1 pizza slices. The quality is not the best, but then again, it's only a dollar. Another popular spot is Caracas Arepa Bar (Yelp) serving Venezuelan arepas, which are these freshly made corn based breads, almost like a pita, filled with various savory fillings. Mimi Cheng's Dumplings (Yelp) are also a popular spot if you're looking for some Taiwanese style dumplings served boiled or pan-fried. The best way to experience St.Mark's is to order and eat a bit from each place as you walk and explore the neighborhood.
12. Bars and Dessert in the East Village | 8 p.m.
After dinner, stick around in the East Village, which also has a lot of bars and spots to hang out. If you're looking for a classic pub, then look no further than McSorley's (Yelp), which is the oldest Irish pub in NYC. If you're looking for something a bit more exotic, then give Kenka (Yelp) a try. A Japanese izakaya, it's on the lower floor and has a large sign that is in Japanese. However, you can probably tell it's Kenka by the large crowd that is almost always overflowing outside. The place serves cheap beer and Japanese pub items like yakitori (skewers), ramen, and a host of other items.
For something a little bit more relaxed and laid-back, try Spot Dessert Bar (Yelp) which serves creative and tasty Asian fusion desserts such as matcha lava cake and thai tea creme brulee. There are tons of options in this area to enjoy through the night.