By Shandana Durrani
What can be said about New York City that hasn’t already been said? All the clichés hold true. It’s the city that never sleeps, the city that if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere, the city of dreams and blind ambition…
People from around the world flock to its boulevards and avenues to enjoy the exciting nightlife, gourmet restaurants, historic sights and unrivalled cultural institutions. It’s a city teeming with energy and creativity, filled with millions of people waiting for their bite of the proverbial apple.
But New York City can be an expensive place to live and visiting is not much different. Even the most decrepit of hotel rooms can cost several hundred dollars a night and dining out at a great restaurant isn’t much cheaper when you factor in drinks and tips. Still, deals can be had.
So, our New York insider is here to help you find the best budget places to eat, play and stay in the city.
Manhattan hotels are some of the most expensive in the world but The Pod offers stylish accommodation that won’t break the bank.
Choose from two midtown locations – on 39th and 51st Streets – and a choice of bunk-, single-, double- or queen-bedded rooms with colourful duvets and headboards, free wi-fi and flatscreen TVs. While the funky space is tight, every inch of the room is utilised for maximum convenience.
But who says you have to stay in Manhattan to have it all? The outer boroughs boast less expensive lodging options and one of the chicest hotels around lies just across the Queensboro Bridge from Manhattan.
The Ravel opened in hip Long Island City to much fanfare. The boutique hotel boasts 63 rooms with Egyptian cotton sheets, rainforest shower heads and breathtaking views of the Manhattan skyline. The rooftop lounge, Penthouse 808, is the place to be on lazy summer nights.
Eating out and eating well in any large city can be pricey. But thanks to food carts and ethnic enclaves, eating well doesn’t have to empty your wallet. New York City is a hotbed of eateries, with more than 24,000 restaurants in the five boroughs.
Instead of joining the throngs at one of the 50 Michelin-starred eateries, head to Haveli Banjara (100 Second Avenue) in the heart of the East Village. This expansive Indian restaurant on Curry Row stands apart from its unimaginative neighbours thanks to a unique and varied menu encompassing every regional cuisine in the South Asian nation. The chicken liver and poori appetizer is as mouthwatering as it sounds. Opt for one of the tandoori dishes or a traditional thali for a main course.
Across the river in Woodside, Queens, lies one of only two great Thai restaurants in the entire city. SriPraPhai (64-13 39th Avenue, Woodside) still packs them in for dinner – you might have to wait 30 minutes for a seat – years after its opening. You won’t just find pad thai and pad krapow on the menu, however. Think crispy minced catfish salad with mango and cashews or sauteed frog legs with basil and lime. It’s Bangkok by way of 39th Avenue. (Be aware that payment here is by cash only.)
While many museums and sights in the city charge exorbitant admission prices, these fees are a suggested price only. You can visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art and pay whatever you please. Still, most people opt for the standard admission.
If playing by the rules is your modus operandi, deals can still be had on certain days. Head to the Museum of Modern Art on Fridays after 4pm. It’s free to admire the works of masters such as Cezanne, Seurat and Pougny.
Want to learn about Native-American history? Venture downtown to The National Museum of the American Indian, which showcases works by and documents reflecting the indigenous people of the Americas. And it’s always free.
Although an official city pass doesn’t exist in NYC, a group of locals created The New York Pass, which gets you into more than 80 attractions for free. Pay your respects at the 9/11 Tribute Center or enjoy the cherry blossom festival at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. If you’re spending more than a day sightseeing around town, it’s a great option – and you can avoid the queues.
Like its European counterparts, NYC is eminently walkable. Most of Manhattan is situated in a grid pattern so getting from east to west or north to south is fairly easy. New Yorkers walk a lot themselves as it keeps them in shape and sane on their commutes to and from work.
You could do the same or head to the subway for easy transport. The lines run 24/7 and will get you just about anywhere in the five boroughs whether it’s hip Williamsburg or food-centric Astoria or historic Harlem. The MTA once offered a day pass but those days are gone. Opt for an unlimited seven-day pass to get you around town quickly and seamlessly.
If you arrive at JFK or La Guardia airports, you can hop on the subway to your destination for just $2.50. But your best bet is to hire a taxi if your party is large or get the Blue Shuttle to your hotel if you’re a solo traveller. Just beware: the Blue Shuttle may take more than an hour to get you to your destination as it packs in passengers and everyone gets dropped off at their end point in the order of the driver’s preference.
New York City is always a popular destination but heading here in the shoulder or off season is your best bet for getting a good deal. Christmas and summer are the busiest times with hotels charging exorbitant prices for rooms. During January and February rates are at a yearly low. Yes, it’s bitterly cold, but hotels offer big discounts and you can book a table at the hot restaurants without a problem.
Brunch is a New York institution and it’s a great way to people watch. Plus, it’s two meals in one so you’ll save cash and enjoy an American phenomenon.
If a Broadway show is on your itinerary, don’t pre-pay for a ticket. Instead, head to one of the TKTS booths around town to buy a deeply discounted seat – enjoying up to 50% off! And instead of standing in line at the popular Times Square location, hop on the subway and head to the downtown Brooklyn booth. You’ll probably be the only one in the queue.