Spending two weeks in New York City was easily one of the most incredible experiences I have ever had. The 100mph atmosphere is incredible, even for this London boy. Two weeks at the end of June and start of July in the summer just gone were spent exploring the city that never sleeps, and even with a budget, you can experience all the city has to offer!
The title probably seems incredibly contradictory to even the least clued up on the Big Apple. Doing one of the most outwardly expensive cities on the planet on a budget seems impossible. I do have to add a corollary, in that even being as frugal as possible, the overall costs were still over £1000 for flights, accommodation and spending money.
However, considering that could easily be spent on a city break in Europe where flights are a quarter of the cost, I will give myself the benefit of the doubt!
“Having a base of operations in Queens made exploring the city easy”
The biggest thing on doing a major city like New York on a budget is going with a hostel. Q4 Hostel in Queens, by the Queensboro Bridge, costs $466 for thirteen nights (around £350 at exchange rates at the time pf visiting), and houses free kitchen facilities, pool, Wi-Fi, table tennis, and a laptop to use (which I used to edit Impact articles, surprise surprise).
The biggest thing with a hostel, however, is the people that you will undoubtedly meet. The lounge area downstairs at Q4 was perfect for this, and my best friend and I spent many an evening drinking and chatting to the various people we met there.
What is more is that a lot of hostels will put on events for its guests, and on the first Friday we were there, the hostel put on a free rooftop BBQ; free food and free beer, sitting in the evening sunshine. It was a wonderful evening, and a great kick-starter for meeting a lot of people we would later spend a lot of time relaxing with while in New York.
Having a base of operations in Queens, a ten-minute subway ride from Lexington Avenue in Manhattan, made exploring the city easy. Far from going on a Big Bus Tour, or listening to endless tour guides, buying a weekly Metrocard for $32.00 lets you explore at your own pace, seeing parts of the city you would not normally see.
Having spending money of around $400 for two weeks is paltry too, but can be enough if one is smart. Using the hostel’s facilities and buying food to cook for meals is one thing, saving money whilst doing all of the tourist-y things is quite the other.
The city has its own bargains, though; for instance, the Staten Island Ferry gives unbelievable views of the Manhattan skyline, as well as going past the Statue of Liberty and Governor’s Island. On Saturday’s and Sunday’s, lower Manhattan hosts a free rooftop pool party, just a few blocks away from the World Trade Center, if you are willing to get there at 3pm sharp.
One of the best deals we found was the opportunity to go kayaking on the Hudson River, just north of the World Trade Center, with the aptly-named Freedom Tower dominating the skyline as a symbol of the resilience of the city post-2001. A half-hour spent relaxing with views of both New York and New Jersey was something else.
Making a list of everything you want to see in New York is paramount, and means you do not waste both time and money on things that are not essential. Yes, one can climb the Empire State Building and spend $40 to go up to the observation deck, but seeing the Empire State at ground level is equally awe-inspiring.
Any rooftop event which you can head to for a limited cost is well worth having to search around the internet. The rooftop BBQ and rooftop pool offered unreal views of the city, and that is one of the reasons why people come to New York City. Imagining the awe that those heading to the U.S. for a new life must have felt becomes abundantly clear when at rooftop level.
“In true university student style, pre-drinking hard will save you a lot once you hit the New York bars”
If you are not careful (a mistake we did make a few times), you can end up at bars that will charge you $8 and more for a beer, which means it is best to look around for bars that offer deals on drinks at certain times. However, liquor stores and delis will often have great prices on drinks for you to pre-drink with back at the hostel.
In Queens, the local deli store sold 25 fluid ounce (nearly two pints in good old English imperial) cans of Budweiser for $2.50, which is better than you can get at Lenton’s famous watering hole, the Bag O’ Nails. Grabbing a brown paper bag and taking a beer on the subway as you head to your bar of choice feels like something out of a movie.
In true university student style, pre-drinking hard will save you a lot once you hit the New York bars. Places like the Joshua Tree in Midtown are rather pricey, but when you are only buying one round, the atmosphere is well worth the expense, in sampling the vibrant New York night-life.
College bars are a great place to try, additionally, with NYU and Columbia situated in the heart of the city and bars close-by offering beers as low as $2 on certain days. Treating New York like Nottingham, in that respect, will save you a lot without having to miss out on experiencing New York at night, when the city truly comes alive.
The final tip does come from my best friend, rather than myself. Times Square while drunk at night is like nothing else you have ever seen. It is well worth the flight costs just to see that.
Seeing all that New York has to offer does not have to break the bank, and offers the experience of a lifetime. If my love for the city isn’t abundantly clear from this article, then feel free to drop into the Impact office and listen to me ramble on for even longer. Concrete Jungle indeed.
Images: Connor Higgs
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