It’s big, daunting and loud, but it’s near impossible not to fall in love with the Big Apple. The atmosphere is incredible and being amongst such vibrancy makes you feel alive. Wandering down the splendid avenues and bumping into icons of America on every corner is a dream come true for many. Although backpacking here can be a lot less Gossip Girl and a lot more like Annie before she got adopted; and trust me, walking amongst the splendor of Park Avenue really makes you want to be adopted by a billionaire (damn you, Annie). New York City is an expensive place, but seeing the sun set over the twinkling skyline makes you forget about your empty wallet and marvel at the jewel of capitalism.
Where to Stay
Rent in New York City is atrocious; and the effect is that there is hardly anywhere cheap to stay. Trying to find decent accommodation on Manhattan whilst staying within my budget of under $50 a day was impossible; even a bed in a dorm will cost you at least $40AUD something a night.
I broadened my search to AirBNB and found a lovely room in Queens, so if you want to save some cash it is a good idea to consider the boroughs. But remember that transport costs will come into play as you will probably have to purchase a Subway pass to get onto the island ($30US a week, or around $2.50US per trip). Some of the boroughs can be sketchy, so if you are a solo traveller or worried about this for any reason, paying a bit extra to stay in a hostel or on Manhattan might be worthwhile.
Staying in the boroughs can reduce the amount you spend on accommodation
Where to Go
- Central Park is free!! Which is the hallmark of an awesome backpacker activity. Strolling through the park in any season is absolutely stunning; whether it’s people-watching on a hot summers’ day, seeing the crimson leaves falling in autumn, or watching the gorgeous ice skating rinks during the chilly winter months.
- Top of the Rock is quite an expensive ordeal but the views are impeccable! They say you can only be up there for 15mins or so… but I was up there for over an hour and nobody cared. Go at sunset or sunrise for the most epic views of the city.
- The Boroughs are definitely worth exploring – New York City has a lot more character than just Manhattan. Grab a coffee and bagel in Brooklyn, have a dense diner meal in Queens or catch the free ferry to Staten Island and see the Statue of Liberty! Suburbs on Manhattan are also worth seeing, like China Town and Little Italy.
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art is by far one of the most incredible museums in the world; with art and artifacts from pretty much every place/era you can image. Best of all, it’s donation entry so you don’t have to fork out a steep entry fee – although there is a bit of pressure to donate the full amount.
- Broadway shows can often have cheap tickets, so keep an eye out.
- Times Square is another freebie and it will strike you down with the number of fluorescent lights and blatant consumerism. Nothing is new New York than this bad boy.
Top Of The Rock provides unparalleled views of the New York City skyline
Allow yourself enough time to relax and explore Central Park
How to Get Around
This city is very well planned out – but Manhattan Island is a lot bigger than it seems on a map and it can be difficult to get around by just walking. I would recommend getting a Subway pass which is $31US for a week of unlimited travel on the Subway and public buses. The Subway also goes out to JFK Airport with an additional airport fee – a lot cheaper than getting a taxi.
New York is also very well connected to other cities in the USA and Canada. They have cheap buses going to nearby cities like Washington DC, Boston, and Philadelphia, and also overnight buses to cities in Canada like Montréal, Toronto and Québec City.
What to Eat
For nutrition, New York City was a nightmare! With few supermarkets, and expensive restaurants, I resorted to McDonalds on a number of occasions. I frequented Chipotle which has better meals than McDonalds and still under $10US for a feed.
In ChinaTown there is the best and cheapest dumpling place ever where you can have a fill for a dollar bill – Prosperity Dumpling. I almost cried with happiness when I discovered the 4 dumplings for $1, or pack of 50 frozen for $9. Definitely worth the Subway journey to save the dosh and savor the flavor of cheap Asian food in this otherwise expensive city.
Coffee in NYC is not a good time (the Melbourne coffee snob in me is coming out here), with filter coffee ever-present and an actual coffee setting you back more than a 20 pack of chicken nuggets (America, amiright…). It pains me to say this, but if you want a latte on the cheap, keep an eye out at chains such as Dunkin’ Donuts where you can get it for $2. I promise I will never say that again (don’t hate me, Coffee Gods).
- In the US, prices often do not include tax and tip. So expect the price of your dinner, shopping or coffee to be more than it says on the price tag/menu.
- The city can be very intense; if you’re there for a while, I recommend going and seeing another city for a bit, or at least get out to a quiet borough or chill out in Central Park.
- Look in your local area for art galleries, cafés or other events, as many will not be locatable online. TimeOut Magazine also offers guides to free events happening in NYC, check it when you are arriving because they update it daily with all the events happening that month/week/weekend.