The Bronx Is Up and the Battery, Not Unlike the Dollar, Is Down

I noticed recently that one of my favorite food bloggers, Julie of Dinner With Julie, had her first trip to New York coming up. She mentioned having spent a ton of money on flights and the hotel and also that she had an inbox full of recommendations of things to do here. I’ve noticed from reading the comments on similar posts elsewhere that the recommendations people tend to give NYC-bound food bloggers are often of the ‘the truffled ocelet liver at Chez Fancipants is not to be missed!’ variety, and I took it upon myself to write her a little guide to free and cheap things to do in New York. And then I thought I might as well post it in case anyone else found it useful.

The Tenement Museum is completely fascinating and well done. They only do tours, no wandering around by yourself, and do an amazing job of recreating and explaining what it was like to live in the tenements. I *think* you need reservations for the tours. They have a fantastic book store too and when you leave the museum you’re right next to Il Laboratorio del Gelato which is awesome, and not far from the Doughnut Plant.* Also nearby-ish: Russ and Daughters, a family-run “appetizing shop.”

From the Lower East Side, you can head south(ish) to Chinatown (soup dumplings at Joe’s Shanghai and ice cream at the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory) or north to the East Village, where there is a remarkable concentration of Japanese ramen places (I like Ippudo) and Ukrainian food (Veselka is a must-visit; it’s an institution. GREAT borscht.). If you have Tuesday or Wednesday evening free, my friend Tony runs pub trivia nights that are really fun.

You’ll kick yourself if you miss out on Kalustyan’s, amazing specialty food market. Likewise, Sahadi’s, which is in Brooklyn, but very easy to get to and close to the Brooklyn Promenade, which is a gorgeous way to see the Manhattan skyline. Walking around Brooklyn Heights is a good way to get a feel for brownstone Brooklyn. It’s almost ridiculously charming.

Walking over the Brooklyn Bridge is a must. The High Line is absolutely incredible, one of the coolest things in the city (and free). The Grand Central oyster bar (in Grand Central station) is a really fun, old New York place. The Staten Island Ferry is both free and one of the best ways to see the Statue of Liberty. If you want to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the posted price is a SUGGESTED donation; you are perfectly within your rights to give the cashier a dollar and say, “one, please.” I do it every time I go — don’t be scared to try it. Most museums have free or cheap nights/days.

If you want to explore a little further afield, take the 7 train into Queens. Jackson Heights is a fascinating neighborhood with an Indian section (Bollywood theater, fascinating grocery stores, great restaurants like the Jackson Diner) and a South American section. Flushing, Queens’ Chinatown, is at the end of the 7 train. It’s HUGE and wonderful.

The Skint is a very useful website listing free goings-on around the city.
For a cheap, very filling breakfast, go to the deli counter in any bodega and ask for an egg and cheese on a roll. It’ll be made to order and should always be under $3, though depending on the neighborhood might be a little north of that.
My advice for a first-time visitor:
1. Make sure you get out of midtown. Sure, see Times Square and whatever else if you want to, but make an effort to spend time in other neighborhoods. ALWAYS eat elsewhere. SO MUCH of what’s wonderful about the city is in the smaller-scale areas where normal people are just going about their normal lives. Yes, a lot of things in the city are really expensive, but there are a lot of things that aren’t. (Manicures, for example: wicked cheap) Yes, sometimes the city gets really crowded, but plenty of areas aren’t. There are tons of free or cheap options for just about anything you want to do or eat, but almost all of them are not in midtown.
2. New Yorkers are really, really great. We get a bad rap, but we LOVE to help lost people and tell you what train to take and how to get to wherever you need to go. Just ask anyone nearby. Seriously.
3. Don’t be afraid of the subway and buses. Get unlimited Metrocards and use them.
4. Bring comfortable shoes and expect to walk. It’s the best way to see the city.
*I’ve never been to the Doughnut Plant because I find doughnuts utterly resistible. I hear other people go crazy for them though.


  1. says

    Ooh, you’re making me want to get a NYC layover. Last time I was in NYC I dragged my crew around the fabric distric and we picked up delicious sarnies at Pret a Manger and sat in the sun in Bryant Park (it was early summer). They still recall it fondly when we meet.

    I’m looking at you askance re: the doughnut thing. I guess we all have our things.

  2. dave says

    Steph – this is great – I will forward a link to this story to all visitors!!!

    maybe there could be a part 2 with central park and areas to the north?

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