Manhattan on the Cheap!
Manhattan is one of the world’s most expensive cities. But it’s possible to visit Manhattan on the cheap. In my opinion, Manhattan and other high-priced cities are best to visit in nice weather when you can wander neighborhoods, have picnics for lunch, sit by a fountain and read, etc. In cold or rainy weather, travel is much more expensive because you usually have to pay something to be inside, whether it’s a cafe or museum. Fortunately we were there in mid-October and although it was cool, it was sunny so we enjoyed a lot of outdoor activities.
We flew Southwest Airlines from Los Angeles to La Guardia using Bob’s Rapid Rewards points and I flew free with his Companion Pass. Bob earned the pass for 2016 and I earned it in 2014. The Companion Pass is a great part of a Cheap Travel Strategy. You can read more details about the Companion Pass here.
Hotels in Manhattan–OUCH!
Your hotel will probably be your biggest expense and I would recommend planning to use points if you can. If you don’t have points, you can find many moderate hotels for about $100-135 per night. It’s always worth a try using Priceline to get a 4-star hotel for $75-150 per night. Online bidding forums like BetterBidding.com can guide you on what to except to pay for hotels. (We typically use points for hotels so it’s been a while since I used Priceline for a hotel room.)
We Stayed at Wingate by Wyndham Using Points
In 2016 we knew we were going to visit either Boston or NYC, both of which have expensive hotels, so we both got the Barclay’s Wyndham Rewards credit cards. The standard offer is 30,000 points but I Googled around and found a 45,000 offer with a $75 annual fee. All Wyndham hotels cost 15,000 points per night so New York and Boston are both excellent uses for Wyndham Reward points. (You should always do a Google search for the best offer before applying for a card. Many bloggers and people posting to travel forums have links for better offers. )
We stayed 3 nights at the Wingate by Wyndham in mid-town Manhattan using 15,000 points per night. The nights we stayed at the hotel, the price per night was $147 so it wasn’t an outstanding savings but I think it’s better than paying cash. (Hotels in Boston are extremely expensive so that would be a better use of the points than NYC.)
The hotel is pretty well located near Time Square and plenty of subway lines. We ended up spending most of our time downtown and around Central Park so our hotel was convenient for us. As for the room, it’s pretty average but the hotel has complimentary breakfast.
Dining–The Extremes from $ to $$$$
The best deal is a good slice of pizza for a couple bucks but the sky’s the limit if you’ve got the money! We spent much more on this trip than we expected in a few restaurants. In some ways, you have to be a local to know the best cheap places. I used to live in Manhattan many years ago and it took time to find really good neighborhood spots or delicious dives worth a subway ride. Of course, my favorite cheap restaurants are gone so we relied on YELP and TripAdvisor, whose users usually spend more than I would for food and drink.
Our first night was a good one because we threw our bags in the hotel room and walked a block to hit District Tap House just before the end of happy hour. Select beers for $4-5, well drinks $6 and house wine for $7. We shared 3 small plates ($9-10 each) that were large enough to compose a dinner. The restaurant wasn’t amazing but it was very good and it had a great vibe. There are happy hour places everywhere in NYC!
The next day, we ate lunch downtown after doing a free walking tour (more on that below) where we learned about Eataly NYC Downtown. It’s part gourmet food emporium and part food court…a very upscale food court. After our long walking tour, we were starving and couldn’t decide where to eat so we landed at Eataly and chose a fish restaurant, Il Pesce. There were three of us (we met a friend) and we split two meals and ate a lot of bread. All the sit down restaurants in Eataly seemed similarly priced–for lunch entrees were in the $20-30 range, which is much more than we would normally spend for lunch but it was relaxing and the food was very good. I think you could find some moderately-priced picnic foods at Eataly to take to Battery Park if the weather is nice.
Affordable City Views with Drinks–The Skylark!
I’ve been to the Empire State Building, it’s something to do once. But if you can’t afford it, or don’t want to wait in line and pay $34 for 15 minutes, I have another option…drinks on a roof top bar. We went to The Skylark near times square, a beautiful space with an awesome view of the Empire State Building. Beer is $9-11, wine is about $15 per glass and signature cocktails are $18. We didn’t eat anything but a small plate with 4 appetizers is $13-15, which doesn’t seem like a good value to me. It’s only open Monday-Friday and you need to dress upscale casual.
Free Walking Tours
Almost every city has free walking tours (free except for a tip) and we almost always have a fantastic time when we take one. We did two tours with Free Tours by Foot. The company has 14 “neighborhood” tours so you can spend a lot of time walking through NYC! We took SoHo, Little Italy & Chinatown, which is a fantastic all-around history and cultural tour. We also took one of their 5 food tours (free tour but you buy your own small bites and tip the guide). We took the food tour of Greenwich Village, which is good but if you are a real foodie, you might not be impressed. The food tour focuses on restaurants that are notable but that are also willing to handle a tour group quickly.
Bike Rental with Groupon & Other Things to Do
I think Groupon is a fantastic way to save money while traveling. We waited until we got to New York to buy two $10 2-hour bike rentals. We waited to purchase because we wanted to make sure the weather was nice for a morning ride in Central Park. Other Groupon deals include harbor cruises for $19 (50% discount), $19 entry into the 9/11 Tribute (40% discount), deeply discounted show tickets (older shows), etc.
I think NYC is best to explore on foot. I don’t know if that’s because I love to walk or because I’m cheap. I’m leaving out a couple things we have done on past trips that I would recommend–the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island (a long day!), the High Line (crowded!), the Metropolitan Museum of Art (huge!)–but simply wandering the city is still my favorite thing to do. It’s the kind of city where you can step out of your hotel, pick a direction and walk for hours, discovering along the way.