Manhattan for Free: The Big Apple without the Splurge

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Central Park in Manhattan, New York City.
Central Park in Manhattan, New York City.

Manhattan: Planning an Inexpensive Trip

By Natalia Boccaccio

Built on an island at the heart of the city of New York, Manhattan is now one of the most populated and cosmopolitan places in the United States I’ve ever visited.

Flatiron Building in Manhattan.
Flatiron Building in Manhattan.

It is a city of extreme contrasts, where different cultures merge and the latest technology is equally important as past constructions are.

I had the chance to visit this magnificent city in September 2019 with my husband to suck the culture, eat, behave and do what New Yorkers do.

Our budget was a little bit tight but we still wanted to travel to Manhattan.

We found out there are several places to visit without disbursing any buck from our wallet.

Manhattan is well-known for being a costly tourist destination, especially for foreigners.

However, we managed to make the most of it.

Manhattan’s Free Attractions

Grand Central Station

As we were in Midtown Manhattan we decided to visit the magnificent Grand Central Station which is characterized by its distinctive architecture and interior design.

Before leaving the station we made a stop at the lower-level concourse where there are food vendors, restrooms, and a variety of stores.

Next to them, there is a “whispering gallery” where whispers can be heard from one column to the other in the concourse.

NYC Public library

While being in Manhattan I couldn’t help recalling the movie The day after tomorrow. Our next must-to-do visit was the Public library which is three blocks from Grand Central.

The library is free-access and we were allowed to take a sneak peek to every room unless there was a private conference. For a short break, we made a stop at Bryant Park attached to the library where there are garden tables and chairs of public usage.

Times Square in New York City.
Times Square in New York City.

Times Square

Four blocks northwards we came across Times Square. Below the bright neon lights, garishly advertising every brand name conceivable, we found an endless variety of shops and restaurants competing for space in Manhattan´s manic streets.

You can buy anything there, ranging from state-of-the-art technology to small trinkets.

Times Square
Times Square at night.

It is worthwhile to behold the view both during daylight and at night.

Situated in the epicenter of the hustle and bustle, the corner of Broadway Avenue and the 7th is the most crowded one I’ve ever been to. It was inevitable not to take a bunch of photos every time we passed by.

Central Park

We kept walking northwards- a superb choice to get fit, save money and enjoy the sightseeing-, passed by the Trump Tower and we found an Apple store in the corner of the 58th and the 5th.

It’s a magnificent architectural underground glass store worth visiting even though you are not planning to buy anything.

Crossing the street it’s the Plaza Hotel, an iconic building for being the main location in Home Alone 2. The hotel is just in front of Central Park.

I remember spending an afternoon getting lost in narrow paths, taking pictures of beautiful ponds, fountains, and even a lake in the middle of the park.

To embark upon an adventurous walk, you will need a map since there are plenty of paths that lead you to unimaginable attractions such as bridges, a reservoir, playgrounds, fountains and a theatre. The park is enormous so it’s hard to cover it fully but not impossible.

Queensboro Bridge

Brooklyn Bridge
The famous Brooklyn Bridge.

This bridge connects Manhattan and Queens. We took the funicular and relaxed. From there you can enjoy the stunning sight of the skyscrapers from above.

Make a stop at Roosevelt Island and visit the Lighthouse Park to escape the daily grind and appreciate the tranquillity and beauty of the view.

The High Line and the Vessel

Being an old railway line, now it has been turned into a public park located in Manhattan’s West Side. Visitors experience nature, art, design, a breath-taking view of the Hudson River and the city.

As we wandered, we came across vines cascade, a semi-closed passage, shrubs, seating steps, gardens and food vendors.

One of the hidden attractions we found in the Hudson Yards is a spiral staircase.

It is known as The Vessel which offers remarkable views of the yards, the river and the city while climbing 2,500 steps. 

Lower Manhattan

The Vessel in Hudson Yards, lower Manhattan.
The Vessel in Hudson Yards, lower Manhattan.

Renting bicycles was our best decision ever so we could go from Midtown Manhattan to Lower Manhattan in a matter of minutes and we stopped wherever and whenever we wanted.Our destination: nowhere in particular.

While heading for the 9/11 Memorial we made a halt at Flatiron Building, a triangular-shaped skyscraper.

Not only does it catch the passer-by’s attention, but also the surrounding area is remarkable. We continued riding down 5th Avenue until we bumped into Washington Square Park.

It is well-known for its majestic arc and a meeting point to spend the afternoon with friends.

There are many food tracks so- as we were starving -we got a couple of American hot dogs and tried falafel for the first time. To escape the busy streets, we took the bicycle lane along West Street.

9/11 Memorial

It is located along West Street in lower Manhattan. You may feel nostalgic since it reminds you of one of the most tragic moments in the modern history of the country.

Two huge pools were built where the buildings were used to be erected; they are situated in a beautiful park where you can laid-back for the rest of the afternoon.

Wall Street

Our free bike tour continued on Wall Street, not far away from our previous destination. The most iconic “sculpture” is a bronze bull, a strength and power symbol. Since it’s a free entrance tour we beheld the buildings from the outside.

The surrounding area is characterized by buildings that were constructed during the golden age. Both the New York Stock Exchange and the Federal Hall are the most important constructions to bear in mind if you plan a visit there.

People searching for names on the 9/11 memorial
People searching for names on the 9/11 memorial

Brooklyn Bridge and Dumbo

Our bike tour ended at this point. From here we crossed the Brooklyn Bridge on foot since it’s more thrilling and adventurous.

I must confess it was a little bit disappointed when trying to take a good picture since there are a lot of thick suspenders that “ruin” your pics. Anyway, it was a magnificent walking tour that came to an end in Dumbo.

This is a Brooklyn neighborhood where we ate the most expensive pasta dish in a first-story restaurant beholding the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan Bridge. It totally paid off since it was Sunday and our last day in New York.

Manhattan CuisineManhattan pizza

For food, Manhattan is second to none, as it offers a wide choice of dishes in all sorts of eating establishments.

This city is well-known for huge pizza slices which are the most scrumptious food I’ve tried while in New York (I must confess that as a person of Italian ancestry, Manhattan pizza was the best).

After long hours of walking, we were starving. We bumped into a pizzeria in every block. No matter what time it was, it was a good one to recharge our batteries with a good pizza slice.

What caught my attention was that tourists and locals alike flocked to busy pizzerias since the food is satisfying and prices range from $1-3 plus tax.

Personally, Dunkin’ Donuts was the best fast-food chain to grab a tasty breakfast and start our day well-fed.

Freshly-baked egg and cheese croissants with a big coffee cup from this place have nothing to envy to Starbucks which was far more expensive.

Manhattan’s Food Trucks

For an international and low-priced experience, the city is full of food trucks to get your breakfast, lunch or dinner on the go.

Food ranges from classic hot dogs and burgers to kebabs, falafels, and Colombian empanadas which were good alternatives to try out new tastes at low cost.

Natalia BoccoccioNatalia Boccaccio is a passionate creative freelance writer and translator from Argentina. She is also a primary school English teacher with vast experience in content writing in both languages. She has. been enriching her knowledge and sucking the culture since she was a child.