A trip to New York doesn’t have to break the bank. You can travel there and have a great time for free. Even though there are a million ways to spend your money in this city, and often all in one day on one attraction, New York has just as many things to do that will cost you next to nothing and lets you experience local life. Here are my favorite cheap vacation ideas in New York, traveling solo or with others:
Visit a real Gospel Church
The Brooklyn Tabernacle is a non-denominational mega church on 17 Smith Street in Brooklyn. It has 10000 active members and its sanctuary can seat 3300 visitors. And what makes this place so special is the choir. Led by Carol Cymbala, wife of pastor Jim Cymbala, this ensemble of 270 mostly untrained church members has recorded numerous albums and videos, given concerts all around New York and the USA, including Carnagie Hall and Madison Square Garden. And the biggest moment was probably their performance at Barack Obama’s Second Inauguration as President which had close to 1 Billion viewers worldwide.
We went there on a Sunday morning and due to jet lag coming from Abu Dhabi, the 9 am service seemed just perfect. I suggest you visit that one as well as when we left, the line for the 11 am service was stretching all around the building. Don’t go dressed too casually as it is after all a place of worship. And make sure before you go that the choir will be there as they travel regularly.
Walk through the Bronx and Have a BBQ
The Bronx has had a bad name for a very long time and some years ago there was a lot of truth to it. Nowadays, believe it or not, Manhattan is the most dangerous area of New York due to lots of petty theft, pickpockets. In my opinion the Wall street brokers that lost millions of Dollars of other people’s money also add to that reputation.
But the Bronx has changed. The New York Police has done a good job in the past years to clean up the streets and free them from Gang Violence. Also many organization and youth programs now offer more day time activities for the kids than in the past.
My fiancée and I spent a whole day walking through this huge area and had an amazing time. People are friendly all around and you feel the real vibe of local New York, without all the tourists.And the best thing are the many parks. Already from far away you sense the smell of Barbecue in the air and as you get closer light smoke breaks through the trees and lets you dream of delicious steak. Many of the parks we saw are bursting with life, Mexican music coming from loud sound systems, kids playing with water guns and everyone chewing on what just came off the grill.
Go on a weekend, as that is when most people chill in the parks. And while you are there, take a look at Yankee Stadium and the sport fields next to it. Usually there is some amateur match going on and it’s a pretty cool sight to see a soccer match while most fans shout and scream in Spanish, usually directed at the referee.
Be an audience
You must have heard of Trevor Noah. Well, we were able to visit his studio and see the life recording of his latest Daily Show.
With so many new TV Hosts coming into the scene every year and each having their own show, there are many opportunities to be an audience. And it costs you nothing. As Trevor Noah was most interesting to us we decided to visit his show. But all over Manhattan you can see following shows usually for free: Saturday Night Live, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Late Show with Stephen Colbert, The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, Late Night with Seth Meyers and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.
First you have to apply online for the ticket. If you do it well in advance you will receive a guaranteed seat, otherwise a non-reserved one. As we decided to do this last minute, we had to arrive 1 hour early at the show and wait in line. Don’t come too late with a non-reserved ticket since not everyone will be allowed to enter the studio later.
Luckily we made it in.
Before the real show started there was a stand up comedian who only came to entertain the audience. Just alone that was already worth the visit and it was clearly meant to bring everybody in a good mood. And then Trevor Noah arrived. A guy behind the camera will tell you when to cheer and go wild and you feel like a high school cheerleader. But since the whole atmosphere in the studio is so relaxed and with, in this case, Trevor being a really friendly guy who also interacts with the audience, we simply had a great time.
The whole process from waiting in line until leaving the studio took 4 hours. A bit tired after that we strolled a few blocks to the Cantina Rooftop Bar and had delicious Mexican cocktails and tacos.
Staten Island Ferry
After you walked through Lower Manhattan to contemplate at Ground Zero, which has become a place of real peace, and walked Wall Street, head down to the Staten Island Ferry Terminal. The ride back and forth is free and will give you the best views over the Manhattan Skyline, the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. In 25 minutes you will be at the fifth Borough on Staten Island.
Then while on the island and if you are up for a more spooky experience, visit the Staten Island Boat Graveyard. There used to be close to 400 rotten ships, but now the number is down to 100. Still many curious tourists make their way to the wet marshland, not completely sealed off by ‘No trespassing’ signs. The attraction to get the perfect picture is just too tempting.
Enjoy the view
Instead of spending a lot of money on observatories in one of the many towers, just do it the local style. Find a rooftop Bar that is high enough and simply enjoy the view while only paying for your drink. As mentioned above the Cantina Rooftop Bar in Hell’s Kitchen offers amazing food and drinks.
The largest rooftop bar is 230Fifth, consisting of a fully enclosed penthouse terrace with a huge garden. The views are spectacular. Another great one is Upstairs at the Kimberly, where you can see the famous Chryler Building in full view. For the most romantic experience visit Gallow Green atop the McKittrick Hotel. With creative cocktails and lush greenery, this Chelsea Rooftop Bar is one of the best.
Go to a Festival
New York is where hundreds of nationalities come together. To live, to work and last but not least to party. Throughout the whole year there are parades, festivals, concerts and sport events catering to everyone’s taste. And some of the best are completely free.
One of the biggest is the Labor Day Carnival which peaks with the West Indies Day Parade. Up to 3 Million visitors stream to Crown Heights in Brooklyn to watch as thousands of enthusiastic dancers parade the big avenue. On both sides of the Eastern Parkway every one of the Caribbean islands is represented with delicious food, music bands and little handicraft shops.
Wherever you stroll there is a chance to buy fresh fruit juices and eat finger licking good grilled chicken. In every dimension of spiciness. And while you eat and drink a few, just enjoy as one party truck rolls by after another. From Jamaica to the Bahamas to Barbados and back to Jamaica. It is one big blast and the rest of New York seems pretty empty on this day. There are many other festivals that are worth checking out. Find them online according to when you are in New York.
See the Rucker Park Tournament
The Holcombe Rucker Park in Harlem is probably the most famous basketball court in the world. It was originally started to get the less fortunate youth off the streets in Harlem and offer them a fun tournament. Over the years it turned into a landmark of street basketball. Young heroes that went off to the NBA started their career there. The greatest players from Wilt Chamberlain to Kobe Bryant to Lebron James have all played in that tournament over the years. So every summer 8 men-teams and 8 high school teams perform in the Rucker league where NBA stars suit up against local playground legends. It is free to watch and a great spectacle. Afterwards take a walk to the restaurant that invented the Harlem Shake, conveniently called the Harlem Shake.
New York, a city of 8 million people has more to offer than anybody could cover in a whole book. And while some things disappear in time, new things will come up that make this city so attractive to everyone. You never know what will happen when you come to New York. After my fifth time here, I am already looking forward to my next visit. Don’t miss out on this great city.
Our USA trip continued. We took a flight to San Francisco and started an amazing road trip.
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