When my friends said they wanted to do a New York weekend, I was a little scared for my bank account. The city isn’t exactly known for cheap food and hostels but we were able to have an incredible time – spending under 150$ each. In this blog post, I’ve got our favorite things to do, my full budget, a free map of our top spots, and last but not least – the list we drafted on the car ride home of our top tips for other student travelers.
Getting to New York
From Boston, it was cheapest for us to drive to New York. Gas, for the round trip, ended up being less than 20$ a person. When we got to New York we used the Best Parking New York App to find an amazing parking deal, it ended up being just 33$ for us to park fully underground and right by the Empire State Building!
When we got our car the next day, the man working there told us the spot normally costs 80$. Just with a bit of googling for cheap New York parking and downloading an app, we payed less than half of the normal price.
If you’re travelling from a different city, other options for transportation to New York include flying (obviously), a ferry, train, or coach bus. The cheapest coach bus service is Megabus.
Our First Day in the Big Apple
We met up with another friend (from studying abroad) at Grand Central Station and started on our grand and quick tour of New York City!
Of course, we had to go to Times Square. It wasn’t as busy as I thought it would be, although travelers should be ready to get asked if they want a bus tour at least 1500x. After taking some pictures and walking around a bit, we headed over to Radio City Music Hall and Rockefeller.
At Rockefeller we checked out the Friends and SNL things at the NBC gift shop then headed to the back of the building to see the ice rink. The Christmas tree was unfortunately under construction but everything else looked just like I imagined it. After watching Elf too many times to count, I loved being in New York and seeing the spot where Buddy and Jovi go for their first date!
Just down the street is the Halal Guys, a world famous street vendor. Although there’s tons of places to get Halal on the streets of New York, this is the most well known- there was even a line up when we were there. For just 6$, I got a chicken halal that I couldn’t even fully finish. Definitely a good call and a great spot for budget travelers. Also, when they say hot sauce, it’s REALLY hot hot sauce.
With halal sandwiches in hand, we explored Fifth Avenue. Of course, none of us could afford any of the luxury items in the shops. The Christmas decorations were very nice and we were able to see the famous Tiffany’s location from the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
Right near here is the Plaza Hotel and LOVE sign – a great spot to grab a group picture. We bought juice from Joe and the Juice for an energy boost before exploring Central Park. Joe and the Juice is a good spot to mark on your map, it’s got plenty of outlets and seating if you ever need to rest and recharge.
Central Park was one of the highlights of our New York trip. Because we were there in the Winter and it started to rain, we just decided to walk to Strawberry Fields (the John Lennon memorial space) and call it a day. The park is quite large so for summer travel, I’d rent bikes so you have ample time to get around. It’s lovely to walk around as well and there was actually a wedding going on near the main fountain when we were there. The bride looked absolutely beautiful walking down the stone steps in the middle of Central Park.
New York is filled with these movie moments, I half expected to see Blair Waldorf walking down 5th Ave or spot Serena Vanderwoodsen at Grand Central Station. It’s easy to see why Gossip Girl was filmed in New York, it’s a city that feels like there’s something going on every moment and if you’re not a part of it, you’re missing out on something spectacular.
By far my favorite place in New York is the library. The building itself is historical and grand, with the reading rooms hosting decorative ceilings. In the main lobby, a man that looked like he could’ve been one of Santa’s elves was decorating the tree.
Outside the library is Bryant Park, where there was an adorable Christmas market complete with a tree and ice rink. Another blogger, Girl With The Passport, recommends trying Hot cocoa from Max Brenner and Donuts from Doughnuttery. I didn’t have any food here, we just walked around and took in all of the Christmas cheer. If you want to skate at this rink, it’ll cost you 20$ minimum.
That night, we tried to take in a real New York night out and went to Caroline’s in Times Square for stand up comedy. I was definitely hesitant because I’m not big into comedy but the range of acts was really good. The only thing we were unimpressed with was that it was a mandatory two drink purchase plus 15% gratuity. But really, the show was more than worth spending a little more and we would’ve spent the same amount on a dinner out.
Day 2- Brooklyn and Battery Park
The next day I was really keen on going to the Brooklyn Bridge, a lot of people say it’s something all New York visitors must do. From Times Square, the metro to Court Street was about 30 minutes. We actually took the metro underneath the water, and ended up in Brooklyn to take the bridge back to Manhattan.
We (kind of by accident) got to walk through Brooklyn and along the harbor a bit, picking up some coffee shop pastries for breakfast. Brooklyn Bridge gave us a view of the city that you truly can’t get anywhere else. There were heaps of tourists on it so it was definitely good we went so early in the morning. Also, watch for bikes. Just like New York taxis, the bikes on the Brooklyn bridge do not stop!
From the Brooklyn Bridge we walked across Manhattan, by the City Hall, to the 9/11 memorial and Battery Park. The 9/11 memorial is breathtaking, it’s a site to experience and if we would’ve had more time I would’ve liked to go to the 9/11 museum there too. It wasn’t difficult at all to find our way there, we just walked towards the tallest building in New York, the One World Trade Center.
Right near here is Battery Park, where we stopped to look at the Statue of Liberty and some of the other war memorials. From the park we could also see Ellis Island, a significant place in US history where many immigrants came through – even one of my friends had family that went through there.
Tracing our steps back towards our car, we stopped by the Charging Bull and Fearlessly Girl statue. I was so glad I got to see that, the statue was unveiled just recently and is meant to encourage investment in female-owned companies. Just looking at this little girl staring down the huge bull, you can’t help but feel the girl power.
At that point our trip to New York had come to an end and we headed back on the Metro to our park spot, walking through the Lexington Ave markets. It was definitely hard to say goodbye to New York and the friend we met there but I’m so glad we got to spend the time we did there. Seeing New York in just 48 hours was an amazing whirlwind and going with friends made it cheaper and way more fun.
Thanks again to these amazing humans I met on exchange for touring New York with me, I’m so thankful that we got to meet up again and share these memorable New York moments!
FREE MAP – we used this and it helped lots. I can change this map and add to it, if you go to NYC and have places to recommend to student travelers – message me!
My Top New York Tips for Students on a Budget
- Have a map out and plan – there is SO much to see in NY, without a plan and map you won’t have time for it all. This was essential for us because we were on a tight timeline!
- Go with a group – the only way I could afford to travel to New York was because I have lovely American friends! By splitting accommodation and car costs, we saved so much money.
- The time of year we went was perfect – mid November. The weather was mild with the Christmas decorations were nearly all up. Crowds were absolutely minimal because it’s shoulder season, just before the busy holiday time -with thanksgiving (Nov 23 in the US) and Christmas.
- Transit tip – use MTA Weekender and have cash ready – MTA weekender will show you what routes have construction on them during the weekend. Some terminals and stations do not have people to assist you at them, and they require exact change. My credit card was often not accepted. Make it easier for yourself and bring cash! A metro ticket is 3$.
- Transit tip – look into Ferry travel – if you go by ferry it is 2.75, while a metro is 3$, and you take it above ground getting a great view of the city from the water.
- Alcohol is $$$$ – I couldn’t legally drink or go to bars in the states so Carolines comedy was a good night out option for me. If you are 21+ , my friends told me that buying alcohol from a store is substantially cheaper than going out. One drink in New York typically costs from 8-15$ and a case of 12 beers is about the same.
- Dunkin Donuts, a New England classic – it’s cheap and not stellar coffee but it is the most popular place in the area. It’s the equivalent of Tim Hortons to Canadians. If you need a cheap breakfast, it’s gotta be Dunkins.
- USA = big portions, beware and give extra food to New York’s homeless if you can’t store it for leftovers.
- Free Events – there is always something go on in New York so be sure to look at New York events on New York blogs. We ended up watching SNL on TV on Saturday, it was free and comfy (Chance the Rapper was the host and he was SO GOOD)! It was really cool to know that the actual show was happening just a few streets over.
- Booking.com – I always use this site when travelling because of their great cancellation policy. Unfortunately, I can’t recommend our accommodation. Although it was in a great location, the host did not contact us in a timely manner at all. Booking.com was helpful and we ended up being totally fine. So, I recommend Booking.com but not our specific host! Again, going with a group made it cheap. (use my link to book!)
Total cost of our trip = 147$
Day 1- halal 6$, Caroline’s comedy 40$, Joe’s pizza 4$, juice 7$, parking 8.25, gas 10$, accommodation 47$, 3$ metro ticket .
Day 2- breakfast 6$, metro 6$, gas 10$
*Splitting between 4 people for gas and 5 people for accommodation*
If you enjoyed this guide and want to learn more about making travel happen on a student budget, I offer tips and talk about my travels on my Instagram!