New York is the world’s most exciting city for me, but it’s definitely not cheap. In addition to the flight ticket, one can easily spend a fortune on lodging. The good news is that once there, we don’t need deep wallets to enjoy the brilliant opportunities the city offers. Food doesn’t cost a bomb, and there is no shortage of free sights and events. Here are five examples on how to enjoy New York without digging into our wallets and two unique and affordable tours not many tourists know about.
1. Find East Germany on the world’s biggest interior globe
A few buildings from the Grand Central Terminal there is an art deco classic, the Daily News Building. The namesake company has long moved on but, as is customary in New York, the building kept the name of the original tenant. The Daily News was founded in 1919 and was the city’s first tabloid paper. First, it wasn’t a success, but later the metro commuters grew fond of it. The paper put emphasis on large photos from the start, hence the camera in its logo. Due to attention-grabbing titles, strong pictures, tabloid news, scandals, sport, comics – key features of today’s tabloids – it was derisively called the maids’ bible. The paper still has the country’s fourth-largest circulation.
The Daily News operated in the building from 1929 to 1995, and today it is the headquarters of a television company. In the foyer – which may be familiar from the Superman movies – you can find the world’s largest interior globe. This was last updated in 1967, so you can spot the GDR on it.
2. Visit the cellar where the gold bars are stored
Did you ever want to see a big pile of gold bars? Unfortunately, you cannot do that in New York, but at least you can descend into the cellars of the Federal Reserve Bank where you are as close to the gold reserves as you can get. The bank’s Italian palace-like building took up a whole city block and was decorated with 200 tons of iron. It wasn’t by chance that they built such a strong bunker since approximately 7000 tons of gold is stored here, 20 percent of the world’s gold reserve, worth 360 billion dollars. It must be the largest gold reserve in the world. The only reason we cannot be certain is that the Swiss banks don’t publish their own data on gold.
98 percent of this gold reserve belongs to other countries since the US stores its own not here but in Fort Knox. The 99.8 percent clean gold bars are kept in 122 cages, which are rented each by one country although some rich nations have several storerooms.
The cellar full of gold can be visited by anyone via free guided tours, but you need to plan ahead. The tours can be booked online a month in advance, and they fill up fast. If you get in, it’s worth checking out the shoes of the employees working with the gold: they wear special magnesium-slippers worth $500 each because it wouldn’t be pleasant if a gold block fell on their toes.
3. Find out if there were immigrants among our ancestors
In South Manhattan, across the small Bowling Green park stands the large building of the U.S. Customs House. Originally a custom house, now it is home to the National Museum of the American Indian.
The National Archive is also housed in this museum, and anyone can check for free whether they have relatives among the immigrants to the country or if they are mentioned in some other document. You only have to register at the information counter to start your online research and can freely browse the archived documents in the online database.
4. Find out what the legendary club of the punks has turned into
At 315 Bowery, near Bond Street, there is a fashion store. The uninformed tourist walks by without knowing what riotous concerts took place here for years. Right here was the legendary punk club, CBGB, where among others the Ramones, Patti Smith, and Blondie were on stage. I was lucky enough to listen to some concerts here in the mid-nineties when studying in New York.
Unfortunately, the club couldn’t keep up with the skyrocketing rental prices and closed in 2006. Currently, the former Club is a men’s fashion store, but luckily the owners preserved some of the club’s vibe. The decoration is totally music focused; even some graffiti was left on the walls from the notorious club’s time. There is a drum set in the store, and the bored assistant was playing it just as I stopped by while the music was on. Just as the club was unusual, this shop is peculiar as well.
5. Discover one of the world’s most beautiful train stations
The Grand Central Terminal, built in 1913, is a masterpiece of beaux-arts. Dozens of art photos, numerous movie scenes were made in the special atmosphere of the main concourse. Let’s walk up to the gallery where you can best admire the fantastic chandeliers, paintings and the crowds below that seem to scurry like ants. Like several other buildings in town, it was set to be demolished in favor of a new office building but like in hundreds of other cases, the people of New York saved it.
Amongst others, Jackie Onassis tried to protect the building which became listed as a protected monument in 1987. Its stairway was modeled after the stairs of the Paris Opera House which speaks of the heyday of the railway. The station is full of interesting little details, like a clock above the information counter that was manufactured in 1913 and is late by one second only in every 1.4 million years, so you can certainly synchronize your watch to it.
6. Visit the art galleries in SoHo
SoHo (South of Houston – i.e. streets below Houston Street) is the art district of the city with numerous galleries and shops within a few city blocks. Whereas you have to buy tickets to enter most big museums in the city, these galleries are all free. It’s especially worth visiting them Friday nights when the exhibition openings are scheduled.
If you decide on a gallery tour, it’s also worthwhile to examine the exterior of the buildings. The local architecture, the American industrial style, is mainly known for metal on the facades. Iron was used for practical reasons since it was faster and cheaper to erect iron frames than heavy walls. At the same time, it inspired the architects to create beautiful iron decorations. Ironically, once metal construction went out of date, the iron decorations were copied in stone with such success that nowadays you can only tell the difference by using magnets.
The strong metal frames made dense walls unnecessary so architects could design huge windows and large, open rooms. Originally the buildings were used by factories, but about four decades ago artists took over since the very bright rooms proved to be excellent studios and galleries. Strolling around the area, one can admire both the excellent architecture and modern art.
It’s worth noting that the big museums also have certain times when entry is free. You can look that up on their homepages. A few examples of free entry: MOMA (Museum of Modern Art) – Friday evenings between 4 and 8 pm, International Center of Photography – Fridays between 5 and 8 pm, Guggenheim – Saturdays between 5.45 and 7.45 pm, Frick Collection – Sundays between 11 am and 1 pm, Morgan Library – Fridays between 7 and 9 pm. You have to expect larger than usual crowds, though.
7. Join a late night jazz tour in Harlem
Gordon Polatnick ran a jazz club in Harlem for a long time, and now he guides numerous jazz tours in Greenwich Village and Harlem, with his company “Big Apple Jazz.”
Don’t think of a big group, led by someone holding an umbrella, and talking into a microphone – these are small, intimate groups, perfect to discover a neighborhood.
We met at Columbus Circle, an easy reference point for any tourist, and then took the subway to Harlem. Of course, we rode the A train, made famous by jazz legend Duke Ellington. While strolling the streets, Gordon talked about the history of the neighborhood during the past few decades. It was fascinating how natural it was for him to point to various houses, casually dropping in world-famous names: Scott Joplin lived here, Arthur Miller there. Louis Armstrong used to play in this club. Duke Ellington was performing there. Billie Holiday lived just a few blocks from here. Our heads were dizzy, just imagining how exciting musical life could have been here, especially in the golden era, between 1920 and 1945.
We visited three, very distinct clubs, the most exiting of which was a veteran’s club. Guests used to come here only to chat and have dinner, until a few years ago someone left a Hammond organ here. One evening a few musicians came by, played throughout the night, and a tradition was born. These days there is free, live music almost every evening, often with especially well-known musicians.
8. Discover art as an integral part of the New York subway
Among the city’s 486 subway stations, almost 250 can boast a piece of artwork.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has put aside one percent of its income for this purpose since 1985. As a part of this project, they select street musicians who can play with a permit in the subways, they ask poets to write short poems to be posted inside the coaches, and they also put out to tender the chance to decorate the stations. As more and more interesting mosaics have appeared on the stations, increasingly tourists couldn’t help but wonder: what is this depicting, and why is it right here?
Bronx-born Darryll Reilly started the NYC Subway Tour in 2013. During the three hours, we covered about a dozen subway stations. At 8th street, we were able to take pictures depicting the building of New York University and Washington Square Park, while on the mosaics of Times Square we discovered characteristic figures of the crowd celebrating New Year’s Eve.
My personal favorite was 14th street, where there are 130 tiny statues planted in the labyrinth-like station. The little figures depict everyday scenes from life, mainly focusing on the difficulties of building the subway and the gap between the rich and the poor.
At 23rd Street subway station, we saw 60 mosaics, showing hats, women’s scarves and caps, with tiny notes from the people who once wore these items. This neighborhood was the heart of the theater district before the appearance of Broadway, and every hat belongs to a famous performer from the 1880s to the 1920s. While waiting for the trains, it is great fun to guess which hat belonged to whom.
Where to Stay in New York, USA
Best Budget Hotel in New York, USA – Larchmont Hotel
The Larchmont Hotel provides graceful “European Style” hospitality at a reasonable price — including a continental breakfast with fresh baked goods, juice, coffee, and tea.
Each room comes complete with a color TV*, telephone, ceiling fan, air conditioner, hair-dryer & private washbasin. Full bathrooms are located down the hall. Writing desk, AM-FM radio-alarm clocks, cotton robe, and slippers give each room that home-away-from-home feeling. Smoking is prohibited throughout the hotel.
Best Mid-Range Hotel in New York, USA – citizenM
Located right in the heart of Manhattan, this hotel is just 1-minute walk from Times Square and within a 5-minute walk of Central Park and Columbus Circle. Rockefeller Center and the Empire State Building are within a 15-minute walk.
A flat-screen TV and a small refrigerator with free water are provided in citizenM’s rooms, which feature a centralized digital system that controls lighting, music, and electronics. The bathrooms include Hansgrohe rain showers and oversized bathroom amenities. Wi-Fi and movies are provided free of charge.
Three outdoor terraces are provided at the New York Times Square citizenM, which features a state-of-the-art fitness center with yoga facilities. After working out, guests can relax with drinks and sweeping views of the city on the exclusive rooftop bar. The living room-style lobby features a contemporary art collection and plenty of space to relax.
Best Luxury Hotel in New York, USA – Waldorf Astoria
The Waldorf Astoria New York is a landmark hotel that offers luxurious rooms, 5-star dining, and a boutique spa on storied Park Avenue in New York, 348 m from Rockefeller Center.
Each room at this historic hotel features Waldorf Serenity beds, luxury bedding and flat-screen cable TVs. Every room has a private bathroom with a marble bathtub or shower and free Salvatore Ferragamo bath amenities. There are a 24-hour front desk, fitness center and roof garden at the hotel. Guerlain Spa offers guests luxurious massage, facial and body treatments.
The renowned Bull & Bear Prime Steakhouse provides guests with its classic steakhouse fare and legendary bar, and Peacock Alley offers cocktails, small plates, and brunch.
About the Writer
Eva Kisgyorgy was born and lives in Budapest, Hungary. She visited 112 countries to date and determined to see them all. She is obsessed with New York, UNESCO sights, and food. She started her travel blog in 1996 and is followed by a very loyal, active and engaged crowd.