An Auburn Student's Ultimate Guide to NYC
Read this if the Big Apple is next on your bucket list.
Trips to New York are notorious for being overwhelming and expensive for a first-timer. But no worries! I took an eight-day trip to NYC for spring break, and I’m here to give you my best tips and tricks for visiting the Empire City on a "student" budget. There are always opportunities to save a bit of money here and there while still making the most of the trip. Here are just a few tips for pre-departure planning, plus a few lesser-known options for your next adventure!
Hopper: Hopper is a great app to use for pre-flight planning. Plug in your destination, and the app will predict when the cheapest flights will be.
Hostelworld: My friend and I ended up staying in a hostel for the last five days of the trip. Keep in mind, places in Brooklyn and Queens are usually cheaper than Manhattan and are only one to three subway stops away from the city. This is a great budget option as long as you’re willing to share your adventure with a few other people. With a 48-hour, free cancellation period, Hostelworld is fantastic to find college-kid-cheap, well-reviewed places to stay.
Seven-day Subway Pass: Although taxis and Ubers are major means of transportation in NYC, the fees add up quickly. Instead, consider purchasing a 7-day Metro pass for around $30 when you get to the airport. By purchasing the “time” card, you get unlimited rides on the subway and buses for the week.
Transit: A major app that came in handy when we hit the city was the Transit app. On Transit, search the place where you want to go, and it pulls up a public transportation route to your destination. Transit will track your location, give you live notifications on train arrivals and tell you how many stops before your final destination.
Explore under $15
While in NYC, we decided to take advantage of the city’s museums. If it’s your first time to New York, you're going to want to hit up Times Square, Broadway and all the other tourist spots. They're great. But I encourage you to take some time to explore the lesser-known sights and activities. Manhattan is a tiny island with a lot happening, and if you're exploring the city, chances are you’re going to run into Times Square on your way around, anyway.
Many people pass by museums and places like The Met and never go inside. They assume they have to pay a hefty entrance fee to enjoy what’s there. Surprise! Surprise! There are plenty of things to do in the city that are “pay as you want!” Some are everyday, some on certain days, and there are plenty of student discounts to take advantage of.
The Met ($12 for students): Head to The Met and check out The Death of Socrates or Van Gogh’s Self Portrait with a Straw Hat. Even if you’re not a huge art fan, The Met is a beautiful museum with plenty to explore and see.
Natural History Museum (Pay what you wish at the door.): Who else remembers Night at the Museum? Everyone’s favorite character is the giant statue, Dum Dum, whose only wish in the world is for Larry to bring him “gum gum.” You can find Dum Dum and Rexy over at the Natural History Museum on the other side of Central Park from The Met. Take a nice stroll through the park then go find your favorite characters and the giant blue whale at the museum!
Guggenheim (Pay what you wish from 5:45-7:45 p.m. on Saturdays.): If you’re a fan of Paul Klee, Man Ray and other surrealists, head over to the Guggenheim Museum. Not only is it home to some highly impressive pieces of art, but the architecture of this museum alone is worth going to see in person.
Now we all know that part of the reason to go to NYC in the first place is for the Insta photos right?
Instead of paying $37 to see a view of the city from the Empire State Building, take the Roosevelt Island Tramway at night and get a view of the entire NYC skyline for only $2.50.
Instead of visiting the ever-busy, expensive Statue of Liberty, ride the Staten Island Ferry for only $5. It gives an amazing skyline view and takes you right past the Statue for a great photo of Lady Liberty in full.
Explore for Free
On certain times and days, museums and other exhibits are free!
MOMA (Free on Friday’s from 4-8 p.m.): Ready to see the most beautiful starry night in Manhattan? While you’re in The City that Never Sleeps, head over to the MOMA to explore Van Gogh’s Starry Night, Monet’s Water Lilies and all of Jackson Pollock’s pieces.
The High Line: The Chelsea High Line is a public park in Chelsea built on a historic, elevated freight rail line. It’s perfect for a new perspective of the city, and it drops you right off at Chelsea Market.
Chelsea Market: After you’ve walked the High Line, take some time to explore the Market. There’s a shop for pop-up vendors along with plenty of local vendors offering delicious food. It’s a perfect stop for lunch!
Union Square Greenmarket: Union Square Market is open year 'round on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. This market is another great option for experiencing the local vendors of NYC. Check out this market and try something new on your trip!
The New York Public Library: While you may visit The New York Public Library for its famous marble lions guarding the entrance, take a little while and check out the gorgeous Rose Room and impressive Bill Blass Public Catalog Room inside. As with everything in NYC, be sure to look up for a view of the painted ceilings. While you’re there, relive your childhood by stopping by the Hundred Acre Wood to see the original Winnie-the-Pooh and Friends on the bottom floor.
Albertine: We came across this little French bookstore near The Met. It offers a beautiful selection of literature, and the ceiling, of course, is intricately painted with astrology signs. It’s definitely worth popping in for a visit!
Smorgasburg in Brooklyn: Check out the best local vendors and small businesses in NYC at Smorgasburg! Smorgasburg is open every Saturday in Williamsburg and Sunday in Prospect Park.
Central Park: Most people head to the fountain and the boathouse in the park then call it quits. If you have time and a nice day, head over to Belvedere Castle, Strawberry Fields memorial, the Alice in Wonderland sculpture, or the waterfalls.
Don’t just limit yourself to Manhattan; Brooklyn also has plenty to offer to young adventurers. When you're ready to head over to the other side, walk across Brooklyn Bridge. The bridge is only about a mile to walk, which is nothing now that you’re a New Yorker!
After crossing the bridge, explore Empire Stores, a historic building in Dumbo. There’s rarely anyone up on the top floor, so grab a bite to eat downstairs then enjoy the view!
Once in Brooklyn, there’s the Brooklyn Brewery, which offers tours every half hour. If that’s not a catch, head into the bowling alley that’s right beside the brewery to take a break from walking the city.
New York is full of talented artists. To see some of their artwork from a new perspective, stop by Brooklyn Art Library and check out The Sketchbook Project. It has over 3,600 sketchbooks from artists who have submitted from around the world.
Take advantage of some of the best NYC has to offer.
Breakfast: For the best bagels and schmear (that’s cream cheese to you Southerners), head over to Murray's Bagels for breakfast.
Brunch: For a classy brunch and the opportunity to explore the quaint Seaport District, head over to The Paris Cafe on a Sunday morning for the best full Paris brunch you can find.
Lunch: One-dollar pizza is basically on every corner in New York, and the slices are the size of your face! Don't let the price fool you: it’s about another dollar per topping, but typically it still comes out under $5. It’s a great, quick lunch choice when you’re on the move and on a budget.
If you’re looking for more lunch options and have some time, head over to Grand Central Station. The food court downstairs offers a variety of options for lunch. While you're there, take a moment to glance at the beautiful ceiling and explore the whispering gallery.
Dinner: Now let’s not forget dinner. Shake Shack is by far my favorite place to visit. From their Shack Burger to their milkshakes, you cannot go wrong. I went during my first trip to New York and spent the four years between trips dreaming of this burger! There are many locations, so be sure to check at least one out while you're in New York.
Dessert: I know you’ve probably heard of DŌ, the cookie dough shop where all the tourists go. It’s a great option, but don’t neglect DOUGH, an artisan doughnut shop where the pastries are larger than your head and it takes two people to eat a powdered sugar, Nutella-filled doughnut.
Serendipity/Dylan’s: If you want to experience the fanciest desserts on the Upper East Side, check out Serendipity and Dylan’s Candy Bar! You can’t go wrong with frozen hot chocolate or stairs made of candy!
Snacks and Food Trucks: Don’t let the idea of street food scare you away. For under $8, the street food is pretty good if you want something quick and easy. My personal favorite is the Nuts 4 Nuts stands where you can get a pack of honey-roasted peanuts for $3. They’re a great snack for walking around Central Park.
We did manage to fit a Broadway show in our college budget. We took advantage of two different apps to find tickets for Aladdin for under $100. One app, HeadOut, keeps you updated on deals around the city. The other is the well-known TKTS app. TKTS has a booth in the center of Times Square and another one in Brooklyn. Keep an eye on the app because shows will release discounted tickets throughout the day, so you get a great deal.
Between the art, culture, food and various events happening in New York City, you’ll always find something new to do. It truly is The City that Never Sleeps. We got lucky finding cheap flights and other deals by doing major research before hitting the city, but towards the end of the week we went with the flow and just enjoyed the city for all it is. People from all walks of life flock to Manhattan, and there will never be a dull moment.
Been to New York and have tips of your own? Let us know in the comments below or on social media @AuburnCampusRec.
Be well, Auburn.
Photography: Julia B. and Chanah F.