How to Do NYC Under $300 a Day (Hotel and All)
Our love for NYC knows no bounds, so when we hear travelers complaining about how expensive everything is (when it's obvious they're only hitting the overrated spots), it truly hurts our hearts. Here, we reveal the most kick-ass budget sleeps, eats, drinks, and sights.
A Brooklyn-based writer and editor, Chelsea's work has appeared in Matador Network, The Huffington Post, the TripAdvisor blog, and more. When not planning her next trip, you'll usually find her drinking way too much iced coffee (always iced—she’s from New England) or bingeing a Netflix original series.
Affordable Design-Savvy Stays
Swanky Philippe Starck interiors usually come with a hefty price tag, but not at Hudson New York. The hip Midtown sleep – minutes from Central Park and Lincoln Center – miraculously mixes Art Nouveau design with industrial touches in common spaces, while guestrooms are exceedingly warm with rich Makore walls, plush white sofas and duvets, sleek light fixtures, and Malin + Goetz toiletries. As an extension of the elevated lobby, the hotel has a glass-enclosed, ivy-covered private park kitted out with garden furniture draped in eclectic pillows and furry blankets.
Just over the Brooklyn Bridge, where downtown BK, Boerum Hill, Cobble Hill, and Carroll Gardens converge, you’ll find the NU Hotel, a spirited, eco-friendly stay that embraces the neighborhoods’ largely young and artsy crowd. Custom hammocks, hand-painted murals by local artists, and bathroom’s decked out with chalkboards make up the hotel’s 93 minimalist rooms.
If the minimalist, futuristic, all-white aesthetic of Japanese pod hotels has ever intrigued you, but you haven’t made it to Asia (quite yet), then YOTEL is your stateside equivalent. The Times Square digs trade receptionists for self check-in kiosks, and bellboys for a luggage-sorting robot (you can watch the hydraulic giant work from the sidewalk). Despite smart designs that capitalize on space, cabins are far from capsule-sized. You can expect monsoon showers, floor-to-ceiling windows, convertible beds, and “technowalls” with flat screen TVs and audio capability.
If Times Square isn’t your cup of tea (we’re with you there), then a vintage, Jazz-inspired boutique on NYC’s Upper West Side may be up your alley. The chic NYLO New York City is a quiet alternative to Midtown madness, with a lobby library – a brick-walled, book-lined space with leather Chesterfields and an original stone fireplace – that feels like the study of a literary grandfather, and simple loft-inspired guestrooms dressed in white linens, warm hardwood floors, and Pure amenities.
A veritable West Village landmark, The Jane Hotel, has lived its fair share of lives – having housed surviving members of the Titanic and then functioning as a flophouse before lodging sailors and later, NYC’s bohemian crowd. The design-centric spot is the antithesis of everything a ‘budget stay’ brings to mind, entertaining the city’s hippest visitors and locals with velvet settees, bunk-style sleeper train rooms, wildly patterned wallpapers, lighting operated by the turn of an old-timey key, and Cafe Gitane, a French-Moroccan restaurant. The Jane’s address also puts you just a stone’s throw from the Meatpacking District and the High Line (more on that later).
Do a quick Google search for “The Best Bar in NYC” and time and time again, you’ll land on the bi-level Dead Rabbit Grocery and Grog. Despite a growing laundry list of accolades that could easily up the bar’s prices, every Monday-Friday 5 pm to 7 pm you’ll still find dollar oyster happy hours in the Parlor, accompanied by cheap (but intricate) absinthe cocktails served in delicate teacups.
For no-fuss classic pub grub, swing by the Corner Bistro. The New York institution in West Greenwich Village serves up a mean cheeseburger along with draft beers like Hoegaarden, Sierra Nevada and Yuengling that ring in at an unheard of $3 to $5. The tavern is far from fancy, but good brews and good company create the perfect low-key spot for a quick bite.
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NYC loves to indulge in novelty food trends, especially of the dessert variety, but rather than doling out $8 for a blob of Raindrop Cake (rather liberal use of the word cake, in our opinion), we’re sticking to the classics. Our favorite sweet treat in the whole city is the Little Cupcake Bakeshop’s Brooklyn Blackout. We solemnly swear that the rich chocolate cake (with added chocolate ganache and chocolate buttercream) will blow any other cake you’ve eaten (in your entire life) straight out of the water. Buy a $6 slice – good for for two people – at adorable locations in Soho, Bay Ridge and Prospect Heights.
Most people – ahem, Americans – go all out for dinner, but if you plan your day around lunch, you’ll find meal deals that are almost too good to be true. At Tue Thai, in the West Village, lunch specials – an entree, appetizer, drink, AND soup or salad – are just $9 each day, so you can nom on pad thai or pad se ew and throwback $5 happy hour mojitos without any financial guilt.
Eating clean and organic is never cheap, especially in NYC, a – you already know it – notoriously expensive city. The entirely vegan (and largely gluten-free) menu at by CHLOE turns that notion on its head, however, with matcha kelp noodles, kale caesar salads, and guac burgers all for less than $10. (And for that price, you can easily tack on a dish of roasted banana bourbon ice cream.) You can find their healthy fast food in brightly-lit, eclectically-designed locales in the West Village and Flatiron neighborhoods, and before long, they’ll be popping up in Soho, Midtown and Williamsburg.
Fun Things to Do On a Budget
You could pound the pavement on NYC’s sidewalks all day, but our favorite place to roam is a story above ground, on a converted railroad dotted with local art installations, a miniature dogwood forest and charming pop-up shops. That’s right, the High Line suspends walkers over Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District, winding them through Chelsea en-route to W 34th (between 10th and 12th), the spot is also known to host Tai Chi and meditation courses, as well as stargazing.
Leave it to Bushwick to transform a former industrial warehouse into a hip bar/cinema/restaurant with an eclectic lineup of cult classics, 80s blockbusters (that we all love to hate), obscure indies and critically acclaimed films. Each show, 50 guests take to the stadium seats before settling in beneath low-lit, exposed-bulb string lights. And to top it all off? Tickets are only $3 (or $4 if you purchase online).
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Thursday nights usually spell out openings and special events across Chelsea galleries, but you can really fashion your own gallery crawl anytime that works for you. Some of our favorite spots include Mitchell-Innes & Nash which is currently showing Positive Pathways (+) from the artist collective GCC, and the Pace Galleries (multiple locales around town) which is showing Mark Rothko’s Dark Palette. Keep it going from there by peeping a map of Chelsea and LES galleries, so you can piece together a robust route.
NYC consistently rocks it in the museum category, with free or donation-based admission to some of the city’s top institutions. While picking one is about as impossible as picking your favorite child, the ones always on our radar are the MoMA (free Fridays 4pm to 8pm), the Guggenheim (pay-as-you-wish Saturdays 5:45pm to 7:45 pm) and the Natural History Museum (pick your price everyday).
Ask any well-versed BK local, and they’ll let you in on a little secret: summer Saturdays and Sundays are best spent at Smorgasburg and the Brooklyn Flea in Williamsburg, Prospect Park, Dumbo, and Fort Greene. Once fall takes over, these outdoor locations slowly close up shop, but follow the eager crowds to Skylight One Hanson, in the Williamsburgh Savings Bank Clock Tower, and you’ll find the same vintage and handmade wares and 25 food vendors hawking innovative, highly-instagrammable bites like Wowfulls – Hong Kong-style egg waffle ice cream cones.
No matter how tight your itinerary, it’s imperative that you reserve Friday from 7 pm to 9 pm for a trip to the Morgan in Murray Hill. While tickets will usually run you $20, Friday nights means free admission to the Italian Renaissance-style landmark which houses the once-private rare book, manuscript and sheet music collection of J.P. Morgan. Stop by today and you’ll find Mozart’s "Haffner" symphony, journal entries from Henry David Thoreau, and three copies of the Gutenberg Bible among Egyptian art, Renaissance paintings and more.
At the Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB, if you want to fit in) you can catch improv, standup, and sketch comedy from future SNL cast members, late night TV writers, the girls from Broad City and, every once in awhile, Amy freaking Poehler. Whether you stop by the Chelsea or Lower East Side location, shows are just $5 on weekdays and $10 on weekends. Similarly, the Peoples Improv Theater (aka the PIT) puts on original shows each night across their three stages, so you can catch jams, open mics, and improv seshes for less than the cost of a mixed drink.
Central Park, the Cloisters and Fort Tryon Park are always at the top of our list when we’re talking free things to do in the city, and that’s regardless of whether we’re chatting with first-time visitors or repeat guests. You can sign up for free guided tours of the Ramble and Hallett Nature Sanctuary, or check out the highlights on an iconic views trek. Over at the Met, walk yourself around the medieval European-inspired gardens and architecture of the Cloisters (where museum admission is up to you) and picnic on the green lawns of Fort Tryon Park, the city’s largest garden.
The Most Happening Happy Hours
Alphabet City knows a thing or two about dive bars, and the Wayland ranks up there with the best of ‘em thanks to a killer cocktail list, ace bartenders, and casual, no-frills decor. Swing by Monday through Friday from 4 pm to 7 pm for $7 margaritas, sazeracs, and cucumber collins, as well as $4 to $5 tallboys, and $6 glasses of wine. Cheers to discounted beers!
Off the Wagon hosts one hell of a happy hour with half off drinks Monday through Friday from 2 pm to 8 pm. Once you’ve got a brew in hand, be prepared to shoulder your way through crowds of NYU students – the dorm just down the block from this Greenwich Village joint – to find a comfy spot in the two-story bar.
Take the L to Williamsburg and hop off at Bedford Ave and you’ll be just a couple blocks from the Brooklyn Brewery. The craft brewer hosts a small batch tour that’s a must at just $15 for two hours of drinking and learning (the kind you’ll actually enjoy). Book ahead – lines are out the door if you wait – and you’ll get 4 very generous tastings (and a glass that’s yours to keep) of just-tapped varieties like their flagship Brooklyn Lager and farmhouse Sorachi Ace, as well as seasonal pours like Oktoberfest.
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If you’re more for wine than craft beer, don’t worry, we haven’t forgotten you. The French-inspired Amelie Wine Bar has a four-page drink menu and slings $12 flights. If the price alone doesn’t do it for you, the old-timey European atmosphere (hello, vintage theater seats) should.
Happy Hour at Bua makes us very, very happy campers. Monday through Friday 4 pm to 8 pm AND Saturday and Sunday 12 pm to 5 pm, all draft beers drop to $4, full wine carafes are just $15, and choice cocktails like the cucumber gimlet and habanero margarita are just $7 a pop. The St. Mark’s gem has dimly-lit, cozy interiors, but, when it’s nice out, the open-air patio is our without-question pick.
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