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Tips for doing New York on the cheap

New York has a reputation for being expensive, but in this post I’ll show you my best tips for having a great time in NYC without blowing the budget.

You’ll want to see a Broadway show, shop, eat and visit some awesome NYC flea markets.

We were on the final leg of our three-week US tour and arrived in New York City by train, straight into the hustle and bustle of Penn Station from Philadelphia, where a cab ride during rush hour got us to our hotel on Times Square in record time.

It seems every hour is rush hour in this town, and the cabbie carries an awful lot of power!

New York City cab and Empire State building
Such a killer shot of New York City!  Photo by Robert Bye on Unsplash

There are thousands of yellow cabs in New York but there are thousands more potential passengers, and the New York cabbies I met were mostly rude and arrogant.

If you’re not going far enough or wanting to go the same way they’re heading, they’ll speed off without a word and you’ll be lucky if you don’t get your finger nails ripped off by the door handle that is suddenly yanked away.

NYC people and yellow cabs
This awesome pic by Matias Cruz from Pixabay

Here’s what you must do to hail that elusive cab: ask them where they’re going and agree to get out when they say. I know it’s draconian, but seriously unless you want to walk, the alternative is to say, “we’re heading to 102 and 5th Avenue” and they drive off with their doors locked.

It seems most destinations are out of the way for 9 out of 10 drivers in NYC, hence our new tactic: get a ride as far as you can and walk the remaining blocks. It’s enough to leave a girl speechless!

Sammi from Egypt was the only standout driver among the dozen or so cabbies we met. After convincing him to take us (read begging with Puss n Boots eyes) he also gave me his taxi tips for bargain shopping and great Turkish eating.

Sammi’s Tips for cheap shopping in NYC:

TJ Maxx on 18th and 6th Ave is the best place to shop for designer labels at bargain prices.

Turkish Kitchen for great food on 28th and 3rd Ave – and he should know.

Shop at Flea markets Instead of shopping at expensive souvenir shops, why not visit one of the many flea markets in NYC? You might get really good deals and have a very unique find to bring back home to remind you of your trip.

Souvenir shopping is part of the New York City right of passage for visitors. From classy designer clothes to antiques and kitsh snow globes, you can get it all. If you need help with what souvenirs to buy in New York, this post has some good ideas.

How to get the best view of NYC

For even better views than the Empire State Building, scoot up to the Top of the Rock.

This is the top three floors of the Rockefeller Center and with 360˚ views, your photos on a clear day will reveal the curvature of the earth! (Ok, I’m taking a little license).

Central Park New York
Central Park New York. Photo by Jermaine Ee on Unsplash

From the 1st of December each year the Rockefeller Center has its enormous Christmas tree standing proudly over the ice skating rink.

Last year the lucky tree was selected from Mahopac, New York (I know, where?) and had eight kilometres of lighting holding 30,000 LED lights. It stood 22 metres tall and chopping it down, transporting it into the heart of the busiest city in the country and erecting it with a crane is no easy task.

Here’s my video of whizzing down the Rock in a glass top elevator >>>

Grab New York discounts galore!

Macy’s department stores throughout the United States offer 10% discount vouchers to all international shoppers. Proof of your nationality is required (driver’s license or a cute accent) and you’re off. Discounts don’t apply to makeup or jewellery though. Ask at any counter in the store.

If you plan on doing lots of sight-seeing over a week or so, buy a CityPass which is a book of discounted tickets to all the main attractions like Top of the Rock, Empire State Building, MoMA, American Museum of Natural History, Guggenheim and some cruises in the harbour.

Is NYC on your New Year’s Eve wish list? This post has you covered for the best things to do on NYE in NYC!

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

One of the most iconic events in New York City is the huge Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. This is free entertainment from miles of street front positions and on TV from many restaurants and cafes.

Also, the night before the parade is another free spectacle watching the gigantic helium balloons being inflated and held down with ropes and nets until morning and a cast of hundreds of “wranglers” will walk them down the streets.

I wrote this post about the history of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade accidents covering all the helium balloons that have run amok and deflated or crashed over the years!

Sponge Bob helium balloon is ready
Sponge Bob is ready! Pic Macy’s Parade

Where to stay in NYC

The Muse

We stayed at The Muse, literally half a block from Times Square. The Muse is a Kimpton Hotel and is unique and very very cool.

So named after the Muses in Greek mythology who are said to be the nine goddesses who inspire art and literature.

The ‘muse’ theme is discretely evident – you have to look for it. The nine domains are history, epic poerty, love poetry, song, tragedy, hymns, dance, comedy and astronomy.

Fortunately I was given a heads’ up by the concierge. See the ceiling hangings? Check out the masks on the guest toilet doors. Look at the stone wall behind reception representing water…

The new Muse lobby
The new Muse lobby

But quite honestly you could arrive at The Muse, be greeted by the concierge and just admire the chic and styly decor, double sided fireplace separating the lobby and the bar and water feature.

Not only is it uber stylish, it’s very reasonably priced for a New York hotel (from around US$260 per room in the summer) and especially one so brilliantly located to Broadway.

Oh, and being a Kimpton Hotel, every evening they host a free wine hour for guests in the lobby. Click here for The Muse >>>

And if you happen to have brought your dog all this way, you can book the Pampered Pooch package and get an amenity basket filled with canine treats. And get this: dogs can join their masters to shop at Saks Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf Goodman, Tiffany’s, Brooks Brothers, Gap and Banana Republic. Oh pa-lease.

Muse hotel bedroom
A Muse hotel bedroom

Get free tickets to Broadway shows!

Stand around Times Square for long enough and you’ll be approached by people selling last minute tickets.

My friends were turning in circles looking at billboards the other day when along came a girl with free tickets to David Letterman that night. They saw Russell Crowe, Quincy Jones and Snoop Dog, while other hopefuls were left lining up at the last minute ticket counter and missed out.

Broadway at night in Times Square, New York
Get tickets for a Broadway show! Photo by Andrae Ricketts on Unsplash

You might also like my other New York posts:

If you (or your friends) are going to be here to run the New York Marathon, you need to read my brother’s 8 tips for running the New York marathon!

This post covers how to have the best new year’s eve in New York.

If you have longer here, read this post on how to spend 4 days in New York for the first timer.


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Finest spots for brunch in NYC - Vacation USA

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Hi, I'm Megan Singleton and I'm the word slinger of this travel blog as well as on radio in NZ every Sunday. Former Travel Editor at Yahoo NZ and current freelance writer for a few newspapers and mags from time to time, I set off on this travel writing journey 20 years ago and I've pretty much always got a suitcase half packed (or half un-packed!) I'd love you to join me on Facebook or Twitter and sign up for my newsletters if you want loads of travel tips, advice and deals!