Tanya's Tips: How to spend a day in NYC for $20 or less!

By Tanya Burovtseva

Big cities like New York are known to be expensive. On the flip side, there are a ton of things to enjoy and not break the bank.

If you’re planning on visiting NYC, keep handy this list of free or inexpensive, very-NYC things to do. Pick the ones you like and create your own NYC experience (and don’t be shy, share it by tagging @InterExchange on instagram)!


#1 Try NYC bagels for breakfast ($1.50)

Bagel

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My quick online search shows that there is no consensus over what makes NYC bagels taste so delicious - NYC tap water or the way the dough is prepared. In any case, NYC bagels do taste different compared to the rest of the U.S. Check for yourself these perfectly chewy and deliciously crispy creations! Where to get one? Anywhere from a street food cart (around $1.50 with cream cheese) to a coffee shop (around $3.00).

#2 Take in City Views from the NYC Water Ferry ($5.50 round trip)

East River

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If you’re not ready to spend extra bucks on a city cruise but would still like to enjoy the breeze and Manhattan views, a cheaper (and in my opinion much cooler) way to do it is to take a ferry. It works just like the subway but you need to buy tickets separately since your subway pass won’t work.

#3 See the Statue of Liberty and Ride the Staten Island Ferry ($0.00)

SI Ferry

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The best free way to see the Statue of Liberty up close is from the Staten Island Ferry. The ferry is free and does round trips between Manhattan and Staten Island. The ferry terminal is downtown, right next to the Battery Park and very close to the InterExchange office.

#4 Have NYC Pizza for Lunch ($3.00)

Slices

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Another NYC staple is pizza! Lots of walk-in places offer a deal - 2 slices of pizza and a soda (around $3.00).

#5 Walk the Brooklyn Bridge ($0.00)

BK Bridge

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A very classic NYC thing to do! Great views, great pictures, great memories! I recommend taking a subway to Brooklyn (e.g. High Street stop on A/ C line) and walking towards Manhattan.

#6 Walk the High Line & Check Out the Vessel ($0.00)

Vessel

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This is probably one of the most unusual green spaces you’ll get to see. It’s an elevated park built on old subway tracks! It gets super packed on weekends so if you can, visit the High Line during the weekday or earlier in the day during the weekend. If you use the Chelsea Market entrance and walk all the way till the end, you’ll end up at Hudson Yards. Make sure to book free tickets in advance to explore the Vessel!

#7 Columbia University Campus ($0.00)

Columbia

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Columbia University is an Ivy League school. I highly recommend taking a break and enjoying campus vibes while sitting on the steps of the Library of Columbia University! Another great attraction nearby is the The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine.

#8 Take a Stroll in SoHo ($0.00)

Soho

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SoHo is a very popular shopping destination. You can find all sorts of brands here: from Chanel, Louis Vuitton, and Armani to TopShop, Zara, Uniqlo, Mango, and H&M. However, the shopping experience here could be crowded. I recommend taking a stroll instead and enjoying the atmosphere of old New York.

#9 Have Picnic in Central Park for Dinner ($12.00 or less, depending on your appetite)

Central Park

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The best way to enjoy Central Park, besides walking around, is to eat there! I like to get snacks at grocery stores since they are cheaper and you get a variety of options to pick from. I recommend Whole Foods located at the South West corner entrance. A cheaper grocery store (and New Yorkers’ favorite!) is Trader Joe’s located at West 72nd Street & Broadway.

7 Bonus Tips

  • I love and recommend using this InterExchange NYC google map when you plan your visit.
  • Download the NYC MTA subway app in advance. A one-way subway ticket is $2.75.
  • Avoid taking the subway during rush hours (7:30 am - 9.00 am and 5:30 pm - 7:00 pm). It gets very crowded and stressful, too.
  • Save money and our planet by using your own water bottle. Refill it at water fountains or coffee shops (just ask the barista politely).
  • Use sunscreen and take breaks from walking, cool off in the shade or in coffee shops. NYC can be very hot and humid during the summer months.
  • Expand your exploration to other boroughs, too (cool places to see and visit are Gantry Plaza State Park in Queens, Smorgasburg in Brooklyn, Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, and Postcards memorial on Staten Island). NYC is not just Manhattan!
  • Keep in mind that The Metropolitan Museum of Art no longer offers donation based admission. Regular admission is $25, students pay $12.
Tanya Burovtseva Tanya Burovtseva

An international exchange alumna originally from Ukraine, Tanya started her career at InterExchange in 2011. Tanya is passionate about travel and cultural exchange and enjoys meeting J-1 exchange participants at InterExchange events.

U.S. Department of State-Designated J-1 Visa Sponsor
Alliance for International Exchange
Exclusive partner of the Erasmus Student Network for J-1 Visa sponsorship of internships in the U.S.
European-American Chamber of Commerce New York
Generation Study Abroad
Global Ties U.S.
International Au Pair Association
WYSE Travel Confederation