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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

New York City: Big city fun for a small chunk of change

New-York-City-Aerial. By jerryfergusonphotography

An aerial view of New York City. Credit: jerryfergusonphotography.

By Steve Jermanok

While based in New York, which I called home for over a decade, one of my goals was to live as affordably as possible. Living on a writer’s salary, I had no choice. A common misconception is that this city of dreams is only for the rich. That’s simply not true. You can see the flashing neon lights of Times Square, rest your weary legs on the Central Park’s Great Lawn (perfect for a picnic), and grab a Staten Island ferry with requisite views of the Statue of Liberty, more or less all for free. If you’re taking a New York City trip, I’m the best guy to give you advice on inexpensive activities and cheap New York hotels.

There’s no need to waste money on taxis when the public transit system in NYC is one of the finest on the planet. And you never have to wait long for a subway, especially when you’re traveling up and down the West and East sides of Manhattan. Though fares are only $2, I suggest buying a MetroCard, which allows you to switch from bus to train for free. A one-day card will set you back $7.50, while the 7-day MetroCard costs only $25.

Excelsior Hotel on New York City's Upper West side.

New York state of mind
If you want to feel like a New Yorker and stay in a residential neighborhood, then choose the Excelsior Hotel on the Upper West Side. Located on 81st Street, across from the Museum of Natural History and a block away from Central Park, it’s hard to find a more relaxed locale. When I lived in Manhattan, I’d often recommend it to out-of-town friends and family coming in for a visit. Head back to Midtown for Broadway tickets at the half-price ticket booth on Broadway and 47th Street. Tickets for nightly performances go on sale at 3 pm, but get there early — the lines get long fast.

Saturday in the park
Take advantage of that glorious urban oasis above 59th Street, Central Park. Rent bikes to pedal around the six-mile loop or paddle-boats to skim around on the lake. Grab food at Zabar’s, my favorite gourmet deli on the corner of 80th and Broadway, for a picnic under a shady tree or on the Great Lawn. Afterwards, go for a stroll in the Rambles, which weaves up and down the hillside across streams. If you have kids, you’ll find numerous playgrounds to let the young ones swing.

The Met on a dime
Bordering Central Park on the Upper East Side is The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Few realize that the price of admission is only suggested. Pay what you can and then spend some time at the Egyptian Temple of Dendur, and you’ll immediately understand why the Met is one of the top museums in the world. At the nineteenth-century European paintings and sculpture galleries, you’ll find many works by Manet, Monet, Degas, and Renoir. Don’t miss the five works by Vermeer in the European paintings section. The best way to relax afterwards is to simply head up to the rooftop terrace and view Central Park from up high.

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Steve Jermanok has explored more than 75 countries and written over 1,000 articles on subjects ranging from art to adventure. He has worked as a columnist for National Geographic Adventure, contributing editor for Budget Travel, guest editor for The Boston Globe Sunday Magazine and writes regularly for Away.com, Health, Men’s Journal, Outside, and Yankee.

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