I have today just returned from a quick and tiring but fulfilling trip to New York. I know New York well. My father is from New York and I lived there for two years after university. A lot of my friends and family are there, so it was a mainly a trip back to see them and to bring my son for the first time.
We had a 5 day trip planned to fit in with my son’s half-term break from school. We were flying with British Airways and as luck would have it, right before we were about to board our flight, global BA IT systems crashed and all flights were cancelled. The 5 hour period in Heathrow after the cancellations were announced were absolute chaos (think crying children, 4-hour long queues, missing BA staff and low food supplies). We had to drive 2 hours back home without our bags. We ended up purchasing another flight the next day online (which we are claiming back from BA), but it meant our trip was cut short by a day. Four days in NYC jet-lagged, on a budget, wanting to visit people and see attractions is just crazy, I would not recommend it. On top of that we didn’t receive our baggage until day 3 of the trip so we had to spend most of the first day buying toiletries and clothes. Thank goodness BA have confirmed they will reimburse expenses and pay compensation. I have already put my claim in but we are currently out of pocket by just shy of £4,000 until the reimbursement is paid!
Once we finally got to New York, we were lucky to stay in a large 2-bedroom Airbnb apartment in Brooklyn, two blocks from my old apartment and steps away from the subway. It was the perfect base from which to explore the city. We did mainly free activities where we could meet friends and family and see the sites without having to pay extortionate entrance fees. New York does not have free museums like London or Washington DC, so you have to seek out free attractions. Here are some of the free things we did over the three days:
- We went to The High Line. I had never been here and this place blew my mind. It’s an elevated, disused railway-line in Manhattan that has been turned into a free public park. The planting is beautiful. There are views of the Hudson river to the west and the park snakes through the neighborhoods of Chelsea and the Meatpacking District. I recommend going early on a weekday as there are narrow sections that can get quite crowded. We went at 9.30am on a Tuesday and it was perfect.
- We walked from The High Line to the Flatiron building and then to Union Square and around the streets of Greenwich Village. Meandering around Greenwich Village is one of my favourite things to do.
- We went to Cortlandt St Stration on the R line and walked around Westfield at the World Trade Center and viewed the 9/11 memorial. The Westfield building is incredible to see, it reminded me of a rib-cage. The space is very calm and peaceful even when packed with people.
- We went to Grand Central Station and stood in the lobby for a good 15 minutes, then walked to Bryant Park and the New York Public Library. From there we walked to Times Square, walking in and out of the shops. Then we walked to Central Park, found some green space and relaxed.
- We visited Brooklyn Bridge Park and the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. This is a great part of Brooklyn and offers amazing views of the lower Manhattan skyline.
- We walked around the Brooklyn neighborhood of Park Slope for hours and hours. There are tons of little shops, cafes, music venues, and beautiful quintessential Brooklyn brownstones.
This is not to say that I did not have moments of weakness. I am prone to frugal failures, after all. I spent $100 just on myself to eat out with old friends. We were in a restaurant for 6 hours eating and drinking and talking and the restaurant was expensive (but delicious!). I also bought my son a couple toys and I purchased some cheesy souvenirs.
Overall though, assuming we get the money back from BA (we better!), we have spent much less than our budget of £1,000 spending money for the week. The £1,000 was put aside for budgeting purposes but I wanted us to spend significantly under this – and we did! I am still reviewing spreadsheets to work out exactly how much we spent that won’t be reimbursed, but I’m thinking it is closer to £500 including my lavish dinner out.
There are lots more free things to do in New York that we did not get time to do and I want to give a big THANK YOU to the great tips I received from other bloggers. If anyone else knows of other free attractions in New York that I did not mention above, I would love to hear about them in the comments.