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The Budget Itinerary

A wallet-friendly guide to America’s most wallet-busting city.

Rockefeller Center at Christmas.  

Day One: Midtown
Just because you’re trying to save cash doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy one of Manhattan’s pricier hoods.

9 a.m.: People-watch with pastries. Next door to its red-carpeted cousin Cipriani 42nd Street, the basement-level Cipriani Le Specialità serves up delicious mini-pastries starting at $1 apiece. Grab a sidewalk table in the summer and watch the natives trample each other as they rush off to work.

10 a.m.: Get a piece of the Rock. Stroll up Fifth Avenue to Rockefeller Center, home to the Art Deco GE Building, Radio City Music Hall, and one of the city’s best places to gawk at crazily expensive art: Christie’s. (The famed auction house puts artworks and collectibles on display in the days before private collectors scoop them up.)

Noon: Hear classical music on the cheap. Walk a few blocks north and two avenues west to Carnegie Hall. If you get to the box office by noon, you can score $10 rush tickets or half-off partial-view seats for that night’s show. Your seats might be nosebleed, but you won’t sniff at the incredible acoustics.

1 p.m.: Pick up some street grub. On Sixth Avenue and 53rd Street, jump in line at the Halal Guys, a food cart so good it has its own website. Order what the nearby office workers do: a $5 halal chicken gyro to go.

1:30 p.m.: Picnic in Central Park. Mosey several blocks north to Central Park, then plop down among the giant boulders above the pond, just east of the entrance. After lunch, hike through the park to the North Meadow Recreation Center (mid-park at 97th Street) to exchange your photo ID for a free Field Day Kit—each includes various balls, bats, Frisbees, and jump ropes.

4 p.m.: Dust off for high art. Wipe off the dirt before you get to the Museum of Modern Art, about six blocks south of Central Park between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. The museum is totally free on Fridays from 4 to 8 p.m. (The most famous names — Picasso, Monet, etc. — are on the fifth floor.) If it’s not Friday, continue two blocks south to Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, the largest Gothic cathedral in the country. The white-marble architecture, stained-glass windows, crypts, and sculptures are always free, and it’s open until 8:45 p.m.

7:30 p.m.: Attend the Carnegie Hall concert you bought tickets to earlier.

10 p.m.: Enjoy a repast after the performance. For a late-night bite, skip the often-overpriced Theater District and head further west to once-gritty, now-hopping Hell’s Kitchen. The French restaurant Marseille is a luxe, cozy spot, replete with tile floor and a zinc bar, where you can indulge in chocolate ganache cake or a warm apple crisp ($9).

11:30 p.m.: Double your drinking dollars. For a nightcap, walk east to Sixth Avenue and order two-for-one martinis (offered from 5 p.m. to last call) at Pazza Notte.

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