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 Specialitàserves 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.
Day Two: Downtown
Stretch your dollar in the East Village, the West Village, and Chinatown.
11:30 a.m.: Indulge in cocktails and Cajun cooking. Boozy brunches are in for New Yorkers, and Great Jones Café — celeb chef Bobby Flay’s favorite late-morning spot — makes the city’s finest Cajun Bloody Marys. Try the jalapeño-infused vodka rendition, which pairs perfectly with the fresh-baked cornbread.
1 p.m.: Shop at the bazaar. Wobble south on Lafayette, then right on Bleecker, until you hit the Market NYC. Young designers take over this 8,500-square-foot space every weekend to sell clothes and accessories, plus some vintage creations, for way less than what you’d spend at any surrounding boutiques.
2 p.m.: Save while staying a slave to fashion. Continue the budget shopping at picky consignment chain INA, where fashion editors and stylists regularly drop off last season’s goods. The men’s and women’s locations are right next to each other, on Prince Street.
3 p.m.: Savor sweets in Little Italy. Reunite the sexes back on Mulberry Street and skip four blocks south to Little Italy. A little over three bucks will get you one of the best cannolis this side of the Atlantic at Ferrara.
4:30 p.m.: Take time out for tea in Chinatown. Head down Mulberry and walk one block east on Canal Street, the heart of Chinatown. After perusing the stalls selling every knockoff product you can imagine, hang a right on Mott Street, where you can refresh with a bubble-tea drink at peaceful Ten Ren’s Tea Time.
6 p.m.: See the next Amiri Baraka. Jump on the 6 train to Bleecker Street, and go east toward the Bowery Poetry Club, a haven for music and lit lovers since poet Bob Holman opened it in 2002. For $10 or less, you can watch beatboxers, Yiddish lyricists, and spoken-word feminists aim for fame in the neighborhood that gave birth to Allen Ginsberg and the Ramones.
9 p.m.: Drink in a dive bar. Head north through the East Village to Continental, where everything served is under $7.
10:30 p.m.: Sing Sondheim soused. Now that you’re in the right state of mind, top off the evening at Marie’s Crisis, the unassuming Sheridan Square piano bar. A neighborhood institution since the 1850s (when it was a brothel), Marie’s Crisis is the perfect place to knock back cheap highballs while belting out a ballad from Sweeney Todd.
Day Three: Brooklyn
Brooklyn isn’t the poor man’s Manhattan anymore, but there are still plenty of places where your buck goes further.
10 a.m.: Enjoy one of the city’s best photo ops. Start your day by taking the 2 or 3 train to Clark Street, then walk west until you reach the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. The pedestrian walkway has panoramic views of the East River, the Manhattan skyline, and New York Harbor.
Noon: Stroll to pierogies. From the northern end of the Promenade, walk south along Henry Street and ogle Brooklyn Heights’ beautiful 19th-century brownstones. Turn right onto Montague Street and find Teresa’s—a cheap, tasty Polish diner—with plates of aromatic sauerkraut, mushroom pierogies, and boiled onions that’ll set you back a mere $10 or so.
2:45 p.m.: Pair New York’s second-biggest museum with its first-rate botanical gardens. Buy a $23 combined ticket to the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens and Brooklyn Museum, both near Prospect Heights. Don’t miss the Botanic Garden’s Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden, and in the museum, be sure to check out Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party in the Center for Feminist Art.
6 p.m.: Sup and slurp outdoors. Catch the 2 or 3 train again and head to Atlantic Avenue, turning right onto Lafayette Street and right again onto Fulton Street, where you can enter the gated picnic area at chic, cheap Habana Outpost. Order some corn on the cob with a hot mess of cheese and mayo, or settle in for one of its outdoor movie screenings, every Sunday night in the summer.
8:30 p.m.: Catch the next wave in music. Backtrack on Lafayette to the Brooklyn Academy of Music for BAMcafé Live. On select Friday and Saturday nights, there’s a free live show—with no drink minimum—from some of the area’s best emerging artists. Or check out BAMcinématek @ BAM Rose Cinemas for rare screenings of repertory films and artier first-runs.
Day Four: Beyond
Daytime excursions to two outer-boroughs and a small-town art treasure.
1. Discover the calmer side of New York City, way uptown at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx. Just steps from the 1-train stop at Van Cortlandt Park–242nd Street, history buffs can visit the 18th-century Van Cortlandt House Museum (a national landmark and the Bronx’s oldest building) for a $5 admission (waived on Wednesdays); cricket players and spectators take to the Parade Ground during the spring; and ornithologists break out binoculars around Tibbets Brook.
2. A $36.50 package deal to Dia: Beacon includes admission and transportation: a gorgeous, 80-minute Metro-North train ride from Grand Central Terminal. The former Nabisco factory turned modern-art museum showcases works by Richard Serra, Joseph Beuys, Sol LeWitt, and other artists from the ’60s onward. (Purchase your tickets through WebTicket, or visit a ticket vendor.)
3. Staten Island is perpetually overlooked despite the free, half-hour ferry ride from lower Manhattan’s Whitehall Terminal. If it’s baseball season, head north to Richmond County Bank Ballpark for the A-level farm team, the Staten Island Yankees (or Stankees, as they’re endearingly known). Tickets cost as little as $10.
BAM Rose Cinemas
30 Lafayette Ave., at Flatbush Ave., Ft. Greene, Brooklyn
Brooklyn Academy of Music
30 Lafayette Ave., at Ashland Pl., Ft. Greene, Brooklyn
Brooklyn Botanic Gardens
990 Washington Ave., at Eastern Pkwy., Brooklyn
Brooklyn Heights Promenade
Columbia Heights, Brooklyn
200 Eastern Pkwy., Brooklyn
154 W. 57th St., nr. Seventh Ave.
59th St. nr. Fifth Ave.
20 Rockefeller Plz., nr. Sixth Ave.
Cipriani Le Specialità
110 E. 42nd St., nr. Park Ave.
3 Beekman St., nr. Rte. 9D, Beacon, N.Y.
195 Grand St., nr. Mulberry St.
30 Rockefeller Ctr., at 50th St.
Grand Army Plaza
Flatbush Ave. at Eastern Pkwy., Brooklyn
Grand Central Terminal
42nd St. at Lexington Ave.
Great Jones Café
54 Great Jones St., nr Bowery
757 Fulton St., at S. Portland St., Brooklyn
The Halal Guys
53rd St. nr. Sixth Ave.
19 Prince St., nr. Elizabeth St.
21 Prince St., nr. Elizabeth St.
59 Grove St., nr. Seventh Ave.
159 Bleecker St., nr. Thompson St.
630 Ninth Ave., at 44th St.
Museum of Modern Art
11 W. 53rd St., nr. Sixth Ave.
1375 Sixth Ave., nr. 55th St.
Flatbush Ave. at Eastern Pkwy.
Radio City Music Hall
1260 Sixth Ave., nr. 50th St.
Richmond County Bank Ballpark at St. George
75 Richmond Terr., at Wall St., Staten Island
Rockefeller Plz. at 50th St
Saint Patrick’s Cathedral
460 Madison Ave., nr. 51st St.
Staten Island Ferry
4 South St., at Whitehall St.
Ten Ren’s Tea Time
79 Mott St., nr. Canal St.
80 Montague St., at Hicks St., Brooklyn
Van Cortlandt Park
Broadway at 246th St., the Bronx