New York City is not cheap, which is not exactly shocking news.
If it’s your first time in the city, it can be overwhelming to figure out trains, directions and how best to spend an afternoon.
Not to fear, I did it for you! This itinerary gives you an exact route to follow throughout the day.
A self-guided tour de force.
There is quite a lot packed into this day, so I recommend you start early. You can, of course, start at any number or split it into two days.
I love New York because it has so much to offer. So many of my friends asked for recommendations whenever they visited the city (and are usually broke like me), so I planned this tour out to include my favorites.
This way, they can see plenty of the highlights and take a mountain of selfies for the cost of a metro card.
Ok so it’s almost free; you do need to buy a metro card because this trip requires a minimum of 4 train rides. Buy the $10 dollar pay-per-ride card for a some “added bonus” money on there, or the $15 just to be safe and get you to and from your sleeping quarters (prices may be going up to $3 a ride soon ::sad face::)
But all locations listed are free!
Remember; DO NOT throw away your metro card! You can refill it forever, and skip the $1 dollar fee you pay the first time you get a card.
This self-guided tour also includes a lot of walking, which is the best way to see New York City as well as being pretty much unavoidable, so wear decent shoes.
Also recommended is a map, either on your phone or old-school paper; there are plenty of free printables online. I’ve also included maps throughout to help you find your way, so you can keep this post open on your phone as well.
Most metro stations have maps available of all the stations, which are slightly bulky but nice to have. You can also check a map at each station instead of carrying it with you.
START IN TIMES SQUARE
This is the easiest destination to find, and even if find yourself a few block away, just follow the crowd. When I took my former boyfriend here on his first New York City trip, he stood in the middle turning back and forth. I finally asked him what he was doing and he said, “There are TWO corners in Times Square!”
Yes, it’s heaving with tourists, but it’s iconic. Enjoy the insanity, snap a few selfies, done and done. Then walk a few blocks…
ROCKEFELLER CENTER 49TH & 6TH AVE
Admire another famous place in NYC, get your Liz Lemon on in front of the building at 30 Rock, or if it’s Christmas, admire the tree- all free. If you want to visit the Top of the Rock, there is an entrance fee.
From there, go to the Subway station just outside Rockefeller Center on 49th street (letters of the trains are in orange on the map). Take the B train towards Bedford Park and exit at 72nd street.
CENTRAL PARK/ STRAWBERRY FIELDS
The 72nd street station drops you close to the often visited Strawberry Fields location, in memoriam of John Lennon. People are here everyday, decorating the Imagine stone art. Bring your own flowers, or enjoy what you find there.
To find this spot, when you exit the subway station at 72nd and Central Park West, you just need to cross the street. The entrance to Strawberry Fields is just to the left.
After enjoying Strawberry Fields, walk NORTH through the park, on West Drive or Bridle Path, to 77th street and Central Park West.
AMERICAN MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY
One of my favorites, and easy to get to from the park as it is located on the border. This museum is “pay what you wish”, so you can enter for free, or give a small donation. Admire some dead, stuffed animals.
When you’ve had enough of taxidermy, head to the subway station outside the museum on 81st street (any employee can help you). Here, take the C train towards Euclid Ave and get off at the 23rd street station.
Walk two blocks west to the High Line Walkway from the 23rd street station. Head up the stairway and turn left (river in front of you). From here you get incredible views of NYC, can see Empire State Building in the distance and enjoy the fresh air.
There are some cute shops and restaurants on this converted rail line. At the end of the walk you will come to the Whitney Museum of Art (free on Fridays from 7-9:30pm).
If you skip the museum because it’s not Friday, go straight to the 14th street and 8TH Ave station.
WORLD TRADE CENTER / FREEDOM TOWER
Take the E line from the 8th Ave station towards the World Trade Center and get out at the last stop (called World Trade Center). The tower and the memorial are about one block from this station, so look up and you’ll find your way. The 9/11 memorial museum is free on Tuesdays from 5-8pm.
Breathe it in. Never forget.
BROOKLYN BRIDGE PROMENADE
This is about a 10-15 minute walk from the World Trade Center, depending on your pace. You may have to cross a few streets to get to the promenade. You can walk the entire length of the bridge, which is a mile, or just linger. It can be extremely crowded on weekends, and be aware of cyclists.
More photo ops, then walk back to the beginning of the promenade and take the 4 or 5 train from the Brooklyn Bridge/City Hall Station (also seen on map) towards Crown Hills/ Flatbush to Bowling Green station.
STATEN ISLAND FERRY/ STATUE OF LIBERTY
Walk 4 blocks south on Whitehall Street from the Bowling Green station to the Staten Island Ferry. The ride is free, and gives you an amazing view of downtown NYC and the Statue of Liberty. Note that when you get to Staten Island, you need to exit the ferry and then get back in line to return to downtown Manhattan.
And so ends the free (mostly) self-guided tour of Manhattan!
There are a mountain of other sights to see in NYC, but this covers a lot of the more famous places. Once you return on the ferry, you could spend some time relaxing in Battery Park, which is to the left once you exit the boat (see map).
Or you could head back North on Whitehall Street to see the Charging Bull of Wall Street, just a block north of the Bowling Green station. You could also do this before getting on the ferry if you want to add that picture to your collection.
If you hop on the 1 train right at the Staten Island Ferry Whitehall terminal when you return, you can return directly back to Time Square (1 train towards Van Cortlandt Park).
Or alternatively, you can get off on Canal Street and wander around Soho, which is a cute district with plenty to offer, including food if you’re ready to spend a few pennies. Or keeping walking east down Canal towards Chinatown for cheap markets.
Let me know what you think, or how long this trip took you to do! Times vary, depending on how long you spend in each location.
What are your favorite free NYC spots?
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