20 great things to do in New York on a budget!

Screenings at sunset, folk art and pastrami: cheap and tons of fun

20 great things to do in New York on a budget! Installation view of Emory Douglas: Black Panther, at New Museum, New York - © Benoit Pailley
By Time Out New York writers

The traveller is willing but the pound is weak. If you’re going to New York you will want to watch your dollars – Time Out New York writers choose twenty great low-rent activities for weekenders.

1. Go gigging in a candy store

An overlooked gem tucked away in an old candy shop, Pete’s is beautifully ramshackle, tiny and always free. The performers are generally unknown and crowds can be thin, but it can be a charming place to catch a singer-songwriter. Worthy underdogs may stop by for casual sets. If worse comes to worst, you can hang out at the bar up front.

Pete’s Candy Store, 709 Lorimer Street, between Frost & Richardson Streets, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, (1-718 302 3770, www.petescandystore.com). Subway L to Lorimer Street. Open 5pm-2am Mon-Wed; 5pm-4am Thur, Sat; 4pm-4am Fri; 4pm-2am Sun. Admission free. Credit AmEx, DC, MC, V.

2. Sip a cocktail at PDT

Word has got out about ‘Please Don’t Tell’ (113 St Marks Place, between First Avenue & Avenue A, 1-212 614 0386. Subway L to First Avenue; 6 to Astor Place. Open 6pm-2am Mon-Thur, Sun; 6pm-4am Fri, Sat. Average drink $14. Credit AmEx, MC, V), the faux speakeasy inside gourmet hot dog joint Crif Dogs, so it’s a good idea to reserve a booth in advance. Once you arrive, you’ll notice people lingering outside an old wooden phonebooth near the front. Slip inside, pick up the receiver and the host opens a secret panel to the dark, narrow space. The serious cocktails surpass the gimmicky entry: try the house old-fashioned, made with bacon-infused bourbon, which leaves a smoky aftertaste.

3. Go rowing in Central Park

The Loeb Boathouse (Midpark at 75th St, www.thecentralparkboathouse.com) is open daily from April to October, weather permitting; boat rental is $12 per hour plus $20 deposit. Head out on to the lake and admire the gorgeous Bow Bridge: picnic and poetry optional.

4. Browse 18 miles of books

Boasting an extraordinary 18 miles of books, the Strand Bookstore (828 Broadway at 12th St, 1-212 473 1452, www.strandbooks.com) offers a mammoth collection of over two million discount and used titles starting at 1 dollar, made all the more daunting by its towering, chaotic bookshelves and surly staff (Patti Smith found fuel for her punky angst working here). Find anything from a long out-of-print tome on Victorian manners to the kitschiest of sci-fi novelettes.

5. Shop at Union Square Greenmarket

You might want to avoid the latte-sipping owners of little yippy dogs that make up a large portion of the regulars at this weekly foodfest (Mon, Wed, Fri and Sat), but the supreme visual appeal of edible flora, fauna and baked deliciousness is undeniable. The free samples on offer are advertisement enough.

6. Visit the Folk Art Museum

The stunning eight-floor American Folk Art Museum (45 W 53rd St between 5th and 6th Aves, 1-212 265 1040, www.folkartmuseum.org) celebrates traditional craft-based work. One of the best ways to explore the collection of unusual pottery, trade signs, delicately stitched log-cabin quilts and wind-up toys is on one of the Free Music Fridays (5.30-7.30pm), when the exhibits are free, accompanied by music in the magnificent atrium.

7. Feed your TV addiction at the Paley Center

Formerly the Museum of TV & Radio (admission $5-$10), the Paley Center (25 West 52nd St between 5th and 6th Aves, 1-212 621 6600, www.paleycenter.org) is nirvana for couch potatoes and pop-culture junkies. You can search through a computerized archive system of 150,000 radio and television programmes, and enjoy your favourite ‘I Love Lucy’ or ‘Star Trek’ episode at your own personal assigned console. There are also cartoon screenings, public seminars and special presentations.

8. Drink and dance at Water Taxi Beach

When this Long Island City outpost opened, NYC became the land of sand, parties, ping-pong and electric palm trees. Water Taxi Beach expanded into a giant sandy patch in lower Manhattan. Sip beers or mixed drinks while playing one of the many available games (Skee-Ball, minigolf). The Fish Shack dispenses beachy grub including burgers and Baja-style fish tacos.

Water Taxi Beach North side of Pier 17, Fulton St at South St (877 974 6998, www.watertaxibeach.com).

9. Go to Brooklyn Flea

You’ll be spared the sight of dodgy overpriced tourist wares at this Fort Greene bazaar: the space outside of Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School hosts a quirky roster of items, including antiques, vintage clothes, records, art and jewellery. Hungry for more than merch? Blue Marble organic ice cream, Whimsy & Spice cookies and Hot Bread Kitchen should sate your appetite.

Lafayette Ave between Vanderbilt and Clermont Aves (Fort Greene); Front St at Washington St (DUMBO).

10. Eat shiitake buns at Momofuku

There are four of these quirky little restaurants dotted around the city, a happy mish-mash of East-meets-West meets stylish modern interior and surprisingly low prices. The Milk Bar (207 2nd Avenue) is the home of their trademark ‘crack pie’, an addictive concoction of toasted oat crust and gooey butter filling, while the more traditional Noodle Bar (171 First Ave, 1-212 777 7773, www.momofuku.com) doles out melt-in-the-mouth pork buns or shiitake buns at $9 a pop.

11. Sip a beer on the Staten Island Ferry

The gratis trip on the Staten Island Ferry, yes gratis, on the Staten Island Ferry is like a 30-minute booze cruise sans entry price and stale soundtrack. Kick back with beers from $3.50-$5 (served from 8am to 4am) on one of the wooden benches while cruising at 16 knots past Lady Liberty and Ellis Island.

12. Eat Gotham’s definitive pastrami at Katz’s

The finest New York deli keeps the art of pastrami-making alive, curing its old-fashioned, spice encrusted briskets in-house and hand-carving them hot to order from behind a sandwhich counter that ought to be landmarked. And all at bargain prices.

Katz’s Delicatessen, 205 E Houston St at Ludlow St (1-212 254 2246).

13. Watch screenings among sculptures

With a striking view of the midtown skyline as a backdrop, the Socrates Sculpture park Outdoor Cinema (32-01 Vernon Blvd at Broadway, 1-718 956 1819, www.socratessculpturepark.org) serves up an impressive array of free outdoor films most Wednesdays at sunset during July and August. Movies are selected by curators from the Musuem of Moving Image and hail from a different country each week and local eateries sell food to match the country.

14. Take in indie acts at the Seaport Music Festival

Paul Simon was in the audience at the first ever concert, back in 2002, which then consisted of about five people. This unashamedly indie festival has grown in leaps and bounds, however, and now plays host to some 6,000-10,000 fans every summer, who come for the free, often big-name acts and the strangely surreal and beautiful setting.

Seaport Music Fest South St Seaport, Pier 17, Fulton St at South St (www.seaportmusicfestival.com).

15. Catch a film at Landmark Sunshine Cinema

Once a renowned Yiddish theatre, this comfortable, date-friendly venue has snazz and chutzpah to spare. Intimate cinemas and excellent sound are a beautiful complement to the indie films; here, too, is New York’s most consistently excellent midnight series.

Landmark Sunshine Cinema, 141-143 E Houston Street, between First & Second Avenues, East Village (1-212 330 8182). Subway F, V to Lower East Side-Second Avenue. Tickets $12.50; $8.50 reductions. Credit AmEx, DC, Disc, MC, V.

16. Listen to a free performance by Juilliard students

Inside the bamboo-and-light-filled atrium of 180 Maiden Lane (180 Maiden Lane between Front and South Sts, 1-212 769 7406, www.juilliard.edu), catch a free hour-long concert by Juilliard students and alumni on Tuesdays at 8pm. Some performances are by groups, some soloists – all exquisite.

17. Skate New York’s Iconic Rinks

You can’t get much more Old New York than going for a glide on the Trump Wollman Rink in Central Park (admission $4.75-$10.25), which has been open for over 50 years. Night skating makes for an especially romantic outing, and the rink is open until 11pm on Fridays and Saturdays.

830 Fifth Ave, enter at Central Park South and Sixth Ave (1-212 439 6900, www.wollmanskatingrink.com).

18. Visit Ellis Island

Even if your blood doesn’t run red, white and blue you will not be underwhelmed by this major New York landmark. Note that, contrary to some mistaken notions, the mother of all American statues is not actually on Ellis Island, although it can be reached by the same ferry. More than 12 million people entered the country through this island between 1892 and 1954. The exhibitions at the Immigration Museum are a moving tribute to the immigrants from so many different countries who made the journey to America, dreaming of a better life. The $8 audio tour is informative and inspiring.

Statue of Liberty Ferry at Battery Park (877 523 9849, www.ellisisland.org).

19. Get Contemporary at the New Museum

A must for aspiring artists and hipsters alike, The New Museum (235 Bowery, 1-212 219 1222, www.newmuseum.org. Adm $8-$12) is the only museum in New York exclusively devoted to presenting contemporary art from around the world. It’s widely acclaimed as one of the contemporary seven architectural wonders, and it is located in the historical heart of New York’s (formerly) down-and-out artistic community, with whom it is currently working in collaboration for the Bowery Artists Tribute

20. Chill out in KGB Bar

This dark and formerly smoky East Village hangout, with an old-school communist theme, runs several top-notch weekly series featuring NYC writers, poets, fantasy authors and others.

2nd Floor, 85 E 4th Street, between Second & Third Avenues, East Village (1-212 505 3360, www.kgbbar.com). Subway F, V to Lower East Side-Second Avenue; 6 to Astor Place. Admission free.

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