Our 1st cheap NYC guide features 40+ top attractions that you must-see! Touristy or not, these are the classics spots that have changed New York’s history. Come explore New York with us!
I have been living in NYC for more than two years now and considering that I always have friends and family visiting me, I’ve created my own touristic route to take them through the most iconic highlights of the city.
They are entertaining, fun and best of all, CHEAP routes that I want to share with you.
First Route: From Central Park down to Union Square
Before I start, it is necessary to give you some tips. First, NYC food stores and restaurants are not required to offer restroom services, so I have included this item in my tour routes. Second, you can access the WIFI networks in all subway stations, NYC Parks and Starbucks for free (which also have restrooms. YAY!).
Finally, if you like something you want to buy and you can afford it, just BUY IT. You probably won’t have time to go back or even remember where you saw that precious item.
I recommend you start with this route, since it’ll give you a broad view of the city and Midtown. The first day is always the most intense day of all. Or, at least it’s what I tell my friends to give them the illusion they won’t walk “that much” for the rest of the trip. By the way it’s a total lie. Hahaha!
Central Park & Plaza Hotel
This route starts at Central Park, on the corner of 5th Ave and 59th Street. Here you can access one of the most iconic areas of Central Park featured in several movies like Home Alone 2 or Enchanted. You will see the amazing contrast between nature and the city, giving you incredible pictures at The Pond and the famous Gapstow Bridge. If you’re lucky, you can even take a picture of the most famous bachelor of NYC today: the gorgeous Mandarin Duck who is living at The Pond! Also, close to this area you can walk around the Hallett Nature Sanctuary (be aware of the Raccoons that lives in a tree there), skate at the Wollmann Rink Ice and visit the Central Park Zoo.
For those that have more time to spend around Central Park, walk up to The Lake, to cross another famous bridge – Bow Bridge. Be sure to snap a picture with The San Remo towers at the back! You might also want to get a row boat at The Loeb Boathouse.
Now, if you are in a hurry, just walk around and keep going down 5th Avenue, heading South (downtown direction). How do you know you’re heading South if you’re in the middle of the 5th Avenue? Cars are moving South too, so just follow the flow!
*Restroom Spot: go inside the beautiful Plaza Hotel and down to the food court located at -1 level. They have restrooms you can use at the end of the left alley.
5th Avenue, Saint Patrick’s Cathedral & Rockefeller Center
Between 59th Street and 42nd Street, when you walk through 5th Avenue, you’ll find the biggest and most fashionable stores in NYC. Be sure to check the 4th floor of Victoria Secret’s store, where you can see a small exhibit of the costumes used at their world-famous shows. Walk into the Neo-Gothic Saint Patrick’s Cathedral dating back to 187 and, of course, the Rockefeller Center. If by this time you are getting a little hungry, pass by the Lindt Chocolate, on 5th Avenue store where they will always welcome you with a delicious chocolate truffle. And La Maison du Chocolate at the on 49th also offers tastings. Yum!
If you are coming to New York for the Christmas holiday season, don’t forget to take pictures of the Christmas Tree at the Rockefeller and enjoy the Saks’ light show every night starting at 5pm to 11pm. It happens every 10 minutes. These shows gets really crowed, so try to come early to see it all. If you have time and have to pick one of the buildings to walk up – Empire State Building or Top of the Rock, go up the latter. It will give you the best 360º view of downtown, stretching to our Lady Liberty, and also Central Park. Plus, lines are much shorter compared to the Empire State.
Bryant Park & Food
By the time you hit 42nd Street and 5th Avenue, I can guarantee you’ll be quite hungry. What I usually do is turn right at 42nd Street and walk to 6th Avenue to grab some food inside Whole Foods. They have a delicious food buffet with tons of vegetarian, vegan and organic food, if you enjoy, besides other options too. And, the best part is that they have a sitting area, where you can eat and admire Bryant Park. If the weather allows, I recommend you enjoy your lunch at Bryant Park, where they have several tables and chairs available. It might be a bit hard to find a spot during the warmer months though…
Now, during the winter season, you can also visit Winter Wonderland Village at the park that offers over 150 stores, surrounding the Ice Skating Rink. Skating and lockers are free if you own your skates and have a padlock, but you will have to pay if you need to rent skates, want to check bags, or need to buy a lock for your locker. By the way, this is the cheapest place to skate in the city, if you want to experience it.
*Restroom Spot: the Le Pain Quotidien, by Bryant Park is an easy spot to.
New York Public Library
When you’re done, head back to 5th Avenue and visit the New York Public Library (NYPL). They offer free guided tours at 11a and 2pm, Monday through Saturdays, and at 2pm on Sundays. Tours are available on a first come basis and are limited to 25 people, so try to be there early. It’s definitely a place to spend some time in and, of course, don’t forget to pass by the famous reading room.
It was renovated a while back and is stunning. Do remember be absolutely silent in there! Oh! The Public Library was featured in the Sex and the City movie, when Big left Carrie practically at the alter, remember?
*Restroom Spot: the Public Library has several restrooms in almost every floor.
Grand Central Terminal & Its Secrets
The next stop is Grand Central Terminal. To get there, just walk two blocks East on 42nd Street and you’ll find it. Atop the Grand Central Terminal is the world’s largest Tiffany Clock and the iron eagles. The best shots from the outside is on the corner of at 42nd Street and Park Avenue. When you walk inside the terminal, look for the Main Concourse where another Tiffany Clock is located right at the middle.
Take time to look straight up and admire the massive painting of the constellations on the ceiling and try to find a small, dark patch of brick next to Cancer, the crab. This brick reveals what the terminal’s ceiling looked like before it was cleaned during the restoration project in 1998. Yup, this place was the former home of homeless people and was even dangerous to walk in. Can you imagine?
Nestled between the Main Concourse and the Vanderbilt Hall is an acoustical architectural anomaly called Whispering Gallery. Here, sound is thrown clear across the 2,000-square-foot chamber, “telegraphing” across the surface of the vault and landing in faraway corners. Feel free to try it out!
*Restroom Spot: Grand Central Terminal also has restrooms located at the food court, on the -1 level.
Again, walk back to 5th Avenue and keep walking downtown. Between 33rd and 34th Streets you will spot the Empire State Building. To get the perfect picture of the building, I recommend to walk to 28th St x 5th Avenue. In addition, close by at 32nd Street, you will hit Koreatown. There are great places offering delicious food like Jongro BBQ, karaoke spots and countless beauty stores.
Flatiron District & Food
When you arrive at 26th Street, you’ll walk into the Flatiron District by Madison Square Park. Here, for the best picture of the complete Flatiron Building, go to the intersection of 5th Avenue and Broadway – right in front of the sculpture placed in the middle. It’s the General William Jenkins Worth Monument.
Walk into Eataly to visit! It’s the most famous Italian market in the city that offers several restaurants and all sort of food to buy. Its deliciously beautiful. If you’re not hungry, you can just order some appetizers and a glass of wine at an area with bar tables. There aren’t even stools there, since people are in an out pretty quickly.
* Restroom Spot: Eataly has restrooms next to the fresh pasta section.
On the other hand, if you are hungry already but don’t want to spend tons of money, try a traditional NYC hamburger at Shake Shack, located in the middle of Madison Square Park. They have vegetarian options that are pretty good too!
Down Through Broadway & Union Square
Once again, keep walking downtown, but this time let’s change and take Broadway instead of 5th Avenue. Broadway is the only avenue that crosses the entire city from West to East. By the time you hit 17th Street, you will be close to our final destination for the day: Union Square!
Here you can enjoy a year-round Farmer Market every Monday, Wednesday, Friday & Saturday, between 8am – 6pm. If you do intend in going there to shop, head there early morning, since vendors sometimes leave, once they have sold out).
Around this area you can find several stores and lots of restrooms: Whole foods, Burlington, Best Buy and Starbucks to name a few. If you are traveling on a budget, but still want to buy clothing and shoes, I recommend you go to Burlington and DWS located in 14th Street. They have great deals with amazing brands.
To finish the day with another food spot for a quick bite, try Maoz Vegetarian, serving Middle Eastern vegetarian food, with some of the best falafels in town!
So, our 1st Route has come to an end. And, believe or not, you have walked around 13km, or 8miles. Not bad for your first day, right!?
If you enjoyed the 1st cheap NYC guide featuring 40+ top attractions in the city, stay tuned for next week! I will share my 2nd Cheap NYC Guide starting at Union Square and ending at Chinatown. Oh, and take a look at 10 Top Secrets about New York too!
See you then!
Text Credit: Written by our contributor Magdalena S. Concha
*Last Update on March/2020.*