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Perfect Itinerary for New York on a Budget

Warning: Long blog post but many things are summed up along the way – look out for the links! (Jump straight to the holiday by clicking here)

This time last year we had the adventure of a lifetime, and pretty much completed New York, without spending much more than we had to. We brought you our recommendations of where to eat pizza last week, this week is the turn of what we did and how we did it without spending the earth.

The flights
We flew with Norwegian Airlines, and it was totally fine, low cost, effective and as much leg room as you would get elsewhere in economy. We didn’t even book food, we took some snacks through security and ate dinner before we took off, and were both happy enough for the rest of the flight.

The accommodation
New York is well known for being pricey when it comes to places to stay. We spent what felt like days trawling through Airbnb looking at places in Brooklyn and Manhattan, but everywhere is so expensive that we took to looking at hotels too. After traipsing through Trivago we found what we thought was the perfect deal, but don’t be fooled, most hotels don’t add tax on to their prices online, which we learnt the hard way. The Hudson was great, if a bit expensive but the decor and location was perfect, even if their customer service was not!

The saviour of the week
The most important part of our stay was the fact that we had planned it all by location, got ourselves a MetroCard travel card and the New York Pass. The New York Pass not only encouraged us to do more, but saved us literally hundreds of pounds. They do deals throughout the year so you never have to pay full price, and you can get your New York Pass here.

The itinerary
It was definitely a well planned affair, but that’s nothing that either of us were scared of, and in fact the planning for it was all part of the fun. Once we knew we would get our New York Pass, the rest was just about making sure we could make the most of the week and enjoy everything without being too tired. If you want a direct PDF of the itinerary with no waffle, click here to download it.

We landed late on Friday night, went straight from JFK to Columbus Circle, and checked in. The lovely people at the Hudson claimed to upgrade our room, and we scoped out the wooden clad walls, see-through bathroom and giant bed, and went to get pizza. This turned out to be something we would do throughout the trip!

Refreshed after a good night’s sleep, Saturday was the day we thought would be the most difficult, but the air was fresh, snow lay piled on the ground and we went to pick up our New York passes before breakfast. Breakfast room us to the Westway Diner, on Jess’ dad’s recommendation, where if you time it right, it’s just teaming with NYPD cops, and looks like a scene from a movie! We had eggs and bacon, as much filter coffee and cream as Tim could drink and jumped on the metro to ground zero.

Ground zero is overwhelming. Poignant, sad and huge, the scale of the 9/11 memorial is something that you can’t get over on camera. After spending some time reflecting, we were going to go on with our day, but decided that as we could use our New York pass we would go to the museum too. It was just as moving as the memorial, once you got over the overly patriotic islamaphobic stance.

From there we walked around to the highline. We wanted to do a free tour across but they had been cancelled due to snow so there are some good websites that you can load on the free WiFi beforehand and have yourself a self-guided walk across the highline. Totally worth it for the views, the history and the cynical graffiti. It’s lovely spending time in a large open green space in the middle of a bustling city full of skyscrapers, and a really clever use of space.

We left the highline right by Chelsea Market, where we wanted to go to Artist and Fleas specifically, it was an amazing flea market full of anything and everything you could imagine, and something that we were lucky to recreate on our Brooklyn date day in London too!

A short walk from the market, which was good for gelato and food too, was the Whitney museum. Also on the pass, it’s a huge gallery set over a number of different floors full of modern art. Yes it’s an art museum, and when you’re competing with MoMa and the Guggenheim you have to be different, and the Whitney has been so well curated that they can do just that. Gold trainers, life size waxworks being melted and art outside in the snow, it was brilliant!

We meandered slowly to Central Park, where we took lots of pleasure being in the snow and watching all the dogs in socks and jackets, and kids sledding, and went to see Exhibitionism – the interactive show on the Rolling Stones. This was also on our pass, but unfortunately isn’t on there anymore, but I’m sure there will be something just as great on instead.

Just enjoying being in the city that never sleeps, we walked around to Joe’s Pizza, one of our favourites that you can read about here and tucked into our second pizza meal of the trip before bed!

Sunday we headed downstream to Brooklyn, forgetting that of course hipsters sleep in, so we abandoned our original brunch plans and settled for calming the jetlag at Bluebottle Café, with coffee and cookies. We eventually had the brunch of dreams at Dave’s Brisket House, but don’t go expecting it to look swanky, it’s like a kebab house but for breakfast, but the taste is extraordinary!

Synagogue Museum at Eldridge Street was fascinating. Aside from the beauty of the building, the history of the Jewish community and the exhibition about it was really interesting, particularly about how crucial the building was to the tenement community of Jews when they first came over in that area. The building was so incredibly peaceful too, we could have sat there for much longer than we actually did!

Passing as we saw it, another  Artist and Fleas in Brooklyn, we had another hunt around, and then headed on our way for lunch, where we had ramen, another of our “let’s find the  best ones” meals. We ate at M Noodle, on par with Tonkotsu over here, and way better than Wagas, worthy of our detour in the pouring rain.

What we had done earlier in the day, was pass the Brooklyn Brewery and get free tickets for their free tour, at a specific time so that it didn’t sell out. The tour was fascinating, and Tim LOVES Brooklyn beer so seeing where it was all made and hearing the tales was brilliant. Afterwards we spent plenty of time in the bar that played exclusively bands from and about New York, tasting lots of different Brooklyn Beers that we didn’t even know existed!

Even though we were quite tipsy and very full, as big gelato fans someone recommended that we try Big Gay Ice Cream, which we did. The concept wasn’t lost on us, but I think we were both disappointed that it wasn’t lots of different flavoured ice cream, it was one flavour ice cream with loads of different sickly toppings. The staff made it brilliant and it was safe to say we were still satisfied, and headed for…you guessed it, pizza for dinner at Prince Street Pizza.

The highlight of the evening was heading to Authur’s Tavern, a proper local tavern, where it seems they never take down the decorations and just add to them. There was some amazing jazz by local bands, being played, and the house band that  were old but totally rocking! Unlike other jazz bars in New York, this one you don’t need to pay for, but they do have a two drink minimum order (they won’t stop you from leaving though).

We got up early to make the most of our day again and went straight in with our passes again to the Top of the Rock, the views were great and there’s something about seeing the views in real life rather than through a screen that makes them all the more breathtakingly beautiful. We were super lucky with the weather, the perfect sort of day where it’s freezing but super sunny!


With our tickets and passes we also booked a tour of the Rockefeller Center and Plaza (the first of the day), and although disappointed that it wasn’t Kenneth showing us around, the tour was hilarious, informative and positively mind blowing in parts. It kept the history nerd in Jess alive for an hour anyway!

From there we went to B&H Dairy for brunch, somewhere we loved somuch that we ended up going back a few times. Typical New York Diner Deli food, sitting at the counter, listening to other people’s conversations and just loving life.

B&H is close to the Tenement Museum, which isn’t included on the pass and if you want to go in is by guided tour only, however, it’s worth going in just to watch the free film you can watch in the foyer, which tells you all about the area, the history and the buildings use, which is exactly what we did, accompanied by a long mooch about the book shop after, without actually going in for the tour.

Next up we went to the American Museum of Natural History, also included on the pass. The way we could manage to do so much each day is that we didn’t set out to see everything in the museums and we kept ourselves well fed. The museum of natural history is epic, do visit the dinosaurs, and do, if you, like us, love space pretty massively, head to the space floor and planetarium-we went to see a show about the big bang! It was brilliant!

Talking of fed and watered, we wandered directly to Levain Bakery for coffee and the best cookies! Freshly made and melt in the middle, we struggled to eat one between us!

After a quick about turn, we went for dinner at Don Antonio’s, for proper rustic Italian pizza, rather than pizza by the slice, and went to see a show that we bought off Groupon for less than half price (you can also try TodayTix). We went to see Avenue Q, a funny, naughty version of the Muppets if you are unaware of it, where they sing about Trump and jobs and things far too rude to type. From there we had more gelato at Amino Gelato (simply fabulous) and strolled home.

Except we didn’t quite make it home. Walking passed the Empire State Building, at about 11pm we saw that it was open. So, as it was in our New York pass we decided that we would go to the top and see the sights at night. It was a fabulous idea, that late it’s practically empty and New York from that height is just beautiful. It was from there that we meandered home to bed.

Valentines Day means more to Tim than to me, but we still made quite a good go at making it special. We had brunch at Lexington Candy Diner, which not only has delicious proper breakfasts, is totally retro and amazing. They have rows of old coca cola bottles in the window, dating back to what looks like the beginning of time for the company.

Post brunch we went to the Met, again, we picked out a couple of things in advance that we both wanted to see and went to see them, anything we saw along the way was a bonus! What we can recommend seeing is the room that houses the Temple of Dendur from the Egyptian time. It’s got a lake in, is the biggest room we’ve ever been in and is practically sitting in Central Park! It was amazing!

From the Met we popped to the Guggenheim, also free with the pass. A really well built building, with amazing works of art collated and displayed on the way. Lots of big names in the art world and for those of us less knowledgeable too.

Lunch we had at Russ and Daughters in the Jewish Museum. The museum isn’t on the New York pass so we didn’t go in, but we did have the best lox bagels around (smoked salmon and cream cheese to you and me!). We then popped a few museums down to what was the best revelation of the week. We went to the Museum of the city of New York, and it was phenomenal! It was so well curated, the different exhibitions about New York were fascinating and the whole feel of the museum (free on the pass, duh), was much friendlier than the bigger, more popular and more wealthy museums, yet this was no less well put together. A definite highlight and one we can’t recommend people visit enough!

One thing we didn’t want to do was get caught  in the American buzz of Valentine’s Day, so  what we decided to do instead, was walk to the pizza place  behind the hotel, and have ourselves the biggest pizza pie and a bottle of wine back in our hotel room, watching proper American late night talk shows!

Wednesday morning started early, we grabbed a coffee from Starbucks (sorry!) to start the day and headed stright for MoMa. Again free, and again, we managed to do loads because we didn’t stop to see everything, we picked out 4 or 5 things we were desperate to see in the flesh, and went to visit them, stopping off at things that caught our eyes on the way.

For lunch we thought we’d push the boat out, and celebrate the fact that we were in New York for Valentine’s Day, and that we were having the best holiday ever and we went to Gramercy Tavern. It is super posh, and quite expensive but was the best actual meal we ate in New York and we would 100% go back!

From there it was only a short trip to the Intrepid Sea and Air museum, which was free on our pass. Before we went in, we went next door to the Circle Line Boat Tour Box Office to get a boat tour ticket that was free on our pass. CHEAT MODE: your ticket lasts for 14 days SO  buy it on your pass whilst your pass is still valid and use it on the day after, so you still only need a 5 day pass!

As space nerds, at the  Intrepid Sea and Air museum, we decided we would pay the extra to go and see the Space Shuttle too. The size of the ship (the whole museum is based on an old war ship), the amazing planes and other artefacts throughout the museum, and the Endeavour, all meant that we had the geekiest but most amazing afternoon!

It was now dark, and we thought we would try and get a couple more things in as our last evening in New York loomed. We went all Ghostbusters, and went to see the New York Public Library, which is beautiful and serene and amazing, and we wondered through Grand Central Station, with a stop off at Magnolia Bakery for some Sex and the City inspired cupcakes!

For dinner, we met up with a couple of friends and headed to Valhalla, a great little dive bar, in central Manhattan, where they have hundreds of different beers on tap and in bottles. The table service makes it dangerous, the bar snacks and sports on TV makes it very New York, and it was a brilliant way to catch up with mates and have a great end to our trip on our last night.


Our final day approached, and after packing up and leaving our luggage at the hotel, we went back to our favourite breakfast spot from the week, B&H Dairy. The people in there are just so New York it was great! We jumped on the metro down to the Brooklyn Bridge, and slowly made our way to about halfway down, but the wind was so rife and we wanted to have a look around Wall Street, so we headed back to Manhattan for just that.

It’s so glitzy round there, and there’s not much to see, but it’s definitely worth a trip if you’re interested! We went into Tiffany’s and a few other shops and went to get a late lunch at Artichoke Pizza. Artichoke was amazing but we defintiely over ordered, which seemingly everyone did! Using our tickets that we had bought the day before on the pass, we then queued for the Circle Line Boat Tour – if you can and have time to (which we didn’t), do try and get one at sunset as I imagine watching the lights switch on on the skyline could be incredible, but we had ours late afternoon, and it was still amazing, informative and you get to see New York City from the water, and the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island form afar. It really is worth making the time to do. It was a brilliant way to end the trip, but also had a hint of sadness in, that our time had come to an end, but you can see why this made it to our top trip of 2017!

As we mentioned, we couldn’t have done the things we had without the New York pass, and it encouraged us to do even more when we were out there. If you want to get yours you can get it with the latest discounts applied straight in your basket here!

If you would like a downloadable itinerary for our 5 days in New York, just click on the link to find to a lovely little table. Right click save as when you get it!

Did we miss anything?! Have you been anywhere we went and loved it or hated it? Where do you dream of visiting? Let us know in the comments below!

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