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How to do New York on a near-zero budget

How to do New York on a near-zero budget

Whatever time of year you choose to visit, New York City never fails to impress. However, there’s something about summer in New York that makes it unlike anywhere else on earth.

Go between June and early September and you’ll find a city struggling to keep its cool. The sun glistens off Manhattan’s towering skyscrapers, the pungent aroma of food seems to suffuse every sidewalk, and the climate is hot and sticky.

But what about the expense? New York has a reputation for being pricey, and there’s certainly no lack of hotels and restaurants that will be happy to max out your credit card. However, it’s possible to do NYC on the cheap, and in this respect, the summer is the best time to visit.

Thomas Cook Airlines have just unveiled a competitive new service from the UK’s Manchester Airport – providing the perfect excuse for Gay Star News to hit the Big Apple and check out ways to enjoy a wallet-friendly city break. Here are some of our recommendations for free or affordable attractions.

The High Line

The High Line

The High Line (pictured above) has become one of New York’s City’s most-see tourist attractions. Originally a stretch of railway allowing trains to deliver cargo straight into warehouses on the west side of Manhattan, the line was abandoned in 1980.

It was reopened as the High Line urban park in 2009, with the third, final and most northernmost section opening in 2014. It stretches for 20 blocks, and offers and unique, awe-inspiring and elevated view of the city.

For the full lowdown on this urban marvel, take advantage of the Free Tours by Foot, which take place Monday and Friday at 6pm.

Central Park

Central Park

If you’ve never been to Central Park, its sheer size won’t fail to impress. Covering 843 acres in the middle of Manhattan, it offers a beautiful oasis of calm.

Free summer events include the Drifting in Daylight art tour and Race Walking.

Further downtown, the smaller Bryant Park also offers free summertime events and a unique open-air library.

9/11 Memorial 9/11 Memorial

The memorials to the 2001 terror attacks of 9/11 are somber, thought-provoking and gigantic works of art.

Standing in the footsteps of the former World Trade Center towers, these square-shaped pits are lined on each side by cascading fountains of water. Mist from the fountains rises upwards, while the water below gurgles away into square holes that disappear from view in the center of the work. They are astounding, dramatic and yet calming memorials to the most painful episode in New York’s history.

Staten Island Ferry

New York’s Staten Island Ferry remains a rare example of free public transport. The 25-minute journey runs every half an hour, and besides transporting you to Staten Island, offers an amazing view of the south end of Manhattan.

Most people stay on the ferry for the return to Manhattan, but should you wish to get off, check out the Snug Harbor Culture Center or Fort Wadsworth.

The Whitney The Whitney

New for 2015 is the reopened Whitney Museum of American Art, which has moved into a new, Renzo Piano-designed building on Gansevoort Street (in the Meatpacking district).

Its brutal exterior belies a light-infused, stunning interior – spread over nine floors and offering both internal and external exhibition space.

The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA)

The Museum of Modern Art, in Midtown Manhattan, is one of NYC’s most famous art galleries. You normally have to pay for entry, but admission is free on Friday afternoons between 4-8pm.

Nathan's on Coney Island Coney Island

Although NYC’s more well-heeled denizens may head ‘out east’ to Long Island and the Hamptons, everyone else heads south-east. A 45-minute train ride out of Manhattan, the neighborhood of Coney Island, with its world-famous boardwalk and Luna Park attractions, lies at the southern-easterly tip of Brooklyn.

Governor’s Island

Formally the home of a military base, the small Governor’s Island is just a ten-minute, $2 ferry ride from Manhattan’s southern tip.

Largely uninhabited for much of the year, during summer months you can now hire bicycles upon arrival to explore the small island and its old dwellings. It makes for a surprisingly tranquil escape from the madness of Manhattan. Between 10am-noon, bike hire is free.

Park Slope

Any trip to New York must include a stroll along Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. The iconic thoroughfare is known as one of the best – and most expensive – shopping streets in the world. For a cheaper alternative, jump on the subway to the Atlantic Avenue Barclays Center in Brooklyn, and wander down ‘the other 5th Avenue’.

Park Slope is home to a multitude of vintage clothing stores and hipster hangouts, as well as affordable food options. Enjoy a proper Brooklyn welcome and mouth-watering Italian food at La Villa Pizzeria.

Grand Central Terminal

Grand Central Terminal

Recognizable from dozen of films and TV shows, a quick walk through the cavernous main concourse of Grand Central Terminal – in all its turn-of-the-century glory – offers an unbeatable Manhattan experience for first time visitors.

BRIC Arts Media – Brooklyn Park festivals

BRIC is a Brooklyn-based non-profit organization that showcases community talent, artists and contemporary art through a multitude of events. These include free gigs and screenings throughout the summer at the Prospect Park bandshell. This year’s line-up includes Paris Is Burning (26 June), the New Pornographers (11 July), and drag genius Taylor Mac (1 Aug – pictured).

Smorgasburg Smorgasburg, Brooklyn Food Market

Love food? Smorgasburg runs every Saturday and Sunday between April and November. It features dozens of independent food and drinks producers; everything from artisan lemonade and decadent cupcakes to pulled-pork burritos and affordable lobster.

We visited the Sunday market in Brooklyn Bridge Park – enjoying our own open-air picnic against a stunning Manhattan backdrop.

Flaming Saddles

One of gay New York’s most fun and bizarre attractions is Flaming Saddles – a cowboy-themed, award-winning gay bar in Hell’s Kitchen that is decked out like an old-time saloon – complete with sexy cowboys hoofing along the massive wooden bar! Video screens play camp old movies while an Absolut Happy Hour keeps drink prices cheap between midnight-1am Sunday to Thursday.

The Eagle NYC Eagle Beer Bust

The Eagle NYC remains one of the city’s most legendary gay haunts – attracting a testosterone-fueled and sociable crowd of fun seekers throughout the week. It opens early at weekends for the Saturday Tea session (from 3pm) and Sunday Beer Blast (from 4pm) – which offers domestic draft at just $3.

If the Eagle is to your liking, do also check out the spit’n’sawdust bars along Christopher Street, such as Ty’s and Rockbar. A few blocks north, in Chelsea, the younger set hang out at the likes of Boxers.

The Cubby Hole remains one of the city’s favorite lesbian bars, with a half price drinks until 7pm Monday-Saturday and a famed Margarita Tuesdays (just $2 a pop all night!).


Want to do some of the major tourist attractions? Think about investing in a CityPASS. It costs $114, but that includes admission to six major attractions.

Top tip: Head for the Top of the Rock (the roof of the Rockerfeller Center) rather than the Empire State Building. The queues are considerably shorter and the view’s just as good.


David Hudson stayed at the following, mid-price hotels:

YotelYotel in Midtown Manhattan offers automated check-in and check-out, convertible beds and free WiFi as well as a booming bar, tranquil lounge area, exquisite East & West restaurant, and the city’s largest hotel terrace on the 4th floor. The space-age venue event boasts a robot for storing your luggage before you head back to the airport! A standard room starts from $149 (approximately £98) per night.

Roger Smith HotelRoger Smith Hotel: This boutique art hotel (pictured right) in the heart of Midtown Manhattan offers rooms from $200 (approximately £130) per night. Henry’s Rooftop Bar on the 16th floor offers skyline views and is open from May to October. It’s located just a short walk from Grand Central Terminal.


NYC & Company: For more information on visiting New York City go to

Thomas Cook Airlines: On 2nd May 2015 Thomas Cook Airlines launched a new route from Manchester airport to JFK airport, New York aboard its Airbus A330 long haul fleet with brand new Economy and Premium services. Premium customers benefit from 2x23kg baggage and 10kg hand baggage allowance, Premium check-in and bag drop, fast track security for departures and Premium advance boarding. Return Economy flights to New York start at £399 per person, with Premium flights from £629.

Images: © NYC & Company: Malcolm Brown (Nathans on Coney Island)/ Marley White (Central Park)/ Julienne Schaer (Whitney)/ Alexander Thompson (Smorgasburg).Iwan Baan (the High Line), David Hudson (Grand Central Terminal, 9/11 Memorial) and Skywriting Media (Eagle NYC)