How to Spend 4 Days in New York City: Epic Day-by-Day Guide

In this itinerary, I'll show you how to spend 4 days in New York, including the best places to eat, coolest things to do, where to stay...

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Trying to visit New York City in four days is like trying to travel around the world in 80 days in 1889 by ship, train, jinricksha, horse and donkey (true story). Impossible? No. But a feat to go down in history? You betcha. 

New York City is home to 8.6 million people and each of the five boroughs is bigger than most cities! In fact, Brooklyn would be the fourth biggest city in the US if it seceded from NYC.

So before we get to how to do 4 days in New York City, I want you to recognize that the big apple is absolutely massive and the laundry list of places to visit and awesome things to do in New York is literally endless.

There are always new places and events popping up in the city; I have been to New York City several times now, each time discovering an array of new restaurants, events, exhibitions, and bars.

With so much to do and see, how do you spend 4 days in New York?

As a traveler, I understand the things you need to know for a successful visit to a massive metropolis, like what sights are worth seeing amongst the tourist traps and expensive entrance tickets? What should you do in New York in summer versus winter?

What makes New York unique from other cities? How do you narrow down a New York itinerary to 4 days?

In this 4 day New York itinerary, I’ll answer all of those questions and more. And, as this is a travel blog dedicated to helping backpackers travel on a budget, I will thoroughly cover how to visit New York on the cheap too.

It’s not easy – New York City is one of the most expensive travel destinations in the world – but I don’t believe you need to spend hundreds of dollars a day to have a great time here.

Where to Stay in New York

My 4-day New York itinerary is the bulk of this guide. I’ll cover all of the highlights: the Statue of Liberty, Times Square, and Central Park included, BUT I’ll also cover the best neighborhoods, where to find the most authentic food, best bars, what is up and coming, and much more.

Afterward, I have listed cheap and free things to do in New York and other travel tips to help you have a blast in the Big Apple!

Alright, let’s get to it!

 

What to do in New York City: Day 1

Four Days in New York: Day 1 Route

Places on Map: Ellis Island & Statue of Liberty (not pictured); Blue: Financial District; Yellow: Trinity Church; Red: SoHo; Orange: Washington Square Park; Purple: Greenwich Village; Yellow: Meatpacking DIstrict going through Chelsea to Green: End of the High Line.

Day 1 for New York City Itinerary: Manhattan’s Best Neighborhoods and Lots of Food

On your first day in New York City, get ready to walk… a lot. We’re going to see the majority of Manhattan’s most popular neighborhoods. This is probably the day to splurge on eating out and sitting down at an awesome restaurant too.

You should start your morning early with a visit to New York’s most iconic attractions: The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

One of the first times I visited NYC, we made the trip to Ellis Island, where I had the chance to see my great-grandma’s immigration records! (Apparently, she was 5’11”, which answered my sister’s mysterious height).

I definitely suggest trying to get to Ellis Island as early as possible to beat the lines.

Brokebackpacker Tip: Visiting New York on a budget? Consider taking the Staten Island Ferry instead! This route passes right by the Statue of Liberty for free.

things to do in new york city

By late morning, you should reach lower Manhattan via the ferry. This entire area of New York City is buzzing with energy and rich history, so soak it in and live it up.

You’ve got stockbrokers in $10,000 suits speed walking New York walking to their next meeting alongside thousands of tourists craning their necks as they gawk up at the Stock Exchange. This is where America’s big business deals go down.

Then you have some of America’s best history, like Trinity Church, one of the oldest churches in America and the Federal Hall, where George Washington was sworn into office!

Assuming you’ve worked up an appetite, may I suggest two of New York’s most famous takeaway foods? You can walk to a classic New York City sandwich shop: Katz’s Delicatessen or grab a world-famous New York City bagel.

Don’t stuff your face too much… we’re about to hit some of New York’s trendiest neighborhoods if you feel like sitting down for lunch.

backpacking new york city

After exploring the financial district, take a walk or catch the subway to SoHo, South of Houston Street, a neighborhood that is home to art galleries, trendy shops, and good food and cafés. Those visiting New York on a budget will probably want to window shop though.

(If you’re in need of a sugar fix, might I suggest Black Tap, a restaurant that is known for its gigantic milkshakes topped with cookies, brownies, and even slices of pie.)

Then you’re off to Washington Square Park through TriBeCa to listen to street performers, and maybe sit on the lawn and eat that bagel.

backpacking New York City

A musician doing his thing in Washington Square Park near Greenwich Village.

Then head to Greenwich Village, a tree-lined neighborhood filled to a coffee cup’s brim with quaint cafés. This area was once the epicenter of the 1960s counterculture movement and is known to be very LGBTQ friendly. While it doesn’t have the beatnik vibes it once did, it’s still a historical and cool area of NYC.

(You are passing through Greenwich in the daytime, but consider coming back for the nightlife. It’s also one of the best and most central areas to stay in New York.)

Aside from continuing to eat and drink your way through New York, you can visit the Whitney Museum of American Art in Greenwich Village just by the High Line. The Whitney presents 20th century and contemporary American Art.

By the early evening, continue your walk on the High Line in Chelsea, one of the best things to do in New York City.

things to do in new york city

View from the New York High Line.

The High Line used to be a series of abandoned railroads, but the city cleaned up this area and turned it into an urban walkway/park that stretches from 24th street to the Meatpacking District. The line overlooks the city with food stalls, public art, and greenery and will take you through the neighborhood of Chelsea and into Hell’s Kitchen.

Both Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen have dozens and dozens of restaurants that serve amazing food – are you seeing a trend here? –  so this may be a good time to eat dinner.

Don’t worry, backpackers, you will be able to find something in your budget with all of the options around here.

Brokebackpacker Tip: Chelsea Market is one of New York’s most notable indoor food halls that boasts more than 35 vendors. You can get anything from Middle Eastern to Mexican to American food at your leisure. If you are visiting New York on a budget, grabbing food at a stall versus a sit-down restaurant is a great option.

For some food inspiration, check out this article on the best restaurants in Chelsea.

best things to do with four days in New York

Walking along the High Line.

 

Night 1 for New York City Itinerary: Manhattan continued

Today was a jam-packed day of walking and wandering, and you may have logged in a dozen miles on your #Fitbit. I wouldn’t blame you for keeping it a low-key kind of night, but this is the city that never sleeps and you should experience that.

Another awesome thing to do in Chelsea at night is hit up the art galleries. It’s one of the best things to do in New York for free, and I cover all of that in the “free things to do in New York” section below.

You could catch a concert, dance show, or even a comedy show afterward. Consider heading to one of the best in NY, Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre.

After catching an awesome live performance, go out in Greenwich Village or Chelsea for a taste of a more authentic side of New York with plenty of bars, restaurants, and things to do in New York at night. This area is also quite festive around the holidays!

Here, you’ll find anything from swanky cocktail bars and lounge rooms to dives with $8 beer pitchers and clubs in the Meatpacking District.

It would obviously be impossible to do all of these things in one night, so whatever you miss that you want to do, you’ll have time on your second night in New York.

 

What to do in New York City: Day 2

Locations are Red: Central Park/Guggenheim; Blue: the MET; Orange: Natural History Museum; Yellow: MoMA; Purple: Rockefeller Center; Green: Grand Central; Orange: NY Public Library; Blue: Time Square; Red: Empire State Building

 

Day 2 in New York: Manhattan Continued

On your second day in this New York City itinerary, we’re going to continue to explore the monstrous metropolis of Manhattan by hitting some of the star attractions. This is your day to visit some of New York’s best museums too!

On this day, you have a few options for seeing New York from a bird’s eye view. You can go up the Empire State Building or Rockefeller Center. All of the entrance fees are going to cost around $35, so I suggest picking just one.

If you don’t feel like spending $35 for a view, then might I suggest a roof-top bar for happy hour? Sure, a can of beer is $15, but that’s less than half an entrance fee to the Rockefeller and you get a drink out of it.

Start your morning off in Central Park, where you will have plenty of opportunities to visit New York’s best museums. This is also a good time to grab a New York Bagel or piece of pizza, as we’re going to be on-the-go. Do as the locals do.

things to do in new york city

Central Park in the fall season.

The MET is one of the biggest museums in the world and offers art, historical artifacts from Egypt to Ancient Greece, photographs, and other changing exhibits. There’s even a real Egyptian tomb in here!

Hopefully, your second day in this New York itinerary is a weekday (maybe a Friday on your long weekend?) and the MET won’t be as crowded.

If you are interested in natural history and science, then hit the American Museum of Natural History (made famous by the Night at the Museum movies). You can easily spend a few hours here learning about nature and human history and visiting the Hayden Planetarium. The Guggenheim is close by too!

Tip: I don’t suggest tackling more than two museums today unless you have the stamina of a Kenyan runner.

Once you feel like you have attained your cultural fix, take a break or a nap in Central Park and continue to walk through it, south to the MOMA for modern art and a chance to see Van Gogh’s “Starry Night.”

(I was thoroughly disappointed it wasn’t in his museum in Amsterdam when I went, so now is your chance!)

By now it is probably late afternoon and the perfect time to head for the Rockefeller Center and/or Empire State Buiding.

In between the two buildings you can visit the New York Public Library, the second largest library in the US, and one of country’s most famous train stations: Grand Central Terminal. 

backpacking new york city

As the day comes to a close, head to the top of the Rock or Empire State Building for a sunset view. Another option is to head up a rooftop bar like I mentioned before.

One recommendation would be 230 Fifth Rooftop Bar just across the Empire State Building.

This would also a great time to catch the filming of a show – one of the most unique things to do in New York. You can watch a live taping of Saturday Night Live, for example. Tickets are free but require a reservation far in advance.

backpacking new york city

View from the Top of the Rock.

 

Night 2 for New York City Itinerary: Time Square and Christmas Trees

If you are visiting New York City in winter, Rockefeller Center will be lit up for the holidays. Be sure to rent some ice skates for The Rink and live out your movie fantasy.

By nightfall, you should head over to Times Square. Normally, I’m not a fan of crowded, commercialized places, but everyone needs to experience Time Square lit up at night. There really is no place like it.

backpacking new york

Generally speaking, backpacking New York City is safe. Always watch out for pickpockets though!

Tonight is another great night to catch a show. You could loop back to any of the places you may have missed last night, or head over to East Village and explore the nightlife there.

This would also be the best night to watch a Broadway show since you are already in Times Square. Other options include a Friday night concert, the Philharmonic Orchestra, or a performance at Carnegie Hall. The world is your oyster!

In the “cheap things to do in New York” section, I’ve covered how to score last-minute and affordable tickets!

 

What to do in New York City: Day 3

Day 3 in this four day New York itinerary

Locations are Purple: Brooklyn Bridge; Orange: DUMBO; Red: Brooklyn Bridge Park; Yellow: Brooklyn Heights; Green: Dekalb Market Hall; Blue: Smorgaburg; Purple: Brooklyn Brewery; Orange: Prospect Park

 

Day 3 in New York City: Brooklyn

Today, we’re going to Brooklyn, baby. Brooklyn is a huge borough, by the way, (remember when I said it could be America’s fourth biggest city?) so you can’t expect to see all of it in one day.

Rather, I’m going to give you some suggestions on how to spend a perfect Saturday in Brooklyn if you have never been here before.

Brooklyn used to be known mostly for its seedy reputation and East Coast rappers like Jay-Z and Notorious B.I.G. Nowadays, it’s one of the trendiest and most ultra-hipster places to visit in New York City.

With its historic neighborhoods, awesome food and art scene, and all around coolness, there is really so much to soak up in Brooklyn.

If you are staying in Manhattan, I suggest starting your morning with a walk to Brooklyn via the Brooklyn Bridge. This is one of the best things to do in New York, as the steel wired bridge is actually quite impressive, and you get awesome views of Manhattan the whole way down.

For another viewpoint of the bridge, walk over to DUMBO (down under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) and then continue your walk on the Brooklyn Bridge Park waterfront and to Brooklyn Heights, a wealthy, brick building and tree-lined neighborhood.

awesome things to do in Brooklyn

Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge!

For the better half of the day, you can explore a couple of different neighborhoods, like Williamsburg at the center of Brooklyn, Bushwick, and Redhook.

Now, these neighborhoods are the poster children for Brooklyn’s widespread urban renewal and inspiration for the show, Girls.

Like many cities throughout the entire US, these neighborhoods kind of define gentrification with their converted artist lofts and expensive thrift shops. Yes, you’ll find plenty of eclectic restaurants, bars, hip tattoo parlors, and rustic rooftop patios… but you’ll also find some of the city’s best art and creative expression.

If it’s raining or the weather is crap, eat lunch at Brooklyn’s amazing indoor Dekalb Market Hall, featuring 40 vendors like the grass-fed butcher Forager’s Market, ice creamery Ample Hills, the iconic Katz’s Deli, and must-try cake push-pops.

Another fine option is to take advantage of a sunny day and hit up the Brooklyn Flea Market then grab lunch at Smorgaburgone of the largest weekly open-air food markets in the US.

On Saturdays, Smorgaburg takes place in Williamsburg, where you can also spend a couple of hours exploring.

things to do in new york city

Yeah, the Brooklyn Flea is pretty crazy.

Afterward, grab a beer flight at the Brooklyn Brewery and then maybe partake in some drunk bowling at Brooklyn Bowl.

If you’re visiting Brooklyn on a Sunday, you can hit up Smorgasburg in Prospect Park, which is next on the itinerary anyway.

Take the subway to the 526-acre Prospect Park. In good weather, you can have a picnic, rent a bike, go roller skating, or paddle boat on the LeFrak Lake. (In the winter, the LeFrak turns into an ice skating rink!)

If you are visiting New York in the summer, try to go to one of the Celebrate Brooklyn! concerts in Prospect Park. This outdoor series of concerts hosts indie-rockers and pop acts under the stars. Otherwise, head to a rooftop bar or an outdoor seating area to start your night.

backpacking new york city

Peaceful Vibes in Prospect Park.

 

Night 3 for New York City Itinerary: Continue in Brooklyn

If you are visiting New York in the winter, why not get cozy and catch a movie at the Nitehawk Cinema in Williamsburg? They screen new indie flicks with full-on meals and drinks (sometimes coordinated with the playing movie).

If you don’t feel like watching a movie, there are plenty of cool breweries, happy hour joints, speakeasies, and eclectic bars, like Barcade in Williamsburg, a retro arcade game bar with a great beer selection.

There’s also Bar Lunatico in Bedford-Stuyvesant, which hosts live music nearly every night. You can even play life-size shuffleboard at Royal Palms Shuffleboard. They’re redefining a retire-person game with their 21+ bar, DJs, food trucks, and games.

Finally, if you feel like dancing into the wee hours of the morning, get a little weird at House of Yes, an establishment all about artistic expression and creativity, or head to The Bell House for themed-dance parties and music.

backpacking new york city

The magnificent Brooklyn Bridge; your gateway to hipster paradise.

 

What to do with 4 Days in New York: Day Four

How to spend four days in New York

Locations are Orange: Bushwick; Blue: Red Hook; Yellow: Astoria, Queens

 

Day 4 in New York City: Whatever Your Heart Desires

When I create itineraries, I always like to leave some room for you to design a day based on your interests or have some time to hit up places you may have missed in the previous days.

You can retrace your steps, and continue exploring anything you missed in Manhattan, or you can stay in Brooklyn for a second day, which would be my personal preference.

In Brooklyn, you can visit other neighborhoods like Bushwick and Red Hook.

Bushwick has some of the best street art and tons of incredible art galleries and studios. (Check out the outdoor exhibit called The Bushwick Collective.)

I would also go on a free graffiti tour led by Free Tours by Foot, and then grab some French or Vietnamese food for lunch. You are in one of the best neighborhoods for the aforementioned foods.

In Red Hook, I highly suggest visiting Pioneer Works, a space for alternative expression in the arts, technology, music, and science. They have galleries and workshops here, and free admission Wednesday through Sunday from noon to 6 pm.

For an alternative thing to do in Brooklyn, visit the largest rooftop soil farm, Brooklyn Grange, which hosts educational programs and workshops that promote sustainable living and local ecology. This is the kind of stuff that creates a better future.

If you want to see a different side of New York, head over to Astoria in Queens for dinner. This area has the best Greek food in New York and tons of other great restaurants too.

Another cool spot to check out in Astoria is the Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden. As far as beer halls go, it’s one of the most authentic ones in the city, complete with Czech and Slovak brats and kielbasa.

Other suggestions can be found in my sections below, like catching a sports game, heading to a Sunday farmer’s market, or heading to Rockaway Beach!

The options are endless!

backpacking new york city

4 days in New York City come to a close.

 

Where to Stay in New York City

New York City is divided into five boroughs, each with its own atmosphere: Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, Harlem, and The Bronx.

With only 4 days in New York, you could never visit all five boroughs, so I focused on Manhattan and Brooklyn, with an opportunity to visit Queens too.

For first time visitors to New York, I recommend staying somewhere in Manhattan or Brooklyn, maybe even splitting your trip between the two. Check out our guide on the best neighborhoods in New York, or my reference below.

If you are traveling as a couple or as a group, check out Airbnb! Refer to our Airbnb post for a 35% discount!

Best Hostels in New York

 

Best Neighborhoods to Stay in Manhattan

Tribeca, The Lower East Side, and Nolita: All three of these neighborhoods are next to each other. They’re residential, but very much “downtown.” There is a good mix of shops and restaurants here, though it won’t be the cheapest place to stay in New York.

Chelsea/Greenwich: As covered in day 1 of my New York Itinerary, this area of New York is quite trendy and great for day and night activities. You will have plenty of options for places to eat, drink, part, and more. You’ll also find a few budget accommodation options.

Upper West Side: This is a great area to stay if you want something quieter, and it will set you up nicely for day 2 in my New York itinerary, as you will be close to Central Park and the Museum of Natural History.

 

Best Neighborhoods to Stay in Brooklyn

Williamsburg: This area is a great place to stay as you will be close to the weekend flea markets and food stalls! It’s also one of the best places for thrift store shopping, bar hopping, and things to do at night.

Park Slope: Here you will be in the prime spot for some of Brookyn’s best restaurants as well as right next to Prospect Park.

Bushwick: This is the best neighborhood to stay in New York for street art and all around vibes.

New York Neighborhood

 

Best Hostels in New York City

Now that I’ve covered the best neighborhoods in New York City for travelers, below are my top 3 picks for hostels in New York City. For even more awesome hostels, check out our ultimate guide to the best hostels in New York City.

 

Best Hostel in New York – Chelsea International Hostel

The Chelsea International Hostel is the best hostel in New York for budget travelers, hands down! They have free breakfast, free pizza every Wednesday, free wi-fi, and tons of attractions nearby, so you can travel on foot.

Other facilities include outdoor courtyard seating, two kitchens to cook your own meals, and a social lounge. All things considered, this is one of the best hostels in New York as you are in the heart of Chelsea!

 

Best Party Hostel in New York – Hostelling International New York

Hostelling International New York is the best hostel for parties because they have free bar crawls, clubbing tours, in-house talent, music, and comedy shows, and an excellent location.

 

Best Hostel for Solo Travelers in New York – Jazz on the Park Hostel

Jazz on the Park Hostel is the best hostel in New York to meet new people. Located in the trendy Upper West Side neighborhood, the hostel has a fun atmosphere, clean facilities, and a great location!

Amenities include summer BBQs, a social lounge, and a coffee bar for socializing!

Where to Stay in New York

 

Cheap and Free Things to do in New York City

Here is a list of my favorite things to do in New York City on a budget… Some things have been covered in my 4 days in New York itinerary, but some may also need repeating!

You will be paying an arm and leg for food in New York – even groceries cost more in NYC – but with this list, you will be equipped to spend 4 days in New York without feeling like you’re always pinching pennies.

 

1. Go to the free museums

You can visit the 9/11 Memorial for free on Tuesdays after 5 pm. The MET and American Natural History Museum are by donation only. The MoMA is free after 4 pm on Fridays!

The Guggenheim is pay-what-you-can on Saturday nights, as is the Frick Collection on Wednesdays from 2pm-6pm. The Jewish Museum is free on Saturdays. Basically, all of the big time museums have some form of a free or affordable entrance at one point or another!

backpacking new york city

The impressive columns of the NYC MET.

 

2. Visit New York’s Green Spaces

Central Park, the High Line, Prospect Park, and every other green space is always free to visit!

backpacking New York City

Picnic your heart out in New York City.

 

3. Take a Walking Tour

Many of New York’s best walking tours offer free tours! (Don’t forget to tip though!) Take one of these tours to get a unique view of the city from a local guide. A great walking tour is the graffiti tour of Bushwick, Brooklyn.

Otherwise, you can give yourself a self-guided tour. Take in the energy and architecture that is New York City.

 

4. Watch Shakespeare in the Park for free

You can watch a free Shakespeare show at at the open-air Delacorte Theater in Central Park.

Complimentary tickets are distributed every show day at the Delacorte Theater at noon, so get there early! (This would be a great thing to do on the second day in my New York itinerary.)

free things to do in New York: a Shakespeare show

Delacorte Theater in Central Park. Source

5. Watch your favorite TV Show being filmed

Some of TV’s most iconic shows, like Saturday Night Live, Late, Night with Stephen Colbert, The Daily Show, and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon offer free tickets to the tapings!

Remember though, you will have to reserve them at least about a month in advance, so this requires some proper planning.

 

6. Go to Chelsea’s Gallery Night

Thursday night is art night in Chelsea, as all the galleries open up free to the public for viewing current collections. It’s a great way to spend day 1 in my New York itinerary. The Chelsea galleries feature the latest in New York city art, mostly concentrated between West 19th and 28th streets, and 10th and 11th avenues.

For a list of updated and upcoming exhibits, check this site.

 

7. Outdoor Movie at Brooklyn Bridge Park

This is one of the best things to do in Brooklyn in the summer. Every Thursday night in July and August, you can catch an outdoor screening of a cult-classic or family favorite movie. Best of all, you have an awesome view of the Brooklyn Bridge!

things to do in New York: watch an outdoor movie

Brooklyn Bridge Park by night.

 

8. Catch a free show at Celebrate Brooklyn!

As I mentioned in day 3 of my New York itinerary, you can catch free (or at least very affordable) outdoor shows at Prospect Park. Bring a blanket and a 6-pack!

 

9. Bask in the Sun at Rockaway Beach

Aside from your subway ticket, you can take an hour train to the coast and boardwalk of Rockaway Beach.

 

10. Hit the Farmer’s Market and Picnic in the park

Whenever I visit a new city, I love checking out the local farmer’s markets. I know that Union Square in Manhattan has one of the biggest ones, operating four days a week.

Grab some delicious, fresh food and cook up some dinner at your hotel, or take-away a picnic to the park! It’s a great way to take a break from the madness of the city!

farmer's market

 

11. Last-minute Broadway Show

New York is one of the most famous places in the world for theater, and with a little planning and good fortune, you can watch a show for under $80 (versus $160). Many shows offer first-come, first-served tickets of lotteries on the day of performances. While some spots are partial-view, they are a fraction of normal price.

You can also find discounted, often half-price, theater tickets for a day-of Broadway show at the TKTS offices around the city (Time Square, South Street Seaport, and Downtown Brooklyn).

 

12. Catch a hockey game or concert at Barclays Center

You can watch a game or concert at Barclays for a fraction of the prices at Madison Square Garden!

 

13. Watch some Live Music

Aside from one of the hundreds of live concert venues around the city, be on the lookout for current events and free outdoor concerts.

You can also catch some classical music, like at the New York PhilharmonicThey offer tickets to open rehearsals (usually mornings) for $18, and Carnegie Hall has same-day tickets for only $10.

 

14. Catch a Comedy Show

Broadway ticket prices got you down? Laugh it up at a comedy show instead. As I mentioned in my 4 days in New York itinerary, Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in Hell’s Kitchen is one of the best improv theaters in New York.

This is one of the venues Lena Dunham and Stephen Colbert caught their breaks. You can catch a show for around $10.

 

15. Catch a Flick at Nitehawk Cinema

Again, this one was mentioned in my New York itinerary, but Nitehawk is a fun theater to catch a classic movie or indie flick in Brooklyn.

 

16. Game Cafe

These are popping up all over New York. Game cafes are a fun, creative way to grab a drink and get off your feet after a day of sightseeing.

In my New York itinerary, I mention a visit to Chelsea, so consider stopping by the Uncommons. They take “café with board games” to a new level, as they have an awesome beer selection, good coffee, and the largest library of games on the East Coast. Okay, I see you guys.

 

17. Outdoor Film in Bryant Park

I know, I know, another movie spot, but outdoor movies are one of the most fun things to do in New York in summer! If Brooklyn is too far, you can enjoy an outdoor film in Bryant Park with the city as a backdrop.

Showings take place on Monday evenings. Get there early to get a good spot!

 

18. Visit all the food trucks or and markets

There are tons of awesome indoor and open-air markets in New York. The aforementioned Smorgaburg, Dekalb Market, and Chelsea Market are just a few of the best.

Check out this list of the best food trucks in New York City too.

 

Travel Tips for 4 Days in New York

Below I have more travel tips for visiting New York that will help you explore the city on a budget! This includes books to read and cheap eats in New York.

The Best Travel Backpack?!

Pssssst! Not picked the perfect travel backpack yet? The Broke Backpacker team has tried out over thirty backpacks this year! Our favourite carry on backpack is the Nomatic Travel Backpack.

Check out this post to read our full review!

 

Breakdown of New York City Daily Costs

New York City is full of opportunities to spend money, and if you’re not careful, you could find yourself overpaying for food, drinks, and accommodation.

If you are on an extremely tight budget, it would be possible to visit New York on as little as $45 a day, but that would involve some help, like Couchsurfing and friends/family.

A comfortable budget allowing you to eat well, do things, stay in a hostel, and take the subway frequently would be more like $80-100+ a day.

Here is what you can expect your average daily backpacking costs for 4 days in New York:

Hostel Dormitory: $25-$30

Basic room for two: $225

AirBnB/temp apartment: $175

Average cost of public transport: $10

City-Airport transfer: $10

Sandwich: $8-$12

Beer at a bar: $7

Coffee: $3-$4

Bottle of Whiskey from market: $18

Dinner for two: $60-$80

 

Cheap Eats in New York City

New York City has some of the best food in the world. While I would love to list all of the best restaurants, the truth is there are too many to name, and they’re always changing. Moreover, I can’t always afford to eat at them…

In my itinerary, we visit all of the best neighborhoods for New York foodies, but there are plenty of equally delicious alternatives to NYC’s prime (and expensive) restaurants.

Many of NYC’s staple foods are very inexpensive, and frankly, you can’t visit New York and not get a piece of pizza or bagel:

street food in nyc

Bagels — A bagel with cream cheese is usually $1.50–$2.00. Wonderful bagels can be found at Ess-a-Bagel, Murray’s Bagels, and Lenny’s Bagels.

Pizza – A single-topping slice is usually $2.50–$3.50, but many pizzerias are offering plain cheese slices for only $1.00. One of the most popular “dollar joints” is Two Bros. Pizza, with seven locations in Manhattan and one in Brooklyn.

Chinatown street food — Food carts on Canal Street (between Broadway and the Bowery) sell steamed, grilled, and fried Chinese food for $1–$2. Neighborhood bakeries have savory and sweet pastries for 80 cents, and dumpling stands (Tasty Dumpling, 54 Mulberry St., and Fried Dumpling, 106 Mosco St.) offer five dumplings or pork buns for $1.00. Enjoying these treats in bustling Columbus Park is a unique cultural experience in itself.

backpacking new york city

When the party ends definitely keep an eye out for late night street food carts!

If you prefer to dine in a restaurant, many along Mott, Pell, and Bayard Streets offer dim sum and noodle entrees for $6–$10.

Falafel stands — There are many in Manhattan selling inexpensive falafel and gyros. One of the best is Mamoun’s, offering baba ghanouj and kebabs for under $6.00.

Harlem soul food — Jacob Restaurant and Manna’s feature big buffets of soul food and salads (they’re popular, so the food remains fresh), sold by weight: $4.95–$6.50 per pound.

Food trucks and stalls— NYC has some excellent food trucks, serving everything from BBQ to lobster rolls to gourmet desserts at reasonable prices.

Finally, in warm weather, head to the city’s green markets like the Union Square Greenmarket, to gather locally grown foods for a picnic in one of the city’s parks. Large gourmet stores like Fairway and Zabar’s are also good places for picnic supplies.

 

Books to Read on New York City

The Backpacker Bible – Get it for free! Learn how to ditch your desk and travel the world on just $10 a day whilst building a life of long-term travel with an online income. To inspire and help the next generation of Broke Backpackers, you can now grab ‘How to Travel the World on $10 a Day’ for free! Get your copy here. 

The Great GatsbyFirst published in 1925, this quintessential novel of the Jazz Age in NYC. A true classic with plenty of relevance today.

Catcher in the RyeThe hero-narrator of The Catcher in the Rye is an ancient child of sixteen, a native New Yorker named Holden Caulfield. Through circumstances that tend to preclude adult, secondhand description, he leaves his prep school in Pennsylvania and goes underground in New York City for three days. 

The Town and the CityKerouac draws on his New England mill-town boyhood to create the world of George and Marguerite Martin and their eight children, each endowed with an energy and a vision of life. Not all of this book is set in NYC, but I find it still relevant. 

Memoirs of a BeatnikLong regarded as an underground classic for its gritty and unabashedly erotic portrayal of the Beat years, Memoirs of a Beatnik is a moving account of a powerful woman artist coming of age sensually and intellectually in a movement dominated by a small confederacy of men, many of whom she lived with and loved. 

Lonely Planet New York City: Up to date, detailed info on backpacking New York City.

 

Get Insured before Backpacking New York City

Even if you are only backpacking New York for a short period, you should always travel with insurance. Have fun on your backpacking adventure but please do buy insurance – take it from someone who has racked up tens of thousands of dollars on an insurance claim before, you need it.

As a wise man once said, if you can’t afford travel insurance, you shouldn’t be traveling – so be sure to get your backpacker insurance figured out before you strike off on a travel adventure! Traveling without insurance would be fucking stupid, just saying. I highly recommend World Nomads.

 

Find out why I recommend World Nomads as the best choice for travel insurance: check out my World Nomads Insurance review.

 

Volunteering in New York City

Long term travel is awesome. Giving back is awesome too. For backpackers looking to travel long-term on a budget in New York City whilst making a real impact on local communities look no further than World Packers. World Packers is an excellent platform connecting travelers with meaningful volunteer positions throughout the world.

In exchange for a few hours of work each day, your room and board are covered.

Backpackers can spend long periods of time volunteering in an awesome place without spending any money. Meaningful life and travel experiences are rooted in stepping out of your comfort zone and into the world of a purposeful project.

World Packers opens the doors for work opportunities in hostels, homestays, NGOs, and eco-projects around the world. Broke Backpacker readers get a special discount of $20 – just use this discount code BROKEBACKPACKERand membership is discounted from $49 a year to $29.

 

Make Money Online whilst Backpacking New York City

Traveling in New York City long-term? Keen to make some cash when you are not exploring the city? 

Teaching English online is a great way to earn a consistent income—from anywhere in the world with a good internet connection. Depending on your qualifications (or your motivation to obtain qualifications like a TEFL certificate) you can teach English remotely from your laptop, save some cash for your next adventure, and make a positive impact on the world by improving another person’s language skills!

It’s a win-win! Check out this detailed article for everything you need to know to start teaching English online.

Learn what it’s like to be a VIPKID teacher, a top company in the field of online English learning.

In addition to giving you the qualifications to teach English online, TEFL courses open up a huge range of opportunities and you can find teaching work all over the world. To find out more about TEFL courses and how you can teach English around the world, read my in-depth report on teaching English abroad.

Broke Backpacker readers get a 35% discount on TEFL courses with MyTEFL (simply enter the code BACKPKR), to find out more, please read my in-depth report on teaching English abroad.

Whether you are keen to teach English online or looking to take your teaching game a step further by finding a job teaching English in a foreign country, getting your TEFL certificate is absolutely a step in the right direction.

 

Final Thoughts on 4 Days in New York City

That wraps up my guide for how to spend four days in New York! Above, I included a detailed day-by-day New York itinerary that takes you to New York’s hippest neighborhoods, best food sports, star attractions, best parks, and best places by night!

I also included a list of free and cheap things to do in New York to encourage you to enjoy the city without completely breaking the bank.

If you think I missed anything or would like to add something cool to my guide on 4 days in New York, let me know in the comments!

new york city skyline from brooklyn

source: Roaming Ralph

Yay for transparency! Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means that if you book your accommodation, buy a book or sort your insurance, I’ll earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. I only link to stuff I’ve actually used and never endorse crap. Your support helps me keep the site going.”


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In this itinerary, I'll show you how to spend 4 days in New York, including the best places to eat, coolest things to do, where to stay...

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