New York City is the beating heart of American culture. For hundreds of years, New York has been an important international hub for immigrants, artists, musicians, social movements, fashion, and progressive thinkers.

Backpacking New York offers up a chance for travelers to experience one of the most dynamic and fascinating cities in the western world… and that’s exactly why I assembled this EPIC New York City travel guide!

From picnics in Central Park and subway rides to Brooklyn to take in the hip-bourgeoisie in Greenwich Village, backpacking New York has something on offer for every type of traveler.

This New York City travel guide highlights all the top tips for exploring New York City on a budget. Get up-to-date information on where to stay in New York, top things to do, your New York daily budget, top free attractions, suggested itineraries, cheap eats in NYC, and much more.

Let’s go…

A yellow taxi and USA flag with Times Square behind
There’s nowhere like New York.
Image: Nic Hilditch-Short

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Why Visit New York City?

Few urban places on our planet can match New York City’s diversity and general awesomeness. The city is a sprawling concrete jungle with plenty of stuff to keep backpackers busy for all of eternity. It’s by far the best metropolis in the country, and one of the places that you CANNOT miss on any USA trip.

Yes, the Big Apple is a pricey place to travel in—no doubt about that. That said, backpacking New York City is a truly fantastic experience and one that can totally be achieved on a reasonable budget.

Two people taking a selfie in Times Square NYC
Manhattan’s world-famous Times Square in all its colorful glory.
Image: Nic Hilditch-Short

For backpackers, NYC is a paradise. The city is a one-stop-shop for all things cultural, tasty, hip, cool, and fun. However, you definitely need to have a rough New York itinerary in order to fit in all of the attractions. You could easily spend years in the city and not see and eat all it has to offer, and that’s just part of the magic.

In many ways, NYC will make you feel like you’re outside the United States in the best way, and it’s one of those bucket list destinations that actually lives up to the hype. Eccentric, electrifying, and filled with a whole host of possibilities, if you only visit one place in the USA in your entire life, let it be NYC!

What Are The Major Attractions in New York City?

The places to visit in New York City are endless–from swanky shopping centers to ethnic enclaves and some of the best parks in the country, this is a place that has it all and then some.

NYC including Empire State Building from the Top of The Rock
The City of Dreams is unlike anywhere you’ve ever been. Trust me.
Image: Nic Hilditch-Short

While you could spend forever and a day visiting them all, here are some can’t-miss locales for some trip inspiration:

  1. Statue of Liberty
  2. Central Park
  3. Times Square
  4. The Met
  5. Empire State Building
Go City New York

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How Long Should I Spend in New York City?

You could easily spend weeks taking in all that NYC has to offer, but what’s great about this very walkable city is you can see and do a LOT in a short amount of time. Unless you’re coming from a neighboring state with easy train access, I think 3 to 4 days in New York City is the sweet spot. This will allow you to hit all the hotspots AND venture a bit off the beaten path, too.


Chelsea International Hostel

Central location, free breakfast, and free Wednesday pizza night make Chelsea International House the coolest hostel in NYC!

  • $$
  • Free Breakfast
  • Luggage Storage

A Sample 3-Day Itinerary for NYC

Which day of the week you arrive in NYC would impact the type of itinerary I would suggest to you if you asked me on the street. For the sake of this New York City itinerary, I am going the Thursday – Friday – Saturday route. This is the long weekend in New York itinerary, but of course, you could arrive any day of the week, on any day of the year.

If you’re keen on seeing everything that NYC has to offer, you’d have to stay a lot longer than just three days. Carve out 2-3 weeks for a stress-free visit.

Day 1 in NYC: The Essentials

Day 1 in NYC
1.Times Square, 2.Greenwich Village, 3.Chelsea, 4.Empire State Building, 5.Rockefeller Center, 6.Grand Central Station, 7.Katz’s Delicatessen, 8.Wall Street, 9.Battery Urban Farm, 10.Statue of Liberty

I like to send people immediately to Times Square to get their minds blown right away by the chaos. Also to gain perspective later that not all of New York City is indeed as touristy, commercialized, or busy as this infamous destination.

After leaving Times Square, check out the cool Greenwich Village and Chelsea neighborhoods for a taste of a more authentic side of New York. Next, head up to the top of the Empire State Building on the famous Fifth Avenue for an essential bird’s eye view of the city.

From there, you can head to the Rockefeller Center, which is great for a photo op or – if you happen to be visiting during winter – ice skating.

Next, you kill two birds with one stone. Pass through Grand Central Station en route to Lower Manhattan.

From here you can walk to a classic New York City sandwich shop: Katz’s Delicatessen. Really it is worth traveling to. Come on either end of the normal lunch rush over to avoid long wait times.

After a delicious lunch (you’re welcome) head back to Lower Manhattan. Here, you’ll stumble upon where some of the biggest criminals in the USA operate: Wall Street! It is a pretty wild scene at the exchange and around where the financial work is happening.

Take a coffee around Battery Park (anywhere but Starbucks). Check out the Battery Urban Farm before heading out to catch the ferry to Staten Island to see the world-famous Statue of Liberty. The ferry ride is awesome because it is free and also because of the killer views that play out right in front of you.

Day 2 in NYC: Culture & Nature

Day 2 in NYC
1.The Met, 2.Central Park, 3.Natural History Museum, 4.High Line

Now that you have seen a few of New York’s most iconic landmarks, it is time to absorb some culture!

After a delicious bagel and coffee breakfast, head to the Met (Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art). You can easily spend the whole morning (or more) visiting the museum. Now that you have worked up an appetite, it’s time to cruise toward Central Park.

As I said, Central Park–located near the iconic Upper East Side–is truly massive as you’ll soon see. My favorite picnic spots include the Belvedere Castle (more intimate) and the Great Lawn (more crowded). Great Hill and Bow Bridge are great picnic spots too.

If you have the energy for another museum I highly recommend you check out the Natural History Museum. This museum is loaded with super interesting and educational exhibits. Keep in mind that both museums I mention in this itinerary have entrance fees, but they are suggested fees.

After your brain starts to hurt from so much admiring and appreciating, it’s time for a little fresh air. Take the subway (nearly direct) to the High Line. Take in another glorious sunset and stop and have a beer or two at one of the dreamy establishments along the wonderful High Line.

Day 3 in NYC: Brooklyn, baby!

Day 3 in NYC
1.Ellis Island, 2.Brooklyn Bridge, 3.DUMBO, 4.Williamsburg

Day three can almost entirely be dedicated to Brooklyn. Though if you are really digging Manhattan there is a ton more stuff to do there too!

The first thing on today’s itinerary is a visit to Ellis Island, a truly fascinating place to see. Learn about the long legacy of the immigrants who basically built New York up from a kind of medium-sized town to the huge metropolis it now is.

By now it should be late morning. It’s time to head directly to Brooklyn. A walk across the Brooklyn Bridge might take longer than the train, but it is worth the trek. If you find yourself in Brooklyn on a Saturday, hit up the Brooklyn Flea Market.

After the market, there are plenty of options. Head to DUMBO for some incredible eats and then end your night in the iconic Williamsburg. I recommend spending the night in Brooklyn so you can get the nightlife vibes too.

Spending More Time in New York City?

Have more time on your hands? Here are a few more awesome things to do in New York City:

Looking through the broken fence on the Manhattan Bridge of buildings covering in graffiti in lower Manhattan
There’s beauty in the grittiness of NYC
Image: Nic Hilditch-Short
  • Visit the Empire State Building: If you didn’t make it up to the top of the Rockefeller Center, the Empire State Building has some equally impressive views from the top.
  • Whitney Museum of American Art: Come to see works from America’s top living artists.
  • See a Show at Radio City Music Hall: This historic venue is a must-see for performance lovers, especially around Christmas time.
  • See a Movie at Nighthawk Cinema: Not your average movie theater. Enjoy a wide variety of beer, gourmet food, and a truly excellent selection of movies.
  • 9/11 Memorial Museum: A sobering tribute to one of the most impactful events of our time.
  • Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum: Because there are just so many damn important museums in NYC that I couldn’t fit this one into my New York itinerary section above.
  • Enjoy a calm yoga retreat in New York: If you’re seeking a peaceful break on your trip, you should try a rejuvenating yoga retreat. Your mind and body will appreciate the relaxation.
  • Smorgasburg: You’ll find the Smorgasburg on my top things to do in New York list. If you love food, you’ll love Smorgasburg.
  • Go to a New York Mets/Yankees Baseball Game: If you are visiting New York from overseas, going to a baseball game is a great way to experience America’s beloved sport.
  • Visit some of NYC’s hidden gems
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10 Top Things to Do in New York City

New York City is absolutely massive. To experience all that New York has to offer would take several lifetimes indeed. Point being, that there’s a LOT to get into in New York City and the options of what to do and see are endless.

Here is my list of the 10 top things to do in New York City to get your ideas flowing…

1. Visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art

“The Met” as it’s called, is one of the world’s finest art museums. One could easily spend the whole day here getting lost amongst the various exhibits and art collections. You don’t need to be an art aficionado to truly appreciate all that the Met has on offer.

2. Go on a Guided Tour

The best way to see NYC is with the help of a local–which is exactly why booking a guided tour is such a great idea. Especially if you’re short on time! Explore some of the top sights in the city by foot, bus, and Staten Island ferry to pack in the very best of New York into just one day.

A funnel blowing out stream from the NYC subway
On a guided tour you can see more authentic areas
Image: Nic Hilditch-Short

3. Browse the Brooklyn Flea

For the last ten years, The Brooklyn Flea has been the #1 weekend market in New York. Everything is on offer here from vintage clothes, books, knick-knacks, and everything else under the sun.

And if you can only make it on a weekday? Any day in Brooklyn is a day well spent. And so is any night you lay your head in a hip Brooklyn hostel!

4. Ride the Staten Island Ferry

Catch a ride on the Staten Island ferry for stunning views of the New York Harbor, Ellis Island, and the Statue of Liberty. Best part? It’s free.

The Statue of Liberty with the sunsetting in the background
The Statue of Liberty from the Staten Island ferry at sunset
Image: Nic Hilditch-Short

5. Fly Over the City

It doesn’t get much better than seeing this incredible city from above, and now it’s possible to get a bird’s-eye view from a helicopter. See the NYC skyline like never before–and make sure you bring a good travel camera to capture those memories!

6. Visit The 9/11 Museum

Taking the time to visit the 9/11 museum is one of the most moving experiences you can have during your trip to NYC. It might not be fun or exciting like the other items on this list, but for me, it’s just as important.

Visiting the reflecting pools is free, however, the memorial museum is ticketed and during peak season we recommend pre-booking. Once inside you will descend into what was the basement of the Twin Towers where you can witness sobre footage and view some heartbreaking artefacts recovered from the site as well as discovering the stories of heroics from that fateful day.

A ruined FDNY fire truck from 9/11
This crushed fire truck really does put things in perspective
Image: Nic Hilditch-Short

7. Have a Picnic in Central Park

Central Park is just one of those classic New York City top sights. Stock up on picnic supplies and settle into a spot near a fountain under the shade. If you have never been to Central Park, you will be shocked by just how massive it is!

Bow Bridge in Central Park, NYC
Take a break from the busy streets in Central Park
Image: Nic Hilditch-Short

8. Get Out of Manhattan

Yes, there are a ton of cool things to see in do in NYC’s most popular borough, but the city is teeming with so much more if you care to delve off the beaten path. Explore the likes of Harlem, the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, or Coney Island for a day or two of your NYC trip. If you’re looking to spend the night in one of these locales, staying in Brooklyn is always a good idea.

You can also take some pretty amazing day trips from New York!

The boardwalk and Luna Park at Coney Island, Brooklyn
Coney Island in Brooklyn is a great place to go for a total change of pace
Image: Nic Hilditch-Short

9. Catch A Baseball Game

Where better to watch “The Nation’s Game” than in NYC? If you’re interested in catching a game then it’s pretty easy during the regular season as MLB teams play pretty much every night. We even managed to catch Mets v Yankees, which, as a long-time Mets fan was a bucket list item for sure (we even won, take that Yankees!)

If you happen to visit out of season or you’re not sure you’ve got it in you to sit through 4 hours of flag-waving and a game you might not actually understand, they you can also take stadium tours too. There are also plenty of amateur or lower league games you can catch too like the Brooklyn Cyclones.

A person at a NY Mets game in Queens
Let’s Go Mets!!!
Image: Nic Hilditch-Short

10. Explore the Ethnic Neighborhoods

Little Italy, Korea Town, Chinatown, and Little India are just a handful of ethnic enclaves loaded with hidden gems and treasures (mostly to eat). Little Italy, in particular, is very touristy and nothing like it once was.

A street in Little Italy in NYC
Heyyy I’m walking heeeere!
Image: Nic Hilditch-Short

Backpacker Accommodation in New York City

New York City is divided into five boroughs: Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, Harlem, and The Bronx.

Each NYC borough has its own distinct draw and character. For first-time visitors to New York, I recommend staying in Manhattan or Brooklyn. That said, all five boroughs have plenty of budget accommodation choices for backpackers.

A person walking across the Brooklyn Bridge, NYC
The magnificent Brooklyn Bridge is your gateway to hipster paradise.
Image: Nic Hilditch-Short

Since there are so many neighborhoods, choosing where to stay in New York can be a real challenge. The great thing about New York City is, no matter where you are staying, you can get almost anywhere in the city via the subway in a matter of minutes (or a bit longer if coming from Brooklyn).

And while it’s not the most backpacker-friendly city in the world, there are more than a few cheap NYC hostels to choose from. Hostels tend to be anywhere from $30-$60 a night, and will typically come with a shared sleeping space and bathroom along with common areas and a social atmosphere.

Couchsurfing is certainly worth a try, though unfortunately, you might be a bit hard-pressed to find a host due to an imbalance of supply and demand. If you have a bit more room in your budget but aren’t trying to pay $300+ for a typical hotel, you can check out the wide variety of Airbnbs in Manhattan. You can often find a quality room or studio for around $100 or a bit less.

The Best Places to Stay in NYC

Wondering where to stay in New York City? Here are the best neighborhoods to consider for your trip:

Midtown, New York


Midtown is the neighbourhood at the center of Manhattan. Stretching from the Hudson River to the East River, this neighbourhood is home to famous architecture, vibrant streets, and world-renowned landmarks. Midtown is one of the best places to stay in New York City for first-time visitors.

Lower East Side, New York

Lower East Side

Eclectic and vibrant, the Lower East Side is a neighbourhood that seamlessly blends history and modern times and is the best place to stay in New York for those on a budget. One of the oldest neighbourhoods in the city, the Lower East Side was, for many decades, home to a thriving immigrant population.

East Village, New York

East Village

With its youthful vibe and independent spirit, East Village is one of the most dynamic and distinct neighbourhoods in New York. It combines old-school charm and modern luxury, creating an atmosphere that encourages locals and visitors to explore its lively streets.

Williamsburg, New York


Williamsburg isn’t just the coolest neighbourhood in New York City; it routinely ranks as one of the trendiest neighbourhoods in the world, characterised by its thriving arts scene and vibrant nightlife. This is the place to see and be seen in New York.

Upper West Side, New York

Upper West Side

The Upper West Side is a classic New York neighbourhood and the best place to stay in New York for families. With its iconic architecture, tree-lined streets, and quintessential Brownstone townhomes, this is the New York that most people recognize from movies and TV.

New York City Budget Accommodation Hacks

As budget backpackers, we all want to save money and travel on the cheap. In a perfect world, Couchsurfing hosts would grow on trees like California oranges and we would be able to pluck them off the tree at our leisure.

The Manhattan Bridge from The Brooklyn Bridge
Cross the Manhattan Bridge into Brooklyn for cheaper places to stay!
Image: Nic Hilditch-Short

When contacting a host, leave a very personal message short of selling your soul. Try to connect with the person on an individual level.

If you try all that and still can’t find a host, then book a stay at one of the top hostels in New York. You’re sure to find one within your budget.

Backpacking New York City Travel Costs

Every budget traveler backpacking New York should have an honest and realistic idea of what the associated travel costs are here.

New York City is expensive. If you’re not careful, you could find yourself overpaying for things like food, drinks, and accommodation.

The Manhattan skyline from the Staten Island Ferry
There’s plenty to do in NYC for free including this view from the Staten Island Ferry
Image: Nic Hilditch-Short

That’s not to say you can’t eat, drink, and sleep comfortably in New York on a budget. Far from it.

If you are on an extremely tight budget, it would be possible to visit New York on as little as $15 a day. This would involve outside forces coming together to help you in some way or another, i.e. 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.

Awareness is the key to saving money whilst backpacking in New York City or any other expensive city in the western world.

A Daily Budget in NYC

Here is what you can expect your average daily backpacking costs to be in New York:

Backpacking NYC Budget Table
ExpenseBroke BackpackerFrugal TravelerCreature of Comfort
Total per day:$10-$116$116-$260$260+

Travel Tips – NYC on a Budget

In order to have a successful budget trip backpacking New York City on the cheap, you will need to be very budget-conscious. The stuff here adds up fast. One bad choice of where to eat or where to sleep can send your budget into the meat grinder.

If you come armed with the right mentality (and a few tricks) you will certainly be able to enjoy the hell out of your time backpacking New York. In the end, that’s what it is all about.

A person stood in an NYC train car
The subway is a super affordable way to get around.
Image: Nic Hilditch-Short

Here are a few ideas:

  • Buy Public Transportation Passes in Bulk: In NYC, it’s all about public transportation. If you plan on spending a couple of days in New York, going with a 7-day pass ($33) is the way to go. You may find yourself riding the subway between 5-10 times a day. If you are buying tickets individually at $2.75 each, well, you do the math.
  • Visit Free Museums: New York has some of the best museums in the world. At certain times, entrance to these museums is free. Whitney Museum of American Art is free on Friday. The Museum of American Folk Art is free. Museum of Modern Art is free after 4 pm on Friday.
  • Free Tours: The Brooklyn Brewery offers free tours on Saturdays and is one of the world’s best brewery tours. This group called the Big Apple Greeters will link you up with a local person to show you around the city for a day. Sometimes hostels also offer free walking tours, so be sure to ask. On Wednesday, there is a free tour of Grand Central Terminal offered by the Municipal Art Society.
  • Rideshare Apps: On one hand, apps like Uber or Lyft are absolutely killing the Taxi industry in New York. Many people formerly employed as taxi drivers are really struggling to survive financially. That said, the times have changed and a new beast is king of the New York urban jungle: rideshare apps. For quick rides around the city, Uber and Lyft are the cheapest non-subway/bus options. Sorry taxi drivers… I’m feeling for you.
  • Enjoy Free Live Music: Many bars have live music on offer, especially on weekends. In the summer, there are plenty of free outdoor music events put on by the city or other various organizations.
  • Couchsurf: If you can land a host, Couchsurfing is one of my favorite ways to meet locals and save money.
  • People Watch: NYC is home to the most diverse and interesting population in the entire US. From impromptu concerts to trendy outfits, you’ll see everything and anything in this city. Grab a seat outside–Madison Square Park or Washington Square Park near New York University are both great options–and see what happens!
A speeding train in an NYC subway station
For bonus points, the NYC subway is aesthetically pleasing!
Image: Nic Hilditch-Short

Why You Should Travel to New York City with a Water Bottle

NYC already has a trash problem. Don’t add to it while you’re there!

You aren’t going to save the world overnight, but you might as well be part of the solution and not the problem. When you travel to some of the world’s most remote places, you come to realize the full extent of the plastic problem. And I hope you become more inspired to continue being a responsible traveler.

Plus, now you won’t be buying overpriced bottles of water from the supermarkets either! Travel with a filtered water bottle instead and never waste a cent nor a turtle’s life again.

Save $$$ • Save the Planet • Save Your Stomach!
backpacker drinking using grayl geopress filter bottle

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Single-use plastic bottles are a MASSIVE threat to marine life. Be a part of the solution and travel with a filter water bottle. Save money and the environment!

We’ve tested the Geopress rigorously from the icy heights of Pakistan to the tropical jungles of Bali, and can confirm: it’s the best water bottle you’ll ever buy!

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Best Time to Travel to New York City

New York is a very popular place to visit year-round. The shoulder seasons are early spring and late fall.

Summer in New York has its benefits. Everything is green, outdoor markets and music are in full swing, and the streets are vibrant with life. It’s also the busiest season in New York, and tourists come in hoards.

Moreover, New York can be very hot and humid in July and August. Honestly, backpacking New York City when it is hotter than the devil’s toilet isn’t so much fun.

A person stood by the Coney Island sign at Luna Park, Brooklyn, NYC
Summer means shorts and t-shirt weather and you can also visit the beach at Coney Island!
Image: Nic Hilditch-Short

July or August aren’t really ideal times to visit New York, both for the sake of the weather and the sheer number of tourists. Due to the changing climate, summer heat in NYC will only intensify in the coming years, so take notice.

Christmas and New Year should ABSOLUTELY be avoided in New York. I’m speaking from personal experience when I say this time period is simply horrific. There are simply too many people around to enjoy the charm of the city during this time. If you thought New York was over-commercialized before, if you see it in the weeks leading up to Christmas you will see full-on American consumerism at its worst.

The city is freezing in winter and is honestly a bit dead. Spring (April-June) is an ideal time to visit, though do check temperatures beforehand as this part of the US can still be cold in April, which is not the best vibe to enjoy the city.

Fall is beautiful too because of the leaves changing colors. September weather is often ideal without being humid, and October, in particular, is a stunning time period to catch the fall colors.

What to Pack for New York City

Wondering what to include in your New York packing list? Here are a few essentials I never travel without!

Traipse the CIty in Style!
Osprey Daylite Plus
Traipse the CIty in Style!

Osprey Daylite Plus

Any city slicker needs a SLICK daypack. In general, you can never go wrong with an Osprey pack, but with its array of awesome organisation, durable materials, and a comfy build, the Daylite Plus will make your urban jaunts buttery smooth.

Drink from ANYWHERE
Grayls Geopress Water Bottle
Drink from ANYWHERE

Grayl Geopress Filtered Bottle

Save $$$, save the planet, and save yourself the headache (or tummy ache). Instead of sticking to bottled plastic, buy a Grayl Geopress, drink water no matter the source, and be happy knowing the turtles and fishies thank you (and so do we!). 🙂

Pics or It Didn’t Happen 😉
Pics or It Didn’t Happen 😉

OCLU Action Camera

Wait, it’s cheaper than a GoPro and… better than a GoPro? The OCLU action cam is the cam for budget backpackers that want to immortalise all their wildest adventures – including that time you dropped it off a Himalayan mountain – WITHOUT breaking the bank.

Harness the Sun!
Solgaard Solarbank
Harness the Sun!

Solgaard Solarbank

Resourceful travellers know how to find power outlets anywhere on the road; smart travellers just pack a solar power bank instead. With 4-5 phone cycles per charge and the ability to top up literally anywhere the sun is shining, there’s no reason to ever get lost again!

Don’t Annoy Your Dormies
Don’t Annoy Your Dormies

Petzl Actik Core Headlamp

ALL travellers need a headtorch – no exceptions! Even in the hostel dorm, this beauty can save you in a real pinch. If you haven’t got in on the headtorch game, DO. I promise you: you’ll never look back. Or at least if you do, you’ll be able to see what you’re looking at.

Staying Safe in New York City

In 1990 there were 2,245 killings in New York City. There were parts of the city so sketchy that even police were not so keen to venture in. Violent crime, drug gangs, prostitution rings, armed robbery… You name it; it was going down in NYC.

Now, NYC couldn’t be more different. While some crime does exist, the murder rate has plummeted to levels not seen since the 1950s! Gone are the days of mafia turf wars. Gone are the major battles between crack drug lords in the streets. Well, not totally, but you get what I’m saying.

New York City is now much safer than it has been for decades. Petty crime does exist. Pickpockets operating on the subways and in crowded public spaces are just a part of city life.

A busy Times Square in NYC
Watch out for pickpockets!
Image: Nic Hilditch-Short

Do not go wandering around into unfamiliar areas loaded with cash, drunk, and with your attention diverted towards google maps for directions.

Backpacking New York does not need to be a dangerous endeavor. Use the same common sense that you would in any city in the world, follow travel safety tips, and you should be just fine.

Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n’ Roll in NYC

Let me be frank: drugs are absolutely everywhere in NYC. While it might not be the legendary coke craze of Miami, rest assured that you can find any party favor under the sun here, from ketamine to weed to meth, if it exists, it’s being done in the Big Apple.

An NYPD police car
Don’t get on the wrong side of these guys!
Image: Nic Hilditch-Short

With marijuana now legalized, you can at least dabble in a bit of drug tourism while in the city, though all other goodies remain illegal per US laws. Always keep in mind though that as a tourist, you can easily get yourself mixed up with the wrong stuff.

Fentanyl overdoses are up in the entire country, and unless you know the source (highly unlikely tbh), you don’t know what you’ve got. Luckily, you can easily find fentanyl testing kits online these days, something I highly recommend before popping pills in downtown Manhattan.

Getting Insured BEFORE Visiting NYC

While NYC might be safe for travel, you never quite know what can happen on the road!

ALWAYS sort out your backpacker insurance before your trip. There’s plenty to choose from in that department, but a good place to start is Safety Wing.

They offer month-to-month payments, no lock-in contracts, and require absolutely no itineraries: that’s the exact kind of insurance long-term travellers and digital nomads need.

SafetyWing is cheap, easy, and admin-free: just sign up lickety-split so you can get back to it!

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How to Get Into and Around New York City

There are three main international airports that serve New York City: John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), LaGuardia Airport (LGA), and Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR).

Of the three, I recommend first and foremost flying into the cheapest. If you are staying in Manhattan, the journey from Newark Airport (located in New Jersey) may be quicker than landing at JFK.

All of the airports are connected to the city by train, with LaGuardia being the farthest away (around 1 hr 20 mins). Keep in mind that LaGuardia is consistently rated one of the worst airports in the US. Flights are often canceled or delayed at LaGuardia.

What the hell LaGuardia? Get your shit together!

JFK is another fine option. You can zip into the city in about 1 hour.

If you can’t be bothered to take the train, you can grab an Uber from the airport. The average cost from JFK to Lower Manhattan using an Uber is around $42. A Taxi for the same route will cost you at least $45.00.

If you live nearby, you can also arrive via Penn Station or Grand Central Station, which easily connects to neighboring states like Connecticut and New Jersey.

Getting Around New York City

An American flag and yellow NYC taxi cab
Taxis look cool but they are super expensive
Image: Nic Hilditch-Short
  • NYC Bus: Buses in NYC accept tokens, exact change, or MetroCards. They do not accept bills. MetroCard offers a one-day pass for $2.75 and a seven-day unlimited ride pass for $33.
  • NYC Subway: The Subway is the best way to get around in New York. The New York City Subway System is the second-oldest subway system in the United States and one of the largest and most extensive rapid transit systems in the world, with 468 stations in operation.
  • Uber/Lyft: for quick trips to locations not served by the metro or the bus, take an Uber.
  • Taxi: Once synonymous with easy, cheap travel in New York, Taxi cabs in the city are on their dying breath due to Uber and Lyft, so you might want to only use a Taxi in an emergency.
  • Walking: You will be on foot for the majority of your day exploring New York. Plan your day and route logically, so you’re not doubling back many times. To calculate distances in New York City, bear in mind that 20 avenues (north-south) or 10 street blocks (east-west) are equal to one mile. Also, keep in mind that parts of the city do not follow a proper grid layout so the distances will need to be calculated using your GPS.
  • Ferries: To see a handful of attractions like Ellis Island or the Statue of Liberty, you are going to need the ferry. Remember, Manhattan is an Island after all!

Traveling by Subway in NYC

If you’re trying to explore New York City on a budget, you’re absolutely going to want to use the subway. NYC is one of the ONLY US cities with a widespread and functional transit system, so taking advantage of it will go a long way.

Person stood by the turnstyles in the NYC subway
The New York City subway is the best way to get around the city.
Image: Nic Hilditch-Short

Each individual ride costs $2.75, but if you’re planning to be in the city for a longer period of time, then your best bet is to buy a MetroCard. MetroCards can be purchased at stations with varying values, but the very best option is the 7-day card which costs $33, plus a $1 card fee. This will definitely save you money if you plan on using the subway/buses more than 12 times in a 7-day period.

If for some reason you’ll be in New York longer than 7 days, the unlimited MetroCard option costs $127 and allows for an unlimited amount of travel.

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Working and 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.

If you’re ready to create a life-changing travel experience and give back to the community, join the Worldpacker community now. As a Broke Backpacker reader, you’ll get a special discount of $10. Just use the discount code BROKEBACKPACKER and your membership is discounted from $49 a year to only $39.

Worldpackers: connecting travellers with meaningful travel experiences.

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.

The Brooklyn Bridge and lower Manhattan skyline from the Manhattan Bridge
Ready to hustle in the concrete jungle where dreams are made of?
Image: Nic Hilditch-Short

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.

Broke Backpacker readers get a 50% discount on TEFL courses with MyTEFL (simply enter the code PACK50).

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.

Nightlife in New York City

If you are looking for a big night out in New York City, the options are endless. I was in New York for Halloween one year, and it a damn good time…just when you thought New York couldn’t possibly produce any more characters… Whew! That was a crazy night…

It isn’t hard to find a good party any time of the year though. Whether you are looking for a mellow, social atmosphere, or a full-on hipster/PBR-can-rager, you can find it while visiting NYC.

The lights of Radio City reflecting in a puddle at night
There’s always something going on in NYC at night!
Image: Nic Hilditch-Short

You should know by now that going out on the town in NYC is expensive. You can easily find yourself paying more than $10 a pop for a well-drink. In a couple of hours, you could easily drop more than $50, especially if you get the late-night munchies.

Go out and drink in NYC, just remember to watch what you spend. Go and pick up a $10 bottle of wine before you go out if you are trying to get a good buzz going. That way, you’ll only buy a beer or two instead of buying six or seven.

There is a thriving LGBTQ+ nightlife scene in New York City as well, mostly centered around SOHO and Hell’s Kitchen.

Dining in New York City

Now onto one of the best parts about traveling: eating and drinking! New York is blessed with a very diverse population. Like very diverse. Every imaginable nationality has culinary representation in New York.

If you crave it, you can certainly find it. Indian, Caribbean, African (very general I know, but there are too many countries represented to list!), Puerto Rican, Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, Pakistani, and pretty much every European country all have their delicious culinary traditions on display in NYC.

A street with markets in Chinatown, NYC
Chinatown, NYC just might have some of the best and cheapest food in the ENTIRE USA.
Image: Nic Hilditch-Short

Here is a quick rundown of the different types of places to eat and drink in New York:

Diner/Cafe ($-$$): Diners can be generic franchise stores open 24/7, frying up all things American i.e. bacon and eggs, pancakes, burgers, sandwiches, milkshakes, etc. Diners can also be high-end, offering seasonal brunch menus that use local ingredients. These are of course better, though more expensive. New York has some pretty awesome family-run diners too that offer up a more homey vibe than any chain restaurant ever could.

Restaurant ($$-$$$): You’ll have to be careful with restaurants. They certainly have a way of eating a hole in your budget pretty quickly. If you must go to a sit-down place, use good judgment in choosing a place to eat (with regards to price, I mean). Late-night Chinese restaurants in China Town are super tasty and quite affordable FYI.

Club ($$$): Clubs are always expensive. They are, well, clubs. People go to them to party and have fun. In New York City, the clubs are world-famous. If going to a club is your idea of a good time, there is no shortage of them in NYC. Just be prepared to pay for the pleasure. You probably want to avoid eating at a club altogether.

Katz Deli in NYC
Katz’s is an NYC institution!
Image: Nic Hilditch-Short

Cheap Eats in NYC

Eating in New York City can be expensive AF but it doesn’t have to be. Here are some of the best cheap eats you just have to try out. But when in doubt, you can’t go wrong with one of the many street vendors.

  • Chinatown pork buns: This isn’t a specific restaurant but rather a category of food you HAVE to try if you’re trying to stick to a budget. Numerous no-frills shops in Chinatown sell these delicious buns, which are almost as big as a hand and cost $1-$2. Thank me later!
  • Punjabi Grocery & Deli: Load up on a whopping plate of Indian classics at Punjabi Grocery & Deli. Located in the East Village, you can find plenty of filling dishes for less than $10.
  • Halal Guys: A backpacking NYC staple of sorts, Halal Guys is a tried and tested Middle-Eastern food chain that will ensure you stay full all day long. Try their massive combo platter and ask for extra white sauce. It’s just that good.
  • Los Tacos No. 1: Love tacos and saving money? Swing buy one of the numerous Los Tacos locations where you can find various Mexican cuisine items for $5 or less.
  • 2 Bros Pizza: NYC is famous for its pizza, and budget travelers will be thrilled to know there’s a cheap way to get in on the action. 2 Bros Pizza is known throughout the city for their $1 slices, which do in fact retain quality and flavor!
  • Xi’An Famous Foods: Looking to spice things up? Head straight to this place, which has numerous locations all over the city and specializes in the spicy cuisine of Xi’An, China. Did I mention that you can easily fill up for less than $10?
A bagel in NYC
The NYC bagel is the perfect brekkie as it will fill you up for a few $
Image: Nic Hilditch-Short

Some Unique Experiences in New York City

So we’ve covered all the uber-popular and ever-iconic things to do in the city, now let’s get into some more offbeat travel experiences!

Best Hikes and Walks in New York City

Despite the city being a tangled interweaving heap of steel, concrete, and glass, there are still some excellent and beautiful walks to be had in and around the city. These walks definitely are not in the “hikes” category but are very pleasant all the same. (Sometimes steel and concrete are beautiful!).

If you do want to do some proper treks, you’ll be pleased with the many Long Island hikes to be found less than an hour from the city. Stay in Long Island for easy access!

The Highline Park in NYC
The High Line is one of our favorite walks in NYC
Image: Nic Hilditch-Short
  • Central Park: Whilst a walk in Central Park might be obvious, it really is an important urban refuge for New York City. There are many different places to begin and start your walk here. Everywhere you go in the park though there is something new and different to enjoy. I would enjoy walking here alone, late at night.
  • Brooklyn Bridge: I’ve already covered the Brooklyn Bridge walk a little bit, But it is worth mentioning again. As you walk the bridge, keep in mind that the bridge was built back in 1899. Quite the feat of engineering.
  • The High Line: Get to the highlight and enjoy an elevated view of a beautiful New York sunset.
  • West 4th Street: The route from Washington Square Park to the West Village takes you through some of the most beautiful parts of Manhattan. Even more special is the walk under light snow, hand in hand with your lover.
  • Prince Street: This SoHo walk is short, but still packed with plenty of history and interesting sights. Begin at Bowery and end at MacDougal Street.
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Beer Gardens in NYC

Beer Gardens are sprouting up all over the NYC faster than seedlings after heavy rain. There is just something about a cozy, green, outdoor space to drink that soothes the soul. For a friendly, welcoming atmosphere head to one of the many beer gardens in New York City.

Here are some of my favorite beer gardens in NYC:

  • Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden: A Czech-flavored beer garden serving up delicious plates of sausage to go with a fine selection of European beers.
  • The Standard Biergarten: One of the most popular beer gardens in New York City and for good reason. The Standard offers up great beer in a cheery environment.
  • Threes Brewing: Always some unique beer flavor to try here at Three Brewing. If you love a good experimental ale (and some old classics), Three Brewing is for you.
Some graffiti in the Lower East Side in NYC
The Lower East Side is home to some of the coolest places to hang out
Image: Nic Hilditch-Short

Wine Bars in New York City

Are beer gardens not your thing or are you just in the mood for a smooth glass of wine? There are plenty of awesome wine bars in New York City as well. Keep in mind that eating and drinking at wine bars in NYC tend to be more expensive than at beer gardens.

Here is a short list of the best wine bars in New York City:

  • Wildair: Wildair is wonderful and unpretentious, which I really value in a wine bar! This run by two young chefs who are doing a good job of keeping things down to earth.
  • The Four Horsemen: This wine bar has gained immense popularity probably due to the fact that it is owned by LCD Soundsystem’s frontman, James Murphy.
  • The Ten Bells: A fine wine bar found on the Lower East Side. Come to taste the nice organic wines they have on offer.
  • 101 Wilson: Skateboard deco and string lights? That sounds more appealing for a more down-to-earth backpacker crowd eh? If wine isn’t calling to you they also have $2 beers served in cans. Hipster AF.

Getting Off the Beaten Path in NYC

New York is the kind of place loaded with obvious, popular attractions. What most people don’t experience when they come to New York is its other side: off the beaten path New York. Backpacking New York is all about discovering unusual and fun things to do in the city as well as seeing the top sights!

The Wonder Wheel in Coney Island, Brooklyn, NYC
The Wonder Wheel in Brooklyn is a local favorite
Image: Nic Hilditch-Short
  • The Elevated Acre: A park in the sky where two skyscrapers meet? Yes. Oh, and of course there is a full beer garden up here as well.
  • Visit the One World Trade Center: See the re-built WTC and get some incredible views of the NYC skyline from the observatory deck. It’s the tallest building in the USA!
  • Check out an Original Piece of the Berlin Wall: Wait, the Berlin Wall? Yes, that wall. The city of Berlin donated a particularly stunning piece of the Berlin Wall to the city of New York around 15 years ago. Now the artfully painted wall is on display around Battery Park. Most people who pass by it don’t realize where it came from.
  • The Tenement Museum: Probably one of the coolest off-the-beaten-path museums in NYC. Get a glimpse into what life was like for immigrants living in cramped tenement housing around Lower Manhattan’s East Side. The way the rooms are set up and preserved makes you feel like you’re stepping back in time for sure. Very insightful indeed.
  • Drink in a Speakeasy: Speakeasies (formerly clandestine bars in the 1920’s prohibition era) are now all the rage again. From New York to Paris, Speakeasies are popping up everywhere! Some are not so hidden, whilst others require a password (no joke!). Check out this article for a list (and directions) to the best secret bars in New York City.
  • Find a Block Party on Stone Street: Granted these happen only a few times a year (in the summer). That said, exploring one of the oldest cobblestone streets in the city is pretty awesome in itself also.

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    FAQs About Backpacking in New York City

    Still have some burning questions about your NYC trip? I’ve got answers!

    Final Advice Before Visiting New York City

    And there you have it–this epic New York City travel guide is complete! NYC is undoubtedly the BEST metropolis in the entire US. Beautiful parks, delicious food, an epic skyline, and unmatched diversity are just some of the things that make this place so damn magical.

    Whether you want to experience the international neighborhoods, cycle in Central Park, party all night in Brooklyn, or spend the day tanning at Coney Island Beach, it’s no understatement that this city has something for everyone. No matter how much you’ve read about it, nothing can quite prepare you for being in the thick of the City that Never Sleeps. It’s eclectic, it’s electric and it’s sure to be an experience you’ll remember forever. Literally.

    So what are you waiting for? Book that accommodation, snag those tickets, and get ready for the adventure of a lifetime.

    The mini-universe that is New York City awaits!

    A person looking out over NYC and The Empire State Building
    I can’t get enough of this city!
    Image: Nic Hilditch-Short

    Updated May 2022 by Samantha from Intentional Detours

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