Seeing the Many Faces of Manhattan (for cheap!)

Greetings from Ljubljana, Slovenia! I’m traveling again, so I’ll post about something close to my heart back home…

I’m always surprised to hear, when I meet people who have visited New York City (= code name for Manhattan only :P), that they have mainly spent time doing touristy things and not much “off the beaten track” or getting a local’s perspective.

To be fair, NYC is HUGE and impossible to see in a short amount of time. But I always feel sad when I hear that people mostly spent time in Times Square / not eating anything except sandwiches or $1 hot dogs and pretzels from the cart.

New York City has many faces and we have so much more to offer! (Plus, lots of free things.) Fellow blogger Angela’s post on NYC highlights is a really thorough and wonderful example.

If you could only do five things in Manhattan (and didn’t have much money to spend), here’s what I would recommend.

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The Immigrant Face

Ellis Island – ($18)

Buy the ferry tickets and it’s two for one! My family finally had this New York experience in summer 2015 and I recommend you don’t waste time on Liberty Island – the best views of our famous statue are from the ferry. It takes about 45 minutes to get to the museum; in summer, it’ll cool you down, and any other time, it’ll just be cool. You can learn about the many immigrants that passed through this first “checkpoint” into the USA – that’s the real NYC experience. You have to book separately through Statue Cruises, and it’s $18 for round-trip ferry, entrance to Liberty and Ellis Islands.

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You can even learn something about Czech immigrants here! 😀

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The Ecofriendly Face

Union Square Greenmarket – (free to wander around, but prices are generally not cheap)

Every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday from about 9am-5 or 6pm, you can find dozens of stands selling New York-local produce, flowers, meat, eggs, bread, pastries, honey, wine, et cetera. In summer there are cool drinks offered, in winter hot apple cider. I always stop by the maple candy stand for my fix. It’s an amazing place for people watching and generally to feel a part of the New York vibe. In the middle of the square is a small park, and if you look out to the edges of the square, you’ll be immediately jolted back to the reality of tall buildings and shops like Barnes & Noble (bookstore), Whole Foods (healthy supermarket chain), and H&M.

Also check out the Strand – a famous NYC bookstore – a couple blocks down.

The Culture Face

Nuyorican Poetry Slam – ($13)

Every Friday night at 9pm – but you have to get there 1-2 hours early to stand outside in the ticket line. This event is so popular because it’s so good, so it sells out quickly. If you like a creative and passionate atmosphere of people sharing what’s really in their hearts and on their minds – plus lots of dancing during breaks – this is the event for you.

The Face That Marches to the Beat of Its Own Drum

St. Marks – (free to walk around)

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Just look at how much is just in this picture – and there’s a whole street of it. Clothing stores, tattoo shops, sushi restaurants, bubble tea, bars, Papaya King, yoga, frozen yogurt. If you want to chase after the unexpected or the counterculture, here’s the place to do it.

It’s changed a lot over the years, as older residents will tell you. Even now, shops are constantly changing with the mood of the patrons.

The Chill Face – take your pick: huge park, renovated railway, or island.

Central Park – (free to walk around, and many free events depending on the season)

Everyone knows Central Park because it’s a classic. In summer you can find Shakespeare in the Park and other free concerts, even free outdoor dance parties. If you find the lake, you can even rent a paddleboat.

The High Line (free)

Photo credit to timeout.com

One of my favorite places in the city, the High Line was built on unused aboveground railway tracks and planted over with lots of greenery. It stretches 20 city blocks from the Chelsea neighborhood all the way to Greenwich Village. That’s a nice walk. There’s a wooden walkway, food stands along the way, and even chairs to sun out on nice days. I remember that there is even a stargazing club which meets on clear evenings.

Governor’s Island (only $2 for ferry!)

Another ferry ride you can take from the tip of Manhattan (or Brooklyn!) to an island now reserved exclusively for chilling out. There are lots of art installations to explore and adult-sized playgrounds. If you’re in the mood for a picnic, bring a blanket and stretch out on one of the large green lawns. Only problem is it keeps only summer hours.

That’s a shelter made from umbrellas and old camera parts.

I once went to an amazing, expansive summer poetry event here as well:

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The Foodie Face

If you only eat and drink in three places, visit:

Main meal: Totto Ramen ($10 and up)

It’s like a hole in the floor that you could easily miss if you don’t know you’re looking for it. There’s a staircase leading down into the small, crowded space, and usually people are waiting around outside because it is the best ramen in NYC. (Fun fact for my Czech readers: I once spent an hour reading The Brave Soldier Švejk here waiting for a table.) Compared to many other ramen places, it’s surprisingly inexpensive for a gigantic bowl of soup that always satisfies. $10 doesn’t usually get you that far in NYC – here it does.

Dessert: Molly’s Cupcakes ($3 and up)

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So cute, so creative, so delicious. Usually with a surprise in the middle! Buy a cupcake and get to put a variety of free sprinkles on for yourself. Plus, you can make your own vegan cupcake – choose vanilla or chocolate cake, then add vanilla or chocolate icing. And, like I said: SPRINKLES.

The shop even has “swing” chairs chained to the ceiling and a variety of board games available for visitors to play.

Coffee: Roasting Plant ($2-5 for a coffee and treat)

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Have you ever been to your local coffee shop, chosen the specific beans you’d like, and seen them shoot up through futuristic silver tubes in the ceiling to be immediately ground and brewed into your cup?

Welcome to your very own year 3000 café. Quirky modern paradise!

Filtered coffee is the cheapest thing you can get (just like in any American coffee shop), and espresso and specialty drinks are more expensive. I’m not totally sure you can hold it against them though, for the atmosphere. You gotta admit that’s cool.

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And if you have a little bit more money to spend, you can’t miss this classic side of NYC, the Musical Face of Broadway.

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But don’t ever pay full price for a musical. Go to TKTS the day of – they sell cheaper tickets based on supply and demand – or try your hand at the lotteries.

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