NYC: Four Days in the Big Apple for Under $500 (415€ or £389)

Since moving to France five (!) years ago, I’ve realized that I have so much more of my own country to explore and experience. That is why I knew I had to seize the opportunity to visit my high school friend, Michelle, in New York City, on my way back to France this past August.

I LOVE and am slightly obsessed with the idea of New York City– it’s somewhere I have always wanted to live. Also a fun fact: I’ve been twice (both times in the winter)— once in 2004, when I was fourteen, to march in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade with my high school marching band, and once in 2009 when I was just shy of 19— a friend and I made a spontaneous weekend trip to see Equus with Daniel Radcliffe (and Mamma Mia! via student rush tickets!) Needless to say, my 2017 trip was my first visit as a proper adult.


#TBT Circa 2009- Equus in NYC starring Daniel Radcliffe

I was able to squeeze a lot in during my stint in the Big Apple– a good mix of tourism and local living. So I give you, readers, the best of four days in New York City.

Top of the Rock: I love climbing high landmarks to get glimpses of views of the cities I visit. So, it comes to no surprise that the first thing I did in NYC after dropping my bags at Michelle’s apartment was cruise over to Top of the Rock. It was about 90 degrees Fahrenheit and the sunshine was abundant. Even better, it wasn’t super crowded and the views were absolutely spectacular. My piece of advice is to skip the first observatory point and head straight for the two upper points— there are less people and the top view doesn’t have the glass walls.

After admiring the spectacular skyline views, I wandered around Midtown.


Rockefeller Center



Saint Patrick’s Cathedral- Rockefeller Center

Restaurant Week: The week I was there also happened to be restaurant week in NYC, which I know is done in many cities around the USA, including Milwaukee. Basically, some of NYC’s most priciest hot spots are brought down to a more “affordable” level. (Keep in mind, this was still a major splurge for me.) Michelle and I ate at Smith and Wollensky’s— aka where Miranda Priesley had her lunch steak in Devil Wears Prada. We were able to get a three-course meal for $42 a person (normally, a steak alone is about $42.)


One of my favorite things we did was after dinner, when Michelle took me on the gondola to Roosevelt’s Island, where we got spectacular views of Manhattan. Later, she took me off the beaten path of Queen’s. It was such a lovely, late-night stroll!

Ellis Island / Statue of Liberty: I teach several works of literature which include references to Ellis Island Immigration. So, I knew I had to make the trip to Battery Park. Although I distinctly remember visiting Ellis Island thirteen years ago, I don’t remember much about the museum. In fact, I think there have been significant improvements since 2004 (not to mention, thirteen years of maturity on my end.) Overall, the museum was extremely crowded, but very well laid out. I spent about three hours inside, throughly reading all of the exhibits and exploring every last corner. I also stopped on Liberty Island on the way there.

Comedy Club: Having already seen plenty of shows on Broadway and on the West End, I opted for some good old American comedy in NYC. Michelle and I attended Gotham Comedy Club, and I had quite a few laughs, especially when Donald Trump was the butt of the joke (which, let’s be honest, was quite often.)

Free Tours by Foot (SoHo, Chinatown, and Little Italy): During one of my solo mornings, I opted for another Free Tours by Foot tour in NYC (after doing one in Chicago) which focused on the neighborhoods of SoHo, Chinatown, and Little Italy. Knowing absolutely nothing about any of these neighborhoods, it was a great way to spend a solo afternoon in the Big Apple. We ended the tour in Columbus Park, where all the men play checkers!

9/11 Memorial and Museum: Obviously I have already visited NYC post-9/11, but the museum didn’t yet exist during my previous trips. In fact, in 2004, I can remember the 9/11 memorial being a big rubble-filled hole in the ground. So, I used my City Pass as entry and again, spent a good three hours inside the museum. I was only 11-years-old when the towers fell, and while I remember the day perfectly, I obviously didn’t understand terrorism or the gravity of the situation as a sixth grader. The museum is well-laid out, and at the end of my visit I felt like I had grasped a whole new understanding of 9/11. Seeing real footage as a 27-year-old instead of an 11-year-old, I feel that I truly gained a greater appreciation for our country and a better understanding and sympathy for the War on Terror, and frankly, George W. Bush. As millennial, it’s hard to remember and make connections as to why our world and our relationships with certain countries are what they are today. I feel like I will be better able to sympathize with world leaders of the past and present and as a result can convey in better conversations about where we are today.



Afterwards, I trekked north for an ice cream at Big Gay Ice Cream and a rest at Washington Square Park.

Brooklyn Bridge: What better way to end a dinner in South Street Seaport than with a night walk across Brooklyn Bridge?



Dim Sum in Chinatown: Okay, I will admit that I had no idea what “Dim Sum” entailed, but this was one of my favorite memories of my short stay in New York City. My friend Michelle organized a Dim Sum breakfast in Chinatown with a wide mix of friends from all over– some of whom I knew through other mutual friends. Arriving at the restaurant, it looked like a hole-in-the-wall. However, upon climbing the escalator we arrived in a huge banquet hall. Most of the families who come here are from Chinatown– very little English is spoken by the waitstaff and it just felt like such a cool and unique cultural experience. I love NYC!

Summer Streets Celebration NYC + Grand Central: I also happened to be in town while the Summer Streets Celebration NYC was happening. Basically, the city of New York shuts down major streets for cars and allows bikes, scooters, roller-skaters, etc. to pass on through for a few hours in the morning. Michelle and I rented city bikes and rode all the way to Grand Central.




Grand Central

Afterwards, we explored more of downtown to Central Park. Like a true NY’er, I never need to step foot in Time’s Square again!




Anyone else a massive Home Alone fan?

The Met: The Metropolitan Museum of Art (deemed ‘The Met’ is the largest museum in the United States. Deemed ‘The Met’, there are over two million works of art inside. Budget tip: The Met is free, or donation based.


Rooftop Views (Queens): 

Michelle found a gem of a rooftop bar right in her neighborhood in Queens!


My NYC Budget Breakdown

  • $109- one way ticket on Southwest Airlines from MKE with no baggage fees!
  • $0- accommodation (thanks Michelle for your pull-out sofa bed!)
  • $77- C3 City Pass, which I used at Ellis island, Top of the Rock, 9/11 Museum
  • $20- Gotham Comedy Club
  • $33- Week-long subway pass
  • $14.12- Uber ride from Laguardia Airport to Michelle’s apartment in Queens
  • $67- Restaurant week meal (with a glass of wine)
  • $6.12- NYC Bagel for breakfast and lunch on Day 2
  • $7- Falafal street food dinner on Day 2
  • $9- Taxi from Battery Park to Midtown on Day 2
  • $18- Comedy Club drinks on Day 2
  • $20- Walking tour (I would have given less but I didn’t have change!)
  • $10- Hot Pretzel Lunch on Day 3
  • $7- Big Gay Ice Cream near Washington Square Park on Day 3
  • $11.50- Dinner near South Street Seaport on Day 3
  • $14- Drinks on Queens rooftop bar on Day 3
  • $16- Dim Sum on Day 4
  • $12- Citibike pass on Day 4
  • $11- Lunch for me on Day 4
  • $17.50- Drinks on Rooftop bar (Michelle’s birthday party!)
  • $7- Lunch on Day 4
  • $5- Airport shuttle to JFK

Grand total: $491.24

Obviously, the things that played most in my favor were: Having free accommodation in NYC; Packing my own lunch at the airport when I left Milwaukee; having a Starbucks gift card to use for coffees or pick-me-ups; bringing and filling up my own reusable water bottle; and frankly, not eating as much as I would normally.

Things I could have done better: Not taking a taxi from downtown to midtown (we were pressed for time), not getting as many alcoholic beverages, and not doing restaurant week… but then, it’s NYC! One must indulge!

What are your favorite things to do in NYC?



15 thoughts on “NYC: Four Days in the Big Apple for Under $500 (415€ or £389)

  1. I haven’t kept up with your blog but I remember when you were in NYC last summer! I really wished I could have finally met you but I get you were pressed for time and wanted to spend time with your friend. Hopefully next time you swing by you can say hi. 🙂

    And unfortunately the Met has just changed their admissions policy after years of being donation based. It is still donation based for NYC/New York State residents (you need to provide proof with a driver’s license/State ID) so I can still pay whatever I want and for students from NJ/NY/CT. It has caused quite the controversy and upset a lot of people but according to the Met people paying the full suggested fees had fallen a lot and it was no longer sustainable for the Met to do suggested donation. I think there is way more to the story (there always is) has to why the Met ran into financial trouble but oh well. Still one of the best museums out there!

    I recently changed jobs so I had a week off in between and visited the Met Breuer where there was an Edvard Munch exhibit (the location of the old Whitney Museum) and the Cloisters, the fake monastery which imported a bunch of things from Europe all the way up in Inwood–both are run and part of the Met museums. I highly suggest you check either of those out on your next visit. The Cloisters is a bit of a trek to get to but so worth it! Plus the views from Fort Tryon Park are unbeatable of the Hudson River.

    And so glad you saw the light about Times Square haha. It really is SO overrated! My aunt works for MTV which is owned by Viacom and her building is in the center of Times Square. Not sure how she deals with it every day!!

    1. I’m so sorry I missed you! Yes, it was a very short trip and my first to NYC as a proper adult– hopefully I”ll get back (not this summer, but maybe next!?) Love having a couch to crash on in the Big Apple! I’m bummed about the Met but I do get it… is it affecting overall sales?

      I’d LOVE to get to the Cloisters… definitely on my list for next time! And yeah, never again in Times Square! haha!

      I hope your new job is going well!


  2. COMMENT va l’Amérique DANA ? Il y a quelque année au début de ton blog tu parlais du racisme du féminisme et de la laîcitée en France COMMENT VA L’ AMERIQUE QUI ME FAIT PEUR !!!!!! salutation d’un français qui suit ton blog depuis des années

  3. I have so many friends and family members in NYC and the fact that I can get there on a $25 bus in 4 hours from DC means it feels like my second american home 🙂 my favorite things to do are chill in Bryant park and play board games, stroll the High Line park, see free Shakespeare in the Park during the summer, and pay a visit to the Stand bookstore!! Unfortunately, the Met recently changed their admissions policy and non New York residents will now pay the previously suggested donation fee. (I think New Yorkers can still get in free with some guests though). Sounds like you certainly made the most of your 4 days there !!!

  4. Your photos of NYC bring back memories of my own trip there just over two years ago! I’m not always the biggest fan of huge cities, but NYC is something else 😀 I’m liking the sound of Restaurant Week – what a brilliant idea (and a great opportunity to treat yourself to something special without completely breaking the bank). Summer Streets reminds me of a similar initiative in London each July on Regent Street 🙂

  5. I did the same thing on my way to france this past fall. Luckily i had a friend who’d just moved to nyc so i had to take the oppprtunity to visit her and visit the city before heading off to France! I did a few of the things u mentioned here but darn it I’ll have to come back to the city during restaurant week next time 😍 $42 for a three course meal!? Lol. Im glad u had a great time in the city. I loved my visit as well!

  6. True that, as American expats, we haven’t seen as much of our own country as the ones in Europe! It’s been years since I’ve been to NYC and, although I hadn’t the desire to return, your post and gorgeous photos make it a worthwhile investment while flying overseas!

    1. There are so many places I have yet to explore in the US! Hoping to cross many off the list in years to come! You should definitely hit up NYC if you get the chance!

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