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Explore New York City On A Budget - One Day Trip & Itinerary

Updated: Mar 12, 2023

New York City. The Big Apple. The city of dreams.

When I first moved to the states, the one city that was at the top of my bucket list of travel destinations was definitely New York. I had only ever seen this place in movies - glimpses of Times Square, stories hidden at the first-ever Magnolia bakery, celebrity shows, and snaps from the paparazzi - now it was finally time to see it with my own eyes.

I was beyond eager to visit this place and couldn't bear having to wait for spring break which was months away and I was definitely not going to visit NYC in the winter - yes, please do not dare go sightseeing in the winter unless you're someone who does well with extremely cold weathers. The city has its own charm when it snows but if you wish to look around and be on your feet, you would prefer a more mellow temperature.

I did not have too much time on my hand but still wanted to make this trip over the weekend and that is how I came up with a one-day trip itinerary. A majority of the iconic places would be covered on the first day itself but if you have a little spare time you can go ahead to have a look at the places jotted down for the second day as well.

I would definitely recommend being able to spend more time and perhaps even clubbing it with a visit to Washington DC and New Jersey while you are at it.

Traveler's Guide to moving around NY City - Tip #1

The first word that comes to my mind when I think of New York is - chaos.

I thought it would be words like glamour and luxury but no. It is absolute chaos. In most cities, the ideal way to travel around and see places would be to have a rented car but it does not apply here. New York is notorious for having absolutely no space to park and by chance, if you find a small space to wiggle your car into, the parking charges are extremely high.

The most ideal way to travel would be through public transport.

This would either be through their infamous yellow taxi cabs, buses, or the subway network. Personally, I would pick the subway route as it is the best way to connect from one point to the other and gives you the real feel of the city. It is also a very easy method of transport as it connects all of the main tourist locations. You can choose to get a Metro card that can be swiped at both buses and subway stations to reduce time. I would recommend getting an all-day pass so that you can use it multiple times during the day.

However, I would add a disclaimer here. Even though the routes are well-connected, able 24/7, easy to find, safe, and quick - you will have to walk quite a bit and this can get a bit exhausting when you have a packed itinerary. So, throw on your walking shoes!

First Stop - Central Park South

This is one of New York's most famous attractions and it is in the middle of the city which makes it very easy to move from one place to the other. This park is huge. There are many things to see within the park itself - Strawberry fields, the zoo, Belvedere Castle, Bethesda Fountain and Terrace, the Conservatory Garden, the carousel, Loeb Boathouse on The Lake and so much more. You could spend an entire day just exploring this park!

Unfortunately, you would have to pick and choose what interests you the most here and make your way there.

I would say that this is the perfect place to begin the day, grab some breakfast from the multiple food trucks around the park and have a small and quick picnic at the park with the scenic views of central New York before you head over to your next spot on the list.

However, if you do have the time and if you choose to come here on a longer holiday, you could keep an entire day just for central park and its wonders as every place is worth your while here!

Walk on 59th street South towards 5th Avenue and you will reach your next destination in 11 minutes.

Traveler's Guide to moving around NY City - Tip #2

Now if you are trying to cover an entire city with so many attractions in a single day, it would be a no-brainer to start your day along with the rooster and get on your feet as early as possible. It would be nice to catch the sunrise at Central park and move on from there as it would get too sunny during the rest of the day.

There is absolutely no time to waste here!

Second Stop - Rockefeller Centre

This area has some of the most well-known commercial buildings and cafes. It is located in midtown Manhattan and is sure to give you the New York City feels. You wouldn't spend too much time here but it is worth it to make a pitstop while you are here. Make sure you have a look at the famous Radio City Music Hall, Tiffany's store, Trump towers, and Channel gardens while you are here.

If you have the time, I would definitely suggest going up to the city observation deck - Top of the Rock, to have a look at one of the most scenic cityscapes you will ever see. It is even more stunning at night.

Continue walking on 5th Avenue to reach your next stop in 10 minutes.

Third Stop - Grand Central Station

Walking into this station came with a lot of flashbacks from iconic scenes on movie screens. From the battle shots in the Avengers to the goodbye scene from Glee, and not to forget, the flash mob scene from Friends with Benefits - it will all come rushing back to you.

Head over to the food court at the station to pick up some lunch and satiate your hunger before you hop onto the subway toward your next location.

Walk to Brooklyn Bridge City Hall Station and take the train 4,5, or 6 Downtown to head to the next stop.

Traveler's Guide to moving around NY City - Tip #3

While you are here at Grand Central, do not miss out on trying out some of the best-rated and most popular food options down at the station. Which includes cupcakes at Magnolia and a slice from Junior's Cheesecake

Fourth Stop - Brooklyn Bridge

The famous Brooklyn Bridge. How would you ever be able to leave the city without taking a walk on this bridge? It is not overhyped, trust me on this one. The walk down this bridge might be long but it is absolutely beautiful. The city on either side will never cease to amaze you.

Fifth Stop - Dumbo

As you head down to the other end, you can choose to walk towards Dumbo, a small neighborhood in Brooklyn. Here you can walk around the posh cobbled streets and have a look at Jane's carousel and the various cafes and shops in and around the area. This is also the place where you will see the most Instagrammed view of the bridge between the residential buildings that you can see above.

If you are running short on time, you can push off to the next location and drop Dumbo from your list.

Now you can walk towards Ferry Point at Brooklyn Bridge Pier 1 at the Fulton Ferry District

Traveler's Guide to moving around NY City - Tip #4

The best way to get to the other side of the city is by ferry and this is a really nice experience as well. It connects both your travel points perfectly and also reduces travel time drastically.

The ferry ride is short and the pier is right below the Brooklyn bridge which makes for a beautiful view. Enjoy the ferry - you will be off before you even know it!

Sixth Stop - Wall Street

Once you get off the ferry, cross South Street, turn right, and start walking down the street - You have reached the financial district.

Once you are here, you have to make your way to the main Stock exchange building and the famous charging bull figure which is also said to bring you good luck! Definitely do not know if that is true - however, it is worth a try.

Seventh Stop - Oculus Centre & World Trade Centre

It wouldn't be hard to stop by this building. It is a huge white structure that seems to be an architectural wonder. It is a shopping center with many brands and shops to spend your dollars at.

It is also a two-minute walk from WTC through Greenwich street which is the next stop on your list. Here you can also visit the reflecting pool and the 9/11 tribute museum made in honor of those who lost their lives during the tragedy.

Traveler's Guide to moving around NY City - Tip #4

You can not spend an entire day in this city and not try their most iconic dollar pizza. Yes, you read it right. New York is really popular for its tasty single-slice pizzas that you can get for just a dollar! They taste heavenly and are a perfect way to get your fingers greasy and have a full tummy with food on the go during a packed trip like this one!

Eighth Stop - Times Square

Now you would have passed this iconic location in the morning while heading towards Grand central, but Times Square at night is a feast for your eyes.

It is going to be a little tougher to get here from your previous spot and it would be a much longer ride too but it is definitely worth the effort.

Need I say more about this location? This place is the summation of everything New York - and it truly is.

This is the last stop on your itinerary for the day, so you can spend the rest of your night here, soaking into the city's vibes and enjoying its nightlife amongst the crowded street and bright lights.

Traveler's Guide to moving around NY City - Tip #5

If you notice, a majority of the places and things to do on this itinerary are free of cost. There are very few things that require a ticket and this would include the ferry ride and the observatory at Rockefeller.

As a student, this trip is extremely affordable and allows you to have a complete experience without shelling out too much. This entire trip is extremely budget-friendly and the only thing you can splurge on would be shopping.


Few other places to add to your list

  • Staten Island Ferry & Statue of Liberty

  • Manhattan Bridge

  • The Highline Park Walk

  • The Vessel

  • Little Italy - Soho and Nolita Street

  • Chinatown

Another notable mention would be to check out the Roosevelt Island Tram on E 60th Street. It is a fun cable car ride right through the city with the most beautiful views.

All the above-mentioned places are connected to each other and are on the other side of the city which is why it would make more sense to group them together and complete them on another day. The vessel is a 2-minute walk on 34th street from the Highline park walk and from there you can take the subway from Spring Street station to head over to Little Italy where you can discover the streets of Soho and Nolita. Chinatown is a short 4-minute walk on Mott Street from there and lastly, you can head over to Manhattan Bridge.

Try to make your way to the Staten Island ferry towards sunset to see the Statue of Liberty and Elis Island from up close.


That brings us to the end of this trip, and I do hope this was of some use to you while you are planning your own itinerary for this marvelous city.

This is just the beginning of many more planned trips from me and I hope you stay tuned for more!



// Image Credits (in order) - Hector Arguello, Lisha Riabinina, Pavol Svantner, Arthur Brognoli, Mario Cuadros, Adity Vyas, Anna Galimova, Luca Bravo, Sean Valentine, Qianshan Weng

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