How to eat well, live well, and drink well on a budget-friendly weekend in the Big Apple.

By Laura Itzkowitz
November 11, 2015
black seed bagels
Credit: Daniel Krieger

Who says you need to blow your budget on a trip to New York City? Sure, there are plenty of luxury hotels and splurge-worthy restaurants, but the city that never sleeps also provides plenty of free things to do, and affordable drinking and dining for budget-conscious travelers.

Saturday: Getting Immersed in New York’s Culture

For breakfast, it doesn’t get much more classic than a bagel and a cup o’ joe. It’s easy to find the combo at corner cafes and delis all over the city, but for the best, grab a ticket at Russ & Daughters, a Lower East Side institution since 1914, where a bagel and a schmear will only cost you $2.75. Or stop by Black Seed for wood-fired bagels and Stumptown coffee. Though their signature sandwiches (baked eggs, cheddar, and bacon, for example) range from $6 to $12, you can get a simple bagel with cream cheese for $3. Add a small coffee for $3.27 and you’ve only spent $6 and change for a filling breakfast.

While museums can be expensive to visit—we’re looking at you, MoMa—there are plenty of other ways to soak in New York’s artistic legacy. You’ll find the largest concentration of galleries in Chelsea (all free and open to the public). The major ones to hit up include Gagosian and David Zwirner for blockbuster shows by artists like Jeff Koons and Yayoi Kusama; Pace and Milk for cutting-edge contemporary art. The High Line also has temporary art installations that rotate regularly, and you can spot cool street art murals nearby.

After all that, you’ll likely be ready for a drink. At Ten Bells, a laid-back wine bar with a focus on biodynamic and sustainable wines, you can get dollar oysters and split a $15 carafe of wine with a friend during happy hour until 7 p.m. New York has no shortage of dive bars where you can get cheap drinks all the time. The Ear Inn is a no-frills historic mariners’ bar where you can choose from 13 beers on tap for $7, plus fried dumplings (6 for $8), chicken potpie ($13.50), and burgers ($11 to 16). And though it’s shockingly common to find cocktails priced at $12 to $16 around town, at the hip bar Mr. Fong’s in Chinatown, you can imbibe unfussy but creative cocktails for $9 all night long.

Still hungry? Soak up the booze with a delicious, greasy slice at one of New York’s old school pizzerias. There are family-owned spots all over the city where you can grab a satisfyingly cheesy slice for a couple of bucks.

Sunday: Exploring the Parks

This so-called concrete jungle actually has more than 1,700 parks, playgrounds, and recreational facilities and, needless to say, it doesn’t cost a dime to visit them. Beyond Central Park, local favorites include Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village, Tompkins Square Park in the East Village, Riverside Park on the Upper West Side, and Prospect Park and Brooklyn Bridge Park in Brooklyn. On weekends, the city’s parks become especially animated with street performers, locals walking their dogs, and people canoeing on the lake, playing basketball, or shopping at the greenmarkets.

Grabbing lunch at a food hall is a great way to taste dishes by some of the city’s best chefs at a fraction of the price you’d pay for a sit-down meal at their restaurants. Inside Gotham West Market, you’ll find perennially popular ramen by Ivan Orkin ($13), burgers by Michelin-starred chef Brad Farmerie at Genuine Roadside ($8.04), and tapas by Seamus Mullen at El Colmado ($5 to $17). Go to the new Urbanspace Vanderbilt behind Grand Central for local favorites like Roberta’s Pizza ($6 to $12 for small pizzas) and sweet treats by Ovenly ($2.75 to $7). Chelsea Market and Gansevoort Market provide plenty of dining options, too. In the Financial District, Brookfield Place has French food hall Le District and Hudson Eats.

Since Sundays were made for day drinking, why not take a tour of one of the city’s breweries or distilleries? Brooklyn Brewery in Williamsburg offers free tours on the weekends, and $5 brews in the tasting room. Nearby, the New York Distilling Company gives free tours and tastings of their excellent gins and rye whiskeys from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends.

Laura Itzkowitz is a contributing digital editor at Travel + Leisure. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @lauraitzkowitz.