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A Broke College Girl’s Guide to New York City

With spring break rapidly approaching, you might be dreaming about your spring break plans. Need somewhere that’s close and won’t empty your wallet? Then check out New York City! New York City can definitely be overwhelming at first with countless places to go to and seemingly endless expenses. But just because it’s a big city doesn’t mean you have to spend big bucks. As a native New Yorker, the best advice I can give you is to come to this crazy city with a plan. Have a budget and an end goal in mind. Are you excited to eat your heart out or are you just looking for a relaxing break from school? If you’re still not sure yet or just ready to pull your hairs out planning your trip, here’s a guide to help you have a spring break worth bragging about without breaking your piggy bank. 



The basics

Before you dive into an adventure in the city, here are a few tips to help you get the best experience out of your trip.  

Skip the Ubers and use the subway instead.

With a subway station on nearly every street, it’s convenient and at times cheaper. One ride is $2.75, but if you’re staying in the city for a week, consider getting a 7-Day Unlimited Metro Card, which gives you unlimited rides on the subway and buses for an entire week and can save you a whole lot. 

Keep the geography of New York City in mind.

New York City is more than just Manhattan and Gossip Girl. The city has five boroughs: the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Staten Island, and Queens. It’s important to keep these in mind especially if you’re taking the subway. Manhattan is split into three parts that you’ll hear and see often: Uptown, Midtown, and Downtown. Times Square is in Midtown as well as other touristy spots like Rockefeller Center and the Empire State Building. Uptown is anything north of Times Square and heading towards the Bronx and Queens. Downtown is anything south of Times Square and heading towards Brooklyn and Staten Island.

Prepare to walk. A lot.

Bring a pair of comfortable walking shoes and outfits that are suitable for long walks. Part of the New York experience is strolling down the long streets. There’s always something new and exciting to check out at every corner, from mouthwatering tacos at a taco truck to an Insta-worthy street mural.

For the foodies

The city that never sleeps is also the city that never stops eating. With a range of food options at widely ranging prices, there’s an option for everyone. Here are some places where you can get the bang for your buck. 

Option #1: Want to try everything New York City has to offer but can’t fit it all in one trip? Chelsea Market (75 9th Ave, New York, NY 10011) has got you covered. There’s enough food here to fulfill even the wildest foodie’s dreams in this place that’s a food hall, market, office building, and filming studio rolled into one. Grab an adobada taco (or two) and a horchata at Los Tacos No. 1 for a five-star meal that’s less than $10. Check out Amy’s Bread for some scrumptious sandwiches and their famous sticky buns. Explore the market’s various retail stores where you’ll find items like imported olive oil from Italy and honey from a family-owned business. If the weather’s nice, take your lunch to the nearby Highline Park, which was an old train track that was transformed into a green space for people to relax and soak in the sun.

Option #2: Good food doesn’t just exist in Manhattan and Flushing is proof of that. This bustling center of culture in Queens has a huge range of food options as a result of its large Asian and Asian-American population. Go to White Bear (135-02 Roosevelt Ave, Flushing, NY 11354) and ask for a #6. You’ll get a fresh, piping hot plate of handmade chili oil wontons for just $7. The chili oil isn’t spicy; rather it adds bursts of flavors to the juicy wontons and will make you want to order more than one plate. Head over to Shanghai You Garden (135-33 40 Rd, Queens, NY 11354) to feast on hot soup dumplings and scrumptious pan-fried noodles. If your order at this Shanghainese restaurant goes over $10, you can get a free order of their signature soup dumplings. If you’re feeling a little adventurous, order the salted tofu pudding and fried dough stick, a classic Chinese breakfast combo. Flushing doesn’t just have great food options; it’s also known for its plethora of bubble tea spots. To get your bubble tea fix, check out Ten Ren Tea and Ginseng ( 13518 Roosevelt Ave, Flushing, NY 11354) where you can order from a range of flavors and browse through their tea collection while you wait for your drink.

Option #3: You shouldn’t leave New York City without getting a freshly made, sizzling order from a halal cart. Halal refers to the way the meat used is prepared according to Islamic law. I have a lot of nostalgia tied to these carts as my high school friends and I would grab a meal from a nearby cart when we were on a tight budget and needed something to eat. These carts are on nearly every block in the city and for good reason. For less than $10, you get a heap of meat fresh off the grill on top of rice and salad and drizzled with glorious white sauce. You can customize your order by choosing from chicken, lamb, gyro, and combo (mix of everything). I normally go with lamb or combo, but chicken over rice is the most popular choice. If you can’t find one near you, check out The Halal Guys. As the original halal cart chain in New York City, they have various locations, but their flagship cart is on 6th Ave near Radio City Music Hall.

For the artsy ones

New York City is a hotbed of artists, both renowned and emerging, so there’s plenty of places to make any artists go head over heels for. 

Head over to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (aka the Met) (1000 5th Ave, New York, NY 10028) to get lost in rooms lined with countless paintings and other pieces of art from all over the world. Be sure to check out the museum’s in house Egyptian temple and extensive collection of Van Gogh paintings. With your student ID, you can get a ticket for $12. And here’s the catch: this ticket can get you into not one, but three of the Met’s locations in the city for the whole day. So if you haven’t had your fill of art after exploring the Fifth Avenue location, you can check out the Met Breur down the street or the Cloisters in Uptown Manhattan. Both locations focus on a specific area of art, with the Breur centering around modern art and the Cloisters medieval art.

Not much of a classical art fan but still want to see what New York’s museums have to offer? Hop on a train to the Museum of Moving Image in Astoria, Queens. Before Hollywood became the definitive center of the American film industry, Astoria was also a magnet for filmmakers where films and shows like Sesame Street and Goodfellas were shot. The museum has an enormous collection of artifacts and film props, from Freddy’s sweater from The Nightmare Before Elm Street to the puppets from Sesame Street. On top of that, there’s a bunch of interactive exhibits where you can do things like creating your own flipbook and doing the voiceover for a movie scene in a mock recording studio. Bonus: while the museum does offer student discounted tickets ($11), aim to go on a Friday night when the museum offers free admission from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Option #3: If you’re itching to check out what New York’s artists have to offer, Grand Bazaar (100 W 77th St, New York, NY10024) is a great place. An outdoor retail space for local artists and independent dealers that opens every Sunday, the art market has a lot to offer such as unique earrings and prints to decorate your dorm with. Not only that, your purchase helps New York City students as the market donates all of their profits to four local public schools. The market also hosts various popups with a woman-owned business pop-up happening on March 8th and a pop-up celebrating National Craft Month on March 15th. 

For the relaxation-seeking
books on a bookshelf
Tasha Young

Just want to get a relaxing break from all the schoolwork? Don’t worry, New York City may be chaotic, but it still has its quiet and charming spots.

Option #1: Pay a visit to Strand Book Store (828 Broadway at 12th Street NY, NY 10003), one of the city’s oldest and largest bookstores. Famously known for housing 18 miles worth of books, the Strand carries an array of both used and new books. You can score a lot of deals here, with some books selling for as low as $1. Once you’re done browsing through the Strand’s seemingly endless shelves, take a stroll at Union Square, one of the smaller green spaces in the city. The park has its own greenmarket where you can find a bunch of fresh produce and edible knickknacks. I personally like to check out Andrew’s Local Honey where there’s a variety of locally produced honey with cool flavors like matcha and blueberry. (The greenmarket is open Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays so be sure to check it out when it’s open!)

Option #2: For a little less than $3, you can hop on a tram to Roosevelt Island from where you can get a view from up top of the East River and Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Once you’ve set foot in the island, you can rent a bike and bike around the island. Be sure to check out the Four Freedoms Park, a park dedicated to Franklin D. Roosevelt, and the Cornell Tech campus, which features gorgeous buildings and lots of green space for you to soak in the sun.

 Option #3: If you’re a morning person, you can go catch the sunrise at the Brooklyn Bridge. One of the most famous bridges in the city, this suspension bridge has a pedestrian walkway that connects Manhattan and Brooklyn. You can enter from either end, with the Brooklyn entrance at Washington Street and Prospect Street and the Manhattan entrance at the northeastern corner of City Hall Park along Centre Street. The walkway offers an amazing view of the two boroughs and if you get there early enough (around 6 am), you can get gorgeous photos to remember your time in the Big Apple.

New York City has lots of options for any kind of budget, making it the perfect spring break destination.


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Emily is currently a junior at Boston University studying English and English Education. In addition to her love for reading and writing, she has an unhealthy obsession with cute desserts and graphic tee shirts. When she's not typing away on her laptop, you can find her cafe hunting, bopping to music, or doodling.
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