A family holiday to New York doesn’t need to break the bank. New dad Barry Divola, a regular to the city that never sleeps, discovers there’s plenty of affordable activities for all the crew.
I’ve been making an annual solo pilgrimage to New York for almost 20 years. Last year my wife had a baby and I suddenly realised that future trips may involve a) entertaining a little girl in Manhattan; and b) trying not to break the bank in the process.
So on my most recent stay, I started asking questions that you may also be asking if you have a family and you’re thinking about making the trip. Can you make your dollar stretch in New York when you have kids in tow? Are there alternatives to the regular tourist traps? And can you get anything for free in the city that never sleeps? Fortunately the answer to all those questions is yes. You just have to think outside the square.
The high life
Sure, you could pay US$22 each at the ticket office of the Empire State Building and then wait in line for so long that “Are we there yet?” will become the mantra that sends you to a mental asylum.
Or you could walk across the Brooklyn Bridge for free. With a pedestrian path and bikeway running along the middle of the bridge, high above the lanes of traffic, the views from the middle are panoramic, taking in the city skyline, the East River and even the Statue of Liberty.
And after you’ve taken all your photos, why not keep walking and end up in Brooklyn Heights, with its tree-lined streets and brownstone buildings? Alternatively, head to the High Line, an abandoned elevated railway line that was recently redesigned into a public space that runs through the Meatpacking District and Chelsea. With food and coffee carts in the middle and look-outs and seats dotted throughout, it’s a cheap and scenic way to spend an afternoon.
On your bike
Sure, you could go on a guided bike tour of Central Park for $50 each. But did you know your family can ride bikes for free on Governor’s Island, right in the middle of New York harbour? A free ferry leaves from Battery Park, and on Friday afternoons between June and October, you can ride a bike for nothing for an hour.
It’s easy to pedal around the little island in that time, stopping now and then to take family photos with Manhattan in the background. Also, if you stay at the Jane Hotel in the West Village, guests get free use of a small fleet of black cruiser-style pushbikes. Or you can rent a bike from one of the eleven Bike and Roll outlets (kids’ bikes are US$8 an hour or US$25 for the whole day). Best ride: the Hudson River Greenway, a bike path that runs all the way along the western edge of Manhattan, completely separated from traffic and very child-friendly.
Sure, you could stay at an anonymous midtown hotel for US$250 or more a night. Or you could stay at Yotel (from US$149 a night in low season), a space-age place three blocks from Times Square.
The kids – and possibly the adults – will love the Yobot, a giant robotic arm that picks up luggage and stores it in big white drawers in its glassed-in lair off the lobby. A low-cost alternative on the east side of town is The Pod, which has a modernist Ikea-style design and bunk-beds for the kids. Or why not be adventurous and sublet an apartment from www.airbnb.com? It will not only work out cheaper than a hotel, but your family will get to live like real New Yorkers and get to know the neighbourhood. The website features reviews from previous guests, multiple photos of each apartment and even after you pay your money, it’s held by airbnb for 24 hours after you arrive, just in case there are any problems.
Take a bite
Sure, you could eat at generic, tourist-clogged cafes and restaurants dotted around midtown. Or you could have a fun, unique dining experience that won’t break the bank. Alice’s Tea Cup boasts three magical uptown destinations for anyone who’s a fan of the Cheshire Cat and also enjoys homemade scones. Peanut Butter & Co. in Greenwich Village is true to name, with dozens of variations on the all-American peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Line up early if you want lunch at Shake Shack in Madison Square Park – the queues are there for a reason, as one of the best burgers in the city is served there. And what would a visit to New York be without visiting a diner?
Big Daddy’s on Park Avenue South is a favourite with families (average kids’ meal, $8) while the Seinfeld fans in your brood (young and old) will have to visit Tom’s Restaurant on Broadway, which served as the place where Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer hung out in the TV show.
Have a ball
Sure, you could take your sports-mad kids to see the New York Knicks play at Madison Square Garden for hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Or you could go to “The Cage” on the corner of W4th Street and 6th Avenue and shell out nothing. Since 1968, this outdoor court has been the place where some of the best basketballers in the city gather to play. Team scouts often check out the action and many players have been signed up for the NBA as a result.
Sure, New York can be an expensive town. But do your homework, avoid the tourist traps and walk on the wild side a little, and you’ll take a big bite of the Big Apple without it taking a big bite out of your credit card.
When to go
New York is at its very best in the early northern autumn (September-October) and spring (March-April)
Where to stay
What to do
Where to eat
Alice’s Tea Cup – 102 W73rd Street; 156 E64th Street; 220 E81st Street
Peanut Butter & Co. – 240 Sullivan Street
Shake Shack – Madison Square Park
Big Daddy’s- 239 Park Avenue South
Tom’s Restaurant – 2880 Broadway