Vinny in the City
Vinny’s Guides to New York City
New York City is one of the most expensive cities in the world. And if I ever get rich enough, I’ll move back … provided Big Tony Sarino forgives my little indiscretion back in 1984.
But visiting the city doesn’t mean you have to mortgage the house or that you’ll have to send your kids to a trade school. There are plenty of things to do in New York that can be done on the cheap. 2008 is the last season at the House That Ruth Built. And yes you can pay $400 to sit behind home plate. Or buy bleacher seats for only $14. Or you can sit in a bar and for the price of a beer, watch the game on TV with real New Yorkers.
Aside from over eating in one of Manhattan’s reasonably priced restaurants the things I like to do in New York are FREE. Here are a few of my favorite things to do.
VINNY’S TOP TEN FREE THINGS TO DO IN NEW YORK.
#1 Times Square.
Times Square is the most famous intersection in the world. It is where Broadway and 7th Avenue intersect at 42nd Street. I can’t think of a better place on earth for people watching. You will want to make a day trip and a night trip to this area.
There are 8 million people in Metro New York. Add to that the 30 million people who visit New York City each year and you’ve got a Broadway show with a cast of thousands just waiting to happen. The parade of people continues all day and all night in the city that never sleeps. And all of it is free – - as long as you don’t get mugged.
I’m not going to try to describe Times Square to you, it must be experienced. Remember, taking pictures is free also. (There will be those who might not want you to take a picture – or want you to pay them – so be discreet and carry some small bills). Tourists and architecture are fair game.
If you’re starting to get claustrophobic or you just need a little quiet time, walk one block East from Time Square on 42nd street you’ll come to Bryant Park.
Bryant Park is an oasis, and a sanctuary from the noise. Bring a blanket and sit on the lawn, browse the outdoor reading room. From the end of October to the middle of January there is free ice skating. The only charge is for rental of skates. All this and WiFi too. That’s right. You get free wireless Internet connection in the park.
#2 BROADWAY THEATRE DISTRICT.
There is nothing cheap about going to a Broadway Show. And if you want to attend any of the “Hot” shows, you better get tickets at least six months in advance or pay ticket brokers up to $400 per ticket. But you can feel all the excitement that permeates the street before the curtain goes up by just standing in front of the Broadway Theatres.
Check the papers and see what shows are playing. Do you have a favorite actor currently starring in a Broadway show? Arrive early in front of that theatre and you may catch a glimpse of the actors arriving. Equity says actors have to be at the theatre no later that 30 minutes before curtain. Look for the stage doors and get there about an hour before the 8:00 start.
As it gets closer to show time the limos start to pull up and there is no telling what famous person you might see. It might be a celebrity or it may just be a rich person or a person spending a lot of money to look rich. You can join die-hard fans waiting by the stage door after a show to badger the stars as they leave the theatre. Some actors are gracious and will sign autographs and let you take photos. Others just want to get home. Don’t be rude. Show the proper respect.
Going To A Broadway Show. If you want to see a Broadway show the best place to start is at Theatre Development Fund web site. TDF’s sight has few frills but gives a complete listing of Broadway, Off and, Off Off Broadway shows, as well as other performing arts.
The TDF web site lists the price range for the show and gives the official phone number to call for tickets. You will often go to a box office service (mostly tele-charge) but you won’t be given the number of a commercial rip off company. If you Google “Broadway theatre or show tickets,” you’ll end up with an endless list of commercial sights, filled with adds or a ticket agency that is going to charge you a premium. Legal scalpers.
Example: One of the top rated sites was advertising 40% discounts for Broadway Shows. Clicking on the link you find, first of all, they don’t list every show, just the ones they have tickets for. Okay, you see they have tickets for Wicked for this coming Saturday night. Wow, what luck. A click away and you see you can get Orchestra row K for only $325. Of course those who started at the TDF’s sight know the maximum face value for a ticket to Wicked is $125. So much for a 40% Discount. Ergo, go to the TDF Site. and plan
TDF also sponsors the TKTS booths that sell discounted tickets for that day’s performance. The TDF site will list the shows that were discounted the previous week.
A well kept secret. TDF has 2 locations; the Mariott Marquis (the temporary location) and South Street Seaport. The photo on the left is the line at the Midtown location. It’s 3 deep on both sides of the street. The photo below is the line Downtown. You be the judge.
Most New Yorkers are not even aware of the 2nd location for discount tickets. That’s why the line is so much shorter. Not only are the lines shorter, they open at 11:00 in the morning and you don’t have to waste the best part of the afternoon standing on line.
The much shorter line at at the downtown tkts booth.
#3 The Brooklyn Bridge
Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge is one of those simple pleasures
that never gets old. The official length of the bridge, end to end, is just over a mile. If you don’t want to walk all the way to Brooklyn and back, walk to the center of the bridge and then walk back. There are spectacular views in every direction. Allow an hour with all the stopping, plaque reading and photo taking.
Brooklyn Bridge East River Span – 1595.5 feet.
Supported land span – 930 feet.
Length of Brooklyn Approach – 971 feet
Length of New York Approach – 15621⁄2 feet
Length end-to-end – 5,989 feet.
See my article, “A Tale of Two Pizzas” on this site. On this day I eat a Pizza at Grimaldi’s, situated under the Brooklyn Bridge, walked across the Bridge, took the subway to Little Italy and eat another pizza at Lombardi’s.
#4 Staten Island Ferry
It doesn’t get any better: the Manhattan skyline, the soft sounds of the river, the cool breeze in your hair–all for free. You also have photo opportunities of Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty.
View of Lower Manhattan, New Jersey & the Statue of Liberty taken from the Ferry
The Staten Island Ferry leaves from Battery Park (South Ferry Subway station) and has been a municipal service since 1905 and currently carries over 19 million passengers annually. Service is provided 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. And did I mention that it was free?
Don’t let the large crowds fool you and scare you away. The boats hold a lot of people. The new Ferries carry about 4,400 passengers. Don’t worry about getting a seat. No one except the people who live in the Borough sit down. Everyone wants to be outside, standing at the rails. You can walk all the way down into the depth of the boat and come out onto the bow. Not many people know about this area. You can actually disembark from this deck as well and without the crowd.
SIDE BAR: On Sunday August 3rd 1975 my friend Danny Lapino and I took the Ferry on the last day of five cent fares. To think from 1905 to 1975 you could ride the ferry for a nickel. The next day the fare was raised to 25¢. In 1997 the fare was eliminated all together.
#5 Parks Parks & More Parks. Central Park is practically a city onto itself, 834 acres of flowers, shrubs, great lawns, and sports fields. All this and fauna too. That’s right, there is still a zoo in Central Park. Although there is a small charge to enter the zoo you can still catch the otter show from outside the enclosure for free.
Visit Strawberry Fields, dedicated to the memory of John Lennon. In the summer bring a picnic lunch and wait on line to get FREE tickets to Shakespeare in the Park. OTHER FAVORITES: Washington Square Park, Riverside Park, Battery Park City.
#6 STREET FAIRS
All summer long there are street fairs that pop up all over New York. From local block parties lasting one day, to major feasts, like San Gennaro which lasts for 11 days, there is always something going on. Walking around is free and is a great place for people watching. Many of the fairs have ethnic themes and it’s a great way to get a taste of other cultures and a taste of some great food.
Check the local guides that are in your hotels for the “street” activities that are going on while you’re staying in New York, or check out This Link.
#7 Grand Central Terminal
Grand Central has always been, well, grand. But there was a time before the latest renovations that when you got off a train you just wanted to keep moving. But between 1996 and 1998 the terminal was cleaned and revitalized. And is now is completely restored to it’s 1913 magnificence. You’ve got to see the Sky Ceiling.
In addition Grand Central has five outstanding restaurants (not cheap) and cocktail lounges, 20 casual international eateries and the 50 distinctive specialty shops. The terminal itself has become a venue for ongoing public events throughout the year, some free to the public.
You can wander around yourself for free and take in the sites and sounds of this behemoth. Or take a guided tour.
The Grand Central Website:
SIDE BAR: In 1984 I was and extra in the movie Falling in Love with Robert De Niro and Meryl Streep. There is no way you’d ever spot me. I was one of 200 paid extras that were thrown in amongst all the passengers who were in the shot but not paid. 700,000 people go through the terminal every day.
We professionals were split into smaller groups. Each group started at a point called in the biz, “One” and we were directed on how to reach an end point. My, “One” was next to an OTB window. Off Track Betting is much more fun with better odds than playing a lottery. I made an extra $60 bucks that day as every time they’d say “Back to one,” I would place a couple of bets.
#8 South Street Seaport.
If you’re doing the Brooklyn Bridge walk you are right around the corner form the South Street Seaport. This area is both one of New York’s oldest and newest neighborhoods. Located in the financial district of lower Manhattan and adjacent to the Brooklyn Bridge, the Seaport is a thriving waterfront community encompassing eleven square blocks of restored 19th century buildings, a maritime museum with a large fleet of historic ships, the famous Fulton Fish Market, and more than 100 shops, cafes and restaurants.
Stand outside on any one of its floors’ outdoor walks and catch the East River Breeze as you take photographs of passing boats and the Brooklyn Bridge. You starting to notice a theme? Throughout the year there’s always free entertainment of some sort. From Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day you could find street performers throughout the district.
Learn more by going to the, Things to Do section of their website or by calling 212-SEA-PORT.
Get your discount tickets from the TKS booth, have lunch at the Seaport and walk it off on the Brooklyn Bridge. Bada Bing, it’s an excursion!
#9 Cathedral of Saint Patrick
Goes to show how far mans devotion to God can go in the New World. The church opened it’s doors in 1865 and has always had additions or renovations going on. You think maintaining your house is a hassle. HIS house is over 110,000 sq. feet, with two towers that rise 330 feet from the street level and three organs.
And I don’t care what religion you are … or if you believe in God, you have to be awe struck. Call it God, call it man’s triumph in architecture, call it vertigo, your breath is taken away. I always have to sit down and take it all in. They even let you take photos. Admission to the Cathedral is free but don’t be a creep, put $5 in the collection plate.
Be sure to check the current mass schedule. Anyone is welcome to mass but they don’t allow you to take photos about 15 minutes prior to the start of mass. St. Patrick’s Cathedral Website
A FREE BONUS: Directly across the street from St. Patrick’s is Rockefeller Center. St. Patrick’s is on 5th Avenue between 51st and 50th Street. (Did I say, “50th Street?” One can’t think of 5th Avenue without thinking of Saks Fifth Avenue. at 50th and 5th Avenue. Window shopping is FREE. Back to the Rock.) Stretching from 5th Ave to 7th Ave from 47th St to 51st St. Rockefeller Center has has some of the most incredible architecture anywhere!
Walk through the promenade and around the plaza, and the gardens where you’ll find plenty of photo opportunities. You can spend a couple of hours here, exploring all the nooks and crannies. If it gets too hot or starts to rain, go underground. There is an underground city that connects all the building of the Center with retail shops and restaurants.
You can also take a tour of Radio City Music Hall or the NBC studios. You want to be a real tourist? Get up early and act like a fool outside of the Today Show studio. And if your in New York during Christmas… Fugetaboutit! A total Holiday experience awaits!
Enjoy the best of New York City culture for free on special days of the week when certain museums forgive the admission charge and give you a peek for nada. Other museums are always free and some have a small suggested donation.
The Whitney is free at all times! The Cloisters (on the left) a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art dedicated to the art of the European Middle Ages has a $10 suggested donation. Located on the Northern tip of Manhattan, the Cloisters in Fort Tryon Park, is an area most tourists never see.
Check out this link for a list of free museums.
There you have it. Ten things you can do in Manhattan that are FREE! And this doesn’t include walking tours of of the many neighborhoods, such as Soho, The Village, Chinatown and of course Little Italy. There is no way you can be in the city and lack for something to do. It is after all the city that never sleeps, although I suggest you get come sleep so you can fully enjoy at the city has to offer.
Caio For Now
Humorous Motivational Speaker, Vinny Verelli
Often called the Tony Soprano of Motivational Speakers, Vinny works with groups that want to laugh while they learn.