New York City is one of the most popular tourism destinations in the world. With world-class museums, shopping, theater, dining, and more, it’s easy to see why. It’s one of the cities in the United States to fall in love with and one of the most romantic cities in the world (for more romantic cities, check out this post).

However, with so much to offer, some of the most popular activities and sites tend to become quite crowded, and prices might be a bit higher than many tourists expect. But with a little advance planning and some creativity, it is possible to actually see the best of New York without breaking the budget or spending hours standing in line.

To get the most from a trip to the Big Apple, consider these alternatives to some of the quintessential New York experiences.

New York

New York is great to explore

1. Use Private Transportation

Now, most people might think “How is private transportation less expensive than taking a cab or using public transportation?”  When looking for the absolute cheapest mode of transportation around the city, nothing really can’t beat the subway or bus system.

However, when someone isn’t familiar with the routes, or where they are trying to go, using public transportation can be a bit of a hassle, not to mention it’s often crowded and it may mean waiting for a train or bus.

Hiring a company will actually end up costing about the same as taking cabs for the whole trip, with all the benefits of a private car and a knowledgeable driver, who can take his customers where they want to be in no time.

Food trucks are the way to go in New York - photo courtesy of Britta Frahm (flickr)

Food trucks are the way to go in New York – photo courtesy of Britta Frahm (flickr)

2. Eat at Food Trucks

I am convinced street food is the best way to go when traveling. I tried it in Bangkok and it didn’t disappoint, and it is fabulous in New York. Grabbing a hot dog from a cart on a street corner might feel like the ultimate New York activity, but there’s a good chance one may be disappointed in the fare.

When I lived there, most New Yorkers would tell me that the best food isn’t found at street carts, but rather at the food trucks that can be found around the city. I could get everything from Korean BBQ to tacos to desserts at these trucks, which often serve food that is fresher and better tasting than even some restaurants.

New York

Who said the best view is from the Empire State Building?

3.  Seek out Alternative Experiences

Most first time visitors to New York have a few “must-do’s” on their lists, like the Empire State Building and Statue of Liberty. While visiting these sites will definitely provide great shots for an Instagram feed, they can also be expensive and crowded. Try checking out some of the lesser-known alternatives instead; for example, the view from Top of the Rock at Rockefeller Center is arguably better than that from the Empire State Building, but not nearly as expensive.

Want to see the Statue of Liberty up close? Hop on the Staten Island Ferry for a free cruise across the river and a great view of Lady Liberty.

4. Don’t Stop at Broadway

Seeing a Broadway show can be a highlight of a trip to the city — but good luck getting tickets to “Hamilton.” While it is generally possible to score inexpensive same-day show tickets at the TKTS booths around the city, I like to expand my research way beyond the shows on the Great White Way. I often easily found seats for shows off-Broadway, which are just as good as those at the major theaters.

In fact, many shows begin in off-Broadway theaters before moving to the big time (the aforementioned “Hamilton” being one of them) and I even happened to see a show before it became the next big thing. Be flexible and willing to take a risk, and something great may come up.

5. Shop Small

It’s great fun to shop in the major department stores and window shop along Fifth Avenue, but I never limit myself to the primary shopping areas. Many of the stores in midtown Manhattan and along the most famous shopping streets can be found in any shopping mall in any city, and there I won’t be getting a true flavor of the city. Instead, I head to Brooklyn, Greenwich Village, or the East Village to find some funky boutiques and shops where I can find unique gems to take home. I am not so much into fashion, but I always make sure to check out some of the secondhand and consignment shops for cheap designer duds, or follow my favorite designers on social media to get the scoop on sample sales.

Visiting New York is exciting, and I’ll never be bored there. But I like the idea of saving a few bucks and I also want a more authentic, less crowded experience: try some of these ideas instead of just following the typical itinerary and fun will be guaranteed!