A student’s guide to living in New York
New York City is a city that’s famous for its bustling, busy atmosphere – and for good reason.
But once you go beyond the tourist trail (which is also very much worth taking a trek along), you’ll find a network of vibrant communities, local hangouts and hidden treasures that will make the city feel like home.
Cheap study break options
Any great study plan has designated breaks, and there are few better places to spend your spare time than New York City.
You will never run out of things to do or places to see and it’s possible to do a lot of it on a budget or even better, for free.
Staten Island Ferry
This is by far one of the best views of Manhattan from the water and it’s totally, 100%, absolutely free.
This 24-hour ferry is a lifeline for commuters making their way from New York City’s southernmost borough, but it’s also a boat trip affording some of the finest views in the world.
Keep your eyes peeled for Governors Island to the east and Ellis Island and Lady Liberty to the west. There are plenty of parks, museums and restaurants to explore on the island or you could just go for the ferry ride.
The best museums are free
Locals know many of the world class New York museums are free of charge on a pay-what-you-can basis.
For those needing some Van Gogh inspiration from the Met don’t let money keep you from soaking up the city’s art. The Natural History Museum is also free and even MOMA has Free Fridays so everyone can enjoy a cheap dose of culture now and then.
Brooklyn’s alternative to the Chelsea Market is a hipster’s paradise. Smorgasburg is held in Williamsburg every Saturday and Prospect Park every Sunday with a combination flea/farmer’s market with local vendors.
Gourmet and artisan foods from all over the city come together for this food festival. Many locals hang out here simply because the food is just so good, making this the perfect study break – cheap and delicious.
30 under 30
Believe it or not, there’s actually a cheap way for students to go to the theatre.
The 30 Under 30 tickets were created by the critically acclaimed Manhattan Theatre Club to provide affordable theatre prices for young people. This is just one of many deals that Off-Broadway theatre houses provide for locals.
Take a walk
New York City boasts 1,700 parks, so you’ll most likely never run out of green places to explore.
The High Line is a favourite, on the west side of Manhattan. Built on a disused portion of the elevated New York Central Railway, it’s been converted into a pedestrian-only park and public art space and is open all year round.
Central Park is also another great choice and is a beloved escape for locals and tourists alike. It’s 843 acres so it’ll take quite a few visits to fully explore and it’s a great place for a picnic or bike ride.
Best day trips to escape the city
Living in a bustling city like New York can at times be exhausting, so taking a break every so often is a good idea.
There are so many beautiful places that can easily be explored in a day trip.
As the name suggests, this hike in upstate New York isn’t for the faint hearted but it is one of the most satisfying trips you will take on the East Coast, with fantastic views of the Delaware River.
Once you tackle the first 30 minutes of rock scrambles the impressive 360-degree views begin, and you can even explore old ruins along the way. You should definitely come prepared with water and proper footwear.
After the hike, grab some lunch in the cute town of Cold Spring.
You can take the Metro North train 70 minutes to the start of the hiking trail for around USD25 return.
Explore one of the beaches
The New York coastline extends 520 miles and is longer than the coastlines of Miami, San Francisco, Boston and Los Angeles combined. Out of the 520 miles, 14 miles are beautiful sandy beaches.
Some of the best beaches close to the city include Coney Island in Brooklyn, Rockaway Beaches in Queens, Orchard Beach in the Bronx and Long Beach in Long Island.
If you’re up for travelling a little further, Fire Island is a great choice and boasts some great restaurants and bars with a view. You can travel to the island in two hours by LIRR train and then a ferry.
A one-day travel pass will cost you around USD37.
Though admittedly this is a city escape to another city, Philadelphia in the nearby state of Pennsylvania has a unique charm.
You can spend the day here soaking up the best in US history by visiting Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. The food scene is a force to be reckoned with – you must try a famous Philly cheesesteak. You should also check out the flourishing vintage clothing shops.
You can travel to Philadelphia by Amtrak train in 90 minutes, or bus in two hours for as little as USD5 one way.
The Hamptons village of Montauk at the easternmost reach of the South Fork of Long Island offers some of the best surfing in the region. It’s a very popular destination over the summer, and many of the rich and famous own mansions in the area. It’s definitely a place worth a visit.
Also found on Long Island is the region of North Fork, a peninsula made up of rural wine country and populated with world class wineries. The small villages also offer some outstanding boutique and antique shopping to get lost in.
You can drive to Long Island or catch the LIRR train or Hampton Jitney bus.
It will take you between two to three hours to travel to Montauk with prices ranging from USD20-USD30 each way.
The small town of Hudson on the banks of the Hudson River is a great little escape. The quaint town is famed for its stylish converted guesthouses that began as shops so there’s no shortage of places to explore.
It’s also a foodie haven, with great New York eats just without the busy city vibe.
The travel time to Hudson is two hours by train and will cost you around USD40-USD50 return.
Iconic cheap eats
New Yorkers love their food. There are so many restaurants in the city it would take you more than 12 years to visit all of them.
Manhattan has been a refuge for immigrants from all over the world and they have stirred their cuisines into the city’s melting pot.
Many of the best and cheapest places to eat are just walking distance from a lot of the downtown campuses and reflect the area’s rich history.
Pizza is definitely a favourite in New York and is best eaten while standing.
While there are many iconic dollar pizza stores throughout the city, if you can spare just a little bit more cash you won’t be disappointed.
Prince Street Pizza is an iconic standing-room-only pizza joint in Nolita where it’s not uncommon to have a celebrity sighting. Don’t let the line put you off, it moves very quickly and soon you will be enjoying what is arguably the best pepperoni slice of pizza in the city, for just USD4.
This place is hands down one of the best dumpling houses in the city and is one of the best deals in Chinatown. Everything is cooked before your eyes and nothing costs more than USD6.
Vanessa has an amazing dumplings menu, and you may find yourself ordering over and over again. There are also now several locations across the city to feed your dumpling craving whenever you’d like to.
This 24-hour diner serving hearty and delicious Ukrainian food in the East Village is amazing.
The restaurant has everything you could ever want, from exceptional homemade chicken soup to meatballs, daily specials, and even pancakes, all served with strong coffee at any time of the day. Everything on the menu is under USD20.
This Italian restaurant in the East Village is definitely a local favourite. All of their homemade pasta dishes are USD9 and their delicious panini are USD8. You can also have a glass of red wine with your meal for just USD6.
This place is great for a fun night out with friends that won’t break the bank.
If your cash is running low after paying rent, check out Gray’s Papaya. This restaurant on the Upper West Side is a New York City staple. Two hotdogs and a beverage will cost you USD4.95. It’s called the recession special and it’s available 24/7.
How to meet local people and make new friends
Moving to a city with more than eight million people can be daunting. New Yorkers can have a reputation for being unfriendly but for the most part people are actually very welcoming.
The trick is to never say no to any invitation because you just never know who you might meet.
Here are some of the easiest ways to make new friends in New York City.
Meetup is a great website that allows anyone to discover groups of people meeting up to do a particular activity. Once you sign up you can see if there are meetup events in a range of interest areas including, food, arts, business and outdoor activities.
Facebook is also another great tool. There are plenty of groups for students such as, International Students NYC and NYU International Students that provide support and list upcoming social events.
Take a class
No matter what you’re interested in, there’s a class or group for it in New York City. This is a great way to make friends because you are all interested in the same thing and have at least one topic of conversation to keep you going.
For those budding dessert chefs, you can learn how to make famous cakes at Milk Bar.
Alternatively, any class at Brooklyn Brainery is enticing. Self-described as the book club on steroids, it hosts seminars and classes on everything from DSLR photography to chalkboard art, women’s leadership and vegan Chinese cooking.
Volunteer your time
Do some charity work and you will be bound to make meaningful friendships. There are plenty of places that will welcome any extra help.
The Bowery Mission brings together students and young professionals looking to make a difference in downtown Manhattan. The group organises projects and events to assist homeless people and at-risk youth.
Fundraising events are an opportunity to enjoy elegant dinners and networking receptions where you can meet people while also making a difference in your new community.