Guide to New York City on a Budget, with Kids

Family Travel on 03.24.11
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Me and my children in Central Park. (Photo credit: Bitten by a Zebra)

New York is the kind of place where just walking around is a cultural adventure. Sure, you'll want to splurge on a few tourist attractions, but to keep costs down, just pretend you're a New Yorker.

I've lived in New York for nine years (and with three children and no money). Here is how we made our dollars stretch far.

Entertainment: Focus on the Free
Public places -- like libraries and parks -- are worth their weight in gold. Kids need to get their wiggles out as much as they need a quiet haven from the chaos -- or a potty. New York's state-of-the-art playgrounds and Old World libraries are the perfect place to chill out and even catch a concert or a walking tour. Check out the hundreds of activities ahead of time at New York City Public Libraries and New York City Parks and Recreation, as well as free museum times and events in Time Out New York Kids.

Getting Around: The Wheels on the Bus Go
For only $2.25 per adult (kids under 44" tall ride free), you can snag a tour while resting your piggies on a city bus. With their big windows and easy access, buses are a great way to take in the hustle and bustle. It was always daunting to me to brave the cascade of subway stairs with a stroller, but at least the transfer is free. Use MTA Trip Planner to figure out the best route.

Food: When You Really Need a Waiter
Even though packing a lunch or hitting the hotdog stand is more economical, what your aching feet crave is to hear, "What can I get for you?" Look out for small ethnic restaurants. They cost less, and there's always something on the menu for tender palates. For inexpensive picks from restaurant critics, use the New York Times' restaurant search tool.

NYC Discount Hotels: If You've Outgrown Youth Hostels
With little ones tagging along, is probably not your style. My friends have had good luck with finding apartments -- with kitchens and living rooms -- on Craigslist under "vacation rentals." Bed and breakfasts are another popular low-cost option, so check out and book early. For a traditional hotel, you probably won't find a better deal in Manhattan than the Hotel Chelsea, recommended by the New York Times' Frugal Traveler.

I don't know about you, but I look back fondly on vacations where I was able to experience cool places off the beaten track. The five boroughs offer lots of high-priced spectacles -- and lines -- but you'll save money and have fun if you burrow in.

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