Reader Tips Contest: NYC and DC

December 8, 2008

in Contest, Reader Tips, Travel, USA

Tickets are purchased but plans are still loose:  the no-budget traveler is tackling the American capitals of New York City and Washington DC at the start of the new year.  Lincoln MemorialWith just 2.5 days for each city, time and money are at a premium.  What budget secrets have you uncovered for museums, transportation, or restaurants?  What are your favorite free sights and experiences?  What is best avoided at all costs?

Share your voice of experience and earn a modest prize if I deem your advice the best or most useful. Entering is easy: simply leave a comment below!

{ 2 trackbacks }

May I Draw your Attention to the Sidebar? « Less Than a Shoestring
12.10.08 at 5:23 pm
Monday Business « Less Than a Shoestring
12.29.08 at 4:10 pm

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jen 12.08.08 at 5:46 pm

I’m sure you’ve heard this by now, but you only need to pay what you wish at the AMNH and the Met in NYC. The New Museum ( is also free on Thursday evenings.
One of the best museums/experiences in NYC is the Tenement Museum ( It’s a bit pricey but definitely worth it.
Get an unlimited ride MetroCard. Since you’ll be here for 2 days get 2 of the one day “Fun Passes” – they’re $7.50 each and worth it if you’re going to take more than 8 subway/bus rides.

2 Kim@Galavanting 12.09.08 at 2:56 am

I’m not a NYC expert, but best thing about DC is that most museums are free (if they’re part of Smithsonian). Also, don’t buy the multi-day pass for the DC metro unless you plan to use it quite a lot, and most of DC is walkable if you’re used to hoofing it. Another cool thing to see there is the Eastern Market since it’s on Capitol Hill.

If you’re there when the offices are open and have 10-days advance notice, email your congressman’s office requesting a Capitol tour (use an old address if you want, they don’t mail anything). Some overworked intern forced to remember a vast number of facts usually does a great job and it’s fun, you also get to ride the underground tram that goes from the office buidlings to the Capitol. Best of all, it’s free…

Also, happy hour is BIG in DC and there are tons of them at varying hours. Even a lot of really nice restaurants offer very cheap food in the bar area, there’s a listing by segment of the city on this site:

The Library of Congress often puts on free events during the day that include lunch which are hosted by various nonprofits and embassies. That way you get to learn something new and get free lunch! Bonus is it’s the most beautiful interior of any building in the city. Check ‘em out here:

There are also some free events coming up, listed here:

Have a great time!!

3 Jan Ruskell 12.10.08 at 9:43 am

Here is a list of gift shops. Many are great places to visit.

Also the government cafeterias are good places to eat.
I like the Dept. of Interior.

4 G 12.10.08 at 7:50 pm

Get a Big Apple Greeter- they are free, local and love the city.They aren’t paid guides, but locals who are interested in meeting and exploring/showing off the city they love.

It’s totally free, no tipping, all about meeting people and seeing things. (I think Paris has also copied this program- I wish Berlin would!)

5 Guylaine 12.11.08 at 9:34 pm

Free concerts in Bryant Park! I was there in the fall and heard singers from the Met Opera. Amazing.

6 Gord 12.12.08 at 12:55 am

Board the Staten Island Ferry at the southern end of Manhattan for a free ride and a great view of the Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline. You need to make sure to board one of the older orange and green ferrys as they have decks. Stay at the back and on the right hand side for the best views.

7 CA 12.14.08 at 5:14 pm

Even if it’s cold out Roosevelt Island is one of the best kept secrets in DC (ok, it’s in VA, but it’s easy to get to.) Pack a picnic lunch and walk across the potomac to spend the day in the no motor vehicles allowed memorial grove in the woods.

8 minnemom 12.17.08 at 8:44 pm

A lot of the DC attractions are free, and it’s very walkable, but plan your route well so you’re not walking back and forth from thing to thing as it opens. It doesn’t look that far on the map, but the walking (and time) add up if you’re not well-prepared.

9 Tom Meyers 12.19.08 at 5:26 pm

Hi Hillary!

I’m so sorry that none of the EuroCheapo gang will be in New York when you’re passing through. Alas, I’ll be back in Ohio, and Pete and Mere will be in North Carolina.

Regarding tips for New York on a budget, check out our list of budget tips for New York. (Please excuse the self-promo…)

I second Jen’s comment above about free admission to the Met and free nights at other museums. But don’t forget that the city is sometimes better than a museum — just walking down Fifth Avenue (checking out the holiday window displays), is free. Times Square, in all its gaudy craziness, is free for the gawking.

If you’re up for an adventure, you can even take a free two-hour ride in a cop car! The police have a free ” civilian ride-along” program that would certainly be an eye-opener! I dare you…

In any case, have a blast. I can’t wait to read about your experiences.


10 Rick Kane 12.31.08 at 6:55 am

Like others have said, D.C. has a lot of great attractions that are free to visitors…one of my favorite monuments (and one that is less well known) is the FDR memorial. It’s got a really cool walk through, almost maze-like design that allows for a more intimate, interactive experience. I would suggest visiting it around dusk, as it is really neat when it is all lit up.

If you have time, I would also strongly recommend visiting Dupont Circle, a really cool, very ethnically diverse neighborhood with a lot of great, well-priced food! From Moroccan, to Ethiopian, to whatever else you can think of, this place seriously has it all!

11 Cathy 01.05.09 at 8:20 pm

The Kennedy Center has free performances at 6 every day at their Millennium stage. The National Gallery of Art has a free classical music concert every Sunday night. All the Smithsonian museums often have other free events like films (I’ve been to them at both National Gallery and Library of Congress) so be sure to check all the websites before you go. You can get half-price same day tickets at

The DC Circulator ( goes all over downtown and is $1 – $3 for a whole day.

If you go to Dupont Circle, go on Sunday when they have the farmers market. You can get a lot of free samples. There is a Whole Foods grocery store in Dupont Circle as well and they might have free samples too. Hawk and Dove near the capitol is famous for their free snacks during happy hour.

Not free but cheap eats include Ben’s Chili Bowl which is also a DC landmark. There are still a few cheap places to eat in Chinatown (go over to 7th st and look for the place with the guy making fresh noodles in the window) and there are lot of those carts that sell food – gross hot dogs mostly but some of them do pretty decent ethnic food and look for the “on the fly” smartkarts which serve more gourmet fare.

Ok, those are my DC tips.

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