Do you know the origins of New York City’s nickname the “Big Apple”?
This post will take you through why New York is called the “Big Apple” and what you can do in a day there for cheap. As it turns out, it’s quite a lot. From viewing the statue of liberty to visiting the 9/11 memorial site to taking a stroll in Central Park and catching a show at Broadway, if you are ready to explore NYC on a shoestring budget let’s go!
The time is 10 am and we are just arriving at our hotel at 319 W 48th St, NYC where we will set up base for just one night –Belvedere Hotel.
But first a primer on the city street and avenue naming conventions.
New York’s a big city and it pays to understand how the streets and avenues are named.
Generally speaking, avenues run north to south (read:vertically) while streets for the most part run east to west (read:horizontally).
If you notice, many addresses in New York have East or West (especially in midtown, like our hotel) attached to them. Do not take them lightly.
Generally speaking, you have to first find fifth avenue which is to the east border of Central Park. Addresses to the left of fifth avenue are designated west while addresses to the right are designated east. To give an example, 1 E 48th Street will be the corner of the intersection between fifth avenue and 48th street on the east side. Corresponding, 1 W 48th street will be on the corner of fifth avenue and 48th street on the west side.
Belvedere hotel on 319 W 48 th street is essentially the 319th building from fifth avenue on 48th street on the west side.
Food in the City
With the primer done, we are ready to explore the city on foot. Being Singaporeans, what is the first thing that comes to mind? That’s right. Food. And this first one on our list came highly recommended by our friends who have been in New York before and it was timely too because it’s time for lunch.
1. Shake Shack
If I were to summarize the place in 2 words? Awesome burgers.
I think there is something to be said about the freshness of the beef used in their burgers. The buns were really good as well! Our friends had the ‘shroom burger which according to them was no less awesome.
691 8th Avenue
8th Avenue & 44th Street
Hours 11AM – 12AM, 7 days a week
After the burgers we walked southwards towards the 9/11 memorial with an intended pit stop at a recommended ice cream shop. Along the way we passed by and took pictures of the iconic Empire State building.
2. Big Gay Ice Cream
The picture doesn’t really do the ice cream justice because the entire cone was smothered on the inside with Nutella and salted caramel. This was perfect for a hot day out and at 1 pm, the temperature was near its peak. Because it was so hot, we took a little bit of time to just rest in the shop. Before long however, there was a crowd building and we went on our way to our next stop – 9/11 memorial.
Big Gay Ice Cream Shop
As it was on the way, we strolled along the waterfront at the Battery Park City Esplanade. It was 2pm by this point but there were runners , cyclists and people just lying on the grass out in the wonderful afternoon sun – something that we do not usually see here in Singapore in the city.
If you get the chance, this is a nice walk along the waterfront with facilities like toilets and a playground to boot. They even have bicycles you can rent using a credit card that go at a rate of 12 USD for an entire day.
We found ourselves at the 9/11 memorial at 2.30 pm.
A brief recap of the events from September 11, 2001 taken from the memorial website (which I highly recommend visiting) :
On September 11, 2001, nineteen terrorists who were members of al-Qaeda, an Islamist extremist network, hijacked four commercial airplanes. In a coordinated attack, the hijackers intentionally flew two of the planes into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, and a third into the Pentagon. Learning about the other hijackings, passengers and crew members on the fourth plane launched a counterattack, spurring the hijacker pilot to crash the plane into a field in Pennsylvania. Nearly 3,000 people were killed on that day, the single largest loss of life resulting from a foreign attack on American soil.
Where the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center stood previously, we have in its place, twin reflecting pools. Bordering the pools, bronze panels are inscribed with the names of every people who died. These were not only for those in the airplanes and the World Trade Center but the first responders as well.
The site was quite affecting and seeing flowers on some of the names just drove home that these people were not just names on a panel but husbands, wives, children,even friends that were taken away in a senseless act of terrorism.
Short of going there, you can also take the outdoor virtual tour of the memorial here. During the time we were there, we did not have enough time to visit the indoor museum. You may consider taking the indoor virtual tour of the museum here.
Staten Island Ferry
After spending a good 45 mins or so at the memorial, we made our way on foot to the Staten Island Ferry terminal where you can take a free ferry to Staten Island, passing by the Statue of Liberty. You may find the ferry schedule here.
Just a quick tip: if you choose to take this free ferry from New York, board on the right hand side of the ferry for best views of the Statue of Liberty.
Additionally, the ferry service does not allow passengers to stay on board when it docks at Staten island even though it may be the exact same ferry going back to Manhattan. All passengers are to disembark at Staten Island and board again.
It is my experience that the ferry service allows enough time for this so there is really no need to run (contrary to advice read elsewhere). The ride to and from Staten Island takes about 1 hour and before long we found ourselves back in the Big Apple.
So why really is it called the Big Apple?
The Big Apple
The name “Big Apple” originated in the 1920s from the prize being given out at race courses called an apple. Because these races were important, the prizes given were also substantial hence leading to “Big Apple”.
For me , it was unimaginable that there were race courses in New York City where today tall mirrored sky scrappers stand.
Having walked a good portion of the city, taken the ferry to Staten Island, it was now time to experience New York’s subways.Taking the subway turned out to be one of the most interesting experiences we had.
The plan was this – take from the station nearest Staten Island Ferry terminal to TKTS which is a ticketing agent that sold same day Broadway tickets at up to 50% off. In fact, I found out later that you can buy the tickets through the TKTS app and personnel in red t-shirts bearing the TKTS logo will be waiting for you at the theater to pass you the tickets.
But back to the subway . For a single ride to any station on the line, it costs a flat fee of 3 USD. An interesting observation was that even though it looked like many stops, the time between stops were really quick. For example we took around 20 minutes for 15 stops on the subway.
Before we attended the Broadway musical we opted to buy a pizza for a picnic in Central Park. This would turn out to be one of my favourite experiences in New York City. Central Park is a beautiful green lung in the midst of the metal and concrete jungle that is New York City.
While we were there, couples were hanging out, school teams were playing a modified version of baseball and the whole park was alive with activity, be it someone playing the bagpipes or groups like us having a nice picnic in the lovely weather.
Because I wanted to experience a bit of running about the park, I managed to sneak a quick jog the next morning before leaving the city. One interesting thing about the park is that there are particular lanes you should be on depending on which direction you are moving.
For example in the picture above, on the leftmost lane you see two white figures printed on the ground. The left side would be for people coming towards you and the right side for people going away from you. Cyclists have their own special lane for a particular direction.
After we strolled around the park, of course we had to end of the day with a musical at New York’s famed Broadway. We decided on Jersey Boys as it was a musical that our friends had seen before.
So what’s the difference between watching musicals in Singapore and here in New York?
To be honest, I haven’t watched the same musical at the two different locations before but one thing was evident – Since a musical could potentially play for more than a year at a particular theater , everyone in the musical knew the set very well and was extremely well coordinated. We were just amazed by the seamless transition from one set to another.
The producers of the musical also made sure that the entire visit, from the shop where you can buy the CD from to the set on stage was the Jersey Boys experience and I appreciated that.Watching the musical was a perfect end to the evening before we headed back to pack.
A last stop
There was just one more thing to be done in New York City . I had to try one of the foods I saw on the segment “the best thing I ever ate” series – the double chocolate cookie from Levain Bakery. As we did not have enough time the previous day, we decided to visit the bakery on our way to the airport and managed to catch the bakery just as it was opening at 8am in the morning.
There was already a line and we could already smell the cookies.
The cookies retail for 4 USD a pop and these were nearly the size of your palm. Levain Bakery bakes them in four flavours: Chocolate chip walnut, dark chocolate peanut butter chip, dark chocolate chocolate chip and Oatmeal Raisin cookie. I bought 2 of each and my Instagram post just about captures my reaction to them.
One of the foods I had to try in New York was Levian bakery's cookies. Just look at the melted chocolate chips and if you were to heat it up slightly, the entire room smells like cookies and it's not a bad thing . Update: their double chocolate chip cookies are to die for. They are simply the best chocolate cookies I ever ate. Period.
167 West 74th St
New York, NY, 10023
Hours: Mon-Sat 8am-7pm, Sun 9am-7pm
The low down
New York is an amazing city and it is possible to experience it on a shoestring budget and still be able to tick the big bucket items.
- Picture of empire state building : free
- 9/11 memorial : free (with the exception of the musem)
- Staten Island ferry : free
- Subway single ticket : 3 USD
- Central Park : free
If you have a bit more time available you can consider watching a Broadway performance , visiting the Met or the 9/11 museum.