Free Foodie Attractions in New York City

Last month, I had the opportunity to visit my sister in New York City. I then spent a couple of weeks detailing some favorite food-centric sites on my blog, but the truth is that I barely scratched the surface. I made an heroic effort during my three days in the city, sadly knowing that I would leave numerous gems untasted, untried and undiscovered. I didn’t even begin to tip the high-end of the scale (Le Bernardin, Per Se, or the new Maialino, for example), but since my travel research usually skews to the more budget-conscious, I did amass a wealth of cost-free tips and attractions. Here are some tips for traveling foodies, so you can afford to have you cake and eat it, too, while visiting New York City.

1) Grand Central Market: This was my very first stop on my visit to NYC – my sister and I chose the famous Grand Central Station as our meeting place – and though I didn’t cover it in a dedicated post, it’s a worthwhile foodie destination. The market is tucked away on the east side of the station, and is Grand Central’s answer to the food halls and indoor markets of Europe (think Harrod’s or Fortnum & Mason on a very miniature scale). As such, the food is a bit pricey, but looking is free and there are lots of exciting things to see. Sniff some spices at Penzeys or catch a whiff of the sea at the Pescatore Seafood Co. stall. For sweet-lovers, there’s Corrado Bread & Pastry, and Li-Lac Chocolates.

2) Grand Central Dining Concourse: Spanning the lower level of the station, the Dining Concourse is another fun spot for foodies. Here, travelers and tourists can take a meal at a full service restaurant, or pick up a snack at one of the many kiosks that include the famous Magnolia Bakery and the popular Two Boots Pizza. The place offers a melange of different cuisines and cultures, from kosher meats and fresh sushi, to Indian curries and all-American hamburgers. The Dining Concourse is also home to the world-famous Oyster Bar and Restaurant, which has been open as long as the train station itself! For the sated traveler or tourist, wooden benches provide a great spot to rest your feet and watch the world – and a fascinating collection of hungry New Yorkers – go by.

3) Chelsea Market: Another indoor smorgasbord of eateries and food-related shops, the Chelsea Market is a must-see for any frugal foodie. Take in a multitude of sights and smells without spending a cent, or pop into some of the shops and sample a snack. Highlights include Amy’s Bread, Buon Italia, the Manhattan Fruit Exchange, Chelsea Market Baskets and Bowery Kitchen Supply. No matter what your food preferences may be, there’s something for everyone at Chelsea Market.

4) Chinatown, Manhattan: This is one of my favorite food-centric locations in New York City, and though I happily handed over fistfuls of dollars for dumplings at Vanessa’s Dumpling House, on Eldridge Street, you can easily explore Chinatown without opening your wallet. Admire the elaborately decorated pastries in a bakery window display, explore the amazing varieties of teas in a teashop, or browse the wares at a Chinese greengrocer. From vibrantly colored rambutan and dragon fruit, to the strange-yet-familiar bitter melon, these stands offer an exciting lesson in global cuisine.

5) Picnic in Battery Park: In spite of my packed schedule, I carved out a morning to visit Battery Park because it shows another, very different – and very relaxing – side of the city. Tucked right up against the Hudson River, Battery Park is insulated from the typical hustle and bustle of Manhattan. It’s where Manhattanites come to get away from Manhattan, and it’s a great retreat for tourists, too. Couples toss frisbees on the lush grass and runners pound the pavement by the water, where groups of nannies push their charges in impossibly elaborate strollers. Pack a picnic and enjoy an afternoon of sun and sea breezes. If Battery Park seems too crowded, direct your steps to the even more secluded Hudson River Park nearby.

6) Food Truck Tourism: I came to New York with a short ‘To Do’ list, and this was the only entry I didn’t tackle. The rise of the food truck in recent years has captured my curiosity, and since I only rarely come to the ‘big city,’ I had plans to track one down and check out this foodie phenomenon for myself. Sadly, I ran out of time, but if mobile munching is our your NYC ‘To Do’ list, check out the New York Street Food Website for reviews and a handy food truck tracker. From grilled cheese to gorditas, if you can eat it, there’s a food truck to serve it!

These attractions are just a few of the many frugal, food-centric sites New York City has to offer. This list is a good place to start, but it’s by no means exhaustive. Get out there, start exploring and find your own favorite places to eat and enjoy!

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