I had a great day on Friday in Manhattan for the price of a $20 subway pass. I did a lot of wandering around and people-watching, but here are three great free activities:
1. Central Park. Probably the greatest urban park in the world. It is gorgeous, and everyone overlooks it. If you have never strolled the Ramble, you will not believe you are in the middle of Manhattan.
2. Walk the high-line park. Another fabulous piece of landscape architecture, an old elevated rail line running north from about 14th street (just a bit south of the Chelsea Market) along the West Side that has been turned into a park and an amazing escape. You can stroll the waterfront and urban New York without encountering a single car. It is also incredibly quiet. And train-lovers will appreciate that the architects kept a lot of the complex track-work as part of the landscape, almost like industrial art.
3. Walk the Brooklyn Bridge. I don't know that there is any similar experience anywhere else. Something New Yorkers and tourists have enjoyed for over a hundred years.
I couldn't stay until magic hour but the view was still tremendous.
In the evening, I did whip out the wallet again and took my daughter to Ellen's Stardust Diner, near 51st and Broadway. Total tourist trap. Terrible food. But an absolute blast every time. All the waiters are out-of-work Broadway singers and they take turns singing show tunes for the restaurant as they serve. We have walked out smiling and feeling good every time we have gone.