You don't need to spend a lot of money to have a good time in New York City - especially in the summer. Long Island "staycationers," who this year are passing on a pricey trip to Europe or weeklong getaway, can find plenty of entertainment to fill a day or evening in the city.
Here are 20 ideas to help you get started. Most are cheap or free - those that do cost a little more have been carefully selected to be worth the extra dollars - at least in our opinion.
1. Take a tour
Manhattan has some imaginative tours that start at dirt cheap prices. A quirky Chinatown walk reveals the neighborhood's obscure tunnel ($15, 212-619-4785, mocanyc.org). A perambulation through Grand Central Station reveals all its secrets ($15, 212-465-3331).
2. Go paddling!
Get off the concrete and give your feet a rest with a free kayaking session from Downtown Boathouse at one of its various piers (Pier 40, 72nd Street and Pier 96). From a 20-minute paddling session for anyone who can swim to longer trips to DUMBO cove or elsewhere for those more experienced, the boathouse offers something for everyone (downtownboathouse.org).
3. Dig a rooftop bar
Rooftops abound in Manhattan, but where to go to enjoy a stunning skyline, breathtaking sunset and a decent cocktail? Try the Gramercy Park Hotel's Private Rooftop and Garden (212-920-3300, gramercyparkhotel.com), which recently has been opened to the public, or the Peninsula Hotel's Salon de Ning (212-903-3097, peninsula.com) for Manhattan rooftop meets Shanghai salon. For a view of Columbus Circle, there's the stylish Ava lounge in the penthouse of the Dream Hotel (212-956-7020, avaloungenyc.com). For a southern vista of midtown, the Roof Garden Café and Martini Bar at the Metropolitan Museum of Art closes early, but leaves time to take in a sunset in late summer (212-535-7710, metmuseum.org).
4. Enjoy passeggiata
Finally! You can walk the first section of the High Line, an elevated train line on the west side of Manhattan that has been converted to a long-awaited park. Enter at Gansevoort Street between 10th and 11th avenues, and enjoy a stroll over lightly landscaped boardwalks past high-design buildings (212-206-9922, thehighline.org). No charge!
5. Roll away
If you'd rather roll than walk to get your thrills, go roller-skating at the 28-acre Riverbank State Park, 679 Riverside Dr., which rises 69 feet above the Hudson and has a canopied rink offering skate rentals. Roller skaters can take in the river view in the summer ($1.50 admission, $6 rental; 212-866-3100, nysparks.state.ny.us).
6. See opera, high-def
The price of world-class opera can be steep, but now you can enjoy extraordinary Met performances for free (in high definition) at the first-ever Summer HD Festival in Lincoln Center, starting Aug. 29. See and hear "Roméo et Juliette" one weekend and "Orfeo ed Euridice" the next (metoperafamily.org). Ten consecutive nights, 10 different operas.
7. Visit a wonderland
It's just a slice of land only 800 yards from lower Manhattan, but Governors Island, a former military base that recently reopened to the public, has become a popular spot for a mini-vacation. You can experience this wonderland yourself by taking a ferry out to explore the 172-acre island, which has become an artists' playground. You can play miniature golf among colorful art installations or enjoy a cocktail at the after-dark beach bar (govisland.com). Ferry ride and admission are free.
8. Take in a cheap exhibit
Many are aware that you can visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art for a "suggested donation," which can mean anything down to a penny for the most hard-up among us. There are oodles of other Manhattan museums that also ask for a suggested donation, including American Museum of Natural History (amnh.org) - and from 5:45 to 7:45 p.m. Saturdays, The Guggenheim (guggenheim.org).
9. Have dessert first
High-end dessert and ice-cream trucks are sprouting in Manhattan. Follow the DessertTruck (desserttruck.com) for unexpected gourmet treats such as peach lavender sorbet, molten dark chocolate cake and crème brûlée ($6 each), or track down the artisan Van Leeuwen ice-cream truck to cool down with sophisticated flavors such as red currant and ginger (vanleeuwenicecream.com).
10. Eat a cannoli
Practice your Italiano at the Summer in Little Italy festival, which runs every weekend until Labor Day. Mulberry Street (between Canal and Broome) becomes a pedestrian mall, as most of the area's more than 35 restaurants operate sidewalk cafes where you can stop for a leisurely cappuccino or handmade cannoli al fresco (212-302-0551, littleitalynyconline.com).
11. Rock on the porch
The Southwest Porch at Bryant Park is a new outdoor lounging spot that looks like a sprawling porch at a summer home, with porch swings, rocking chairs and Adirondack furniture. The full bar has local beers on tap, and chef Tom Colicchio's 'wichcraft serves up small bites at a sandwich kiosk. It's open through mid-September with free wireless Internet access, too (212-768-4242, bryantpark.org).
12. Go bird-watching
Beloved bird-watcher "Birding Bob" DeCandido, along with bird and nature photographer Deb Allen, leads cheap, fascinating tours of the ornithological life of Central Park on Sundays, and sometimes Saturdays. You can bring or rent binoculars to view the more than 100 bird species that live in and migrate through the park ($5, 718-828-8262, birdingbob.com).
13. Tee up on the Hudson
Drive some golf balls at the Hudson River at this netted driving range on the waterfront at Chelsea Piers Golf Club at Pier 59, where you also can rent clubs ($25 for 90 to 147 balls, 212-336-6400, chelseapiers.com).
14. Play beach blanket bingo!
OK, OK, it's technically in Queens, but the Water Taxi Beach is just through the Queens-Midtown Tunnel, right next to the Hunters Point ferry stop in Long Island City. Here you can get a lovely panorama of the borough while playing volleyball, lazing around picnic tables or slurping down frosty blender drinks on a strip of sand trucked in from Jersey. Get there via subway or, of course, the NY Water Taxi ($4.50 each way weekdays from East 35th Street; $20 unlimited one-day weekend pass, watertaxibeach.com).
15. Dance with the moon
Maybe you'll never make your mark on "Dancing With the Stars," but you can dance with the moon at MoonDance at Pier 54 in Hudson River Park on Sunday nights - even if you're a beginner. Dance Manhattan offers free lessons in tango, salsa and swing, beginning at 6:30 p.m., with live bands starting at 7 p.m. and playing into the night. The fun goes on through Aug. 9 (212-627-2020, hudsonriverpark.org).
16. Sail the high seas
Take a free boat ride with stunning scenery on the Staten Island Ferry (siferry.com). Or skip the high-priced double-decker bus and ducks tours and opt instead for the New York Water Taxi, where you can hop on and off at the Statue of Liberty, Lower Manhattan hot spots and hip neighborhoods of Brooklyn ($20 unlimited one-day pass, 212-742-1969, extension 222, nywatertaxi.com).
17. See the Bard's works
Sample the "other" free Shakespeare in the Park (no tickets required) produced by Hudson Warehouse in Riverside Park, where "Hamlet" and "A Midsummer Night's Dream" are being performed through August (hudsonwarehouse.net). If you have the fortitude to wait in line, there's always the original Shakespeare in the Park, which is performing "The Bacchae" in Central Park (212-539-8500, publictheater.org). Try the "virtual line" via the Web site to land tickets.
18. Unwind with yoga
Namaste! You don't have to be a dharma bum to take advantage of yoga classes for a suggested donation of $10. Yoga to the People, which aims to make yoga accessible to everyone, offers classes in various types of yoga at three locations in Lower Manhattan (917-573-9642, yogatothepeople.com).
19. See a (good) free show
For some of the best in performance, from live concerts to dance to film, Central Park's SummerStage offers it up through mid-August - and it's free! Coming up: RIOULT dance troupe, 8 p.m. Friday, and CineFest Brasil, 7 p.m. next Sunday (212-360-2756, summerstage.org).
20. Travel to the fringes
For three August weekends of edgy fun, the New York International Fringe Festival is a time to see a play by an emerging artist for $15 - or cheaper, if you buy a pass to multiple plays. And there are plenty to choose from: The festival includes more than 1,300 performances by more than 200 international theater companies at 20 different Manhattan venues (212-279-4488, fringenyc.org).