NYC Life Hacks: How to Make the Most of the City While at Columbia

We've collected your best tips for new New Yorkers, how to spend a fun day in NYC on $20, and favorite spots to explore outside of Columbia's campuses. 

By
Kara Avanceña and Kelly Moffitt-Hawasly
August 17, 2022

It might be hard to notice on a 90-degree day, but there's change in the air of New York City, change that heralds the beginning of a new season and the return to the hustle and bustle of the school year. In just a few days, Columbia students will begin to return to campus after a summer away and we couldn't be more excited.

Just as the city is taking on the air of possibility, we started thinking of the possibilities that lie at your feet when you leave campus and head out into the Big Apple. With this in mind, we decided to ask our readers: Just how do you make the most of NYC while a student at Columbia? Man, were we surprised by your breadth and depth of answers!

A lot of you had similar suggestions (take the NYC Ferry, make the most of Central Park), but some you ventured off the beaten path to truly interesting new corners of the five boroughs. And when we asked how you'd do New York City on $20 a day, some of you said it could not be done — but guess what? Those of you that took a stab at it came up with some truly ingenious itineraries we'll be taking advantage of too!

To be honest, we received so many tips through social media and our Google Form that we couldn't fit them all in one article! So get your Notes app out and get ready to explore off campus like a true New Yorker.

Thanks to the students, staff, faculty, and alumni who shared their wisdom with Columbia News for this article. 

What one-sentence advice would you give to a NEW New Yorker?

On transportation...

“Don’t rely solely on Google Maps to get around; learn the subway system and street map.” —Rudy Rodriguez (GS’20, SPS’22) | @rudy_r_rodjr

"If you are lost, find an intersection with a bus stop and act like you are waiting for a bus while you figure out where you are and where you need to go; try not to look lost." —Will Hunnicutt, Staff

"If you're riding a local bus between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., you can ask the bus operator to let you off anywhere along the route, even if it's not a regular bus stop." —Kara Avanceña, Staff

West Side Highway

“Run along the West Side Highway for great views and good vibes!” —Nicolas Lama (CC’24) | @nicolasmlama

“Subway stairs: walk on the RIGHT side.” —@kelliediodato

“Stand clear of the closing doors, please! #MTA” —Kimbria Denny (SPS’22) | @she_is_brea 

"Walk everywhere and look around! NY is its own show every day and there is always something—lots of things—to surprise you!"  —Jennifer Ratner, Staff

"Enjoy the walking you'll do, pay attention to who is around you, and go someplace else if there might be trouble before there is trouble." —Jon Evans, Staff

On adventure and mindset...

“Embrace the unknown and lean into the new adventure.” —Melanie Alcala (TC’22) | @melanie_01

Glass Animals Performance

“Go to things you’re interested in even if you don’t have a friend to go with!!” —Emily Tillet (MSPH’23) | @emtillet

“Find your own New York—everyone’s is different.” —Grace Carroll (CC’19) | @grace____carroll

“Find the beauty in being alone!” —Misha Mathur (MSPH’21) | @mishamathur

“Remember, you belong.” —Cynthia Hornig (SSW’22) | @chornig

“Always be open to opinions and conversations you would not have anticipated otherwise.” —Dakshesh Thacker (SIPA’23) | @daksheshthacker

On the essentials...

“Check the apartment before renting it!” — @alcortessi

“When in doubt, go to sleep—you’ll need it.” —Srishti Mahajan (SIPA’22) | @srishtixmahajan 

“The best Sunday fuel: BEC* on a bagel and a large iced coffee!” —Collier Curran (BC’20, LAW’25) | @collierincolor [EDITOR'S NOTE: *Bacon, Egg, and Cheese for the uninitiated.]

"Always have some cash, water, and food with you. The moment you start looking for something is the moment they all disappear." —Katherine Wang (CC'24)

“Go find your ‘Buy Nothing’ Facebook group in your neighbourhood to save money!” —Mine Cekin | 4th-year doctoral student in Mathematics Education, Teachers College | @minecekin

How would you spend a day in NYC on $20 or less?

BAAND Together Dance Festival at Lincoln Center (free), Ballet Hispánico, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet, or the Dance Theater of Harlem” —Laurel Abbruzzese, director of the Columbia University Irving Medical Center/Westside Dance Physical Therapy Performing Arts Fellowship, Programs in Physical Therapy (CC’91, VP&S’94, TC’00, '04) | @laurelabba

Ice cream in front of the Brooklyn Bridge.

“So here’s my day: coffee at Think Coffee at 30th street near Hudson Yards, then walk The High Line down to Meatpacking. There are so many ferries to choose from, I would continue walking through all the way down to Wall Street and take the $2.75 ferry* from Pier 11 to Dumbo. Here I’d check out Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory (they have vegan ice cream) and/or rooftop drinks at TimeOut Market 😍” —Matilda Ivarsson (SPS’22) | @mattyivarsson [EDITOR'S NOTE: The cost of an NYC Ferry will go up to $4 beginning September 12.]

Papaya King + Conservatory Garden” —Susan Biegler (SOA’01) | @derbywinner

"Start by biking down to Absolute Bagels for some breakfast ($5). From there, I'm going to bike across town and head over the bridge at 103rd St. on the east side to Randall's Island. There are some great virtual tours of the island, but I like to just bring a book and enjoy the outdoors. When I start to get hungry again, I'll bike back to Manhattan and go to Ollin just a couple of blocks from the bridge for a huge plate of amazing Mexican food that's never more than $15." —Jesse Lang, Staff

Monisha Holmes

“Train ride to Prospect Park, kombucha, a few slices of Joe’s Pizza, and a journal.” —Monisha Holmes (SSW’18) | @monishaholmes

“Coffee + croissant at Hungarian Pastry Shop for $7, go to the Met for free, $1 pizza, halal cart for $7” — Emily Chen (BC’25) | @0omlet

Free kayaking at Pier 26 + MoMA. $5 orchestra at Lincoln Center. $10 late-night jazz at Smalls Jazz Club.” —Yatin Gilhotra, PhD candidate, Columbia Engineering

“Food tour through Chinatown — bao, dumplings, rice rolls!!” —Eden Halpert (BC’23) | @ehalpert

Mister Dips ice cream cone with Brooklyn Bridge in background.

"Taking the NYC Ferry from Manhattan to the South Street Seaport (Wall St stop) and eating Mister Dips while catching the AMAZING view of the Brooklyn Bridge at sunset/maybe even ‘overhearing’ a Pier17 concert while you eat. Cheap food and literally priceless view! And that Ferry ride down the East River (catch it at E 90th St. or 34th) let’s you see it ALL—from the Empire State Building to the Chrysler to the LIC iconic Pepsi sign and more." —Jennifer Ratner, Staff

“$1 pay-what-you-wish at the Met → $3 to City Hall to walk the Brooklyn BridgeBrooklyn Pier carousel + $8 milkshake” —Kenya Jacob (SEAS’24) | @kenyagjacob

"Ride the Staten Island Ferry – it's free and it's a great way to get views of the skyline, Statue of Liberty, and the harbor. Plus, you can say you've been to Staten Island." —Erica Niemiec, Staff

Pizza, Central Park, and a girl in Central Park

“Subway to pizza at Made in New York (80th & Amsterdam), Central Park, then ice cream!!” —Tiffany Stills (LAW’24) | @tiffxnyalana

“Get Absolute Bagels, kayak at Pier 26 for free, grab some Joe’s Pizza at Times Square” —Radha Kamdar (GSAPP’22) | @radhaadkamdar

Zabar’s lunch ($10), Chinatown Ice Cream Factory ($5), subway tix to Coney Island ($2.75)” —Claire Lempert (BC’23) | @lempert4

"Bacon, egg, and cheese on a roll with hot sauce from a deli/corner store for breakfast (~$3). Walk through Central to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (admission is free for NYC residents!), pop out of the Met for chopped cheese sandwich with everything on it at a deli/corner store for lunch (~$7) then continue seeing more of the Met. Walk up 5th Ave. to 116th St. and turn East on 116th and go to La Chula at 116th and Lexington for some tacos (~$10). Walk back towards Columbia and walk through Morningside Park." —Will Hunnicut, Staff

“$2.75 tram to Roosevelt Island. $10 for food and drink. Walk around the island and vibe.” —David N. (CC’22)

“A walk from Battery Park to Columbia is a bucket list item. You can drop by a halal cart on the way.” —Jayon Park (BC’24) | @j.off.p

“Explore lots of good food at Chinatown!!!” —C. Ayu Rahimainita (SPS’22) | @cutayr

A photo of a painted ceiling at a museum and the George Washington Bridge.

“Free museum visits with school ID, studying at the NYPL, and watching the sunset at the George Washington Bridge!!” —Sophie Vilamara (NUR’25) | @_.sophie._

“$2.75 ferry ride to Roosevelt Island/$2.75 air tram to the Upper East Side/$15 lunch in Central Park” —Atia Rasouli (TC’22) | @atia_rasouli

CitiBike + lawn blankets + snacks + Sheep Meadow, Central Park” —George Verghese (GSAPP’23) | @george_kochukudy

“Rent a CitiBike to Central Park. Stop for a drink. Come back after a few hours and eat at Ferris.” —Tonycia Coe (CC’24)

 

What is a place outside of Morningside Heights that students should go to?

“Take the subway to Flushing, Queens! Try the dumpling places like Shanghai You Garden.” —Jan Batzner (GSAS’22) | @janzner

“All the art galleries and museums! The Frick Collection is my favorite.” —Mohnish Chakravarti (SEAS’20) | @mchakravarti7

Flowers at the Prospect Park Farmers Market

Grand Army Plaza’s farmers’ market/Prospect Park” —Izzy Bohn (GS’23) | @izzybohn

Fort Tilden Beach” —Melanie Culley (GS’24) | @melanieroseculley

Brooklyn Botanical Garden + the Brooklyn Museum. They’re right by each other!” —Kate Eickhoff (CC’24) | @kate.eickhoff

The Met Cloisters and the Bronx (New York) Botanical Garden” —Eshrat, second-year student at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences | (@eshrat_kristina)

Breakneck Ridge

Breakneck Ridge! You can head to the Harlem 125th St. station and take the Hudson Line North for about an hour and 20 minutes to a dedicated Breakneck Ridge stop that is a 5-minute walk to the Trailhead start. Have fun!" —John Gonzaga (GS’20) | @johnny.__.5

NYPL reading room” —Linus Glenhaber (CC’23) | @linusglenhaber

“Coney Island!! Just a subway ride away and lots of fun! Especially during the summer.” —Juan Idiarte, technician at Columbia University Irving Medical Center | @idiartejuan

Dumplings and pastries from Chinatown.

“Chinatown for delicious Chinese food and desserts! I love soup dumplings from Noodle Village. One of my go-to Cantonese-style noodle shops. And cheese tarts from Pinklady. Here we have the regular, ube, and blueberry flavors."” —Michelle Lee, PhD candidate, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences | @mishellie97

Van Cortlandt/Pelham Bay parks are a great way to get away from the city without going too far!”  —Amogh Inamdar (SEAS’22) | (@amogh.inamdar)

Belvedere Castle." —Adriana Perez (SOA’99) | @adrianainmiami

Queens Night Market.” —Priya Poomalil (SPS’20) | @priya.poomalil [EDITOR'S NOTE: We'll also put in a plug for the Harlem/Manhattanville-based Uptown Night Market.]

Korean BBQ from Let's Meat

“KBBQ in Ktown 🤤I recommend the place ‘Let’s Meat.’” —Lucas Wang (SEAS’22) |  @mycitope

Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and Palisades Park.” —Gadha Raj N (SIPA’23) | @solofoodtrails

“The New York Transit Museum!” —Reetahan (SEAS’22) | @reeetahan

"Governor's Island – great views of the city!" —Jesse Lang, Staff

Metrograph on the LES” —Will Harahan (GS’22) | @willharahan

Conservatory Garden

"Conservatory Garden on the NE corner of Central Park." —Will Hunnicut, Staff

"The Nicholas Roerich Museum." —Anya Schiffrin, Senior Lecturer in Discipline of International and Public Affairs

Jack’s Wife Freda! 😋” —Andrés Traversaro (LAW’22) | @andy.travers

"Harlem – Harlem Shake Restaurant, it's local, affordable and they have impossible burgers for vegans/vegetarians."  —Meghan Karnes (SSW'23)

Fort Tryon Park. Slice of heaven in NYC” —Sarah Baumann (MSPH’24) | @skbaumann


Want to save these ideas for later? Check out this handy Google Map!

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