Perhaps the trickiest part about visiting New York is finding reasonably-priced accommodations. In Manhattan, even the no-thrills hotels can be upwards of $300/night. So far, every "affordable" option that I've tried has been less-than-ideal. Here are a few of the better options that I've found:
Built in 2000, the Millennium Hilton has spacious (for New York) rooms, modern amenities and a safe Wall Street location. What's the catch? It's across the street from Ground Zero, i.e. the former World Trade Center site. Construction ends around midnight, even on weekends, and isn't likely to stop until at least 2012. If you don't mind altering your sleep schedule to complement the construction schedule (or sleeping with the complimentary earplugs that the hotel provides), this place can be quite a steal. On some weekends, you can find rates as low as $150/night for a deluxe room with a king-sized bed.
The Chelsea Star Hotel
This offbeat wonder boasts some of the lowest hotel rates in all of Manhattan, as well as an outdoor rooftop lounge and free wi-fi internet access. It's located within 4 blocks of Penn Station. Many of the rooms have decorative themes, ranging from Madame Butterfly to Salvador Dali. What's the catch? The Chelsea Star is part hotel, part hostel and most of the rooms do not have private bathrooms. However, the bathrooms are exceptionally clean and there is a good guestroom-to-bathroom ratio, so if you keep an open mind, you might enjoy this hidden gem. Rooms start at $99/night.
Truffles at Cocoa V
Red Bamboo is a small Greenwich Village restaurant that serves vegetarian soul food, including some very realistic vegan buffalo wings (they even have tiny wooden "bones" inside). Save some room for dessert - Red Bamboo has several varieties of the best vegan cheesecake that you will ever taste.
Cafe Blossom is the casual counterpart to the upscale, all-vegan Blossom Restaurant. I actually prefer the food and ambience at Cafe Blossom. It features delicious dishes like "seitan ravioli in pesto broth topped with tofu ricotta" in a casual environment. Oh, and the Butterfinger shakes are to die for!
Counter is one of my favorite fancy vegetarian restaurants. It doesn't seem to get as much press as Blossom or Candle 79, but the veggies come from Counter's very own rooftop garden - how cool is that? The dishes can be ordered tapas-style, if you want to try a little of everything. Make sure to ask for one of the raunchily-named cocktails.
Vegetarian Dim Sum House is an all-vegetarian (mostly vegan) dim sum restaurant in Chinatown. Here, you can delight in faux pork buns, shrimp dumplings, red bean cakes, banana wontons, taro balls... Order everything that piques your curiosity - the prices are amazingly cheap.
Cocoa V is a chic dessert cafe in Chelsea. The completely vegan menu boasts 30+ flavors of truffles, as well as a nut cheese plate, cupcakes, chocolate tarts, brownies and a "whimsical quiche of the day." It wins my vote for "most romantic vegan date spot" in NYC.
Hungry for an all-vegan ice cream sundae? Look no further than Greenwich Village! Lula's Sweet Apothecary and Stogo are two of the only all-vegan ice cream parlors in the world. Lula's feels like an old-fashioned soda shop, from the vintage ads covering the walls to the banana splits and egg cremes gracing the menu. Stogo is more like a hip gelato bar, with innovative flavors such as cardamom pistachio and mexican spiced chocolate.
'Big Bambu' at the Met
The Metropolitan Museum of Art is a behemoth of an art museum - it even contains an entire Egyptian temple! In addition to an extensive Egyptian collection, the Met is also well-known for its period rooms: reproductions of rooms from various historical periods in both the US and Europe, containing (mostly) original furniture and wall coverings. The special exhibits range from haute couture to interactive eco-art installations to famous paintings on loan from other museums.
The Sauna Village at Spa Castle
Spa Castle is located in Queens, but it's worth the trek. It provides a unique combination of European spa with traditional Asian saunas, plus a heated rooftop swimming pool that is open year-round. Each sauna is elaborately decorated with gemstones and minerals that are supposed to have healing powers. The cafe has several vegan options, including edamame, vegetable sushi and an extensive salad bar. $45 gets you a day's worth of relaxation and inner peace.
Some of the 18 miles of books...
The Strand boast 18 miles of new, used, rare and out-of-print books. It's fun to wander through the sea of books to see what you can find.
Alice in Wonderland statue
One cannot visit NYC without walking through Central Park (even if it's just to get from the Upper East Side to the Upper West Side). Indulge your inner child with a ride on the carousel or a visit to the Alice In Wonderland statue.
Sign in front of the Comedy Cellar
The Comedy Cellar provides great standup comedy at affordable prices. On some nights, you can even see world-famous comedians!