Note that student IDs get discounts on many museums, etc.
China Town - excellent food and very cheap! Also, there are some interesting stores if you are willing to look around a little. Try Pearl River Mart, which is a little more north, for ceramics and interesting Asian imports. Its easy to look it up on the internet.
Little Italy - again, great food, not so expensive. Bakeries and espresso especially good.
Trinity Church - burial place of Alexander Hamilton and one of the oldest places in Manhattan
Ground Zero - World Trade Center site
Financial District - not so interesting on the weekend, but you can walk Wall Street and check out some nice historical buildings, like the Stock Exchange building.
Statue of Liberty - this tour leaves from Battery Park, at its pretty easy to find. If you don't get there early, however, there are long lines, and there is a lot of security so it takes a long time to get there. However, its very worth the $10 ticket to get to the statue and the great view of the city from the harbor.
Brooklyn Bridge - Walking the bridge gives a great view of the city - especially at night! There's almost always people walking it, so its very safe, even in the evening.
Definitely worthwhile hanging out here. Washington Square Park is full of interesting people. There are a lot of great, small restaurants you can just wander into. The East Village also has interesting shops - this whole area is a lot cheaper than Uptown for shopping. Century 21 is a discount clothing store with a lot of designer clothes. Moby has a teahouse in this area, called "teany". Its small, and there's usually a line, but the food and teas/coffees are fantastic, and are all vegetarian/vegan. If you are looking for fun nightlife, look in this area. Check out Café Wha?, which has an excellent house band, but don't go without reservations! Also, there is a tapas bar around here called Mannahtta, which is a little spendy but totally worth it.
Make sure to visit Central Park, which is pretty beautiful in the spring. Its nice to just wander through, or visit the small zoo, fountain, etc. Best to get a tour book for all the things you can see here - but most of them are free!
Museum of Modern Art - Definitely worth visiting if you like art even a little. It takes a good half day or longer to get through everything, especially with all the Impressionist work, Van Goghs, Dalis, Picassos, and so on.
Metropolitan Museum of Art - also takes about a half a day or longer. Has the best collection of Egyptian works probably in the United States. This museum is also well worth the trip.
Natural History Museum - This one certainly takes an entire day to see everything. The whole 4th floor is dinosaurs, and they are really impressive. The new planetarium is something to see as well. You'll have a hard time getting through all the interesting exhibits.
Times Square - Fun to hang around, especially at night, although it gets a little crowded. Look for TKTS, a discount ticket booth, where you can get tickets for Broadway shows at half the price. The lines are up to an hour and a half long, but it's a great deal if you want to get in a Broadway or off-Broadway show.
Empire State Building - A little disappointing. Not really worth the lines, unless you really are determined to go. The view from the top is nice, but if you don't have a lot of time, spend it elsewhere.
United Nations Headquarters - A tour shows you through the main buildings.
St. Patrick's Cathedral - this church is probably the most beautiful in New York City. Definitely worth a visit if you are a fan of great architecture.
Rockefeller Center - Some decent restaurants around, and you can take the studio tour of the TV stations, which is supposed to be kind of interesting.
Tiffany's - Very cool if you want to see what very wealthy people call jewelry. Fun for a little look around - the diamonds are so big its hard to believe they're real.
It's very easy to look a lot of these places up on the internet, or in a guide book
Japanese - Onigashima, on 55th St between 5th and 6th Ave is definitely one of the best Japanese restaurants in the city. Kodama Japanese is also good, or Sapporo Noodles if you want something good and not so expensive.
Carnegie Deli - This place has some of the biggest sandwiches ever, and the cheesecake is fantastic.
Europa Café - Several of them are near Times Square. The salads are very good, and the hot chocolate and mocha are better than just about anywhere else.
Credit where it's due: A visiting New Zealand college student asked about cheap/free things to do on day trips to New York City. I asked one of our spring '05 college interns, Ellyne Kutschena, for help and this is what she wrote. I asked Ellyne's permission to pass it along to summer interns, and she agreed!
P.O. Box 5000
Upton, NY 11973-5000