On Park Avenue, begonias are blooming in hues matching the blur of passing taxicabs. At Bryant Park, the white tents of Fashion Week have been tucked away, and grass now shines on the lawn. And throughout the city, hotels and restaurants are readying themselves for the millions eager to visit at this lovely, exciting time of year. ¶ Collectively, the visitors will spend billions, and it's easy to imagine how. The bright lights of Broadway come with ticket prices of more than $100. Dinner at the Rainbow Room costs $200 a person. Even an elevator ride to the top of the Empire State Building will set you back $19. ¶ Still, New York City needn't be a daunting destination for travelers on a budget. As you plan your spring or summer sojourn, consider mixing into your itinerary some of these free Big Apple experiences.
LIKE A NATIVE
Why pay $25 for a whirlwind bus tour when the Big Apple Greeter program will match you with a New Yorker eager to show you around for free?
Let your volunteer guide give you an insider's perspective of such trendy neighborhoods as SoHo or TriBeCa or lead you to an off-the-beaten-path outer-borough neighborhood that you might not see otherwise, such as multicultural Astoria in Queens. Sign up at www.bigapplegreeter.org.
PICTURE THE SAVINGS
After your tour, enjoy a respite from the sun at one of the city's renowned museums. But don't pay full price. Although the Metropolitan Museum of
Art lists adult admission as $20, many visitors don't realize that this is a suggested price. You can pay as little as a penny.
Admission at the Natural History Museum and the Brooklyn Museum is also suggested, and other museums have discounts on particular days.
You'll find free or suggested admission at the Museum of Modern Art from 4 to 8 p.m. Fridays and the Museum of the City of New York from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays. For a list, see www.nytix.com /Museums.
PLENTY OF FREE PARKING
Central Park, the vast backyard of the Met, is a must-see, but the city also has a plethora of other noteworthy public spaces.
Bryant Park's London plane trees make it one of the loveliest in the city. Watch children ride the carousel by day and, beginning in June, enjoy a free movie on the lawn by night in this Midtown oasis.
Madison Square Park offers views of the iconic Flatiron building and the culinary delights of the Shake Shack, a local favorite.
Farther downtown is Washington Square Park, the heart of New York University, where you can watch lively chess and checkers matches.
Or check out bustling Union Square Park, host to the city's largest farmers market, which operates on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
For a list of city parks, visit www.nycgovparks.org.
Another charming but lesser-known park is Riverside, on the western side of Manhattan along the Hudson River.