New York City: Free bikes for downtown visitors

By Budget Travel
October 3, 2012
Allyson Keenan/Budget Travel

From May 13 to September 30, The Alliance for Downtown New York is providing free loans of bicycles for two-and-a-half hour periods.

Hundreds of bikes are available for pickup at South Street Seaport, at Piers 16 and 17, by Fulton St. and South St. (In case you don't know, The Seaport a tourist-friendly shopping area with a discount Broadway TKTS booth and access to Hudson River ferry rides.) But you're free to ride throughout the city.

Guests are required to become a member by first visiting The Alliance online and registering. It's easy. Create an account by typing in your name, address, and credit card number. (Your card will be charged if you don't return the bike.) Then reserve a time to ride, or call the shop at 212/260-0400.

Registering at least a day before you plan to bike is recommended, but not necessary. Sessions run on a first-come, first-serve basis from 9:30 a.m. to 12 p.m., 12:30 p.m. to 3 p.m., and 3:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. During our mid-afternoon weekday visit to a pick-up site yesterday, we saw plenty of bikes available. The process looked as easy as advertised. A family of four, after a few instructions from the bike shop owners, quickly strapped on helmets and rode off.

After your two-and-a-half hours are up, you can return the bikes wherever there's a Bike And Roll location, such as at Pier 84 at Hudson River Park and at Battery Park by Pier A.

Need more time? Pay an hourly fee of $12.

Baby on-board? No problem. The equipment rental shop can hook you up with a Tag-a-long, wagon or baby seat to go along with your Comfort Hybrid bike. Kid size bikes and helmets are also available for no charge as well as bike locks.

The Greenway may be a logical first route to take instead of maneuvering through Times Square or some of the other crowded areas. And you may not be able to return the bike in time if you venture too far into the city. But all NYC bridges have bike paths, so there are technically no limits to your summer cycling aspiration—and perspiration.

—David Cumming

Plan Your Next Getaway
Keep reading

This weekend: Get a little culture at the Spoleto Festival

The Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, S.C., does not involve cow chips or crawfish like other festivals we've written about. Quite the opposite. It's a 17-day feast of cultural events, ranging from rock opera to chamber music. The 33rd season kicks off Friday, and more than 120 performances will take place through June 7. The festival is known for focusing on emerging and edgy artists. Since 1977, there have been more than 100 world premieres and 93 American premieres at the festival, with visionaries like Twyla Tharp and Yo-Yo Ma performing early in their careers. Notable productions this year include the debut of Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, a tribute to the Spoleto Festival's longtime chamber music artistic director Charles Wadsworth, and the cabaret-style, punk-rock operetta Addicted to Bad Ideas: Peter Lorre's 20th Century, which explores alienation in the 20th century. Also interesting is Gustave Charpentier's opera Louise, sometimes called "the French La Boheme," rarely performed because of its complicated plot—there are more than 30 characters. Plus the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performs this weekend and celebrates its 50th anniversary. Tickets range between $10 and $180. Also going on is the Piccolo Spoleto festival. It's the same idea—cutting edge fine arts performances—but many of the activities are free. So why the funny name? The event originated in the Italian town of Spoleto before a version was launched in the states. The Festival of the Two Worlds is in its 52nd season. The Spoleto Festival USA runs until June 7. You can buy tickets online. Hotel packages available through Charleston's CVB.


Worth reading: AirTran's Wi-Fi promise, Ryanair's new fee, and more

Some interesting items from around the Web: AirTran is the latest airline to promise Wi-Fi in all planes come summer. [WorldHum] Another new Ryanair fee—this time for the boarding pass. [Jaunted] Spain's high-speed rail website charges double if you search in English—get ready to put your high-school Spanish to good use. [Upgrade: Travel Better] Preview: The impressive W Hotel in Washington, D.C., set to open in July. [Gadling] Ever consider buying an RV? It's the best time in 30 years to shop for one. [AP via Yahoo News] Kansas City's BBQ joints: Not immune to the economic downturn. [Chicago Tribune]


Happy birthday, Alaska!

The Last Frontier turns 50 this year, and the deals are everywhere. Opening this month, Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge—the only accommodations in the spectacularly rugged Kenai Fjords National Park—is honoring the milestone with 15 percent off two or more nights in its rustic log cabins in the month of June*. At most Princess Lodges, your third night is free, and Holland America Line is discounting cruises up to 50 percent. And if it's your 50th, too? Try $50 off Rust's Flying Service adventure flights, a free daylong rail trip with Alaska Railroad, or a free second night at any of Denali Park Resorts' four lodges ( —Andrea Sachs, from the June 2009 issue of Budget Travel *Updated for clarity on 6/3.


Great Paris 'hoods: Around the rue de Belleville

A funny thing happened last year while I was living on rue de Belleville. The street suddenly became hip. Not because of me, of course, but because Gourmet's correspondent in France, Alex Lobrano, penned a lengthy article spotlighting the lesser-known quarters of Eastern Paris. He wrote about Belleville with respect, or at the very least curiosity, and it was a source of some local pride. But it was the source of some anxiety, too. Would our cafés be overrun with tourists? Would we still be able to book a table at our favorite small bistro? I needn't have worried, because the fact remains that very few visitors are willing to venture "all the way" to Belleville. Never mind that Belleville is only a ten-minute subway ride from the center. The perception remains that this neighborhood is far away. It also has a reputation for being filthy, a rep that dates back to Belleville's industrial days and that has persisted throughout waves of twentieth-century immigration. The accusation is not entirely untrue—sidewalks and garbage bins do, in outlying areas, receive less city attention than in the postcard center. Some people also stay away from Belleville because it doesn't feel like Paris. On this hill, the geraniums have been replaced by graffiti, and bakeries are outnumbered by Chinese barbecue. The local faces reflect the country's immigration past: Greeks and Armenians from the 1920s, German Jews from the 1940s, Algerians and Tunisians from the 1960s, and most recently (and visibly), the Chinese. This sort of diversity makes some travelers feel insecure, but I can testify that Belleville is a safe and friendly place. Belleville is unabashedly populaire—of the people—with a strong sense of working-class pride. Its legacy as a hotbed of rebellion and creativity survives today. The area is packed with musicians and there are more artists working here than in any other Paris quarter. (It's no surprise that the annual Portes Ouvertes festival is held here.) To discover this neighborhood, I recommend taking the subway line 11 to Pyrénées. As you begin to descend the rue de Belleville, keep your eyes open for a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower twinkling in the distance. One of the first sights is on the southern side of the street at 72 rue de Belleville. Here, a plaque marks birthplace of the Edith Piaf, subject of last-year's Academy Award-winning film La Vie en Rose. Unveiled by cabaret star Maurice Chevalier, the plaque reads "On the steps of this house was born in the greatest destitution Edith Piaf whose world would later take the world by storm." A few steps further down the hill, you'll see the rue de Rébeval snaking off on your right. This up-and-coming street is home to a growing number of good restaurants, my favorite of which is Le Chapeau Melon. Run by Olivier Camus, this wine shop and restaurant serves outstanding meals on Tuesday through Saturday nights. The four-course menu €29 ($40) offers no choices, so be prepared to put yourself in the capable hands of the chef. Pick a bottle of vin naturel (untreated organic wine) from the shelf, or ask them to pour you something by the glass (92 rue Rébeval, 19th arrondissement, 011-33/1-42-02-68-60). Zoë Bouillon, a cheap and cheerful lunch place, is further down the street at 66 rue Rébeval. This brightly-colored soup bar also serves fresh salads and desserts, along with wine and good coffee. Coming back to the rue de Belleville, cross the street and then make an immediately left to find one of the best bistros in Paris. Le Baratin is a poorly kept secret that's frequented by journalists, chefs on their day off, and in-the-know food travelers. Their two-course lunch at €16 ($22) is one of the best deals in the city. Dinner a la carte is also outstanding—traditional bistro fare tweaked by the creative hand of Raquel Carena—but be prepared to spend closer to €45 ($61) per person. The bill at night has a tendency to climb because of their exceptional selection of natural wines (3 rue Jouye-Rouve, 20th arrondissement, 011-33/1-43-49-39-70). Continue south along the rue Jouye-Rouve and you'll hit the Parc de Belleville, one of the city's more interesting parks. The panoramic view from the top (at rue Piat) is what earned this neighborhood the name of belle vue. In good weather, the park is filled with people reading, kissing, playing soccer, eating a picnic, or simply gazing out over the horizon. It's a long and sloping park, descending all the way to the bottom of the hill and dotted with fountains and flowering trees along the way. When you exit the park (after a short nap in the grass), you'll want to check out large-scale murals in the place Fréhel at the intersection of rue de Belleville and rue Julien Lacroix. The one on the left was created in 1993 by Ben Vautier and depicts two workers lowering a giant blackboard that reads 'Il faut se méfier des mots' (beware of words). The other work—a painting by Jean Le Gac that's several stories tall—portrays a detective who's looking for clues along the rue Julien Lacroix. Also in this place is the newly cool Culture Rapide, a bar that hosts an English-language Spoken Word night every other Monday (103 rue Julien Lacroix, 20th arrondissement, 011-33/1-46-36-08-04). Continuing toward the bottom of the rue de Belleville, you'll see a pack of Chinese eateries and a good number of divey cafés. The most historic of these is La Vielleuse (2 rue de Belleville), but my favorite is Aux Folies. This building at 8 rue de Belleville used to host performances by Edith Piaf, Maurice Chevalier, and other stars of the cabaret scene. Its lively terrace today serves as a microcosm of the neighborhood, mixing old-timers, young hipsters, and plenty of middle-aged "bobos". Sitting here on a sunny day, drinking a cheap demi (small beer) and watching the motley procession of people along the rue de Belleville—this has come to feel utterly like Paris, and also a bit like home. MORE ON PARIS We asked Gourmet 's European correspondent, Alec Lobrano, for his advice on dining cheaply but well in Paris (55 reader comments) Great Paris 'Hoods: Quartier d'Aligre Paris celebrates 120 years of the Eiffel Tower