New York City is an expensive place to enjoy whether you are a native or a visitor. However, one of the great pleasures of the city is simply taking in the incredible view of the skyline. You always have the option to pay and go up to the top of the Empire State Building, or you can take a short subway ride off the island and catch the view for free (not including a couple bucks for the subway). I've listed five of the best places for doing this below. For each site, I've described how to get there and what makes it a good place to visit.
1. Brooklyn Heights Promenade - The Brooklyn Heights Promenade is a great waterfront walkway located right next to the Brooklyn Bridge. The view is great both day and night. Also, the surrounding neighborhood makes for a great stroll especially if you combine it with a walk over the Brooklyn Bridge. Walking over the bridge will give you an even better view of the whole island. Once you've finished there are a few good restaurants in the neighborhood to enjoy as well.
How to get there: Take the 2 or 3 train to the Clark St. stop. Once you get out just walk towards the water.
Left: picture from Wikipedia of the view from the Promenade.
2. Staten Island Ferry - The Staten Island Ferry is a free (and seemingly accident-prone) ride from Manhattan to Staten Island. Why would you want to go to Staten Island? Well, you wouldn't except for the spectacular skyline view you get along the ride. The ferry leaves pretty often and will also give you a nice view of the entire New York Harbor, including the Statue of Liberty. Once you get to Staten Island, you can hang around until the ferry takes you back. The ride each way is a leisurely 15 minutes or so.
How to get there: Take the 1 train to South Ferry or the 4,5 to Bowling Green.
Left: view from the ferry
3. Jersey City - Across the Hudson River is an often maligned state known as New Jersey. The state may or may not deserve the reputation, but either way - you can get some great views of the city from Jersey City. Jersey City is the home to many commuters and is easily accessible by the PATH train. Once you've come back above ground, you can walk along the water and take in the view from a place that is not in New York City.
How to get there: Get on the PATH train (has a few entrances around Manhattan) and take it the Exchange Place, then just walk along the water.
Left: The view from Jersey City as Google street view sees it
4. Roosevelt Island - Roosevelt Island is a thin island that is sandwiched between Manhattan and Queens. This location makes it perfect for catching great views of midtown. You can walk along most of the island and the walk is right on the water.
Left: The view from Roosevelt Island, I took this picture using Google street view. Pretty neat, right?
How to get there: Take the F train to the Roosevelt Island stop.
5. Long Island City, Gantry Plaza State Park - Gantry Plaza State Park is a nice, small park located in Long Island City which is in Queens and right across from Manhattan. The park offers a great view of the city and, especially, the UN Building.
Above: View from the Park, Google Street view
How to get there: Take the 7 train to Jackson Avenue and walk towards the water.
There you go, five places to get a spectacular view of the NYC skyline, now get out there check them out! Also, let me know in the comments if you have more suggestions.