Anyone who’s considered a trip to New York City knows it’s notorious for being expensive. Not only is it one of the most costly cities in which to live, but just visiting can also cost a fortune. When you consider that the average hotel room is close to $300 nightly, the average cost of a restaurant dinner is over $40 per person, and then add in fees for transportation and sightseeing, it’s not hard to spend $500 per day in the city. Yet, most people don’t realize that you can visit New York City on a budget.
We’ve compiled a list of the best money-saving tips for anyone planning a trip to the Big Apple. It will answer:
- How to travel to New York City on a Budget
- Best Areas to Stay in New York on a Budget
- What to Do in New York City on a Budget
- How to See New York City on a Budget
- Best Shopping in New York on a Budget
- Where to Eat on a Budget in New York
How to do New York City on a Budget
#1 You have to have a plan
With a bit of planning (and ingenuity), you’re sure to have a great time in the Big Apple even without spending a fortune. You’ll be amazed at the number of famous sights that are absolutely free of charge. Take for example the Brooklyn Bridge, Central Park or Staten Island Ferry, which offers close-up views of the Statue of Liberty – you’ll be spoiled with choices. In this travel guide, we’ll be focusing on low-budget travel, telling you all about the best sight- seeing attractions, museums, tours and events that cost very little to nothing at all.
How to travel to New York City on a Budget
#2 Consider Alternatives for Arriving in New York City
Getting to New York City doesn’t have to be expensive. First, if you live on the east coast, consider taking the bus rather than driving. The bus ticket cost will be cheaper than paying for gas and parking once in the city.
If you aren’t fortunate enough to live on the eastern seaboard, it’s a good idea to consider alternate airports. The NYC area is home to three major airports: LaGuardia, John F. Kennedy, and Newark International. While the ones directly in New York tend to be more expensive, Newark is located only 15 miles from Midtown Manhattan and is usually cheaper. So it makes sense to check airline tickets through budget airlines before booking.
My Budget tip
If you find similarly low-cost flights destined for Newark or Queens and you plan to stay in Manhattan, opt for the one landing in Queens!
Why? Queens belongs to New York City, which means you can use the MetroCard on the subway for less than $3 per person. This is a fast and, above all, cheap alternative to the yellow cabs. A cab from Newark to Manhattan will cost you between $90 and 100, compared to $16 per person by train. So when considering your options, you shouldn’t just compare the flight prices, but the transfer costs as well!
Alternatively, if you decide to drive to the city, be sure to look for discounts on parking. Don’t settle for the high rates that hotels charge; instead, look for nearby parking garages as they tend to cost less, especially if you can find coupons. For instance, Icon Parking Systems notoriously offer coupons and feature garages all over NYC.
Best Time to Visit New York on a Budget
#3 Plan Your Trip at a Less Busy Time of the Year!
Sometimes the timing of a trip is non-negotiable, but if your schedule is flexible, opt for a less busy time of the year. Yes, NYC is busy year-round, but during peak travel times such as the holidays and summer months, accommodations and flights are very expensive.
However, if you visit at a time of the year that’s less busy for tourists, there are deals to be found. These times are usually between the months of January and April and then again between September and November (so long as you don’t go around a holiday).
Best Areas to Stay in New York on a Budget
#4 Go for Queens & Brooklyn
Asking yourself “Where to stay in New York on a Budget”? NYC is known for exorbitant hotel prices for even the smallest of rooms. So, to visit New York City on a budget, it’s essential to shop around for places to stay. Just beware that for the cheapest rooms, you’ll probably end up with something a bit bigger than a closet with one window and a shared bathroom. While sharing a bathroom is not ideal for everyone, it is one of the most cost-effective ways to go.
Alternatively, you should check with economy hotel chains. And though these aren’t always that cheap, they are priced lower than other accommodations. Be sure to look at hotels such as the Ramada, La Quinta, Pod Hotel, and lesser-known independent hostels. Also, don’t limit yourself to staying in Manhattan. There are neighborhoods in Queens and Brooklyn that still offer the New York City charm but are usually 30% less expensive than rooms found anywhere in Manhattan.
The final option to finding less expensive accommodations in NYC is to consider renting an apartment or a room. Be sure to check websites such as Airbnb, HomeAway, and VRBO for good deals. You can also contact Manhattan Getaways, as they offer furnished rooms where some are private, and others are inside of resident’s apartments. The bonus to renting an apartment is that it cuts down on the cost of food, as you can shop at a grocery store and cook for yourself rather than go out to eat for every meal.
Find your perfect hotel in no time!
More than 100 hotels and over 70 neighborhoods to choose from –and after just 4 quick questions, I’ll show you which hotels in New York are best suited for you!
What to Do in New York City on a Budget
#5 Take A (Free) Ride on A Ferry
One of the most remarkable New York experiences is riding one of the celebrated ferries, such as the NYC Ferry. These are passenger ferries that are within walking distance to nearly anywhere in NYC. Some ferries, such as those that travel the East River, St. George, and South Brooklyn areas, only cost $2.75, which is the same as the subway.
The Ferry is the best Cruise to See New York City on a Budget!
However, the world-famous Staten Island Ferry is free to ride and runs 5.2 miles between the New York Harbor and the boroughs of Staten Island and Manhattan. The entire trip takes about 25-minutes and is a great way to take in many sights, including the Statue of Liberty!
#6 Sign Up to be an Audience Member at a Live Show
Are you a fan of late-night TV? Then save money by signing up to attend a taping of your favorite live show for free! This takes some advanced planning but shows such as The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver all offer free tickets.
#7 Look for Discount Broadway Tickets
Most people visiting NYC want to see a Broadway show. In fact, this is a popular bucket list item, and if you don’t research it, you can end up paying high prices for the tickets. Luckily, if you’re trying to visit New York City on a budget, there are ways to score deals on cheap tickets!
The most common way to go about this is to go to a TKTS booth where they sell same-day tickets for up to half-off regular price. You can also check online at places such as TodayTix to find great deals. These tend to sell out fast, so if you can’t find cheap tickets and still want quality entertainment, then head over to Ellen’s Stardust Diner. Here you can order some fries and a milkshake while being wowed by performers who are sometimes future Broadway stars.
#8 Free Guided Tours in NYC
It’s becoming increasingly popular to go on free guided tours of the city with genuine locals, who can lead you to all the attractions. With such a huge choice of tours available, you’re sure to find one that suits you. Before setting off, check out the websites of the people offering the tours, as there’s sometimes a change of plan due to bad weather.
The largest organization offering free walking tours is Free Tours by Foot. As in the case of the museums, these tours are offered on a “pay what you wish” basis. You have a choice of food tours, bus tours and bike tours. To be fair, it’s more accurate to say that these tours are free of charge if you choose not to pay anything. Free walking tours are therefore ideal whatever your budget.
Another group of people offering free walking tours are the Big Apple Greeters. The team consists of volunteers who show you around the most interest- ing places in the various neighborhoods. This allows you to experience New York through the eyes of a local – something we find particularly fascinating.
#9 Spend Time Outdoors at one of the many Parks in NYC
The first NYC park that comes to many people’s minds is Central Park. And while it’s a beautiful park full of trails, a zoo, and gorgeous lakes, there are many more from which to choose. The best part is these are great places to throw down a blanket and enjoy a picnic while people-watching.
So, while in New York City, be sure to check out the other parks such as:
- Brooklyn Bridge Park
- High Line Park
- Prospect Park: Located next to the Brooklyn Museum and Botanical Gardens, some people like this place more than Central Park. It’s full of lakes, green spaces, and shady bridges.
- Washington Square Park: This park always has something going on! It’s located in the center of Greenwich Village and is home to New York University. It’s a lively spot and an excellent location to meet locals.
- Domino Park: This is one of the lesser-known parks in NYC. It’s located along the East River in Williamsburg and offers amazing views of the New York Skyline.
#10 Take Advantage of Free Events and Historical Sights
The Big Apple is bustling, and there’s always something going on. Take time and find free festivals and events that are taking place during your trip. Some great examples are Shakespeare in the Park, concerts, and food festivals.
On the other hand, if you’re a history buff, don’t forget to check out all the free historical memorials, monuments, and landmarks. Such places include Alexander Hamilton’s grave at Trinity Church and Ulysses S Grant’s tomb that we discussed earlier. You can also take walks around Times Square, Coney Island, and The High Line.
How to See New York City on a Budget
#11 Visit one of the Museums of New York for free!
New York City is home to many of the country’s best museums. But did you know that some of the most famous ones offer what’s called pay-as-you-wish entry fees? It’s true! This option includes museums such as the American Museum of Natural History, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Bronx Museum, Sculpture Center, and many more.
Furthermore, the museums that don’t offer this option sometimes provide free entry on certain days or times during the week. These examples include the 9/11 Memorial, New York Botanical Garden, Museum of Modern Art, and the Queens Botanical Garden. Remember that you may want to allow additional time for these attractions because the lines are usually long.
Recommended article: The 27 Best Free Museums in NYC
#12 Save up to 70% with the New York City Attraction Passes
If it’s your first time visiting the Big Apple and you want to see all the major attractions on a budget, then the New York CityPASS is the way to go. The prices start at $136 per adult and $112 per child, so while it’s not cheap up front, it does save money if you plan to see NYC’s six biggest attractions.
Included in the price you can visit:
- American Museum of Natural History
- Empire State Building
- Ferry access to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island OR Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises
- 9/11 Memorial & Museum OR the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum
- Guggenheim Museum OR Top of the Rock Observation Deck
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art
The bonus is that you will wait in a separate line at most of these places, which is much shorter than the regular ticket line. When you consider that entering the Empire State Building costs $66.41 and the Top of the Rock Observation Deck costs $41.37, the New York CityPASS more than pays for itself by using it to see just three attractions.
Recommended budget tip: New York Pass Comparison – Which New York Pass should you buy?
What is the best pass for New York?
Currently, there are six major passes for New York City, making the task to find the best New York pass even harder. Most of the NYC sightseeing passes have a list of over 10 included attractions it can be difficult at times to compare them properly. Because we know how overwhelming the choice can be, we have created a tool that helps you to find the best New York Pass in three simple steps – ourNYC Attraction Pass Savings Calculator!
#13 Opt for More Authentic Versions of Common Tourist Places
See New York City like a local, rather than falling into the typical tourist traps. In other words, rather than going to the Comedy Cellar, attend a local open-mic night, or go to Arthur Avenue rather than Little Italy. Another idea is to visit Molly’s Cupcakes instead of paying more for Magnolia Bakery, which was made famous by Sex in the City.
#14 Invest in the Metrocard
Getting around the Big Apple can be a nightmare. Renting a car is usually not a good idea due to the sheer volume of traffic and the fact that parking garages get expensive over time. The best way to travel through NYC is by subway. If this is okay with you, be sure to invest in the Metrocard, as it will save you a ton of money. They offer an unlimited 7-day that costs around $32, and If you use it just 11 times, it’s paid for itself.
You may think that taking taxis is a cheap way to go, but think again! A better option is the Uber Pool. While the driver may pick up other passengers, the total cost is far less expensive than a regular Uber, Lyft, or taxi ride.
When traveling long distances or in bad weather, the subway is a good, cheap means of transport. A single-ride ticket for a one-way trip costs $3 from a ticket machine. If you buy yourself a MetroCard for $1, you can add credit to it. A single-ride ticket with the Pay-Per-Ride MetroCard then only costs $2.75. Therefore, it soon pays to use a Pay-Per-Ride MetroCard rather than single-ride tickets. What’s more, every time you add more than $5.50 to your card, you get a 5% bonus. However, this is only really worthwhile if you add more than $55 to your MetroCard (5% of $55 = $2.75 = a one-way trip).
You can save even more money on fares by purchasing a 7-Day Unlimited MetroCard. This costs §32 – equivalent to less than $5 per day over a seven-day period. The weekly card pays off after around twelve trips, even if you’re in New York for less than seven days. This is a particularly attractive option if you’re staying in one of the boroughs bordering Manhattan and want to commute into the city.
Recommended budget tip: Metrocard New York
Buying the Metrocard
We’re often asked whether it’s possible or advisable to buy the MetroCard in advance? Our answer is: no, definitely not! There are a few websites where you can purchase the MetroCard ahead of your journey, but we advise against it. They are simply overpriced and unnecessary, as MetroCards are readily available from vending machines at any subway station. You can pay by credit card or cash in US dollars.
#15 Don’t Waste Money on New York Souvenirs
You can literally buy anything in Manhattan, from luxury items to souvenirs. One thing you will have to do if visiting New York City on a budget is not get drawn into shopping at every store you see. The best thing you can do is set a budget and stick to it! And always skip the cheesy souvenir shops because the items are commonly overpriced, and if we’re being honest, no local will wear a shirt that says I ‘heart’ NYC!
Recommended article: Shopping in NYC
Clothing and shoes selling at less than $110 per item are exempt from sales tax in the Big Apple!
#16 Outlets in and around New York
New York is a shopping paradise. From the designer boutiques on Fifth Avenue, the hottest shops in SoHo to the hip second-hand shops in Williamsburg, you can easily shop your way through the entire city. Even though the city already offers you an eclectic amount of shops and malls, you will need to leave Manhattan if you want to snag the best shopping deals. The best way to do so is by visiting one of the many outlets in NYC and the surrounding areas.
At the shopping outlets in NYC, you’ll not only find a lot of trendy shops in one place but also significant discounts on designer clothes and your favorite brands. We have visited all the outlets in the area and are excited to share the best outlets in NYC for guaranteed bargains with you!
There are four major outlets in New York that can be reached from Manhattan within 2 hours or less: Woodbury Common Premium Outlet, The Mills at Jersey Gardens Outlet, Empire Outlets and Tanger Outlets.
Recommended article: Best Outlets in NYC
#17 Vintage Shopping in New York
There are lots of flea markets in New York. Apartments in the city are often small, so the locals are keen to declutter at every opportunity. Among the most popular flea markets in New York are Chelsea Flea Market (39 W 25th St), Hell’s Kitchen Flea Market (408-424 W 39th St), Hell’s Kitchen and Grand Bazaar (6902, 100 W 77th St). The stalls are packed with anything from vintage goods to jewelry, furniture, antiques, and bric-a-brac. New York’s flea markets are a real paradise for bargain hunters!
Where to Eat on a Budget in New York
Good, affordable restaurants are a dime a dozen in New York. It’s just a question of knowing which ones are really worth a visit. As a general rule, you should steer clear of the tourist areas such as Times Square if you want to save money on eating out.
You’ll be overwhelmed by the choice – but sometimes by the prices as well! Don’t forget that tax (just under 9%) and tips (15 to 20%) have to be added on to the prices shown on the menu. And please don’t be stingy when it comes to tipping. This is considered extremely rude, and tips are an integral part of staff wages in the food industry.
And this is how to eat in New York on a budget:
#18 Eat Like a Local
Wherever there are many tourists, you pay more – that should be clear to everyone. Anyone who has ever paid $8 for a dry pretzel at the 9/11 Memorial knows what I’m talking about. That’s why I always give everyone the tip: Visit the real New York, get lost in areas like Brooklyn, Harlem or the Village. Here many small worthwhile restaurants with “for New York normal” prices lure you, without you paying the tourist flat rate on it. One of the best ways to visit New York City on a budget is to eat like a local. This means indulging in the city’s best and cheapest eateries. Think of breakfast at a bagel cart, halal food, $1 pizza slices, and more.
Recommended: One of my favorite option to eat in New York on a budget are the Food Markets.
#19 Eat Out During Happy Hour
Happy hour is common in NYC and is offered every day of the week in some places. Not only will you get good deals on drinks but food as well. In Manhattan, happy hours usually run between the hours of 4:00 pm and 8:00 pm. If you’re not sure where to find one of these places, just watch for signs out front or ask around among the locals.
You can also check out one of the many food trucks; usually, those with long lines are sure to signify that it’s a favorite among the locals. If all else fails, head to Chinatown or even the Lower East Side for food deals.
New York on a Budget
The bottom line is that visiting New York City on a budget may seem impossible, but it’s not. If you do some research and plan carefully, there are many ways to enjoy the city and save money. The most important thing to remember is that you should only splurge on necessities and don’t forget to always track your spending!