Due to its expensive reputation, you may be wondering if it’s impossible to do NYC on a budget. The reality is, though it certainly can be very pricey, affordably visiting NYC is well within the realm of possibility.
With some money-saving tips and insight into the most affordable things to do in New York, you can definitely visit NYC without breaking the bank.
I lived in New York City through college, and let me tell you, I wasn’t exactly rolling in dough. With my firsthand knowledge and New York City advice, this article will give you all you need to know to save money on your NYC trip!
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9 Tips to Do New York City on a Budget
Take Advantage of Free Events
Even though New York City is one of the priciest places in the whole world, it does offer a ton of free events. You can expect free concerts, comedy shows, free attractions, and classes. All it takes is a little bit of searching. A great place to start looking is the NYC Parks free events page. Free events in NYC change depending on the season.
Do a few Google searches before your NYC vacation or you could be missing out on a bunch of fun, affordable activities.
Take the Subway
The most efficient and affordable way to get around New York City is by riding the subway. It’s really simple to navigate and there are maps on every train. This tip is especially important when you fly into the airport. Cabs charge $50-55 flat to get into Manhattan from NYC airports. Even more during rush hour.
Don’t Stay in Manhattan
New York City is a pretty big place, and there are so many interesting neighborhoods outside the pricey confines of central Manhattan. Staying in the farther areas of Brooklyn, Queens, or even upper Manhattan can help you save money on accommodations.
Book Accommodations in Advance
Another hot tip to make your trip more affordable is to book everything in advance. Last-minute bookings always tend to be more expensive in a popular city like New York.
Visit From January to April
If you want to take a cheap trip to New York City, your budget will largely rely on when you’re visiting. The cheapest time to visit NYC is in the dead of winter from January until the very beginning of April.
However, keep in mind that winter in New York is serious business. So, you’ll need to be prepared with warm clothes and a list of winter-friendly activities if you’re taking advantage of this cheap season.
Enter NYC Museums for Free
New York museums are known around the globe. But, even some of the city’s most famous museums offer opportunities to explore their collection at a reduced rate.
At the Metropolitan Museum of Art, there is a ‘pay what you wish’ policy for New York residents, and children under 12 can enter for free. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum offers free entry for everyone on Saturdays from 4 pm to 6 pm. Admission to the American Folk Art Museum is always totally free.
There are plenty of museum deals and free days to explore across New York City.
Get a New York Pass
A New York Pass won’t work for everyone. However, if it’s your first trip to NYC, then it could reduce your trip costs if you plan on visiting a lot of the city’s top attractions.
The New York pass provides visitors with admission to some biggest tourist attractions in New York City. You can get a pass that lasts anywhere from one to ten days. It includes attractions like the Empire State Building, the 9/11 Memorial, hop-on hop-off bus tours, and way more.
Attractions like the Empire State Building can cost way more if you’re planning on going to all these big attractions individually. Getting the New York Pass can definitely save you some money.
Avoid Buying Things in Times Square
Personally, I’d avoid the hectic streets of Times Square altogether. But, I can understand why first-time visitors to New York might want to see the flashy area.
If you are planning on checking out Times Square on a budget vacation, make sure you don’t buy anything there. The prices around this tourist-dense location are always inflated.
Whenever Possible, Walk
New York City is one of the most walkable places on the planet. Technically, you could walk all the way from the tippy top of Manhattan to the farthest corner of Brooklyn. Since your own two feet can take you anywhere in the city for free, it’s one of the most economical modes of transportation.
Try to walk to destinations closer than 30 minutes and save the subway ride for farther trips. You’ll be surprised how much money you can save just by walking.
19 Cheap & Free Things to Do in NYC
Grand Central Station
Take photos at the iconic station.
You probably know Grand Central Station from multiple TV shows and movies. Of course, on your trip to NY, you can see it off the silver screen with your own eyes. Completely free!
Taking photos at this legendary train station is a must-do for your first NYC trip.
Village Underground Comedy Cellar
Catch an affordable comedy show at this awesome venue.
There are lots of places to watch today’s upcoming comedians take the stage in New York City. One of the most affordable spots to see a comedy show in NYC is the Village Underground Comedy Cellar. Just about any show here will cost you less than $30. It’s a super fun activity for a Saturday night.
Explore Battery Park
One of the coolest parks in NYC, Battery Park will give you great views of the Statue of Liberty.
Located on the southern tip of Manhattan, Battery Park is another entertaining, totally free place to visit in New York City, not to mention one of the coolest parks in New York. The Battery offers views of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.
You can also hop on a boat from here that will take you to these popular attractions.
Join a Free Walking Tour
Taking a walking tour is one of the best ways to get the inside scoop on a new city.
The idea of free tours might not be conducive to New York City in your mind. But believe me, there are lots of opportunities for completely free walking tours around different parts of New York. If you’re on the hunt for some interesting NYC walking tours, check out Free Tours by Foot.
Indulge in Affordable NYC Food Staples
Try some affordable versions of New York’s iconic cuisine.
New York-style pizza, hot dogs, bagels with cream cheese, and cheesecake. It just so happens that one of the most expensive cities in the world has some of the cheapest food staples around. So, take advantage of all the famous affordable New York delicacies and munch away!
Brooklyn Heights Promenade
View the Manhattan skyline from this beautiful park.
Not only is Brooklyn Heights one of New York’s most adorable neighborhoods, but it’s also a great spot for stellar views of the Manhattan skyline. You can also see the Brooklyn Bridge and the East River from here.
Yet again, taking in the million-dollar views at Brooklyn Heights Promenade won’t cost you a penny.
Grab discounted Broadway tickets at this booth.
Most travelers think that seeing a broadway show will cost an arm and a leg. Usually, this is true. Unless you’re privy to the helpful NYC travel hack known as the TKTS Ticket Booth, that is.
If you wait in line, you can get your hands on extremely discounted broadway tickets for same-day shows and following-day matinees. Just be aware that if you go to the location at the link above, you’ll probably be waiting in a pretty long line. If a shorter lineup is more your style, then head to TKTS Booth’s second location in the Lincoln Center.
Staten Island Ferry
Ride this free ferry for epic views of Manhattan and Brooklyn.
The Staten Island Ferry leaves from Whitehall Terminal in lower Manhattan and it’s 100% free to ride. Yes, you read that correctly. A free ferry in New York!
Even if you’re not planning on visiting Staten Island, it’s a lovely ride with views of Manhattan and Brooklyn. It’s the perfect filler activity when you need a break from running around NYC.
Spend an afternoon exploring the best park in New York City.
If you asked me, “what is the #1 best free thing to do in NYC?”, I’d reply without hesitation: Central Park.
There are lots of awesome parks in New York from Washington Square Park to Prospect Park. But, there are just so many different things to do in Central Park. You could spend days in Central Park and still find new stuff.
👉 Pro Tip: While Washington Square Park and Prospect Park aren’t as well-known as the massive Central Park, they’re still totally worth a visit. Plus, they’re also free!
Grab a coffee at this affordable cafe.
Brooklyn is known for its chic cafes that welcome NYC students and professionals to click-clack away at their laptops. If you’re looking to treat yourself to a warm cup of coffee during your budget NYC trip, check out Postmark Cafe in Park Slope. It’s delicious and affordable.
Walk across the iconic Brooklyn Bridge (with a jacket, of course!).
A walk over the Brooklyn Bridge is the cheapest way to get between the two boroughs. Plus, it’s a lovely scenic stroll with better views than taking the subway.
The only thing is that it gets cold up there on the bridge, even during the summer. So, bundle up before you attempt this walk.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral
Spend some time in this gorgeous 1800s cathedral.
The 1800s St. Patrick’s Cathedral will fill you with awe. It’s just as stunning from the outside as it is from the inside. I have a lot of fond memories of visiting this cathedral with my dad when I was a kid. Even though I’ve seen it a million times before, I still find it insanely impressive every time I visit.
Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty
Take an audio tour of these iconic New York City landmarks.
Whenever you’re visiting a new place, it’s nice to get a glimpse of the area’s history. In NYC, one of the best places to start digging into the local history is Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty.
This site and museum are a little more expensive than some of the attractions on this list. But, they’re still pretty affordable and well worth the visit.
👉 Pro Tip: If you’re planning to visit major New York attractions, you may save money by purchasing a New York Pass. Buying tickets to a bunch of these big, touristy activities can add up quickly.
Ride the Cyclone at Coney Island
Riding the rollercoasters at Coney Island is affordable and fun for the whole family.
If you need a boost of adrenaline on your New York trip, take the subway to Coney Island’s Luna Park. There are a few different exciting rides to try at this family-friendly amusement park, but the crown jewel of the place is the Cyclone. It’s a wooden rollercoaster that opened to the public almost 100 years ago.
The High Line
This public park was built on an elevated train line.
Elevate yourself above the hustle and bustle of the busy Manhattan streets on the High Line. The High Line is a 1.4-mile-long public park that was built on an old elevated train line. Today, it’s one of the most popular green spaces among New Yorkers.
L Train Vintage
Snag high-end fashion items at this discounted thrift store.
New York state has some of the most luxurious clothing stores on earth. But if you’re on a budget, there are still opportunities for you to snag some of these high-end fashion items at one of New York City’s many thrift stores.
Thrift shopping in New York is an entire experience that could result in you going home with a super-discounted piece. One of my favorite spots for thrifting in NYC is L Train Vintage. They always carry one-of-a-kind items that you just can’t find in chain stores today.
The Knitting Factory
Catch a concert at this inexpensive NYC venue.
Out of all the incredible New York music venues, I’d recommend catching a concert at the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn. The venue is constantly putting on intriguing shows with well-known musicians and upcoming stars. Plus, it’s one of the less expensive venues in NYC.
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Get your fill of art at the MET.
New York is flush with some of the top museums on the entire planet. Unfortunately, though, many of them lean towards the more expensive end of things. If you only have room in your budget for one of New York’s best museums, then I’d go for the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The MET will run you $30 a head, but it’s worth it for a peak at some of the world’s most captivating artwork.
Take a boat cruise on the Hudson for a new perspective.
A fun way to get a new perspective of NYC is by hopping on a boat and floating down the Hudson River. There are a bunch of boat cruise and tour options along the Hudson River at various price points.
For a budget traveler, I’d suggest this New York City Landmarks Circle Line Cruise. It will take you on a narrated tour of all the big NYC sites and is still affordable enough for most budgets.
Where to Stay in NYC on a Budget
By far the most expensive part of traveling to New York City is booking accommodations. Most NYC neighborhoods are incredibly pricey. But there are a few areas that offer places to stay in New York at a reasonable price:
Long Island City, Queens
👉 Best Area For Artsy Vibes | ✨ Best Budget Hotel: Feather Factory Hotel
Long Island City is situated right up against the East River with spectacular views of the Manhattan skyline. The neighborhood has lots of appeal to it. There is a big art scene with lots of galleries to explore, adorable bars, and even one of New York’s best state parks.
Not only does Long Island City come with near-constant stunning views of the concrete jungle. It’s also one of the most affordable places to stay in New York City. There are several well-priced hotels and Airbnbs.
Washington Heights, Manhattan
👉 Best Area For Easy Ride to Central Manhattan | ✨ Best Budget Hotel: Radio Hotel
If proximity to central Manhattan is your goal, consider staying in Washington Heights.
Located at the tippy top of the Manhattan borough, there are a lot of historical attractions in this area, including The Little Red Lighthouse and the Morris-Jumel Mansion. More importantly for your purposes, however, Washington Heights is a great place to stay in New York City on a budget.
Coney Island, Brooklyn
👉 Best Area For Families | ✨ Best Budget Hotel: Best Western Brooklyn-Coney Island Inn
Coney Island is a little farther from Manhattan than the other neighborhoods on this list. It takes about an hour to get into the borough on the train. However, Coney Island is definitely one of the more affordable places to stay in New York City, and the subway costs a flat rate per ride.
Plus, Coney Island is a fun place to stay for families. In addition to the popular amusement park, there is the large sandy Coney Island Beach and the New York Aquarium.
👉 Pro Tip: If you’re going to take the subway a lot on your NYC trip (which you probably will be), consider buying a 7-day or 30-day unlimited MTA pass. It will give you unlimited subway and local bus rides for your allotted amount of time. The week pass is $33 and the monthly pass is $127.
Cheap Eats in NYC
One thing that really surprised me when I moved to New York is that there are actually plenty of affordable, delicious restaurants around. If you know where to look. Here are some of my favorite cheap eats in New York:
Noodle Village is a classic, low-cost Chinese restaurant located right in the heart of New York’s famous Chinatown. This restaurant is best known for its variety of soup dumplings and congee. It’s the perfect stop for warming up on a cold NY afternoon.
2 Bros. Pizza
If there is one thing you absolutely, 100% must eat when you visit NY, it’s pizza. I’m a firm believer that a NY slice is the best pizza in the world. If you need a pie on a budget, there is no better place than 2 Bros Pizza.
There are a few locations, but my favorite is the one on 8th Avenue in Midtown.
Walking around the streets of New York, you’ll probably stumble across about 5,000 places to get a hot dog. But, I would hold out for a hot dog from Gray’s Papaya. They also have some delicious juices.
Not only is it cheap, but it’s also open all night. Perfect for a midnight snack after hitting the NY nightlife.
Craving some top-tier Mexican food? Grab a table at Los Mariscos. They have incredible tacos, ceviche, and even a raw bar with oysters and clams. It’s a fun, reasonably-priced spot to wind down for dinner after a day of exploring New York.
Bánh Mì Saigon
There are two big reasons to fall in love with Vietnamese food: it’s cheap and mind-blowingly delicious. One of the tastiest spots to try a classic Vietnamese Banh Mi sandwich in NYC is Bánh Mì Saigon. Each filling sandwich is around $7. My favorite one is the Banh Mi Pate Cha.
If you’re in the mood for Middle Eastern food, have lunch at Mamoun’s Falafel near Washington Square Park. They have all the delicious standard fare like falafels, kebabs, and shawarma. All for a very affordable price in a cute environment.
📍 Google Maps | Price Range: ($)
Something I always subconsciously associate with New York is diners. There are many different styles of diners scattered across New York (some even with singing waitresses). However, my go-to NYC diner is La Bonbonniere. Their menu has all the classic diner food without the NYC insane prices.
FAQs About NYC on a Budget
Can you do NYC on a budget?
It is absolutely possible to visit New York City on a budget. The most important aspect of saving money in NYC is planning your trip ahead of time and doing research. There are many cheap to free activities, restaurants, and places to see in New York City.
What is a good budget for New York City?
Approximately $1,000 per person weekly is enough for a comfortable budget trip in New York City (not including flights). This should be enough for a private room or hostel, food, activities, and souvenirs. Since New York City is one of the more expensive cities in the world, even a low-budget trip comes at a high price point.
It’s possible to visit New York City for less than $1,000 per week. However, it will be more of a no-frills experience and include more free activities like Central Park and Washington Square Park.
How do I plan a trip to New York on a budget?
To start planning a trip to New York on a budget, first decide when you want to visit, where you want to stay, and what activities you want to do. The best time to visit NYC on a budget is the winter months. Then, start factoring in miscellaneous expenses.
What is the cheapest month to go to NYC?
January is the cheapest month to visit New York City. It’s right after the holiday season and the weather is extreme. So, prices tend to go down. But, visitors need to be prepared for very cold temperatures and likely snow.
Thanks for reading my guide to NYC on a budget! You’re all set to discover the incredible Big Apple without blasting through your entire bank account. I hope you find these budget tips and tricks useful. Before you get to New York, be sure to read up on the best neighborhoods in NYC.
(Featured Image Credit: tviolet / Shutterstock)
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