Our 32 Tips posts give you great advice on some of the most expensive destinations in the world. Check out all our 32 Tips posts here.
Budget New York City.
But it’s not. Yes, it can be expensive but there are plenty of affordable things to do and see as well. New York City is friendly and rich in culture and, as the two mix, many opportunities arise to see traditional tourist attractions as well as rub shoulders with real New Yorkers.
So, to help you enjoy a great trip to the Big Apple, here’s my take on the best of budget New York City.
Getting Around New York City on the Cheap
- From the airport to the city. This article gives you information on traveling from all NYC airports via public transit. In some cases the GO Airlink Shuttle is a better deal in terms of time and money.
- Get a MetroCard. The bus and subway system in New York City is a really efficient way to get around. You can buy a single ride at station kiosks for $3. However, you’ll likely want to check out the Metrocard options for your stay.
- Take the people’s ferry. The Staten Island Ferry is free and offers such a great view of the city. It runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with more frequent service during rush hour on weekdays. You can get free WiFi on the ferry and in the ferry terminals. Here’s a post that gives you great information on a Staten Island tour.
- Take a bus tour. A Hop On, Hop Off tour is great if you’re short on time or want to get an overview of the city before you dig into its specifics. If I only have a couple of days in a city I generally take one.
- Walk and soak in the city. Budget New York City definitely includes walking which is great because there are so many wonderful areas to explore. High on my list are:
- Washington Square
- Brooklyn Bridge – see Beyond Manhattan: Just Across the Brooklyn Bridge
- Central Park – see Central Park in New York: 10 Things You Must Do
- Upper West Side – see Solo Travel New York City: Recommended Tours
- The Village
- Time Square
- Rockefeller Center
- The High Line – see The High Life in Photos – on the High Line in New York City
- The Lower East Side – see New York’s Lower East Side: History and a Swashbuckling Dog
Budget New York City: Tourist Bargains
- Take a free tour:
- Big Apple Greeters. Whatever your interests, with luck, you’ll get a volunteer tour guide who shares them and will show you their beloved New York.
- New York By Foot. Free tours but it’s important to tip – I think $5 is the minimum.
- Explore the Village. Take one of 28 self-guided tours offered by the Village Alliance. I sure wish they had these as an app, but perhaps that is coming.
- Tour Grand Central Station. Every Friday at 12:30 pm, the Grand Central Partnership conducts a 90-minute guided walking tour led by an urban historian.
- New York City Pass. There are various options (with or without bus tour for example) and they often run specials so have a look and see if the New York City Pass will save you money on what you want to do in New York.
- Museums. Watch for free times for visiting the many museums in the city. The Museum of Modern Art offers free admission from 4:00-8:00 pm on Fridays. Museum at the Fashion Institute is always free. For a complete list of New York museums and when they’re free go to FreeMuseumDays.
- Go to Cathedral of Saint John the Divine. Located on the upper west side, Saint John the Divine is a massive cathedral and a major attraction in the city. It’s free, though donations are appreciated. And, bonus, down the block is the diner featured in the Seinfeld series.
- Go shopping and get a deal. Here’s a guide to shopping deals in New York City. You can also check out Time Out’s sample sale page. It’s updated all the time so sometimes the list is long and at other times it’s shorter.
- Cheap entertainment. New York City is the entertainment capital of the world. When you consider live theater, plus television, film, opera, concerts… I think New York takes the title. Here are tips for entertainment on a budget:
- Upright Citizens Brigade Theater. This is a great deal. Founded by Amy Poehler and others, UCBT offers improv theater. At $10 it’s a bargain but sells out quickly so book in advance.
- Buy discount Broadway tickets. Shows on Broadway are expensive but, if you’re willing to stand in line, you can buy tickets for 20%-50% off on the day of the show. There are a couple of places you can do this but go to the TKTS Discount Booths (their flagship location is in Times Square) and you’ll be supporting the non-profit Theatre Development Fund.
- Off-Broadway productions. Off-Broadway is cheaper than on, so check out The New York Theatre Guide to Off-Broadway shows.
- Dance parties in Brooklyn. There are free concerts/dance parties in Brooklyn Bridge Park throughout the summer.
- Shakespeare in the Park. This runs from May to August (check specific dates). Tickets are handed out free in the park and around the city.
- And a couple of tips from Solo Travel Society members:
- Danielle – A few more tips, as I live here, and work on Broadway: if you can’t get to a TKTS booth, download the TodayTix app if you’re interested in Broadway/Off-Broadway tickets at a discount. And if you’re a student or trying to do it on the cheap: a lot of shows have “rush” tickets when the box office opens, or a lottery 2 1/2 hours before the show. Also for free/cheap stuff to do: the skint. It’s the absolute best.
- Karla – I second the recommendations about cheap theater tickets. I tried the lottery for the first time last spring, when visiting with my son, and we got 5th row tickets to Newsies on Broadway for $27 each! I also use playbill.com to get discounted tickets in advance.
Live Like a Local in New York City
- Join a local running group. The North Brooklyn Runners is just one of the groups you can join for a run and a coffee afterwards. Here’s a list of running groups by district.
- A calendar of free events. You can see what’s free at NYCgo.com.
- Check out Meetup.com. There are groups for people interested in hiking, architecture, technology, wine… there are groups on every subject imaginable. Find a Meetup in New York City and go to meet locals who have similar interests as you.
- Go to an Open Mic. In a city with as much talent as New York you know that the Open Mic scene has to be a good one. And where there’s an Open Mic there are always friends (locals) out to support the artists. Here’s a list of the best Open Mics in the city.
- Go kayaking on the Hudson. What a city! The Downtown Boat House promotes public access to the waterfront for all including free kayaking. Don’t know how to kayak? Take one of their free classes.
- The drama of chess. Go to the southwest corner of Washington Square and watch the drama as people try to beat the regulars. Or test your own skills at $5 a game.
- Take a beer tour and tasting. Brooklyn Brewery hosts tours and tastings every day of the week. Check for details.
- Bookstores worth browsing. Spoonbill & Sugartown, Berl’s Brooklyn Poetry Shop, Housing Works Bookstore Cafe. Here’s the Gothamist’s list of the 10 Best Bookstores In NYC.
- Visit the local chapter of your favorite organization. Are you a member of a service group or association? If so, plan to go to a local chapter meeting and see the city through a local’s eyes.
Budget New York City: Where to Eat
- A little bar called George Keeley. Located at Amsterdam and 83rd it offers local beers and exceptionally good “everything bagel fries.”
- Eat at a Food Truck. Food trucks can be a big part of a budget New York City experience but… where to find them? Food trucks are always on the move. Here’s a site that will tell you where and when the most popular food trucks are in NYC.
- Free pizza. The Alligator Lounge offers free pizza every day of the week along with karaoke, trivia, comedy… whatever’s going the night you’re there.
- Dinner and jazz. Arturo’s is at the corner of Houston and Thompson and is a favorite spot of a friend of mine. Why: because of Jimmy the singing waiter, coal oven pizza, and fantastic jazz every night.
- Your local guide. Check out TimeOut New York’s cheap eats guide for their latest recommendations.
Where to Stay
- Budget hotels, B&Bs, and guesthouses. Accommodation is really expensive in New York. Here’s a link to the budget accommodation page on Booking.com.
- Hotels with single rooms. These are not cheap but they are less expensive than standard hotels in Manhattan and they offer single rooms. Try Hotel 91 for your choice of rooms with a double or queen bed, Pod 39 for a private bath with your single room and Pod 51 if you don’t mind sharing a bathroom.
- Check out Bed and Breakfast options. Naturally there are hundreds of B&B options in New York City. Check them out here.
- New York city has hostels. Yes, there is always the hostel option which I have not done in New York but I have in many other cities around the world. Go to Hostelworld to see reviews on New York City hostels.
- Staying longer than a few nights? Then it might be worth finding an apartment to share. Check out New York Habitat and look under “rooms to rent.”
Special Deals for Students
- Intelligence Squared US (IQ2) debate. $12 for students. $40 for adults.
- New York Philharmonic Rush Tickets. Rush tickets are only available for students and seniors.