You may think of New York City as one of the most expensive cities in the world, but a trip to NYC doesn’t have to break the bank. A little research and patience can save you a lot of money. Here are some tips on doing NYC on a budget.
For cheap places to stay, check out our previous blog on affordable hotels here.
For more non-traditional spots to crash, try airbnb.com and homeaway.com. Sites like these allow you to buy time in someone’s home – such as a room in their apartment or even their entire house – instead of a hotel. Prices can be competitive, plus it gives you a chance to live like a local, if only for a little while!
Adventurous types may want to try a hostel. By far the cheapest option, hostels allow you to save money by sharing space (including a bathroom) with other travelers. Of course, this option definitely isn’t for everyone!
Unlike other cities, everything in New York (especially in Manhattan and Brooklyn) is so close together that a car often isn’t necessary – true New Yorkers do a lot of walking! Of course, some landmarks are way too far apart for walking, but always check the estimated walking time on your GPS before hailing a cab – especially if it’s a beautiful day!
If the distance is too great to walk, the subway is the cheapest option. Currently priced at $3.00 (though always rising…), one Metro Card swipe can get you around the whole city…if you know what you’re doing. Make sure you read the directions correctly and get on all the right trains so you don’t end up at the wrong stop! Travel tip: there are a lot of great smartphone apps that put the expansive NYC subway map at your fingertips – some even have up to date service notices about route closures or schedule changes.
If you’d rather stick to cabs or Ubers, here are a few tips:
- Be aware of any extra charges or surcharge pricing. Surge pricing is a result of increased ride demand and is common during rush hour or around busy destinations.
- Black cars may approach you if they spot you looking for a cab – these can be pricier than a typical cab, and don’t have a meter for you to keep track of. Ask for the fare before accepting the ride!
- Avoid pedal cabs and carriage rides; the novelty isn’t worth the price.
Despite its expensive reputation, NYC has a lot of free activities to offer. Here are some of our favorites:
- NYC PARKS: New York City has more parks than you could ever imagine. Some of the must-see ones include Central Park (duh), Brooklyn Bridge Park (unbeatable views), the High Line, Battery Park, Socrates Sculpture Park, and Prospect Park…to start.
- A SELF GUIDED TOUR: It may cost money to get a tour of a landmark, or to enter its observation deck, but visiting one of NYC’s famous buildings up close is 100% free! Take yourself to sights like the Empire State Building, One World Trade Center, the Chrysler Building, the Flatiron Building, the Bank of America Tower, Grand Central, City Hall, and 30 Rock.
- THE 9/11 MEMORIAL: This somber yet beautiful memorial is truly a sight to be seen. Though the 9/11 Museum is ticketed, the outdoor fountain memorial is free.
- BROOKLYN BREWERY: Tours at NYC’s most well-known brewery are informative, interesting, and most importantly, free! Well, at least on the weekends they are. Make sure to grab some cash to taste the beer, though.
- CONEY ISLAND BOARDWALK: There’s no better way to spend a sunny day than by taking a stroll down the famous Coney Island Boardwalk. The views can’t be beat and are 100% Insta-worthy.
CHEAP EATS & DRINKS
New York’s cheapest food stops are also some of the best.
- HALAL GUYS: This NYC staple can be found on practically every street corner and is long beloved by locals. Their chicken and rice meals are delicious, huge, and under $10.
- DELIS: If you’re from out of town, you absolutely cannot leave without trying a New York bagel. Lucky for you, they can be found at delis all over the city and are super-cheap – which is good, because you’ll probably want one every day for the rest of your trip.
- BABA’S PIEROGIES: Located in Brooklyn, Baba’s pierogies come with a variety of fillings, including potato, jalapeno, and mac and cheese. Prices start at $8 for five, which is more than enough to fill you up.
- VANESSA’S: Like Baba’s, but swap pierogis for dumplings. At Vanessa’s (which has locations throughout the city) you can get eight chive and pork dumplings for less than $5! There are tons of other options that are equally as cheap.
- 2 BROS PIZZA: There’s nothing like authentic New York pizza. 2 Bros offers a plain slice for only $1. Many of its locations are open late, so it’s the perfect post-bar meal.
We won’t lie – a night out drinking in the city can get pretty expensive. There aren’t many places where you can get cheap drinks (and cheap bar food), but we know a few:
- 169 BAR: 169 Bar is a historic Manhattan spot known for their $3 beer and shot happy hour combo – possibly one of the best deals in the city. Many of their beers are $5 and under, plus they offer some amazing oyster specials.
- RUDY’S BAR & GRILL: The beer at this dive bar is not only cheap, but comes with a complementary hot dog. What else could you ask for?
- CROCODILE LOUNGE: Hot dogs not your thing? Crocodile Lounge on East 14th serves up free pizza with their drinks.
- JIMMY’S CORNER: Times Square is known for having bars that are overpriced and underwhelming, but Jimmy’s Corner is an exception. It’s a great place to chill, maybe watch the game, and drink (cheap) beer.
There are some tricks that only New Yorkers know about when it comes to cheap entertainment – here are a few:
- BROADWAY TICKETS: Most Broadway Shows offer a special, day-of lottery for tickets priced as low as $10 (yes, even Hamilton)! Obviously this takes a lot of luck, but it’s always worth a try.
- CONCERT/SPORTS TICKETS: This trick only works sometimes and requires waiting until the last minute. When people are desperate to get rid of their sports game or concert tickets on websites like StubHub, they’ll keep dropping the price until someone snatches them. Waiting until an event is just about to start (or has already started) can lead to some seriously cheap tickets.
- FREE DAYS: Places like the Bronx Zoo and the Brooklyn Botanical Garden have certain hours on specific days that are free admission. Beware: this often means bigger crowds!
- MINI GOLF: When planning a trip to the Big Apple, you probably don’t think of going mini golfing. But some spots offer it, and for cheap – such as Hudson River Park, where you can play for only $6. That’s six bucks for hours of entertainment and wild skyline views – a steal, basically.
- UCB: The United Citizens Brigade is where comedians like Amy Poehler and Aziz Ansari got their starts. Many UCB performances are free and hey, you may even see a future star!