Let’s be real – New York City is not the cheapest destination to travel to, but if you know some travel tricks, also traveling to New York on a budget can be done.
Travel tricks to do New York on a budget
1. Use the subway
If you ask us, using the subway in New York city is the best way to explore it. Not only that this is the fastest transport, it is also the cheapest. If you’ll land at the JFK International airport, you should definitely consider using the combination of AirTrain and subway to reach Manhattan or some other area in New York city. Doing New York on a budget, subway it is! Check out some more travel tips on New York public transport here.
2. Street food or grocery store
Eating out in restaurants in New York City is not cheap – especially if you find yourself at the high end place. But if you use food trucks (which are many) or maybe end up in Chinatown for lunch or dinner, you will find the prices affordable.
You can also decide to book your room through Airbnb or maybe stay at the apartment hotel, where you can prepare your meals by yourself. We stayed at the amazing residential-apartment hotel Q & A, which had fully equipped kitchen and enormous rooms comparing the other New York City hotels. The room prices are not the lowest, but they are very competitive comparing it to other hotels – and if you deduct the amount spent to eat out, you just found yourself a really good deal to do New York on a budget.
3. Rooftop bars instead of observation decks
You might be among people, who cannot imagine leaving home without visiting at least one observation deck in New York City. But honestly, tickets to see the city from above, are not as cheap as you might think. If you can live without the observation decks, just visit one of the popular rooftop bars. Order a beer or a cocktail and enjoy the views in local vibe, as the rooftop bars are the place for locals. It is said that the 230th Fifth Rooftop Bar is great, offering amazing views towards the Empire State Building. And while sipping wine, enjoying the views, you will forget that you are in New York on a budget.
4. The Statue of Liberty
Visiting the island, where the famous Statue of Liberty is set, will not be cheap – especially if you also wish to climb on top of it. If you are traveling to New York on a budget, embark the free Staten Island ferry which offers great views of the Statue of Liberty. Make sure you are sitting on the right side of the ferry to enjoy the views.
The Staten Island ferry leaves every 30 minutes from Battery Park at the southern part of the Manhattan. You’ll need 25 minutes to reach the Staten Island and if you take the exact ferry back, you’ll need an hour for a free returned »boat cruise«.
We recommend that you do the Staten Island Ferry ride outside the rush hours, which are from 6am to 9.30 am and 3.30 pm to 8 pm.
5. One USD for the American museum of natural history
Believe it or not, but you can pay only 1 USD to visit one of the most amazing museums in New York City. Normally the tickets are promoted for 23 USD, but the museum is actually funded by the New York City and the promoted 23 USD per ticket is just the suggested fee. You can choose yourself, how much you are willing to pay for the visit.
But be aware that you can only choose how much you pay directly at the cashier. If you want to skip lines and get the tickets from the self-service machines, you cannot pay less than the suggested fee. So if you want to do New York on a budget, it is well worth standing in line for few minutes.
6. Bronx ZOO for free
It is said that the best ZOO in New York City is the Bronx ZOO. We have not visited it, but if you are traveling to New York City with kids and on a budget, you can visit it on Wednesday, when the entrance is free of charge – well not free exactly, as it is donation day and you should at least spend 1 USD to get in. But have in mind that the ZOO will be very crowded that day.
7. Aquarium for free
There is another nice place to visit in New York City with kids – the Aquarium at the Coney Island. Every Wednesday, after 3pm, the entrance is free – but again – the crowds are expected.
8. Visit to the Public library
If you want to see old buildings from the inside, make sure to stop at the Public Library on 5th Avenue. The interior is amazing. It is complitely free.
9. A walk over the Brooklyn Bridge
You will get some great views over Manhattan and all the Skyscrapers for free when walking over the Brooklyn Bridge, so make sure not to miss that. After all, doing New York on a budget or not – that is one of the must things to do when in New York.
10. Parks and kinder playgrounds
We traveled to New York City with our 19 months old son and that is why we did visit many parks and playgrounds. The parks are all nicely done and we found the kids areas absolutely amazing. We were in New York City in August and had super-hot days, so our toddler especially liked the water area with all the sprinklers. Perfect for every day stops and yes, you guesses it – you will never tell, you are actually exploring New York on a budget.
11. A trip to Governors Island
A boat trip to Governor Islands is a nice day or half day trip from Manhattan or Brooklyn. The Governor Island have lots of great kid’s areas, including ice skating during the hot summer months.
The returned boat ride costs only 3 USD (kids, younger than 13 years ride for free). If you are traveling to New York on budget, you can even catch free boat rides for the whole family during weekends, including 11.30 am.
12. Brighton Beach and Coney Island
If you would like to see some other parts of New York City and not spend all your time in Manhattan, take a subway to Coney Island and its long sandy Brighton beach. The boardwalk is nice and if you’re up for some adrenalin, there’s the traditional Luna Park, offering some fun for the whole family. The entrance fee is not cheap though – 69 USD/adult, where all the rides are included.
13. Take the carousel
You will only spend 2 USD for a fun Jane’s carousel ride which is one of the most known old carousels in New York City. It can be found in Brooklyn, just underneath the Brooklyn Bridge, offering great views toward Manhattan too. Ren loved it and so did I.
14. A walk on the High Line
You can find many nice living areas in Manhattan, including Tribeca, Chelsea and Greenwich. The old brick buildings are now luxurious apartments and the areas are full of cafés and restaurants. The Chelsea area is also know for the High Line – a formal train track, which is now 2,3 kilometers long green line. You can visit it completely for free. The High Line also passes the famous Chelsea market, so don’t miss that either.
15. 9/11 museum for free
You can also visit the 9/11 museum for free each Tuesday from 4pm on. But be aware there is limited number of free tickets available so be there soon.
16. Travel to New York off-season
You can do New York on a budget just from choosing when are you traveling there. It’s off-season months like January and February might be cold, but the hotels have lower prices than during high-season and you will also be able to avoid standing in lines for the most famous New York City attractions.
Even if you travel to New York on a budget, you will never feel bored or with the feeling you are missing something, as there is always so much things to do there. Just a walk on the 5th Avenue is a nice experience, but if you spice that up with some of the above experiences, you will leave New York City with amazing new experiences, which will not empty your wallet completely.
You can check more tourist attractions in New York City here. If you’ll be traveling with Air France (we did), you can even find some discounted tickets for sights on their partner page, when you log in with your ticket booking number.
Another good option to save some money when exploring New York on a budget, but still wanting to visit some of the most popular tourist attractions in New York City is to buy the CityPass. The City Pass includes 6 reduced tickets for the Empire State Building, American Museum of Natural History, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Top of the Rock Observation Deck or Guggenheim museum, Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island or Circle line Sightseeing Cruises and 9/11 Memorial & Museum or Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. The CityPass is valid for 9 consecutive days, starting with the first day of use. You can even avoid the lines with it. Get more information about the CityPass here.
P.S. If you maybe know for any good things to do New York on a budget, let us know, so we can add it to the list and make traveling to New York affordable to others too.