Post overview: Tips for visiting NYC on a budget
Unless you’re a recluse who stays away from the internet (but how would you be reading this?) and avoids television, you probably know New York City is an expensive place to be.
In fact, New York City was given the crown of most expensive city in the world last year. Needless to say, visiting NYC on a budget is paramount. If you’re not careful you’ll be paying off your vacation longer than a mortgage.
But as a local who doesn’t have a trust-fund or a sugar-mama (but I’m taking applications) I have a few tricks of my sleeve. I’ve learned ways to live well and enjoy the city without breaking the bank, and in this guide I pass these tips to you.
So if you’re ready to learn the best ways to visit NYC on a budget keep reading. We have a lot of ground to cover, so let’s get to it!
Visiting New York City? If you haven’t decided where to stay (yet) check out our helpful guide on Where to Stay in New York City (The best neighborhoods for first timers +2 to avoid). Don’t have time? Here’s our favorite hotel in NYC, hands down.
How to Visit NYC on a Budget
Take the Subway from the Airport
Let’s start with where your trip likely begins: the airport. New York City has three international airports (John F. Kennedy, LaGuardia, and Newark) that introduce thousands of folks every day to the Big Apple.
But if you’re ill-prepared it’s also your first opportunity to squander a valuable chunk of change. Countless folks have been caught off guard when they open Uber or Lyft and see prices north of $100 to get into the city.
So don’t be so quick to request a ride. Each airport has public transportation into Manhattan that will cost you a (literal) fraction of the price and help you visit NYC on a budget.
Just last week I flew into LaGuardia, where an Uber would’ve cost me $80. I instead spent $2.90 by using the free shuttle to the subway and then paying the fare to ride the train into Manhattan.
I won’t get into the nitty-gritty of transportation in this article, instead you can read How to Get to New York City From the Airport to help you navigate your options.
Side note: You might also be wondering why I don’t recommend taking a taxi. The reason is cabs (depending on the airport) charges a flat rate of $70 into Manhattan, but after fees and a tip you’re still looking at a sizeable investment. If you’re keen on visiting NYC on a budget, stick to public transportation – trust me.
As a matter of fact, ride the subway all around
If visiting New York City on a budget is a priority then you can go ahead and delete your ride sharing apps. You won’t need them with the subway (which at $2.90 a ride is a Godsend for visiting NYC on a budget).
And don’t listen to any hoopla about buying a MetroCard (the cards to get onto the subway). The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) has just about gone full Tap to Pay on all public transit options.
A 7-Day MetroCard costs $34, but the MTA’s Tap to Pay technology recognizes the card you’ve been paying with and so long as you’re using the same card, any ride after your 12th is free. 12 rides at $2.90 is $34.80.
So the value is almost identical, and when you consider getting a physical MetroCard itself costs $1 it’s actually 20 cents cheaper to just use Tap to Pay. Due to the fact that Tap to Pay’s 12th ride incentive resets every Sunday, the ONLY time the MetroCard is more advantageous is if you travel between the middle of one week to the middle of the next.
But don’t overestimate how much you’ll be riding the subway, 12 rides is a lot for most first time visitors. Especially if you plan a proper itinerary that will have you walking and taking in the sights, enjoying NYC on a budget.
Visit free viewpoints instead of observation decks
We’ve all seen the pictures of friends grinning from ear to ear atop the Empire State Building or One World Observatory. However, if you’re visiting New York on a budget $40+ a person adds up quickly.
Don’t let the fear of missing out drive you to a poor financial decision. Instead visit one of the many free viewpoints in New York City and and bask under the skyline of NYC, on a budget.
You can head to the rooftop at Time Out Market in DUMBO, Brooklyn for stunning panoramas of Lower Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge.
Or if you’d rather be closer to Midtown for views of the Empire State and Chrysler Buildings make the trek to Gantry Plaza State Park in Long Island City, Queens.
These free viewpoints will make visiting New York on a budget that much easier. You might not be at the same height of the five observation decks, but your Instagram followers won’t care because the pictures will be just as stunning.
There’s plenty of cheap eats to enjoy while visiting NYC
There’s no way getting around spending money on food while visiting New York. Hell, half the fun of visiting the city is stopping by one of a kind restaurants that you don’t have at home.
But while spending money on food is a necessity, spending half a month’s rent on it isn’t. There’s an abounding supply of cheap eats and inexpensive restaurants that can help you visit NYC on a budget.
Even some of New York City’s most iconic foods can be inexpensive. Pizza, bagels, pretzels and hot dogs are a dime a dozen and you’ll be left with enough cash to afford another meal.
Don’t let Instagram fool you into thinking every meal has to be an five course experience. Visiting NYC on a budget is more than possible, it’s fun when you’re eating like a local and trying hole in the wall joints.
We did the work so you don’t have to, check out 20 Satisfying Cheap Eats in New York City You Can Enjoy for Under $10!
Limit drinking to happy hour
When you’re on vacation it’s easy to let your guard down, and visiting NYC on a budget can become an afterthought. Something as simple as going out for drinks may sound reasonable in your hometown, but in New York City it’s anything but.
Cocktail prices often range from $15 (if you’re lucky) to $22+. Sadly, that doesn’t include a meal or a tip. All it takes is a few drinks for your credit card to start begging you to cut it out.
Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t occasionally enjoy a drink; all I’m saying is, if you’re trying to visit New York City on a budget, choose to get drinks exclusively during happy hour.
Luckily for you New York City is no stranger to phenomenal happy hours! If at all helpful here is a quick round-up of great spots for those visiting NYC on a budget:
- Dante: Dante West Village offers martinis for $10 & Caffe Dante offers negronis for $10. | Daily 3 – 5PM
- El Coco: $5 Margaritas | All day
- Time Out Market Rooftop Bar: Beers, Wine and Cocktails under $15 | Weekdays 4 – 7PM
Spend time in public parks
The Big Apple is world famous for its towering skyline, but some of the most fun you can have (especially while visiting NYC on a budget) is to visit one of its countless public parks.
The park you can’t afford to miss is Central Park. It’s the crown jewel of Manhattan and the backyard of thousands of New Yorkers. If you’re traveling to New York on a budget this park alone can entertain a multiple-day trip.
You can ride its 6.1 mile loop renting a bicycle through the CitiBike app. If you rather rest your legs find a seat and enjoy a view of The Lake. How about enjoying the countless NYC filming locations found within the park?
All this to say, there are limitless things to do in Central Park that can make visiting NYC on a budget a breeze. And although Central Park is the city’s most famous park, there’s much more where that came from.
How about visiting Little Island, a park that extends over the Hudson River? Or what about Bryant Park, a park that sits in the shadow of Midtown Manhattan’s skyscrapers, reminding us that big things come in small packages?
I suggest giving 15 Iconic New York City Parks You Can’t Afford to Miss a read to see if any other parks pique your interest. You can spend hours exploring these greenspaces all while keeping your trip to New York on a budget.
Look into sightseeing passes
Let’s say you’re visiting NYC on a budget but don’t want to give up any of the iconic attractions. What do you do?
I suggest looking into sightseeing passes, which are common in numerous major cities across the world. They’re a legit way to visit the top tourist attractions and save some money while you’re at it.
Essentially you pay a company a flat fee and they in turn let you choose from a handful of attractions they’re partnered with. Instead of paying $40 here, $35 there, and $55 back over here you’re paying a flat amount, usually at a discount thus keeping your trip to NYC on a budget.
The pass I recommend the most is the C3, by CityPASS. As of October of 2023 it’ll run you $96 per person, and gives you access to three tourist attractions across a nine day period. Below I’ll list the available attractions:
- Empire State Building
- Top of the Rock Observation Deck
- The Edge
- Ferry Access to Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island
- 9/11 Memorial & Museum
- American Museum of Natural History
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art
- Museum of Modern Art
- Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises
- Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum
- Guggenheim Museum
- City Cruises
Now you should do some math (look up the pricing for the three your most interested in seeing, add them up) to make sure the C3 Pass is worth it. If it is, it’ll make visiting NYC on a budget so much simpler.
Try to snag discount Broadway tickets
When folks start planning a trip to New York City a few non-negotiable stops arise. The Statue of Liberty, Grand Central Terminal, Central Park and often – a show on Broadway!
But let me tell you, Broadway shows and budgets don’t often go in the same sentence. Tickets can be well into the hundreds of dollars and if you’re not careful you won’t be visiting NYC on a budget, you’ll be asking for change in Times Square to afford the flight back home.
But there are a few ways to snag some discount tickets, and I’m here to help you make the swing. The most tried and true way to save a buck on Broadway is to buy rush tickets, which are “day of” seats the theater wants to fill.
Another way is to enter Broadway lotteries, which put you in the running for massively discounted tickets. The biggest issue is that you’re not guaranteed a seat, you need the dice to roll your way.
If all else fails there’s the tried and true TKTS ticket booth to help you visit NYC on a budget. Just be sure to check the show’s websites for current pricing, because the booth doesn’t always provide the best priced seat.
Read 10 Brilliant Broadway Shows in New York City You Won’t Soon Forget for more tips on how to save some cash on Broadway. Visiting NYC on a budget isn’t impossible, you just have to do a little research!
Ride the Staten Island Ferry to see Lady Liberty
Although it’s not a yacht, riding the Staten Island Ferry is a can’t miss experience and one of the best ways to see the Statue of Liberty up close if you’re visiting NYC on a budget.
The ferry is completely free and departs from lower Manhattan, offering striking views of the city. Word to the wise, you’ll want to be as close to the edge of the ferry as possible. And make sure to have your phone on stand-by ready for pictures!
Just know that you must disembark the ferry when it reaches Staten Island and line back up to board toward Manhattan. It might seem like a pain, but you’re getting to experience one of the best budget-friendly things to do in NYC, twice.
Fun Fact: The Staten Island Ferry is beloved and gets quite crowded. It takes approximately 22 million people a year (about 70,000 passengers a day) between Manhattan and Staten Island.
Address to board in Manhattan: 4 Whitehall Street New York NY 10004
Take advantage of free things to do if you’re visiting NYC on a budget
I feel like this goes without saying but if you’re attempting to travel to New York City on a budget — looking for free things to do throughout the city is a no-brainer.
And the City That Never Sleeps also happens to be the city that always has something going on.
Whether you’re visiting for the holidays or a random weekend in March, the chances of a free event happening near you is high. New York on a budget doesn’t just apply to tourists, locals need a way to save some coin too so community organizers always have something in the works.
But for folks who like to plan and don’t want to wait for an event, no worries! We’ve put in the work so you don’t have to and created a complete guide of free things to do in New York City.
As long as you take advantage of everything the city has to offer, visiting NYC on a budget doesn’t have to be boring.
Plan your trip during the off-season
As magical as Christmas in New York City may sound, if you really want to visit NYC on a budget consider planning a trip during the off-season.
Flights, hotels, and crowds are typically far more reasonable and manageable from late winter to early spring. The best time to visit New York City is often the fall, but if you want so get a deal you should come right after it’s over.
Now this isn’t to say you can’t visit NYC on a budget during fall or the holiday season, you’ll just get the most bang for your buck visiting between January and April.
Stop by free art galleries
Some of the most incredible artwork you’ll ever see in your life can be found in New York City. Museums like the MET and the Guggenheim have multi-million dollar pieces, but they aren’t conducive to visiting NYC on a budget.
If you’re a creative visiting New York City on a budget there’s more than a few free art galleries peppered around the city. If you want to make an afternoon of it make a beeline to Chelsea, NYC’s unofficial arts district.
With over a hundred galleries to choose from, finding one that suits your liking shouldn’t be a problem. Most of the exhibits can be found between 18st-28st street and 10th- 11th avenue.
If at all helpful, these are some of my favorite exhibits to check out when in the area:
- Pace Gallery: Contemporary art | Address: 540 W 25th St, New York, NY 10001
- Sundaram Tagore: Contemporary art with an emphasis on art that combines Western culture with global influences. | Address: 542 W 26th St, New York, NY 10001
- Lehmann Maurine: Representing a diverse range of contemporary artists and estates from around the world. | Address: 501 W 24th St, New York, NY 10011
- David Zwirner: Contemporary art | 525 W 19th St, New York, NY 10011
- 303 Gallery: Contemporary art by contemporary American artists | 555 W 21st St, New York, NY 10011
Download Too Good To Go
This next tip for visiting NYC on a budget is for folks who like to let their hair down and live a little. New York City prides itself on being the best of the best, so when it comes to bakeries and restaurants you better believe the city puts its money where its mouth is.
However going to a bakery and picking up a treat and coffee you’ll find yourself out almost $20 each time. Multiply that by, let’s say a five day vacation…that’s a lot of money.
So what if I told you I know a way to score a bag (that’s right, multiple items) of baked goods for a fraction of the price? If you’re visiting NYC on a budget, one of the best apps to download is “Too Good To Go”.
The app was created to with the sole purpose of helping reduce waste at restaurants and bakeries. Each night, all these heavenly shops place their leftover goodies in bags and sell them at prices ranging from $3.99-6.99.
While you’re taking a gamble and not sure of what you’ll get, it’s hard to be mad at bag of cookies, croissants and breads from a beloved bakery for $5!
Further reading: Have more time? Here are 10 Helpful Apps To Download When Visiting NYC (For a Painless Trip).
Visiting New York City on a budget (Post Summary)
In sum, here’s a roundup of great things to do when visiting New York City on a budget.
- Prepare yourself for unexpected bad weather and pack an umbrella
- Download Too Good To Go
- Stop by free art galleries
- Plan your trip during the off-season
- Take advantage of the free things to do if you’re visiting NYC on a budget
- Ride the Staten Island Ferry to see Lady Liberty
- Try to snag discount Broadway tickets
- Look into sightseeing passes
- Try to find a hotel outside of Manhattan
- Spend time in public parks
- Limit drinking to happy hour
- Treat yourself to the all the best cheap eats the city has to offer
- Visit free viewpoints, not observation decks
- Use public transportation
- Ride the Subway to and from the Airport
Visiting New York on a Budget (Map)
I hope you found the article useful and you’re better equipped to visit New York City on a budget. Enjoy New York City, until next time. Cheers!