Budget New York City

New York CityNew York City can take a big bite out of your budget. It’s notorious for being an expensive place to visit, even if you try to stay in hostels and do “local things.” Most tourists who come here end up spending hundreds per day on hotel, food, and attractions. However, a city this big is bound to have some great deals. There are plenty of things to do in New York City that won’t cost you a few months of your savings—you just have to look. Here are just some of the cheap and free things to do in the Big Apple:

Free Tours
New York is a great place to walk around, but seeing New York from outside only gives you half the story. Take some free tours to see the other half. Trinity Church offers free daily tours when there are not services. The Brooklyn Brewery offers free tours on Saturdays and Sundays. Finally, Big Apple Greeter will pair you with a local New Yorker to show you around for a day with advance notice.

Take the Staten Island Ferry
That two-hour long line to see the Statue of Liberty not appealing? Well, walk a few blocks to the Staten Island ferry. The free ferry will take you across the harbor and give you a good view of both the Statue of Liberty and the city skyline. The ride takes about 20 minutes.

Get Cheap Accommodation
New York hotels are not cheap. Most run $150 or higher per night if you want something decent. A good cheap option is to stay in a hostel. For a single room with TV, Wi-Fi, and private bathroom, I spent $90 per night. Considering the closest hotel to that price was a one-star Econolodge, staying in a hostel is a good alternative. You can find free accommodation via Couchsurfing or try your luck with last-minute hotels on Priceline.

Walk the Brooklyn Bridge
Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge to experience an interesting view of the New York skyline and harbor. It’s a long walk, but good food and drinks (like the brewery) await you on the other side.

New York CityGet Cheap Theater Tickets
One of the best things to do in New York is to see the theater. Tickets can run hundreds of dollars, especially for the new and popular shows, but there’s a way to get discount tickets. The TKTS stand in Times Square, a product of the Theatre Development Fund, offers 40–50% off select shows. You need to arrive at the counter the same day to see what they have, but it’s usually a good selection. Be prepared to wait in line for about an hour. TKTS also have ticket booths at the South Street Seaport and in Brooklyn.

Central Park for a Day
A great way to relax in the city and leave the crowds behind is to spend the day in Central Park. It’s free, there are lots of little paths to walk, and since it covers over 40 blocks, it’s easy to spend hours upon hours wandering around. During the summer months, there are often free concerts and theater productions in the park too.

Free Museums
NYC is littered with some of the best museums in the world, from the Met to the MOMA to the Guggenheim. Many museums offer free entry certain days of the week. The Whitney Museum of American Art is free on Fridays, the Solomon R. Guggenheim has “suggested” donations after 5pm on Fridays, the Museum of American Folk Art is free, the Cooper-Hewitt National Museum of Design is free on Tuesday evenings, the Steuben Gallery is free, the Met is free (suggested donation is $20), and the Museum of Modern Art is free after 4pm on Fridays.

New York has a lot of budget activities—this is only a sample. Ask around, and you’re bound to find even more free and cheap activities in this expensive city.

Get the COMPLETE Budget Guidebook to New York City!

Looking for more in-depth coverage on New York City? I wrote a 100+ page guide to the city that I call my home. My detailed guide to NYC will help you plan the perfect trip. This guide cuts out the fluff and gives you the practical information you need to have the most fun on the least amount of money. You’ll get suggested itineraries, budgets, ways to save money, ideas on what to see and do, off-the-beaten path activities, and authentic, non-touristy restaurants and bars. This guide contains the essentials you need.

  1. Great tips!

    I spent a week in a hostel just outside times square for $20 a night (room full of 8 people) & was nothing short of comfortable. Noise was a minimum, showers were plentiful & you don’t need a TV.

    I agree with the Staten Island ferry & central park tips too. I played baseball with a bunch of guys there in 2008 who invited me into their game. Wasn’t particularly good, but it killed a bunch of hours cheaply!

    One thing I would like to add to the list is regarding tipping in bars. The worst way to have a night out is to bar crawl. The best way is to sit at the bar, have a few drinks, tipping per drink ($1 usually the norm) and chat to the bar staff. You can get some fascinating conversations, and often a few drinks :)

  2. Deborah

    The key to visiting NYC is to pretend you live there. Eat and live like an everyday person, you’ll see even more interesting things that way. :)

    • Rhys

      Do agree with this too! I find speaking like a local (well, the best I can with a thick British accent) can find you a local sight off the beaten track, a decent cheap restaurant or a free drink :)

  3. Nick

    Please don’t take this the wrong way, but this post should of been better. I could of written that, and I’ve never even been to NYC. Since you were actually there, I think you could of dug up some more unique angles than the basics you’ve covered here

      • I truly believe you wrote more than enough for those who have never been to NY. I wish I would have known that much when I first got here from my country. No one tells you that you can pay $1 or $2 in MET.

        But here this is really cool link that I have discovered few months ago, it has the list of FREE ADMISSION AND DISCOUNTED ADMISSION @ NYC Museums and it lists the deals you can get each day of the week.
        You are doing great NomadicMatt!!! :)
        Link: http://gonyc.about.com/cs/museums/a/museumdeals.htm

  4. Nick

    ps. Rhys, are you really saying you go to NYC and put on a NYC accent? That is just wrong! Either your just link baiting or a complete fool. Everyone knows Americans just love the English accent, and I’m guessing they could spot a fraudster a mile off! Your comment saved this post!!

    • I admit it, I had no idea what I meant with my previous comment.

      I **think** I was referring to speaking with (rather than like) locals in places that locals eat.

      I **did** find that there was a bit of a myth of the “British accent going far”, everybody thought I was Australian (I do speak with a mixture of a Scouse & North Walian accent, so as far away from the traditional Hugh Grant/Keira Knightley accent as you can get!)

  5. Glad you enjoyed the Grand Central Terminal tour!

    Next time you are here over a weekend, I recommend a visit to Governors Island: http://www.govisland.com/

    Once a military post (it protected NYC waterways from British Invasion during the War of 1812) and most recently a Coast Guard outpost, this historic island is now being used as great park space for the city.

    It’s a free 7 minute ferry ride Friday-Sunday – with great picnic spaces, concerts, art exhibits and car-free biking. On Fridays, bikes are free for an hour ($10 an hour normally). It’s a quiet oasis from the city but with spectacular views of downtown.

    I recommend going on Friday as the weekends can get really packed.

    Now I’m off to explore the Brooklyn Brewery!

  6. Regarding scoring a hotel on Priceline, I’ve had the best success with hotels in the southern end of Manhattan – particularly on weekends when the Financial District working crowd is absent.

  7. Sometimes, staying at a hotel across the river is a better and cheaper option than staying in Manhattan! Weehawken, the Meadowlands, Jersey City are cheaper options. You can get a suite with a king sized bed for $150 or less. Taking the NJ train into the city is pretty convenient, too!

  8. Everyone planning to go to NYC on a budget should A) Rent a cheap bike at Recycle a Bicycle under the Brooklyn bridge, and B) buy the book NYC Free and Dirt Cheap. There’s plenty in there for every night of the week, summer and winter.

  9. Carl

    Priceline is amazing, if you can stand the uncertainty and are willing to be patient and keep trying for a deal. For not much more than your hostel room, my girlfriend and I stayed at a 4-star, mid-town hotel — at Christmas time, a peak season.

  10. Tatiana

    Adding to your list of free museums: the American Museum of Natural History, the only one I visit consistently as a scientist and general world enthusiast. You have to pay extra to see some of the special exhibits, but the Rose Planetarium and the general museum (including the to-scale blue whale replica and the Star of India sapphire!) are only suggested donation, i.e. free.

  11. Erika

    I have a better option than TKTS for Broadway tickets. Most shows offer rush tickets or a lottery. These tickets generally run about $25-28.50 and are in either the front row, or the next best seats available. Rush tickets are usually given away as soon as the box office opens (usually around 10 a.m. and come in very limited quantities, so arrive early!), while lotteries generally take place 1.5 to 2 hours before a show. About 20-25 tickets are usually available, and all you have to do is drop your name in a bucket and wait! You can call the box office to find out if they have rush/lottery/other options.

    While neither of these options guarantee you a ticket, I’ve had near-perfect success with both methods. It also helps to go on a weekday or other non-peak performance to help insure that luck will be on your side. And even if you don’t win, there’s always TKTS as a last resort!

  12. jinxica

    I recently went to NYC with my 10 yr old daughter. We stayed two nights and 3 days. We found very affordable accommodation online by searching for short stay apartments. We spent one night on the Upper West Side, half a block from the park, in a lovely one bedroom apt. and one night just off Times Square in an absolutely gorgeous apt 30 floors up. What a view. Neither cost more than $125/night and with kitchens (with basic cooking supplies) we saved considerable $$ by not having to eat out for breakfast. And we were able to stock up on snacks etc at Whole Foods, so we weren’t spending crazy money on street food throughout the day. She fell in love with the city and can’t wait to go back.

  13. Kjestice

    Great tips. I’ll be taking my first solo trip and my first trip to NYC in the next couple of weeks. I’ll be checking out these suggestions. Trips always sneak up on me so I’m trying to sort out my game plan now. Keep up the good work. People like myself so appreciate it.

  14. Glenyss

    Just wanted to know if you have heard of http://www.newyorkersvacationrentals.com and whether you think they are ok, their web site looks good but just thought I would check on here to see what was said we are coming to NY in April so looking for any advice we can get. Also in regard to Statue of Liberty I hear we have to book in advance is that correct and if we do where is the best place to find the best deal for it please

  15. Hi Matt, thanks for the wonderful ideas. We are heading to NYC in October and this list is very helpful. I have already looked into the free Central Park tours, but didn’t know about the free ferry or think about walking the Brooklyn Bridge. I was happy to hear that the Top of the Rock was open. I really enjoyed the post. Thanks again for all the great ideas.

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