Guides

Visiting New York on a budget

New York taxi

After budget guides to London and Paris, I’m back with one for another of my favourite cities – New York. I first visited the Big Apple nearly 20 years ago and it made a big impression. It was my first trip outside Europe and felt a million miles away from my normal life in small-town Herefordshire. But although it was so different it felt familiar from films and TV – yellow cabs, steam coming up through subway grilles, hotdog stalls, neon lights in Times Square, towering skyscrapers. I couldn’t get enough of it, and still can’t – I’ve been back four times since and will need another New York fix soon. But like many world-class cities it can be expensive to visit. So here are my tips on visiting New York without blowing the budget.

More budget city guides: London, Edinburgh, Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, Vienna, Copenhagen, Madrid, Las Vegas
View of the Empire State Building from the Rockerfeller Centre in New York

New York skyscraper

Things to see and do

A big part of what makes New York so great is its atmosphere, and you can soak it up for free just walking the city streets. The changing feel as you move through the city’s neighborhoods – from the Upper East Side and Soho to Chinatown and the Meatpacking District – makes it almost like visiting lots of different cities. And that’s before you get out of Manhattan into the city’s other boroughs.

There are plenty of places you can visit for free, like Times Square, the New York Public Library, Grand Central Station and St Patrick’s Cathedral. There are also the parks – as well as huge Central Park there’s the High Line on a old elevated railway track, Brooklyn Bridge Park and lots of smaller neighbourhood parks. NYC Parks hold free or low-cost events in the parks throughout the year, like concerts, exhibitions, film screenings and tours. Friends of the High Line also run free tours Tuesdays at 6.30pm between May and September where you can learn about the park’s history, design and horticulture.

For other New York tours, Free Tours by Foot run a variety of walking and cycling tours. They cover lots of different neighbourhoods as well as themed tours like a Greenwich Village food tour, Gramercy thrift stores or subway art tour. Tours are free but you tip your guide what you think it’s worth. Grand Central Partnership also run a 90-minute free walking tour of area around Grand Central Station at 12:30pm every Friday. Or you can get your own private guide through the Big Apple Greeter scheme, which matches tourists with local volunteers who show you around their personal New York (book 3–4 weeks in advance).

If you want to visit big-name attractions like the Statue of Liberty and Empire State Building, then it might be worth investing in a New York City Pass. They cost $116 per adult ($92 aged 6–17) and cover six different museums and attractions – if you plan to visit them all you can save $77 on entrance fees.

Central Park in New York

Autumn colours in Central Park

Museums and culture

Entrance fees to New York’s big museums are normally at least $20 per person, but there are ways to save. Some museums have certain times when you can pay what you wish – like the Guggenheim (5.45pm–7.45pm on Saturdays) and the Frick Collection (11am–1pm on Sundays). There’s also free entry to the 9/11 Memorial after 5pm on Tuesdays, the Museum of Modern Art and Museum of the Moving Image from 4pm–8pm on Fridays, and the New York Botanical Gardens every Wednesday and from 9am–10am on Saturdays. Many smaller museums are free all or part of the time too – find a full list here.

A couple of other museums have a ‘suggested donation‘ rather than a fixed entry price. So if you’re happy to brazen it out and offer less, you can save on the usual $25 entry cost to get into the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the $22 they suggest for the American Museum of Natural History. You can also see art for free by browsing the galleries that fill converted lofts and warehouses in Chelsea.

For Broadway on a budget, you can pick up discounted theatre tickets at TKTS booths which sell same-day seats for up to 50% off. Their Times Square booth usually has big queues, but there are quieter branches at South Street Seaport and Downtown Brooklyn. Or check out the next generation of actors, dancers and musicians at a free performance by students from the Juilliard performing arts school.

Lights in Times Square in New York at night

Bright lights in Times Square

Top city views

The top of the Empire State Building might be New York’s most iconic viewpoint, but it’s pricey at $52 to go right up to the 102nd floor. The Top of the Rock viewpoint at the Rockerfeller Centre is cheaper at $32 and you also get the bonus of a great view of the Empire State Building.

Or why not get a drink to go with your view at one of the city’s rooftop bars. Many are attached to fancy hotels, so you have to fork out for a room or run the gauntlet of bouncers and cover charges to get in. But 230 Fifth has a big roof terrace bar on Fifth Avenue that’s open to anyone. It overlooks the Empire State Building and has patio heaters and blankets so you can still sit out when it gets chilly. The Metropolitan Museum of Art also has a roof terrace sculpture garden and café with great views over Central Park that doubles as a martini bar from Thursdays to Sundays between May and October.

Nearer to the ground there are spectacular views across the water to lower Manhattan from the Brooklyn Bridge and the park at the end of it. Or you can look out over the Statue of Liberty from the esplanade at Battery Park City down at the tip of Manhattan. If you want to get a closer view of Liberty you need to get out on the water, but you can have a free harbour boat trip by taking the Staten Island Ferry. The service shuttles between Manhattan and Staten Island 24 hours a day, taking 25 minutes each way.

The New York skyline at sunset

Sunset over New York from the bar at 230 Fifth

Eating and drinking

If you’re looking to eat out on a budget, there’s a whole website dedicated to cheap eats across New York, with recommendations from local food bloggers where every dish costs $10 or less. You can also save by getting food to go – from breakfast bagels to pizza slices or deli sandwiches. The food truck scene is also really big in the city, with food stalls serving food from around the word. They often move around so the best way to track them down is on using this site, which even has a street food app.

If you like beer then you can take a free tour at the Brooklyn Brewery every weekend. Tours run every half-hour from 1pm–5pm (4pm on Sunday) and they have a bar where you can sample the produce after –  beers are $5 each or five for $20, and you can bring your own food. Or on Monday to Thursday they run more in-depth small-group tours at 5pm for $15, including four tasting samples and souvenir glass.

View from the Top of the Rock at the Rockerfeller Centre in New York

Looking towards Central Park from the Top of the Rock

Travelling around

New York is a great city to walk around, but it’s big, so if you’re covering lots of ground the best way to get around is on the subway. It runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week and costs $2.75 for a single journey or $31 for a seven-day MetroCard, which gives you unlimited subway and bus journeys. You can also use it on the Roosevelt Island Tram – a cable car with fantastic views across East Manhattan and the East River. It leaves from the station at 59th Street and Second Avenue.

Travel to and from the airport can be expensive, but there are lots of public transport options. You can get to JFK using a MetroCard – take the A train to Far Rockaway to the Howard Beach/JFK Airport stop (about an hour) then the AirTrain to the airport (15 minutes). You can get to Newark and La Guardia airports using various subway, bus and train combinations – see this comprehensive guide for details.

A more energetic way to see the city is with the Citi Bike scheme. You can borrow bikes from docking stations south of 79th street in Manhattan and in Brooklyn. They cost $9.95 to access the bikes for 24 hours or $25 for a week, then you can make as many journeys under 30 minutes as you like for free.

Grand Central Station

Grand Central Station

So those are my tips for seeing New York on a budget – do you know of any more New York bargains or have any money-saving tips?

Pin it

 Visiting New York on a budget – how to save on everything from museums and attractions to top city views, food and drink, and transportation – On the Luce travel blog

You Might Also Like

74 Comments

  • Reply
    Kathryn
    October 14, 2013 at 12:42 pm

    Really love the Grand Central Station shot! I’ll make it to New York one day (I hope!)

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      October 14, 2013 at 10:10 pm

      I’m sure you’d love it Kathryn – such a vibrant city and so many photo opportunities out there!

  • Reply
    Micheng
    October 14, 2013 at 2:19 pm

    I have been curious what New York looks like …

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      October 14, 2013 at 10:18 pm

      It’s so strange to see it in real life as it’s on so many TV shows and films it looks like you know it already!

      • Reply
        Micheng
        October 14, 2013 at 10:42 pm

        Haha! I guess tv give you hints on what to see which sometimes it gives you excitement. I wanna visit that place someday.. enjoy your visit in New York!

  • Reply
    Alison
    October 14, 2013 at 2:28 pm

    What a fantastic resource you have created here. I will definitely be using it if we ever make it to NYC. Thanks for sharing!

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      October 14, 2013 at 10:19 pm

      Thanks Alison, hope it comes in useful if you do take a trip to New York sometime!

  • Reply
    amaatk123
    October 14, 2013 at 4:57 pm

    Oh wow. I’d LOVE to go to NY. One day I hope. Great source of info.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      October 14, 2013 at 10:17 pm

      Hope you do get to make the trip out there sometime, it’s such a fantastic city.

  • Reply
    Michelle
    October 14, 2013 at 5:15 pm

    hi lucy, wow i love your new format on your blog and your photos really pop!!! yes i love nyc and i am going again this december for 6 days so i am really looking forward to it again.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      October 14, 2013 at 10:16 pm

      Thanks Michelle, I thought it was time for a bit of a design refresh! Hope you have a fantastic trip to New York, I’ve always wanted to see it in winter with the Christmas decorations and skating rinks.

  • Reply
    Lauren @ Peaks and Passports
    October 14, 2013 at 5:16 pm

    Awesome tips! I love New York and the biggest obstacle to visiting often is that I tend to bleed money while I’m there – not on the next trip thanks to you!

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      October 14, 2013 at 10:14 pm

      Thanks – yes it’s such an easy place to splash the cash, I have to keep away from the shops and try to limit my cocktail bar visits!

  • Reply
    pinkixxjewelry
    October 14, 2013 at 7:10 pm

    Love the shots and definitely very good tips. Thank you for sharing!

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      October 14, 2013 at 10:13 pm

      Thank you – I love photographing New York, there’s almost something going on or some interesting detail to capture.

  • Reply
    Jeff | Planet Bell
    October 14, 2013 at 8:22 pm

    Those are some very good tips. When I went several years ago, we stayed a hostel up near Harlem and ate at a pizza by the slice place for cheap. The $30 metro card is a great tip – subways will get you almost everywhere you want to be there.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      October 14, 2013 at 10:12 pm

      Thanks – I stayed up in Harlem last trip too, in a rental apartment, and it was so much better value than staying in Manhattan. Next trip I’d like to stay in Brooklyn too to get a different perspective on the city.

  • Reply
    Ziggy
    October 15, 2013 at 12:26 am

    Nice job covering my home town Luce. Next time I can be used for company and free food tours 😉

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      October 17, 2013 at 12:20 pm

      Excellent, I might take you up on that! Feel like I might need another New York fix before too long.

  • Reply
    Amber Dane
    October 15, 2013 at 6:22 am

    Great info and tips that I am sure will come in handy for me when I visit the city. Thank you! Love your photos

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      October 17, 2013 at 12:23 pm

      Thanks – New York is a great place for photography, so much to see and so much going on.

  • Reply
    iviaggideimesupi
    October 15, 2013 at 8:57 am

    Sooner or later….

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      October 17, 2013 at 12:23 pm

      Hope you do get to make the trip out there soon!

  • Reply
    Trips By Lance
    October 16, 2013 at 5:51 pm

    Great advice. Contrary to what so many think, NYC doesn’t have to be expensive. Brooklyn Brewery is one of my favorites.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      October 17, 2013 at 12:22 pm

      Thanks – I’m hopefully going to stay in Brooklyn on my next time out there and explore a bit more of the area, there’s always so much to discover in New York.

  • Reply
    Suzanne Courtney
    October 17, 2013 at 10:24 am

    Fab guide – it’s been far too long since I was last in NY (18 years) this has made me want to book up now! Excellent tips – I’ll be bookmarking this.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      October 17, 2013 at 12:22 pm

      Yes writing it made me want to go back again soon too, it’s one of those places I could go back to again and again and never get bored of.

  • Reply
    Frank
    October 17, 2013 at 2:59 pm

    Hi Luce! Great post, I haven’t been in NY in a long time and you have some really good tips. I especially like the cheap museum ideas and the top city views (because I love taking photos).
    Good job,
    Frank (bbqboy)

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      October 17, 2013 at 7:08 pm

      Thanks Frank, I love climbing up somewhere high for a great view too, it’s one of my favourite things to do in a new city!

  • Reply
    Ashley
    October 21, 2013 at 1:21 am

    This has been so helpful! I am planning a couple of days in New York next month and didn’t really know where to begin. Thank you for your advice and insight!!

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      November 1, 2013 at 11:05 pm

      Hope you have a great trip and that the tips come in useful!

  • Reply
    jasleengrewall
    October 31, 2013 at 4:07 am

    I’ve been in love with New York since the days I used to watch the tv sitcom Friends. I’ve only visited once, but I was staying in New Jersey so only spent a day in the city. I would love to go again soon, spend a couple days there exploring some of the popular attractions. This post, as well as the other ‘on a budget’ posts are very useful and I will definitely look back to them the next time I travel. Also, the pictures are spectacular! The central park picture looks so surreal.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      November 1, 2013 at 11:07 pm

      I’m sure there’s a whole generation who got to know New York through watching Friends! Hope the tips come in useful when you do make it out there. This time of year is a fantastic one to visit – those colours in Central Park were just spectacular!

  • Reply
    whereforarthoujasmine
    November 3, 2013 at 12:14 am

    Great write up! I wish I had these tips when I visited last year. It’s very easy to spend money in New York.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      November 6, 2013 at 3:02 pm

      It is isn’t it – I have to make sure to stay well clear of the shops and cocktail bars if I’ve any chance of staying in budget!

  • Reply
    Mirja
    November 4, 2013 at 1:52 am

    Hi Lucy,

    I just moved to New York 2 months ago and I can only agree with you: It’s super expensive but there are quite some possibilities to save money just like your tips suggest. I love Central Park because it gives you so many possibilities to do stuff for free (or at least cheap) outside like picknicking, exploring the park by bike or on rollerskates or just wandering around watching all the musicians. I can also really recommend to sign up for groupon or giltcity before coming here. Those two platforms always have great deals and you can save a looot of money (e.g. on renting bikes, city tours, restaurants or even spa’s).

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      November 6, 2013 at 3:03 pm

      Thanks Mirja, and congratulations on your move to New York, it’s an amazing city! Central Park is fantastic, there is always something going on. And great trips about the voucher sites, I’ve used them at home but never for travel so will give them a try.

  • Reply
    Rachael
    November 11, 2013 at 9:04 am

    A super guide that would have been very useful before our recent trip! One of my highlights of our visit was the Highline. Loved it. I could have spent much longer there. We walked our socks off that day, starting at Central Park and ending in Soho via the Highline, West Village and Greenwich village then visiting NYC campus and Washington Square on the walk back. I would just add a caveat about the CityPass. The puff says it allows you to skip most queues but we found that was largely untrue. It was particularly frustrating at the Natural History museum having to queue with people buying their tickets, just so we could present our ticket to the desk. The queues for the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island boats, there and even worse back again, were so unpleasant I think I would choose the boat tour alternative with hindsight. Or the a Staten Island ferry, as you suggest – even better.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      November 11, 2013 at 6:08 pm

      Hope you had a good trip. The High Line is one of my favourite spots, such a good way of using the space. Know what you mean about walking, I always end up doing miles every day in New York. And thanks for the City Pass tip.

  • Reply
    Monica Stott (@TheTravelHack)
    December 8, 2013 at 10:29 pm

    Great tips here, thanks Lucy. So many things I need to check out before I start exploring tomorrow.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      December 9, 2013 at 1:15 pm

      Hope you have a fantastic trip – look forward to reading about it!

  • Reply
    Travelling Mole
    January 15, 2014 at 10:23 pm

    Reblogged this on Woman on the run.

  • Reply
    travelblog14
    January 28, 2014 at 6:42 pm

    Great picture choice and great tips!

  • Reply
    Need Another Holiday | travel blog for trip-takers and city-breakers
    February 7, 2014 at 9:15 am

    […] from On the Luce recently wrote a guide to New York and it was her post that pointed me towards Free Tours By Foot. Their tips only walking tours mean […]

  • Reply
    Simon
    August 27, 2014 at 5:36 pm

    NYC in February! Is it too restrictive?

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      August 28, 2014 at 10:05 am

      I’ve never visited in February but have in early winter and although it was cold we had bright sunny days – you do run the risk of getting hit by snow though, which would make it very pretty but harder to get around!

  • Reply
    anyalinhmiriam
    April 7, 2015 at 10:04 am

    Thanks so much for this post Lucy! I’ve found it so useful! I was wondering whether you had any suggestions about places to stay in New York?

    • Reply
      Lucy
      April 7, 2015 at 1:04 pm

      You’re very welcome! I usually stay in apartment rentals in New York (though for the best deals you usually have to go outside Manhattan – last time we stayed in these http://www.chicandbudget.com) but for good budget hotel options you can try Citizen M, The Gershwin, Gershwin, The Jane, Aloft and Z Hotels.

  • Reply
    Carrie Washington
    July 23, 2015 at 3:25 pm

    I was in New York last year to visit my friend and I fell in love with this city. That is why I decided to move there. I already found a job and now I am packing my stuff. Wish me luck!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      July 23, 2015 at 7:19 pm

      How fantastic! I would love to live in New York for a while someday. Hope it all goes well for you.

  • Reply
    Angelina
    September 23, 2015 at 9:18 am

    Really NYC is very beautiful specially Central Park in autumn… 🙂

    • Reply
      Lucy
      October 18, 2015 at 6:50 pm

      Autumn’s a great time to visit – my last trip was in October a few years back and the tree colours were fabulous.

  • Reply
    The Travel Tester (@thetraveltester)
    October 15, 2015 at 10:24 pm

    Hey Lucy, Thanks so much for the tips! We’ll be off to NYC this weekend and loved your post! Nick and Nienke

    • Reply
      Lucy
      October 18, 2015 at 6:51 pm

      Hope it comes in useful – and have a fantastic time, it’s such an amazing city!

  • Reply
    lindsey
    November 7, 2015 at 9:30 pm

    these tips are lifesaving for someone who’s never been to New York City!! My friend and I are broke college students really wanting to travel to New York for the new year and this helped tremendously

    • Reply
      Lucy
      November 10, 2015 at 9:47 am

      Have a great time!

  • Reply
    euge82
    November 22, 2015 at 10:31 pm

    I’m going to NY on Tuesday, so excited about it. Thanks for the helpful tips

    • Reply
      Lucy
      November 23, 2015 at 1:04 pm

      You’re very welcome, hope you have a fantastic trip!

  • Reply
    Caroline
    December 29, 2015 at 1:36 am

    Great tips thank you.

  • Reply
    kuheli
    January 7, 2016 at 5:40 am

    Thank you for this. Will be visiting in 2016 March. Will surely use your tips!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      January 7, 2016 at 1:02 pm

      That’s great – hope you have a brilliant time!

  • Reply
    Roxanne Lucero
    March 30, 2016 at 12:13 pm

    Great tips! This might also help for those who are visiting NYC on a budget. http://www.freeeventfinder.com

  • Reply
    Jassica
    April 7, 2016 at 10:56 am

    thank you so much for sharing this. Must gonna visit New York soon.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      April 8, 2016 at 1:48 pm

      It’s an amazing place – hope you get to visit soon!

  • Reply
    Sam
    May 1, 2016 at 10:20 pm

    Hi

    Many thanks for an excellent blog. I just wondered if anyone could provide any advice on reasonably priced hotels?

    I am there for 3 nights in June and just overwhelmed by the number of hotels there are to choose from! Would anyone be able to recommend any nice hotels that are reasonably priced? I would like to do all the usual things while I am there: catch a show, dinner out, Times Sq, Empire State etc.

    Any advice would be hugely appreciated.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      May 3, 2016 at 2:21 pm

      The range of hotels in New York is just crazy! I stayed in an apartment in Harlem on my last trip – if you are willing to stay outside of the centre you can get a good deal and the subway is very quick. Otherwise these budget places have all been recommended: Citizen M, The Gershwin, The Jane, Aloft and Z Hotels. Hope you have a great trip.

  • Reply
    Noga
    June 2, 2016 at 10:47 am

    This is such a great guide! Just loved it…
    We’re about to visit in NYC for 8 days in October and you gave great tips.
    if you can share where to stay there, it can be great (less than 100$.. Is that possible??)
    When do you think I should book an hotel/ apartment?

    Thanks,
    Noga

    • Reply
      Lucy
      June 2, 2016 at 10:10 pm

      New York hotels aren’t cheap unfortunately! The best deals are usually as far in advance as possible or last minute (though that’s a bit risky). The Citizen M, The Gershwin, The Jane, Aloft and Z Hotels are good value. Or you could try an apartment rental, especially as you’re staying a while. If you’re ok staying out of central Manhattan, areas like Harlem are a lot cheaper and the subway can get you into town in about 15 mins. Have a great trip.

  • Reply
    Nicole
    July 23, 2016 at 7:01 am

    Just found you on Pinterest, this guide is so useful! I’m going to be in NYC next year and will definitely be following these tips

    • Reply
      Lucy
      July 25, 2016 at 6:18 pm

      Thanks – really hope it comes in useful, and have a fantastic time in New York, such an amazing city I’m hoping to get back for another trip next year too!

  • Reply
    Justine
    September 7, 2016 at 1:40 pm

    I am so glad I found this blog post! I am heading off at the end of September for 10 days and there is so much amazing information here that I will use! Thank you.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      September 7, 2016 at 2:48 pm

      Great to hear it – have a fantastic time!

  • Reply
    Jessica (@Epicure&Culture)
    October 15, 2016 at 5:57 pm

    NY is my hometown, and I can honestly say that these tips are all great! For budget eats, I’d also recommend going to Bleeker Street, where you can find many shops offering free food samples, including cheese, meat and chocolate. You can also find eateries selling very cheap savory snacks, like pastries and bagels.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      October 16, 2016 at 9:15 pm

      So glad you liked the article! Thanks for the Bleeker Street tip too – I’m planning a return to New York next spring/summer so will definitely go and check it out.

    Leave a Reply