The one and only New York City! Known as the city of lights, the city that never sleeps, or the big apple. Whatever you call it, it is something everyone visiting the USA has to experience firsthand. NYC is your place if you love shopping, nightlife, history, busy cities, and architecture! Even though New York’s reputation is expensive, it is possible to visit and still enjoy yourself on a budget.
In this article, I will talk about 5 main areas where people tend to go over their budget: accommodation, transportation, food and alcohol, and entertainment, with estimated price points. I will also highlight the cheapest possible way to travel and the mid-tier options.
You can find all kinds of places to stay in New York, from the Ritz Carlton to a back alley Airbnb NYC has it all. The general rule of thumb is the further away from Manhattan, the cheaper your accommodations will be. As I’ve mentioned, Couchsurfing is the most affordable way to stay in any major city. After paying the $14.64 yearly fee, you are free to request as many couches as you would like.
If sleeping on a stranger’s couch is a bit far outside your comfort zone, New York has many hostels ranging from USD 50 to USD 90 per night. My favorite is the NY Moore Hostel for its unique graffiti and cozy atmosphere. Airbnb is another mid-tier option that can run you between 70-100 USD per night and offers a home-like experience either in a host’s home or an entire apartment.
Searching in Brooklyn, Astoria, Queens, Hoboken, Union City, or Yonkers can also save you money. Don’t worry about the commute to the major attractions; the NYC transit system is one of the most efficient in the world.
Of course, I have to mention the New York Metro under transportation. It is the fastest and cheapest way to get around New York. The Metro system comprises subway lines and busses connecting every neighborhood to Manhatten and the rest of the city. Now it may not be the cleanest way to get around, but every trip on the Metro is an adventure.
Start by purchasing a Metro card, to which you can add a 7-day (33$) or 30-day unlimited ride pass (127$). Even if you are staying in NYC for a weekend, it’s worth it to get the 7-day pass.
Of course, the Metro and bus services are still affected by the dreaded NYC traffic, so it’s advisable to travel by subway whenever possible. Only take the busses when needed and not for long distances.
Cheap and large portions of food are easy to find throughout New York City. Many bars in the city offer free food during happy hour with a drink purchase which is a great way to enjoy your trip without blowing your budget. If you are drinking in New York City, the best way would be to find a bar with good happy hour deals for dinner and a drink. Afterward, budget-friendly bars like 169 Bar and Jimmy’s Corner have your back for cheap drinks all night long. 99-cent pizza joints are also popular in the city if you need a quick fix. If you are close to Central Park, you need to try Los Tacos No1 for some seriously cheap and authentic tacos! Vegetarian Indian food fans also need to try the 8$ large plate from Punjabi Grocery and Deli.
For more sustainable food, shopping from local grocery stores like Hong Kong Supermarket is an easy way to cut your total food bill in half.
It’s no joke that NYC has many things to do at any price point, any time of day. The secret is to find the best things to do without spending too much money, and knowing when and where it is wise to pay for an attraction. Here is a list of some of the best things to do in NYC that are free (or nearly free) and a few that I think are well worth paying for.
- Visit Wall Street
- The Vessel
- Take a photo tour of Brooklyn
- See the Brooklyn Bridge at sunrise (without the crowds)
- Walk around the beautiful neighborhoods of Soho and Greenwich and walk through the Highline.
- Take the free Staten Island Ferry for a free view of Lady Liberty (stand on the right side of the ferry)
- Walk through Times Square. At midnight the billboards turn into a digital art exhibit!
- Check out Thomas J Watson Library
- Climb the Vessel
- Travel to Central Station
- Try free kayaking at pier 26 in Manhattan or at the Brooklyn Bridge park pier 2 for some stunning views
- Picnic in Central Park
Worth Paying for:
- Eat gelato in front of the Flat Iron Building
- The One World Trade Center’s 9/11 Memorial & Museum
- Visit the American Museum of Natural History
Hope you enjoyed learning how to travel in NYC on a budget! Check out some other money-saving tips for notoriously expensive cities:
San Francisco, California