New York City is infamous as one of the most expensive cities in the world to travel and live in. For travelers on a budget, that means making some clever plans in order to see the Big Apple for cheap. From planning your flights to exploring the city, here’s how you can experience the best of New York without breaking the bank. If you play your cards right and you’ll have enough to enjoy the city and bring back some original souvenirs!
Open up your schedule
Just getting to NYC can set you back a pretty penny, depending on when and where you fly from. Skyscanner is an excellent web resource for cheap flights. To find the cheapest deal, browse flights by the month instead of choosing specific dates. Midweek flights are often cheaper than flying on the weekend, and avoiding major holidays and vacation times can save you a lot. Check out our guide to booking cheap flights for more tips.
Stay in the suburbs
Manhattan isn’t the only part of New York City. Look at neighboring areas like Brooklyn for cheaper stays than in the center. NYC is well-served by public transportation so getting from most neighborhoods to Manhattan for sightseeing isn’t hard. Airbnb and hostels are cheaper stays than most hotels, especially if you’re just looking for a place to crash at the end of a long day of adventuring in the city. HI NYC and the YMCA are popular and affordable hostel chains, while Airbnbs can be great options for long visits. If you’re really set on a hotel stay, we’ve got a handy guide to booking a cheap hotel room. Researching and comparing your options in advance helps to cut down on your accommodation costs.
Walk or take the subway
The thrill of riding in one of New York’s famous yellow taxis can quickly wear off after paying for the fare! Instead of burning through your dollars on expensive taxi rides, act like a local and take the subway. Far cheaper than private rides, the subway connects to hundreds of stops across the island of Manhattan as well as the areas of Brooklyn, The Bronx, and Queens.
There are two ways to pay your fare on the New York subway. The classic MetroCard is a plastic card that you can purchase at a staffed booth or from a machine. A subway fare costs $2.75 and the MetroCard can be regularly topped up. The other method of payment is the contactless system called OMNY which lets you pay your fare with a contactless card, smartphone, or smartwatch. This is not available at all stations so it’s best to get yourself a MetroCard.
Walking around New York City is not just free: it’s also a great way to sightsee. In a city as historic as New York, every corner has a story. The city is laid out like a grid, so while you should always take a map, it’s fairly easy to find your way around. Stay healthy by walking to your next stop whenever you can.
Find free things to do
There are TONS of free things to do and see in New York all year round! Some of our favorites are:
- The MoMa. The Museum of Modern Art is one of the most important modern art museums in the world, with works from Andy Warhol, Van Gogh, and Frida Kahlo in its extensive collection. See it for free on Fridays between 4pm and 8pm.
- Walking along the Brooklyn Bridge. The walk is absolutely free and takes around an hour. Your reward is beautiful views of the Manhattan skyline, just begging to be photographed! This is an ideal spot for a sunset stroll or a sunny afternoon.
- The High Line. Built on an abandoned railway line, this public park looks out over the West Side and the Hudson River. Don’t miss the open-air food court where you can find anything from gelato to currywurst.
- Street art in Bushwick. The Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn is the street art capital of the world. Colorful graffiti and murals cover warehouses, garages, and fences across the area. Check out works by The Bushwick Collective in the area around Jefferson Street subway station.
Take advantage of happy hour
New York City is full of bars and breweries, from famous establishments to hole-in-the-wall indies. Happy hour is a celebrated institution in the city, where you can pick up cheap drinks and snacks or get great deals on the drink of the day. Just so you know, the Alligator Lounge located in Williamsburg also has a sister bar in Manhattan and both places offer a pretty sweet deal: for only $4 you get a beer pint and a personal pizza! We’ve also made a handy guide to New York City’s best happy hours to help you out.
Food trucks and dollar pizza slices are staples of New York cuisine. You can find food trucks across the city with offerings from tacos to Korean barbecue. Try a dollar slice from The Best Pizza on 9th Ave or Vinny Vincenz’s on 1st Ave. However, the absolute cheapest option for eating during any trip is to go shopping and cook your own meals. Get the most out of being in a new city and explore supermarket aisles or, better yet, local markets for fresh produce and new ingredients. Try chains like Aldi and Trader Joe’s as well as independent markets in Chinatown. Delis are a great choice for picking up fixings for a picnic in one of New York’s many parks. Belvedere Castle in the middle of Central Park is a gorgeous spot to picnic while also admiring fabulous views of the skyline.
Buy local souvenirs
Skip the usual tat from tourist stores and consider supporting local craftspeople. The Bronx Night Market and the Brooklyn Flea Market are great places to find unique souvenirs that are recycled, handmade, or unusual. They’re often much higher quality and better value than what you’d find in a Times Square souvenir shop. Not only are you supporting independent and local creators, but it’s also a better choice for the environment!