New York City is a people magnet, attracting 60 million visitors every year. And the iconic NYC experiences are not bucket list items but a pilgrimage. From fashion, nightlife, art, food, and theater, Big Apple is the heart of the world. A throbbing heart, where every culture meets and is an active playground for all kinds of happenings. You can spend a lifetime exploring the city in motion and still not come at par with its pace.
NYC is one of the most amazing places in the world, but it is also one of the most expensive cities in the world. Basically, it is not for the faint-hearted when it comes to spending dollars. However, a city this big is bound to have some great deals, and if planned well you can actually explore the New York City on a budget. Many of the renowned historic landmarks and iconic sightseeing places can be explored for free and deals can always be found.
If you’re planning a visit to New York City on a budget, this travel guide has everything you need to know. From places to visit, things to do, tips on where to stay and eat, and how to get around, it has all the information to make your visit to New York City an absolute success!
Best time to Visit New York City
- April to June and Sept to early November: weather is mild and pleasant and the tourist crowds are not overwhelming.
- November to Dec and July to Aug: peak season
- January 2 – March: the cheapest time of year to visit the city
Arriving in New York City
New York is usually the city where most tourists start their US visit. The City has 3 airports – JFK, Laguardia, and Newark Liberty in New Jersey. If your flight arrives into JFK or Newark, you can take commuter trains and/or the subway to get into NYC. And if you arrive at Laguardia, an Uber, Lyft or any other taxi service is the best option. However, in either of the cases, brace yourself for at least an hour ride into Manhattan as the traffic is a nightmare in this area.
Getting around in New York City
Navigating through NYC is a cakewalk if you understand its grid pattern.
- Streets run horizontally from east to west.
- Avenues run vertically from north to south.
- 5th Avenue splits the east side from the west side
Subway or walking is the best way to get around the NYC. New York and its boroughs are well-connected with the subway. Subway is fast, cheap and easy to navigate. The fare for a subway or local bus ride is $2.75. The fare for an express bus ride is $6. You can also buy a 7-day transit pass for $31. Most cabs around the city will cost around $15. Uber is an alternative and has a base fare of $2.50 and costs about $2 per mile. And on top of that, you are expected to give a tip. I ended up paying $120 from New Jersey to JFK.
- Download an NYC subway app or keep a PDF on your phone
- Group your activities and sites into clusters to help maximize your time! I use Google Maps to plan my daily activities
Staying in New York City
Accommodation costs in New York can be as high as the city’s famous skyscrapers, but if you hunt for deals, you can find some good bargains on an array of properties:
Avoid Manhattan and you can probably get an apartment for $100 a night on Airbnb but, if you are willing to share your room you can get it for $60.
In NYC, even budget hotels seem out of the budget. A two-star hotel in Manhattan starts at $70 but expect to pay between $100-150 per night.
The 4-6 bed dorm starts at $25-35. A private room with twin sharing would cost around $80-100. Manhattan has fewer deal options and is more expensive than Brooklyn and Queens. Some of the good hostels are The Brooklyn Riviera, The Local NYC, The Jazz, American Dream Hostel
Tip: Stay at a place within a comfortable walking distance to a subway station.
I was lucky to stay at my friend Monalisa’s home. Not only did she take good care of me but she and her husband became my de facto guides.
Eating in New York City
From Michelin star restaurants, renowned cocktail bars to $5 food stalls, NYC won’t let you go hungry or complain about the taste. Moreover, dining on a dime is part of New York’s DNA. You can eat a mid-range sit-down restaurant for $15-25 per main course. Dinner for two with drinks usually averages around $50-70. And after that, the sky is the limit as NYC has some of the world’s fanciest and most expensive restaurants. Sandwich shops, kebabs, salad shops, and cafe meals generally are less than $10. There are plenty of street vendors with meals around $5-8. New York cocktails are a must and there are happy hours to suit your New City on a budget trip.
My favourite places are:
- NIOS restaurant, Midtown Manhattan: A restaurant adjacent to the Muse Hotel, where American Classic comfort-food is reimagined and served in a contemporary style. It is a perfect place to wind up your evening after strolling through Times Square. Their menu is as simple as navigating through NYC streets. But simplicity doesn’t mean compromising on taste. I loved their Razel Han0ut Cauliflower, Mashed Potato Flatbread, and Lamb Porterhouse. Sprite Amore and Green Tea Bees Knees, their signature cocktails, pair well with the shareable plates.
- Smorgasburg: If you want to taste a wide variety of food in an open Air setting buzzing with food stalls then head to Williamsburg on Saturday and Brooklyn Bridge Park on Sunday.
- Shake Shack: In NYC if you crave for a burger, you don’t go to McDonald’s, you go to Shake Shack. The perennial burger mecca is one of the most popular post sightseeing pit stops for its burgers, crinkle fries, and frozen custard. Thankfully, the long queues move fast.
- And, if movies rule your food too, check out these New York restaurants
Top Things to See and Do in New York city on a budget
One of the sure shot ways to save money and time on sightseeing is by buying the New York Pass. You can choose from over 90 attractions. Travel See Write recommends the following things:
1. Visit a museum
NYC is littered with some of the best museums in the world from the Met to the MoMA to the Guggenheim. Even a four-wall hater like me couldn’t resist visiting NYC museums, which houses some of the world’s best art, history, and exhibitions. Warhol, Van Gogh, Picasso, Monet, Matisse…all the big names are housed in New York City.
Tip: A lot of museums are free to visit at certain hours or have a flexible entry fee. Museum of Arts and Design has free entry on Thursdays from 18:00 to 21:00, Guggenheim on Saturdays from 17.45 to 19.45 and Museum of Modern Art on Fridays from 16.00 to 20.00, The Whitney Museum of American Art on Friday, the Cooper-Hewitt National Museum of Design on Tuesday evenings
2. Stroll in the Parks
A great way to relax in the city and leave behind the crowds is to spend the day in green spaces of NYC. They are free and are best for a picnic, cycling, exercising, people watching or just walking. My favourites are Central Park, Bryant Park, and Brooklyn Bridge Park.
Tip: Avoid the crowds by heading to the northern sections of the Central Park.
3. Walk the High Line
A historic but obsolete 1.45-mile-long railway line transformed into an aerial greenway and rails-to-trails park by Joshua David and Robert Hammond, two Chelsea residents. Strolling above the traffic among the semi-wild meadow plants means you get a peaceful respite from the hustle and bustle of the city below. The walk from Gansevoort Street, through Chelsea, to the northern edge of the West Side Yard on 34th Street is one of the best things to do in NYC.
Tip: Walk down to Chelsea Market to relish food and art.
4. Be a bookworm at New York Public Library
Being a book lover, New York Public Library was high on my agenda. It is not only gorgeous from the outside but inside as well. Entry is free and you can spend as much time as you want.
Tip: Don’t forget to check out the free exhibitions.
5. Get awed by the Statue of Liberty
One of the most famous landmarks of the world, the Statue of Liberty is a colossal neoclassical sculpture that shouldn’t be missed. You can either take a ferry from the Liberty State Park in Jersey City or Battery Park in Lower Manhattan.
Tip: Want to save dollars? Take the free ferry service from Manhattan to Staten Island.
6. Cross the Brooklyn Bridge
Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge is a bucket list item. Strolling along the pedestrian promenade I couldn’t help but wonder how such an impressive structure was built before the days of power tools.
Tip: Check out the NYC skyline from Brooklyn Heights or the Brooklyn Promenade. And if you are staying back for the weekend, don’t forget to check out the weekend food and art market.
7. St. Patrick’s Cathedral Church
The largest Catholic cathedral in North America is a famous landmark in New York City. Its Neo-Gothic aesthetic contrasts starkly with the Art Deco Rockefeller Center, thereby ensuring that no one walking on Fifth Avenue will miss its grandeur. The Cathedral has 21 altars and 19 bells, each named after a different saint
8. Pay homage to 9/11 martyrs
9/11 Memorial and Museum is a very emotional experience, which changes you as a person when you come out. It remembers and reflects on the events and the lives lost during the terrorist attacks. The museum houses things like a damaged fire truck and the personal anecdotal accounts of the day. The memorial consists of two enormous waterfalls pouring into the foundations where the Twin Towers once stood, with the names of the victims cut into a metal rim around them. It communicates a powerful sense of loss and absence.
Tips: The entry to this museum is Free on Tuesdays from 17:00 to closing. Get the free iPhone app and listen to one of the many different tours they have.
9. Check out the glitzy Times Square
Does this even need an explanation? Times Square with its neon signs, larger than life bright hoardings, Broadway marquis, elbow-to-elbow crowd, honking horns, and yellow taxis, all combine for a whirlwind introduction to NYC. Visit Times Square when it is dark outside. It is the best way to really see how many bright lights there actually are. On your first visit to New York City, visiting this iconic crossroad is a must.
Tips: Street acts can be engrossing but don’t spend too much time
10. Catch a Broadway show
The home of Broadway, New York City shows, is of another level. Grab tickets to any popular running and you’re guaranteed an outstanding entertainment. While the big shows are rarely on offer, it’s worth checking out the TKTS booths and discount websites like BroadwayBox.com for discounted tickets.
Tip: Visit the TKTS booths 30 minutes before show time and collect your discounted tickets with practically no waiting line.
11. Watch people at Grand Central Terminal
NYC is 24/7 buzzing with people and one of the busiest train stations in the world is an absolute sight to behold. And, not only Grand Central Terminal gets a huge number of footfalls every day but it is one of the most beautiful buildings in the city. Moreover, as there is no entrance fee it fits perfectly in your New York City on a budget trip.
12. Check out the city from the top
New York was made to be seen from up high. And the best places are the Empire State Building and the Top of the Rock. The Empire State Building is a classic NYC landmark with an observation deck on the 86th and 102nd floors. And, the Top of the Rock’s observation deck is on the 70th floor.
Alternatively, you can go to a rooftop bar and enjoy the view while sipping the legendary NYC cocktails. The best in town is the Standard hotel in the Meatpacking District, which has a beautiful rooftop bar and a roof garden overlooking the Hudson River.
Tip: Go before sunset or mid-morning hours for the best view.
New York City is an addictive city. It will draw you in and make you fall in love with it. Be sure to make the most of it. I heart New York City!
Still looking for more ideas on what to do in New York City? Check out places to shop in NYC on a budget.
Have you explored New York City on a budget or planning to? I would love to hear about your experiences.
Thanks, I love NY for hosting me. All the experiences shared above, like always, are based on my (Archana Singh’s) personal experiences. And, the pictures posted above were clicked by me during my visit.