New York City may have an expensive reputation, but that shouldn’t stop budget travelers from visiting the Big Apple. There are always ways of getting around overpriced dinners and excursion fees and New York is no exception. While summer in the city can feel uncomfortably hot, it’s during these months when free or low-costing activities are the most frequent. Regardless of when you visit, here is your guide to New York City on a budget.
Many first time travelers to New York head straight to Times Square for dinner. While the Theatre District certainly offers a spectacular view of the Broadway billboards, less expensive dining options are easily found elsewhere. Try exploring a different borough for affordable international cuisines. Astoria, Queens is known for having some of the city’s best Greek Restaurants. In Brooklyn, Sunset Park has a slew of Mexican and Ecuadorian food joints, while Brighton Beach specializes in Russian cuisine. Park Slope and Williamsburg have a little bit of everything and both a short subway ride from Midtown Manhattan. Many hookah bars in the East Village have a BYOB (bring your own beer) policy, which is a great way of cutting cocktail costs.
Finding your way through the New York nightlife scene can be daunting but the same rules apply here as they do in other global cities. If heading to a popular club on the weekend, expect a crowd. Many venues waive their cover fee before a certain time, allowing you to buy an extra round of drinks. Another option is to stop by a bar with an extended happy hour. Verlaine in Manhattan’s Lower East Side has Happy Hour specials until 10pm.
Meatpacking hosts the city’s premier nightclubs while Soho and Tribeca have more of a lounge feel. Strips of bars line 2nd Avenue on the Upper East Side and Amsterdam Avenue on the Upper West Side. The proximity of bars eliminates the inconvenience of grabbing a taxi on a busy night.
Picking a hotel in New York may seem overwhelming but it’s not impossible. Every neighborhood appeals to a certain person for a variety of reasons. However, don’t be shy about choosing a hotel that is not your first choice. It’s easy to walk or use public transportation to commute to different areas of the city and opting for a less trendy neighborhood will likely lower your total hotel cost. Having some flexibility in your schedule should also prove beneficial, as most hotels charge top rate on the weekends.
If you really want to feel like a New Yorker, look for an apartment rental, which can save you quite a bit not only on lodging, but on some of your dining costs as well.
Riding the New York City subway is not the cleanest way to travel but it’s the least expensive method. A single fare subway or bus ride costs $2.50 with discounted passes available for weekly or monthly purchases. Opt for public transportation during the day and splurge on taxi rides at night. Be prepared for heavy traffic on the weekends and during rush hours, especially in the crowded downtown neighborhoods of Chinatown, Soho, and Little Italy.
It’s nearly impossible to visit New York without stopping by some of the city’s most famous museums. While entry fees are generally required, many museums regularly offer free or discounted fares. The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) offers free entry every Friday night from 4-8 pm. Likewise, The Guggenheim allows guests to “pay what you wish” on Saturdays form 5:45–7:45 pm. Keep in mind that the museums will be more crowded during these times so if you prefer a quieter atmosphere, it might be worth paying a few extra dollars to visit during off-peak hours.
If you plan to visit several museums on your trip, look into a New York sightseeing pass, which covers more than 50 attractions for one lower price.
In New York, one doesn’t have to search very hard for art inspiration. Street art covers nearly every wall in Brooklyn and in the East Village. Those looking for a more refined environment should head straight to Chelsea. Every Thursday, the neighborhood’s trendiest galleries open their doors to the public, offering free wine, beer, and small cheese plates. There’s no set formula for a leisurely walk through the galleries and it’s an ideal place to meet other local art connoisseurs.
Gain Street Credibility
Skipping a pricey lunch for food trucks is a great way to save without feeling like you missed out on a delicious dish. Wafels & Dinges serves up Belgium style waffle plates while the CupcakeStop is perfect for dessert on the go. Food trucks generally change locations daily, providing enough opportunity to sample several different cuisines. There’s never a shortage of street dancers, magicians and artists showing off their weird yet fascinating talents. Farmers Markets are popular in main shopping areas such as Union Square.
High Class for Less
If Broadway is your middle name, wait in the TKTS line early in the morning to steal major performance deals. The Times Square location is the most centrally located but shorter lines are found by going downtown to the South Street Seaport booth. Shakespeare in the Park is another performance series held each summer in Central Park. Be prepared to wait in long lines for this show, as tickets are free but tricky to score. Off-Broadway shows are less advertised but equally thrilling and often less pricey. People between the ages of 21-35 can get discounted tickets to Lincoln Center through their LincTix program.
Check out Viator’s Broadway ticket deals.
Free and Fun
When it comes to entertaining cities, New York reigns supreme. Browsing through outdoor markets is the perfect opportunity to find bargain items. The Hell’s Kitchen weekend market specializes in vintage items while other neighborhoods cater to other specialties. Throughout the year and especially in the summer, free outdoor concerts including Central Park SummerStage are held throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn. Also taking place every summer are free movie night showings in Bryant Park, Riverside Park South, and Brooklyn Bridge Park.
Travel Tips and Tricks
Try to plan as much as you can before arriving in New York. Book your hotel and have a general idea of monuments you want to see but make sure to leave room for the unexpected. There are always representatives for comedy shows, restaurants, and bars outside on the street offering discounts. For happy hour deals, try going to bars near student universities. Greenwich Village caters to budget-conscious NYU students as does Morningside for Columbia students.
- Megan Eileen McDonough
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