There's no doubt that New York can be an expensive city to visit, and if you're not careful, you'll see your vacation budget being frittered away faster than you can hail a yellow cab. Add confusing elements like foreign transaction fees if you're changing your regular currency to dollars, and you can easily find yourself suddenly thinking about how to save money.
Luckily, there are ways you can still visit many of the most popular tourist destinations while still saving money, and not just by using public transportation either. These travel hacks don't just include going on free tours, standing in front of the Empire State Building, taking photos of Brooklyn Bridge, or having a picnic in Central Park. Although that said, they are all New York City attractions you can see for nothing.
While you can do New York City on a budget, what you don't want to be doing is going sightseeing burdened with bags. You'll find Bounce luggage lockers in New York City are an affordable option for storing your gear somewhere safe.
Cheap places to stay in New York
Accommodation will must likely be your biggest expense when you're in New York City. You can save money, though, if you choose your hotel or hostel wisely, don't travel to New York during peak holiday times, and if you have to, lower your expectations slightly or watch someone's house. Where there's a will, there's a way.
Any hotel room with a view of the Hudson River or overlooking Times Square is going to come with a hefty price tag but there are lots of enjoyable neighborhoods to stay in that are a quick walk to these attractions. Here are three places to stay in New York that will leave you with cash to spare. And if you're curious about the various NYC neighborhoods, check out our guide on where to stay in the city.
The Americana Inn
Midtown Manhattan is one of the safest neighborhoods to stay in central New York City, and that's exactly where the Americana Inn is. This boutique hotel offers both a single and double private room for around $60 a night that is equipped with a washbasin and TV.
Prices for these hotel rooms are lower because bathrooms are shared between guests. Weigh that minor inconvenience against the fact that you'll be staying within walking distance of Times Square, Central Park, Rockefeller Center, and Fifth Avenue, and it's not so bad. You'll be saving money on public transportation, and as every floor of the hotel has a community kitchen area with a refrigerator and microwave, you can save money by preparing your own food if you want to.
Midtown Convention Center
The Midtown Convention Center is another budget accommodation option located in Midtown West in Manhattan. The hotel rooms here have private bathrooms with free toiletries, so you'll save money by not having to buy products like shampoo and shower gel. You'll have Central Park, the Hudson River Park, Pier 88, and Madison Square Garden just a stone's throw away, so there's big money saving on public transportation when you stay at this hotel too.
All of the rooms have a living area complete with a desk, so if you're blogging about your trip, you'll have a comfortable space to do it from and a coffee maker at hand to keep you fueled with caffeine while you're typing. There's free wifi, too, so you'll be able to check your emails and upload your post whenever it's ready, which is not too bad a deal for $90 a night.
Canal Loft Hotel
The Canal Loft Hotel is located near Washington Square Park on the edge of Chinatown, so still well within walking distance of attractions like the Brooklyn Bridge and the Empire State Building. Here you can sleep in a private room with an ensuite bathroom or dorms with four beds which are great if you're traveling with a group of friends.
All the rooms at the Canal Loft Hotel are fitted with air conditioning and have free wifi. The rooms are not huge by any means but adequate, and the décor is modern, although it borders on the basic. If you decide to have a night in to save money, there's a communal area on the ground floor with comfortable chairs and a table football game to help keep you entertained.
Cheap things to do in New York
It's impossible to visit New York City and not go to see the Brooklyn Bridge and the Empire State Building, take a walk in Central Park, or jump aboard the Staten Island Ferry to sail past the Statue of Liberty. They're all iconic things to do and great money-savers, too, as they're all free.
Once you've exhausted all the free things to do, it'll be time to start considering which of the cheap things to do in New York fall within your expenditure range. Take a look at the following, and while they may not be low-priced activities if you do them individually, check out the bonus budget tips section of this article, and you'll find out how to do them for almost next to nothing.
Top of The Rock
Everybody who goes to New York wants to get that show-off selfie with the city skyline in the background. It's a must-have, and one of the best places to go to get it is The Top of the Rock. The Top of the Rock is the observation deck of the Rockefeller Center. The views from 70 floors up of the city and the Hudson River are incredible, and getting to see them will cost you very little if you play your cards right.
Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art
There are numerous museums in New York City that are worth visiting. One, in particular, you might want to have a look around is the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art. This museum has the biggest art collection in North America and houses over two million different artworks, as well as hosts multiple temporary exhibitions. Not surprisingly, it's New York City's most visited museum.
Spending a few hours there browsing doesn't come cheap, but there is a way you can do it for a budget price and visit as many other museums as you have time for without it costing you a fortune.
Harbor Lights Cruise
While there's no charge for boarding the Staten Island Ferry, none of the other river cruises operated by independent companies are free. Just because you have to pay for it probably won't put you off taking this two-hour evening sailing to view Manhattan from the water. It's a magical experience floating past the Manhattan skyline at night, and even if you're worrying about saving money, don't be. You'll still be able to do it if you get your boarding ticket the right way.
NB: To find out how to do these three activities in New York and a whole bunch more on a budget, scroll down to the bonus budget tips section. It’ll put a big smile on your face.
Cheap places to eat in New York City
Like all major cities, New York City has an amazing food scene that truly encompasses just about every type of cuisine in existence. If you're on a budget, fine dining restaurants won't be on your agenda, they're way too expensive, but it's not a problem as there are endless cheap places to eat in New York.
Mercado Little Spain
Mercado Little Spain is a great place to go for cheap eats when you're staying in Manhattan. As the name might suggest, this covered market in Hudson Yards is dedicated to Spanish cuisine and produce and is where you can get some of the best and cheapest street food in New York City.
Take a wander around the Mercado Little Spain to breathe in the sights and smells while trying to decide whether to go to one of the many tapas bars or purchase something from one of the kiosks that sell dishes like paella and empanadas or treat yourself to a ridiculously low-priced meal in one of the three Spanish restaurants in the market. It won't be an easy decision, and you'll more than likely find yourself returning for breakfast the following day.
Is there any way you can visit NYC and not have a slice or two of New York-style pizza? The answer to that is a big no. In fact, New York-style pizza is one of the cheapest eats you can get in the city. Unless you're incredibly hungry, one enormous slice of this pizza is enough to satisfy most appetites, so don't fall into the trap of ordering an entire pie, or you'll be eating leftovers for a week. One of the best pizzerias to go to in New York when you're being budget conscious is NYC Pizza. They're located on 8th Avenue, which is a two-minute walk from Madison Square Garden.
There are some really good and very cheap places to eat in New York City's Chinatown, and Noodle Village is one of them. At Noodle Village, you can fill up on a wide variety of dumplings, soups, noodle dishes, dim sum, and just about anything else that classifies as Cantonese cuisine at super low prices. If you prefer lunch to dinner, then this is worth remembering as they start service at 11 am and continue right the way through to 10 at night.
Cheap bars in New York
The one thing you won't struggle to find is cheap bars in New York. They are, as the old saying goes, ten a penny, and many have lengthy happy hours that will help stretch your budget just that little bit further.
Rudy's Bar in the New York neighborhood of Hell's Kitchen is famous for their low-priced drinks. They're so cheap, think $3 or $4, that if they were any cheaper, they'd be giving them away. That's what you call dirt cheap in any language.
If you need some space from the crowds in Time Square or a swift pick-me-up before going to see a Broadway show, a couple of drinks in Jimmy's Corner won't leave you out of pocket.
Nobody goes to The Library in the East Village to read books. They go because this bar has a three-hour long happy hour every day when you can buy one and get one free between five in the afternoon and eight at night. It's a popular bar with New Yorkers, so don't be surprised if you have to elbow your way in.
Bonus budget tips for New York City
- While it might seem like quite a painful initial layout moneywise, get a New York Pass. The more days you purchase one for, the better value for money it becomes. The three-day pass costs $229, which sounds like a lot but will save you an absolute fortune on admission prices to the majority of New York City attractions.
The New York Pass will give you free access to places like the MoMa and around 20 other museums, to Top of the Rock as well as several more observation decks, including the Edge, free boat cruises like the one previously mentioned, you'll be able to join walking tours without having to spend money, and you can even rent a bicycle to cycle over the Brooklyn Bridge without paying any more. The more you do on the days you have the pass, the more you'll save, and it doesn't need to be during the off-season either. The passes are available all year round.
- Avoid going to New York during a main holiday season like Christmas, New Year's, and Easter. They're times when prices tend to rocket, and flight deals are hard to find. Go off-season, and you'll find there are cheaper flights and fewer crowds at all the main attractions, so you'll be able to do more because you won't be lining up for so long.
It's perfectly possible to visit NYC on a budget without having to restrict yourself to sailing on the Staten Island ferry every day or viewing street art for entertainment. The New York Pass is a fantastic money saver, but if that's not within your financial reach, don't worry - there are still plenty of free things to do in New York, so you'll still have an amazing time.