We all know that New York City is expensive. It’s the most expensive city in the US and the seventh most expensive in the world! That’s kind of insane when you think about it, right? It really hit me when I went to get coffee and our total for 2 was $20! I almost told them to just cancel the whole thing haha. But grabbing a coffee in NYC is an experience in itself, ya know?
If the price of NYC is deterring you from visiting, I’m here to tell you that there are absolutely ways to cut costs on your trip. These tips for visiting NYC on a budget will make you and your wallet happy!
First things First: Set a budget
This might seem obvious, but I’ve definitely been the person who says they won’t spend a ton on a trip and then get home, check my bank account and want to cry! hahah
I’ll get into recommendations on where you can save in each of these categories, but here is what you need to consider when making your budget. Accommodation, transportation, food, bars, sightseeing, shopping, plus a little extra for when you decide to splurge on a $20 cocktail.
When to visit NYC
The low season in NY is technically January to early March, but in my opinion it’s always bustling. Most places are pretty dead in the winter, but considering NYC is a hot spot during the holidays, things never seem to slow down. If you’re looking for when hotel prices drop and it’s easiest to get a restaurant reservation then Jan-March is your prime time, but coming when it is so cold could deter you from visiting all of the places on your list.
NYC on a budget : Where to stay
Depending on when you decide to visit, hotel prices will fluctuate. You can expect to spend about $250 a night for a hotel in Manhattan. I suggest picking a place in either Brooklyn, Queens or Hoboken to save some cash. All of these locations are an easy subway ride away!
Don’t forget to look into Airbnb and hostels as well. These are usually much cheaper than hotels and can be found in any borough!
If staying in Manhattan is a must, check out some of these budget- friendly hotels and hostels. Prices will vary by season and availability.
Radisson Hotel New York Midtown-Fifth Ave – Starting around $90/ night this is a very basic hotel in midtown.
Freehand – This hotel is super trendy and offers a variety of different room options. It’s a great place for groups as they have rooms with bunkbeds, but also offer your standard queen/king. Plus, they have a daily happy hour!
The Allen Hotel – Located on the lower East Side they only have 41 guest rooms and suites. Plus a full bar and local coffee so, I’m convinced!
HI New York City Hostel – This hostel is a global chain and is offered in a prime upper west side location. They have a game room, communal kitchen and great staff!
The Pod Hotels – The rooms here are sleek and compact, starting at $85/ night. You have the choice between a private or shared bath which can also change your price!
Thinking about moving to the city? Read my guide on how to move to New York City.
How to get around NYC
Taxis and Uber/Lyft will add up very quickly! So here are the best alternatives…
Subway/ buses – The subway will get you anywhere you need to go at a way cheaper price, plus your metro card will also work for buses which can sometimes be more convenient! If you are visiting New York for 4 or more days I highly recommend getting the weekly unlimited pass. If you need more info, check out my post on how to use the NYC subway. That guide will have you using the subway like a local in no time!
Citi Bike – This is a fun and new way to explore New York! First download the citi bike app, which will show you where to find your bike. Then, pick between a day pass or single ride. Scan the QR code on the bike and you’re good to go. Make sure to follow all rules to avoid any extra fees!
Walking – This is the best (and cheapest) way to get around NYC. Sometimes it’s easier than waiting for a subway when you can walk in the same amount of time all while seeing the amazing sites of the city!
Where to eat and drink to cut costs
Avoid eating in Times Square – Way too many people make the mistake of eating right in Times Square. And I mean, I get it! You want to stay right in the action. But, you also want good food, right? Walk to the neighborhood of Hell’s Kitchen (just a few blocks over) and you’ll be able to find some quality food at cheaper prices! Or even better, venture to places like the East or West Village, Downtown or even Williamsburg for some amazing food!
Find happy hours – Don’t worry, I did the hard work for you and lay out some of the best happy hours in the city, by neighborhood in this post. Plus, some restaurants will have happy hours on food too! This is really important because cocktails at a nice bar can be as much as $14- $25 for ONE drink.
Make lunch your biggest meal – Many restaurants do lunch specials or their lunch prices are significantly less than their dinner. Here are a few places to definitely check out
San Marzano – Super affordable Italian food with dishes starting at $9 and bottles of wine for as little as $20.
Briciola – Their lunch special is a pasta and glass of wine for $18.
Klong Thai NYC – Get a lunch entree and appetizer for $13!
Food carts / dollar pizza – There are some amazing budget friendly food carts around the city, like NY Dosas in Washington Square Park or Halal Guys. If you need a quick snack you can also grab a pretzel or hotdog from many stands. These are especially popular around midtown and Central Park. You can find dollar pizza joints all over the city and while they aren’t the best pizza in NYC by any means, it’ll hold you over.
Get coffee at your hotel if it’s available – If you NEED your coffee in the AM, I suggest making it at your hotel or grabbing it at a food cart. I’ve spent far too much money on coffee here in the city!
Trader Joes – A great place to grab snacks and easy meals is Trader Joes. If your hotel room has a microwave, you can easily make some meals back in your room! Or check out the TJ’s wine shop (located at the 14th St location) and take some inexpensive wine back to your hotel (or Central Park for a picnic!)
Where to find discounts and deals
Get a city pass – Visiting NYC on a budget can make it difficult to see all of the amazing attractions like the Empire State Building, Top of the Rock, Statue of Liberty, etc. But, if you look into one of the following passes you can save major on hundreds of attractions!
They are all essentially the same thing, but offer different packages and price points. Write out the attractions you really want to see then decide which pass would be best for you!
TKTS – These booths offers discounted same day tickets to a bunch of theater performances in the city. From Broadway, Off- Broadway, musicals, plays, dance and more! You can find these booths in Time Square, Lincoln Center and South Street Seaport.
Lotteries – If you hope to see a show at a discounted price you can easily enter lotteries for many shows. Go to the shows website to see if they offer them. Some will be online and some will be in person. Lotteries are almost always for the same day and obviously not guaranteed so if you really want to see a show, you are better off trying TKTS.
Find Free Activities
Surprisingly there are many free things to do in NYC if you’re on a budget, here are a few.
Walk the Brooklyn Bridge – I suggest taking the train over to DUMBO in Brooklyn and hanging out for a while, window shop, see the famous Manhattan Bridge and then at sunset take the walk over the Brooklyn Bridge back to Manhattan! Once you reach Manhattan you’ll be in the historic downtown where there is tons to see!
Hang out in Central Park – My favorite thing to do is pack a picnic and hang out on the great lawn! You can also just take a long walk exploring all areas of the park!
Bryant Park – In the summer Bryant Park has free movies on Mondays and a winter village in the Winter! They also have ping pong tables set up throughout the year!
Walk the High line and visit the Vessel – The highline is a 1.4 mile walkway situated on an old railroad which offers really cool views of the city. At the end of it you’ll find the Vessel, which is only free if you book a time in advance!
Chelsea Market – Situated close to the High Line is the Chelsea Market. You can spend an afternoon walking around looking at the shops or trying some yummy foods!
For more free activities check out these 10 free things to do in NYC in the Summer
Are there any tips you would suggest for budgeting in an expensive city?? Let me know below!
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