PLAN A BUDGET TRIP TO NEW YORK CITY
New York is not only amazing but also expensive. If you aren’t rich or Swiss, you have to accept that fact – especially since accommodation is not a bargain. But even if you travel to New York on a budget, you can still have the greatest time because there are a couple of things for (almost) free and it is easy to save money – so it is possible to enjoy this amazing city with little money.
Great things to do when you are traveling on a budget (even if not), and so you are enjoying New York with little money. Pssst, here is my 4-day New York itinerary.
This post contains affiliate links. This means I might earn a small commission if you book/buy a product via my link. There are no extra cost for you, actually, you can even save money with Airbnb using my link.
Getting Around in New York on a Budget
Taking the subway will save you a lot of money. New York has an excellent public transport system. There is no real need to take the cab (though they are iconic and cool somehow).
It also offers you the opportunity to enjoy great entertainment, because many talented artists show their skills in many metro stations. Thus you don’t have to be afraid of getting bored.
I also think that walking is pretty easy and was my favorite way to explore the place (apparently, it is not the only way if you like to see all areas). If you are not a broken traveler and would like to do many activities, you can also check out prices for NYC Hop-on and Hop-bus tickets, saving you a lot of money.
Where to Stay in New York on a Budget
Accommodations in New York
Private accommodations are mostly cheaper than hotels (even hostels are not cheap in NY). Especially if you don’t travel alone, have a look at Airbnb, which I used for 3 nights while I stayed at a hostel for another three nights (the hostel was terrible, by the way).
Just consider that a subway station is close to your accommodation, so you don’t have to stay close to Times Square, etc.
Do you prefer hotels? Though they are not cheap in New York City, you might get a good deal if you do not stay in Manhattan or do a bit more research. Find out more on cheap hotels in NY. If you stay in a hostel or a private apartment and want to do your own cooking, try to shop in Harlem, Brooklyn, etc. It is much cheaper than in Manhattan. You can also drink clean New York tap water, so it is cheaper and saves the environment.
Tickets and Tours
New York has many free activities (which you will find out about in this post. However, some activities just cost a bit. You can save money by researching beforehand and which then helps you save on those tours and activities.
If you are looking for more tours that do not cost a fortune, check out the best prices for tours and activities in New York City by clicking here and saving up to 40%. You might be able to save money in New York by using the official New York Pass – if you plan to visit some attractions that cost money, it can help you save a lot.
Read more: Best places to eat cheap in NY.
Things to do in New York for (Almost) Free
Okay, time to talk about some of the best things to do for free in NYC.
Free Tours by Foot
I have become a great fan of “Free Tours by Foot” and enjoyed every single tour with them. The guides were nice, and they really knew “their” New York City. Though it is called “free tours,” you can show your appreciation by paying a tip at the end of the tour. It is optional, but the guides do a great job. After all, it will still save you a lot of money compared to “professional” tours.
Fifth Avenue is probably the most well-known street in NYC and divides between the East and West sides of Manhattan.
Here you have high-end retailers, like Saks, Tiffany & Co., and Louis Vuitton. If you are in the mood for shopping, then you can spend the rest of the morning exploring the stores but then most likely, this will not be on a budget anymore.
But window shopping at these luxury establishments can be lots of fun, too, and there are many restaurants along the way.
Free Museums and Concerts
There are plenty of free museums – if you are interested in visiting museums check them out – I am not, so I did not visit any. Free concerts and movies can be found almost everywhere in New York in summer (Bryant Park, for instance). There is no real need to pay for concerts or other activities if you are on a budget – those free concerts and activities can be absolutely great.
One of the things I enjoyed most was the free ferry ride to Staten Island. It also offers a short break from the heat and stagnant air (summer in New York is extremely hot and humid) – and it gave me a great chance to take nice pictures of the Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline.
If you want to do other sightseeing cruises, check the best prices here.
“230 Fifth Rooftop Bar” offers breathtaking views of New York. You can have brunch or get a drink at the bar and enjoy the view, which can easily keep up with the view from the Empire State Building. Unfortunately, my pictures from there did not turn out great you can believe me that the view is absolutely GORGEOUS.
Who does not know the crazy Times Square? I once read that Times Square is the most famous place in the world- it is definitely one of the best places to visit in New York on a budget, and luckily, spending time at Times Square is totally free.
It is great to see either day or night and perfect to experience the city’s hustle and bustle. Here you will find stores, restaurants, towering billboards, and crazy characters. I was a little disappointed that I missed the Naked Cowboy, who is often there (though actually, I am happy I did not get to see him as he is not really my type). However, with or without the Naked Cowboy, there are many attractions to enjoy in Times Square.
Chinatown is a lively and chaotic place, and there is so much to see, from the shops to the street vendors. There are lots of knockoff handbags and electronic items for sale, and pretty much everything else. Tea shops, restaurants, and other businesses line the streets – and perfect to visit with little money.
When the Chinese immigrated to America, many of them moved to Chinatown. They opened businesses and moved into the apartments above. So, while this is a popular tourist destination in New York City, it is also a thriving local community.
There are a lot of restaurants along Canal Street, many with options that are vegan and vegetarian.
But most of all, I enjoyed crossing Brooklyn Bridge. Especially at night, the view is spectacular.
My advice is to take a metro to Brooklyn and take many pictures with the Manhattan skyline behind your back. You will be thrilled to have the Manhattan skyline in front of you while walking back to Manhattan.
Hudson River Waterway Greenway
This greenway runs around the island of Manhattan and is very popular for walkers, joggers, and cyclists. It is gorgeous, but it can also get busy, especially on the weekends. You can see beautiful views of Manhattan and New Jersey, and there are tons of places to stop and rest. There are not a lot of places to get food, but there are some here and there.
Grand Central Terminal
I also totally loved the Grand Central Terminal.
It is not just a place to jump on a train, but a place to visit, in and of itself. I found it interesting and fun, with so many things to see and do for free.
I probably liked the Whispering Gallery the most. There is a place by the Oyster Bar where, if you whisper into one corner, a person standing in the opposite corner can hear you (as if you had shouted) because of the way the arches and acoustics are. You have to try it!
I did a free walking tour which is a great way to learn more about the terminal’s history and see all the cool features and secrets.
There are many restaurants and small eateries near High Line, so you can either sit in and eat or take something to go (vegetarian/vegan foods are available). Still, I suggest taking something with you so you can enjoy your meal on the beautiful High Line.
Located above the busy streets of Manhattan’s Westside, the High Line used to be a freight rail line that would be demolished and is now used as a public park. It has charming scenery, with its high elevation, greenery, and art exhibits.
The entire line is almost 1.5 miles, so you may not want to walk the length of it. But it is a gorgeous spot to stop for a picnic on your first day exploring New York. This should take about 1-2 hours.
Sitting in Bryant Park (my favorite Park in New York) and watching the people around or listening to music and getting tanned is another great thing you can do for free.
Though Central Park is a famous park to visit, this one is more fun somehow because there are more active and full activities at any time of the year.
St. Patrick´s Cathedral
St. Patrick´s Cathedral is located on Fifth Avenue and opened in 1878.
So it’s not nearly as old as many churches found in Europe but a tribute to the religious freedom that many immigrants found when they arrived in America.
The public library was great to walk around.
The public library is an impressive building with stone lions guarding the front doors. Inside, you will find large windows and beautiful art-covered entire walls. The library has an extensive collection, including a children’s section. The architecture of the building, known as Beaux-Arts, is also impressive.
You can stroll around and see all the natural beauty that does not count as a dime. There are benches along the paths, which run throughout the park.
There are open areas for playing sports or picnicking, too. You could easily spend a whole day here. Try to see as much as you can, especially if the weather is good and before you get to experience more of crazy NY.
Get Lost in the Streets of New York
I recommend taking your camera and walking aimlessly through NY. You will find beautiful places, and offsite tourist spots. Smaller parks offer a nice chance to take a rest and discover even more interesting small details – New York never gets boring, and every turn holds something interesting and special for you to discover.
Though I did not plan to visit New York on a budget, I realized how much fun NY can be with all the free things to do. Yes, accommodation is pricy, but as you can see, it is not difficult to find free and great things to do and see in NY for free. Are you thinking about spending time in NY around the holidays? Get some tips for holidays in NYC from a local here.
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