So you want to take a trip to New York City. But you're on a budget?
Don't you worry? I got you.
New York City claims to be one of the most expensive cities in the world however I beg to differ.
Because I have been living in NYC on a budget for most of my life and therefore I have learned a trick or two.
So let me show you how you can plan the perfect budget-friendly trip to one of the best places in the world.
Ok. Fine I am biased but New York City is home. I can't help myself.
So let's get started.
What are the Best Months to Visit New York?
While the best time of year to visit New York City is the Fall (September-October) the cheapest time of year to visit is January and February. Spring (April-May)comes in as a close second. It may be rainy but cherry blossom season is an amazing time of year to really experience New York City.
Finding Cheap Flights to New York City
There are three major airports (and a few other smaller ones) that serve New York City making it the perfect place for you to find cheap flights. When searching for flights make sure that you are searching for all three airports. Most flight search engines such as google flights or Kayak will allow entering your destination as NYC which will automatically search all three airports for you. Here is an example.
If you're feeling a little fancy you can even extend your search further to include regional airports however those can sometimes be a hassle to get to and unless the fare is super cheap it may not be worth the transportation costs.
Poor In A Private Plane Tip: Search for two one ways as opposed to a round trip. Sometimes flying into one airport and out from another may save you a good bit of money. And you will barely notice as the commute times between the three are pretty similar.
Cheap Ways to get to New York City
If you live on the East Coast you can easily take the train or bus to NYC. Bus providers such as Bolt Bus and MegaBus actually offer dollar fares. Amtrak offers deals as well so sign up for their mailing list to make sure you take advantage of any discounts they offer.
The Cheapest Way to Get to Manhattan from all NYC Airports
One of the biggest money pits when traveling is a cab to and from the airport. Lucky for you getting to Manhattan from any of the three airports is easy (and cheap). New York City has a great mass transit system (if you ask any Native New Yorker they will say I'm lying).
You can take the mass transit from the airport to Manhattan for as little as $2.75.
For illustration purposes I am sharing general directions to get to Midtown Manhattan however if you are going elsewhere in the city enter your address into Google Maps where you can get more specific subway instructions.
Taking the Train from La Guardia Airport (LGA) to Manhattan
Taking the Train from La Guardian Airport (LGA) to Manhattan will set you back a whole $2.75.
It is really simple. When you exit the airport look for signs for the NYC MTA Bus. You will see a few options however for purposes of keeping it simple I am going to give you two ways to get into midtown manhattan.
Option 1: Take the M60 SBS to 125th Street and Lexington Avenue. From there you are going to transfer to the subway where you will take the 4 or the 5 train downtown to Grand Central Terminal.
Approximate Travel Time is 1 hour
Option 2: Take the Q70SBS to Roosevelt Avenue. From there you are going to transfer to the subway where you will take the 7 train to Manhattan getting off at Grand Central Terminal.
Approximate Travel Time is 1 hour
Taking the Train from JFK Airport to Manhattan
There are two options to get from JFK to Manhattan. One is slightly faster and one is cheaper.
We will start with the cheaper version.
Cheaper Version: Take the AirTran ($5) to the Jamaica Center. At Jamaica center, you will transfer to the Subway ($2.75). Take the E train which will take you right into Midtown Manhattan. If you are traveling to other parts of the city you can check google maps to figure out which subway line is best for you.
Travel Time: 1 hour and 15 minutes
Faster Version: Take the AirTran ($5) to Jamaica Center. At Jamaica Center, you will transfer to the LIRR ($10) where you can grab a train that will take you Penn Station in midtown Manhattan. If you are staying near Penn Station this option will save you as much as 20-30 minutes. However, if you are staying anywhere else in the city save the extra $7 bucks and go for the Cheaper Version.
Travel Time: 45 minutes
Taking the Train from Newark Airport (EWR) to Manhattan
Like JFK Newark also has an AirTran which makes it very convenient to get into the city.
Option 1: AirTrain to NJ Transit
Take the AirTrain to the Newark Airport New Jersey Transit Stop where you will transfer to a New Jersey Transit Train to Penn Station.
Travel Time: 30 minutes
Option 2: AirTrain to NJ Transit to Path
Take the AirTrain to Newark Airport New Jersey Transit Stop where you will transfer to a New Jersey Transit Train to Newark Penn Station. At Newark Penn Station transfer to the Path Train which will give you options for stops in lower Manhattan and along the west side of Manhattan.
This option takes a bit longer and involves several transfers however it is convenient for those that may be staying in Lower Manhattan or somewhere south of midtown.
Travel Time: 40 minutes
How to Find a Cheap Place to Stay in NYC
Ok. This is tricky. And I am not a “roughing it” kinda person and hotels in NYC are expensive. However, there are a few options that aren't too painful that you should consider.
Prices for hotels may vary depending on the time of year however I found the following options for under $150/night for a Saturday night in January.
The Standard, East Village, Keep an eye on this hotel. They are normally a bit pricey however they have been known to have deals. I found a room for $102.
World Center Hotel, Great reviews. Located in Lower Manhattan near the Freedom Tower. Also found for $100 on some nights.
The Marcel At Grammercy, Boutique Hotel near Midtown
The French Quarters, Located on Restaurant Row in Hell's Kitchen this spot is right near Times Square. Also includes free breakfast.
Free and Cheap Things to Do in New York City
New York City might be expensive however there are so many free things to do that you really don't have to spend money.
In the summertime, there is everything from free movies in the park to free kayaking on the Hudson.
In the winter visit the New York Public Library (as seen in the Sex and the City movie) or tour the gold vault at the Federal Bank of New York.
Free Things to Do In NYC
Ride the Staten Island Ferry
The Staten Island Ferry is a great way to get a view of the Statue of Liberty without breaking the budget. It is free and you can go back and forth as much as you want.
Bonus Tip: Fancy a beverage. There is a food concession on board that sells beer.
Walk Across the Brooklyn Bridge
It is best to visit in the morning when the crowds are lighter. Starting in Manhattan, grab a cup of coffee from a local vendor and start your trek over the bridge. Make sure to spot for pictures. And don't forget to turn around when you're midway through to take in the views of the city.
Once on the other side explore Brooklyn Bridge Park and Brooklyn Heights. There is plenty to see and do in Brooklyn on Budget, so make a day of it.
Visit Alexander Hamilton's Harlem Estate
Take a trip to Harlem where you will be transported back in time. Just make sure to get there early as crowds are limited after a certain time.
Visit the Brooklyn Botanic Garden
From March-November the Brooklyn Botanic Garden is free before noon on Fridays. If you opt to go in the winter you can visit for free on weekends between December-February.
Wander Through Grand Central
Grand Central is a must-visit for anyone visiting NYC for the first time. Take some time to wander Grand Central. They even offer free tours. You can inquire about it at the information desk.
Cheap Things to Do in New York City
Ride the New York City Ferry
The NYC Ferry has five routes going anywhere from the Bronx to multiple stops in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens. And the cost is only $2.75 including a transfer.
If you have time to kill for $2.75 you can take a ride from Wall Street all the way down to Rockaway Beach. This Ferry ride will give you views of Lower Manhattan, the Statue of Liberty, Governor's Island and Coney Island. The ferry also has a bar onboard serving beer and wine. Grab a beverage of choice and enjoy the views. In the summer opt to sit up top on the deck. In the winter keep things cozy inside where you will still get great views.
Looking for a Drink with a View. Check out my list of Rooftop Happy Hours where you can get a fancy drink, get the perfect instagram, and still have money leftover.
Score Cheap Broadway Tickets
Before you think that Broadway is only for those that are not on a budget think again. There are plenty of ways to score Broadway, Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway tickets on the cheap. Some sites to check out to score free tickets.
Take a look to see if you're show is on the list. This site is updated to include instructions on how to score rush tickets, student tickets and Standing Room Only Tickets all as a discount. You can even find out how to try your luck at the coveted $10 Hamilton Tickets.
TKTS has three booths through NYC offering discounted tickets to Broadway shows for same-day performances. While the deals will vary and will not be as good as the deals for rush or lottery tickets you can be sure you will be paying a fraction of the price.
Poor In A Private Plane Tip: Skip the TKTS booth in midtown and head on over to the booth located in lower manhattan near the South Street Seaport. Lines here are way shorter and the offerings are similar to what is offered in Midtown.
If you're looking for another place to find cheap tickets for broadway (and other experiences in New York City) then check out Musement.
What makes Musement amazing is the variety that you won't find elsewhere. For example those coveted tickets to Hamilton that are super expensive. You can totally find them on Musement.
Visiting Museums for Cheap
There are a number of museums that are free year-round. And some that are free on select days. Here is a list of museums that are always free for you to visit.
African Burial Ground Memorial Site
American Folk Art Museum
The Bronx Museum of the Arts
El Museo del Barrio
Federal Hall National Memorial
General Grant National Memorial
The Harbor Defense Museum
The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology
National Museum of the American Indian
The New York Public Library Stephen A. Schwarzman Building
New York Public Library for the Performing Arts
New York Transit Museum Annex & Store,
Queens County Farm Museum
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden
Socrates Sculpture Park
Soldiers and Sailors Monument
Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace
You can find an additional listing of museums on the NYC GO website.
Should You Consider a City Pass
If it is your first time visiting NYC and you are interested in visiting sites such as the Empire State Building or Statue of Liberty the City Pass may be something to consider.
The City Pass is currently $132 for Adults and $108 for Children and includes admission to up to 6 of the following:
Empire State Building- ($55)
American Museum of Natural History- ($23) (However keep in mind there is a pay what you wish option)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art- ($25) (However pay what you wish option available for NYC residents)
Top of the Rock ($38) or Guggenheim Museum ($25, Pay What You Wish available on Saturday Evenings between 5pm-8pm)
Ferry Access to Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island ($18.50)OR Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises ($31-$41)
If you were to visit all 9 sites and pay regular admission you would spend close to $300.In order to really take advantage of the pass I would recommend doing the following:
- Empire State Building
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art
- American Museum of Natural History
- Top of the Rock
- Circle Line Sightseeing Cruise
In order to visit the remaining 3 attractions I would do the following:
- Visit the Guggeheim on a Saturday Evening and Pay what you want.
- The Ferry to the Statue of Liberty and the 9/11 had lower admissions so even paying for those two activities you are still saving.
Cheap Restaurants in New York City
You could easily spend thousands on dinner for two in New York City if you really wanted to. But we don't want to. And you don't need to.
Google maps is a great way to find cheap eats in and around the different neighborhoods in NYC however here are some tried and trues that you'll be sure to enjoy. And won't break the bank.
Anywhere. You can find one almost everywhere. If you are looking for a quick snack (or to soak up last nights Cosmos) grab yourself a slice.
Oh how we love Noodles. And you can find the best hand pulled noodles in Chinatown. The best bet. A full meal will easily come in at under $10.
88 Lan Zhou Hand Pulled Noodles– They have amazing dumplings as well.
I can tell you the best place to get a bagel in NYC. Kossar's of course. However, I can also tell you that if you really want a good bagel just go right to your corner deli. You will not be disappointed.
Here are some of our faves in New York City
Shake Shack-There are multiple locations all around New York City
The Burgen Joint-located in a swanky hotel this hole in the wall is the perfect late-night grub.
Cheekys-Popeyes has nothing on the Chicken Sandwiches here. They are sooo good.
Ponche-Located in Hell's Kitchen this Mexican place makes the list because it is BYOB.
Casa Adela- This is another BYOB spot with amazing Puerto Rican food. Yum.
Hell's Chicken– Yummy Korean Fried Chicken
The easiest and cheapest way to get around New York City is by walking. But there are a few other options that will have you zipping from midtown to downtown in a flash.
New York City Subway
The Subway is one of the best ways to get around the city. Trains run pretty regularly for only $2.75 you can go from Rockefeller Center to Coney Island. You can even get to the airport for only $2.75. Now that is a deal if you ask me.
Native New Yorker Tip: Avoid the subway during rush hour. Everyone is trying to either get to work or go home which means the trains are usually extremely crowded. Unless there is somewhere you have to be opt to ride while everyone else is at work. I promise you will thank me later.
New York City Ferry
If you are looking to go from midtown to downtown or from the east side to Brooklyn or Queens consider the New York City Ferry which services a variety of stops in Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan on the East River. For only $2.75 it is a quick and easy way to get around. And you can get amazing views of the bridges and lower manhattan.
Native New Yorker Tip: Use Google Maps when trying to find the best way to get to a location. Google takes into account things like travel time, traffic and even service changes on the subway so you'll be sure you're picking the quickest and easiest way to get to your destination.
Do you need a car in NYC?
Absolutely not. It will be more of a pain than anything else. Between parking and traffic, you will find that it is not convenient at all.
However, if you must rideshares such as Uber and Lyft are widely available. You can always also hail a cab however that is most likely going to be the most expensive option.
How Much Should I Budget for a Trip to NYC?
New York City can be as cheap or as expensive as you let it be. However, you can easily do NYC for under $100 a day. And depending on how frugal you are you might very well have money left over for a bit of a splurge.
What Can you Do in NYC on a Low Budget?
With so many free and cheap things to do in New York City, you definitely will have no issue have a great time even if you're budget is tight. Take a walk on the high line, enjoy a sunset picnic in Brookly Bridge Park or just wander.
New York City is a gem and a budget traveler's paradise.
Are you ready to come to New York City?