How to Experience New York City on a Budget

New York is an amazing city that attracts millions of curious tourists each year. It’s also well known for being a very expensive place to visit, and many tourists find that they have to cut corners and miss out on enjoying all that the Big Apple has to offer. With some careful planning and a bit of research, though, it is possible to enjoy the complete New York experience, on a budget.

Accommodations

In regards to accommodations, it pays to be flexible and a little creative. New York is notorious for its overpriced hotels, so avoid the normal online searches or travel agent recommendations. Craigslist.com is a great resource because many New York locals rent out their apartments when they are away on vacation. It certainly pays off to look into this option, as it may be possible to find a fully furnished apartment for bargain prices. The couchsurfing.org site should also be considered, as this offers a global network of accommodation sharers.

Hostels are available, another a popular option for budget travelers. Keep in mind that a hostel room is just a place to collapse at the end of a busy day experiencing the Big Apple, so don’t worry too much if it’s a little cramped.

Food

New York has some of the best street food in the world. The melting pot of cultures has created a diverse, tasty and most of all inexpensive range of food on offer. As a rule of thumb, you should buy food from the street vendors where there is already a crowd. Don’t miss the freshly-baked bagels stuffed with cream cheese, deli sandwiches laden with corned beef and the ubiquitous New York hot dog!

Try to avoid cabs if this is at all possible because they can quickly become an expensive way to get around New York due to traffic congestion and high flag-fall rates. The New York subway is an experience in itself, and it is reliable and cheap. Buses are another option for budget-conscious travelers.

To see New York from the water is a unique experience, avoiding traffic problems and giving an up-close view of sites such as the Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline at night. Circle Line Downtown coupons are available, and they are worth every cent as the company offers a number of different types of tours to choose from, including eco-tours and history tours.

Fun

New York is the tourism capital of the USA, and it’s no surprise that there are thousands of things to do. Even better, a lot of these activities are either very cheap, or totally free. Grab TONY, the local nickname for the Time Out New York magazine, before the day’s events are planned. It’s a free publication that has an awesome section featuring more than 100 free things to do in the city. This is an excellent way to research exciting activities, from art gallery openings to being an extra in a movie scene. How very New York.

Photo Credit: Kev Gilmour

11 comments to How to Experience New York City on a Budget

  • Also New York city is one the safest big cities in the world. When we visit New York City, we stay with friend of the family. You can find some of the best food from street vendors.

  • CT

    Don’t forge to cruise the harbor for free- on the Staten Island Ferry!

  • Olivia

    Thanks for the suggestions. We love NY.

    Some old favs. Especially nice in spring. Free or cheap. Standing on the observation deck of the Staten Island Ferry. Street perfomers around Washington Square Park. Strolling through Central Park. People watching. Visiting great museums/galleries, the Met, MOMA, etc. Taking pics of architectural details. Walking along Canal Street, Chinatown, Little Italy and doing a bit of pick up shopping. Ethnic festivals.

    We’re hoping to hop the 6 train next visit to see the now closed, beautiful, old City Hall stop and eating a late lunch at the Wo Hop restaurant.

    Another way to get cheap accomodations, especially if you don’t mind staying in one of the boroughs and coming in by subway, airbnb.

  • Amy

    Thanks so much, this couldn’t be better timing, got my first trip to New York booked for next week :)

  • Paul N

    This may not be for everyone but…

    I choose a hotel/motel just on the other side of the river in N.J. You can save a lot. By car it takes no time at all. You can drive to where the ferry is park in their lot all day and take the ferry across. That’s kind of fun in itself.

    Try to do some of your shopping in N.J. as there was no sales tax on certain items.

  • AirBnB has a lot of NYC listings, too.

  • Tom Gunn

    Have you ever been to a Hostel in New York City?

  • As a former New Yorker, I would stay at an AirBnB in Brooklyn and just come into the city during the day. I would definitely try to see a Broadway show if my budget would allow it.

  • I did like Krant suggest, airbnb in Brooklyn and tried to walk/public transport around as much as possible. We saw free concerts in Central Park and music schools, and looked at when the museums had a free or discounted day, it was very affordable.

  • For accommodations: I’ve already seen people mention airbnb.com, which is a great option. If you have to stay in a hotel, check out the pod hotels or take advantage of our great public transportation and stay 20 minutes away in Newark or Jersey City close to the PATH stations or in Brooklyn. And check your personal network for places to couch surf. I don’t care who you are or where you’re from; you know someone who lives in New York.

    For food: We have grocery stores, fruit stands, and bodegas everywhere, so it’s not hard to make some of your own meals and eat a bagel for breakfast. If there’s a restaurant you absolutely have to have because you’ve read about it and all your friends are going to ask about it, go at lunch when they’re more likely to have a special.

    For fun: First, do the math and see if an unlimited Metro Card works for you. A number of museums are for a suggested donation, and the others have many discounts — bring your student ID, veteran card, senior pass… And be content with looking at landmarks and not being in them. For example, I think the best view of the Statue of Liberty is from the free ferry to Staten Island; and you get the extra bonus of getting to see Staten Island!

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