Strategies for Visiting New York City on a Budget

Rockefeller Center is a favorite Manhattan attraction.
(c)Mark D. Kahler

New York City is expensive. But strategies for visiting New York City on a budget can save you quite a bit of money on lodging, dining, transportation, and attractions. 

Our money-saving strategies start with your transportation to New York City and take you through a stay full of touring and entertainment.  

  • 01 of 06

    Getting To NYC

    Planes readying for takeoff from Newark.
    (c)Mark D. Kahler

    New York has several airports to choose from and budget airlines take advantage of having this choice. This makes shopping for a low airfare a bit easier. Check all of the possibilities before you book a flight. Sometimes booking directly with the airline is the cheapest way to go.

    And be prepared. Things included in a more traditional airfare such as meals, movies, or even a printed boarding pass often come at an additional fee on a budget carrier.

    With all that traffic, there is also a downside. Delays are common at most airports in the New York City area, and you might find connections tough to catch. Building in plenty of time for connections and arrival home is a smart idea.

     

  • 02 of 06
    Marriott Marquis room 3747, New York
    (c)Mark D. Kahler

    Thousands of visitors come to New York expecting to pay $350 or more for a hotel room. They might be willing to pay that median price, but they want good value for the money.

    Unfortunately, many times that ordinary price brings an ordinary room. For years, finding a budget New York hotel room meant risking cleanliness, safety, or a very long train ride. Nowadays, business and leisure travelers expect clean, safe accommodations in the heart of the city.

    There are strategies for finding budget, middle, and full-service rooms.

    For shoestring budgets, scan the Ny.com list of budget offerings. They also suggest Air BnB and VBRO, both sites where individuals host guests in rooms, apartments, and homes on a by-the-night and short-term basis. You can always watch for a Groupon money-savings coupon for NYC digs. 

    Apple Core Hotels offers five centrally-located, mid-range Manhattan properties beginning at about half the going Manhattan rates. Children under 13 stay free with their parents. 

    For upscale properties, visit the hotel website and look for seasonal package deals. Websites such as Tripadvisor will pull up the best room rates for you.

    Finally, if you're willing to bid on a room, there are sometimes Priceline bargains to be found.

     

  • 03 of 06

    Getting Around

    There are a number of economical ways to get around New York City.
    (c)Mark D. Kahler

    It is generally not a good idea for visitors to drive in Manhattan. New Yorkers often don't even own a car.

    Subway and Buses

    New York, like other great world cities, has built a subway system over the years that will take you from place to place in the city. The network of routes and stations is so extensive, it's likely a stop exists not far from where you want to go.

    Consult an MTA map and make note of which stations are closest to your hotel and the places you'll visit. Don't be intimidated by all the detail. It's really fairly easy to decipher after a moment or two. If you'll take three or more rides in a day, it's a good idea to investigate MTA's passes.

    Train

    For longer trips, outside the city, consider railroads. The Long Island Railroad offers reasonable fares to far-flung places like the Hamptons and Montauk. Try to travel off-peak (any time other than 6-10 AM or 4-8 PM), when fares are one-third cheaper. Purchasing online or from machines prior to boarding is cheaper than paying the conductor for a ticket.

    Taxi

    If you choose one of the city's iconic yellow cabs, expect to pay for the privilege of getting in, and know that charges accrue for each fifth of a mile traveled. You also pay for every idle minute in traffic, and a surcharge at night. Conventional tips are in the 15 percent range.

    Ride-Hailing

    Like most cities, New York City has ride-hailing services although the city has started to regulate these businesses. 

    Ferries

    One of the great New York experiences is riding the world-famous Staten Island Ferry. A round trip is free. 

    Ferries also run to a variety of other locations. Check the NYDOT  website for schedules and prices.​

  • 04 of 06
    Walking the Brooklyn Bridge is an iconic New York experience, and it's free of charge.
    Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

    New York can be an expensive city, with pricey admission fees and tours that will challenge your travel budget. Yet, there are free opportunities for sight-seeing and visiting museums and attractions. Some of the best New York experiences won't cost you a dime.

    Walking the Brooklyn Bridge is always fun to do in mild weather. And when it's chilly head to a museum on a free museum day.

    Central Park is full of gardens to wander. Buy lunch-makings at a New York deli and picnic on the lawn in the park. 

    Anyone visiting New York City will need to bring walking shoes. Walking the neighborhoods, along the rivers and from building to building downtown can be hard on the feet, but cost nothing.

    Continue to 5 of 6 below.
  • 05 of 06

    Dining

    Finding a great steak is easy in Manhattan -- but prices can be daunting.
    (c)Mark D. Kahler

    It's possible to tour New York and eat very expensive food during your entire visit if you stick to the tourist haunts. But most of us want to experience the destination we've spent time and money to visit, and that includes sampling the traditional foods. It can be done with some careful planning. 

    If you're a vegetarian (or if you enjoy a good meatless meal sometimes), check out Happy Cow's Vegetarian Guide, an excellent compendium of places and prices that will suit most tight budgets.

    ChowHound.com provides links to restaurants in a fairly wide area of New York and New Jersey. A message board shows diner impressions of various establishments.

    Groupon money-savings coupons can be found for a range of restaurants. Another way to save money is to seek out restaurants in the neighborhoods of the city like Chinatown and Little Italy, the most well-known. 

    New Yorkers are fans of take-out food and that's an inexpensive way to get some excellent food without the high cost of restaurant service. Grand Central Station has a market full of mouth-watering fresh foods that you can take out. Gourmet products found there include 160 types of seafood, 400 types of cheese and meats, and various breads baked on the premises. Grand Central Station also has a food concourse where you'll find everything from burgers to steaks to desserts.

    Then, of course, there is the food cart scene with everything from traditional hot dogs to grab-and-go Jamaican dinners.

  • 06 of 06
    The heart of New York City's entertainment district is near Times Square.
    (c)Mark D. Kahler

    Just when most visitors recover from hotel room sticker shock, they confront the cost of sightseeing in New York. It can be daunting, but there are ways to skip the ticket lines and save some money on the key attractions.

    The bright lights of network television and Broadway call many visitors, and there are ways to save money on those experiences, too.

    The best way to find deeply discounted tickets is to wait in line, on the day of the show, at one of the TKTS Discount Booths.  There are several locations but you'll find one under the red steps in Duffy Square (47th Street and Broadway) that is close to the theaters.

    It's important to spend time outside theaters and studios during your visit, so consider a free walking tour that will keep you entertained and informed.

    The New York CityPASS offers access to six attractions within nine days, making it the most straightforward of the New York City admission passes. If you're planning to go to 4 or more of the included attractions (like the Empire State Building or the 9/11 Memorial Museum), you'll find that the pass offers value and convenience.