Top 10 Things to do in New York City on a Budget

One: Free views of the Manhattan Skyline

Forget about paying $30 to visit the Top of the Rock, the Empire State observation Deck or the One World Trade Centre. Take the subway (ideal if you have a travel card) or splash out a little on an East River ferry ticket and get over to Brooklyn. Good places to view the Manhattan Skyline are from Williamsburg Park for views of midtown and Brooklyn Heights Pier for Lower Manhattan’s financial district.

Cost: Free if you have a travel card, or $4/$6 for a single ticket on the East River ferry weekday/weekend.

Two: See the Statue of Liberty for Free

If you’re not too fussed about getting onto the island, forgo paying the $30 to a tourist boat company, and instead hop onto the Staten Island ferry. The ferry is completely free. Rumour has it the city looked into charging 25c, but once factoring in the costs of ticket operators, tickets and the cost of someone taking to the money to the bank each day, they found it was financially more beneficial to keep it free. The ferry goes close enough to the Lady for some good photo opportunities, plus the pictures you can snap of Manhattan’s financial district are pretty good. Once you arrive onto Staten Island, you’ll have to disembark, but follow the masses of people who are doing exactly the same thing as you, and walk through the ferry terminal, right back onto the same ferry for a trip straight back to Manhattan.

Cost: Free

Three: Picnic and Walk in Central Park

Stop by a local bodega or supermarket to pick up picnic snacks. Head up to central park with the view of wandering to explore its beauty. The southern end of the park has the most well-known attractions such as the Loeb Boat house, Alice in Wonderland statue and the Betheseda Fountain to name just a few. Strawberry fields provides an amazing photo opportunity of rolling grass and trees with towering city skyscrapers beyond the tree line. However head to the North End of the park to get away from the tourist masses and you’ll discover locals using the park for what it was originally designed for. You’ll see rollerblading, baseball games, and visit on a balmy summer weekday evening and you’ll see so many joggers out after work, you’ll second guess whether they’re taking part in an official race or not. Professional dog walkers are another sight to behold as you see one person managing more dogs all at once than you could ever imagine.

If the park feels a little daunting to cover fully on foot, renting a bike is another alternative. As a general rule, bike rental shops a couple of blocks away from the park are cheaper than those inside. If you pre-book online, you can get up to 50% off the walk in price on the day.

Cost: However much you spend on food at the bodega or supermarket to make up your picnic. If you opt for bike rental, from $15 for 1 hour.

Four: Free walking tour

Freetoursbyfoot is an excellent company that offer a range of different walking tours across the city. Before I write any more, we must remember that the USA is a country where tips are expected from people who work in the service industry. This is because their base wages are so low, it would never provide enough for them to make ends meet. If you take a tour ran by a real life tour guide, do expect to give a tip at the end, otherwise they end up with absolutely nothing. You pay how much you can afford, combined with how much you think it was worth. I’ve found these tours ensure quality as the more they put into it, the more they’re likely to get out of it. You can be taken through the back streets of Greenwich Village, be educated on which celebrities have lived where and see well known buildings such as the apartment block from Friends.

Alternatively, on their website, they have a range of self-guided tours you can follow yourself. These are easy to follow and are full of interesting facts you’d never have learnt wandering the streets, plazas and parks by yourself.

Cost: free if doing a self-guided tour, or what you feel appropriate if led by a guide.

Five: Catch breakfast at a local bagel stall

On my first few visits to NYC, I stayed in backpackers hostels. Breakfast was never included, but they often had a cafe where guests could buy things. Even in a backpackers where costs aren’t usually as inflated as the sleek hotels, I’d find the cost of a bagel to be 2, if not 3 times the price of one from a street food vendor 1 – 3 blocks away. Subway stations are often a sure fire place to find these stalls.

Cost: $1 – $3

Six: Wander around Chelsea and the Meat Packing District

These areas are full of charm, the Meat Packing District even has cobbled streets still intact. Whilst the Chelsea and Gansvoort Markets could very well make a huge dent on your shoe string budget, if you are strong willed, a wander through each is something akin to visiting a hip, alternative art gallery. Both have been beautifully planned with quirky interior designs, each worth a wander through. The nearby Highline is a newly opened raised city park. The council commissioned for the disused raised railway lines to be converted in a little oasis. Quirky art, both sculptures and huge wall murals can be seen all along the pedestrianised throughway. There are spectacular street scenes you can take in, thanks to the careful planning of huge ‘zoo style’ viewing windows and tiered seating areas.

Cost: Free if you can resist buying anything in the market and shops.

Seven: Check out NYC’s stunning architecture

From Grand Central Station to the Brooklyn Bay Bridge, the big apple has some amazing architecture. If opting to do suggestion number 1, ‘check out the sky line’, and you choose to visit the Brooklyn Height’s Piers, then a perfect way to get back to Manhattan is by walking across the Brooklyn Bay Bridge. Grand Central Station is beautiful, but don’t go during rush hour – no one trying to get to or from work will appreciate you wandering aimlessly, looking up at the stunning ceiling rather than where you are going. Other places to consider are the Flat Iron building where West 23rd St and 5th Avenue meet, New York Public library at 42nd and 5th, or the New York Stock Exchange on Broad St.

Cost: Free

Eight: Visit Museums

You’ll find a lot of the museums and art galleries will have a specified day or time when the entry fee is waived. Sometimes this can be weekly for a small time slot, e.g. MoMa’s free entry is every Monday from 4-8pm. Others will just be on one day of the month. Check out their individual websites for further information. Many of NYC’s museums prices are a suggestion, so even if you can’t make it when it’s free entry, if you’re really strapped for cash, you can pay what you can afford.

Cost: Free, or what you can afford.


Nine: Visit Times Square

If you are visiting the Big Apple for the first time, Times Square should be done. Even if it’s just so you don’t return home feeling a tweak of regret because you missed such a famous part of the city. However after you’ve visited once, I expect it’s an experience you probably wont want to repeat. The hoards of people and advertising being rammed down your throat border on being unbearable. It’s made up of huge stores that are filled with products you never could have dreamed would be able to fill such a vast retail unit; think of a 2 or 3 storey shop selling just M&M’s.  But even with this knowledge, there’s something about Times Square that makes us travellers curious. It makes for a great photo op and the pictures are even better now that large bleachers have been plonked in the middle. Just go with the intent of ignoring anyone and everyone that tries to sell you something. No matter how great they’re saying the deal is, it probably isn’t. These touts hit up Times Square and pounce on unsuspecting tourists, because they know that any native New Yorker who has their head screwed on, would never pay that much, or use a company with such a poor reputation.

Cost: Free so long as you can avoid the touts and lure of products in the shops

Ten: Stay in Air BnB Accommodation

AirBnB for accommodtion, particularly the spare room concept can be excellent value for the frugal traveller. The last time I visited NYC, I didn’t fancy squishing into yet another hostel dorm. Pricing up a private room in a hostel was enough to bring tears to my eyes, and half decent hotels were even more expensive. I found a deal through Groupon for a hotel ‘just off Times Square’ that was coming in on budget. However as per the previous suggestion, having visited NYC several times before, the idea of having to fight the tourist masses and the relentless touts every time we stepped out of our hotel, quickly turned me off their idea. After a quick peruse on AirBnB, I found a double room being advertised in a couple’s Williamsburg (Brooklyn) apartment. The reviews from other travellers were amazing, both of the apartment, and the couple who lived there. The location was great, a local neighbourhood, but just 1 subway stop from Manhattan. The pictures were the icing on the cake. The view from the bedroom was of Midtown Manhattan. There were pictures of a huge terrace out the back and the view from this was of the Williamsburg Bridge with the One World Trade centre on the other side. This was coming in on budget – with these views and so close to Manhattan! Our stay was not a disappointment. Our AirBnB hosts were incredibly welcoming and they set up the projector on the terrace one night and invited us to join them on the outdoor sofas to watch a rooftop movie with the most amazing backdrop.

Cost: Fluctuates highly depending on the location, whether you opt for a private rental or a spare room, and how large the space is.


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