New York City is a famously expensive place to visit. That’s even more true post-COVID. Prices for everything have gone up. It doesn’t matter if you’re a local or a visitor – you’re going to be paying more for everything.
Thankfully, as a city with 10 million people, there are tons of ways to save money in NYC. Not everyone in this city is a rich Wall Street banker. This is a city full of immigrants, starving artists, and people trying to make it in the world. As such, there’s lots of deals — if you know where to look.
And, when you know where to look, you’ll also get the added bonus of getting off the tourist trail and seeing the real local side of NYC.
Here’s how to save money when you visit NYC.
Stay with a local – Accommodation is expensive in NYC, and with few hostels, there aren’t many inexpensive options for a budget traveler. Use a hospitality website like Couchsurfing or BeWelcome to stay with locals for free.
Be sure to request as far in advance as possible and make sure your profile is filled out with information and photos. You’ll have the most chance for success this way. Additionally, there are a number of NYC expat and accommodation Facebook groups you can check out too.
Redeem hotel points – Be sure to sign up for hotel credit cards before your trip can use those points when you travel. Most hotel travel cards offer enough welcome points to get you a free night or two just by signing up for their card. There are a lot of big-name hotels in the city, and you can always find point availability.
For more on this subject and how these cards work, here is my post on travel hacking.
Get out of Manhattan – Everyone wants to stay in Manhattan because it’s the center of all the action, but you can find incredibly nice and inexpensive accommodations in Hoboken, Brooklyn, and Astoria. New York City is well connected by subway (which runs 24/7), and staying in these areas doesn’t add much transit time.
I live in Manhattan and visit these parts of town all the time. It’s not that far. You’ll save a lot of money once you leave Manhattan (this is true for everything). Check out this post for more tips on where to stay in NYC.
Eat on the cheap – Between the food carts, dollar pizza slice shops, kebab places, dumpling shops, and cheap eateries (Indian, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Thai offer the cheapest spots in town), you can eat really cheap in NYC. I would recommend sticking to these kinds of places for breakfast or lunch and then splurging on dinner. Eater always has a great list of what’s currently good and inexpensive!
Bring a water bottle – The tap water here is safe to drink, so bring a reusable water bottle to save money and reduce your plastic use. LifeStraw is my go-to brand, as their bottles have built-in filters to ensure your water is always clean and safe.
Hit the happy hours – Happy hour is the best time to get discounted food and drinks in the city. We NYers love happy hour because it’s one of the best ways for us to save money while still going out. Since the best happy hours are always changing, check out The Infatuation and Eater for the current best happy hours.
Take a free walking tour – Taking a free walking tour is the best way to get introduced to the city. You get to see the main sights and ask all your questions to a local guide. Just be sure to tip your guide at the end! Free Tours by Foot is the best company to start with.
Get cheap theater tickets – Broadway tickets can easily run hundreds of dollars, especially for new and popular shows. The TKTS stand in Times Square offers 40-50% off select shows. You need to arrive at the counter the same day to see what they have, but it’s usually a wide selection. Be prepared to wait in line for about an hour.
Visit the museums for free – NYC is full of some of the best museums in the world. In addition to the MoMA, many offer free entry on certain days of the week: the Whitney Museum of American Art is pay-what-you-wish on Thursday afternoons, the Solomon R. Guggenheim has pay-what-you-wish between 4-6 pm on Saturdays, the Cooper-Hewitt National Museum of Design has a pay-what-you-wish policy on Saturday nights.
Do the free sights – New York has a lot of free things to do: wander Central Park, take the Staten Island ferry (which offers views of the Statue of Liberty), see The Museum of Modern Art’s gardens, do the High Line (an elevated walking trail), chill in countless parks, waterfronts, see the library…..there’s a lot to do here that will not break the bank!
Get a NYC Pass – This visitor pass comes in 1-10-day options and offers free admission to over 100 attractions around the city. It also offers up to 50% off of a bunch more activities. Attractions include the Central Park and Bronx zoos, the Empire State Building, the Top of the Rock, the Hamilton Happy Hour Tour, and much more!
It’s $149 USD for a single-day pass, $204 USD for a two-day pass, and $249 USD for a three-day pass. If you plan on seeing a lot of attractions, this can save you a ton (the Empire State Building alone is $44 USD!).
The best — and really the only way — to save money on transportation in the city is to get a subway metro card. You’ll be taking the subway a lot, and fares can add up.
Get one of the Unlimited MetroCards and save yourself a bundle during your trip. The 7-day unlimited card is only $33 USD. Even if you aren’t staying all 7 days, as long as you take the subway more than 11 times, the pass will pay for itself.
Additionally, public transportation is the best way to save on getting to and from the airport, as Uber can cost up to $100!
NYC may not be a budget travel hotspot, but visiting doesn’t have to break the bank. There are plenty of free things to see and do, a plethora of cheap places to eat, and lots of tips and tricks you can use to cut costs and visit NYC on a budget.
With a little research and planning, you can easily visit the Big Apple without blowing your budget. Just follow the NYC on a budget tips above, and you’ll be able to visit like a local in no time!
Matt Kepnes runs the award-winning travel site nomadicmatt.com, which helps people travel the world on a budget. He’s the author of the NYT best-seller How to Travel the World on $50 a Day and the travel memoir Ten Years a Nomad. His writings and advice have been featured on CNN and the BBC and in the New York Times, The Guardian, Wall Street Journal, Budget Travel, Time, and countless other publications. You can follow him on Instagram at @nomadicmatt.