NYC Travel Guide: How to explore New York City on a budget

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New York City is a people magnet, attracting 60 million visitors every year. And the iconic NYC experiences are not bucket list items but a pilgrimage. From fashion, nightlife, art, food, and theater, Big Apple is the heart of the world. A throbbing heart, where every culture meets and is an active playground for all kinds of happenings. You can spend a lifetime exploring the city in motion and still not come at par with its pace.

NYC is one of the most amazing places in the world, but it is also one of the most expensive cities in the world. Basically, it is not for the faint hearted when it comes to spending dollars. However, a city this big is bound to have some great deals, and if planned well you can actually explore the New York city on a budget. Many of the renowned historic landmarks and iconic sightseeing places can be explored for free and deals can always be found.

If you’re planning a visit to New York City on a budget, this travel guide has everything you need to know. From places to visit, things to do, tips on where to stay and eat, and how to get around, it has all the information to make your visit to New York City an absolute success!

Best time to Visit New York City

  • April to June and Sept to early November: weather is mild and pleasant and the tourist crowds are not overwhelming.
  • November to Dec and July to Aug: peak season
  • January 2 – March: the cheapest time of year to visit the city

Arriving in New York City

New York is usually the city where most tourists start their US visit. The City has 3 airports – JFK, Laguardia, and Newark Liberty in New Jersey. If your flight arrives into JFK or Newark, you can take commuter trains and/or the subway to get into NYC. And if you arrive at Laguardia, an Uber, Lyft or any other taxi service is the best option. However, in either of the cases, brace yourself for at least an hour ride into Manhattan as the traffic is a nightmare in this area.

Getting around in New York City

Navigating through NYC is a cakewalk if you understand its grid pattern. 

  • Streets run horizontally from east to west.
  • Avenues run vertically from north to south.
  • 5th Avenue splits the east side from the west side

Subway or walking is the best way to get around the NYC. New York and its boroughs are well-connected with the subway. Subway is fast, cheap and easy to navigate. The fare for a subway or local bus ride is $2.75. The fare for an express bus ride is $6. You can also buy a 7-day transit pass for $31. Most cabs around the city will cost around $15. Uber is an alternative and has a base fare of $2.50 and costs about $2 per mile. And on top of that, you are expected to give a tip. I ended up paying $120 from New Jersey to JFK.

Tip:

  • Download an NYC subway app or keep a PDF on your phone
  • Group your activities and sites into clusters to help maximize your time! I use Google Maps to plan my daily activities

Staying in New York City

Accommodation costs in New York can be as high as the city’s famous skyscrapers, but if you hunt for deals, you can find some good bargains on an array of properties:

  • Airbnb

    Avoid Manhattan and you can probably get an apartment for $100 a night on Airbnb but, if you are willing to share your room you can get it for $60.

  • Budget hotels

    In NYC, even budget hotels seem out of the budget. A two-star hotel in Manhattan starts at $70 but expect to pay between $100-150 per night.

  • Hostels

    The 4-6 bed dorm starts at $25-35. A private room on twin sharing would cost around $80-100. Manhattan has fewer deal options and is more expensive than Brooklyn and Queens. Some of the good hostels are The Brooklyn Riviera, The Local NYC, The Jazz, American Dream Hostel

Tip: Stay at a place within comfortable walking distance to a subway station.

I was lucky to stay at my friend Monalisa’s home. Not only did she take good care of me but she and her husband became my de facto guides.

Manhattan is the most expensive area to stay in NYC

Eating in New York City

From Michelin star restaurants, renowned cocktail bars to $5 food stalls, NYC won’t let you go hungry or complain about the taste. Moreover, dining on a dime is part of New York’s DNA. You can eat a mid-range sit-down restaurant for $15-25 per main course. Dinner for two with drinks usually averages around $50-70. And after that, the sky is the limit as NYC has some of the world’s fanciest and most expensive restaurants. Sandwich shops, kebabs, salad shops, and cafe meals generally are less than $10. There are plenty of street vendors with meals around $5-8. New York cocktails are a must and there are happy hours to suit your New City on a budget trip.

Sprite Amore - the signature cocktail at Nios restaurant, NYC

Sprite Amore – the signature cocktail at Nios restaurant, NYC

Food Stall at 5th Avenue, Manhattan, NYC

Food Stall at 5th Avenue, Manhattan, NYC

 

My favourite places are:

  • NIOS restaurant, Midtown Manhattan: A restaurant adjacent to the Muse Hotel, where American Classic comfort-food is reimagined and served in a contemporary style. It is a perfect place to wind up your evening after strolling through the Times Square. Their menu is as simple as navigating through NYC streets. But simplicity doesn’t mean compromising on taste. I loved their Razel Han0ut Cauliflower, Mashed Potato Flatbread, and Lamb Porterhouse. Sprite Amore and Green Tea Bees Knees, their signature cocktails, pair well with the shareable plates.
  • Smorgasburg: If you want to taste a wide variety of food in an open Air setting buzzing with food stalls then head to Williamsburg on Saturday and Brooklyn Bridge Park on Sunday.
  • Shake Shack: In NYC if you crave for a burger, you don’t go to McDonald’s, you go to Shake Shack. The perennial burger mecca is one of the most popular post sightseeing pit stops for its burgers, crinkle fries, and frozen custard. Thankfully, the long queues move fast. 

Nios Restaurant, The Muse, New York City

Top Things to See and Do in New York city on a budget

One of the sure shot ways to save money and time on sightseeing is by buying the New York Pass. You can choose from over 90 attractions. Travel See Write recommends the following things:

1.     Visit a museum

NYC is littered with some of the best museums in the world from the Met to the MoMA to the Guggenheim. Even a four-wall hater like me couldn’t resist visiting NYC museums, which houses some of the world’s best art, history, and exhibitions. Warhol, Van Gogh, Picasso, Monet, Matisse…all the big names are housed in New York City.

Tip: A lot of museums are free to visit at certain hours or have a flexible entry fee. Museum of Arts and Design has free entry on Thursdays from 18:00 to 21:00, Guggenheim on Saturdays from 17.45 to 19.45 and Museum of Modern Art on Fridays from 16.00 to 20.00, The Whitney Museum of American Art on Friday, the Cooper-Hewitt National Museum of Design on Tuesday evenings


The Guggenheim Museum. Pic cc Paul Arps

2.     Stroll in the Parks

A great way to relax in the city and leave behind the crowds is to spend the day in green spaces of NYC. They are free and are best for a picnic, cycling, exercising, people watching or just walking. My favourites are Central Park, Bryant Park, and Brooklyn Bridge Park.

New Yorkers in Central Park, NYC

Tip: Avoid the crowds by heading to the northern sections of the Central Park.

3.     Walk the High Line

A historic but obsolete 1.45-mile-long railway line transformed into an aerial greenway and rails-to-trails park by Joshua David and Robert Hammond, two Chelsea residents. Strolling above the traffic among the semi-wild meadow plants means you get a peaceful respite from the hustle and bustle of the city below. The walk from Gansevoort Street, through Chelsea, to the northern edge of the West Side Yard on 34th Street is one of the best things to do in NYC.

Walking the high line, NYC

Street view from the Highline, NYC

Tip: Walk down to Chelsea Market to relish food and art.

4.     Be a bookworm at New York Public Library

Being a book lover, New York Public Library was high on my agenda. It is not only gorgeous from the outside but inside as well. Entry is free and you can spend as much time as you want.

NYC Public Library

Tip: Don’t forget to check out the free exhibitions.

5.     Get awed by the Statue of Liberty

One of the most famous landmarks of the world, Statue of Liberty is a colossal neoclassical sculpture that shouldn’t be missed. You can either take a ferry from the Liberty State Park in Jersey City or Battery Park in Lower Manhattan.

Statue of Liberty, New York City

Tip: Want to save dollars? Take the free ferry service from Manhattan to Staten Island.

6.     Cross the Brooklyn Bridge

Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge is a bucket list item. Strolling along the pedestrian promenade I couldn’t help but wonder how such an impressive structure was built before the days of power tools.

Tip: Check out the NYC skyline from Brooklyn Heights or the Brooklyn Promenade. And if you are staying back for the weekend, don’t forget to check out the weekend food and art market.

Brooklyn Bridge, NYC

Walking the Brooklyn Bridge, NYC

NYC Skyline from Brooklyn Bridge Park

7.     St. Patrick’s Cathedral Church

The largest Catholic cathedral in North America is a famous landmark in the New York City. Its Neo-Gothic aesthetic contrasts starkly with the Art Deco Rockefeller Center, thereby ensuring that no one walking on Fifth Avenue will miss its grandeur. The Cathedral has 21 altars and 19 bells, each named after a different saint

St. Patrick’s Cathedral, NYC

Inside St. Patrick’s Cathedral, NYC

8.     Pay homage to 9/11 martyrs

9/11 Memorial and Museum is a very emotional experience, which changes you as a person when you come out. It remembers and reflects on the events and the lives lost during the terrorist attacks. The museum houses things like a damaged fire truck and the personal anecdotal accounts of the day. The memorial consists of two enormous waterfalls pouring into the foundations where the Twin Towers once stood, with the names of the victims cut into a metal rim around them. It communicates a powerful sense of loss and absence.

Tips: The entry to this museum is Free on Tuesdays from 17:00 to closing. Get the free iPhone app and listen to one of the many different tours they have.

9/11 Memorial with name inscriptions, NYC

Damaged Firefighting truck at 9/11 Museum, NYC

9.     Check out the glitzy Times Square

Does this even need an explanation? Times Square with its neon signs, larger than life bright hoardings, Broadway marquis, elbow-to-elbow crowd, honking horns, and yellow taxis, all combine for a whirlwind introduction to NYC. Visit Times Square when it is dark outside. It is the best way to really see how many bright lights there actually are. On your first visit to New York City, visiting this iconic crossroad is a must.

Tips: Street acts can be engrossing but don’t spend too much time

Times Square, NYC

10.  Catch a Broadway show

The home of Broadway, New York City shows, is of another level. Grab tickets to any popular running and you’re guaranteed an outstanding entertainment. While the big shows are rarely on offer, it’s worth checking out the TKTS booths and discount websites like BroadwayBox.com for discounted tickets.

Tip: Visit the TKTS booths 30 minutes before show time and collect your discounted tickets with practically no waiting line.

Broadway at Manhattan, NYC

11.  Watch people at Grand Central Terminal

NYC is 24/7 buzzing with people and one of the busiest train stations in the world is an absolute sight to behold. And, not only Grand Central Terminal gets a huge number of footfalls every day but it is one of the most beautiful buildings in the city. Moreover, as there is no entrance fee it fits perfectly in your New York City on a budget trip.

Grand Central Terminal, NYC

Pre wedding shoot at Grand Central Terminal, NYC

12.  Check out the city from the top

New York was made to be seen from up high. And the best places are the Empire State Building and the Top of the Rock. The Empire State Building is a classic NYC landmark with an observation deck on the 86th and 102nd floors. And, the Top of the Rock’s observation deck is on the 70th floor.

Alternatively, you can go to a rooftop bar and enjoy the view while sipping the legendary NYC cocktails. The best in town is the Standard hotel in the Meatpacking District, which has a beautiful rooftop bar and a roof garden overlooking the Hudson River.

Tip: Go before sunset or mid-morning hours for the best view.

NYC Skyline from The Rock, NYC

NYC Skyline from Empire State Building

The famous NYC Skyline from The Empire State Building

New York City is an addictive city. It will draw you in and make you fall in love with it. Be sure to make the most of it. I heart New York City!

Have you explored New York City on a budget or planning to? I would love to hear about your experiences.

Inspired? Pin these to your Pinterest boards
Travel See Write recommends the following Souvenirs for your New York City on a budget trip
   
State of Liberty

Photo Magnets

NYC T-Shirt

Disclaimer

Thanks, I love NY for hosting me. All the experiences shared above, like always, are based on my (Archana Singh’s) personal experiences. And, the pictures posted above were clicked by me during my visit.

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46 Comments

  • Suzanne says:

    New York has definitely been in my consciousness since childhood. I’ve visited the city twice and I call it the Lego City. It’s one of the most organized cities I’ve ever been to, compared to places like London and New Delhi. I would love to check out the public library and walk the high line.

    • Hey Suzanne,

      I totally agree with you on being so organised. And what a lovely name you have given it. Love it. You’ll absolutely love High line. It was one of the best places to visit for me.

  • I feel like it’s a sign because my friends in NYC have been dying for me to come visit them, and I keep having to say no because I wanna have enough money to explore! What a great way to see the city on a budget! Since I have my friends to stay with making it even cheaper, I should totally make the trip now! It’s nice to know that even in expensive cities you can find ways to not break the bank!

  • Joanna says:

    I haven’t been to the States yet but if I do New York and San Francisco would be first on my list. It’s good to know that you can do New York on a budget as well, we all know how expensive this city is! Knowing that I can eat for a tenner at most cafes in town is very useful! It’s also great to know that museums have certain hours with free entry. I am used to London where all the museums are free.

  • Shibani says:

    Loved your post completely and pinned it for my dream travel to NYC. I am already in love with NY from movies & TV shows and now your photos. Wonderful detailed post about literally every question which come to any first time traveller to NY. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  • Stacey says:

    These are great tips! I took some students with me last summer as part of a tour. We watched our budget, so I can identify with a lot of this. We even ate at Shake Shack. We were mainly there to watch Broadway shows, and we saw 4 in 3 days! But we also did the Empire State at night, and we cruised by the Statue of Liberty. Thanks for helping me remember my trip!

  • Yukti says:

    Lovely and great tips to see New-York on a budget. Lots of free activities like going to Times square, Grand Terminal, Skyline Park are mentioned in your post which are great to do in free. Eating at Shake Shack is also a nice option. I just revived my memories of New York visit after reading your post. One thing I missed was NYC skyline from The Rock.

  • Lisa says:

    These are really great tips for seeing NYC on a budget. I totally agree about just chilling out in Central Park, there’s so much to see from the day-to-day life of the city. I didn’t get to walk the high line, but will do that on my return. Brooklyn Bridge is always great to visit, and very instagrammable too!

  • Mel says:

    I always think of NYC as so expensive, so I really appreciate the budget-friendly approach. Great tip on finding museums with free times. I’d also love to walk the High Line — this looks like such a cool spot.

  • Soraya says:

    I remember visiting New York City a few years back in March and oh man it was so much cheaper than any other time of the year…now I know why. It was so cold and windy! Shake Shack sounds absolutely delicious – I love a good burger. Ohhh and how I wish I knew about the free ferry service from Manhattan to Staten Island – would have been able to save a few dollars!!

  • Abigail Sinsona says:

    Your photos are incredible – they belong in a magazine! I love this guide too, it is good to know that NY is suited for all kinds of travelers, including budget travelers. i would love to try Shake Shack, I’ve heard so many great things about it!

  • Marcie says:

    I’ve love to visit NYC in the fall! It seems like such a lovely time to beat the crowds while not freezing or sweating! I think I’d like to take a trip with just my hubby first and then come back with our little kids! Thanks for the budget tips!

  • Prakash says:

    Awesome article to know about one of the most visited cities of the world. Good to know the places where no tickets are required. Guess the Oculus is another such place which you can add.
    And you mentioned NIOS restaurent. Gotta try that out.

  • Rachelle says:

    Beautiful pictures! I’ve only been to NYC once and it was for Christmas…talk about crazy-busy! I pretty much stuck with my grandma at the time and didn’t get to experience a lot of what makes NYC amazing. I’d love to visit Ground Zero and eat my way through the city. I love the idea of the High Line!

  • I can only imagine the amount of time, effort and research both first and second hand that must have gone into writing this post. Congrats because you have done a brilliant job and helped lost souls like me to get a quick idea of New York City. Previously I had no idea about the difference between avenues and streets. It breaks my heart to know accommodation is so costly. I would probably prefer a hostel when I go. Though it is good to know food is cheap! I hate cooking afterall!

  • jitaditya says:

    I have never been to and in fact, I have always found NYC to be too intimidating. It is just too big a city for my comfort. That is why I am glad to find a detailed guide like this written after first-hand experiences. I like the fact that you have bothered to photograph and document almost every location.

  • Bee says:

    New York looks amazing and your photos and tips are just great. overall, it still seems like an expensive journey even if you are on a budget. from all your suggestion, walking the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty and Times Square look amazing.

  • Umberta says:

    Oh New York!! Would love to came back so badly now that I saw your pics! Surprising I don’t remember it as a very expensive city 😉 I just would say if one is on a budget is it possible to take public transport from the airport! 😉

  • Mariella says:

    ah, NYC! Nothing compares to this city. I was actually born in Manhattan, then raised in South America. Your guide looks terrific! I’ve never tried any of those restaurants listed above. Definitely will check them out – Also, you should add Sarabeth’s, the best brunch spot in the city. Safe travels. – Mariella

  • Chloe says:

    This is SUCH a good guide! As a New Yorker, I have to admit- you pretty much nailed it! I do want to add- the MET museum is donation based and it has two locations (UES & Cloisters). They do have a suggested price, but if your really want you can get in for whatever price you are willing to pay.

  • aareeba says:

    I have been to NYC last year and I really enjoyed my stay. It’s very important to travel in budget specially in an expensive city like NYC . Thanks for sharing your thoughts

  • Parnashree Devi says:

    You have provided a great guide for people who would like to visit New York city on a budget. There are so many things that I would love to do whenever I visit NYC, especially walking across the Brooklyn Bridge and watching a Broadway show for sure. Each photo is breathtaking. I simply loved the skyline photos.

  • James says:

    I think I’d visit January to March when it’s cheapest to visit. I wouldn’t mind the cold weather as long as it’s a clear day. I didn’t know the high line existed, I will definitely check it out. There are some good tips on getting Broadway tickets cheaper and without having to wait in line, perfect!

  • Swati Naik says:

    One of my fav places. We used to live in NY in 2012. Love the buzz of Timesquare, long walks and have done everything you’ve mentioned in the post except the Broadway show 🙁

    Thanks for bringing back the memories

  • Amanda Tran says:

    This is a good guide and you have some beautiful photos! But actually, I found Air BnBs for a lot cheaper than $100 – around $60 actually. And this was for 2 people in a private room in Brooklyn and it was so good. Also, what was your total spend / average per day in the end? Since it’s a budgeting guide, it would be helpful to get an idea of how much to expect to spend overall once you include activities and sights.

  • Neither AirBnB or services like Lyft existed last time I went to NYC (yeah it’s been way too long) so it’s great to read that they are both a helpful option for saving budget when visiting these days. I am glad you included the High Line, that’s something I’d really like to do next time!

  • RHONDA ALBOM says:

    New York City is so expensive for accommodation, so the last time we went we decided to cram everything into three days. We stayed in a relatively nice hotel that was a little pricey but it was also right near Times Square so we could get to everything, which I think made up for it.

  • Sarah says:

    You have some great tips here – I have never been to NYC but thought I knew all the sites however I never heard of the high line before! Also some great ideas for freebie stuff like the public library. We plan to do TBEX next year in New York State so wondering if we should squeeze in a few days of the Big Apple – your post just about convinced me! Thanks so much for sharing!

  • Tami says:

    I’ve been to NYC three times now and have visited most of the places on your suggested list. To save money the last time we went, we booked an Airbnb in Brooklyn only half a block from the subway. We enjoyed the relatively quiet brownstone neighborhood, the prices, and the quick 15-min ride into Manhattan! Our cost was about half that of staying in the heart of Manhattan, and I felt we had a much more spacious place to hang out. Also, we really enjoyed Bryan Park. It’s so close to Times Square and the public library, and it’s such an oasis in the middle of the city. You can enjoy a picnic there, play a game of ping pong or chess, or just stroll and enjoy people-watching. In the winter, there’s an ice skating rink, too!

  • Thanks for the guide as the timing is perfect, we are flying out to NYC this October and we can’t wait. We previously went about 3 years ago in January and it was sooo cold.

  • Gokul says:

    The accommodation seems to be quite expensive. It is good that there are hostels there. I need that Times Sq experience and the view from the Empire State building.

  • Marcelle says:

    I agree that in NYC, even budget hotels seem out of the budget. I was looking for airbnb offers and nothing was under 150 US$. It’s a very good plan to look for a place close to the subway station instead. I did that in Paris, too.

  • Danik says:

    Great write up and good advice here for the first timer visitor to NYC. I wish I read this back in 2010 when I first went there, I think I suffered with Open Wallet Surgery 😀

  • Jemma says:

    Seems like the only way I could stay in NYC is to share an AirBnb room with other guests 😀 Do you advice to visit NYC when it snows?

  • Anne says:

    I haven’t been to New York in years but love the idea of that walkway above the city. I’d also like to go visit the memorial so it might be time to return

  • Katheirne says:

    The perfect list of what to do in NYC. Not only have you covered the highlights but given lots of helpful top tips. I love checking out skylines, the Empire State Building and the Top of the Rock, of course, have wonderful skyline views. 🙂

  • Megan Jerrard says:

    Great guide – any city, even with a reputation like New York’s for being expensive, has the opportunity to cut down on costs if you adopt a locals mindset – Uber from the airport is a huge one – taxi’s are so expensive! And then agree that the subway or walking is the best way to get around NYC. Awesome tip to download an NYC subway app and group activities into clusters to cut down on transport costs and maximize your time.

    And as you’ve pointed out, a lot of the attractions are free – a museum, or walk through central park – I did the Staten Island Ferry to see the Statue of Liberty. Just takes a little research and prior planning, but budget travel can be achieved! Thanks for this incredible guide 🙂

  • Travelling Dany says:

    This was especially interesting and useful because we have an upcoming trip to NYC and we were searching for more info, thank you very much! I especially appreciated the tips on getting around in the city and I will definitely download a pdf of the subway in NYC on my phone!

  • Suruchi says:

    This is for sure one of the best budget travel guides for New York city. Your pictures are beautiful and clearly depicts what an amazing place it is. You have tried to answer every single question in the post.We are going to refer this post while travelling to New York. Thanks for sharing.

  • Ryazan says:

    Such a detailed guide to NYC. Very timely because I’m heading to the Big Apple next year! Whoohoo! 🙂 So excited. I will definitely use these tips.

  • Ron Meker says:

    First, Great info! detailed but to the point and not too lengthy.
    Second, great photography! you catch some good views.
    Third, I’m a living proof that New York is so damn cheap to get to in February. 900$ for flight + a week stay in a 4-star hotel, freaking bargain!
    I’m planning another visit. last time I missed the High-line. looks so awesome!

  • NYC does look overwhelming when you get there the first time. Having everything planned helps a lot. Your guide has valuable information which would help them hit the ground running. Really there is so much to see and experience in New York that there is never a dull moment for travelers.

  • Janna says:

    Love this guide! I was actually planning to visit NYC but it was expensive to fly out there last month! Thank you for creating a budget friendly guide for people like me who wants to visit NY without breaking the bank.

  • Amy Rebecca Krigsman says:

    My whole family is from New York, so I’ve been there many times. But I often take the city for granted because I almost never go for fun. It’s always to see family, which can sometimes be a chore. The most touristy thing I’ve done in New York visited the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

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  • Hannah says:

    Oh, this makes me miss NYC! I have been a couple of times, and done many of the things you have listed – the High Line and Central Park were highlights for me. Getting a bike and cycling around the park for the day is cheap and so much fun! Great post!

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