New York City is one of the top tourist destinations in the world, and while the people are friendly, the prices are often not. The Los Angeles Times ranks New York City the second most expensive city in the United States for travelers. Hotels will happily charge you $500 for a room, and the average restaurant meal is $48.56, according to Zagat. Traditional tourist spots like the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center, and the Statue of Liberty will also take a hefty bite out of your wallet. But with a little planning and out-of-box thinking, it’s not hard to save some serious bucks and still get the full New York experience.
1. Avoid travel around Christmas and New Year’s.
Airfare spikes into the extra $200-$500 range, so unless you’re desperate to see the tree at Rockefeller, plan to travel off-season.
2. Stay at a boutique hotel or in a shared space at a hostel.
For a cozy stay, small and historic hotels such as The Jane and The Bowery House offer rooms for around $100 per night, while most hostels have dorm-style beds for under $30 per night.
3. Get a satisfying slice.
New Yorkers know that the price of a plain slice of pizza shouldn’t exceed that of a subway fare (currently $2.75).
4. Ride the 7 train to Flushing.
Commuting by subway is not a painful chore, but a glimpse into the unique diversity of the city, and the 7 train goes deep into Queens, the borough with the largest number of ethnic groups in New York City.
5. Get seats to live TV shows.
Sure, you could watch Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Colbert, or SNL in the comfort of your living room, but seeing them live in a historic theater for free—well, why not? Tickets can be reserved on the shows’ official websites.
6. Walk the High Line.
Once an abandoned railroad from the 1930s, the High Line has been redesigned as a linear public park and promenade elevated above street level, proving that New York is more than just a concrete jungle.
7. Take a tour of the New York Public Library.
Free tours are available for the beautiful Schwarzman Building, the second largest public library in the U.S., as well as for the Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture, which is considered one of the most important research libraries devoted to the study of people of African descent.
8. Watch a Brooklyn Cyclones game.
Good seats at a Yankees or Mets game could set you back over a hundred dollars, whereas tickets to see the Cyclones — a minor league team that plays at a stadium right next to the Coney Island boardwalk — are under $20.
9. Then, ride the Cyclone.
A block away from the Brooklyn Cyclone’s stadium is the historic rollercoaster of the same name, which costs $8 for the first ride and $5 if you swallow your queasiness and go again.
10. Eat at Halal trucks.
That tantalizing aroma of seasoned lamb and rice that drifts around a Halal truck is irresistible to many New Yorkers — and so is the price: as low as $6.
11. See a Shakespeare play in Central Park.
Every summer, people line up all throughout Central Park to wait for free tickets to see a Shakespeare play in the evening. Arrive early, bring your picnic gear, and don’t be shy about getting to know your neighbors on the line.
12. Or see an Off-Off Broadway play for as little as $9 via the Theatre Development Fund (TDF).
No trip to New York is complete without enjoying theater culture, and no, Off-Off Broadway shows are NOT inferior to major Broadway productions — it just means there are fewer seats in the house, which can make the show a more intimate experience.
13. Ride the ferry from Wall Street to the Far Rockaways.
Whereas the Circle Line ferry that goes around Manhattan costs $42, a one-way fare of $2.75 on the Rockaway Ferry will show you the picturesque glory of Lower Manhattan, the Statue of Liberty, and parts of Brooklyn, including the iconic shoreline of Coney Island.
14. Spend the day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Lose yourself in the vast halls of the Met, which contain art from the ancient world through the modern era, as well as an eclectic cycle of temporary exhibitions — all for a donation of your choice.
15. Soak in history at Grand Central Station.
With its grand marble arches and ceiling of star constellations, Grand Central Station feels less like a train station and more like a palace for commuters. An audio tour costs $9; marveling with your jaw hanging is free.
16. Take the tram to Roosevelt Island for stunning views of the city.
Soar over the East River for the fare of a subway ride in the tram to Roosevelt Island, where you can then snap shots of the Upper Manhattan skyline.
17. Wine and dine at Shake Shack.
A Shackburger, fries, and a glass of wine only cost about $16, making Shake Shack the best budget-friendly choice for those who want five-star quality at fast food prices.