Yes it is possible to explore the Big Apple without entirely blowing the budget; with a little bit of careful pre-travel planning you too can save money in New York City;
Check out the FREE things to do in New York City
The list of legendary sights in the Big Apple is also most endless; from the iconic Empire State Building, vibrant performances on world-famous Broadway and the awesome Metropolitan Museum of Art. But is doesn’t come cheap, so it makes sense to check out the free activities and attractions in New York;
- Central Park – The most famous urban park in the world is filled with sculptures and key cultural sights, such as the mosaic dedicated to John Lennon. Settle down for a spot of people watching.
- City Hall – Lower Manhattan is home to the absolutely stunning Renaissance City Hall building which offers free tours (need to book in advance). Highlights include the opulent marble halls and the exquisite Governor’s Room, which is famously where former president Abraham Lincoln’s body lay in state after his death in 1865.
- Museum of Modern Art, aka MOMA – Usually prices at 25 USD, there is actually free entry to MOMA each Frida between 4 and 8pm, but it does get pretty busy.
- Brooklyn Botanic Gardens are free to explore each Tuesday, each Saturday morning from 10 to noon Saturday and on weekdays throughout winter (November to February).
- Rockefeller Center Public Art was built during the USAs Great Depression period of the 1930s and is today home to the NBC Today Show. Skip the pricey NBC tours and observatory deck trip and admire the Christmas tree and art for free.
Plan your day
New York is enormous so you will need to plan your day with a certain amount of precision, to save both time and money. The city is divided into five boroughs: Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx and Staten Island. So maybe spend a day or half day in each area and group key sights together. The only exception to this rule is the district of Manhattan which has a vast concentration of sights and attractions and you may well find that you’ll be better off diving up Manhattan too; Midtown, Central Park, Wall Street, Times Square, Harlem and SoHo.
Get a New York Pass
Depending on the length of your stay in New York City, it may work out cheaper to buy a pass, which or one fee allows you access to more than 80 different attractions in the city. That said you can buy a pass that lasts from one day up to 7 days. In addition it also includes the hop-on hop-off bus and water taxi which again saves money on transport.
Use your feet
If you plan your day you could actually walk or bike most of the key sights rather than having to rely on public transport. Wear your most comfortable shoes and take to the streets, in particular Manhattan is incredibly accessible. And think of how many more sight you’ll see! Alternatively the Big Apple is well set up for cyclists; there is a good network of bike lanes. Make sure you wear a bike helmet and pick up a local map for cycle routes around the city. The route along the Hudson River is particularly enjoyable.
Stay outside Manhattan
Without a doubt, Manhattan is the most hot and happening district in New York City, which also makes it the most expensive! A better bet would be to book your accommodation in another neighbourhood and travel in each day. The train network is punctual and pretty cheap. Another alternative is to try a home exchange, hostel or couch surfing.
The big name department stores of Macy’s, Saks, Bloomingdale’s and Tiffany’s are well worth a look if you can keep a tight hold on your wallet, but for the real bargains you need to hit the local flea markets. Selling everything from beaded jewelry to antiques, the markets are the smart way to shop. Check out;
- The SOHO Antiques Fair on Grand Street and Broadway which sells leather jackets, crafts and antiques on weekends
- Noho Market on Broadway and West 4th which sells clothing, accessories and jewellery, open every day
- Greenflea on Columbus Avenue each Sunday is huge with an eclectic collection of both imported and handmade crafts in addition to books and antiques
Eat your way around the world
Skip the pricey steak joints in favour of the smaller cafes and local restaurants. The best areas for authentic food can be found in Little Italy, Chinatown and Little India. The best value eats have to be the dim sum dishes in Chinatown, the heart pizza and pasta in Little Italy and the deliciously affordable dal curries in Little India. For lunch on the go, the ubiquitous hot dog and burger carts provide a quick tasty bite on the move. Or cop a squat in one of the many parks for an impromptu picnic.
Bag cheap Broadway tickets
Included on most people’s must-see things in New York is a Broadway show, but the bad news is that the big shows are a) sold out years in advance and b) incredibly expensive. The good news however is that savings can be made – visitors can save on Broadway tickets by queuing at the TKTS booths or by sourcing tickets via a discount ticket website. A lot of people have now cottoned on to the TKTS system and the queues can get pretty lengthy. Alternatively try the actual individual theatres a few hours before the performances start that may have some standing or single seats available.
Attend a FREE festival or event
It’s not dubbed ‘the city that never sleeps’ for nothing – there’s always something going on 24/7! All year round there are always free or cheap concerts, exhibits, readings and events taking place all over the city. The official NYC guide has a great page on free events and its updated weekly.
It’s become more acceptable to use a few coupons as part of your payment, either physically or digitally from discount sites such as Groupon etc. Register for newsletters at a few restaurants, hotels and sights to get a heads-up on upcoming deals.