New York City is often a bucket list destination, and whilst the most iconic city in the world is renowned for its wealth and glamour, that doesn’t mean it can’t be done on a budget.
Our 6-day trip was amazing, and we learned so much about this city, including how to save money.
Without further ado, here’s a few of my top tricks and tips for visiting NYC on a budget.
Choose the right time of year
A big part of visiting New York is choosing the best time to go.
Christmas is by far the most expensive time of year, and you’ll find there are so many tourists, it’s almost impossible to do anything anyway. While the fairytale setting of NYC at Christmas is irresistible to some, it’ll cost you.
April to June and September to early November are also considered great times to visit as the weather is pretty good and there’s not so many tourists.
January to February is probably going to be your cheapest, but the weather is a little less reliable, with average temperatures dropping as low as -3°. That doesn’t sound too bad, but coupled with the wind and other conditions, it can often feel a lot colder. Having said that, the chance of snow in January/February is pretty high.
If you can time it well and book when there’s a sale on flights, you’re bound to get an even better deal.
At the end of the day, it becomes a decision between festive spirit and cost, warmer climate and colder weather – with the potential reward for snow if you do sacrifice the warmer months.
We visited mid-January and yes it was cold, with most days not even reaching highs of 0° and some days having a ‘real feel’ of -11° but we benefitted from a great hotel/flights deal and hardly any tourist queues.
Buy an Explorer Pass
This was probably one of the best purchases we made. We bought an Explorer Pass from Go City a few weeks before our trip which gave us entry into 7 different attractions.
There are over 90 activities to choose from and you can bulk buy entry. You can select 3, 4, 5, 7 or 10 attractions and don’t need to book your entry slot* beforehand, you simply turn up and queue.
*some activities do need to be booked in advance, such as The RIDE or The TOUR.
There are some downsides; if you can’t book entry slots, it does mean you have to rely on turning up and hoping for the best. This often means you’ve got to coordinate your activities around when you think there’ll be less people – no fast-tracking available. If you’re going in the quieter season, this isn’t so much of an issue.
There are a few different passes like this available so you can compare prices to get the best deal. Here are just a few others I came across when we were doing our research:
You may even be able to get a better deal on a third party site. We bought ours through Expedia and simply waited for one of their sales which meant we only paid £116 for 7 attractions. (That’s an average of £16.50 per activity.)
Shop in the outlets
5th Avenue is a great shopping destination and has some of the most amazing stores I’ve ever seen. Every big name brand has a flagship store on 5th Avenue (or Broadway) and it’s easy to spend a few days exploring them all.
But that doesn’t mean they’re the best places to get good deals. If you’re looking for a spot of shopping and want to save some money, then head to the outlets.
If you want to kill two birds with one stone, then hop on the Staten Island Ferry. The ferry sails from the most southerly point of Manhatten and docks at St George on Staten Island, right by Empire Outlets. And you’ll even get a pretty good view of the Statue of Liberty on the way – more on that in a minute.
If you want to go further afield, you could try The Mills at Jersey Gardens in New Jersey.
Someone also recommended Century21 down near the Brooklyn Bridge who offer great discounts on apparel, shoes and accessories.
Use the subway
While the iconic yellow cabs are an emblem of New York, they’re not the cheapest way to get around. Sure, they’re cheaper than a tuk tuk, and not all that expensive really, but if you want to stick to your budget, then you’ll want to use the subway.
I know people who just chose to walk everywhere – which is certainly doable if you’re staying in central Manhatten – but if you’re wanting to cover more ground, then you need to familiarise yourself with their underground system.
Each ride on the subway only costs $3 but that can swiftly add up if you hop on and off all day. Instead, consider buying a 7-day pass for $33 which will give you an unlimited number of rides over a 7-day period. Even if you’re only in the city for 4 days, it’s probably still worth considering.
Get food recommendations
I often find the hardest part of travelling is finding somewhere to eat. We’re normally so busy and so exhausted, we don’t really give food a proper thought. No matter how hard we try, we can never seem to coordinate our hunger with somewhere to eat when we’re on the go which often means we dive into a McDonald’s for something quick and easy.
However, for our New York trip, I made sure to do my research, and this included reaching out to friends, family and travel groups for recommendations.
Some of the main tourist areas are great – like Times Square – but the best way to save money is to eat off the beaten track. One of our best meals was &Pizza, a recommendation from another traveller, and it was super affordable too.
Of course, it wouldn’t be New York without a hot dog vendor or two. If you’re really looking to cut costs, there are loads of street vendors on almost every block (especially where there’s a lot of tourists).
A lot of stuff is free
While a lot of New York is expensive, a lot of it is free. When I was writing my full itinerary guide, I was actually surprised by how many of our activities were free:
- Staten Island and the Statue of Liberty
- Central Park
- Grand Central Station
- New York Public Library
- Brooklyn Bridge
- The Highline
Often, it’s a case of working out what you want to do and what you want to see. For example, a visit to Wall Street isn’t going to cost you a penny; you can walk down the street, visit the New York Stock Exchange, stand next to the Fearless Girl statue and rub the testicles of the Charging Bull – yes, you read that right – and all for free.
Some attractions you’ll obviously want to pay to experience, like the Empire State, but not everything has a fee. You can take a boat to Ellis Island and visit the Statue of Liberty, which isn’t all that expensive. However, you can also take the free Staten Island ferry and still get a pretty good view of Lady Liberty without paying a dime.
New York is an expensive destination, there’s no doubt about that. But that doesn’t mean everything you do has to cost a small fortune. A few savvy choices and it’s a great destination for those on a smaller budget.