While New York City is one of my favorite urban places, a trip there can be expensive! And since we travel so much, I don’t want to blow our budget on one destination since for us, more money=more travel! But we’ve learned over the years that you can still have a fantastic trip without spending a fortune and that it is easy to save money in New York City. From lodging, to transportation, to food and entertainment, there are cost effective methods of visiting New York City and seeing a lot while still keeping your cash. We recently took a budget trip so I could run the New York City Marathon (Read about it here), and still had an awesome visit. Here are 7 of our favorite and easiest ways to save money in New York City.
7 Ways to Save Money in New York City
1. Lodging- Where are you going to sleep?
Most likely, lodging will be your biggest trip expense. New York City hotels are not only notoriously expensive, they are often tiny and cramped. Paying full price for a hotel here can definitely be pricey, but deals can be found to save money in New York City. If you don’t need a lot of room or amenities, check out the Pod Hotel, which offers clean basic rooms (some with shared bathrooms) for a budget conscious price. Hotel clearinghouse sites (we’ve used hotels.com, hotwire.com, travelocity.com, expedia.com and kayak.com) can also be useful in getting a discounted rate. This is especially true if you are booking close to your travel dates and there is a surplus of hotel rooms available.
Even better, stay in a vacation rental from VRBO or Airbnb. On our recent trip, we stayed in a gorgeous Brooklyn brownstone apartment that we rented through Airbnb with room to spread out for a fraction of the cost of a hotel. For about $200 a night, we had a large bedroom, two bathrooms, a full kitchen, dining room and a living room in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Finding holiday lettings like this is amazing! Not only did this save us some money in New York City, we loved staying in a neighborhood that people actually live to experience life as a New Yorker. And having a kitchen allowed us to keep snacks and meal costs down which was an added bonus.
If privacy and space is less of an issue, staying in a Hostel also a budget option, and there are several well run hostels in New York City including the YMCA and New York Loft Hostel.
If you are visiting New York City during the warmer months, the cheapest option is to camp nearby. During one of our visits, we camped at Croton Point Park along the Hudson River. (You can read about when we camped Croton Point Park here). Open from May to October, the campground at Croton Point Park was quite nice and also a welcome respite from the craziness of the city. For $50 a night for our entire family to camp, it is definitely the cheapest option.
2. Transportation- How are you going to get around?
New York City’s Mass transit is amazing and besides walking, is definitely the cheapest option to get around. With a little patience and a subway/bus pass, you can basically get anywhere in the city that you want to go. During our recent visit, we decided to purchase unlimited 7 day Metrocards and for $31 each, we were able to ride the subways and buses as many times as we wanted during our visit. Click here for information about New York subway fares. For us it was nice to not have to worry about how much money was left on our cards while heading down into the metro stations. Since a single ride fare is $2.75, you can do the math to determine if the unlimited use card works for your trip plans. A Laminated Pocket Size Manhattan Bus and Subway Map will be useful to help plan your route. Of course, taxis and Uber are also an option, but those fares quickly add up! And if your budget is really tight, walk! Not only is this a free way to get around, you get to see parts of the city you otherwise wouldn’t.
3. Food- What are you going to eat?
New York City is a foodie’s paradise, and you will never run out of finding wonderful places to eat during a visit. And while amazing (and expensive) options abound, you can eat well without spending a ton. If you’re a foodie that loves traveling then your finances might be a bit of an issue! A lot of people like you have the amex everyday® credit card from american express because it offers great rewards when buying food and has benefits for frequent travelers too! It could be worth looking into. When visiting, we like to save money in New York City and try to eat like a local New Yorker. For meals, we stay away from the main tourist areas like Times Square or Little Italy and head to where the locals eat. Neighborhood restaurants are not only more interesting and diverse, they are much cheaper than many of the tourist traps. Check out nycgo.com for local restaurant reviews to help you choose where to go. In addition, there are an abundance of food carts around the city that are a great budget option. From crepes to falafel, gourmet grilled cheese to chili rellenos, eating from a food truck will leave both your belly and wallet satisfied. There’s even a website, Roaming Hunger, that keeps you up to date about where your favorite food truck is parked.
4. Broadway- What show are you seeing?
Seeing a play or musical on Broadway is an unforgettable experience, but full price tickets are quite expensive! When splurging for show tickets, we head to one of three Theatre Development Fund TKTS booths (located in Times Square, South Street Seaport and Brooklyn), to save money in New York City and score same day discounted tickets for dozens of Broadway and Off-Broadway performances. While the lines may look daunting, they move pretty fast and purchasing tickets is easy. Available shows are listed on signs near the cashiers station, and the cashier can tell you what tickets are available to each listed show. On our last visit, we bought wonderful seats to Phantom of the Opera at the Majestic Theatre for 50% off the regular price. While not all shows have tickets available at TKTS, many do. So if you are flexible about what you want to see, you can save a great deal of money and see an unforgettable performance!
5. City Pass- Want to see everything?
If this is your first visit to NYC, there are probably several major sites that you hope to see, such as the Statue of Liberty and Empire State Building and each of these sites charge an entry fee. Purchasing a Citypass will allow you to pay a discounted rate for 6 major attractions so you can see a great deal in a short time and for a fixed price. A Citypass includes admissions to the Empire State Building, the American Museum of Natural History, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and you get to choose between the Top of the Rock Observation Deck or the Guggenheim, the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island or the Circle Line Sightseeing Cruise, and the 9/11 Memorial and Museum or the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum. With nine days to use your tickets, you can tour at your own pace too. At a savings of over 40%, the Citypass is a great way to save money in New York City if you have several tourist attractions on your agenda.
6. Find a Discount- Who doesn’t want to save money?
Discounts are available for many popular attractions and restaurants to help you save money in New York City. The New York City Guide has discounts and coupons for many popular sites as does the New York City Official Guide. Discounted tickets can also be purchased through promotion sites like LivingSocial and Groupon for significant savings at fun things to do in the city. Certain popular destinations also have discount books available including Grand Central Terminal and Times Square. Discounts are also often available by liking the attraction’s facebook page or other social media site. So make sure you google your destination to see if any discounts are being offered. Saving a few bucks here and there adds up! We also were happily surprised that the American Museum of Natural History does not charge admission if you enter the hour before it closes and we were able to see several amazing exhibits for no cost.
7. Focus on What’s Free- If it’s free, it’s easy to save your cash!
There are a ton of fantastic things to do in New York City that cost absolutely nothing! In fact, some of my best New York City memories were free activities. Here are a few of my favorite free activities that allow me to save money in New York City.
1. Picnic at Central Park or another wonderful city park including Prospect Park in Brooklyn and Battery Park at the southern tip of Manhattan.
2. Visit Grand Central Terminal to not only see the beautiful architecture, but people watch as everyone rushes to get around. Head down to the Dining Concourse for an inexpensive meal while you’re there.
3. Ride the Staten Island Ferry for free views of Lady Liberty and the Manhattan skyline and a relaxing ride across the Upper New York Bay.
4. Visit St. Patrick’s Cathedral or the Cathedral of St. John the Divine and bask in the quiet escape from the New York City chaos.
5. Walk across the iconic Brooklyn Bridge and picnic at Brooklyn Bridge Park while enjoying the Manhattan skyline.
6. Visit a free National Park site including Federal Hall National Memorial, Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site, Castle Clinton National Monument, Hamilton Grange National Memorial and the African Burial Ground National Monument.
A trip to New York City is an incredible and unforgettable experience, but it doesn’t have to be terribly expensive. With a little research and creativity, it’s easy to save money in New York City and still have a fantastic trip.
One more tip from a native New Yorker. Most people don’t realize it, but admissions to many of our museums (The MET and Museum of Natural History included) are a suggested admission. Since we usually only stay at the museum for less than 2 hours, we never pay the suggested price. We pay what we can afford. At suggested admission prices up to $32 per person, this is a significant savings for a family of 5.
Thanks for the info Joanne!
Thanks for this info – starting to plan our trip to New York from Australia!
Have a great trip!
What great tips! I’ve always thought of NYC as being an expensive city for traveling, but you make it sound totally accessible for families on a budget. Also, I’d never heard of a Pod Hotel before. Such a cool, minimalist concept!
I was happily surprised with how affordable it was for our family! And I agree- the pod hotels look super cool. 🙂 Happy Travels!
We hope to make it to New York City some day, so I pinned this post to save all of your excellent tips. I’m glad to see a campground recommendation, since we usually travel with our little travel trailer.
Thanks Kerri! I think your travel trailer will be perfect for Croton Point Park. I just read your post about your 25 day trip.It looks absolutely fantastic! What a great adventure. Can’t wait to read about your next one. 🙂