New York City is the city that never sleeps! It’s also the city that makes it really easy and affordable to visit. In our own guide to New York, here’s How to experience New York City on a Budget! We did it and loved it! You may also want to know How to Road Trip on a Budget or even Las Vegas on a Budget.
Our Guide to New York
After we graduated from college Bryce and I had the opportunity to live in Manhattan for three months while he trained for his new job. It’s an understatement to say I completely fell in love with the city. From the culture to the walking, to the bagels (everything, of course) and back to the culture it was an amazing experience! But it can also be e-x-p-e-n-s-i-v-e.
The simple fact is, you can’t visit NYC and get the full experience without spending some money, but it doesn’t have to break you, it is doable. Everybody should get a chance to visit this city, so here’s my guide to New York with tips to help make it happen for you!
Best Time to Visit the City
There are so many wonderful things to do in the city all year round. And trust me there is never a bad time of year to go. Whether you want to check out the beaches, baseball or NYC Restaurant Week in the summer or the Christmas window displays during the holiday season, you will definitely find something to do in any of the four seasons. One of the best times to visit the city is fall. The leaves are changing & the colors are amazing (the weather’s not bad either). This October there are wonderful events to attend like the New Yorker Festival or New York Comic-Con! Check out other great ideas at NYC Go!
Getting from A to B
First, let’s talk airfare to New York. There are three airports in close proximity to the city:
Being flexible about which airport you fly into will give you a better chance at a decent fare. Typically your cheapest option will be midweek and red-eye flights. It is always cheaper to buy your tickets in advance if possible.
Transportation in the City
The easiest mode of transportation from the airport to the city is a cab (from JFK to Manhattan is $60 or a metered fare from Laguardia or Newark Airports). In some cases, you will also be responsible for paying for tolls too. But you can get to the city using public transportation. You take a little airport shuttle train over to the subway stations and into the city from there. It only cost us $17 for both of us to get from the airport to the city this way. Yes, it takes longer, but that’s one more nice dinner we gained from our sacrifices (oh how I love the NYC food scene).
Once in the city, you will want to put some money on a metro card to use the subways. Start with a smaller number, you can always add more money if you need to. If you put too much money on the card, you just waste it when you leave. New York is a walking city, so walk as much as you can! I love seeing the city views from my own two feet, and whenever it is possible and convenient, we walk. Save your metro card for long distances and never waste a fare on something that’s within walking distance. Another fabulous perk of walking is that you feel less guilty about the next amazing meal you indulge in, haha.
Uber & Lyft
Now more than ever, there are a ton of other transportation options in the city. Uber & Lyft are wonderful apps to download on your phone and access at a moment’s notice. Uber also offers several options for your needs including a low-cost option in uberX. Or if you have six passengers or more you can access UberXL, UberBLACK, or UberSUV. If you need a car-seat option, use UberFAMILY, or UberWAV for wheelchair-accessible rides.
Lyft offers the same type of ride options using their app. A personal ride is for you and up to three other people. Lyft Plus is for six-passengers and Lyft Line is a ride-share with others going to the same location as you for a lower price.
Both options allow you to pay online so you don’t have to worry about having cash on you or tipping your driver. And both apps are available on Apple or Andriod products.
Enjoy a Show
I love Broadway and now guide to New York would be complete without it. I am giddy like a school girl every time I get to go to a show, without fail. Musicals are my favorite. I love the voices, the dancing, the stories… ah-mazing! Good news for you, I am going to tell you how to see shows on Broadway without breaking the bank. In recent years Broadway has done a lot to make tickets more affordable for students and others who can’t spend upwards of $100 on a ticket.
A few of these options are:
- Standing Room Only
- Lottery Tickets
For rush or standing room only tickets you typically have to be at the box office when it opens and wait in line. Standing room only are usually available if the performance is sold out (so you have a better chance at SRO with really popular shows).
Lottery tickets are my absolute favorite way to get into Broadway shows. All you do is show up a couple of hours before the show opens, and put your name in a drawing for super cheap tickets. A half-hour later, they draw out tickets. If your name is drawn you can pick to buy 1 or 2 tickets right there, in cash, for the show. Lottery tickets usually range between $20-30 depending on the show. We have successfully seen Newsies, West Side Story, Phantom of the Opera, and several others from winning lotteries, all for less than $30 a ticket! If you are staying in the city for 3 days, and you REALLY want to see Matilda (I am dying to, btw) then try the lottery the first two days. If you don’t get in, then consider buying full-price tickets.
Another great option is the TKTS stands. To get tickets there, you show up the day of and they will have a list of what shows are available and what their discounted rates are. For a complete and up to date list of lottery, rush and STO policies for each show and instructions for each, click here. **Note that you usually need cash and photo id for all of these discounted options.
New York is for Foodies
How can I put this…. don’t go to Times Square and eat at TGIFridays (no offense, TGIFridays). Not only is that about the most expensive way you could go, but it also doesn’t give you the true New York City food experience. Don’t eat at any chains (excepting the Shake Shack). The “touristy” areas are always going to be the most expensive places to eat. If you wander around just a tiny bit off the beaten path, not only are there amazing ethnic restaurants of every variety, but they are also way more affordable. Eat at food trucks (there are seriously so good). In the morning, grab a bagel (I love you, everything bagel) or some fruit from a food stand.
Let’s talk about Museums
The city is like heaven for museum enthusiasts. You could literally spend days in the city doing nothing but exploring museums. Not only that but typically museums are pretty affordable. Many museums have “donation” policies where they have a recommended donation price, but really you just pay what you feel like the experience is worth to you. I feel like museums do this purposely considering those who would genuinely like to go and learn and experience and don’t have a lot of money. I am grateful that they do, and try to pay what I can when I can. One day, hopefully, we will be huge donors ;).
Here is a complete list of free NYC museums as well as a complete list of museums that offer discounted tickets during certain days/times. My personal favorite museum in the city is the Museum of Natural History.
You Need to Sleep Somewhere
Free Stuff Rocks
Free is also a big part of our guide to New York! One of my very, very absolute favorite places in Manhattan is Central Park, and guess what? It’s free! The city is super fast-paced and I love visiting Central Park a few times each trip to catch my breath. Some of my favorite things to do at Central Park are watching performers, having picnics, laying on the grass and reading a good book, getting ice cream and people watching, playing checkers (bring your own pieces), and going for long walks to enjoy the beautiful surroundings.
Popular Tourist Spots
You can also go check out Times Square, Grand Central Station, the Financial District, Chinatown, Little Italy, the Brooklyn Bridge, 5th Avenue, 34th Street (just to name a few) at no cost! Of course, you may want to buy some souvenirs while you are there (I can’t resist the cheap purses in Chinatown) but you don’t have to pay anything to explore. Even though I know I’m probably not going to buy anything on 5th Avenue, it can be fun to window shop at some truly incredible places. Also, at least once it can be fun to see the M&M Factory, American Girl Doll Store and the Nike Store, etc.
Another cool option is the free walking tours. Guides will take you around on a tour of a specific place (ex: Midtown Manhattan tour) and at the end, you pay the guide what you felt like the tour was worth to you. This ensures that your guides are always at the top of their game and that you won’t get into something you can’t afford! Newer tour versions are available now where you can download where to go, what to eat, what path to take etc. (no actual guide) and then after you get online and donate what you feel like the tour was worth. They have tours for all different areas and this helps plan out your stay and maximize your metro cards.
Soak in the History
Even though it can cost a little money, it is also fun to check out some of the historical aspects of NYC. I loved Ellis Island. It is an amazing view from the top of the Empire State Building, it’s crazy to see the Statue of Liberty in real life and the Twin Towers Memorial sounds amazing (last time I was able to get there it wasn’t quite finished). Maybe pick one that you’ve always wanted to do and hit the rest next trip. I can guarantee once you’ve been to the city once, you’ll be dying to get back!
Thank you for this post. Enjoying the beautiful city, having some fun and saving money as well. That is amazing.
Jessica @ Pretty Providence
Yay!! That is so great! I am jealous!
Thanks so much for this! First timer and really need some advice on places to stay?
staten island ferry is free and some great views of the city
Hey! Thank you for the post! If you want to save money on housing look into http://www.airbnb.com! I highly recommend it!
I bought a weekly metro pass… it works on the buses too, fyi
Jessica @ Pretty Providence
Which hostel did you cousin and gma stay at? We are going in May but geesh hotels are soo expensive and I would rather spend my money on having fun.
If you are going to make more than 12 trips on the subway, buy the weekly unlimited pass for $30 you can use it as often as you like!
Oh for sure!! Thanks so much for pointing that out!
Thanks for the tips! My sister and I are working on planning a trip to see Matilda in a year. We really really want to see it!
Oh you totally should! I haven’t seen it yet but I really want to!