According to Jay z and Alicia Keys the streets of New York will make you feel brand new and there is nothing you can’t do but that might not be the case if you are short on cash. On the other hand, New York is by far one of the coolest places I have ever visited and the opportunities are endless so it would be a shame to let money stop you from having fun.
On contrary to what people usually believe, it is still possible to enjoy NYC without breaking the bank. You just have to cut off the $20 cocktails, stop taking taxi everywhere you go and be smart about your choices. If nothing else, you can be sure that there are tons of New Yorkers in the same situation so accept the challenge and find your balance between penny-pinching and having a good time. I spent five months living as an UN intern in New York City so I think I’ve got my fair share of this experience. Here are some tips on how to save some bucks while enjoying yourself:
1.EMBRACE THE FREE STUFF
This is the most basic piece of advice. Luckily the majority of iconic landmarks in NYC don’t cost a thing so you won’t miss out on the tourist side of the Big Apple no matter how empty your bank account is.
You can cross the Brooklyn bridge, stroll through Central park, experience the Time Square craziness, walk along the Brooklyn heights promenade, watch people on Washington Square, soak up the good vibes at the High line, sunbathe on the beach at Coney Island or meander through charming neighborhoods at literally no expense. Furthermore, you may even cruise around the Statue of Liberty without spending a dime thanks to the free Staten Island ferry service.
2.ENJOY THE FREE VIEW
This goes in hand with the 1st point. I personally love seeing cities from above and NYC is full of top-notch roof top bars and lookout points. Unfortunately, the view from the most famous observation towers such us Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center and Freedom Tower will cost you around $30 each but there are places where you can enjoy a bird’s eye view city for free (or by purchasing 1 drink).
Among the most popular roof top bars, clubs and restaurants belong 360 Fifth, Top of the Strand, Press Lounge, PH-D Terrace, Roof, Pod 39, Le Bain or Wythe hotel located in Williamsburg. In summer consider also visiting a bar situated on the top of the Metropolitan Museum of Art overlooking Central park.
Still want to see the concrete jungle from the rooftop deck of Rockefeller center simply because it is “the thing to do”? It is possible to get on the top for free every day from 5 pm till midnight only if you head to the Bar SixtyFive at Rainbow Room (the highest terrace bar in NYC), instead of Top of the Rock observatory, and dress up a bit fancier. If that’s not a bargain, I don’t know what is.
3.FIND FREE EVENTS AND FESTIVALS
One of the perks of hanging out in a huge city is the number of events and businesses which makes the competition eager to win over the customers. That creates several cheaper or even free activities and extra happy ”happy hours”.
Those events however require a little bit of searching. My favorite resource for current free activities is Timeout. Be sure to check what’s happening on your visit, sometimes you can find absolute jewels such as free concerts in Central park.
4.PLAN YOUR DAYS
Did you know that on specific days a week you can visit well-known places in the city and famous exhibitions for free? What a great way how to save money while ticking off the most iconic sites. Yes, you might end up in a crowd of people but that is the (only) price you pay.
- American Museum of Natural History (Free in its last hour, otherwise always pay-as-you-wish)
- Guggenheim (Free Saturdays 5 – 8 PM)
- Museum of Modern Art (MOMA)(Free Fridays 4 -8 PM)
- 9-11 Memorial Museum(Free Tuesdays 5 PM – closing time)
- New York Botanical Garden(FREE all-day Wednesdays, 9 – 10 AM Saturdays)
- Bronx Zoo(Free all-day Wednesdays)
- Museum of Moving Image(Free Fridays 4 – 8 PM)
- Brooklyn Museum(Free first Saturday of the month with DJs & wine from 5- 11 PM)
5.LOOK FOR DONATION-BASED PLACES
Entrance fees based on donations and suggestions are becoming more and more popular in the city. You basically pay as much as you want to while considering the suggested amount and personal preferences. Not only it really keeps the door open for the broad public and reflects each person’s financial situation and quality of the time spent there but it also enables people to visit the place multiple times without spending fortune.
The best example of this kind of deal is the Metropolitan Museum of Art that suggests entrance fee of $25 but according to Trip Adviser the average admission price appears to be less than $6. Similar kind of entrance fee can be found also in other art exhibitions in the city and many sport centers (Yoga to the People is a perfect way to get your Sun Salutations and pay as much as you want to).
6.TRY WALKING TOURS
I am not a huge fan of organised tours but the truth is, New York City can be a bit overwhelming for the first comers. That’s when the walking tours come in handy. During an entertaining tour (for example Free Tours by Foot) a fun-loving guide will show you around while providing you with valuable information and local insight.
Even for experienced New Yorkers the tours can be an extraordinary experience as they are pretty creative. You can choose from the Vintage shopping tour, Bushwick street art tour, Greenwood cemetery tour, Lower East Side food tour, Alternative New York tour, Dark side of the High line tour, Ghosts of Greenwich village tour, Central park photography tour and many others. Some of them include something extra such as free tasting. And great thing about them? You pay as much as you wish to.
7.USE BIG APPLE GREETERS
Few years back a local girl decided she wanted the rest of the world to experience NYC as a welcoming friendly city and started a business called Big Apple Greeters which was the first “welcome visitor” program of its kind in the U. S. The program aims to promote inviting image of the city thanks to organised tours and provided information about subway, attractions, every-day life etc. More than 300 Big Apple Greeters can help you get your bearings on your first full day and by registration you get a chance to explore the city with locals at no cost.
8.TAKE IT TO THE STREET
If you’re really just scraping by, the upscale New York’s restaurants are a no-go. Luckily the city is a home to a large variation of street food. Hot dog stands and famous 1-dollar pizza slices feed many New Yorkers, no matter how wealthy they are.
So called “Halal guys” that can be spotted everywhere in the city deserve an extra attention as they sell good amount of food for reasonable price.
And the streets of New York have so much more to offer from all around the world. (Not only) during pop up street markets you can fill up your tummy with delicious Jamaican jerk chicken or authentic Mexican food. And if you’re a sweet tooth look for Belgian waffles food trucks.
(On the other hand, don’t get fooled. While NYC hot dogs and other street food might be cheap as, it is not always going to fill you up as a proper food would. If you are really trying to save money, be smart and think twice for how long is a tiny hot dog for $2 going to satisfy your stomach versus proper meal for $10.)
9.COUNT ON CHINA TOWN
Are you tired of seeing people enjoying their meal in a restaurant while you’re eating your hot dog on a bench? Then China town might save you!
There is a large variety of restaurants from really cheap ones that make you question their hygiene standards to a luxury dumplings heavens. Most of the restaurants offer lunch specials around $6 and regular meals for no more than $12 plus the portions are huge and the food is yummy! The place might not be as fancy as in other parts of Manhattan but the delicious feast will make up for it. Make sure to also stop by a local bakery.
Another Manhattan neighborhood that might please your wallet is Harlem. In its lively colorful streets you can taste authentic Mexican, Puerto Rican, Jamaican, Dominican, Cuban or West African (and much more!) food and buy your groceries for much cheaper than in the lower parts of Manhattan.
11.GET ON A BIKE
Subway in NYC is a great way to get around but cost of the tickets can easily add up. Plan your day and explore one area at a time in order to keep the transportation costs at the minimum.
Another option is to rent Citi Bikes which are available throughout the city. New York’s official bike share program is designed for quick trips and can be super convenient and easy to use. Day pass costs $12 for unlimited 30 minutes rides all day, $24 for 3day pass and annual membership costs about $163 which is less than 2 months’ subway pass! Of course consider your skills, traffic and weather conditions before jumping on the bike 😊
12.WINN THE BROADWAY LOTTERY
Broadway musicals belong to one of the most renowned shows in the world and you don’t always have to be loaded to witness them. It is possible to get a rush ticket (=purchased on the same day as the performance, usually at a steep discount) or try your luck at the Broadway lottery.
So how does it work? The lottery starts about two hours before the show time and thanks to the organised concerts can be a show itself. You participate in person or online (via TodayTix app) in drawings for deeply discounted seats for most of the Broadway shows. Winners are given the option of buying one or two tickets, often in the first two rows or in the boxes. Your lottery chances vary depending on the day of the week and how popular the show is. Keep track of lotteries at Broadway for Broke People or at Playbill.com.
Unfortunately, the prices of accommodation are what really makes New York City a nightmare, no matter if you’re only visiting or staying long-term. First you have to decide whether you’d rather pay more for being close to the main sights or save money and spend more time on a subway.
The cheapest hotels and hostels in Manhattan can be found in Chinatown, Harlem and Upper West Side. You can also try YMCA accommodation which offers tiny shared rooms with basic amenities in 6 locations for $25 per night with great locations.
If you like to use couchsurfing, finding a good one in NYC is surprisingly hard due to the overload of demand so start your search way ahead of time and be extra cautious.
Over the years, Airbnb has become the solution for those looking for reasonably priced places to stay. Be careful, the correlation between cheap and Airbnb does not have to apply anymore, and also keep in mind that there is an official ban in NYC on listing short term accommodation on the Airbnb website.
Last but not least you may also take advantage of GlobalFreeloaders hospitality by staying with a fellow member for free. Not only do you get to save money, you also get to see New York from a local’s perspective!
New York City is often regarded as a mecca of fashion and therefore many people come here to renew their wardrobe. In case the 5th avenue does not really lie within your price range Century 21 or Premium Outlets in New Jersey might be your destination.
I also couldn’t recommend local flea markets and thrift stores enough, not only for finding the best deals on unique vintage and antique items but also for eating and getting inspiration. Popular flea markets are located in Chelsea Market, DUMBO, Hell’s Kitchen, Williamsburg and Bushwick. My all-time favorite is the Brooklyn flea on Fort Greene especially for retro jewelry. To fulfill your dining dreams head to the famous Smorgasburg on Sunday and discover what all the food trucks have to offer while enjoying the view from the East River park.