New York City, the self-proclaimed and mostly true, greatest city in the world. Broadway, Fifth Avenue, iconic buildings, world-class museums, amazing bars and restaurants, six professional sports teams that play within the city limits, diverse residents, you really can have it all in New York, if you can afford it.
Unfortunately, the Big Apple also carries the title of most expensive city in the United States. Luckily, if you know where to look and can stand in some long lines, you can really handle this city for cheap(ish).
Basic Rules to Visiting New York City Like a Total Cheapskate…
- Don’t waste your time trying to drive. New York is the most walkable city in the United States with an incredibly extensive and relatively affordable public transit system. Avoid the cabs, pedicabs and horse-drawn carriages if you’re looking to save.
- Citi Bikes are a new, more affordable way to see New York. Just make sure you have health insurance before pulling out in front of a taxi.
- If you’re going to head into Times Square get in and get out quickly. If someone is in a costume you have to pay to take your picture with them. If people are offering free comedy show tickets, they have a two drink minimum, except, The Late Show with David Letterman tickets. Those are actually 100%, no strings attached, free.
- Carry your student or military ID with you everywhere. A lot of museums, sporting events and shows offer discounts to college students or military personnel.
- 99 cent pizza really isn’t terrible.
- Food trucks are, normally, quite expensive. Don’t think of them as an easy, cheap meal.
- You can use the app ScoutMob in NYC and it’s pretty useful for securing restaurant deals.
- Restaurants are required to display their health sanitation rating on the outside of their storefront. A is the highest, B is next on the list and the orange C probably means a rat had babies on your food before it came to the table. Street carts don’t have to display any sort of health sanitation rating. Not saying to avoid them, just saying to keep that in mind.
- If you want a stunning skyline view skip the Empire State building and head to a rooftop bar in Manhattan or Brooklyn. Even if you buy a swanky drink, it will be a fourth of the price it would cost to have a Sleepless in Seattle moment atop the Empire State Building. Points if you befriend someone with rooftop access in their apartment building.
WHERE TO STAY IN NEW YORK CITY FOR CHEAP
Air BnB often offers the best options for cheap stay in NYC. Even though an apartment dweller might jack their price up, they’ll still be trying to undercut the hotels to make it enticing for you. You can rent an entire apartment or just a room from someone. Even if you’re staying in an apartment charging $300 a night, you can split with a few friends for an incredibly affordable stay.
Hostels and Cheap Hotels – NYC is home to many hostels for the backpacking spirit in us all. If you’re open to staying in an outer-borough or bunking with some roommates then do some internet digging for the highest rated and cheapest hostels. Be sure to check Yelp and Google the hostel’s name with the search term bed bugs. You won’t have to have a run in with those nasty critters.
- New York Loft Hostel $60+ (not including tax)
- HI (Hostelling International) New York $49+ per person for dorm rooms and $240+ per night for private rooms.
- Broadway Hotel and Hostel $50+ a night
- American Dream Hostel $59+ per person on weekdays and $69+ Friday through Saturday
- The Jane Hotel $105+
Insider tip: If you’re an exercise fiend, but staying in a place without a gym you can snag some free exercise classes via Shape Up NYC (Zumba, Yoga, Bootcamp, Kickboxing etc).
FREE and CHEAP ENTERTAINMENT IN NEW YORK CITY (some are seasonal)
- Movies in parks around New York. Bryant Park may be the most famous, but it certainly isn’t the only one. Movies do tend to be seasonal and primarily starting in late spring and run through the end of the summer.
- Free concerts are bountiful in NYC if you just know where to look or if you’re willing to stand in large groups. Check NYC Parks website or the blog I Love Free Concerts for a constant update on the latest in free musical entertainment. Insider tip: Broadway in Bryant Park is a Summer time highlight.
- Sign up to usher at playhouses (primarily off-Broadway) and they’ll, usually, let you watch the show as payment. A few theaters kind enough to offer this practice include New World Stages, The Joyce Theater, Second Stage Theatre, The Roundabout Theatre Company, Blue Man Group and Classic Stage Company.
- If you’d rather see a Broadway show without having to show people to their seats, then try doing Broadway Student/General Rush Tickets. It requires lining up outside a box office early (around 8:30 a.m.) and waiting until the doors open at 10 a.m. The trade-off is scoring tickets to a Broadway show for around $30. If that doesn’t appeal to you then at least use the TKTS booth for a discount on seats.
- Flash your student ID to grab $10 Met’s tickets
- Check the Yankee’s schedule for military and/or college nights.
- Get in some laughs for free thanks to high-caliber improv theaters. Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB) hosts ASSSSCAT 3000 for free on Sunday nights at 9:30. Stars often include cast members from SNL, 30 Rock, The Office and The Colbert Report. The PIT offers free shows on Wednesdays.
- Attend a live taping of a show. NYC based shows include: The Late Show with David Letterman, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, The Colbert Report, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, Good Morning America, Today show, The Wendy Williams Show, Live! with Kelly & Michael, The Rachel Ray Show, Saturday Night Live (the Holy Grail, it’s really hard to get these tickets), and MTV’s Nikki & Sara Live.
- Participate in Improv Everywhere’s Annual MP3 Experiment
- EXPLORE NYC LANDMARKS WITHOUT PAYING A PENNY
- Wander around Grand Central Terminal for free. If you’re a Mad Men fan then grab a drink at the Oyster Bar or Campbell Apartment.
- Take the tour of the New York Public Library on Mondays through Saturdays at 11 a.m. or 2 p.m. or just 2 p.m. on Sundays.
- Take a stroll around Central Park. The closer you get to Harlem the more it feels you’ve actually left the City and entered the countryside.
- Walk the Brooklyn Bridge
- Walk the High Line Bridge
- Catch a view of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island by riding the Staten Island Ferry
CHEAP EATS IN NEW YORK CITY
- Take advantage of happy hours at local bars or deals on food, like the Crocodile Lounge on 14th Street offers a $1 personal pizza for each beer you purchase (it used to be free…). Artichoke Pizza is right across the street for the pizza connoisseur.
- Explore the appropriate borough/neighborhood for the food you’re looking for. Craving Chinese? Then head to Flushing, Queens. Want authentic Greek food? Hit up Astoria. Looking for a real egg cream? Better go to Brooklyn. Hoping for some Chicken & Waffles? Harlem has a host of great options.
- Bakeries tend to slash their prices as the clock ticks towards closing time, so always try asking if they offer a deal on the fare they’re about to throw out anyway.
- Volunteer at food festivals to score free admission
- Download and use ScoutMob to secure deals on restaurants near you
FREE HOLIDAY EVENTS IN NEW YORK CITY
- Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
- Watch the balloons get inflated for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade the night before by Central Park West
- Visit Santa at Macy’s Department Store in Herald Square
- Holiday markets around the city including Columbus Circle, Union Square and Bryant Park
- Ice skating at Bryant Park or Central Park – it’s free if you bring your own skates and don’t need a locker
- Walk 5th Avenue to see the Christmas decorations
- St. Patrick’s Day Parade
- Halloween Parade in the Village is the world’s largest Halloween parade
- Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest at Coney Island. Get there early if you want to be close enough to get covered in flinging bits of hot dog.
- Fourth of July fireworks along the Hudson River. They start to close off the roads about an hour or more prior to the fireworks, so be sure to get there early to snag a spot.
GET CULTURED – VISITING MUSEUMS IN NEW YORK CITY
Suggested Donations: Because many museums use New York State/City taxes to help fund them, they offer “suggested donations” instead of a required ticket price. Some of them are a bit sneaky about it though, so be sure to recognize when you don’t actually have to pay $14 for a ticket. Here are a few museums that offer suggested donations or a pay as you wish time period.
- American Museum of Natural History
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art
- The 9/11 Memorial
- P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center (MoMA’s sister museum)
- Brooklyn Museum of Art
- Queens Museum of Art
- The Cloisters
- Whitney Museum of American Art – Friday evenings 6:00 pm – 9:00 (pay as you wish)
A few establishments are kind enough to offer free hours because they don’t have suggested donations.
- The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) – Friday evenings from 4:00 pm – 8:00 pm
- The Museum of Moving Image – Friday evenings 4:00 pm – 8:00 pm
- Brooklyn Botanical Garden (not a museum per se, but a really great garden) – Saturdays from 10 am – noon
PINCHING PENNIES FOR LOCALS
A few of my favorite New York City money-saving tricks:
- Embrace outer-borough life if you want cheaper rent and a bigger space.
- If you ride the rails regularly then fork over the $112 for a monthly unlimited pass and be sure to save your card so you can refill without paying the $1 card fee
- Cut the AC and just use a fan to avoid hiked ConEd bills during the summer.
- Switch to RCN for cheaper cable, assuming Time Warner doesn’t have a monopoly on your building, or cut the cord entirely and invest in a Roku Player.
- Pick a neighborhood and just go get lost walking around and exploring New York.
- If you’re comfortable renting out your apartment then offer it up on Air BnB when you’re out of town then you can probably make a decent dent in the amount you need for rent in just a few days.
What are your favorite ways to enjoy New York City without spending a lot of money?
This post is written by Erin, founder of Broke Milennial