NYC on a Budget: Tips and Tricks for Affordable Travel in the Big Apple

New York City is often portrayed as an expensive destination that’s out of reach for budget travelers. However, with some planning and research, you can still enjoy the exciting attractions, world-class culture, and dynamic energy of the Big Apple without breaking the bank. Follow these money-saving tips to cut costs on accommodations, transit, sightseeing and eating, while still having a full New York experience.

Save Money on Flights and Accommodations

Flights and lodging usually make up the majority of any vacation budget. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to trim both expenses in NYC. First, be flexible with your travel dates if possible to snag cheaper flights to JFK, one of New York’s many airports. Sign up for airfare deal alerts, check budget carrier fares, or use miles to help cut down on flight costs.

For lodging, consider staying at a hostel, especially if you’re traveling solo. Another play is a budget hotel outside the main tourist areas but close to a subway line. The savings on rooms can help offset the cost of transit. If you’re visiting friends, see if you can crash on a couch or spare room to bypass lodging costs altogether.

Get Around Town on the Cheap

Once in the city, walk and take advantage of excellent public transportation to avoid steep cab fares and parking costs. The subway and bus system offers unlimited ride passes that quickly pay for themselves. A 7-Day Unlimited MetroCard is just $34, while the New York Pass covers admission to over 100 attractions and includes bus/subway access for a starting price of $124 for 3 days.

Citi Bike, New York’s bike share system, is another affordable way to get around that allows you to cover more ground than walking. Single rides under 30 minutes are only $3.50.

Free & Low Cost Sightseeing

Paying full price for every museum, exhibit and attraction adds up fast. But you can cut these sightseeing costs significantly by planning free activities or leveraging discounts. Start by exploring some of NYC’s great free museums like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Brooklyn Museum and New York Hall of Science (free Wednesdays). Several museums also have a “pay what you wish” donation-based policy. There are also plenty of wonderful free parks, historical walking tours and events to enjoy.

For paid attractions, look into discounted passes like CityPASS or New York Pass that bundle tickets to places like the Empire State Building or Top of the Rock observation deck. Check sites like Groupon or individual museum websites as well for other available e-tickets deals. Arrive at least 30 minutes before closing for attractions that have reduced last entry rates. Sign up for free memberships through travel loyalty programs for discounts too. Museums are typically busiest on weekends, so aim to visit on weekdays when possible for a less crowded experience.

Affordable Food and Drink

After admission costs, dining and drinks usually round out the biggest daily expenses on any NYC trip. Luckily, there are many ways to save here too without sacrificing good eats and fun nightlife. One easy trick is to walk a few blocks away from major tourist zones around Times Square, museums or Central Park where restaurants will jack up prices. For quick, cheap bites, visit food carts, pizza joints, taco trucks, bagel shops and other local spots popular with actual New Yorkers.

Choose the prix fixe or pre-theater menus at nicer restaurants for high-quality dishes at a fraction of the standard menu prices. Make lunch your bigger meal when dining out since entrees are typically cheaper than dinner. Splitting entrees and avoiding appetizers can also lower your final check size. Finally, take advantage of daily happy hour drink specials to save a bundle on beer, wine and cocktails without staying completely sober.

Tackle Trip Costs from Start to Finish

While enticing, New York City does not have to demolish your personal budget. Advance planning, traveling during off-peak periods, walking whenever possible and taking advantage of free attractions and entertainment can allow you to experience the energy of NYC at an affordable price point. Put these practical tips into play to keep costs down while enjoying all the marvelous sights and sounds the Big Apple has to offer.