Affordable New York City: 32 free and low-cost tips

new york slide

I wish I had taken this photo. Credit for the great view of Manhattan goes to reader Sandra who is from the UK.

Budget New York City.

Sounds impossible.

But it’s not. This city is friendly and rich in culture and as the two mix lots of opportunities arise to see traditional tourist attractions as well as rub shoulders with real New Yorkers.

So, to help you enjoy a great trip to the Big Apple, here’s my take on the best of budget New York City.

budget new york city so many places to walk

On the High Line there are cafes and small restaurants for lunch or a snack.

Getting Around New York City on the Cheap

  1. Take public transit from the airport. This article gives you information on traveling from all NYC airports via public transit. In some cases the Super Shuttle is just as cheap.
  2. Get a MetroCard. The bus and subway system in New York City is a really efficient way to get around. Check out the options for your stay.
  3. Take the people’s ferry. The Staten Island Ferry is free and offers such a great view of the city.
  4. Take a bus tour. If you want to get an overview of New York via a bus tour, book online and save $5. It’s not much but every little bit helps.
  5. Walk and soak in the city. Budget New York City definitely includes walking which is great because there are so many wonderful areas to explore. High on my list are:
budget new york city big apple greeter

Meet Tony. You may be lucky and get him through the Big Apple Greeter program. Read about my tour here.

Budget New York City: Tourist Bargains

  1. Take a free tour:
    • Big Apple Greeters. Whatever your interests, with luck, you’ll get a volunteer tour guide who shares them and will show you their beloved New York.
    • New York By Foot. Free tours but it’s important to tip – I think $5 is the minimum.
    • Explore the Village. Take one of 28 self-guided tours offered by the Village Alliance. Sure wish they had these as an app but perhaps that is coming.
    • Tour Grand Central Station. Every Friday at 12:30pm, the Grand Central Partnership conducts a 90-minute guided walking tour led by an urban historian.
  2. New York City Pass. There are various options (with and without bus tour for example) and they often run specials so have a look and see if the the New York City Pass will save you money on what you want to do in New York.
  3. Museums. Watch for free times for visiting the many museums in the city. The Museum of Modern Art offers free admission from 4-8pm on Fridays.  Museum at the Fashion Institute is always free. There are others. Check out FreeMuseumDays for a list.
  4. Go to Cathedral of Saint John the Divine. Located on the upper west side, Saint John the Divine is a massive cathedral and a major attraction in the city. It’s free though donations are appreciated. And, bonus, down the block is the diner featured in the Seinfeld series.
  5. Go shopping and get a deal. Check out Sample Sale Avenue
  6. Cheap entertainment. New York City is the entertainment capital of the world. When you think of the live theatre scene plus television, film, opera, concerts… while some cities may come close, I think New York takes the title. Here are tips for entertainment on a budget:
    • Buy discount Broadway tickets. Shows on Broadway are expensive but, if you’re willing to stand in line, you can buy tickets for 20%-50% off on the day of the show. There are a couple of places you can do this but go to the TKTS Discount Booths (their flagship location is in Times Square) and you’ll be supporting the non-profit Theatre Development Fund.
    • Off-Broadway productions. Off-Broadway is cheaper than on so check out The New York Theatre Guide to off-broadway shows.
    • Upright Citizens Brigade Theater. Founded by Amy Poehler and others UCBT offers improv theater. At $10 it’s a bargain but sells out so book in advance.
    • Dance parties in Brooklyn. Free concerts/dance parties in Brooklyn Bridge Park throughout the summer.
    • And a couple of tips from Solo Travel Society members:
      • Danielle – A few more tips, as I live here, and work on Broadway: if you can’t get to a TKTS booth, download the TodayTix app if you’re interested in Broadway/Off-Broadway tickets at a discount. And if you’re a student or trying to do it on the cheap: a lot of shows have “rush” tickets when the box office opens, or a lottery 2 1/2 hours before the show. Also for free/cheap stuff to do: the skint. It’s the absolute best.
      • Karla –  I second the recommendations about cheap theater tickets. I tried the lottery for the first time last spring, when visiting with my son, and we got 5th row tickets to Newsies on Broadway for $27 each! I also use playbill.com to get discounted tickets in advance.
budget new york city $5 a game

Chess in Washington Square.

Live Like a Local in New York City

  1. Join a local running group. The North Brooklyn Runners is just one of the groups you can join for a run and a coffee afterwards. Here’s a list of running groups by district.
  2. A calendar of free events. You can see what’s free at NYCgo.com.
  3. Go kayaking on the Hudson. What a city! The Downtown Boat House promotes public access to the waterfront for all including free kayaking. Don’t know how to kayak? Take one of their free classes.
  4. The drama of chess. Go to the southwest corner of Washington Square and watch the drama as people try to beat the regulars. Or test your own skills at $5 a game.
  5. Take a beer tour and tasting. Brooklyn Brewery hosts tours and tastings every day of the week. Check for details.
  6. Bookstores worth browsing. Spoonbill & SugartownBerl’s Brooklyn Poetry ShopHousing Works Bookstore Cafe. Here’s the Gothamist’s list of the 10 Best Bookstores In NYC.
These are bagel’ fries - crispy, so hot, so good. Read Grace’s Nerdy New York City Adventure: a twenty-something travels solo.

These are bagel’ fries – crispy, so hot, so good. Read Grace’s Nerdy New York City Adventure: a twenty-something travels solo.

Budget New York City: Where to Eat

  1.  A little bar called George Keeley. Located at Amsterdam and 83rd it offers local beers and exceptionally good “everything bagel fries.”
  2. Eat at a Food Truck. Food trucks can be a big part of a budget New York City experience but… where to find them. Enter the NYCTruckFood app.
  3. Free pizza. The Alligator Lounge offers free pizza every day of the week along with karaoke, trivia, comedy… whatever’s going the night you’re there.
  4. Dinner and jazz. Arturo’s is at corner of Houston and Thompson and is a favorite spot of a friend of mine. Why: because of Jimmy the singing waiter, coal oven pizza and fantastic jazz every night.

Where to Stay

  1. Budget hotels, B&Bs and guesthouses. Accommodation is really expensive in New York. Here’s a link to the budget accommodation page on Booking.com. And if you’re loyal to Expedia and their points program, here’s a link to New York deals.
  2. Staying longer than a few nights? Then it might be worth finding an apartment to share. Check out New York Habitat and look under “rooms to rent.”

Special Deals for Students

  1. Intelligence Squared US (IQ2) debate. $12 for students. $40 for adults.
  2. New York Philharmonic Rush Tickets. Rush tickets are only available for students and seniors.
best destinations for solo travelers close to home

Stumptown Coffee – New York is a friendly city.

And, how could I resist… here’s Frank Sinatra with New York, New York.

  • Gen

    Your best bet is Airbnb

  • Melanie Eng

    Thanks for this valuable information.

  • Jenny

    Thanks for all the tips & info I am surely going to take advantage of it.Leaving for the USA late June & will be in the big apple middle of July!

  • Kathryn

    Such a generous gift. All the work is done. Thanks so much.

  • ivi kriste

    Its really very useful trip for first timers in NY. Thanks for sharing

  • http://solotravelerblog.com Janice Waugh

    That’s a tough one Shiry. I don’t have an answer for you but hopefully another readers will jump in with a recommendation or two.

  • Shiry Tse

    What a great advise. Thank you. is there any recommendation for a budget hotel which is safe for solo female traveler, clean, close in the city and close to subway?

  • http://www.culturalxplorer.com/ Chanel | Cultural Xplorer

    Good round up Janice. As a NYC resident, I always love hearing about things I don’t know in my City and utilizing them (especially when people come to visit the City)! I had not heard of the Skint before, so checking it out now!

  • http://visit50.com/ Todd at Visit50.com

    Great list! I was just at Stumptown for my first time – really liked it!

  • http://thecuriouscurriculum.com/ Nina Rizzo

    Great post about a city I adore and frequent! It was a great read even for someone who goes every weekend! I’m always looking for new ways to explore this city so thanks! And please check out my blog at http://www.thecuriouscurriculum.com and offer me any feedback you might have!