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How to Save Money in New York City: Budget Travellers Guide

view of new york from above

How to Save Money in New York City, well that’s the big question, isn’t it? New York City is one of the most expensive cities in the world. But of course, that’s no secret. Despite the cost to visit it’s somewhere all of us finding out selves wanting to explore. I’d been dying to see New York City for so long. It might have something to do with an all-mighty Chuck and Blair obsession but still, I lusted to see the big city where everyone goes to follow their dreams with my own eyes. I love any books or movies set in the big apple and I honestly couldn’t wait to see it in the flesh.

In 2017, I made my dream of visiting New York come true along with my mums. I whisked her away for her 50th birthday and we had a blast. 

As a budget traveller, my biggest concern was how much spending we would need and how expensive New York City would really be. I researched until I was blue in the face because I was determined to experience the very best of the city whilst on a teeny tiny budget.

As it turns out that you can totally visit New York on a budget and see it all. Upon returning home from the big city I was so smug that I hadn’t had to use my credit card once. It truly felt like one of those moments when you feel like you can indeed have your cake and eat it!

So, that’s what gave me the idea to write this post and share with you how to save money in New York City. It’s taken a while but here it is!

How to Save Money in New York City: Budget Travellers Guide!

This post is going to be the only budget travellers guide to the big apple you need! Expect to learn plenty of hacks on how you can save big during your trip to New York. I will note that this post is tailored more towards people who haven’t visited New York City before. That’s because when I put these money-saving tips into practice I had never been before. If you’re a seasoned traveller to the city then I’m sure you can probably send me a lot more tips on how to save money in New York my way! Hopefully when I visit again, which I pray isn’t too far into the future, I’ll even more tips about saving money in New York to share with you!

How to Save Money in New York City: Before you go! 

Saving money on a trip to New York City starts well before your feet land at JFK. It’s all about finding the cheapest time of year to go!

Let’s be real for a second. If you want to visit New York during a holiday season then your bank account is going to take more of a bashing then if you visit at an alternative time. 

Many of us dream of ice skating in Central Park and looking up in awe at that glowing Christmas tree in Central Park. But like anywhere in the world holiday seasons will be the more expensive end of.

My advice: To save money on your trip to New York then don’t visit at, Christmas, Easter or Halloween. 

The one holiday that might be an exception is the 4th of July. This is when we visited New York for 4 days. I wrote a whole post on why you should visit New York in July here but the main reason I booked those dates was because of the cheaper flights and accommodation! 

Honestly, we had the option of being able to take the trip in July or September and July was so much cheaper. The first week in July was also a lot cheaper than any other time of the month. To me, I thought it was crazy because of Independence Day! Turns out the holiday really didn’t skyrocket the prices! 

Now I have no idea if this was just a simple coincidence or if we simply got lucky. But if you fancy a summertime fling with the big city then I highly recommend looking into visiting in July! 

Either way, make sure you’re flexible with dates when taking a trip. Research ahead and make sure you visit during the cheapest time you can find! I know this point is fairly obvious. But you have no idea the number of people who I’ve heard complaining about New York prices when they decided to visit in December! 

mum and I at serendipity 3
Having the occasional ‘splurge’ for a meal out!

How to Save Money on Accommodation in New York

Accommodation, isn’t this often the biggest expense when travelling? and sometimes the most frustrating. As travellers we often find ourselves paying big sum cash for a place to stay. Yet we then spend no time in the room, other than to sleep. It’s because of this that since my trip to New York I’ve become a lot more frugal when it comes to booking accommodation. I seriously don’t need a luxury apartment that I’m only going to spend a tiny fraction of time in.

New York City, in particular, is expensive for hotels no matter how to budget you go.

My biggest advice is to book via booking.com and here’s why. With booking.com you can reserve a hotel and often cancel up to 48 hours before for no extra charge. This is brilliant because you can find a reasonable deal, book it and then keep looking for something even better! I booked and cancelled 2 hotels in New York before sticking with our final choice and ended up saving over 300 GBP! 

The accommodation we ended up staying in was in central Manhattan opposed to being further away from the city for a cheaper price! For more information on where we stayed in New York City then take a look at this post!

My Tip: When saving money in New York City book accommodation with a free cancellation option. Keep hunting for the best deal. I used to book a hotel then never look again but when there’s no charge for cancellation then you don’t have to worry. I always book accommodation with booking.com because that’s always where I find the best deals.


    
        Booking.com

How to Save Money in New York City on the Best Sights! 

So hopefully you’ve been able to haggle a little and found some relatively cheap accommodation. But if you feel like you’ve splurged just getting there don’t worry. There are plenty of ways to save money on a trip to NYC once you are actually there!

There are so many attractions you can visit in New York for free. I’ve got a few savvy tricks up my sleeve to make sure you can enjoy this city without break the bank or compromising on any of the New York attractions. 

Take advantage of the freebies!

The biggest piece of advice I can give is to enjoy the free magic that New York has to offer. You might not release but actually the majority of New Yorks biggest and most beautiful attractions are completely free. The following tourist sights can be seen totally for free, I’ll go into more detail on each attraction underneath. 

  • Statue of Liberty 
  • Times Square 
  • Brooklyn Bridge 
  • Grand Central Terminal 
  • Panoramic Views of New York City from above at sunset 
  • Central Park
  • 5th Avenue 
  • Bryant Park 
  • Bloomingdales 
  • 9/11 Memorial 
  • The Highline 

If it is your first time in New York then I’m pretty sure that you have most if not all of these spots on your bucket list. Even if you saw just these iconic landmarks and flew straight home the trip across the pond would be worth it. 

How to See The Statue of Liberty for Free

The Statue of Liberty, it wouldn’t be a trip to New York without paying her a visit. I honestly couldn’t wait to see this icon in real life rather than through my television screen! What got me even more excited was the fact I could do so for free! To see the lady herself for free all you need to do is take a subway to Whitehall station. From there catch the commuter ferry to Staten Island.

staten island ferry new york
The Staten Island Ferry

This ferry is completely free and runs from Staten Island to New York every 30 minutes. The boat sails directly past the Statue of Liberty offering amazing views. Sure the boat doesn’t go directly to Liberty Island nor can you disembark and go up to the statue but do you really need to?

For most us a glance from a distance and great photograph is satisfactory so save some money in New York by seeing the statue for free! 

Tip: The best time to hop on board Staten Island ferry. Is after 10 am and before 4 pm to avoid the commuters on their way to and from the office. On the way to Staten Island, you’ll need to be situated on the right-hand side of the boat and the left-hand side for the return journey to get a good view! 

This has quickly become one of the most popular ways to see the statue of liberty so some crowds are inevitable! 

Wander Around Times Square Don’t Shop

Times Square. Most have a love-hate relationship with this tourist heavy arcade that boasts some of the brightest lights in the city. I admit I also have a kind of love-hate feeling with it. Standing in Times Square for the first time made me feel so alive. The rush I felt as people pushed past me and shoving me out of their path was a little bizarre but so fulfilling. I felt concerned that people were so god damn rude but it also felt like a pinch-me moment. It also made me feel claustrophobic, frustrated at how busy it was and quite frankly like the smallest human in the world.

In Times Square you’re a nobody to those around you because all that matters is where you’re going. 

Times Square is a shopping hub. I admit I’m not a big shopper so it didn’t take any of my cash as a casualty. Honestly, skip the shops and just take it all in. Take some photographs for free and save the shopping for when you’re back home. The H&M is the same as the one you’ll find in your local town just bigger.

For now, just watch, smell and feel what it’s like be in the very hub of New York City. 

Walk the Brooklyn Bridge and The High Line

Another iconic landmark in New York the famous Brooklyn Bridge. There are a few options you can either walk, cycle or drive across the bridge my advice would be to walk. A taxi will cost you a small fortune so I wouldn’t even entertain the idea. Hop on the subway to Brooklyn and then walk back across the bridge to Manhattan. You get to enjoy that perfect skyline as you walk back towards the city. Cycling over the bridge would be epic but you’re going to have to hire the bikes costing money! Save some extra dollars by walking the bridge. 

Another walk that’s completely free in New York is the high line. A park built upon the old railroads walks you through the Meatpacking District, Greenwich and Chelsea before weaving in and out back to Manhattan.

Free walks are a great way to save money in New York City.

Grand Central Terminal 

This spot is my most favourite in New York. I’m not caught speechless on many occasions but when I walked into this station, it was one of them. Of course, Grand Central Station is completely free to visit and if you’ve got good will power then you’ll walk around not spending a thing. But I warn you there’s a whole concourse dedicated to some of the best food in New York as well as a produce market! 

New York City, New York City, Top 10, Things to do
Grand Central, New York City

Panoramic Views of New York City at Sunset!

The best way to see New York is from above. That view across the city is sensational and most head to the Empire State Building or Rockefeller Centre to get it. Both have observation decks but both require payment of up to $40 per ticket! To me, that’s pricey just to go to the top and wander around with 100 other tourists! 

During our 4 days in New York, we decided to do this a little differently. In the Rockefeller on floor 65 is Bar Sixty Five. Bar Sixty Five has a gorgeous outside area with sensational views of the city below. Instead of watching the city from above with all the other tourists why not do it in style?

We decided to book a table for free and head to see the view from here. We bought only one cocktail each and sipped whilst watching the whole of New York below us. It was a surreal moment. My mum and I all dressed up enjoying a cocktail on a rooftop bar in New York – had we won the lottery?! Nope, we just thought outside the box. 

For less money than what the observation decks charge we got a gorgeous setting, with the famous view and a cocktail in hand. The bar wasn’t by any means pushy to get rid of us or anything. There was no time limit on our table and I recommend seeing the view this way to everyone I speak to! I think we were there for over 3 hours!

Enjoy New Yorks Parks

Both Central Park and Bryant Parks are gorgeous assets to this city. The fact that so much greenery can be found in such a concrete playground is amazing. You can spend days wandering around Central Park and I recommend you use at least one full day to do so. Central Park is full of wonders to explore. From Strawberry Fields to Alice in Wonderland there’s something special for everyone. Bryant Park maybe a little smaller but it’s a wonderful little space to lose yourself in. Why not visit the New York Public Library whilst your there, it’s also free! 

me in central park new york
Me strolling around Central Park a few years ago!

Tip: Go to the supermarket the day before and pick up some groceries. Take a picnic so you don’t have to buy food from the stalls in the parks. I mean what’s more dreamy than having a picnic in Central Park?!  

9/11 Memorial 

What many travellers don’t know is the 9/11 memorial is completely free. It’s the museum which you have to pay. I do totally recommend it by the way but the memorial itself is free for you to go and pay your respects. 

This is certainly not an exhaustive list of free things to do in New York City but it’s definitely a start. Like wandering Bloomingdales,  5th avenue and the upper east side costs you nothing. Use your imagination and you could probably see the whole of New York for free!

9/11 museum new york
The 9/11 Memorial

How to Save Money on Broadway Tickets in New York City!

This is by far my favourite tip on how to save money on your trip to NYC because what’s a trip to the big city without going to catch a show on Broadway! There are a few ways which you can get cheap tickets for broadway but most involve not choosing what show you want to watch. If you don’t care then you can simply queue up at the TKTS booth in Times Square. Every day they discount so many tickets for those evening shows. It’s usually the shows that aren’t sold out but it’s a great way to a show for a cheaper price! 

Try Out AttractionTix

There was no way I was seeing anything on Broadway other than The Lion King. That said, at $200 a ticket on Ticketmaster, I had no idea if it was going to be possible. That’s when I came across AttractionTix. I admit I was a little dubious at first to whether or not this website was legitimate. They were offering Lion King tickets for half the price of Ticketmaster for a while I thought there must be a catch.

But I read positive review after positive review so decided to go for it. I booked two tickets for the Lion King on Broadway and then realised you can’t pick where you want to sit. They give you the option on what tier to sit on but not the seats themselves. Basically you have to keep it all crossed that you can your travel buddy will be sat together! 

They then send you tickets which you have to change on the day of the performance at the Lion King ticket office in New York. I was a bag of nerves standing in line praying we were sat together and got a good seat! Luckily for us, my mum and I were sat together and we also had a perfect view and aisle seat! The aisle seat is perfect for the Lion King because the cast walks through the crowd at the start of the performance!

It was a fantastic experience and I’d definitely use AttractionTix again and again! 

How to Save Money on Transport in New York City 

The best way to save money on Transport in New York City is quite simple to walk. New York is huge but you can get around pretty easily with your two feet if you invest in some comfy walking shoes. We saved heaps of money by walking to the majority of attractions whilst in the city. When the time came that we did need to use the transport around the city here are some of the tips which helped us save:

  • Never take a taxi unless you really have to! Don’t forget in the USA tipping is essential and that means the taxi driver too!
  • Use the subway instead but before you go work out how many trips you think you’re likely to take before deciding what kind of ticket to buy.
  • If you’re going to be in the city for a week then buy the $33 7 day metro pass. You get unlimited trips and It’ll work out cheaper than buying single trips of you take more than expected.
  • Make sure you research the cheapest options when it comes to getting transport to and from the airport. The subway is the cheapest option by far but can be a little tricky with luggage. We got a shuttle bus from JFK to Grand Central. It only cost $15 which I was more than happy to pay.
  • A taxi ride from JFK to New York City will be around $55. That’s not including a tip or any time added on because of traffic and there’s always traffic! If you’re looking to save money in New York City then like I said before taxies aren’t the way to go!

How to Save Money on Food in New York City 

New York City is serious foodie paradise! Honestly, the amount of street food around is mouth watering just thinking about it. You can grab a corn dog, pizza slice or burrito on every corner. The key to saving money on food in New York is to eat from the street vendors and go where the locals go! 

eggs benedict at scottys dinner new york city
Breakfast is enough to keep you going all day at Scottys!

Avoid tourist traps like Magnolia Bakery or the Cheesecake Factory. Anywhere you eat in Times Square is also going to be pricey so do a little research before you go. During our trip to New York City, we lived off cheap pizza slices and bagels!  It might sound boring but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. New York does bagels like nowhere else in the world and how you can complain at $1 pizza slices? 

Don’t get me wrong we totally splurged on frozen hot chocolate at Serendipity 3 and had a fancy meal out before watching The Lion King on Broadway but kept budget in-between. 

Some of our favourite cheap eats were: 

  • 2 Bro’s Pizza Shop – St. Marks Place Manhattan 
  • Zuckers Bagels – Grand Central 
  • Joes Steam Rice Roll –  Asian Style in the Ukrainian Village 
  • Scotty’s Diner –  Breakfast – Lexington Ave Manhattan
  • S’mac and Cheese – Manhattan 
  • The Grey Dog –  West Village
  • Best Bagel and Coffee – Midtown
  • IHOP – Pancakes in Manhattan 

Check out this post by Time Out for a much longer list of some budget eats in New York City! 

If you do want to treat yourself for a night like we did then I highly recommend Serendipity 3. The frozen hot chocolate is amazing and the food to die for. Endless celebrities have eaten there and you can see why. Its quirky interior has you feeling like you’ve well and truly followed Alice down the rabbit hole! It is a little pricey but totally worth it! You can’t book ahead but simply turn up and they’ll give you a time to return for your table. Don’t go far because they will give it away if you’re not back in good time!

The Frozen Hot Chocolate at Serendipity 3
The Frozen Hot Chocolate at Serendipity 3!

So, Can You Save Money on a Trip to NYC?

So to answer the questions in hand. Can you save money on your trip to New York? Well, I think the short answer is yes. If you follow some of these tips then you’re bound to save some money in New York. But it does pay to keep an open mind. New York is one of the most expensive places in the world so you’ll probably pay more for some things you wouldn’t in other cities around the world. To conclude I think the best tips I can give you to save money in New York City are: 

  • Book flights in advance 
  • Book accommodation with booking.com and keep your options open
  • Eat cheap street food 
  • Think about how much you really want to pay for things like observation decks? Is there a cheaper way of doing things? Like the Bar Sixty Five option I mentioned!
  • Take advantage of the many free things to do in New York 
  • Walk where you can or buy a metro card 
  • Use a website like Attraction Trix for Broadway Tickets 
  • Avoid Tourist Traps 

I hope that you enjoyed this post on how to save money in New York City! I really hope it’s given you some tips and some encouragement that you can go on a budget trip to the big apple. If you enjoyed it then I would be so thankful if you could share this post with your friends! I wouldn’t be able to carry on writing this blog without you so thanks for reading!

Other New York City Resources:

If you know any other tips on saving money in New York then let me know in the comments below! 

Happy Travels,

Alicia

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