Once I moved to New York City, all my friends suddenly wanted to visit me all the time. And I don’t blame them – NYC is the bomb! But going to all the touristy spots over and over again with them would do a number on my wallet if I wasn’t careful.
Luckily, many of my friends are budget-conscious as well, and they’re typically down to experience NYC in the cheapest way possible. They’re always asking me how they can spend their time here without spending all their money. So I’ve gathered some tricks of the trade.
Here’s my guide to seeing and doing the best NYC has to offer without busting your bank account.
1. Use The Skint for daily updates on once-in-a-lifetime activities.
The Skint is a website where the curators post all the free and cheap things to do in the city every single day. I check it so much you’d think it was my Facebook. It’s my godsend. In my opinion, the activities posted are mostly geared towards millennials and young adults. Not much for kids or young families going on there. NYC Go is another website to scroll through, but it only lists things going on all year round rather than updating every day. It’s definitely more family-friendly though!
2. Find the cheaper alternatives to pricey tourist traps.
Sure, you could pay $32 to go to the Top of the Rock. But why would you when you could go to Bar SixtyFive, the lounge just a floor under the observatory deck in Rockefeller Plaza with practically the exact same view? All you have to do is buy an appetizer or a drink and you’re golden. And Ellis Island is certainly an experience all it’s own, but if you’re only interested in seeing the Statue of Liberty and not interested in paying $18, just take the free Staten Island Ferry for a spectacular shot (I highly recommend taking the ferry at sunset because you’ll get a sunset view of the statue on the way to Staten Island and a glowing nighttime cityscape on the way back!). Also remember that there are tons of ways to see Broadway shows that feel like you’re stealing.
3. If you’re able, walk and take the subway everywhere…but don’t take a cab.
I practically never use cabs or Ubers and I live here. It’s just not financially practical when I can get to nearly any destination for $2.75 per subway ride or using my old fashioned feet. If you’re dead set on having the typical NYC cabbing experience, take one and that’s it. It’s simply just too expensive and it adds up.
4. Remember that admission to most museums is by donation!
Don’t fall for the “suggested entrance fee” on their signs! Many museums are donation-only. One time I almost paid $22 to get into the Natural History Museum before I realized the price posted at the ticket kiosk was only a recommendation. Instead my friend and I paid a $1 for both of us and had money to get ice cream afterwards. Same goes for the Met and many other places!
5. Decide what you will spend money on.
I get it – there are some things that you’ll want to splurge on. For me, that’s always food. I’ll go cheap on where I’m staying and what I’m doing, but I’m always down to dish out some extra cash if it means having a once-in-a-lifetime meal. Of course, I never go too wild, but I’ll hand over $10 more than I would typically pay for a burger if it’s a ramen burger I can only find in NYC or the very best bagels in the city. Other people may decide they would like to go cheap on food but spend a bit more on accommodations, and that’s totally fine. Pick and choose what’s important and what’s not.
6. Visit the lesser-known and hella-awesome NYC spots.
There are so many places people aren’t aware of in NYC that they miss when they come to visit, and most of them are so very cheap! I love taking people to Upright Citizens Brigade, the live comedy club that gave rise to famous improv stars like Amy Poehler, Adam McKay, Aziz Ansari, Ed Helms, Donald Glover, and more. The High Line, an above-ground railroad-turned-park, is another favorite, as well as the bougie shopping center Chelsea Market and the secretive Please Don’t Tell, a former speakeasy that’s still in business and way, way cool. There are lots of very affordable adventures to have here that nobody thinks about.
7. Consider opting for the cheapest accommodations you can find.
If you’re not lucky enough to have a friend in NYC and you don’t want to stay with me (lol), you may want to consider couch surfing (totally free), AirBnB (very cheap), or house sitting (free, but may require extended stays and work on the side). Each come with their own pros and cons, so choose wisely!
8. If you’re going to go out, do it for free.
Don’t you DARE pay those ridiculously pricey cover charges. I have never in my whole life paid one. There are so many fun bars and dancing hotspots I love to go to for absolutely free. Drink something at home and then hit the scene! Some personal favorites are Jake’s Dilemma for games, Prohibition and Don’t Tell Mama for talented live music, The Dead Poet for a chill evening with friends, and Fat Baby for dancing. Always the Fat Baby for dancing. 🙂
Have anything to add to the list?