The Big Apple has a reputation as a pricey vacation destination, and that’s not entirely undeserved. The average rate at New York City hotels is a whopping $254 a night, according to a recent Statista report – America’s most expensive average nightly rate. With prices like that, visiting New York on a budget may seem impossible.
But pricey hotels aside, New York City is actually a surprisingly attractive destination for budget travelers, especially if you’re willing to do a little advance planning. Read on to learn how to save money in New York City, including tips for dining on the cheap, getting discount tickets to Broadway shows, saving on public transportation and finding the city’s best free attractions and events.
Planning a trip to New York on a budget
1. Get out the map. Group the sights that you want to see by neighborhood, so that you visit one area of the city each day (for example, visit the Statue of Liberty and Wall Street one day, and Central Park and Times Square another day). This will make the most of your time and save you money on the subway, and on Uber and taxi rides.
2. Expand your reach. Spend at least part of your trip exploring residential neighborhoods like NoHo, Tribeca and Greenwich Village rather than sticking to the tourist traps. You’ll get to see the real New York without paying out the wazoo.
How to save money on New York City attractions
3. Purchase a tourist pass. If you know you’ll be packing a lot of popular attractions into your stay, you may be able to save with a city pass. The New York Pass gives you entry into dozens of attractions over a set number of days for one fixed price. Another option is CityPass, which includes admission to either three or six museums and sights, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Empire State Building, over nine days. Passes such as these not only save you money, but also let you skip the lines.
4. Look for reduced admission. Check the websites of museums you plan to visit to find out whether they offer any free or reduced-price admission days. For example, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) is free every Friday between 4 and 8 p.m. Some museums also offer coupons or discounts on their websites, so make sure to check before going.
5. Take advantage of freebies. Some attractions are free all the time – including Central Park, where there are almost always street performers and musicians roaming around, and the High Line, a public park recently created from an old elevated rail line. The Downtown Boathouse offers free public kayaking programs.
6. Stock up on coupons. For discounts on food, shopping, spas and attraction admissions, search discount sites like Groupon and LivingSocial. Those who know they’ll be traveling to New York City can stock up on some good deals prior to visiting.
7. Take the ferry. Skip the touristy (and pricey) harbor cruises and take the Staten Island Ferry instead for fantastic views of New York Harbor – it’s free!
How to save on NYC shows and entertainment
8. Find low-cost events. Travelers visiting New York on a budget should take advantage of the many free or inexpensive concerts, readings, art exhibits and other events happening all over the city on any given day. The only challenge is finding them. For a start, try the “Free in NYC” page of New York’s official tourist board.
9. Save on Broadway tickets. The popular TKTS booths are great places to check for discounted Broadway tickets, but they’re not your only option. There are often even better deals to be had on discount ticket websites like BroadwayBox.com.
10. Go to the source. Theaters will often sell leftover tickets (for as little as $25) a couple of hours before shows at their respective box offices – but sometimes it’s standing room only, or seats may not be together if you’ve got a group. Some theaters may give discounts to seniors or students with ID; it never hurts to ask.
11. Get a subscription. Theater lovers who visit New York regularly or are planning a lengthy trip should consider an Audience Extras membership. For a yearly fee, you get access to last-minute tickets for local shows and concerts that have empty seats to fill. Tickets are free, other than a small ticket service charge. The membership pays for itself after just a few shows.
How to save on New York transportation
12. Buy a subway pass. If you’re planning a longer trip to the city, it’s often cost-efficient to buy subway passes that give you unlimited rides for a week or longer (depending, obviously, on how long you’ll be in town). This is especially true if you don’t know where you’re going because if you make a mistake and have to redirect, it may involve swiping your card several times more than you anticipated.
13. Consider driving. If you’re coming into the city with a group of people, it might actually be cheaper to take a car (though also more annoying). Say you pay $40 for parking, $15 for tolls and $10 for gas – it might be less than $30 x 4 for train tickets into the city. But be sure to weigh that against the convenience of taking the train.
14. Plan your parking. If you do decide to drive into the city, print out coupons or a parking pass ahead of time that will allow you to park all day for a flat rate, rather than paying horrendous hourly fees. One good option is Icon Parking, which is well-known throughout the city and has several locations. On its website, you can enter the dates and times of your arrival and departure – give yourself a buffer of a couple of hours each way, in case you arrive early or get tied up and leave late – and choose your parking garage location using the map. It’ll then give you a printable confirmation that guarantees your flat rate for that time frame. You can either pay in advance online or get a coupon to bring to the site.
15. Use your feet. Manhattan is very walkable and you’ll see a lot more on foot than you would by public transport or taxi. Plus, it’s free.
16. Hop on a bike. Biking is a fun and inexpensive way to get around the city – just be sure to wear a helmet and stick to bike lanes for safety. There are some wonderful cycle routes around Manhattan, especially along the Hudson and East rivers. New York has a bike-share program called Citi Bike; for a very small fee, you can borrow a bike for anywhere from 30 minutes to three days.
How to save on meals in New York City
17. Follow the young folks. If upscale lounges and fancy restaurants aren’t your thing, skip the touristy Times Square area and eat where the students eat. Neighborhoods with colleges and universities – such as the East Village near New York University – often have unique local eats at fantastic prices.
18. Hit the streets. In a city renowned for its street food, you’re missing out if you eat all your meals in restaurants. From familiar hot dog carts to trucks bearing every kind of ethnic fare you can imagine, you can eat your way around the globe without ever leaving the Big Apple – or paying more than a few bucks at a time. A thorough site called New York Street Food highlights some of the best options.
19. Explore ethnic neighborhoods. Areas like Chinatown, Little Italy and Little India are a great bet for authentic meals at affordable prices. One of my favorite dining experiences is to get up early on a Sunday and head to Chinatown for dim sum. Locals far outnumber tourists in the busy restaurants there, which offer small tapas-style plates for just a few dollars each.
20. Don’t worry, be happy. To save money at the bar, go out early and take advantage of happy hour prices and less crowded venues.
Where to stay in New York on a budget
21. Stay outside Manhattan. Thanks to New York’s comprehensive public transportation system, there’s no need to pay through the nose for a Midtown hotel when you can stay in one of the other boroughs – or in New Jersey – and take the train wherever you want to go. Even after factoring in the cost of extra transportation, the savings can be significant.
22. Consider alternatives. There are plenty of other options besides hotels, including apartment rentals, home exchanges, couch surfing and hostels, many of which offer private rooms in addition to shared dorms. For more ideas, see “Ditch the hotel: 10 cheaper ways to stay.” (Note that rentals through Airbnb and other vacation rental sites are not always legal in New York City; to protect yourself, read “Airbnb and beyond: Tips for safe, legal vacation rentals.”)
23. Share a bathroom. If you’re willing to sacrifice a little comfort for a better location, consider staying in a hotel or an inn with a shared bath – it’s often one of the best ways to find a truly budget rate in the most popular Manhattan neighborhoods.
Shopping in New York on a Budget
24. Hit the flea markets. Spend your Saturday or Sunday shopping (and haggling) at one of the city’s flea markets, where you’ll always find something unique. Consider GreenFlea in Manhattan or Brooklyn Flea.
25. Shop in the right spot. If you’re looking for great deals on purses or jewelry, skip the street corner vendors and head to Canal Street, where you’ll find bargain basement prices.
This story originally appeared on SmarterTravel.com.
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Carrie Gonzalez, Ashley Kosciolek, Shayne Rodriguez Thompson, Dan Askin, Carolyn Spencer Brown, John Deiner, and Erica Silverstein contributed to this story.
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