Let’s face it: New York City has never been cheap – and a strong dollar and recent inflation have only made things more expensive.
Yet as any New Yorker knows, low-cost pleasures abound around town – if you know where to look. Some of the city’s most iconic attractions charge no fees at all, while many museums offer free or reduced admission on certain days. With a little guidance, discount tickets to see world-class performing arts are easy to score. And people-watching in parks, along sidewalks or on the subway? That doesn’t cost a cent. Here are a few ways to stretch your dollar further in one of the world’s most expensive cities.
- Shared hostel room: from $70
- Basic hotel room for two: from $200
- Self-catering apartment (including Airbnb): from $200
- Subway and bus ticket: $2.90
- Coffee from a street cart: $1.50
- Slice of cheese pizza: $3.25
- Restaurant dinner for two: from $80
- Beer/pint at the bar: $8 to $10
LaGuardia Airport offers the cheapest transport to Manhattan
New York JFK and Newark Liberty airports both have train connections to Manhattan – though each requires the purchase of a separate ticket to get from the terminal to a connecting subway line. LaGuardia, on the other hand, requires just a single $2.90 tap. The free Q70 bus (labeled the “LaGuardia Link”) takes about 10 minutes to connect from the airport terminals, via dedicated highway lanes, to the Jackson Hts–Roosevelt Ave subway station. From here it’s just one fare required on the subway to wherever you’re going.
Hotels in Koreatown and upper Chelsea offer great value
Simple hotels from international brands have proliferated in recent years to meet ever-growing demand. A cluster of properties in Koreatown, around W 32nd St, and the north end of Chelsea offer especially good value. Rooms at the Hotel at Fifth Avenue usually come in at under $200 per night; options like the Fairfield Inn Suites, DoubleTree by Hilton, Hilton Garden Inn, and others on W 28th and 29th Sts, combine great value with a central location.
Look for lodging outside of Manhattan
Similar properties have sprouted across the East River, too. You’ll get slightly better rates than in Manhattan at hotels such as TownePlace Suites by Marriott and the Nesva in Long Island City, Queens – a neighborhood only minutes from Manhattan by subway. The nearby Local Hostel offers even better budget options.
Don’t pay full price for a Broadway show
With the exception of red-hot hits, just about every show on Broadway has seats for below face value. If you’re picking shows in advance of your trip, look for discount codes to use at the box office or online at sites like BroadwayBox.com or Playbill. If you’re in a more spur-of-the-moment mood, the TKTS booths in Times Square and Lincoln Center are a one-stop shop for same-day tickets at reduced prices. If you’re visiting in the winter, January and February offer the best discounts, as shows hustle to stay open between the holiday rush and the Tony Awards in late spring.
Research rush tickets
Many Broadway shows offer same-day rush tickets that cost well below even the lowest presale discount; Playbill.com is a reliable source for the latest policies, which vary by production. Hear thrilling music for just $22 with the New York Philharmonic’s same-day rush seats, offered for select concerts. The Brooklyn Academy of Music sells rush tickets to students, seniors and veterans. And perhaps the best offering in town is at the city’s grandest venue: the Metropolitan Opera. Pre-register online, then log on at 12 sharp each day to score orchestra seats to that day’s performance for just $25 each. Now, that’s something to sing about.
Take advantage of the free subway-to-bus transfer
If you time it right, you can hop on the subway to run an errand uptown, then take the bus back downtown, for just one fare. A transfer between any subway and bus line is free within two hours of the first MetroCard swipe or credit-card tap, providing a two-for-one deal – if you move fast. Consider this money-saving tactic if you have a last-minute gift to buy before you depart, or need to check the availability of rush tickets at a Lincoln Center box office.
Time your museum visits carefully
Admission fees to New York’s stupendous museums – all private institutions – have inched up over the years, with $30 for an adult ticket the new normal. (They’re worth it!) Yet the major players all offer times when visitors can pay what they wish, or nothing at all.
- Stop by the Frick Collection on Thursdays from 4pm to 6pm and enjoy its peerless old masters for whatever price you want to pay. Occasional “open nights” offer evening gallery-going for no cost at all.
- The Guggenheim has weekly pay-what-you-wish hours on Saturdays from 5pm to 8pm. Advance reservations are strongly recommended.
- Friday evenings are the slot for pay-what-you-wish admission to the Whitney Museum of American Art. Again, reserving in advance is a good idea.
- The National September 11 Memorial Museum makes free tickets available each Monday. Log on at 7am sharp on the day of your visit to claim yours.
Consider a multiple-attraction pass
Visitors looking to see marquee attractions have several pass options that bundle admission to shave costs. The best value depends on how much you want to pack in, and for how long.
The best-known option, CityPass, will get you discounted admission to up to 11 famous attractions, from the Empire State Building to the Circle Line to the American Museum of Natural History. Choose any three with the C3 pass, or do the full circuit with “C All” option. Competitors like Go City’s New York Pass and the New York Sightseeing Pass include even more options for the truly ambitious. Start by mapping out which sights you can’t miss – then pick the best option for you.
Buy a Citi Bike day pass to cover some ground
The minute you set out in New York, you’ll see blue Citi Bikes everywhere you look. New York’s wildly successful bike-sharing program offers the best deal for full-time residents via annual memberships – yet visitors can cover a lot of ground for great value with a $19 day pass. Plan an ambitious day of exploring Central Park, the Hudson River shoreline and even neighborhoods in Queens and Brooklyn by mapping out 30-minute trips between them all – and consider that the day pass is far cheaper than even a single taxi ride between these far-flung pleasures. Download the app for seamless access as you bop around town.
Stop at a food truck
Some of the city’s tastiest dishes can be had curbside. Despite ongoing issues with permitting and conflict with brick-and-mortar establishments, the city’s food-truck scene is booming – and these mobile kitchens offer the best flavor-to-price ratio around. Head to Brooklyn for divine Mexican bites at Tacos El Bronco. Greek fare doesn’t get tastier than from King Souvlaki’s trucks, and it’s hard to resist waffles heaving with sweet toppings from Wafels & Dinges. These are but three of the limitless options; the bottom line is that if you see a queue in front of a truck during your wanderings, join it.
Haunt happy hours for a taste of the restaurant scene
Eating out is a hallowed New York City tradition – and these days, an expensive one indeed. Yet by doing your homework on happy hours around town, you can sample the city’s fabulous restaurant offerings for much less than a full dinner out. Mermaid Oyster Bar in Greenwich Village, for example, offers delicious seafood in a stylish dining room – and oysters for $1.50 each, from 5pm to 7pm. Uptown, Vinatería offers a range of wines and cocktails for $10 and under, plus a delicious sampling of its Spanish-Italian menu.
Save on off-hour baseball games
New York has two Major League Baseball teams – and spending an afternoon at the ballpark is a great way to get a taste of the city’s sporting culture. Ticket pricing is dynamic for the Yankees and the Mets, which means buying early will save you money on games. Daytime games are always less than evening ones (you’re on vacation, after all), while a varying number of $10 Grandstand seats are offered for every home game at Yankee Stadium. If you’re really keen to watch a Mets game batter by batter, buy cheap Promenade seats at Citi Field – then head to a “standing room only” lookout for excellent views of the field.
Take advantage of New York’s parks
You could plan a week-long itinerary just exploring New York’s superb parks – and still only scratch the surface. These free-to-visit marvels offer up superb views, bucolic landscapes and a true taste of city living. Pack a picnic and lie out in the sun at Sheep Meadow at Central Park. Hop the A train for a beach day to remember in the Rockaways. Go bird-watching at Inwood Hill Park or in wild Forest Park in Queens. Then treat yourself to a nice dinner out as a reward for a wonderfully frugal – and just plain wonderful – excursion.
Avoid chain drugstores; restock at dollar stores instead
Chain drugstores like Duane Reade, CVS and Rite Aid are everywhere in New York – and though they stock an astonishing amount of merchandise suited to city living (or touring), they’re notoriously pricey. If you happen to need toiletries, office supplies, cleaning products or even staple groceries during your visit, the savings will add up fast at ultra-discount stores like Lot-Less or Jacks.