The 7 Best Tips for Budget Travel to New York City According To Someone Who Lived There

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While Covid remains a concern for traveling right now and NYC has been particularly hard hit by the pandemic, I have no doubt that New York will rebound in time and the indomitable spirit of New Yorkers. Living in Europe, everyone tells me they want to visit New York City when they ask me where I used to live in the United States.  This post is in anticipation of when the City That Never Sleeps finds its feet in the travel world again. 

There’s no question that New York is on the wishlist for many travellers. However, checking out the city’s sights and attractions can be daunting, especially for visitors who are on a tight budget. Luckily, you can still experience New York City’s grandeur as well as enjoy budget travel to New York City. In this article, we’ll take a look at 6 tips to help you save money while you’re touring NYC on a budget. I lived in New York City for years including when I was a student and money was tight.

Budget Travel NYC: Lodging

Whether you’re alone or with a large group of people, New York City has accommodations for every type of traveler. Thrifty visitors who are looking for good rooms that are reasonably priced may have a harder search though. You really don’t want to inadvertently end up in a roach motel or bringing bed bugs home as a souvenir.

You need to search around to find affordable clean hotels around the city. It’s important to stay in a hotel that puts your health and safety at the forefront to ensure that you can come back to a space where you can sit back and relax after hours of pounding the New York City pavement.

Remember!  AirBnBs are technically illegal in New York City.

Budget Travel NYC: Transportation

New York City is designed to be a walkable city, so do your best to take advantage of that fact. If you need to get somewhere fast, you can always take the subway, which you can easily access from several points in the city. Taxis are not only expensive but you can spend a lot of time sitting in traffic racking up the charges.

Walking or taking the subway is also an excellent way to experience what it’s like living in New York. You’ll also get a chance to witness many of the city’s unique quirks like seeing buskers, panhandlers and the fashion-challenged.

Budget Travel NYC: Eating Out

There are plenty of eateries selling affordable food that taste mind-blowingly good. From street trucks and vendors, to pizzerias and delis, there’s definitely something in New York that’ll satisfy your cravings without breaking the bank. Affordable and scrumptious eats you can find in New York City include the following:

      • Falafels at Mamoun’s in Greenwich Village
      • Seafood tacos at Los Maricos on 15th Street
      • The Superiority Burger at Superiority Burger on 9th Street
      • Bagels and bialys at Kossar’s on 367 Grand Street
      • Recession Special at Gray’s Papaya on Broadway

Gray’s Papaya are practically an institution in New York as are the various delis spread throughout New York City. Katz’s Delicatessen is a no-frills cafeteria style place that was featured in the 1989  hit movie, When Harry Met Sally. The food is cheap and the portions are huge. The original Famous Ray’s Pizza is in the Theatre District (7th Avenue between 53rd and 54th).

Chinatown fruit market in New York City
Make like the locals and eat as they do at local delis and markets

Budget Travel NYC: Things To Do

Many of New York City’s popular attractions and activities require visitors to pay an entrance fee or purchase a ticket beforehand. There are also plenty of things you can do and visit for free while in New York.

Visit Central Park for a fun afternoon of exploring this urban oasis. There is Strawberry Fields which has the memory to John Lennon, Bethesda Fountain and Terrace for a picturesque view of the lake, Belvedere Castle from which you can look out over the park and the city skyline and The Mall which is full of street entertainers and skateboarders. If you are visiting with kids, there are several playgrounds dotted throughout the park.

Cyclists in Central Park
Central Park is a must-visit in New York City

Another popular urban park is the High Line which is an urban park made from a disused railway line. There are places to sit and watch people as well as great vantage points over the city streets below. The High Line runs between the Whitney Museum of Art and to 34th Street which is almost 2 miles. It was inspired by the Promenade Plantee in Paris.

Ride the Staten Island Ferry to and from Staten Island for great views of downtown Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty.

Skyscrapers around Battery Park in Lower Manhattan, New York City.
The view of lower manhattan

Take the Roosevelt Island Tram from 59th Street and Second Avenue to pedestrian-only Roosevelt Island. The Four Freedoms Park is another beautiful space on Roosevelt Island and also has great views back over midtown Manhattan and the United Nations area. The Tram is the same cost as a subway ride. You may remember the tram from the Spiderman movie!

Budget Travel NYC: Culture Vulture

Unlike London where most museums are free all the time, most museums in New York City have specific times when they are free entry.

Some of the museums that are free are the African Memorial Ground Burial Site, the National Museum of the American Indian and the New York Public Library Schwarzman Building. Check the NYC official website to see when other museums are free. For example, the 9/11 Memorial and Museum are free on Tuesday evenings.

While you are walking through Rockefeller Center, check out the amazing art deco buildings. You can also visit St. Patrick’s Cathedral for free as well.

There’s a lot of public art in New York City as well. For example, there is the famous Charging Bull near Wall Street (Broadway and Morris St), Red Cube by Isamu Noguchi in downtown (140 Broadway) and Love by Robert Indiana at Midtown West (55th and 6th Avenue).

 The landmark Charging Bull in Lower Manhattan represents aggressive financial optimism and prosperity
The Charging Bull statue near Wall Street

Budget Travel NYC: Bars

If you’re interested in drinking in the city’s watering holes, make sure to utilize the bar or club’s happy hour. During this time, you can get your favorite alcoholic beverage at a fraction of the cost or in unlimited servings.

Establishments that offer happy hours typically start at 4:00 pm and last round 6:00 pm to 7:00 pm. Although you aren’t partying the night away, you’re saving up while sipping on New York’s classic drinks—like the Cosmopolitan or Manhattan—in a less crowded environment.

Budget Travel NYC: Follow the Locals

Like all popular destinations, New York City is riddled with tourist traps. It’s a general rule that Times Square is a total overpriced tourist trap. From overpriced restaurants to overrated attractions, there are a lot of things that can deplete your savings, fast.

Builiding in Little Italy area of New York painted in the colours of the Italian flag.
A bonus with staying someplace like Little Italy is the easy access to great food!

To avoid falling into these traps, it’s best to expand your reach and visit the city’s residential neighborhoods like Yorkville (on the Upper East Side between 79th and 96th), the East Village, Chinatown and Hells Kitchen (lower West Side between 34th and 59th from 8th Avenue to the Hudson).

In Summary

Budget travel to New York City is also dependent upon the time of year. Christmas is super busy and super expensive. My in-laws went in February because flights were cheap from London. They discovered New York is super cold. On the other hand, if you wrap up warm you can have a grand time in New York City in winter. My favourite off-season time of the year is either late spring or autumn when the weather is warm and the tourist crowds are at their lowest.

Visiting New York City isn’t cheap, but there are a number of things you can do to experience the city’s culture while staying within budget. By using these 7 tips as your guide, you can rest assured that your money-saving NYC adventure will be something you’ll never forget.

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New York City at sunset with a purple and pink sky with the words: Top 7 New York City Budget Tips From A Local
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