New York is an Expensive City. Hotels, Taxis, Food, Drink, Attractions, Souvenirs they all add up. Very quickly the expense can spiral out of control. What was supposed to be a quick getaway has become monstrously expensive and the credit card is now at breaking point.
But it doesn’t HAVE to be that way. Here is our Guide on how you can see the best of New York without breaking the bank. From bargain flights, cheap hotels, cheap eats, and copious things to see and do for less. Read on to learn how to visit new york city on a budget.
Of course, it all starts here. Until your flights are sorted there really isn’t anything else to sort. Flights to New York can be surprisingly cheap. After all, the Airport network around New York is the busiest in the world. There is no real secret to super cheap flights. People often overthink it. The fact is, Flights are a LIVE Market. and No one really knows if they will rise or fall at any given time.
The best approach is to have a price you are happy with and if that price is available then book. You can drive yourself mad trying to get the absolute best price. Once booked, don’t check again to see if they have fallen as this only leads to disappointment and frustration if they do. We know as we can’t ever quite seem to take this advice!
We tend to search through Skyscanner.net or Google Flights. There are a large amount of different Flight searching sites but all tend to come in around the same price. We just prefer the interface of Skyscanner and Google. The best time to book flights is either very early or very late. You will hear a myriad of myths and tips and tricks on getting the best price but most are completely bogus. We simply monitor prices over a period of time.
Flights are cheapest when they are released, and during any sales when prices are pushed down to increased passenger numbers on quiet flights. other than that the prices simply fluctuate based on supply and demand. With less than a month to go flight prices can plummet, but only if the flight is very quiet. However, this is a dangerous game. as they can just as easily skyrocket as the airline’s bank of squeezing the most out of the last few seats on a busy flight.
Our strategy is simple, if we are planning to go somewhere we cannot risk waiting until the last minute in the hope prices are cheap so the best option is to book as early as possible or during a sale. This is a fairly universal tactic for flight booking regardless of origin and destination. If you see a price you are happy with there is little point in waiting. If you see a price you are very happy with Bag it there and then as the next time you look, it could be gone!
Traveling from the UK? Then Take a look at Jack’s Flight Club and he could save you £100’s!!!
Once you have your flights you can then look at hotels. Again Hotels are a live market and prices change rapidly depending on a number of factors such as the length of time until the stay and how full the hotel is. It’s impossible to know all the details.
However, we use a little trick here that works fantastically. When booking through certain sites the booking is not paid for upfront and can be canceled anytime up to 1 day before the trip. This means it’s quite possible to simply book the hotel at today’s price and then keep an eye on it. If it drops, simply cancel and rebook. We have done this on countless occasions and on many others the price has stubbornly refused to move or skyrocketed shortly after.
We tend to use Booking.com as they offer this feature on many hotels and are more often than not the cheapest on the internet. Of course, should you find a better deal after locking in on booking.com, you can simply cancel your booking with them!
We apologize here for the hard sell. But honestly, almost all our bookings are through this method. We use lots of other comparison sites but often find booking.com comes out cheapest on them. When it isn’t, it’s often a strange company we haven’t heard of. If it’s a company we are happy with we can just cancel Booking.com and book at a cheaper price.
If only the same type of bookings could be done with Flights.
Read our full guide to hotel booking in New York here.
And we take a look at some of the BEST budget hotels in New York City HERE
Another option can be a package deal from a tour operator. These are often competitively priced and can be cheaper than buying a Flight and Hotel separately. But not always. It defiantly pays to check though, especially if flights on your dates are expensive. They often use Charter flights and as such are not under the same pressure as scheduled flights. Block bookings at hotels can also keep prices low. Of course, the higher overheads of this can mean at quiet times they keep their prices high whereas booking separately drops.
There is no hard and fast rule. It just pays to check.
Transport – Airports
With your flight and hotel sorted it’s time to enjoy your trip. The first order of business is getting from the airport to your bargain Hotel. There are several options of varying degrees of ease, speed, and cost. Read our Guides below.
Newark Liberty Airport to Manhattan
Transport – City
Once in the City you then need to get around and again it doesn’t have to cost the earth. Using Taxis to get everywhere will quickly add up. Using the Subway, Local Buses, and walking will greatly reduce the cost of Getting about the city.
An Unlimited Metro Card saves you money after 12 trips and at $32 each that could be all you spend getting about New York.
Read our full guide to getting around New York City.
Food is a big part of any New York Trip and it’s also one of the biggest expenses. New York Restaurants are notoriously expensive. The City is however filled with cheap eats and great ways to save money.
Hot Dogs / Food Carts
Hotdogs are a New York Staple and for a food marketed directly at tourists, actually quite cheap, well they can be! Some sell hotdogs for little as $1 each! $2-3 is more normal and be ready for a bait and switch as the big juicy dogs you see are often much more expensive than the advertised price which is for some shriveled thing boiling away inside the cart. Avoid carts in very heavily populated tourist spots as these will be more expensive. Just walk a block or two away and you will certainly find a cheaper cart.
But it’s not all HotDogs. The Carts now offer a multicultural array of different foods. All at very affordable prices. Pretzels are another New York Icon to look for, but expect Fallafal, Gyros, Shish, Noodles, Korean, and many more! Look for long lines of businessmen and locals for a sure sign it’s great value and clean!
Huge pan Pizza sold by the slice is a Must try food when visiting New York. The good news is it’s far from expensive in most places. Sure the coal-fired oven Pizzas can be a touch pricey, but most regular shops will sell you a delicious slice for only a few dollars. Some are as low as $1 a Slice. It’s hard to resist!
New York delis are legendary and copycats have sprung up all over the world. Nothing beats a true real New York Deli. Sandwiches Stuffed with mountains of meat. Real New York Deli’s are surprisingly cheap. That’s because this is what real New Yorkers eat for Lunch. A fantastic budget take-out lunch best enjoyed in a Park watching the world go by.
You really can’t come to New York and not have a Bagel. While Bagel and Lox tend to not quite fall into the budget category, there are plenty of tasty and filling options that do. A plain Bagel will cost about $1 and with Cream Cheese around $3. More fillings will add to the cost. It’s a tasty filling iconic lunch.
Bagel shops are found throughout the city. You should have no trouble tracking one down. There are literally hundreds.
Another of New York’s iconic delicacies, Most Diners will have a window full of tempting offerings and just about every restraint will have it as a dessert option. As a takeaway item, it’s a fantastic treat. Maybe not a meal but a large rich helping will keep you going for a good few hours.
Of course, all the regular fast-food chains are present in New York. While it’s not very inspiring they are always there on hand to provide a quick bite to eat should inspiration desert you.
Lots of Bars around the City have Happy hours, Look for these to enjoy half-price drinks or 2 for 1’s or any number of offers to get your drinks Much Cheaper. A lot of Bars will also do Food specials such as cheap Bar Snacks. Whatever City we are in we survive by Happy hours and get to try far more restaurants and bars than we would simply by paying full price!
Read all about Dining in New York here!
There are hundreds of free things you can do while in New York. Walking around seeing the sights, Free Ferry Cruises, Window shopping, Walking Brooklyn Bridge, and selected Museums can all be enjoyed for free. Read our post on what to do in New York For FREE. It is quite possible to have a fantastic trip to New York and not pay a single penny for attractions and things to do!
New York Passes
However, there are so many Iconic and must-do attractions in New York that most people at least want to do a few of them. Who doesn’t want to go to the top of the Empire State Building, visit the Statue of Liberty, pay your respects at the 9/11 museum, or marvel at some of the best Museums in the world?!
Paying for all these attractions certainly, adds up, and can take a huge lump out of your budget, Even becoming the highest expense of the trip. To help combat this there are a number of different New York Pass options available. By purchasing one of New York’s City Passes you can limit this cost. While it’s still a significant outlay it’s a lot less than paying separately and limits your budget to a set amount.
The New York Explorer Pass is a great option for those wanting to just visit a few attractions. You pick the number of attractions you want to visit then simply scan your pass at the attraction to get in.
The New York Pass is another GREAT option and allows you to visit as many attractions as you like from the list of 100+ over the number of days you choose. It is an awesome way to see as much of the City as possible.
There are several other passes available such as the New York City Pass and the New York Sightseeing Pass. We have a comprehensive Comparison Here to see which suits you the best.
Cheap Broadway Shows
Broadway shows are a New York Tourists Staple. If you just want to see a show there is a great way to snag up to half-price Tickets! TKTS Booths offer SAME day reduced price(30-50%) tickets to whatever shows still have availability that day. If you want to see a specific show we advise booking in advance as there is no guarantee that the show will have availability the day you want to go (Murphy’s law would suggest it won’t!).
It’s a No-fuss system. Find a Booth and queue up. The Availability is listed and you just buy the tickets you want first come first serve.
There are 3 Booths in New York Times Square is the Busiest but Brooklyn and South Street are not the best locations. But definitely, check them out if you are in the area. Otherwise, it’s your call on whether it’s worth the trip or just brave the queue at times square.
You are always going to lose your back on souvenirs. A New York Snow Globe is worth $0.50 but you will find them for $30+ the same with everything like that. One way to minimize this overpricing, if you really want those gifts to take home, and who doesn’t, is to hunt for shops well off the main tourist areas. Having a prime position means maximum footfall and as such prices will be higher.
Also, try big name shops like Walgreens. They will often have a small selection of gifts and the prices are not that inflated. Also, look for small outdoor markets and vendors. These often sell trinkets at much lower prices as they have low overheads, just make sure they are in a licensed area so you are not promoting illegal sales pitches.
People often like to buy Christmas decorations from the places we visit and as such New York will have year-round “Christmas” shops. However, should you actually go at Christmas you can get great bargains just by shopping in regular shops, We got a bunch of cool new York-themed Decorations from Macy’s at 60% off!
New York is a major city and is not just catering to tourists so shopping opportunities are wide and varied like any other city. All the big brand shops will have sales and discounts at various times of the year (Macy’s seems to be in one sale or another year-round). However, the real Bargain hunter will want to venture to one of the Outlets for some serious bargain shopping.
There are 3 Main outlets with Woodbury Common being the most popular. The saving can be Extreme (50-70% +) and worth the time out of your New York trip if you really want to stock up on bargain fashion.
Have Your Say?
If you have any more ideas on how to budget in New York please feel free to drop us a comment below. This is an ongoing post that we will keep updated as and when we find new ideas to save money in New York. So we are always grateful for suggestions. Or if you have any questions just fire off a comment.
16 thoughts on “How to Visit New York City on a Budget – How You Can See the Best of New York Without Breaking the Bank”
Hi Steve, bagels, cheesecake, hot dogs,..I would have a tough time getting past the corner of the street…
I would love to visit New York sometime but it always seems too pricey for me.
Yes, the food is incredible in New York, even the cheap street food is great.
It can be an expensive place, often a once in a lifetime thing, but with our help and tips in can be done for less than you expect. We certainly feel it is Value for money. Hope you make it one day we are sure you won’t regret it!
Thanks for reading
I’ve been to New York but always to visit family and not exactly like a vacation to the city. I definitely want to visit the city! And I am so glad to find this post. There is a lot of helpful info. I especially appreciate the free attractions that you have listed. With all the money that has to be spent on travel and accommodation, it’s great to get a little ease up on the budget in terms of places to go.
Hi Lindsey, Thanks for your comment.
Yes, the “local” experience and the Vacation experience can be very different. Locals don’t really want to do all the touristy things. But it is great fun to visit the city as an unabashed tourist. But as you say it can get very expensive. That’s why we try out best to point out all the ways you can save money. You might like our article listing all the best FREE attractions?
I have always wanted to see New York City but have always chosen different destinations mainly because of the estimated cost; this guide may really help! My favorite part of this article is the part about the street food, as street food is probably my favorite way to truly get to know a place.
Also, I wonder if you have a guide to New York City hostels? Typically, I travel internationally in part due to lower expenses from taking advantage of accommodations like hostels. Besides, hostels are a ton of fun because they are a great place to meet fellow travelers seeking adventure!
Glad you enjoyed the article and found it useful, Yeah street food is great and its everywhere in New York. The 8million+ residents have to eat!
We haven’t done a full guide on hostels in New York as its not something we have any first hand experience of. There are certainly plenty of hostel options. Have a look on Booking.com there are plenty of Hostel Options.
Nice write up. I wasn’t aware of skyscanner.com. I’ll definitely be using that on my next trip! Thanks for the post!
Hi Helder, Glad we could help
Wow Steve, New York certainly seems to be a must go place. Your insights into keeping the costs down is insightful. Thank You
Hi Danny Thanks for the comment, glad you enjoyed reading
Ha! I just literally left NY City a few hours ago!!! Drove in for a business mtg I was running. In my world all expenses are paid for incl meals, but I did pay $10 for a 4 inch tall NY teddybear for my granddaughter!! I found it funny that it cost $15 to use Lincoln tunnel to get IN to city from NJ but did not charge me to use to get out of city!! All in all NY is a cool city. It was kinda cold but that did not stop me from walking around the streets and seeing some things. Also had some awesome NY pizza from Bella Vista and a rueben from a local Deli called Angela’s. Very tasty!! Stayed at the JW Marriott by Central Park.
anyways, I digress…great review. If you ever have the chance to come to NY, take it. And follow this posts’ advice for $$ saving hints as they were all excellent. Thank you for all your hard work and sharing!!
Hi Brent. Thanks for the comment.
Wow must be nice to visit New York on Business expenses! It does get cold in winter but walking round taking in the sights help keep you warm, along with a good coat! Sounds like you had a great time, hope you didn’t work too hard! Thanks for the kind words.
Thanks for the very informative New York City visit guide. You are very dead spot on your suggestions, and I should know. I’m from NYC, and currently spend most of my time there. Like most touristy big cities, NYC can be expensive. However, there are many options to save, which most you mentioned. Obviously, flights are limited because you have no choice but the airlines. Hotels on the other hand, you do have choices. You can choose to go with Air BnB, or stay outside Manhattan, said Brooklyn or Queens. Cheers.
Excellent, Glad to see a Real New Yorker agrees with our suggestions. As for flights sure there are limitations but you can still get a better deal if you book at the right time. We will definitely be blogging about that.
As for the Hotel Situation, We can’t agree on the AirBnB option you may or may not know its actually technically Illegal ATM in New York! Unless you are sharing which a lot of people won’t want to do. Whole apartment rentals less than 30 days are outlawed in New York right now. This may change but the chances of turning up to find no accommodation are too high atm.
Of course you can stay in Brooklyn or Queens, Both fantastic boroughs offering a different experience. But best suited to return visitors or people having longer stays. On a short stay where you are trying to cram a lot in the journey times every day can mount up, and lead to long hard days out. Staying in the heart of the city lends to having most things right on your doorstep. Its a better experience….but you are going to have to pay for that experience.
Thanks for the comment though, great to hear from the locals!
I like how informative your article is. Always wanted to visit New York City but didn’t have enough money to be able to do it. I am definitely gonna use all your tips when I am flying to New York. Thank You.
Thanks for the comment, Hope you get to Visit New York Soon and you have a great trip. We hope out article helps save you some money feel free to look round the site for more money saving ideas!