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Cheap Things to Do in NYC: How to Explore New York on a Budget

New York can be expensive and overcrowded, but there are countless cheap things to do in NYC. If you’re planning a vacation and are curious about how to see New York on a budget, you need this guide to 14 fun cheap things to do in NYC. I’m sharing 14 tips for exploring NYC on a budget, including the best places to eat in New York and where to stay in New York on a budget.

Where to Stay in New York On a Budget

When seeking affordable accommodations in New York City, consider options beyond the well-known tourist hubs like Manhattan. Neighborhoods like Queens, Brooklyn, and Harlem often offer more affordable lodging while providing an authentic New York experience. Look for budget hotels, hostels, or guesthouses in these areas to save on accommodation costs—also, consider booking during off-peak seasons or on weekdays when prices tend to be lower.

Did You Get Travel Insurance Yet?

The Insurance companies I recommend are Hey Mondo and Safety Wing

Hey Mondo is great if you are looking for a great value flexible policy. They offer single-trip cover, annual multi-trip cover, and long-term travel cover. Safety Wing is great value, with monthly coverage starting at $45.08. It’s super easy to use, and it just renews each month. I currently use them as they offer me free cover for my son as part of my policy.

Read my full travel insurance post here, where I go into detail about all companies. 

Here are my top recommendations for where to stay in New York on a budget:

Cheap Things to Do NYC: Tips for Exploring New York On a Budget

1. Invest in Good Footwear

Get some good walking shoes and skip the subway—New York has a grid system, so it’s easy to navigate. Instead of the subway, opt to stroll through NYC on foot. Not only is it more interesting to walk, but you’ll also get better acquainted with the city. Find a pair of stylish yet practical sneakers and save money with a DSW discount code.

2. Get a New York Pass

If you want to do all the most popular (and expensive) NYC tourist attractions, purchase a New York Pass. See my blog post about making the most of the pass here—it’ll save you some $$$, and you can skip the queues a lot of the time.

3. Walk the High Line

Walking the High Line is one of my favorite inexpensive things to do in NYC. The views are outstanding, and you can enjoy the blooming gardens in spring and summer. The High Line starts on 33rd Street, near the Port Authority Station, and ends by the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Quick Tip: Book accommodation, tours, and transport ahead of time online to save money and stress. 

Best NYC ToursClick here to check out the top NYC tours
Best NYC Accommodation: Click here to check out the best accommodation in NYC
Best NYC Transport: Click here to book a bus, ferry, or train in NYC

4. Skip the Statue of Liberty Tour

While the Statue of Liberty is a must-do New York activity, it usually doesn’t make it on lists of the best cheap things to do in New York since tours can be expensive. Save hours of waiting in line and paying for a tour by taking the free Staten Island Ferry. You’ll be treated to incredible, close-up views of the statue—there are also great Manhattan views, so you can take a few pics of that iconic skyline.

North American Adventures | 14 ways to see New York City on a Budget

5. Or… Take the Tour From New Jersey

If you want to tour Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty with a guide, I recommend visiting New Jersey and entering from that side. There are never any queues, and you can take the Light Rail to Liberty State Park for a lovely stroll.

6. See a Broadway Show for Cheap

Broadway shows typically aren’t considered cheap things to do in NYC, but it IS possible to catch one on a budget! Download the TKTS app and see what’s available—you can only buy tickets in person, so skip the famous Times Square booth and head to Seaport, which opens around 11:00 a.m. daily. You can also get matinée tickets from this office for the following day, which you can’t do at the Times Square location.

I have written a post on how to get cheap broadway tickets here.

7. Walk to Brooklyn

Walking to Brooklyn should be at the top of your list if you’re looking for fun cheap things to do in NYC. You won’t regret journeying across the Brooklyn Bridge—and you’re guaranteed to hit your daily step goal!

Cheap Things to Do in NYC: How to Explore New York on a Budget

8. Don’t Eat in Certain Areas

Restaurants on 7th Street near Times Square often increase prices by around 30% to price gouge tourists. Instead, head to 8th or 9th Street for more reasonable restaurant prices.

9. Visit the Empire State Building During the Day

If you want to visit the Empire State Building, go during the day. Head to the Rockefeller Center at night for a photo of the Empire State Building lit up—arrive early and book a slot for Top of the Rock if you want to go after 7:00 p.m. The good news is you won’t have to wait in line like you do at Empire State.

North American Adventures | 14 ways to see New York City on a Budget

10. Go to Bryant Park

Bryant Park is one of the best cheap things to do in NYC. From food and craft vendors to live performances, the park always has something fun and exciting. You can often catch a concert or theatrical show for free!

North American Adventures | 14 ways to see New York City on a Budget
Christmas on Bryant Park

11. Visit the Met

A guide to exploring NYC on a budget would be incomplete without The Metropolitan Museum of Art. This famous museum is donation-based, so visitors pay what they can afford. You could easily spend all day there and still not see all the exhibits and artwork, so make the most of your experience.

12. Go to the Whitney on a Friday Night

The Whitney and a few other NYC museums frequently offer free entry days where you can visit without paying a dime. Research museums in advance to see the current schedule of free days.

13. Cruise Down the River

Fancy a river cruise but don’t want to pay the hefty price tag? Head downtown and take the East River Ferry—for just $4, you’ll get a stunning view and river cruise experience without wasting tons of money. Note that tickets are slightly more expensive at $6 if you go on the weekend.

North American Adventures | 14 ways to see New York City on a Budget
North American Adventures | 14 ways to see New York City on a Budget
Street Art in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

14. Eat Pizza!

Wrapping up this Cheap Things to Do NYC guide is a New York classic—enjoying a slice of pizza! You can get two slices and a soda for just $3 at 99 Cent Fresh Pizza. It might not be the best pizza of your life, but it hits the spot and guarantees an authentic New York experience.

Cheap Things to Do in NYC FAQs

Do I Have to Pay for Famous NYC Attractions?

Many iconic landmarks like Times Square, Central Park, and the Brooklyn Bridge are free to explore. Take a stroll or pack a picnic for a budget-friendly day out.

Are There Any NYC Museums with Free or Low-Cost Admission?

Yes, several museums offer discounted or pay-what-you-wish admission. The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Natural History Museum have flexible pricing options.

Where to Stay in New York On a Budget?

Considering staying in Queens, Harlem, Brooklyn, or the Bronx. To save money, avoid staying in Manhattan. Here are some hotel recommendations for you in NYC

Looking for somewhere to stay in NYC? Check out these options!

The Local NY
East Harlem Hostel
Jazz on the Park Youth Hostel
West Side YMCA
U.S. Pacific Hotel

NYC Travel Guide Planning

🚗 Where can I book bus or private transportation while I’m in NYC?

I strongly recommend using Bookaway. You can book almost all transport in the major tourist destinations through them online. They don’t just cover buses they also cover shuttles, ferries, and private drivers.

🎫 Where can I buy tickets for museums, attractions, and tours in NYC?

I recommend either Viator or GetYour Guide. They have a lot of options!

👩‍⚕️ What is the best insurance to have while traveling?

I recommend using Heymondo for a great value policy. The app also offers you 24/7 Dr Chat. For Digital Nomads check out SafetyWing digital nomad insurance.

I have also written a blog post covering all my recommended travel insurance here

✈️ Any flight recommendations?

WayAWay offers you cheap flights with cashback. You can use this code CLAIRE22 to get 10% off. Otherwise Skyscanner or Expedia are my go-to flight searching platforms.

📱What do you use for internet connection while traveling?

I’m a big fan of personal WiFi devices and they have saved my ass so many times when traveling. I wrote a full review of the top travel WiFi devices you can read here. I personally use GlocalMe as I can either pop in a physical sim card or use their local carrier.

With regards to my phone connection, I use e-sims while traveling, so rather than having to swap out my regular sim card I can download the app and buy a virtual sim card. I recommend using eitherAirhub or Alosim. Both have great coverage of multiple countries and are very easy to use.

🛏️ What is the best platform to use for booking accommodation?

The 3 best platforms that I normally use are, and Expedia They offer great deals and multiple options. I always check all three to be sure of the best deals.

🛅 Do you have any luggage recommendations for traveling?

I do have a complete list of the best packing and luggage products that I recommend, you can check the list here. I’m currently traveling with this suitcase and this backpack. 

14 Ways to See New York City on a Budget

Final Thoughts: NYC On a Budget

New York isn’t the most wallet-friendly travel destination, but exploring NYC on a budget is possible with this guide to Cheap Things to Do in New York. From enjoying the city’s outdoor parks to taking advantage of free entry days at museums, these 14 tips will help you find the best inexpensive things to do in NYC.

P.S. If you’re heading to the USA and looking for great advice on saving money, check out this post about 30 ways to save money traveling the USA.

This post was proofread by Grammarly.


Wednesday 14th of June 2017

Your post reminded me of my time in NYC. The city is filled with exciting sights to see and things to do. My personal favourite is the High Line Park! I haven't yet got to visit the Empire State Building. I will definitely do that next!

Claire Summers

Thursday 15th of June 2017

I know there is just so much to do right! I think this was my 3/4 visit and I decided it was time to finally go up the Empire State!


Tuesday 13th of June 2017

Great tip about Broadway, I've always wanted to see a show there! I went to NYC years ago & did the Staten Island ferry, it is definitely worth it for the views of the Statue of Liberty!


Tuesday 13th of June 2017

I have been to New York a couple of times and had no idea about the New York Pass. I'll definitely look into that on my next trip. I love that it allows you to skip a lot of lines, cuz I hate wasting time standing in long queues.

Claire Summers

Tuesday 13th of June 2017

My aunt actually recommended it to me. If you want to do a lot of the expensive things it's worth it.

Veronica P.

Tuesday 13th of June 2017

I am with you here! I was in NYC only once and it was on a budget not because I planned to do so, but because almost everything that one needs to see there for the first time is free.

Claire Summers

Tuesday 13th of June 2017

There is so much to see and do in NYC for free! I think I put off doing any of the tourist stuff for so long because I hated having to pay so much and I didn't need to. So when I decided to cough up the money I decided I would make the most of it even if I needed to sleep for a few days after haha.

Paige W

Tuesday 13th of June 2017

These are really great tips! Walking shoes is a great tip because when I was there, I worked just as much as I could stand. We did take the Subway a couple of times, just to say we had. I wish I had known about the Staten Island Ferry! I would've loved to do that.... Next time.

Claire Summers

Tuesday 13th of June 2017

The Staten Island ferry is the one tourist thing I do whenever I have a friend in town!