12 Budget-Friendly Ways You Can Enjoy New York Without Breaking the Bank

Visiting New York City can be prohibitively expensive, but luckily, there are plenty of ways to ease the stress of exploring such a wonderful city! Recently, New Yorkers met in an online discussion to reveal the best ways to save money when visiting the Big Apple. From being savvy with your meals to experiencing free attractions, here are countless frugal ways to visit New York City.

1. Eat More Pizza

Group of friends eating big Pizza
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

Gratuitous pizza eating is a New York tradition, but many men and women confess it’s not only delicious but a surefire way to save money. The city has countless pizza places, and most offer gigantic individual slices for less than $2! That’s right; for less than the price of your morning Starbucks coffee, you can have a filling meal of authentic New York-style pizza for lunch! If you devote yourself to eating more pizza than usual, you’ll have much more cash to experience other things.

2. Visit Museums for Free

The Vatican Museums (Italian: Musei Vaticani) in Rome, Italy (St. Peter's cathedral)
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

The city is home to many museums, many offering free admission on certain days of the month. Check your local travel guides for more information; New York City’s museums are world-renowned, and locals highly recommend visiting as many as possible. Some museums, like the American Museum of Natural History, use “pay what you wish” pricing to attract even more visitors. 

3. Be Smart When Planning Activities

Exhausted traveler
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

Never crisscross around a city as large as New York! First-time visitors are often shocked at how much time they waste on transportation as it is. “Plan your activities in zones (Upper West Side, Lower East Side, Harlem) to avoid wasting time and money traveling around,” recommends one resident. “It’s mind-boggling how much time you can waste in transit. Citymapper is an excellent app to navigate around efficiently.”

4. Take Advantage of Happy Hour

Traveler giving toast with local man
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

Like most prominent cities in the United States, New York City has thousands of smaller bars and restaurants offering happy hour. Many visitors are surprised that cheap food and drink exists in the Big Apple; you must search for it between four and six o’clock! Trust me, there are some fantastic deals to be found.

5. Bring a Water Bottle

Traveler having digestive issues
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

Water is plentiful (and safe!) throughout the city, so save a few dollars by bringing a water bottle. You’ll be pleasantly surprised how often you fill it up. “New York City tap water is perfectly safe, and there are water fountains at all tourist attractions,” reveals one woman. “If you ask nicely, Starbucks will fill your water bottle with ice and water for free.”

6. Ride on the Staten Island Ferry

High-speed Cozumel ferry at the terminal of San Miguel de Cozumel waiting for passengers to Playa del Carmen and other tourist destinations.
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

The Staten Island Ferry is one of the most underrated attractions in New York for one reason: It’s free to ride! It’s true; the ferry has been free to ride since 1997, and it remains the best way to see the Statue of Liberty in an up-close and personal manner. Don’t leave New York City without riding on this historic watercraft. 

7. Be Sure To Visit Parks

california national parks

Despite its reputation as a never-ending metropolis of skyscrapers, New York City has many small parks perfect for relaxing or having a meal. “The city has a ton of pocket parks where you can rest and sometimes refresh yourself with a cool drink or lunch,” explains one man. “Some of these are small parks run by the city; some are community gardens; some are spaces inside or between skyscrapers that are open to the public. This can save on spending money at a cafe or Starbucks when you only need a break.”

8. Walk Everywhere

Disappointed traveler
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

Taking the subway is overrated. Although viewed by many as a rite of passage, riding the subway can get expensive, especially if you’re only traveling a short distance. Consider walking instead; not only will you save money, but you can experience (and appreciate) the streets of New York in an up-close and personal manner. 

9. Stay Central

Asian woman traveler planning
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

For goodness sake, if you insist on staying in the city, stay in the middle of town. For example, if you’re renting a hotel in Staten Island, you’re doing it all wrong! “Stay in a central area like midtown, Union Square, or near Lincoln Center,” advises one woman. These are located near tourist attractions and transportation hubs, making it easier to get around. Be aware that staying at cheaper places means shared bathrooms.”

10. Eat at Small Delis

Traveler woman eating greek salad
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

New York City is a cornucopia of small, independently-owned delis with one thing in common: They serve humongous sandwiches at rock-bottom prices. These delis are old and often smell funny, but nobody can deny the quality of their meats, cheeses, and bread! The most giant sandwich of your life can be yours for less than $10.

11. Consider Staying in New Jersey

Cape May, New Jersey
Image Credit: Deposit Photos.

Hotel rooms in neighborhoods like Manhattan and Brooklyn are expensive; one of the best ways to save your hard-earned cash is to consider staying across the river in Jersey. Rent a hotel or Airbnb in New Jersey instead of the city itself,” explains one woman. “The closer you are to the train or bus, the better. It’s the biggest hack I know, considering how expensive hotels are inside the city.

12. Avoid Ride-Sharing Apps Whenever Possible

Woman traveler saying no and stop
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

There was a time when taking an Uber was affordable. Unfortunately, in 2023, it’s just as expensive (if not more) as other, more traditional forms of transportation! “If you fly into Newark International, take the train to Manhattan,” advises one traveler. “It’ll cost you about $15, whereas Uber will cost you anywhere between $70-$90.” I’d take this advice further and recommend everyone to avoid taking Uber or Lyft whenever possible; rides add up in a significant way.