38 Things to Do in NYC on a Budget: Attractions & Tips

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Looking to visit NYC on a budget and don’t know where to start?

It isn’t a city known for being affordable, but if you know what you’re doing, it isn’t so hard to explore NYC on the cheap.

Hotels will take up most of your New York vacation budget, but remember that you’ll most likely not do much more than sleep in the hotel, so prioritize a clean place in an ideal location, and you’ll be just fine. 

It might not seem at first, but there are tons of things to do in New York on a budget, especially if you’re visiting when the weather is nice and not around any major holiday weekends.

This guide has many ideas for planning your NYC trip on a budget, from free museum days to cheap eats to where to stay to get Broadway tickets for a discounted price.

For free things to do in NYC, read this guide.

Sightseeing in New York City on a Budget

There is so much to see and do in NYC for cheap; sometimes, there’s nothing more thrilling than sitting on a park bench and watching the craziness of the city unfold.

But if you want to interact more, you can travel by ferry or aerial tram for both the ride and destination, spend an hour rowing on Central Park Lake, or take a food walking tour.

In fact, even the most modest New York travel budget could accommodate all three of those things and probably a lot more. 

For more fun things to do in NYC, check out this guide.

Central Park

Central Park doesn’t need much explanation; it is an 843-acre space in NYC with free admission and endless amazing things to see and do.

There’s monuments, ponds, running routes, and ample space for people watching!

Explore by foot or bike for the cheapest options.

This is also a popular spot for those looking for romantic things to do in New York City.

Water fountain in Central Park, NYC with crowds

Central Park Rowboats

Central Park’s rowboats at Loeb Boathouse (Park Drive North, E 72nd St) are one of the best-kept secrets in the city.

For an affordable price, you can row with three other people for an hour on the iconic Central Park Lake.

The rowboats at Central Park are also included in our NYC bucket list.

Central Park pond NYC New York

American Folk Art Museum 

American Folk Art Museum (2 Lincoln Square) always has free admission and is the leading institution shaping the understanding of art by the self-taught through its exhibitions, publications, and educational programs.

Not only are there are a number of exhibitions but this museum also puts on live music sessions.

TKTS 

The most common option for more affordable tickets to Broadway is TKTS, a discount booth that offers options to various Broadway and Off-Broadway shows.

Note that they will always sell the most expensive seats first but you can always find tickets for more popular Broadway shows available from a 20% to even 50% discount.

The TKTS store is located under the red steps at Time Square.

Couple sitting on Red Stairs at Times Square

Broadway Week

Broadway Week, which happens twice a year, usually in autumn and winter, actually runs for two weeks at a time and offers 2-for-1 ticket options to most Broadway shows.

Tickets will be issued at a 50% discount from their original price.

Times Square Billboards advertising Broadway

Rush/Lottery/Standing Room Only

Most shows offer a “rush” option in which you either go to the theater the day of the show to get a limited number of heavily discounted tickets or try your luck online.

For the more popular shows, people start lining up several hours before the box office opens, so plan accordingly, or you’ll miss out.

Lottery options are almost exclusively online, unlike rush; they aren’t first come, first serve, and you usually have to enter the lottery several days before the date you’d like to see the show.

If selected, you can purchase a heavily discounted ticket.

Standing-room-only tickets can usually only be purchased on the day of once a show is sold out 

See the list of which shows offer rush/lottery tickets here.

Moxy Times Square

Moxy Times Square (485 7th Ave) is the largest all-season indoor/outdoor hotel rooftop lounge in New York City and a great way to get a city view without paying the hefty entry fee.

Grand Central

Grand Central (89 E 42nd St) is much more than one of the busiest train stations in the world.

It is especially popular for the mesmerizing celestial ceiling, which was painted nearly a century ago.

Bryant Park

Bryant Park is filled with activities year-round, including outdoor summer films, juggling, ice skating in the winter, yoga classes, chess games, Broadway performances, and even a reading room.

This park is used by both locals and tourists.

Sunny day in Bryant Park with modern buildings framed by trees

Roosevelt Island Tram

The Roosevelt Island Tram (E 59th St & 2nd Ave) is an aerial tramway that connects Manhattan to Roosevelt Island, and you can ride it for the cost of a subway ride.

It’s a great way to get a bird’s eye view of the city and also to check out Roosevelt Island, which was once mainly filled with hospitals, asylums, and a prison, and much of that history is still visible today.

Roosevelt Island Tramway

Smalls Jazz Club

Smalls Jazz Club (183 W 10th St) is an intimate space (reservations are recommended) and is consistently rated as one of the best jazz clubs in NYC.

It states “Our mission is to subsidize the operation of our venues, recording projects, tours and educational initiatives.”

Washington Square Park

Washington Square Park always has street performers, people picnicking, buskers, avant-garde artists, and more gathering around the iconic fountain and arch.

Washington Square Park NYC

Free Outdoor Movies

NYC parks offer free outdoor movies in the warmer months throughout the city. 

Make sure to pack a picnic and get there early and grab a good spot, though, and they’re usually pretty popular events. 

The Staten Island Ferry

The Staten Island Ferry (Whitehall Ferry Terminal) is not only a free way to get to Staten Island but also a great way to get a free view of the Statue of Liberty as the boat passes by it.

You can either hop back on the Ferry to get back to Manhattan or, if you hang around Staten Island, check out the Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden (1000 Richmond Terrace), which has free admission.

Staten Island ferry at dawn with sunset

Hop On, Hop Off Bus Tour 

While tickets for the bus tour aren’t cheap, if you use the tour effectively, it’s almost like having a chauffeur service taking you to all of the top spots in the city.

If you want reasonably priced bus tour tickets that combine with an entry to many NYC attractions, check them out here.

NYC skyline during sunset

New York: CityPASS

A CityPASS will come in handy if you want to see lots of famous NYC attractions like the Empire State Building, the American Museum of Natural History, the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, and more.

Get a discounted ticket here.

Statue of Liberty. New York Skyline

Brooklyn Bridge

Walking Brooklyn Bridge (Tillary Street and Adams Street) is a time-honored NYC tradition and one of the best things to do in NYC on a budget, especially if you’re looking to soak in the views.

The Brooklyn Bridge also features in our guide to outdoor activities in NYC.

Skyline through Brooklyn Bridge

Dumbo Archway

Dumbo Archway (Water St b/t Adams St and Anchorage Pl, Dumbo) is underneath the Manhattan Bridge and brings performances, events, lunchtime vendors, and more to passersby.

Cheap Eats in NYC

Dine out without spending too with our following suggestions for cheap food in NYC!

Walking Food Tours

A food tour is a two-in-one option. 

For the cost of your ticket, you get guided around and learn some insider info while getting to try some of NYC’s best food, get a ticket for a Little Italy walking food tour here

If you’re looking to find great food in NYC on a budget, check out more places you should visit below.

Welcome to Little Italy at night. NYC New York

Bodega Breakfast

While it may not be glamorous, getting your breakfast from the local bodega is a staple for anyone living in NYC on a budget.

For a couple of bucks, you can get the NYC classic – a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich and cup of coffee – to start your day off right in New York City on the cheap.

Empanada Mama

Empanada Mama (200 W 40th St, New York, NY) is a great spot for fresh, home-cooked comfort food that won’t break the bank. 

Plus, they’ve got so many flavors you could go back again and again and still have something new to try.

Brooklyn Bagel

Brooklyn Bagel (286 8th Ave) has everything you could ever want for a cheap and delicious breakfast in NYC, and they also offer non-dairy cream cheese and gluten-free bagels so everyone can find something to eat.

Vanessa’s Dumpling House

Vanessa’s Dumpling House (118A Eldridge St) is a top spot for New York City cheap eats, the dumplings are the most popular, but the entire menu is delicious – and at such low prices, you could order as much as you want. 

Grimaldi’s Pizzeria

Grimaldi’s Pizzeria (1 Front Street) puts the pizza making on show at their coal brick-oven pizzeria that’s been making mouths water for decades with their “secret recipe” sauce and a 100-year-old dough recipe.

Holey Cream

Holey Cream (50 Greenwich Ave) serves over 40 flavors of ice cream and an ever-changing selection of fresh, delicious donuts, put the two together and add some toppings, and you’ve got a one-of-a-kind dessert.

Johnny’s Bar

Johnny’s Bar (90 Greenwich Ave) is a classic dive bar with no frills and no fuss – if you want to get a feel for an old-school NYC bar, this is the place to go.

Cocu

Cocu (26 Carmine St) combines fast food with fresh, seasonal, healthy ingredients, all centered around rotisserie chicken with a French twist.

Best Places to Shop in NYC on a Budget

NYC is a treasure trove just waiting to be explored, and the best way to do that on a budget is by checking out all of the flea markets, vintage shops, and secondhand stores.

Plus, it’s the best way to get some one-of-a-kind gifts and souvenirs that will be the perfect keepsake for your day out shopping in New York on a budget.

More places for shopping especially during the holidays are featured in our guide to New York in December.

Beacon’s Closet

With locations in Brooklyn and in Manhattan, Beacon’s Closet is one of the most well-known thrift stores, and their mix of vintage and modern items mean you can find just about anything there.

Buffalo Exchange

Buffalo Exchange also has several locations around NYC and is particularly popular for its buy/sell/trade options.

Trade in some of your items for store credit and walk out with an outfit practically for free.

Housing Works

Housing Works (126 Crosby St) is a charity with several thrift shop locations that have incredible clothing finds, bric-a-brac, decor, furniture, and more – plus all of the proceeds go towards fighting the dual crisis of homelessness and AIDS. 

Grand Bazaar NYC 

Every Sunday, the Grand Bazaar NYC (100 W 77th St) has over 100 artisanal food, antique/vintage, artists, designers, craft-makers, and more at the city’s biggest curated weekly market.

Hester Street Fair

Hester Street Fair (Pier 17 in The Seaport) has a regular market most Saturdays with occasional Sunday events with vintage sellers, craft makers, boutique wares, food and drink, and live music.

Brooklyn Flea

Brooklyn Flea (29 W 25th St) is open every weekend year-round with furniture, vintage clothing, collectibles and antiques, jewelry, art, and crafts by local artisans and designers, as well as food and drink.

NYC Hotels on a Budget

Finding an affordable hotel is a tricky one, a lot of the pricing has to do with the time of year.

Even the most affordable hotels will be a lot more expensive around holidays or other big NYC events.

The smartest way to find the best place to stay in NYC on a budget is to come when there aren’t any major festivities, book in advance, try to book mid-week, and opt for a place that’s small and clean with fewer amenities – you’re really only going to sleep there anyway. 

Pod 51

Pod 51 (230 E 51st St) was the very first pod-style hotel in NYC.

Its affordable rates and rooftop access, and very quirky and colorful style will make you never want to leave this East Midtown spot.  

The Jane 

The Jane Hotel (113 Jane St) is located in the West Village and has all of the old-world charms you could ever want, and its different pricing tiers make it one of the most affordable hotels in NYC.

The Harlem Flophouse

The Harlem Flophouse (242 W 123rd St) is an 1890s Victorian townhouse in West Harlem that makes you feel like you’ve slipped back into a bygone era and its inexpensive rates mean you can stay for an extra day in NYC.

Carlton Arms Hotel 

Carlton Arms Hotel (160 E 25th St) is one of the quirkiest hotels in NYC, it is an independent art hotel, and all of the rooms, bathrooms, and walls in this Flatiron spot are covered in murals. 

ROW NYC

ROW NYC (700 8th Ave) is perfectly situated in West Midtown and offers seven different types of rooms, all with a very chic Manhattan theme to suit any sort of budget.

The Cheapest Way to Travel in New York

Below are some of the cheapest options to travel around NYC if you’re on a budget.

Public Transportation

Public transportation is by far the best way to travel in NYC on a budget. 

The subway might seem a little overwhelming at first but give yourself a little bit of extra time to get to where you need to go, and just remember to differentiate between the uptown and downtown tracks, and you’ll be fine! 

When you look at the map, you’ll see a colored line with the subway line’s corresponding letter/number next to it; for example, the A, C, and E trains run along a blue line. 

The Manhattan Transit Authority (MTA) operates all buses and subways, any ride on a bus or subway has a fixed base fare regardless of the length of travel or the departure/destination.

There are also money-saving options available so be sure to check their site.

If you’re visiting for a week or less, you can purchase a weekly unlimited MetroCard or utilize the new OMNY system.

Both of them offer a worth of subway/bus rides which equals out to 12 trips. 

If you want to use a MetroCard, a new one costs around a dollar (and makes for a very affordable souvenir) and allows you to ride the subways and buses as much as you need.

OMNY doesn’t use a MetroCard, just tap your debit/credit card or any contactless device at the turnstile.

Once you take 12 trips between Monday and Sunday, all remaining rides for the week are free; just make sure you use the same device to pay for all 12.

Citi Bike

When the weather is nice, you can also opt to use a Citi Bike if you want to explore NYC at your own pace.

They offer monthly plans as well as reasonably-priced day passes and single-ride plans.

Times Square Entrance subway station at night

How to Travel to New York on a Budget

Traveling to New York on a budget isn’t completely impossible.

Although it isn’t very glamorous, you can get several bus lines to NYC, like Greyhound, Flixbus, Megabus, and more. 

For a slightly more costly but much quicker option, you can take an Amtrak train, and of course, the most expensive option is to fly. 

Modern building along The High Line NYC

3 Days in NYC on a Budget

Below, you can find a simple 3-day itinerary if you’re looking to explore NYC without breaking the bank.

Day 1

  • Start the day early and get a quick Bodega breakfast for bacon, egg, cheese (or whatever you choose), and a hot coffee.
  • Head to Times Square to wait in a rush line until the box office opens at 10 am to get a cheap ticket to a Broadway show.
  • Once you have tickets, hop on the 1/3 train uptown to the 72nd street stop and head into Trader Joe’s to pick up a picnic lunch, and make your way west through Central Park until you get to Loeb Boathouse (Park Drive North, E 72nd St).
  • Enjoy your picnic on the grassy fields outside the boathouse and when you’re finished, rent your rowboat and spend an hour lazily rowing around Central Park Lake.
  • Once you’re back on dry land, head back west through Central Park to wander the American Folk Art Museum (2 Lincoln Square) for an hour or two.
  • Take the 1 train downtown or walk to Empanada Mama (200 W 40th St, New York, NY) for a quick but delicious and cheap dinner before you head to your Broadway show.
  • If you’re not ready for the night to end, you can walk to Moxy Times Square (485 7th Ave) to get a cocktail or two and get an incredible view of the city all lit up at night.
Times Square lit up signs

Day 2 

  • Your morning in NYC should start with a bagel, and Brooklyn Bagel (286 8th Ave) is one of the best.
  • Then it is only a short walk to Chelsea Flea (29 W 25th St), where you can hunt for treasures to bring home to loved ones or a few unique souvenirs for yourself. 
  • From there, you can walk to the F/M train at 23rd street downtown to Broadway-Lafayette St to explore Housing Works (126 Crosby St) and get some designer threads for a fraction of the cost.
  • From there, it is only a short walk to Little Italy for a guided food tour and once you’ve had your fill of cannolis, wander around Chinatown and definitely grab dumplings and a bubble tea from Vanessa’s Dumpling House (118A Eldridge St).
  • Then take the 6 train from Canal Street downtown to Brooklyn Bridge – City Hall (or walk 15-20 minutes) and watch the sunset as you walk across the Brooklyn Bridge into Dumbo.
  • Check out the Dumbo Archway (Water St b/t Adams St and Anchorage Pl, Dumbo) for free music, performances, art, or whatever else is going on, and don’t forget to snap an iconic pic on Washington Street with the view of the Manhattan Bridge behind you.
  • If you’re hungry, head under to the bridge to stop by Grimaldi’s Pizzeria (1 Front Street) for a slice (or two) of their famous thin-crust pizza.
  • Take the F train uptown from York St to W 4 St- Washington Sq and get a late-night sweet treat at Holey Cream (50 Greenwich Ave) and sit and people-watch in Washington Square Park while you enjoy your dessert.
Washington Square Park fountain in flow

Day 3 

  • Head to the Grand Bazaar NYC (100 W 77th St); grab some breakfast here and try to restrain yourself from blowing your budget on all the cool and interesting vendors.
  • Take a stroll through Central Park, where you can pick up some Citi Bikes to the E 59th St and 5th Ave exit to drop off the bikes, then walk the rest of the way to the Roosevelt Island Tram (E 59th St & 2nd Ave).
  • Roosevelt Island is pretty small, so get a coffee and spend an hour or so wandering around until you head back to Manhattan on the tram.
  • Take the 4/5/6 line from 59 St-Lexington Ave to Grand Central – 42nd St to check out the iconic building, and once you’re done staring at the ceiling, take the shuttle to Times Square and transfer to the downtown 1 train to Christopher Street station.
  • Experience the best rotisserie chicken in NYC at Cocu (26 Carmine St) and then settle into an evening of smooth listening at Smalls Jazz Club (183 W 10th St).
  • Finally, if you’re not exhausted, get the last moments of NYC life at a local dive bar like Johnny’s Bar (90 Greenwich Ave).
Bethesda Terrace and Fountain at Central Park NYC.

New York City at Christmas on a Budget

The most magical time to visit NYC is also one of the most expensive but since many of the things to do in winter are outside, a budget trip is doable.

Wander the Christmas markets, check out the store windows, and ice skate, for free!

Check out our guide to NYC in December for more.

Central Park covered in snow during winter in Manhattan in NYC New York City.

Final Thoughts

A cheap trip to New York City is definitely possible with the right planning and a little organizing. 

Plus, taking advantage of free things to do in New York, like visiting the parks, walking the bridges, and watching outdoor films, means you can spend more of your New York trip budget on visiting a pricier attraction or splashing out on fine dining if you want to.

Hopefully, this guide has shown you many things to do in NYC on a budget.

Let us know in the comments which ones you tried.

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