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A Trip Guide for NYC on a Budget

Updated: March 8, 2024

This post is about how to visit NYC on the cheap.

We list dozens of ways that you can enjoy all that this city has to offer even if you are on a shoestring budget. (en español) (auf Deutsch). Let's start saving money!

Be sure to check our comprehensive list of things to do in NYC.

Also, take a look at our free, pay-what-you-wish walking tours. We offer over 30 different kinds of tours - walking tours of a specific neighborhood or a combination of several areas.

We also have food toursnight tours, bike tours, and ghost tours.

For those who like to explore on their own at their own pace, we even have dozens of self-guided tours as well as GPS-enabled audio tours.


When reviewing the below discounts, you may find it helpful to have a breakdown of where your money will go on your trip to NYC.

Our post How Much Does It Cost To Visit New York City? looks at the main expenses of a trip, such as food, accommodations, attractions and activities, and transportation.

Tourist Attraction Discount Passes

Even before you arrive in New York, look into purchasing a tourist pass.

Depending on which pass you buy, you could save as much as 55% on the cost of attractions that are likely on your must-see list.

See our guide, Which is the Best Tourist Pass to Buy? to compare what is available and if a pass is right for you.

Likewise, many companies offer bundles that combine their boat and bus tours with popular NYC attractions.

Our post on choosing the best times to visit NYC, which includes a section on the cheapest times, may be useful to you.

Cheapest Months to Visit NYC

TIP: You may find our post on, How Many Days is Enough to Visit NYC? helpful when planning your trip.

Take a look at our suggested budget itineraries for 1, 2, and 3 days in NYC as well.

Also, check Groupon and Living Social for discounts on tours, tickets to shows, meals, top attractions, and more.

Getting to New York City

You can find cheap flights to New York City if you know the tricks on when to book, what days to travel, and where you can find discount discounts.

Before you arrive, take a look at our posts on transportation to and from New York City's airports.

It's important to look in advance because you are likely to need to buy a subway card to get into the city.

If you want to save money on cellphone costs and Wi-Fi service, our posts, Which SIM Card to Buy? and Where to Find Free WiFi, will help you out.

Getting around NYC

Once you are here, you will want to save some money getting around.

See our detailed post, How to Get Around New York City which covers traveling by public transport (subway, bus, bike, boat, ferry) and taxi, Uber, car, and, of course, your feet.

Before buying a subway card, read our post on which MetroCard is best for you.

Our guide to navigating the New York City subway system will make your subway rides easy and even fun, and download one of these free subway apps before you get here.

If your luggage is weighing you down before you can check in or after you check out of your hotel, see our post Inexpensive Luggage Storage in New York City.

TIP: For the best free boat ride of your life, ride the famous Staten Island Ferry! The skyline views of Lower Manhattan are jaw-dropping. You also pass Liberty Island and Ellis Island so you'll have close-up views of the Statue of Liberty.

For other ways to get great (and mostly free) Manhattan skyline views, click here.


With plenty of free museums and attractions, one could keep themselves busy in New York City for a week or more without spending a penny.

Before you pay full price for anything, look at our comprehensive guide to free museums and attractions as well as free activities in NYC.

Also, check Groupon and Living Social for discounts on tours, tickets to shows, meals, top attractions, and more.

Again, look at the many options for tourist passes.

They include so many of the city's tourist attractions, museums, and other activities, you really could save a bundle.

Museums and Institutions

You will be amazed by how many museums offer free admission in New York.

Even those that are not set aside for special hours or days when entrance is free. The best of them is Free Fridays at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA).

Some museums are technically free, but they just don't advertise it.

You don't need to pay the full price, which is a suggested donation.

You can donate any amount of money to gain entry to their main exhibit halls. This could be huge savings for families!

Have a look at our long list of always-free museums. The post also includes which museums are 'suggested donations', and have free days or free hours.

Attractions and Other Activities

Start saving by taking a look at our post on getting discounts on New York City attractions.

Here are a few discounts to get you going!

Which Observatory Empire State Building

For even more affordable attractions, see our post, Free Things to Do in NYC, as well as our post on free activities in NYC.


Of course, we would love for you to join us on one of our pay-what-you-wish tours. But you have many other options too.

Below are some articles we have written about many ways to sight-see for free or at a discount.

  • We have a vast array of downloadable and free self-guided tours, as well as many GPS-enabled audio tours.
  • See the city from the water for free, or as close to free as possible. Our post, New York Boat Tours, tells you how.
  • Take a hop-on-hop-off bus for a convenient way to explore the city. Click here to get 20% off ticket prices with Big Bus.
  • For other bus tours, read our informative post on Which New York Bus Tour is the Best? We compare cost and quality.
  • Sightseeing by bike. NYC is very bike-friendly. You can rent a bike and explore on your own or join a guided bike tour.
  • Get 20% off bike tours of Central Park and Brooklyn, as well as the cost of rentals by using the promo code use code FTBF.
  • You can take a free tour of many of New York City’s most famous landmarks like the Federal Reserve, Grand Central, and Federal Hall.
  • Get a discount on a Helicopter Tour! Our post provides tips on how to get discounts for chopper rides.

TIP: Before booking a tour, note that many sightseeing tours are included for free in several tourist passes.



New York City is famous for its delicious inexpensive cuisine (if you know where to go).

We do, and our post on New York Food has dozens of listings for every type of food.

To get you started, see our most popular food posts:

For an affordable way to taste a variety of New York flavors, try one of our pay-what-you-wish food tours.

Also, always check out Living Social, Groupon, or for deals.

TIP: Tips are not included in your food bill and the New York waitstaff expects a tip. Read our Proper Tipping Etiquette post so you don't get yelled at by a disappointed waiter!


Here are our suggestions-- straight, no chaser.


Skyline at Night

In addition to getting a meal or grabbing a drink to occupy your night on a budget, take a look at our Things to Do at Night in New York City.

There, you will find a section with free activities. Throughout the post many other things to do at night are affordable.

Podcast Episode: Listen to tour guides Lori and Katherine discuss things to do in NYC at night with an emphasis on budget options on an episode of our NYC Travel Tips podcast.

This podcast offers bite-sized audio clips with tips on how to plan your trip to NYC. You can get our podcast on Apple, Google, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Here are just a few suggestions:

See our comprehensive posts, What to Do at Night in New York City, Free Things to Do in NYC, and Things to Do in NYC for many more budget-friendly ideas.


Believe it or not, it’s possible to find great New York budget hotels as low as $80 per night for a clean, comfortable hotel room in a prime location.

In our "Where to Stay in NYC" post, we list budget options in each of NYC's main hotel districts based on feedback from our Facebook group members.

Average NYC Hotel Rate

These additional posts will also show you how.

  • Inexpensive Hotels in New York City - an extensive list of hotels (with details, reviews, and pictures) with reasonable prices in many neighborhoods around the city.  Our top 3 choices are:
    • Chelsea Pines
    • Hampton Inn Times Square
    • Hotel 31
  • Hostels in New York - There are not as many hostels in NYC as there are in major cities around the world, but our post includes the best of them. Our top choices are:
  • TripAdvisor Best Value Hotels - Top 30 affordable hotels in NYC.  You can book here as well.
  • Living Social often has great deals.
  • Air B+B - Stay with local guests in your private room or even rent an entire apartment for yourself. Prices are comparable or less than hotels.

TIP: For something a little less conventional but a huge money saver to be a House Sitter - watch someone's house (and sometimes pets) for free while they are away.

They also offer our guests a 10% discount on membership fees when they use the promo code FREETOURS10 at checkout.


If you are planning to take in a Broadway show, you don't have to pay for an arm and a leg.

With patience and our insider tips, you can save quite a bit.

Here are a few suggestions:

TIP: If you are considering purchasing a tourist discount pass, the New York Pass entitles you to up to 10% on Broadway shows.


New York City is a top world destination for shoppers.  It's easy to spend all your travel money on top-shelf designer clothes.

However, shopping can be both fun and affordable. Follow our advice on how to save big in shopping in the Big Apple.

  • Our post, Discount Shopping in New York City covers retail sales, sample sales, discount department stores, designer resale, and consignment stores as well as thrift and second-hand shops.
  • Visit a premium clothing outlet.  The most famous is Woodbury Commons, but there are two others that are also quite excellent.
  • Consider taking one of our pay-what-you-wish New York Shopping Tours. Let an expert shopper take you to where the secret savings are!


Below is a snapshot of the overall costs for two types of travelers for 3-day and 7-day trips (not including airfare or shopping).

For a complete explanation of these costs along with helpful tips on saving money, see our post on how much it costs to visit New York City.

A Budget Traveler is someone who wants to spend as little as possible but still get a lot out of New York City.

This means staying at very inexpensive accommodations (most likely hostels in a shared dorm room), not dining at full-service restaurants, and spending money on just a few attractions.

A Moderate Traveler is someone who is flexible with the amount of money to spend.

This means staying at mid-range accommodations in a convenient location, eating some meals out, and spending money on some of the best attractions in New York City.

Budget Traveler

3-day trip (per person)

  • Food $60
  • Accommodations $135
  • Attractions and activities $150
  • Transportation $17
  • Total $362

7-day trip (per person)

  • Food $140
  • Accommodations $315
  • Attractions and activities $300
  • Transportation $33
  • Total $788

Moderate Traveler

3-day trip (per person)

  • Food $150
  • Accommodations $600
  • Attractions and activities $375
  • Transportation $50
  • Total $1,175

7-day trip (per person)

  • Food $350
  • Accommodations $1400
  • Attractions and activities $745
  • Transportation $70
  • Total $2,565

See the complete post on budgeting for your trip to NYC.

About The Author

Stephen Pickhardt

Stephen is the CEO of Free Tours by Foot and has overseen the transformation of a local walking tour company into a global tour community and traveler’s advice platform. He has personally led thousands of group tours in the US and Europe, and is an expert in trip planning and sightseeing, with a focus on budget travelers. Stephen has been published and featured in dozens of publications including The Wall Street Journal, BBC, Yahoo,, and more.
Updated: March 8th, 2024
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