Full Guide to Travel to New York City on A Budget

New York one of the most iconic cities in the world has always been in everyone’s mind, whether for its history, being largely featured in the movie industry, being considered the world’s capital and the city that dictates lifestyle and tendency.

But the Big Apple is also known for being one of the most expensive cities in the world.

Because I lived in NYC for four years, I’m going to share some “secrets” to visiting “the city that never sleeps” without breaking your piggy bank.

Here’s my guide to how to travel to New York City on a budget.

How to Travel to New York City On a Budget

Where to Stay

According to NYC&Company, the organization responsible for promoting tourism in New York City, the hotel’s Average Daily Rate room (ADR) in NYC in 2014 was US$ 297.

Those prices change depending on many facts such as: demand, season (in general prices are higher in the summer – July and August – and lower in the winter – January and February), number of events happening in the city, etc. The fact is really hard to find a hotel room for less than US$ 200/night.

So, the best options to find affordable accommodations in New York are:

∗ AirBNB: the best option so far and you can find really good prices. There’s a controversy about whether AirBNB should be legal in NYC or not, so take advantage of it before it gets banned and has a glimpse of what living in New York seems like.

You can find prices as low as US$ 30/night and the best areas are: Midtown (especially Hell’s Kitchen and Chelsea), Upper West Side and Williamsburg. Cheapest and still good locations: Chinatown, Astoria, Long Island City, Bushwick and Bedford.

Hostels: there is a great variety of hostels in NYC and you can find beds in dorm rooms from U$$30 and private rooms from US$ 70.

YMCA: whether you are a member or not, you can be a guest at one of its five locations that offer guest rooms. Single Private rooms from US$118 and Standard Twin Private rooms from US$71/person.

CouchSurfing: this platform offers free stays for members and also the opportunity to make new friends and enjoy the city like a local.

Some of the Hotels with good prices and excellent locations:

  • In Manhattan: Citizen M Hotel, Hotel Pennsylvania and Edison Hotel.
  • In Long Island City, Queens: Hotel Z and Wyndham Garden LIC. (These hotels are not in the city, Manhattan, but they are just one or two stations away and some of them also offer free shuttle service).

Of course, they are not the best hotels in the city but they offer easy access to the subway system and main attractions.


New York City has an enormous number of attractions to please everyone and every pocket, including some of the best museums in the world.

What many people don’t know, especially tourists, is that some of those museums receive funds from the government and because of that the price is a suggestion and it doesn’t mean that you have to pay the suggested price.

You can give a donation as low as US$1,00 and enter. But please be generous!! The two museums in New York City are:

Metropolitan Museum: very rich collection and considered the best museum in the city. The rooftop is open during the summer months and provides excellent views of the city and central park. Sugested price: US$25.

American Museum of Natural History: the most thrilling and fascinating museum and one of the most touristy things to do in Manhattan, especially after the movie Night at the museum.

All the animals are real and the dinosaurs’ skeletons are very impressive. Sugested price: US$23.

The other museums that don’t get money from taxes but offer “pay what you wish” day or free visits are:

MoMA: one of the best museums of modern and contemporary art in the world. Free on Fridays from 4:00 to 8:00 PM. You save: US$25.

Avoid taking bags with you in order to not waste time in the coach check. Lines can be quite long especially during the summer.

Whitney Museum: it showcases a fine American art collection in a brand new and modern building. Pay What You Wish on Fridays from 7:00 – 10:00 PM (admissions till 9:30 PM). You save: US$22.

Guggenheim: an architectural landmark building exhibits from Impressionism through contemporary art. Pay What You Wish on Saturdays from 5:45-7:45 PM. You save: US$25.

The Frick Collection: the collection includes masterpieces from European paintings, sculptures and French furniture. The gardens are superb and the buildings very interesting. Pay What You Wish on Sundays from 11:00 AM – 1:00 PM. You save: US$ 20.

New Museum: the only museum in Manhattan dedicated to contemporary art, and also a quite enticing building. Pay What You Wish on Thursdays from 7:00 – 9:00 PM. You save: US$ 16.

Statue of Liberty

If you want just to take a closer look at Lady Liberty and don’t want to visit it in person, the best and free option is to take the Staten Island Ferry.

The ferry runs 24h, 7 days a week, passes in front of the statue and you can take good pictures and videos particularly close to the sunset.

Once you arrive at Staten Island you can just follow the directions to take the ferry back to Manhattan.

To hop on the ferry just take the 1 train to South Ferry station (last stop) or the 4 and 5 trains to Bowling Green station.

The travel time is around 25min each way and the terminals even offer free Wi-Fi.

Taking the Staten Island ferry is one of the most fun things to do in New York, and the ride is perfect for winding down a little bit and getting a beautiful view of downtown as well.

New York
Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island.

Stunning views of the city

Top of The Rock, The Empire State Building and One Observatory provide undoubtedly amazing vistas but if you’re travelling to New York City on a budget and want to get a glance of Manhattan’s skyline without spending money on entrance fees, some rooftop bars offer breathtaking views and on the top, you can socialize and have some fun.

The most famous are:
230 Fifth Rooftop Bar: A bi-level bar and one of the best rooftop bars in NYC beloved by locals and tourists alike. Open all year long 7 days a week. Lines are huge during the summer, especially on the weekends. Prices for drinks and food are fair. Shorts are not allowed and the igloos are heated during the cold weather.

– Sky Room: The highest rooftop lounge is bi-level and offers 360-degree views of Manhattan and the Hudson River. It’s free on Thursday Happy Hour from 5:00-7:00 PM. Good atmosphere and cheap drinks. Open all year round.

PHD Lounge: rooftop bar at Dream Downtown hotel featuring outstanding decoration and privileged view. Drinks tend to be pricey and it’s open 7 days a week, but it’s quite seasonal. Always check its website to be informed about general events and private parties.

LeBain at The Standard, High Line: one of the coolest discotheque and rooftop bars in the city with a vibrant atmosphere, eclectic people and an awesome vibe. Always check its website to certify that there are no special parties or famous DJs, otherwise, entrance is free. Drinks can be pricey but the fun is guaranteed. Open 7 days a week, all year round.


New York City has the world’s longest subway system with more than 370Km and 400 stations, running 24 hours per day and every day of the week.

The best way to save money on transportation with a stay over 4 days is to buy an unlimited Metrocard for seven days, which allows you to take as many trains and buses as you want.

You’ll need to learn how to use the NYC subway and believe me, you’ll use your Metrocard very often. However, walking around the city is a great experience.

The A, E, Z and J lines also connect with JFK Airport and you can save over US$50 on this journey.

There is no subway line connecting with LaGuardia Airport but you can take a bus to the 7 line and then get a connection with other lines.

New York
Walking around the city at Brooklyn Bridge. Image by Curtis MacNewton (Flickr)

Where to Eat

Restaurants can be quite expensive in NYC and you can easily spend a couple of extra bucks if you don’t pick the right one.

However, there are some restaurants with good food and reasonable prices spread out all over the city. Some of those restaurants are:

Chipotle: Mexican food restaurant chain serving burritos, tacos and salad for around US$10. Lines can be long in peak hours.

Dos Toros: another Mexican food restaurant chain serving burritos, quesadillas, tacos and salads for around US$10.

Spice: Thai food restaurant chain with a diverse menu and good food. Price range between US$12 – 25.

Hale and Hearty: American food restaurant chain serving soups, salads and sandwiches with fine and fresh ingredients. Price range from US$4 – 30.

Shake and Shack: American fast-casual restaurant chain serving one of the best burgers in the city for around US$10.

There are really good supermarkets in NYC that offer quality food and cheap prices. So, if you’re backpacking in NYC you should take advantage of it.

Some of them also offer prepared meals, stationary food (buffet), salad bar, soups, ethnic restaurant, sushi and seafood bar, and even a food court. You can decide if you want to eat right there or take away and this is another chance to live like a New Yorker. The best supermarkets are:

Trader Joe’sThank God for Trader Joe’s, one of the best and cheapest supermarkets in New York. I used to go there every week to get some groceries. I love their yoghurt and the cinnamon bread, and they also offer really tasty prepared food such as: salads, lasagnas, rolls, etc.

Whole Foods: The best supermarket chain in New York offering prepared food made of all-natural or organic ingredients. You can find it in many different locations in the city; the most common one is by Columbus Circle.

The Food Emporium: is an upscale popular supermarket chain in NYC offering a great variety of organic, local, and fresh products. Most of the stores are located on Upper West Side and Midtown.

Fairway: this supermarket chain is not very popular in the city and there are only five stores. But it also offers great quality food at good prices.

New York
Times Square.

These are just some suggestions on how to travel to NYC on a budget and you can choose the ones most suitable for you.

New York is also a great city for shopping, so don’t miss the 8 Of The Best Places To Shop In NYC On A Budget

New York is a wonderful city and should not be skipped because of its high prices. After all where else in the world you can feel like in a movie walking down the street and breathing the sense of freedom this city provides? And this is just priceless…

∗ This post was converted into an app and you can get it by clicking here.

∗ For more information about New York City and its calendar for events visit: www.nycandcompany.org

∗ If you’re planning to visit Philadelphia you should check this post: 10 Things to Do in Philadelphia.

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New York on a budget
Travel Planning Resources For every booking made through my site I donate US$ 1 for a charitable organization.Safe travels ☺

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