New York City is not a budget destination, but it does not mean one can’t discover this city cheaper! We decided to create New York City on budget travel guide and put together some tips which should help with New York’s price tag! We have already written what to see in New York, Manhattan part can be found here and in this post, you will find a lot of interesting places in Brooklyn. Hopefully, this little New York guide will help you in planning your trip!
How to get there? – New York City on budget Travel Guide
As it is not hard to guess, the plane is the only option if travelling from Europe. You can cross the Atlantic on the ship but we guess most don’t have so much time. It is worth hunting for promotions, checking different European airports, for example, German ones, also, middle of the week and off-season flights should be better priced. Flights to New York can start from 280 EUR (and probably it can be even cheaper), but you have to be patient and flexible. Another point is the luggage which adds to the ticket price. You can save by not having registered baggage but only packing in a small suitcase and a backpack, most intercontinental flights should have this included. It can be done as Aneta spent 9 days in New York just with carry-on luggage including a backpack with the camera.
Transport from the airport – New York City on budget Travel Guide
JFK (John F. Kennedy International Airport) – The airport is located in Queens and there are several ways to get to the city. Cheapest is AirTrain for $8.25 at Jamaica Station from where you catch the subway to the city for $2.75. It’s worth to know that you cannot pay OMNY for AirTrain, you must have MTA metro card with appropriate amout of money on the card (you can buy it at the airport). Another option is AirTrain to Jamaica Station and from there the LIRR train for which tickets range from $4 to $13. You can find all information on public transport here. You can take a taxi for 52 USD (price to Manhattan, extra charge in rush hour and other parts of the city) It might not be a bad option if you share with someone. You can check UBER or Lyft as well. Another option is private shuttle buses.
Newark – The airport is located in Newark, NJ, but the distance to the city is similar to one form JFK.
Coach USA shuttle bus for $ 17 one way and $ 30 return, it’s worth checking where it stops, because it’s not that obvious, and they run every 30-45 minutes, so check the schedule well! The advantage is that you can commute straight to Manhattan without changing, but there can be traffic jams during rush hour. The most budget option is AirTrain to Newark International Airport, then the NJ Transit train to Penn Station. Find out more about public transport here. Of course, taxis, UBER, Lyft or Bolt are also at stake, but the costs will certainly be high (better when shared with someone)
La Guardia – Located in Queens and located closest to Manhattan, the fastest way to get to the city.
The cheapest option to the Q70 airport bus on Earth Roosevelt Av / 74 St, then transfer to the metro
which costs $ 2.75. Another bus at $ 2.75 is M60 on Hoyt Av / 31 St and a change to the subway. Taxi
to the Times Square area will cost $ 30-38, and learn more here.
How much time to spend? – New York City on budget Travel Guide
The more time you have the better, for true enthusiasts of this city, we recommend 2-3 weeks. We realize that such a long stay can ruin your wallet. We think 5 days is the minimum if you land in the afternoon/evening (and have 5 full days afterwards) due to the length of flights and jet lag. It’s worth flying in in the afternoon or evening, not sleeping on the plane, surviving until the evening and going to bed at the normal time, on the second day you should be ready for sightseeing. 5 days is enough for the most important things, a day in Brooklyn and chill out in Central Park.
We know, however, that 5 days might leave you unsatisfied, the optimum in our opinion is 7-9 days. You will see a lot, there will be time for museums, Broadway, and more time for Brooklyn, you will also fit half a day of chill in the park, time to observe New Yorkers and quick pub crawl. It’s a really nice amount of time to get a feeling of the city’s atmosphere. And it takes a good 5 days to embrace the subway 😀
When to go? – New York City on budget Travel Guide
Winter in New York was advised against by New Yorkers, because it is cold, often humid and windy, and the pre-Christmas period is horrendously expensive. If you are looking for Home Alone-style New York, the best time is right after Thanksgiving, when the decorations are out, but the prices are still manageable.
Spring, especially in April and May, is a great time to visit New York. Everything is blooming, the days are longer, and it is warmer (in May there may already be very warm days). The prices aren’t that high yet and there aren’t such crowds.
Summers in New York are hot and muggy, but the city is green and the breeze from the surrounding water helps just a little. We wouldn’t recommend summer to everyone, we went at the end of May and the beginning of June, and we experienced heat and a few storms. We think summer in New York has its atmosphere, but you need to know your limits and how much you can bear. July and August are the most expensive and crowded months in the city, and a lot of locals then run away on vacation.
Fall is another great time for New York, starting in late summer in September when it’s still warm, through October and November. Golden Fall in New York is beautiful, but the later fall, the more capricious the weather. The first weekend of November is the New York Marathon and prices are soaring this weekend!
When deciding to travel, it is a good idea to check the calendar of events in New York. We came across the Manhattanedge, for example, which is not a party, but a phenomenon when the sun is perpendicular to the streets and you can observe it perfectly between the buildings. Plus, there was also Memorial Day Weekend and quite a few New Yorkers left the city, so there it wasn’t as packed as would normally be. There are plenty of events in New York to attend (or skip if you don’t like them), such as the Italian San Gennaro Festival, St. Patrick’s Day Parade, Ticker Tape Parade, Mermaid Parade, Thanksgiving Parade and much more.
How to get around the city? – New York City on budget Travel Guide
The best option is a combination of a subway and your own legs, there is no point trying to be a hero and think you can only walk around – unless you plan to explore each small part in depth, piece by piece. We were doing 25-40km a day for 9 days and we wouldn’t have been able to do it without the metro!
The metro card costs $1, one ride is $2.9 and you can buy a ride, or opt for a 7-day ($34) or 30-day ($134) card. The former pays off in 12 journeys (it took us 4 days). In addition, the card entitles you to travel by buses or cable cars to Roosevelt Island. You can also tap with your contactless payment card at the entrance to the subway. You can buy the metro card at the vending machines at the stations, but we had a problem with the debit card, so it’s worth having some cash. It will be less of a problem with the credit card, if the machine asks you for a zip code, enter the hotel or 5 random numbers. Additionally, you should watch out for scammer and don’t let anyone help you buy a ticket.
The metro card will only be valid until the end of 2023. The current system in use is called OMNY, which is designed to replace the metro card. OMNY is a contactless payment system, allowing you to pay for your fare using either a card or your phone. After 12 trips using the same card, no further charges will be deducted. This works similarly to the unlimited 7-day card, where you can ride as many times as you want and only pay for 12 trips. It’s important to note that trips are counted from Monday to Sunday.
We feel like the best New York City guide won’t help you conquer the subway. You just have to experience it and deal with it yourself, we used to get lost for 5 days, although we read a million posts, and we covered whole city without a map. The key is knowing the directions downtown, up town, Queens, Bronx, Brooklyn and knowing which one you are going. Additionally, the metro consists of local and express trains, the latter only stop at certain stations. The main thing is not to be discouraged, the worst that can happen is to just drive by your station – you will come back by metro in the other direction 🙂
To go to New Jersey, you can use the PATH train, the ticket is also $ 2.75, but you can use the metro card for pay per-ride, unlimited for 7 days will not work. It is also impossible to pay with a payment card at the gate, you have to buy at the machine. It is worth having a change for the machines, because they often do not give change from high denominations.
Another option for transportation is taxis, Uber, or Lyft, although they can be quite expensive. A popular alternative is the blue Revel cars, which are similar to electric Ubers. If you’ve never had the chance to ride in a Tesla, Revel might be a great opportunity, especially as they often offer various discounts and promotions.
Where to stay? – New York City on budget Travel Guide
The ideal would be Manhattan, because it’s close to everything, but the prices can be eyewatering. Often, even for a hostel you have to pay $100 per night. Airbnb can only be rented as a room in someone’s apartment, short-term rental of entire apartments is illegal. And it’s not super cheap on Airbnb either. Look for bargains, check just before leaving (it’s worth taking the possibility of free cancellation), because you can catch the last minute deal. It is worth adding that some hotels only accept credit cards (we had no problem with that, we made the payment on the spot), there are also some that take a deposit. No problem with a credit, but on a debit card it usually takes a while to get your $$$ refunded.
Other options include New York City boroughs such as Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island. It is worth looking for a metro station nearby, and before booking, check if the district is safe. There is a free ferry from Staten Island to Manhattan.
You can also look for accommodation in Jersey City, from where you can quickly get to Manhattan on the PATH train for $ 2.75.
Our accommodations from 2022 aren’t worth recommending, but Aneta found a pleasant place for her solo trip in 2023. The West Side YMCA is located in a great area of Manhattan, it’s safe, and very close to Central Park. The subway stations for downtown and Harlem are just a few minutes away from the hotel. Although it’s not a luxury hotel, it has more of a hostel-like standard. The rooms are small, and the beds might squeak, but considering it’s a place to simply sleep, it gets the job done. If cleanliness is a priority for you, you might not be thrilled, but we were satisfied with clean bedding. The bathrooms are shared (if you choose a room with shared facilities), but they are divided by gender, and the shower glass is frosted, so there’s some level of privacy. It’s not an outstanding place, but for the price and location, it’s definitely worth considering.
Food – New York City on budget Travel Guide
In New York (and the rest of the US) prices are exclusive of tax, which is added at the checkout. This tax is 8.875%. It is worth knowing that tips are obligatory, 18-25%, so it pays off to take out food to save money.
Water in the pub is served for free, so you can save on drinks. There is also no problem with drinking water in the city, you can easily fill the water in the bar – tap water is drinkable and tasty. By having your own bottle, you can save $1-5 dollars a day. Alcohol is expensive, also in stores. It’s best to hunt for happy hour in pubs, beer is usually $5 to 9, cocktails for $10 an up. In stores, beer can cost $3.5- 5, wine is much cheaper, but you can get it only in special liquor stores. Coffee in town is at least $3.
There is no problem finding pizzas for $1 (often $5 is the whole deal), meals for $10-12 in Asian eateries. There are a lot of oldschool delis where you can eat a simple bagel with cheese for $ 4, and a hearty sandwich or pancakes for $8. It is also cheaper in Jewish restaurants in Orthodox Jewish districts, soup with tip is $8, lunch $15. You can also find affordable meals from street carts, but it’s important to know which ones to choose to ensure good quality. New Yorkers often frequent these carts, so look for the ones with queues!
There is also the Too Good To Go app in New York, which allows you to order “leftovers” from pubs and bakeries at a low price. What remains after the day and wasn’t sold, but would have to be thrown away, packed in surprise packages. Pickup is usually in the evening and often at night. For a few dollars this way you can eat a hefty meal!
Museums and Observation Decks – New York City on budget Travel Guide
Unfortunately, museums are not cheap and usually admissions start around $ 20. At the MET it is very difficult to get any discounts, but there are still museums that offer free entry or “pay as you wish” at certain times of the week. Morgan’s Museum and Library has free admission from 5pm to 7pm on Fridays, must be booked in advance. At the Guggenheim Museum, ‘pay as you wish’ is valid on Saturdays from 6 pm to 8 pm. Before you go to the museum, it is worth checking if there are days of free admission.
To save money, it might be a good idea of getting a city pass, which will allow you to visit many places at a lower price. It is worth checking which option will be the best (whether it contains all the sights you are interested in), because it often requires proper planning. New York Sightseeing Pass or New York Pass are day passes, we didn’t want to squeeze all the attractions in one or two days, so we decided on the City Pass. It has fewer attractions, but you can visit them at any time (it is limited – check the conditions), so we spread the attractions over several days. Attractions often need to be booked! With the City Pass, the entrance to the Top of The Rock for sunset was free of charge.
If you plan to see New York from above, there are five options to choose from: Top of The Rock, Empire State Building, The One Observatory, The Edge and One Summit Vanderbilt (there’s a rumour that an observatory is soon to open at the Chrysler Building). Most of them have more expensive sunset entrances, Top of The Rock is $ 10. Sunset is also the busiest time, but the entrance is usually unlimited, so you can come 2 hours earlier. In our opinion, the best observatory is Top of The Rock. As the only one, on the highest terrace, there are no panes or bars. It has a perfect view of the Empire State Building as well as Central Park.
If you don’t want to go to the observatory (although we highly recommend it) then go to the rooftop bar. For the price of the observatory you will have 2-3 drinks, and the views are also not bad. We recommend 230th Fifth with a view of the Empire State Building, although it’s a touristy place where drinks are served in plastic cups. The tallest rooftop in New York is Bar 54.
If you have a slightly larger budget, the best option to see New York from above is a helicopter flight. We recommend waiting for an 80% discount, then such a flight costs about $ 150 for 15 minutes. You can find more information here. Another unconventional option for adrenaline enthusiasts is The City Climb, which is a “climbing” experience on the world’s highest open-air terrace. The City Climb is located at the same place as the Edge, and admission to the observatory is included for free. You can find more information here.
How to save on Broadway? – New York City on budget Travel Guide
The Broadway show is a truly unique event, worth every penny! However, this is not cheap entertainment, but it can be made more budget-friendly. First of all, tickets can be bought cheaper (40-50%) at the TKTS box office in Times Square (check if other box offices have opened after the pandemic). Tickets can be bought for the same day or for the first performance of the next day (there are two rounds – at 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.). Another option is to buy at the theatre itself on the same day, it can be even cheaper. You can take part in the lottery, winning means a lot cheaper tickets. You can find the details here. You can also check prices in the TodayTix app.
Other free attractions – New York City on budget Travel Guide
If you have a 7-days unlimited metro card, you can go to the Roosevelt Island Tramway for free. A cable car suspended under the Queensboro Bridge will take you to the island. If you do not have a 7-day card, you will get to the island for $ 2.75, which is as much as you have to pay for the metro ride.
The ferries cost $ 4, much less than the expensive boat trips and the views are nice from cheaper ferries (there’s a bar too!). Unfortunately, they do not accept a metro card and you have to buy a separate ticket, preferably in the app, because the machines do not always work.
You can take the ferry to Staten Island for free, it’s a great option to see the impressive skyline of lower Manhattan as well as the Statue of Liberty. The ferry doesn’t go very close, but just enough to see the Statue. On Sunday mornings, the ferry to Governor’s Island is also free.
Useful Apps – New York City on budget Travel Guide
NYC Subway – an app for the subway, although in our opinion Google Maps worked better. The stations themselves are so complicated.
TKTS – an app in which you can check what Broadway shows on a given day are on sale and what the discount is.
Squat or Not – is an app for finding public toilets, of which there are plenty, and they’re usually free. Unfortunately, from our observations, it’s easier to find toilets on Google Maps. It’s also worth knowing that many public toilets close at 4 PM.
Central Park – an app that will show you the best spots in Central Park.
Google Maps – preferably offline “just in case”, we found it best for navigation. Before leaving, we made maps of what we want to see.
Safety – New York City on budget Travel Guide
2022: Apparently, a lot has changed in the pandemic and we have actually seen a lot of homeless people and drug addicts. It is safe in most tourist places, although things can be different after dark in Times Square. We recommend that you be careful, as anywhere else, do not go where you do not feel safe, and avoid empty metro cars. Being together, we travelled by subway at night, but Aneta solo did not dare. It is worth knowing where the worst parts of the city are, such as Harlem above 125 Street or the South Bronx, and rather avoid them. As everywhere, you should keep an eye on your belongings and watch out for pickpocketers.
In 2023, the experience was much better than in 2022. Friends told us that it was because tourism had already reached about 85% of its normal level, which led to a focus on the city’s image, safety, and cleanliness. Of course, caution should still be exercised, as in any other place. There were noticeably more police officers on the streets than in 2022. It could be a matter of luck, but despite Aneta’s intensive daily activities, she didn’t encounter any strange or unpleasant situations. In 2023, going out alone in the evenings or using the subway at night wasn’t an issue for her.
Internet – New York City on budget Travel Guide
There is free wi-fi in many places, it even happens to be on the subway. However, we are not convinced by the public, open networks, because we do not have a VPN and we are not sure about their security. A sim card with 10GB of internet at T-Mobile is $ 40, no registration is required.
Another place is AT&T. Apparently, it is not worth buying at the airport, because the prices are higher, but we have not tested this thesis ourselves.
Another option, and in our opinion the best if you have a phone with eSIM capability, is the Airalo app, which allows you to purchase an internet package and install an eSIM on your phone before your trip. The cost of a 10GB package on Airalo is $26.
We hope our New York City guide has told you a bit about this beautiful city and you will be able to plan your New York on a budget!