The Big Apple on a Budget – How to Experience NYC Without Going Broke
The Big Apple on a Budget - How to Experience NYC Without Going Broke - Stay in the Outer Boroughs to Save on Lodging
Manhattan may be the heart of New York City, but staying there can quickly drain your wallet. Room rates in popular neighborhoods like Midtown, Soho and the Village can easily run $250-400 per night - ouch! Thankfully, the outer boroughs provide a treasure trove of affordable lodging options without sacrificing convenience.
Brooklyn and Queens in particular offer easy subway access to Manhattan along with a more laidback vibe. Neighborhoods like Williamsburg, Long Island City and Astoria are teeming with cool shops, bars, and restaurants. You can easily score a private room on Airbnb for $100 or less per night. We’ve had great experiences booking through Superhosts with lots of positive reviews.
Another option is to stay at one of the Pod Hotels located in Brooklyn and Queens. These micro-hotels feature compact, well-designed rooms with shared bathrooms. Nightly rates start around just $100 if you book well in advance. It's basic but comfortable, and you can't beat the price.
The outer borough hotels provide another affordable choice. Brands like La Quinta, Holiday Inn Express, Hampton Inn and Fairfield Inn have locations dotted throughout Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx. Rates hover in the $125-175 range, including taxes and breakfast. Nothing fancy, but very wallet-friendly.
Commuting is a breeze since all the outer borough hotels are near major subway lines. The longest ride into Manhattan is about 45 minutes. We recommend buying an unlimited metro pass for $33 which allows unlimited rides for a full week.
What else is in this post?
- The Big Apple on a Budget - How to Experience NYC Without Going Broke - Stay in the Outer Boroughs to Save on Lodging
- The Big Apple on a Budget - How to Experience NYC Without Going Broke - Take Advantage of Free Attractions Like Parks and Museums
- The Big Apple on a Budget - How to Experience NYC Without Going Broke - Walk, Use Public Transit to Avoid Costly Taxis and Ubers
- The Big Apple on a Budget - How to Experience NYC Without Going Broke - Eat on the Cheap at Food Carts, Ethnic Restaurants
- The Big Apple on a Budget - How to Experience NYC Without Going Broke - See Broadway Shows for Half Price at TKTS Booth
- The Big Apple on a Budget - How to Experience NYC Without Going Broke - Drink for Less at Happy Hours and Dive Bars
- The Big Apple on a Budget - How to Experience NYC Without Going Broke - Score Discounts on Shopping With Online Deal Sites
- The Big Apple on a Budget - How to Experience NYC Without Going Broke - Enjoy Free Outdoor Concerts and Events in the Summer
The Big Apple on a Budget - How to Experience NYC Without Going Broke - Take Advantage of Free Attractions Like Parks and Museums
New York City boasts a staggering array of world-class museums and parks that won't cost you a dime to visit. Taking advantage of these free attractions is a great way to immerse yourself in NYC culture without blowing your budget.
Central Park offers 843 acres of urban green space right in the heart of Manhattan. Go for a jog, picnic, or just relax on the Great Lawn taking in skyline views. The park also hosts free events like Shakespeare in the Park and free concerts during the summer months. Wandering through its leafy paths feels a world away from the bustling city streets.
The Bronx Zoo spans 265 acres and houses over 4,000 animals. It's the largest metropolitan zoo in the US and general admission is free every Wednesday (though some exhibits require additional tickets). Make a day of exploring this urban jungle and its inhabitants from across the globe.
In Brooklyn, Prospect Park provides a pastoral escape rivaling Central Park in size and beauty. Long Meadow features 90 acres of open green space for sports and relaxing, while the forested Ravine transports you to the countryside. Enjoy free weekly Smorgasburg food markets and Celebrate Brooklyn! concerts during summer.
The Brooklyn Botanic Garden dazzles with over 10,000 types of plants spread across 52 acres. Don't miss the serene Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden and fragrant Cherry Esplanade in spring. Admission is free Tuesday and Saturday mornings before noon.
The Staten Island Ferry shuttles between Manhattan and Staten Island 24/7, providing superb views of the Statue of Liberty and Lower Manhattan skyline. The 25-minute ride is completely free and runs every 15-30 minutes. Bring a cold beer or coffee to sip on deck as you soak in the scenery.
NYC's famed art museums like the Met, MoMA and Whitney Museum offer pay-what-you-wish admission. The recommended donation is $25 but you can pay one penny and still gain access. MoMA is free on Friday evenings. Get your culture fix without breaking the bank at one of the world's greatest art meccas.
Lesser known institutions like the Museum of the City of New York and Cooper Hewitt Design Museum have completely free entry. Both provide a fascinating look at NYC's architecture, culture and history through exhibited artifacts and rotating exhibits.
The Big Apple on a Budget - How to Experience NYC Without Going Broke - Walk, Use Public Transit to Avoid Costly Taxis and Ubers
Getting around New York City can put a major dent in your travel budget if you rely on cabs and Ubers. Avoid the sticker shock by walking and taking advantage of the city's extensive public transit system instead.
New York is famed for its walkability, and strolling between neighborhoods and attractions helps you get a street-level feel for the city. Equip yourself with a good pair of shoes, a metro map, and an offline map app like CityMaps2Go. Then hit the pavement and rack up the daily steps!
Walking across Central Park takes about an hour but provides a peaceful forest escape right in Manhattan's backyard. Hoofing it down iconic Broadway from Times Square to Soho lets you gawk at the neon lights without paying for a pedicab. We walked over 7 miles exploring Chinatown, Little Italy and Greenwich Village in a single day.
When your feet need a break, hop aboard the subway or bus. The NYC metro is extensive, frequent and a total bargain. Unlimited ride passes valid for 7 days cost just $33 - that's less than the price of two short cab rides.
The subway runs 24/7, making it easy to rest your feet and quickly get across town late at night after taking in a Broadway show. Sure, you may have to stand in a crowded car sandwiched between other riders. But chatting with locals and people-watching is all part of the classic NYC experience.
Buses can be slower but let you scope out attractions like the Brooklyn Bridge and Highline as you travel. Use the MTA app or CityMapper to plan routes and catch real-time arrivals.
Taxis and Ubers still have their place if you're pressed for time, traveling late at night solo or have limited mobility. But relying on them heavily really adds up. A 3-mile Uber ride across Manhattan can cost $30 minimum, not to mention tips.
The Big Apple on a Budget - How to Experience NYC Without Going Broke - Eat on the Cheap at Food Carts, Ethnic Restaurants
New York is a foodie paradise, but dining out three times a day can devastate your travel budget faster than an unexpected Broadway ticket spree. Thankfully, NYC offers plenty of mouthwatering eats on a budget so you can enjoy the diversity of flavors without draining your wallet.
Street food is a delicious and inexpensive way to grab a quick bite during your urban explorations. Halal food carts dish up giant plates of chicken or lamb over rice for just $5-6. A piping hot pretzel with mustard will only set you back a buck or two from the omnipresent street vendors. Lively Chinatown boasts dozens of steamed and fried dumpling carts – try a variety sampler for under $5.
Don’t miss exploring the city’s authentic ethnic eateries that serve up homestyle fare for nearly fast food prices. Flushing, Queens is home to the largest Chinatown outside Asia. Savor hand-pulled noodles and xiao long bao soup dumplings galore along with wallet-friendly Sichuan. Just a few subway stops away in Jackson Heights lies a Little India bursting with aromatic curries, samosas, naan and mango lassis.
Arthur Avenue in the Bronx transports you to the old country with red-sauce Italian joints and cafes serving up cannoli and espresso. The generously-sized sandwiches at any Jewish deli will leave you stuffed for just 10 bucks. And you can enjoy an amazing pre-fixe Ethiopian feast with endless spicy stews and fresh injera bread for less than $20 per person.
Don’t forget about pizza. You can grab a ginormous, foldable $1 slice on nearly every corner, but splurging on a whole pie at venerable institutions like Di Fara or Juliana’s is a quintessential NYC experience. Just don’t fill up too much on pizza alone when so many culinary delights await!
The Big Apple on a Budget - How to Experience NYC Without Going Broke - See Broadway Shows for Half Price at TKTS Booth
You’ve come all the way to the Big Apple, so you’ve got to see a Broadway show, right? Not so fast – the average price of a Broadway ticket now tops $100. Even hit shows like Hamilton and Wicked can run several hundred bucks. But fret not, theater lovers – you can still catch a show without draining your travel fund by visiting the TKTS booth.
Run by the Theater Development Fund, TKTS offers unsold Broadway and off-Broadway show tickets for up to 50% off day-of prices. The iconic red glass booth is centrally located right in the heart of Times Square. Arrive when it opens in the morning or early afternoon for the best selection – hot shows sell out fast!
Be flexible with your Broadway plans if possible. Browse the digital listings board to see what’s available each day and choose from those options. Limited-run and open-ended shows alike are represented. You may score cheap seats to long-running hits like The Lion King or The Book of Mormon. We’ve even spotted discounted Hamilton tickets on occasion! Popular shows can still sell out by early afternoon.
Off-Broadway productions are more plentiful at TKTS and routinely discounted 50% or more. These smaller, more intimate shows deliver the same world-class performances as their Broadway counterparts for a fraction of the cost. We loved the moving musical A Strange Loop and hilarious improv comedy show Freestyle Love Supreme.
Arrive 30-60 minutes before TKTS opens to get in line – but not much earlier. They only sell same-day tickets so waiting for hours is pointless. Download the TKTS app to view real-time availability and get notifications when coveted shows are added last-minute. Resist buying from the illegal ticket scalpers lurking nearby – they’re bad news.
TKTS has a second location at Lincoln Center with additional evening-only hours. This is also the go-to for discounted Metropolitan Opera tickets. Can’t commit to a full Broadway show? TKTS also sells discounted tickets to Broadway walking tours, comedy clubs and jazz performances so you can still get a taste of NYC’s iconic arts and entertainment scene on a budget.
The Big Apple on a Budget - How to Experience NYC Without Going Broke - Drink for Less at Happy Hours and Dive Bars
After taking in a Broadway show or museum-hopping all day, you'll likely be parched and ready to wet your whistle. But paying full price for cocktails at swanky Manhattan lounges will drain your wallet faster than a shopping spree at Bloomingdales. Have no fear – NYC serves up plenty of dive bars and daily happy hours where you can quench your thirst for half the cost.
If you’re craving a proper pint, cozy up to the bar at historic McSorley’s Ale House. This dusty watering hole in the East Village has been pouring beers since the Civil War era. Order a pair of the house brews for just $6 – they only come in light or dark. Be sure to wish the bartenders good luck before leaving.
For a quintessentially New York experience, belly up to the long wooden bar at Jimmy’s Corner on West 44th. This iconic Times Square dive has barely changed since it opened in 1971. Jimmy held court pouring drinks up until his death at 90 years old in 2020. Now the gruff but warm bartenders carry on his legacy serving cheap beers and shots to locals and tourists alike.
Once you’ve had your fill of dive bars, enjoy the same classic cocktails at half the Midtown price by heading to happy hours. Print out free apps like HappyHourHunter to locate over 4,500 happy hours citywide. Input your location and desired vibe to find daily drink deals within walking distance.
Want skyline views with your cheap cosmopolitan? Head up to Ophelia lounge atop the Beekman Hotel. Their west-facing terrace offers panoramic vistas of the Hudson River. Stop by on weekdays from 5-7pm to enjoy craft cocktails for just $9 along with discounted bar bites.
For a swanky vibe at downtown prices, pull up a leather couch near the backlit onyx bar at Bathtub Gin. Their extensive happy hour from 4-7:30pm Mon-Fri features $9 classic cocktails and punch bowls to share. Pair your discounted drinks with sliders and other light fare under $8.
If refreshing rooftop cocktails are more your speed, The Heights at Arlo Soho awaits. This stylish hotel hideaway attracts a lively after-work crowd who come for the superb views of lower Manhattan as much as the drinks. Stop by weeknights from 5-7pm to sip half-price margaritas, sangria pitchers, beer and wine.
Trying to rally after a late Broadway show? Don’t settle for a subpar airport-priced martini at your Midtown hotel bar. Instead hop the 1 train down to the East Village for Jimmy’s No. 43 top-notch whiskey cocktails discounted to $7. Their cozy basement bar stays open till 2am nightly serving craft beers and tasty pub snacks alongside over 400 types of whiskies and hard-to-find German beers on tap.
The Big Apple on a Budget - How to Experience NYC Without Going Broke - Score Discounts on Shopping With Online Deal Sites
Scoring sweet deals on shopping is practically a sport in New York City. From sample sales to secret designer warehouses, there are deals aplenty for savvy shoppers willing to hunt them down. But sorting through it all and finding the best bargains can quickly turn into a full time job.
Thankfully, online deal sites and apps make it easy to spot the top discounts and steals across the city right from your phone. These sites do the heavy bargain hunting for you, curating and consolidating the best daily deals on everything from fashion to spas so you can shop smart and save big during your NYC trip.
We’re obsessed with RueLaLa, an online boutique offering coveted designer brands for up to 70% off retail prices. Browse their daily sales for insane deals on contemporary brands like Theory and Vince along with steep discounts on luxe labels like Prada and Burberry. We scored a gorgeous Rebecca Minkoff leather crossbody bag for just $59 that retailed for $198 – now that’s a NYC deal!
RueLaLa also offers killer travel deals like 4-star hotel stays and Broadway show tickets up to 60% off. And their limited-time flash sales mean extra savings if you act fast. Download their app and you can conveniently shop these lightning deals right from your phone.
For spoiling yourself at spas and salons while in NYC, treat yourself to discounted treatments through mobile app Soothe. Browse real-time availabilities and instant book massage therapists who come to your hotel room within an hour. Score $30 off your first massage and unlock special member rates up to 25% off after that. We loved unwinding after long days of urban exploration with on-demand $99 massages from vetted therapists.
The Lifebooker app offers similar convenience for booking blowouts, manicures, facials and other beauty services on demand. Browse profiles, availability and real prices for salons and freelance stylists nearby. Book last-minute appointments or schedule in advance and pay right through the app. Use promo code NYC30 to save on your first booking. We felt pampered getting a mobile blowout with Amika hair products before hitting the town for just $59.
For savvy shoppers after designer labels, gloves are off at Gilt. This members-only site offers coveted luxury brands for 50-70% off retail prices. Once you join (it’s free!), new sales open daily at 12pm EST across categories like fashion, jewelry, home goods, travel and more. Gilt also runs limited-quantity flash sales on in-demand items. Creating email alerts for your favorite designers means you’ll never miss a major deal in your size. We finally got our hands on some gorgeous Tory Burch ballet flats for a steal at just $49.
Of course, you can also save big on attractions, tours and entertainment by keeping an eye out for discounts on activity sites like Groupon and LivingSocial. Look out for mobile coupon codes and additional discounts to stack onto already marked-down prices. For example, we discovered a coupon code for an extra 15% off all NYC deals on Groupon, scoring us Circle Line sightseeing cruise tickets for just $27 each. That’s over 50% off walk-up prices!
The Big Apple on a Budget - How to Experience NYC Without Going Broke - Enjoy Free Outdoor Concerts and Events in the Summer
New York City comes alive in the summer, bursting with free outdoor concerts, events, and activities for budget-minded travelers to enjoy. From Central Park extravaganzas to neighborhood street fairs, there are countless ways to soak up the city's contagious energy without spending a dime.
No stay in NYC is complete without experiencing a free concert or performance in Central Park. The iconic Great Lawn comes to life between June and August, playing host to renowned artists across genres for the beloved Summerstage festival. Pack a picnic and lay out on the grass while grooving to reggae, indie rock, pop and more under the stars. You never know who might take the stage - we’ve enjoyed everyone from up-and-coming locals to big names like Dave Matthews Band and José González at past Summerstages.
Just a short stroll away, Shakespeare in the Park at the Delacorte Theater provides free access to world-class theater in an open-air venue. Scoring tickets takes planning since they are handed out the morning of each show. But dedicated fans are richly rewarded with intimate performances from renowned actors alongside the next generation of rising talent. Waiting in line is actually quite fun, providing impromptu tailgating as you chat with fellow theater lovers eager for their shot at seeing a show.
Of course, music, theater and revelry extend far beyond Manhattan’s green oasis. Almost every weekend from May through September, NYC’s neighborhoods fill the streets with vibrant cultural festivals and feasts for all. The raucous Richmond County Fair transports Staten Island’s Historic Richmond Town to an old-fashioned carnival with rides, games, and traditional foods. We spent an entire day gorging on sausage and pepper sandwiches, playing cornhole and cheering on pie-eating contests!
Arthur Avenue in the Bronx comes alive on summer Sundays for Il Belmont Festival, where Italian tunes fill the air and vendors sell sausages, souvenirs and treats along the street. Flushing Meadows Park in Queens transforms into a celebration of culture and cuisine during the World’s Fair Anniversary Festival in May. And Brooklyn takes it up a notch with the West Indian American Day Carnival Parade, with its colorful floats and infectious soca music each Labor Day.
No matter your background or interests, NYC has a cultural street fair to give you a taste of communities’ heritage and pride. Like a true New Yorker, grab a $1 empanada from a street cart, snag a spot on the curb and take it all in! Just be sure to arrive early - these vibrant festivals often draw huge crowds. But admittedly, rubbing elbows with revelers from every corner of the city provides nearly as much entertainment as the programming itself.