Not sure if your wallet is big enough for a trip to the Big Apple? We’ve got you covered! Although New York City has a notoriously high cost of living, it is possible for travelers to visit without breaking the bank. Here are a few budget-saving ideas for a true “I ❤ NY” experience.

Photo by Brian Wong

See the sights

You could never run out of things to do in New York City — the tricky part is maximizing your time while minimizing your expenses.

Luckily, several companies feature reduced-cost passes that offer admission to multiple New York City attractions. One such example is the CityPASS, which bundles three or six major attractions on a single ticket, with adult tickets starting at $79 for a three-attraction pass. There’s also the New York Pass, which includes entry to more than 90 attractions over a one-, two-, three-, five-, seven-, or 10-day period; this pass begins at $124. Finally, the New York Explorer Pass lets visitors create a customized itinerary of three, four, five, seven, or 10 attractions; the basic adult pass costs $84. And since major attractions often charge $25 to $40 for a single admission alone, these passes can easily pay for themselves — all that’s left to do is select the pass that works best for your trip.

With a little bit of research, museum lovers can score cheap admission to some of the world’s greatest exhibits. For example, full-price tickets to the Metropolitan Museum of Art cost $25, with the tickets valid for three consecutive days. This policy — newly instated on March 1, 2018 — gives visitors more bang for their buck by letting them explore the exhibits at a leisurely pace over the course of several days. What’s more, the American Museum of Natural History has a pay-as-you-wish admission at its ticket counters (visitors should note that they can’t buy this type of ticket online and that admission lines are lengthy). The Guggenheim admits students and seniors for $18, and the Museum of Modern Art lets everyone in for free on Fridays from 4 to 8 p.m.

And, of course, there’s an abundance of free attractions in New York City. Obvious examples include Central Park, Times Square, and the Brooklyn Bridge. The National Parks Service operates several free-of-charge sites, ranging from the African Burial Ground National Monument to Theodore Roosevelt’s birthplace. Finally, the Big Apple is also home to several excellent beaches, including Jacob Riis Park Beach, Fort Tilden Beach, and Jones Beach. Plus, it’s always free to wander the streets!

Photo by Tom White
Photo by Tom White

Catch a show

There are several ways to find cheap Broadway and off-Broadway tickets. Remember that the most popular shows will always be the most expensive, but, if you’re lucky, it’s still possible to find discounted tickets to shows like “Hamilton,” “The Lion King,” “Wicked,” and “The Book of Mormon.”

One tried-and-true method requires making a day-of-the-show trip to the TKTS Booth on 47th Street and Broadway. There, you can find tickets to most shows, although usually not the most popular ones, for up to 50 percent off.

Alternatively, you could download an app or check websites like TodayTix. This site sells discount tickets to musicals, plays, comedy shows, opera, dance performances, jazz concerts, and immersive theater. You can reserve these tickets up to 30 days in advance, for up to 50 percent off.

Finally, you might want to consider looking for rush tickets, lottery tickets, or standing room tickets. To purchase a rush ticket, you’ll need to go to the theater’s box office as early as possible on the day of the show you wish to attend. To enter for a lottery ticket, you’ll put your name down — either online or in the theater’s box office, depending on the show’s policy — and then hope for the best. Standing room tickets are usually the least expensive option, but you’ll want to stay off your feet and conserve your energy before the show. All information for rush, lottery, and standing room tickets is available on Playbill’s website.

Photo by Yanan Sui
Photo by Mark Rosen

Eat your heart out

With 72 Michelin-starred restaurants in New York City, you could drop a small fortune eating the city’s finest cuisine. Luckily, anyone with a tight budget and big appetite can also chow down on delicious food in this city.

You’ll find cheap eateries in all five boroughs. International food is often extremely inexpensive and, with a little effort, you can find restaurants featuring food from nearly every country.

Street food won’t hurt your wallet either, and New Yorkers are pretty creative when it comes to their food carts and trucks. While you’ll pass many vendors proffering hot dogs, pizza, and tacos, you’ll also come across crepes, Philly cheesesteaks, and halal food.

Don’t forget to snap a picture of your tastiest meal!

Photo by Humza Deas

Sleep in

With some research, you could save hundreds of dollars on sleeping accommodations in the Big Apple. Hotels don’t come cheap in New York City, although websites like Eurocheapo are bringing inexpensive hotels to the forefront. You could also check out a few hostels and see if they’re up to your standards; in a major city like New York, you can easily find a comfortable one. Airbnb is another popular option you might want to consider, with plenty of apartments to rent in every borough, and even in neighboring New Jersey. Try Hoboken, Jersey City, or Weehawken!

If you’d rather explore other possibilities, you could try Couchsurfing. You’ll start by setting up a profile and messaging potential hosts; during your trip, you’ll stay with a local who will likely be happy to share their favorite spots and show you around the city.

Finally, Workaway lets travelers exchange a little bit of work for room and board. Your host could ask you to help out with anything from repair work to elderly care, usually for a few hours a day. That leaves plenty of time for exploring!

Get around

While yellow taxis are New York’s most iconic form of transportation, they’re also the most expensive. To save money, take the subway!

New York’s metro is reliable, well connected, and relatively inexpensive. A single-ride ticket costs $3, but fare is reduced to $2.75 when you use a Pay-Per-Ride MetroCard (you can choose the number of rides that you’ll purchase). You can also buy an Unlimited Ride MetroCard, which is valid for either seven or 30 days. With 27 subway lines and 472 stations around the city, the subway will get you where you need to go.

New York, here you come!

Cover photo by Noel Y. Calingasan

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Whitney Brown
Whitney Brown is a recent journalism graduate and travel writer based in Utah. She has lived in France and Ireland, and she's always planning her next big adventure. In addition to her passion for travel, Whitney loves archaeology, photography and floral design.