How to Visit New York City on a Budget
Tips to help you save money on transportation, accommodations, dining and entertainment.
New York is notoriously expensive. Year after year, it tops Kiplinger's list of costliest places to live. Just visiting it can cost an arm and a leg. The average daily hotel room rate is $281, and the average cost of dinner in a restaurant is $43 per person, according to the city's official marketing and tourism organization NYC & Company. Add in the cost of other meals, transportation and entertainment, and you could easily spend $500 a day in the Big Apple.
However, there are plenty of ways to keep the costs associated with a trip under control. If you're planning a visit to New York, consider these tips to save money getting there, staying there, eating there and having fun there.
Getting to New York
Take the bus. The cheapest way to get to the city if you live on the East Coast is the bus. A one-way ticket can cost less than what you'd pay to fill up your car's gas tank. For example, an advance-purchase Greyhound bus ticket for travel in October from Raleigh, N.C., to New York cost $45 versus $52.95 to fill up a 15-gallon tank at the average East Coast gas price of $3.53 a gallon (and you'll need to fill up more than once for a drive of that distance). A one-way Amtrak train ticket for the same route would cost $90.
Consider alternate airports. The price of an airline ticket can vary dramatically depending on which New York area airport into which you fly. For example, round-trip flights in mid-October from Dallas to Newark Liberty International Airport (15 miles from Midtown Manhattan) are about $70 less than flights to LaGuardia Airport and John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, according to a search on Kayak.com.
Get a discount on parking. If you do drive, don't pay the exorbitant rates hotels charge for parking. Look for a nearby parking garage, which likely will charge less -- especially if you use a coupon. For example, Icon Parking Systems has more than 400 coupons for discounted parking rates in its garages throughout the city.
Staying in New York
Share a bathroom. Several hotels offer great rates (by New York standards, that is) on accommodations with shared baths. For example, you can get a room for two at The Jane for $145 a night if you're willing to share a bathroom -- whereas rooms at The Jane with private bathrooms cost at least $325.
Check economy hotel chains. Even budget hotel chains aren't particularly cheap in New York, but they're good deals compared with many other accommodations in the city. Apple Core Hotels, for example, operates a La Quinta, Ramada and three independent hotels in Manhattan. A queen room at the Ramada was available for $205 a night in mid-October.
Rent a room or apartment. Manhattan Getaways offers furnished rooms in residents' apartments starting at $120 a night and private apartments starting at $200 a night. Or check for rooms or apartments at Airbnb.com, VRBO.com and HomeAway.com. Apartments can be ideal accommodations for large families and for people looking to save money by cooking their own meals.
Consider hostels. If you don't mind bunking with strangers, hostels offer truly bargain rates. For less than $60 a night, you can stay in a dorm-style room at Hostelling International and take advantage of its free nightly happy hours and free Wi-Fi. Broadway Hotel and Hostel, which claims to be a boutique hostel, has dorm-style rooms with shared baths for $45 and up.
Couch surf. If you're traveling solo, you might be able to score free accommodations through the Couchsurfing site or app, which connects members with people willing to spare a couch for the night for free.
Getting around New York
Take public transportation. You can save a lot by taking public transportation rather than taxis around New York. For example, you can get a seven-day unlimited MetroCard for $30. You could easily pay more than that for cab fares in just one day. If you're worried about getting lost or ending up on the wrong train, you can download the free New York Subway Map app (iPhone and iPad) or NYC Bus & Subway Maps app (Android) for help navigating the subway system.
Dining in New York
Use discounted gift cards. You can dine out for less by purchasing discounted gift certificates for local eateries at Restaurant.com and discounted gift cards for chain restaurants at Cardpool.com and Gift Card Granny.
Take advantage of daily deals. Check Groupon and other daily deal sites for New York restaurants and bars offering discounts during your stay.
Enjoy cheap eats. There's plenty of good food to be found in New York for bargain prices. Time Out New York has a guide to the best cheap eats in the city.
Having fun in New York
Take advantage of free attractions. Some of the city's most well-known attractions actually are free. You can wander the 843-acre Central Park -- or take a guided tour -- for free. Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, visit St. Patrick's Cathedral, see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island from the Staten Island Ferry, play a song on the big FAO Schwarz piano and much more. Plenty of museums also are free or accept contributions, such as the American Museum of Natural History. And you can even take a free walking tour of the city with groups such as Big Apple Greeter.
Buy passes for multiple attractions. Get a discount on entrance fees by buying a pass to multiple attractions. For example, the CityPASS provides admission to six major attractions for 43% less than what you would pay if you bought tickets individually for each attraction. The New York Pass offers admission to 80 attractions with one-, two-, three- or seven-day passes. If you saw three attractions a day with the seven-day pass, you could save $400.
See Broadway shows at a discount. There are plenty of ways to save on tickets to Broadway shows, from timing your visit to coincide with Broadway Week when you can get two tickets for the price of one to buying discounted tickets the day of a show at TKTS Discount Booths in New York City's Times Square, the South Street Seaport and Brooklyn. See How to Save on Tickets to Broadway Shows for more tips.