Cheap, especially when talking about NYC, is relative. A rich person can say a $200 hotel room was a steal but you, on your student’s budget, would probably faint at the end of stay bill. However you look at it, practically any city can be managed on a budget, no matter how small it may seem.
The thing with NYC, though, is that it’s one of the most expensive cities in the country, namely because everyone and their mother wants to be there. Demand is much higher than supply in Manhattan so you’ll be hard-pressed to find a hotel room less than $150. Most of the places you’ll find cheaper than this mark may not be your five-star accommodations or even part of a known franchise, but they’re viable options. Another option is Queens. Right across the harbor, scenic, and an up and coming tourist destination, Queens is an incredibly affordable alternative to Manhattan - plus you have views of the Manhattan skyline. Wake up and stroll down the street to a local bakery or cafe, hop a bus and visit all the best sites in all the boroughs you want without breaking your bank! If you’re willing, even, to “slum” it in hostels (many of which are boutique hostels, I might add), you can save even more. And as always, sharing a room with friends can shave down the bill for each individual vacationer.
Cheap or Free Attractions: $ The “cheapness” of all of these is based on the admission price or lack thereof. It does not include the prices for souvenirs, food, or other shopping/activities.
- Staten Island Ferry - Instead of spending a lot of money on the Statue Cruises and going up inside the Statue of Liberty for a hefty sum, hop aboard the free and scenic Staten Island Ferry. You can’t go inside the statue but you’ll get all the best views.
- Central Park - America’s beloved city park and a natural reprieve from the concrete jungle, Central Park is so huge and so full of activities that you can easily spend a full day here.
- Museum Free Days - Many of NYC’s top museums are expensive, but they also offer free days so make sure you check before you go.
- Garment District self-guided tour - America’s top fashion district, where the best designers in the nation are hard at work, the Garment District is home to the highest concentration of designers and workshops in the country. Guided tours are more in-depth but they cost more. Instead, download a walkable tour map and guide yourselves through the district and along the Fashion Walk of Fame.
- Times Square - You can’t come to NYC without checking out Times Square.
- Rockefeller Center self-guided tour - As with the Garment District, Rockefeller Center is not only a local treasure but a national one as well. The historic center offers an array of guided tours, for a price, but you can also explore with your smartphones and friends for free.
- Coney Island - Affordable, kitschy, historic, and a bundle of fun.
- Chinatown - A cultural staple, Chinatown is a great place to tour with friends as something unique.
- Brooklyn Botanic Garden - Tuesdays, Saturday mornings, and winter weekdays from December through February offer free admission to this historic garden site. Even if you don’t get in totally for free, it’s still worth seeing.
- St. Patrick’s Cathedral - A testament to perseverance and faith, St. Patrick’s Cathedral is one of the most beautiful and iconic Roman Catholic cathedrals in America. Tours are offered, both guided group and private, and donations are all that are asked.
Worth Seeing Anyway: $$-$$$ These attractions charge admission but you can’t come to New York without seeing any of them. They pretty much speak for themselves but if you want a more comprehensive look at each, check out our New York City attractions page.
- Empire State Building
- American Museum of Natural History
- 9/11 Memorial Ground Zero Tours
- New York Hall of Science
New York City is the culinary capital of the U.S. This means two things: You have loads of options with a full range of culinary styles and cuisines, and also that it’s not all cheap. They say that there are so many restaurants in New York and that because the turnover rate on them is so high, that you could go to a new restaurant for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day for a full life and never visit them all.
That being said, you don’t want to spend your vacation eating McDonald’s. That would be like a culinary heresy. No, when you’re in a culinary capital like New York City, you should eat well and eat often. You’re on vacation, for heaven’s sake.
So, for budget-friendly practices, share plates with friends. This way, you can get the more expensive entrees and still save money. Even better, and even more food, split an entree and an appetizer.
Some of the best inexpensive food in the city, however, comes from the country’s best pizzerias, hamburger joints, Asian fusion inspired spots, and more. Cocoron on the Lower East Side offers up affordable authentic Japanese cuisine; the Burger Garage has, you guessed it, some of the best burgers along with Corner Bistro and the ever-popular Shake Shack; the hot dogs are always a must, at a variety of places; and you can’t do better than a slice of New York-style pizza at Joe’s Pizza or the classic pie at Di Fara Pizza, ranked as some of the best in the city by Timeout.com.