If you’re planning a trip to the Big Apple, this Affordable New York City Travel Guide will help you do so without breaking the bank!
While there are many places I’ve yet to travel, I feel confident saying that no city will capture my heart quite like New York City. There’s something about this urban jungle that truly sets my soul on fire. It energizes me in ways I didn’t know possible and I sincerely hope to one day call it home. (Bucket list? You betcha!)
For now though? I have the pleasure of visiting and truly – the pleasure is all mine.
One thing that always sticks out in my mind about New York City? The idea that it’s a highly expensive city to visit. Yes, no doubt you could blow your entire budget in a New York minute if you’re not careful. But after several trips to the Big Apple, I’ve found countless ways to really enjoy all the city has to offer at a rate that’s surprisingly quite affordable.
Affordable New York City Travel Guide
And that’s where today’s love letter to New York City begins. My take on how to experience New York City affordably, without skimping on experiences what-so-ever.
I’m going to walk you through some of my favorite totally FREE attractions – as well as budget-friendly eateries and tips for transporting yourself around the city without dropping an embarrassing amount in Uber fees. (I made that mistake once, never again.)
How to Get Around?
New York MTA Subway
It was when first attending New York Fashion Week that I learned FAST just how essential the New York Subway is for navigating back and forth around the city as quickly as possible. Above ground? Traffic can be painfully slow. Below ground? It’s about as close to smooth sailing as you’re going to get. And that definitely comes in handy when needing to zip back and forth across Manhattan.
For your convenience, MTA Metro cards are available at ATM-like machines in the subway and rates are very reasonable! If you’re planning to be in NYC for a week? I’d go for the unlimited 7-day pass which is only $33. You can also pay as you go by depositing cash on your card and using it almost like a gift card.
Pro Tip: Download the MTA app directly onto your smartphone to easily look at the subway map, plan routes or avoid any line closures/delays.
In Manhattan, I can’t stress enough what a waste of money Uber rides are. They sky-rocket the price at a rate you won’t believe and you’re seriously much better off taking a taxi everywhere. Better yet? I HIGHLY recommend the service Via.
Via works essentially in the same way as Uber – except at a much more reasonable price. Via rides come at a flat rate of $5 plus tax for solo ride. Additional riders can also be added at a very reasonable rate.
Download the app to your phone and I guarantee you’ll be pleased. Major cost saver!
A boat ride for $2.75? Yes, please! The first time I traveled over to Brooklyn, my sister and I took the NYC Ferry back to midtown and I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw how low the fare was. We were able to board the ferry in Dumbo and enjoy what felt like a scenic boat tour of the city at a ridiculously low price.
Even better news? They serve beer and wine aboard. So if you’re in the mood, go ahead and treat yourself!
Getting Cultured at Museums
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Blair Waldorf and Gossip Girl aficionados will be all too familiar with The Metropolitan Museum of Art – more commonly known as “The Met”. Located on the Upper East Side, The Met is a MONSTER museum with so much to see I dare say you won’t be able to knock it all out in one day. Admission to the museum comes at $25 a person, $17 for seniors, $12 for students and free for children under 12. (If you’re a student…make sure to bring your ID!)
Granted admission could get on the pricey side depending on your group size, I really do think it’s well worth every dollar if you’re interested in looking at classic works of art. From impressionism to classics you’ll remember from your American history book, you’re going to see a lot of famous works of art up close and personal. The museum also has a fabulous bookstore and several eateries inside.
The Guggenheim Museum
Also located on the Upper East Side, above The Met, is the Guggenheim museum. Truly, you can’t miss it. On my trips to New York City, I typically choose one museum to hit up and I absolutely fell in LOVE with the Guggenheim on my most recent trip in March.
The Guggenheim shows more modern works and I absolutely devoured the Mapplethorpe exhibit during my visit (which is on display through January 2020). Similar to The Met, there is also an eatery inside that has cafe sandwiches, soups and assorted pastries. Admission is also $25 per person, $18 for seniors/students and free for children under 12.
If mobility is a concern, I do vote The Guggenheim more accessible than The Met. Its design is very user friendly and there are plenty of places to sit should you need a rest while making your way to the top.
Top of The Rock
Above Rockefeller Center, the Top of the Rock Observation Deck has striking 360 views of the city that will simply take your breath away. With tickets starting around the $38 mark, I debated including the exhibit in this affordable New York City Travel Guide but the whole experience is just so remarkable I had to mention it.
When visiting Top of the Rock, you’ll take a thrilling elevator ride ascending 70 floors in a short 42 seconds. And when I say thrilling, I mean there is a full soundtrack and visual display to add even more to the experience. You’ll be let out on a viewing deck that’s enclosed and perfect for those who might be a little afraid of heights.
Outside, there are actually two levels for exploring the views. When you make your way up to the upper deck, you will feel as though you truly are on top of the world. There’s also no time limit for how long you stay at Top of the Rock. Feel free to relax on the many benches and take in the sights for as long as you like!
Note: Admission rates at Top of the Rock vary depending on what time of day you’re interested in visiting. Sunset and sunrise times are peak hours with rates coming at a premium.
Totally Free Entertainment
The Wendy Williams Show
After mentioning The Top of Rock and major museums, you might think this affordable New York City Travel Guide was getting a little pricey. Well, how about some totally FREE entertainment? Securing tickets to The Wendy Williams Show might just be right up your alley.
The studio is located right in Chelsea and it is totally FREE to be an audience member. As with any show taping, the sooner you can get your ticket request in…the better. I submitted mine around three weeks in advance of my trip and had no issue getting in. The application also asks you a little about yourself as well, so have fun with it!
Important thing to note: arrive early!
Those arriving late are likely to be turned away by the show’s staff. Personally, I think the call time of more than 2 hours before taping is a bit overkill…but I also understand that a lot goes into organizing the show and having the audience secured and ready is probably a good thing to have out of the way in the final crunch time.
Not a fan of Wendy Williams? No problem! Free show tickets are also available for request for LIVE with Kelly Rippa, Late Night with Seth Meyers and The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon tapings in NYC.
Long-Running Broadway Shows
Yes, Hamilton tickets still come at a premium on Broadway as do new releases. Such as, I REALLY want to see the new shows Hadestown. and Moulin Rouge, but those ticket prices are steep! You can better if a show has a lot of buzz and is new on the scene, tickets will be more pricey than mainstay shows like Chicago.
That said, seeing a Broadway show on Broadway is do-able on a budget. Wicked, Chicago, Phantom of the Opera, The Lion King and more are all long-running shows that have more reasonably priced tickets available. And let me tell you, the traveling Broadway shows have nothing on experiencing a show on Broadway itself. The caliber of the performances and A+ acoustics will give you actual goosebumps. Chills, I tell you!!
To browse all the current shows during your stay and price tickets, Playbill.com will be your friend.
Worth noting, there are also several off-Broadway productions available that will give you an authentic theater experience at a more reasonable price. From musicals, to mysteries, to comedies, to parodies to Shakespeare – there’s bound to be something that satisfies your taste. Ticket prices of course vary by production, but I’ve seen them typically range from $30 to $80 a seat.
Same as above, you can find a complete listing of the current running Off-Broadway shows on Playbill.com.
Totally Free Places to Visit
It wouldn’t be an affordable New York City Travel Guide without mentioning some of the totally FREE attractions you can enjoy around the city, now would it?
While Time Square may not be everyone’s favorite tourist attraction, the good news is it is totally FREE to take in. It’s also conveniently located in Midtown and very near Rockefeller Center and Top of the Rock as well as Radio City Music Hall and the Broadway shows. So it’s very easy to check it out while hitting another spot on your list.
Within Times Square itself, you’ll find classic Americana restaurants like Applebees as well as a number of retailers – including a MASSIVE Sephora, H&M and more. A word of caution? As a go-to tourist attraction, you will likely get heckled by salesmen looking to sell you on sight-seeing packages in and around NYC. If that isn’t of interest to you, I recommend politely saying no as you keep on walking.
Of course it wouldn’t be an affordable New York City travel guide without mentioning one of NYC’s finest showpieces: Central Park. Whether you’re finishing up at The Met or Guggenheim on the Upper East Side or hanging around the West Village, you can easily hop over for stroll through one of the finest parks in the world.
NYC’s Central Park is VAST and features countless attractions within the attraction of it being Central Park alone. From Belevedere Castle to the Alice in Wonderland sculpture and ice skating in the colder months, I dare say you’ll find something interesting at every turn. There are also bike and boat rentals available should you feel like dropping some cash.
Boat rentals are available at The Loeb Boathouse and are $15 for an hour – seating four people. Not bad!
While the 9/11 Museum does charge admission, the 9/11 Memorial is free for the public to pay their respects.
Visiting the memorial is a very somber, moving experience and one I recommend to all my fellow Americans. While the tragic events took place back in 2001, the memory of that day and the lives lost are still very present in this space. As such, it is important to remember to always be respectful in regards to photo ops and selfies.
If you have it in your budget, I do also highly suggest touring your way through the 9/11 Museum. In addition to countless artifacts from 9/11 and the events surrounding that day, there’s also a room dedicated to telling the personal stories of the lives lost – told by their surviving loved ones. To me, that is the most raw experience. Sitting in a dark, cool room learning more about the many individual lives lost when the towers fell.
Another Free Favorite? Walking the Brooklyn Bridge
I’m actually kind of kicking myself that it took me as long as it did to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. Foolishly I thought looking at the bridge in Dumbo was somehow enough, but on a spring trip to NYC I decided to make the trek across and I am SO glad that I did!
Making the walk across the bridge is truly a special experience with breathtaking views. Of course the landmark bridge is also a major tourist attraction and can be absolutely packed at peak times – but even with crowds it’s totally worth it. Definitely one of the best totally FREE things you can do in New York City and a shoe-in for this affordable travel guide.
I guarantee making the walk across the Brooklyn Bridge is a memory you’re sure to always remember!
While there are definitely a number of pricey fine restaurants all around New York City, there are also a number of budget-friendly options as well. (Hey, you can never go wrong with a classic slice of pizza.)
My personal favorite way to discovery eateries in NYC is by using the app “Map My Places“. It’s absolutely brilliant! With your location settings on, you can plot sites and attractions you’re planning to visit on a map of the city and instantly see EVERYTHING there is to eat in the surrounding neighborhood.
Using the app is essentially like walking the streets of New York and checking out restaurants as you pass – but without the extra foot traffic. All the eateries are labelled by name and when one catches my interest, I can quickly look up their menu and go from there. Seriously, no matter where you’re traveling – I can’t recommend the Map My Places app enough for locating great places to eat! (Not to mention just generally learning your way around.)
That said, I’ve eaten at countless places in New York City during my travels there. Being someone who follows a plant-based diet, I even shared an entire Vegan Food Diary in NYC.
In addition to all of those spots, here are some of my favs:
Citizens of Chelsea (Chelsea)
During Fashion Week, I tend to spend a lot of time in the Chelsea area and Citizens of Chelsea has become one of my favorite breakfast joints. It’s an airy eatery with a welcoming staff and a menu filled with fresh options for whatever diet you’re following. Generally speaking, they’re very accommodating and the prices are also quite reasonable.
The Butcher’s Daughter (Brooklyn, Nolita and West Village)
I had the MOST delicious vegan waffle here before making my trek across the Brooklyn Bridge and I’m not joking when I say it was one of the best things I’ve ever tasted in my entire life. Even still I’m sat here with my mouth watering just thinking about it and I have half a mind to order myself a waffle maker and see if I can recreate it at home. (Of course there’s no way it could be near as good as the real thing.)
The Butcher’s Daughter I believe originated in LA but they have three NYC locations. They have breakfast, lunch and dinner menus available that feature a variety of plant-based and vegetarian options. From savory to sweet, they have it all!
Serendipity 3 (Lenox Hill)
While most famous of their frozen hot chocolate (and the charming romantic movie starring Kate Beckinsale and John Cusack), Serendipity 3 actually has a full menu. From sandwiches to omelettes and frozen drinks to teas, it’s a rather large menu with a lot to offer.
Whatever you choose for your meal, though, I dare say you’ll be blown away by just how charming the cafe actually is. Given how “urban” New York City actually is, it’s especially special to find a place as sugary sweet as Serendipity 3. Highly recommend coming here for lunch!
Blue Dog Cafe (Midtown Manhattan)
I discovered the quaint Blue Dog Cafe while browsing the Map My Places app for a good place to eat near a Broadway show. Thank goodness I did, too, because I honestly don’t think I would’ve noticed it while just strolling down the street. It’s a very small restaurant, with just one long communal table and a few high tops sprinkled about.
The menu features a variety of pub fare, including a large selection of gourmet burgers, salads and more. If you’re in a carryout mood, they also have carry out only locations in Bryant Park, Carnegie Hall and Chelsea.
If you made it this far, you are a rockstar!
No, but seriously. I really hope this affordable New York City travel guide gave you some pointers or things to think of when planning your next trip to the Big Apple. I feel like this is one of those posts that I can continue to add to as time goes on – because literally every time I visit NYC I discover something new.
Thank you SO much for reading! Be sure to leave a comment below about what most excites you about New York City and share this post with someone you know planning a trip. It will really make my day!
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