7 tips to visit New York City for budget travelers

Visiting New York City is on your travel bucket list but you don’t know how to keep your trip affordable. Here are the 7 factors to consider when you plan a trip on a budget to this expensive and glamourous city.


1. “Hunt” affordable flight tickets

There are some ways to get affordable two-way flight tickets to New York City, but the general idea is to put more time and effort to get a good price in return. 

  • Check the rates often. Sometimes it can be useful to register to an airline’s newsletter and receive special offers notifications.
  • Book the flight in advance
    • For a domestic flight, booking the tickets within three weeks and four months prior to your date of departure is recommended. 
    • For an international flight, it’s ideally between 1 ½ months to 5 ½ months for the best flight deals. In many cases, ticket prices will be sky high if you book TOO far in advance. 
  • Avoid high season and student holidays. Winter is often the time when the price of all things is much lower. Although it’s very cold, New York City is an amazing destination to get around in winter, while you can save lots of money. 
7 tips to visit New York City for budget travelers | Wanderlust Tips

Save money by booking air tickets wisely

2. Don’t stay in Manhattan

Manhattan is a hub for tourists, but don’t limit yourself to this area when it comes to accommodation. You can save up to $100/ night by choosing a 3-star hotel in Brooklyn or Queens and other boroughs. Otherwise, you can try Airbnb, Homeaway to rent an apartment or choose the hostel for a much much cheaper price. 

Note: Mind the timing too! As New York City attracts lots of tourists, the price for accommodation here varies. You can find a room at $150 off-season, and pay $250-$300 for the same room during the high season!

7 tips to visit New York City for budget travelers | Wanderlust Tips

Neighborhoods of New York City

3. Use the subway to get around

Transferring from the airport to your accommodation is one of the first expenses you have in New York City. The most budget-friendly way is using public transportation with the Airtrain and subway. You will need a MetroCard to pay the AirTrain fare and also to ride the subway.

7 tips to visit New York City for budget travelers | Wanderlust Tips

A subway station in New York City

MetroCard vending machines are available just before the AirTrain exits at Jamaica Station and Howard Beach. There is a $1 fee for the card, so hold onto that card!  It is refillable!

Continue using the MetroCard to get around the city. You can save more money by choosing the right card from the beginning!

Before purchasing the card, think about how long your trip is, how many times you will use the subway, and how many people will join you. 

Use the Unlimited Card, if you take the subway at least 12 times. Otherwise, go for the Pay-Per-Ride card.

The Unlimited Card can be used only by one person, while up to 4 people can enter the subway with the same Pay-Per-Ride card. The card will deduct $2.75 for each person when you enter.  

4. Blend in the local life for reasonable meals

As a tourist, you may be fascinated by the restaurants and food vendors on the crowded streets. Some of them might be very pricy and not attractive to locals. So, our advice is to chat with a New York local about their favorite places, from breakfast cart bagels to pizza corner, dumplings, pastrami on rye, cheesecake…and the best happy hour deals around.  

Check out our list of the most iconic New York City foods here

7 tips to visit New York City for budget travelers | Wanderlust Tips

The New York Pizza is an iconic food of this city

5. Visit museums at their free opening hours

Before paying full price for any tickets, spend time finding information for a better deal. Many museums in New York City have free opening hours and pay-as-you-wish days. There are Free Fridays at the Museum of Modern Art, free tours at the New York Public Library, and many many historical museums, cultural museums, art museums, art galleries, commemorative museums and memorials offering attractive promotions

7 tips to visit New York City for budget travelers | Wanderlust Tips

Interior of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

6. Purchase the Tourist Passes for many discount tickets

If you are really into major attractions in New York City, getting a Tourist Pass might save you some money. There are some types of passes with differences in attractions and tours, but all passes usually include the following: 

  • A Hop-on-Hop-off Bus Tour
  • Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island
  • Top of the Rock or Empire State Building or One World Observatory
  • 9/11 Memorial & Museum
  • American Museum of Natural History
  • Museum of Modern Art
  • Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • Madame Tussauds

7. Go for free alternatives to get city panoramic views

If you are not willing to spend money for views at the Empire State Building or One World Trade Center, you can go for many other free ways to observe the skyline of New York City. It could be The Staten Island Ferry providing incredible views of the Manhattan skyline, Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island; it could be The High Line – the former elevated railroad now turning into a park filled with public arts and greenery, and it could be the Brooklyn Heights Promenade with a fantastic Manhattan view across the water. 

Otherwise, you can walk across the bridges for phenomenal views! Here are the iconic Brooklyn Bridge, the Manhattan Bridge to avoid the crowds, and the hip Williamsburg Bridge. 

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