How to See New York City on a Budget

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Is is possible to see New York City on a budget? Absolutely!

I shared how I saved on the major areas of getting there, accommodations, transportation while there and food in my post How to Save Money on Vacation : New York City

Sightseeing is why you’re going in the first place though, right? Here are some ways my kids and I saved on seeing the sights.

new york city on a budget

Some of the links in this post are affiliate links.

Theater

Even though the theater can be expensive, by planning and being frugal on things like accommodations, we are able to splurge a little on other things. It was one of the highlights of the trip.

I bought tickets online from  Broadway Box, which sells tickets at a discount, before we went and got a good deal.  If you are not choosy about what show you see and don’t mind standing in line you can get a good deal at TKTS Booths for day of the show tickets.

Neighborhoods & Architecture

People think they have to spend money to “see things” when there is plenty to see all around. We love architecturally interesting buildings so there is plenty to enjoy in New York just by walking the streets.

New York City on a budget SoHo

Cast iron building in SoHo

Walk around SoHo and look at the cast iron buildings. Look at the unusual foods in China Town and try some. Go to Chelsea Market for a wide variety of food options and the Financial District to see buildings you hear about. The Brooklyn Bridge and the Washington Bridge are more architectural freebies.

Visit the New York Public Library and Grand Central Station. They’re beautiful and free. Inside the Station is a food court or just outside on Lexington Avenue is Grand Central Market for cheese, fruits, breads and other picnic fare. Nearby, visit the Chrysler Building to check out the lobby.

Parks

New York City on a budget Central Park

Riding bikes around Central Park.

When you need a break from the concrete head to the parks. There is Central Park, of course, but also Bryant Park, Washington Square Park and the High Line Park. All Free.

We rented bikes through Viator to get around Central Park. We were happy to take a break from walking for awhile and we were able to go all over Central Park. This wouldn’t be possible if we were on foot or in a car. Viator offers really good deals on everything from guided tours to helicopter rides to the popular City Passes to, well, bikes.

Viator offer tours and activities in cities and countries all over the world. Customers post reviews and photos, so you can hear honest feedback from others and they have a low price guarantee. We reserved our bike rentals ahead of time online and picking them up was quick and easy.

Modes of Transportation

Take a ride on the free Staten Island Ferry for a perfect view of the Statue of Liberty.

New York City on a budget Rooselvelt island tram

Roosevelt Island Tram

Take the Roosevelt Island Tram, free with your unlimited Metro Card, $4.00 round trip without, for a fabulous view of the city. And, you know, tram rides are cool.

Even riding the subway can be a form of entertainment! It’s all in your perspective.

Museums

Go to free and discounted museum admissions. The 9/11 Museum has free admission on Tuesdays after 5pm. Scroll to the bottom of the page on the link to find them. I got tickets in advance to avoid standing in lines. That saved $54 for one adult and two youth tickets!

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is always “pay what you want”, so we went there as well and made a donation.

People Watching

New York City on a budget Times Square

Times Square is free to just sit and watch the lights and people.

Watch a parade. There are frequently festivals and celebrations going on and you may randomly witness one of these as we did near Central Park while waiting for the Wafels & Dinges Food Truck to open.

New York City on a budget

Wafels & Dinges food truck

(This is a must eat! Soooo good!)

New York City on a budget

Wafels & Dinges

Yes, that is strawberries, ice cream, chocolate and whipped cream on a waffle! Seriously. You have to try them.

New York city on a budget

View from Top of the Rock to The Empire State Building on a rather hazy day.

Choose only one visit to the top of a tall building with high admission. Either Top of the Rock (Rockefellar Center) or the Empire State Building. We chose Top of the Rock, so we could have a view and photos of the Empire State Building and Central Park. The lines aren’t as bad since they have timed tickets and it’s a little less expensive. We still went to the Empire State Building and walked around on the inside of it to see the architecture and decor, we just didn’t go to the top.

Another option is to get a City Pass. If you definitely want to visit the places included in the City Pass, you can save up to 40%. I wouldn’t get one unless the sights are ones you’re planning to see anyway, though.

Shopping

While we visited shops throughout the trip, I encouraged my teens to wait with buying until our last day. They would write down where something was they didn’t want to forget. By the end of our ten days, they had time to decide what they really wanted to spend their money on after seeing so much and then we spent that day riding the subway around to visit the stores they wanted to return to. This eliminated them spending all of their money towards the beginning of the trip and then possibly seeing something much more to their liking towards the end. Delayed gratification is an important life lesson we practice diligently.

We also visited several thrift shops on our shopping day. I used Yelp to find them. We had fun perusing different things in New York thrifts and the kids were able to find some bargains there as well. Here is a list of some affordable thrift shops in NYC.

By taking a balanced approach and saving big in some areas, in order to splurge a little in others, you can see New York city on a budget.

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