When I told people I was heading back to New York for five nights at the end of a backpacking trip, they laughed, and in hindsight it was a bit mad. The notoriously expensive Big Apple is a slightly unorthodox choice for travellers with limited funds – seriously limited after eight weeks on the road. But as always, my eyes were a little too big for my budget. This meant having to get creative, and come up with some sneaky ways to cut the costs of an NYC trip. So gather round, here are my expert tips on how to take New York on the cheap!
Budget accommodation in NYC
The first obstacle for your wallet to navigate. Your first thought for cheap accommodation is probably a hostel, but if you’re used to paying a fiver a bed then you might cry when you see the price of a dorm here. Travelling as a pair – meaning having to pay for two beds – we found Airbnb to be the most economical option. After some serious searching and advance booking, we found a nice double room in a Brooklyn apartment for less than £25 a night. About the same price as ONE bed in the cheapest hostel we saw. Okay, we may not have had hot water for the entirety of our stay, but sometimes these sacrifices must be made!
Budget transport in NYC
So you’ve just landed in NYC, it’s late, it’s cold, you’re tired; you just want to throw your luggage in the back of a cab and be driven to your accommodation, right? Wrong! We were quoted $100 to get from Newark airport to Brooklyn, so we knew we had to find another way. Luckily for us, public transport runs 24/7 in New York – it is the city that never sleeps, remember? We hopped on the AirTrain (all the airports have one) and connected to the Subway at Penn Station to start the second leg. Not gonna lie, this was a long journey to embark on at midnight – we didn’t arrive at our Airbnb until 3am and the Subway is a very strange place when you’re sober at this time – but it saved us $70.
At all times, the Subway is your best bet for getting around the city cheaply. A single ride to and from any destination is $3, but I’d recommend getting an unlimited 7 day pass for $30 which you can use on buses too. These are soooooo worth the money. We must have used ours 50 times each, not counting all the times we got on the wrong train and had to jump straight off again. If you buy one of these babies, you’ll never have to fork out for an expensive taxi. New York has the largest underground system in the world with 468 stations, so there are no excuses!
Free things to do in New York
It goes without saying that there’s an endless multitude of things to do in NYC, however I’m just going to focus on some activities that are absolutely FREE…
- Obviously sight seeing doesn’t cost a penny, and you can easily spend a day checking off famous landmarks such as the Brooklyn Bridge and the Empire State, Chrysler and Flatiron buildings.
- Get all starry eyed taking in the lights of Times Square, and browsing ridiculously OTT shops like the M&M’s store, where you obviously aren’t going to buy anything but it’s a tourist attraction in itself.
- Statue of Liberty tours may be pricy, but every savvy traveller knows that you can get the perfect view from aboard the Staten Island Ferry without spending a dime.
- Hours of fun can be had exploring, whilst people (and pet) watching in Central Park. We saw a lady carrying a giant cat in a backpack.
- The Natural History Museum is incredible – if you claim to hate museums, then prepare to be converted. It’s free for the final hour every day, though all other times you pay whatever you like. So nothing, if you’re bold enough to say so!
- A lesser known activity; the famous Brooklyn Brewery does free tours on the hour every Saturday and Sunday. Perfect for all you craft beer hipsters.
Saving money on activities like these means you’ll have more left over to catch that Broadway show or basketball game you’re dying to see!
Cheap eats in NYC
The usual backpacker’s dinner of 19p instant noodles just won’t fly here. I know we’re trying to save money, but if you go to New York without pigging out, then did you even go?! That doesn’t mean you have to eat $18 bagels though. A quick Google search will offer you hundreds of cheap eats, but here are a few of our favourites.
- Kuu Ramen: A cheap Japanese restaurant in the usually expensive financial district, where I had the best ramen of my life outside Tokyo.
- Soho Tiffin Junction: Build your own bowls of Indian food from $5. I stacked mine up with rice, chickpea curry, spicy beef, mint raita and a naan.
- Fry Guys: Huge portions of fries smothered in all sorts of weird and wonderful toppings. Almost gave me a heart attack; worth it.
- Pizza: From anywhere and everywhere. A $4 slice is about the size of a normal pizza in England so it doesn’t cost much to fill up.
- Local Delis: Also everywhere, take advantage! We had one right by our Airbnb that was our go to for bagels and $1 coffee every morning.
- 7/11: Convenience store of dreams. Anyone who’s been to Thailand will know 7/11 is bae, and it’s no different in America. Get amazing deals on takeaway meals, cakes/pastries and slushies bigger than your head.
Cheap New York nightlife
New York may be known as the land of $16 cocktails, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Look out for dark, dingy, neon lit dive bars for the lowest prices and the most fun. Our top picks:
- 169 Bar: This Chinatown spot is extremely popular, and was full to the brim when we visited. This may be partly down to their $3 beer and a shot deal, but also thanks to a great playlist and a wonderfully tacky leopard print pool table.
- Double Down Saloon: An old punk rocker’s haunt in the East Village. Aside from the fact I’m still scarred from the screens showing bondage porn all around the room, this was my favourite bar in New York. Their signature drink is ‘ass juice’, a mysterious brown shot which I declined to try so unfortunately can’t report back on. Oh, and pints are two for one all day.
- Jimmy’s Corner: The heart of Times Square isn’t where you’d expect to find cheap beer, which is probably why this little pub is packed every night. Jimmy is the long time owner of what’s now one of the only independent businesses in the area, and refuses to raise his prices to match those around him.
Phew, I think I’ve covered all bases there… if you have any more NYC money saving tips, let me know below!