Budget travel guide: Easy money saving hacks for NYC
After travelling around Central America for a couple of months, I needed somewhere amazing to end my trip. I decided to go and visit my aunt and uncle in Atlanta on the way home, and then found out that I could get a bus to New York for 30 dollars, and with plenty of cheap fights out of the city back to London, it seemed meant to be. The only thing I was worried about what how much money I would spend in the city.
New York City with its achingly high skyscrapers, the fantastic chaos of Times Square, its iconic yellow cabs and the smell of both coffee and success that looms in the air; there’s probably not a more exciting city in the world to be a backpacker in, but the city’s treasures can come at a high price. However there’s no need to spend a fortune in and by making a few simple swaps, you can enjoy the best of what the city has to offer without the price tag. Here’s my guide for cheap alternative things to do in NYC.
Stay in a hostel (Instead of a hotel)
One of the biggest expenses in New York is accommodation. Hotels in the city centre can often cost a small fortune however hostels are a much more affordable option. I stayed at Jazz on the park hostel which was really good value for the city at $30 a night. It’s located on 106 street Central Park West and was an easy walk to midtown (just an hour walk through Central Park or you could get the local BC line downtown on the subway for 3 dollars a ride.
Fill up at the Deli’s (Instead of a restaurant)
I wish that every city in the world had embraced the concept of deli’s like New York has. When you feel like you need something more substantial to eat these places are great as they offer a buffet where you can fill up a box with a variety of hot foods like pastas, curries, hot and cold salads which are then charged by weight, or you can choose from freshly made sandwiches and wraps. I found that a good-sized box generally cost me around 10 dollars which isn’t bad for a meal. Most of the deli’s offered seating too.If you’re looking for a really good one with loads of vegan and vegetarian options then I’d recommend Speedys by Broadway. They have loads of vegetable dishes for lunch and dinner along with really good breakfast options. Deli’s are also a great place to grab a cheap slice of New York cheesecake (Saves the $10 slices you’ll get in a restaurant).
Spend your time at the free landmarks (instead of paying)
New York has so many iconic landmarks, many of which you can see free of charge. The best are Central Park, Times Square, The Highline, Brooklyn Bridge, Grand Central and the New York Public Library which all cost absolutely nothing to visit. The Empire State Building, the Rockefeller Centre, the Statue of Liberty and the One World Trade Center do cost money however if you’re looking for an alternative then see my alternative suggestion list below.
Visit the Roof Garden at the Met (instead of the Empire State building)
Entrance to the Metropolitan Museum of Art is free so head up to the roof garden on the top-level for fantastic views over the city that rival, (if not surpass) the views from the Empire State or Top of the Rock and enjoy a drink there instead.
Staten Island Ferry (Instead of the Statue of Liberty)
The Staten Island ferry runs every half hour between Manhattan and Staten Island Borough and it’s completely free of charge so take a seat and enjoy your cruise along the river.
Rent a city bike around Central Park (Instead of a horse and carriage ride)
I didn’t realise how big Central Park was until I’d been walking around it an hour and still hadn’t gone that far. So, if you reach the point that you feel like you can’t walk anymore, you don’t need to waste money on the touristy horse and carriage rides to take you around. Rent a city bike from one of the park entrances and explore the park at your own pace instead, and a fraction of the cost.
Eat at the street vendors (for a light lunch)
Food is expensive in the US and no more so than in New York. However you can save yourself a small fortune when you’re out and about by grabbing food from the many cheap and convenient street food vendors. Yes, these include the classic pretzels and hot dogs but there are lots of street vendors serving everything from falafel to curry and avocado toast. For a cheap breakfast grab one of the bagels or donuts and a coffee from one of the vendors. Just be sure to avoid Times Square for the cheaper prices.
Explore Brooklyn ( instead of Greenwich village)
The chaos of Broadway is fantastic but eventually you need a break from the crowds. I love Greenwich village (where you’ll find the Friends building) because its quiet and offers a residential area with cute cafes and relaxed shopping, however one thing Greenwich isn’t is cheap. As an alternative take the subway or walk over the river to Brooklyn. This borough is really making a name for itself with loads of innovative eateries, bars, cafes and galleries springing up, and it will cost you a lot less than over in Manhattan.
$1 pizza slices (Instead of little Italy)
If you’re after pizza then you don’t need to go all the way to Little Italy for a sit down Italian. The cheapest thing to eat in the whole of New York, $1 dollar pizzas are advertised all over the city and they’re the best option if you want something quick and inexpensive to eat.
Get the Subway (instead of a cab)
Hailing down a yellow cab in New York is an iconic experience but in all honesty once you’re inside you don’t have a clue what colour it is so save time and money and get the Subway instead. Download the NYC subway app to help you plan your journey and bear in mind that north is uptown and South is downtown on the subway and pay attention to whether you need a local or express train as some trains skip certain stops.
Book a multi share shuttle bus for the airport (instead of a private one)
One of the biggest expenses in the city is actually getting to and from the airport. New York has three main airports: JFK, Newark and La Guardia and taxi’s or private shuttles can cost a small fortune to get there, particularly in rush hour. The easiest and most cost-effective option is to book a multi share shuttle bus. You can book this online as late as the day before and for around $20 the bus will pick you up from your accommodation and take you to the airport. You’ll be sharing it with a few other people so leave a couple of hours extra time to allow for any delays. There are a few company’s offering this service but I went with Super Shuttle who were really punctual and got me to the airport within an hour of my pickup.
I hope this post has helped give you some ideas of things to do in New York City. If you’re visiting the city for the first time and starting to plan for your trip then the one thing I’d advise is don’t plan too much. New York is fantastic city where there’s always something happening so make sure to leave some time to wander the streets and daydream in cafes.