“Balancing your money is the key to having enough.“
– Elizabeth Warren
Last October I visited NYC with a friend. For both of us it was an extra holiday on top of many others. That’s why we decided to plan our visit such that we would make most of it in a budget-friendly way. We used to do that as students because we had to and we challenged ourselves to do it again because we wanted to. And you know what? We can still pull if off!
Read on to find out what we did (and did not) to limit our spending and make most of our stay!
1. Consider what you really want to do & see
Many people advice you to buy the New York Pass, the New York City Explorer Pass or the City Pass of New York, because they offer all kinds of discounts. We decided to make a list of things we wanted to do and sights we wanted to visit first, then calculate the costs and see if one of these passes would be profitable for us. They weren’t.
The risk of looking at the passes first is that you get greedy. You see so many cool activities, museums and sightseeing options that you feel you have to it all. Well, you haven’t. It is also really great to be in a city and to feel the vibes of it and not just tick off boxes on a list.
Not everyone thinks alike though, so you may want to compare the three and see which one works best for you!
2. Plan your visits to museums cleverly
NYC has got an abundance of interesting museums to offer and it would be a shame not to profit from that. Without one of the above mentioned passes, you have to be a bit flexible and creative to profit from low entrance fees for the museums.
In that case, go and visit the Guggenheim early on Saturday evening, because between 5 and 8 pm you can pay what you wish (normal price is 25$, we decided to pay the recommended 10$ each).
The 911 museum is for free each Tuesday between 5 and 9 pm. Of course nothing in life is really for free, so you have to take into account that you may have to queue quite long and that the museum can be pretty crowded (you’ll be not the only one going for a good bargain).
Since I had a sprained ankle, we had the luxury of being allowed to skip the queues (I’d like to quote Johan Cruijf here: “Elk nadeel hep zijn voordeel” (Every disadvantage has its advantage). More about how I survived 5 days in NYC with a sprained ankle in this blogpost.
The number of visitors in both museums was doable by the way, despite the (nearly) free entrance.
3. Wear your walking shoes
You can go to a city and race by public transport from attraction to attraction, ticking off box after box or go to a city and walk, explore and feel the vibes. We did the latter, despite my ankle. We walked 5th avenue: lots of (window) shopping, went into the Trump tower with its famous waterfall and into St Patrick’s, a neo-gothic cathedral amidst skyscrapers and of course we visited the central library, full of beautiful rooms, cards, globes and books. We also took a stroll through little Italy (good coffee and an abundance of Italian delicatessen and Italian Gelato).
We dived into Chinatown and walked around till we left the touristic part of it behind us and the food and people got more and more asian.
We walked in Brooklyn and over the Brooklyn Bridge and explored the financial district (Wall Street, the Bull and the 911 memorial and museum). We loved Greenwich village, especially Washington Square Park and went to Central Park twice. Mind you, not in one day!
It was fabulous discovering NYC this way, but it is a lot of walking, so be prepared and wear good walking shoes!
4. Go to rooftop bars early in the evening
Rooftop bars are a fantastic phenomenon: you can relax, have a drink, give your legs and feet some well-deserved rest and enjoy a magnificent view over NYC all at the same time. When you go early, you have all these advantages plus the bonus of a more moderate price than later in the evening.
The View is a revolving bar on the 48th floor of the Marriott hotel. The 360° view over NYC is fabulous. It’s close to Times Square, so perfect for drinks before a musical. Drinks get more expensive after 8 pm.
230 fifth rooftop bar (happy hour between 4-7 pm Mondays-Fridays) offers a beautiful view over the Empire State Building and is a perfect location for drinks when walking 5th avenue from Central Park to downtown Manhattan.
Le Bain (in hotel The Standard, along the High Line – see also tip 10) does not offer a happy hour, but they serve excellent crêpes at a fair price. The view from the terrace is stunning (from the toilets too by the way – check it out yourself!) and there is a jacuzzi in the bar, so you may want to bring your swimwear. Later in the evening this bar turns into a disco with live music nearly every night.
5. Use public transport
We bought a 7 day metro ticket for only 33$ each. As NYC is rather big (it is called the big apple for a reason) it is impossible to walk everything. Even when you do a lot of walking, you will be happy to use the underground now and then as well. We thought the 7 day metro ticket was really good value for money. You can use the same ticket to visit Staten Island by the way, to see Lady Liberty up close!
Mind you, the AirTrain from JFK to the underground needs to be paid separately.
6. Share food
Portions in NYC tend to be rather large, especially when you are not from the States but from Europe, as we are. We often shared a portion (very recommendable when going to Katz’s – the place you may know from the famous scene in “When Harry met Sally”- for a pastrami sandwich. Most people can’t finish their sandwich which is a waste of food and money).
Most of the time we also bought two different snacks (two different donuts, two different American cookies, two different bagels…) and share them between us to have more variety in taste while limiting the amount of calories and money all the same.
7. Go to church on Sunday
One of the best things we did was going to church on Sunday. We went to a service at the Tabernacle Church in Brooklyn, famous for its gospel choir (which was our reason for going there). It was quite an experience, I can tell you that. Services are held in an old theater that fits 3000 people and they have full house 3 times on a Sunday. Can you imagine? We were not the only ones impressed by the quality of the choir: they have won 6 Grammy Awards and have sung at Obama’s inauguration in 2013.
8. Buy last minute musical tickets
When you are keen on seeing a specific musical this isn’t an option for you, but if you just want to experience a good broadway musical at a fair price, you will have plenty of choice buying a ticket at one of the selling points of TKTS. We had heard that the one on Times Square is rather busy, so we opted for the one at South Street Seaport, located near Brooklyn Bridge (Manhattan side). We were the only customers and had plenty of musicals to choose from. A highly recommendable way and place for booking a musical ticket!
9. Have a picknick
Restaurants in NYC tend to be expensive, so we opted for picknick breakfasts and often a picknick lunch as well. We had booked a hotel close to Union Square, so we had the luxury of many supermarkets, including biological ones, a market (twice) and a park around our corner. We had a different breakfast each morning and it was fun seeing the city coming alive around us.
We had lunch in Central Park twice, once at the spot above (the famous bow bridge over The Lake) and once amidst flowers, bride and butterflies in the conservatory. Those spots are hard to beat! Of course the option of a picknick depends on the weather and we just happened to very lucky by getting a bit of summer early October.
10. Visit sights that are free of charge
Is that possible in NYC you may ask? It sure is. The financial district offers both loads of interesting buildings and information on signs for free. The Brooklyn Bridge is another highlight of NYC that is for free.
How about Central Park? It is huge, an oasis of calm and green in that busy city and absolutely worth going to. There is so much to see that I advice you to plan your visit to Central Park well. We loved the boats and the boats house at The Lake, enjoyed a fabulous breakdance show and concert in the park, were impressed by the beauty of the conservatory and enjoyed the view from Belvedere Castle.
Beatles fans can go to the strawberry fields while Shakespeare lovers will want to visit his statue and the garden full of beautiful plants and flowers mentioned in his works and those who he had in his own private garden in Stratford-upon-Avon.
For children there are so many possibilities in the park, that you should click on this link to find out where to go with kids!
High Line & Vessel
The High Line is also worth visiting. It was once a rail track but went out of use in 1980. In 2009, they transformed a 1.45-mile-long strip into a unique park. You find wildflowers, greens and art while enjoying superb views of New York’s skyline on the way.
You can combine the High Line with walking the many stairs of the Vessel (also free of charge but you have to book a time slot, so plan that well in advance). We booked ourselves a ticket around sunset, which I can highly recommend. Beautiful! Soft colours and sparkling city lights!
We walked the High Line first, had a drink in Le Bain, the rooftop bar (see also point 4) of The Standard and enjoyed the sunset on the Vessel. Perfect planning!
The 911 Memorial is for free and very impressive. The museum can be visited for free on Tuesdays between 5 and 8 pm (see also tip 2).
Staten Island Ferry
When you have a metro card, you can take the ferry to Staten Island to enjoy a superb view over Manhattan and seeing the Statue of Liberty up close. It’s best to avoid rush hours and stay on the deck!
The NYC public library on 5th avenue is an amazing place for book lovers and offers free tours each day.
I am sure you can see how much we have done in these 5 days and how many of our activities did not cost a lot of money. A visit to NYC will never be really cheap, but as you have read in this blogpost, you can certainly make it a budget-friendly one with a bit of creativity and planning.
Thank you for visiting NYC with me and looking forward to seeing you again next week. It will be all about books then, because “Here’s to books, the cheapest vacation you can buy.” – Charlaine Harris
Summary of the travel tips with useful links:
- The roof top bars we visited were The View (360° view, very fast and fascinating lifts and close to Times Square – after 8 pm prices go up), 23o fifth (XXL with a beautiful view on the Empire State Building – happy hour between 4-7 pm on weekdays) and The Standard (almost at the end of High Line – even the toilets are worth a visit there).
- The famous gospel choir we enjoyed was the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir.
- We bought our last minute musical tickets via TKTS.
- Central Park was so cool (and for free), that we went there twice!
- Guggenheim offers reduced entrance fees on Saturday and the 911 museum can be visited for free on Tuesday.
- Both the High Line and Vessel are free of charge. Make sure to book your time-slot for the Vessel though.
- The NYC public library is an amazing place for book lovers and offers free tours each day.
- We have made extensive use of a 7-day metro card.