Visiting New York City on a budget might sound a bit far-fetched for some travelers, but with a little careful planning, you can have a successful trip to NYC on any budget.
From taking advantage of free museum days to experiencing free walking tours, there is no shortage of affordable activities to do in New York City.
The key to avoid making tourist mistakes and staying on budget is to act like a local. Play where the locals play and eat where they eat.
By using these tips, you may find yourself having the best New York City vacation ever. Avoid making these 10 tourist mistakes when visiting the city.
- 10 ways to visit NYC on a budget
- 18 ways to save money on hotel accommodation
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1. Paying full admission price at NYC museums
New York might be known as an expensive city, but fortunately many of its top museums are “pay what you wish”. For example, the MET has a suggested donation of $25 per adult, however you can pay any amount you wish.
You can visit many of New York City’s museums on free days too, which makes this a great option to save money. Keep in mind though, free museum days are often quite busy, so I recommend arriving early to avoid waiting in a long line.
Another smart way to avoid paying full admission price at NYC’s most popular attractions is to use the NYC CityPASS or The New York Pass. The NYC CityPASS allows you to save 40% on admission to the top 6 New York City attractions. The New York Pass includes discounted admission to 90+ attractions, including a Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour.
2. Not using NYC’s public transit
Taking taxis to get around the city is not only expensive, but it’ll eat up a lot of your sightseeing time too.
Hopping on the subway is usually a quicker and more cost-effective option. Despite looking like a giant spider web, the subway system is easy to navigate.
I recommend getting an unlimited ride metro card if you’re staying in town for several days. My fiancé and I bought a 7-day unlimited ride metro card when we were visiting for 6 nights. It was the perfect choice for us and we felt like we had SO much freedom with the metro card to quickly get around town.
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3. Not making time to visit Brooklyn
During my first trip to NYC, I only stayed in Manhattan. I had no idea that there were so many other great places to visit in the boroughs. Now whenever I’m in New York City, I always head over to Brooklyn too.
Some of my favorite things to do in Brooklyn include walking across the Brooklyn Bridge (the view of the NYC skyline is incredible), eating pizza at Roberta’s, enjoying the best hot chocolate from Jacques Torres Chocolate, and exploring the NY Transit Museum.
4. Spending all your time in Midtown and Times Square
Midtown is great, don’t get me wrong, but there is really so much more to New York City and it would be a shame if you spent it all in Midtown.
Some of my favorite neighborhoods to explore are The Village, Upper East Side, Union Square, and Lower East Side. For more tips, you can read my NYC neighborhood guide here.
5. Eating at familiar restaurants
Please don’t tell me that you came all the way to New York City to eat at the Olive Garden or [insert chain restaurant]. You’re in one of the best cities in the country that offers a wide selection of diverse restaurants and ethnic eats – take advantage of it!
Whether you’re craving an authentic slice of New York-style pizza or a gourmet meal prepared by some of the top chefs in the world, you’ll find everything your taste buds desire here.
6. Going to the Empire State Building without using the NYC CityPASS
The view from the top of the Empire State Building is incredible, but the lines are usually crazy and cost a small fortune to skip them.
The best way to visit the observation deck at the Empire State Building is to use the NYC CityPASS. With the CityPASS, you can skip the main ticket line and present your booklet at the second floor access point.
Plus, you can get a bonus same-day second visit when using the CityPASS. This allows you to enjoy the view from the observation deck during the day and in the evening.
7. Supporting horse carriage rides in Central Park
While riding a horse-drawn carriage may sound like a fairy tale, the reality is that carriage horses often live and work in inhumane conditions.
Horse-drawn carriages should not share the same roadways as honking cars and cyclists as it puts both the animal and the public at risk. These horses work long hours, rain or shine and even when the weather is unbearably hot or freezing cold.
Paying for a horse-drawn carriage ride continues to support the industry. So while it might sound like a nice way to experience Central Park, it’s best to pass on this idea.
8. Not making use out of NYC’s tourism passes
Even if you’re planning on only visiting a few of the city’s popular attractions, I recommend looking into getting one of NYC’s tourism passes. Which pass is right for your New York trip?
The New York Pass
The New York Pass is a “smart card”, like a credit card with a chip inside that can be used to get cash free entry to over 90 New York tourist attractions. Once you’ve bought the New York Pass, you can visit as many attractions as you want and the more sights you visit, the more money you save. Think of it like an all-inclusive holiday.
The New York Pass can be purchased as either a 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, or 10 day pass. To purchase the pass, click New York Pass. Purchasing the pass online is often 15-20% less expensive than purchasing the pass while in New York.
The pass is a good deal for those planning to visit a lot of the city’s attractions with 3 to 7 days in New York. I don’t recommend the 1 or 2-day pass since it might be hard to squeeze in everything to make it worth the price.
The NYC CityPASS is a booklet of 6 tickets that grants you free entry to the top six New York City attractions. It’s perfect for those who don’t want to feel rushed while exploring the city’s attractions since the CityPASS is valid for 9 days (starting with the first day of use).
You can bypass the line with the CityPASS, which is convenient and gives you more time to enjoy the attractions instead of waiting in long lines. To purchase, click the NYC CityPASS booklet.
One thing to keep in mind before you consider buying the CityPASS is that The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Natural History Museum do not have fixed admission. The listed prices are suggested donations and you can actually pay anything you want that works for your budget.
Even if you don’t include these two attractions, the NYC CityPASS still saves you a good chunk of money, which can go towards a nice dinner, shopping, and entertainment during your New York trip.
Making good use out of NYC’s tourism passes can be a great way to see the city’s top attractions for a fraction of the price. However, if the passes seem too pricey for you, don’t worry! You can take advantage of New York’s free museum days, free walking tours, and save money to splurge on your must-see attraction.
9. Spending too much money on food in NYC
I’m going to be honest, NYC is an expensive city and the price point at its restaurants is higher than other large cities, such as Toronto for example. However, with some careful planning, there are plenty of great ways to save money when eating out in New York City.
- Get the lunch special
Many of New York’s popular restaurants offer affordable lunch specials. This can be a great way to enjoy a tasty meal for a budget price.
- Get deals on Groupon
Want to eat a top-tier restaurant for half the price? Check for daily deals on Groupon. I’ve saved so much money over the years by finding restaurant vouchers through Groupon.
- Use coupons in the Entertainment Book
The best deals in the Entertainment Book are the 2 for 1 coupons at restaurants. The book essentially pays for itself when using one or two coupons found inside. You can also save money on entertainment, shopping, travel, and more with the Entertainment Book.
- Eat and drink during Happy Hour
If you don’t mind eating a little early (or late at night), I highly recommend taking advantage of New York City’s happy hour specials. Enjoy discounted menu prices on a selection of both food and drinks.
- Dollar pizza slices
OK, we can’t be healthy all the time. Grabbing a slice of New York pizza is one of my favorite meals when I’m on-the-go sightseeing in the city.
- Find cheap eats in The Village, Lower East Side, and Chinatown
Think everything in NYC is expensive? Think again. There are plenty of delicious restaurants with affordable eats in these neighborhoods. My favorite spot to grab a bite is at By CHLOE. The salads and burgers are amazing there!
- Hit the streets
From ethnic food trucks to familiar hot dog carts, there’s lots of street food options to choose from in New York.
10. Driving around in NYC
There is no need for you to rent a car when visiting New York City. Parking is extremely expensive and traffic can be horrendous.
While you might choose to arrive to the city by car, I recommend staying at a hotel with free (or affordable parking) or parking at one of NYC’s car garages for the duration of your trip. You won’t need your car during your visit since the New York bus and subway system is easy to navigate and one of the quickest ways to get around town.10 tourist mistakes to avoid making in New York City Click To Tweet
Over to you — what are your tips for visiting New York City?
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