Updated April 2021.
If you’re visiting New York City for the first time, you might be wondering where to stay and how to make the most of your trip to the big city.
Traveling to New York City on a budget can sound a bit far-fetched for some travelers, but with careful planning, you can have an amazing trip to NYC even on a tight budget.
While New York City is known to be one of the world’s most expensive cities for tourists, there are plenty of ways to have a fun trip without breaking the bank.
Where is the best neighborhood to stay in NYC?
After visiting New York City several times and staying in different neighborhoods, I recommend staying in one of these 5 areas:
- Midtown – The BEST neighborhood for first-timers
- Upper East Side – Ideal for museum lovers and close to Central Park
- Lower East Side & Soho – Ideal for shopping
- Greenwich Village & Chelsea – Lots of great restaurants
- Brookyln or Queens – Ideal for travellers on a budget
Best hotels in New York City for every budget
If you’re traveling on a budget, these are the best affordable hotels in NYC:
- CitizenM New York Times Square
- Hotel Scherman (Midtown)
- Artezen Hotel (Minutes from National September 11 Memorial & Museum)
If you have some more wiggle room in your budget, below are some of the best mid-range hotels in New York:
- Courtyard by Marriott New York Manhattan/Midtown East
- Fairfield Inn & Suites New York Midtown Manhattan/Penn Station
- AC Hotel by Mariott New York Times Square
If you want to splurge on your accommodations, below are some popular luxury hotels:
To help you get the most bang for your buck, here’s some tips for visiting New York City for the first time, including 10 common tourist mistakes to avoid.
- 10 ways to visit NYC on a budget
- What is the best sightseeing pass for New York?
- New York Pass review – Is it worth it?
1. Taking a taxi or Uber to get around New York
Taking a taxi or Uber to get around the city is expensive. And let’s be honest – who wants to waste their precious sightseeing time stuck in NYC’s busy traffic?
DO THIS INSTEAD – Riding the subway is a quicker and cheaper way to get to all the sites on your itinerary. I know the subway map looks like a giant spider web, but it’s surprisingly easy to navigate.
PRO TIP: Whenever I visit a new city, I like to watch a video about how to use their public transit system. This helps me know what to expect when traveling and gives me peace of mind. Check out this helpful video here about how to use the NYC metro.
I recommend getting an unlimited ride metro card if you’re staying in town for several days. My boyfriend and I bought a 7-day unlimited ride metro card during our trip. We had so much freedom with the metro card because it was a stress-free way to get around town. Plus it saved us a lot of money.
New York is a BIG city, so even if you’re staying in a central location, you’ll save a lot of time sightseeing by using the metro.
Another great option to save money is to book your hotel through Hotwire. If you’re wondering where to stay in New York City for the first time, my favorite neighbourhoods to stay in are Midtown, Times Square, and the Upper East Side.
2. Sightseeing without using the New York Pass
Visiting New York City for the first time can be stressful. New York is a big city and there’s lots of fun things to do and see. It can be challenging to plan an itinerary and determine which attractions to spend your money on.
They’re also recommended by Expedia and the New York Pass currently have a TrustScore rating of 4.3/5 on Trust Pilot. Over 3.5 million travelers have used the pass and 9 out of 10 customers recommend the New York Pass to their friends.
With the New York Pass, you can save time, money, and enjoy stress-free sightseeing. But don’t just take my word for it. Check out these TripAdvisor reviews.
PRO TIP: Buy the pass online to save time and hassle. Plus, you’ll save extra money off the retail price. To buy the New York Pass, click here to go to the official website.
Here’s what’s included in the New York Pass:
✓ Pick from over 100 NYC attractions
✓ Valid for up to 10 days
✓ Save up to 70% compared to purchasing tickets at each attraction
✓ Visit unlimited amount of NYC attractions each day
The New York Pass is a prepaid sightseeing card that can be used to get FREE fast-track entry to the city’s top tourist attractions, including Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour, Empire State Building, and the Top of the Rock Observatory.
Standard Entry Price
FREE with the New York Pass
Standard Entry Price
FREE with the New York Pass
Standard Entry Price
FREE with the New York Pass
Plus, you can use the New York Pass to get free entry to 100+ other attractions, museums, and tours in the city. Once you’ve bought the New York Pass, you can visit as many attractions as you want. The more sights you visit, the more money you save!
Is the New York Pass worth it? Check out my honest review of the New York Pass here.
How to get your New York Pass:
Step 1: Choose which pass duration you want to buy (1, 2, 3, 5, 7, or 10 day). You can click here to purchase your New York Pass from their official website. When you buy the pass online, you can take advantage of online discounts.
Step 2: Download your mobile pass instantly using the New York Pass App. If you prefer a physical pass, simply opt for delivery (they deliver worldwide) or collect on arrival in New York.
Step 3: You now have FREE access to any of the 100+ top NYC attractions included for the duration of your pass. You can activate your pass anytime within 12 months from the date of purchase.
Step 4: Download the free guide book, which is included with your purchase. Use this book to help you easily plan your itinerary.
3. Not making time to visit Brooklyn
During my first trip to New York City, I spent the whole time in Manhattan. I had no idea there were so many other great places to visit in the boroughs.
DO THIS INSTEAD – Now whenever I’m in New York City, I always make time to visit Brooklyn. 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 at Jacques Torres Chocolate, and exploring the NY Transit Museum.
PRO TIP: With your New York Pass, you can bike across the Brooklyn Bridge for FREE with Brooklyn Bridge Bike Tours & Rentals. This is a fun way to learn more about the city and see beautiful views of NYC.
My favorite NYC travel accessories:
Click the product to shop
4. Paying full price at NYC museums
Why pay full-price to visit museums such as the Met or MoMA, when you can save money or visit for free!
Take advantage of free museum days
You can visit some of New York City’s museums on free days, which makes this a great option to save money. The only down side is free museum days are always busy. This is why I recommend arriving BEFORE the museum opens to avoid long wait times.
Side Note: For New York residents ONLY, some museums (such as The Met) offer “pay what you wish” admission.
Save money with one of these New York tourism passes
New York Pass – Using the New York Pass is a no-brainer if you want to avoid paying full-price at NYC’s top attractions. Who wouldn’t want to save money? With the savings you gain from using the New York Pass, you can put that extra money towards a nice dinner, a fancy hotel, and so on.
New York CityPASS – The New York Pass isn’t the only way to save money when sightseeing in NYC. If you just want to visit the city’s most popular attractions and aren’t interested in tours, then you may want to consider getting the New York CityPASS.
New York GO Pass – And if you just want to visit a few attractions at your own pace, then I recommend checking out the New York GO Pass. These two passes don’t offer as high of a discount on sightseeing, but they are still excellent ways to save money when visiting the city’s top attractions.
5. Spending all your time in Midtown and Times Square
Midtown is great, but there’s SO much more to do in, New York City. It would be a shame if you spent all your time in Midtown. Many tourists make the mistake of spending their entire trip visiting this area. They miss out on all the wonderful things that New York has to offer.
DO THIS INSTEAD – Even if you’re visiting New York City for the first time, try to schedule time in your itinerary to explore some less popular, but equally amazing neighborhoods in NYC. Some of my favorite neighborhoods to explore are the Village, Upper East Side, Union Square, and Lower East Side.
For more tips, check out this helpful NYC neighborhood guide here.
PRO TIP: Traveling can be expensive. One way I like to save money is to get FREE gift cards from Swagbucks. You can get free gift cards to Starbucks, which can be used to cover coffee or breakfast while traveling. Instead of paying out of pocket, this can be a great way to cut back on travel costs. If you’re not already a memeber, you can join Swagbucks for free here.
6. Eating at chain restaurants
Don’t tell me you came all the way to New York City to eat at Sbarro Pizza, like Michael Scott did in The Office TV series.
If you’re visiting New York City for the first time, you’ll want to take advantage of the city’s diverse selection of restuarants and ethnic eats.
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.
7. Paying full price for a Broadway show
One of the most popular things to do when visiting New York City for the first time is to see a Broadway show. Instead of paying full price for tickets, you’ll almost always be able to find a discount.
DO THIS INSTEAD – TKTS Ticket Booths sell discounted tickets to see most Broadway musicals, plays, and dance productions. You’ll be able to score same-day tickets at up to 50%, which is a huge savings! I recommend arriving early in the day, as it tends to get busy and some shows can sell out quickly.
Their flagship location is in the heart of Times Square. You can also check out their booth at South Street Seaport or Lincoln Center.
8. Supporting horse carriage rides in Central Park
Riding a horse-drawn carriage sounds like a fairy tale. But the reality is, carriage horses often live and work in inhumane conditions.
Horse-drawn carriages shouldn’t 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, you’ll want to pass on this idea.
DO THIS INSTEAD – There are many other great ways to explore NYC. Here are a few of my favorite ways to get around the city:
Ride the metro – Besides walking, this is the fastest and most cost-effective way to get around New York City.
Walking – Put on your walking shoes and explore the city. This is my favorite way to get around and sightsee. To make it more fun, consider joining a local walking tour.
By bike – Explore New York City by bike. Check out the city’s urbans parks or ride along the dedicated greenways.
New York City helicopter tour – If you have some extra money to spend and want to create an unforgettable experience, consider this helicopter tour. You’ll get a bird’s-eye view of New York’s Manhattan island and enjoy 180 degree views of the city’s sights.
9. Spending too much money on food in NYC
NYC is an expensive city and the price point at its restaurants are higher than other large cities, such as Toronto. However, with some careful planning, there are plenty of great ways to save money when eating in New York City.
Get the lunch special
Many popular NYC restaurants offer affordable lunch specials. This can be a great way to enjoy a tasty meal for cheap.
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. If you’re visiting New York City for the first time, getting NYC-style pizza is a MUST!
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!
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
One of the most common travel mistakes is renting a car in New York City. Parking is expensive and traffic is a nightmare, especially if you’re not used to driving in a big city. There’s a reason why the majority of the cars you see driving around NYC are taxis or Ubers.
Even if you’re driving to New York, I recommend leaving your car at your accommodations for the duration of your trip. The city’s metro system is easy to navigate and one of the quickest ways to get around town.
Ready to plan your NYC vacation? See what hotel deals are available in the area thanks to Booking.com
Frequently Asked Questions
Below are some common questions about visiting New York and how to make the most of your NYC vacation.
What is the best month to visit New York?
The best time to visit New York City is in the spring (April to June) and fall (November to December). This is when the weather is mild and there are fewer tourists.
What is the cheapest month to visit New York?
If you don’t mind braving the cold, early spring (February and March) can also be a great time to visit New York. This is often when I find cheap flight tickets and affordable hotel accommodations.
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