Updated December 2019.
If this is your first time to New York City, you might be wondering where to stay and how to make the most of your trip to the big city. Visiting 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.
For example, one of my favorite ways to save money on accommodations is to book through Airbnb. I have used Airbnb throughout North America and have always had a good experience. It’s great for groups, friends, or couples since prices are often cheaper than hotels.
To help you get the most bang for your buck, here are 10 common tourist mistakes you’ll want to avoid in NYC.
1. Not using the New York Pass
Visiting NYC 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.
For my first trip to New York City, I didn’t have a plan. I tried to do some research before my trip to decide what to see and do, but I quickly got overwhelmed. I thought I could just go with the flow while I was there.
BIG tourist mistake! When I returned home from my trip, there were SO many must-see attractions that I missed, because I didn’t plan ahead.
That’s why for my second trip, I didn’t want to repeat this mistake. I discovered the New York Pass, which helped me easily plan my itinerary and visit all the top attractions in the city for cheap. With the New York Pass, I saved time, money, and enjoyed stress-free sightseeing.
Read my honest review of the New York Pass here.
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.
Empire State Building
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!
The New York Pass currently has a TrustScore rating of 8.2/10 on Trust Pilot, which makes it one of the highest rated sightseeing passes. Over 3.5 million travelers have used the pass and 9 out of 10 customers recommend the New York Pass to their friends.
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.
2. Not using NYC’s public transit
Taking a taxi or Uber to get around the city is expensive. Plus, it wastes a lot of your precious sightseeing time when you’re sitting in busy traffic.
Riding the subway is a quicker and cheaper way to get to all your must-see attractions. 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.
If you still need to book your travel accommodations, you may want to consider checking out places on Airbnb. CLICK HERE to get a coupon to use towards your next stay with Airbnb.
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. 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 admission price at NYC museums
Save money with the 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.
The New York Pass includes free fast-track entry to 100+ attractions, including a Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour.With the pass, you’ll feel like a VIP by avoiding the hassle of waiting in long ticket lines! You can click here to learn more.
Save money with the New York CityPASS or New York GO Pass
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.
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.
Read next: The Cheapest Way to See New York Attractions
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.
I also recommend searching for deals on Viator. This website offers up to 40% off Broadway shows, tours, NYC attractions, and more!
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 tourist 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.
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.
6. Eating at familiar restaurants
Don’t tell me 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 which offers a selection of diverse restaurants and ethnic eats – so why not 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.
7. Going to the Empire State Building without using the New York Pass
The view from the top of the Empire State Building is incredible, but the lines can be busy and it costs a small fortune to skip them.
The best way to visit the observation deck at the Empire State Building is to use the New York Pass. With the pass, you can visit for FREE, skip the main ticket line, and present your card at the second-floor access point. This is a smart way to save time and money.
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.
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 out 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.
- 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
One of the most common tourist 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.