Here are the best NYC hacks learned from locals, and from experience. Some activities are free, some are cheap as peas and a few will help you save on classic touristy must-dos. This ultimate guide will let you make the absolute best out of your visit to the big apple.
FREE OR REALLY CHEAP
Walking; central park, Times Square, Brooklyn bridge, Grand Central Station and the High Line.
The obvious cheap way to see any city is to walk it, and some places in New York are perfect for that. The High Line was a beautiful walk, especially when the sun was setting. Brooklyn bridge was also a great experience, but it was LONG and very busy with tourists.
In the summer central park is the best place. I was shocked at how much I loved it, it’s so immersive and feels like you could be in wilderness, not one of the biggest cities in the world! It’s got everything - even turtles! You can take a frisbee and a picnic, hire bikes, watch people play baseball or pay for an activity like rowing boats in the summer or ice skating in the winter.
The ferry to Staten Island is free so not only gives you a nice boat trip but gets a really nice close up of the Statue of Liberty, and once on the Island you can see the Manhattan skyline from a unique angle. We went at sunset which was beautiful. The New York skyline amazed me because standing in different places makes different buildings appear prominent, from Staten Island the freedom tower stood tall, from the top of the Rockefeller the Empire State took all our attention, and from Brooklyn looking across the Brooklyn bridge it all looked equally huge. If you love a good view then checking out the city from Staten Island is certainly a must.
The Bronx Zoo is free on Wednesdays, so the only cost you’ll have is the subway from Manhattan. The ethics of zoos is questionable, but for animal lovers who really want to go to one of New York’s animal parks, you can have a cleaner conscience by not giving the zoo any $$$.
The American Museum of Natural History, (the one from Night at the Museum) entry price is actually a donation, you can choose how much you pay and that could be way under the suggested entry price. If you don’t mind being awkward, we paid $5 for the both of us and though we felt cheeky, there were many visitors to the museum and other tourists there to make us feel at ease for not giving away our whole holiday budget.
A local events app called Fever was recommended to us by a local which gave us ideas of things to do in the city, and is handy to discover events in the city for varying prices and deals, there were lots of affordable boat parties and music evenings listed and I would definitely check out what Fever has to offer if you have an evening with no plans. One note: many of the evenings on Fever involved having drinks somewhere, either drinks being included or because the event venue had a bar - which of course meant you had to be 21.
DOLLAR BUT WORTH IT
Pretty much everyone who visits NYC wants to see that amazing city skyline from above. Before our trip, soaring to the heights of the Rockefeller Centre was recommended to us, instead of the classic choice of the Empire State. The reason being that from one side of the top of the rock, you can look up at the huge park and north of Manhattan, then to the south you can see the Empire State towering above the skyline. Avoiding the Empire State also avoids Empire State sized queues so I’ve heard, and a few dollars in price. We paid a little extra for a ‘sun and stars’ offer at the Rockefeller, allowing us to go up twice in one day, to see the city in the bright summer light, then the city lights in the dark.
An evening of jazz at Smoke Jazz & Supper club was an amazing experience, and technically free entry, with a minimum spend on drinks or food. Though the menu was pricey, the experience was well worth it and with a couple of beers and chips to share we were set for the evening. Jazz evenings can be long, so make sure to go with a full belly so you don’t blow your whole trips budget on one night eating.
It is $30 for weekly metrocard which can get you all the way out to Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx, Coney Island as well as navigating around Manhattan. The card allowed us to get everywhere we needed to during our stay with no worries about ongoing or daily travel costs.
The most extravagant event we did price-wise in NYC was go to a Broadway show on our final night, but we made it doable by booking it on the day, walking round the different theatres and asking the staff how much a ticket was for that evening. We got tickets worth around $120 for $79 for Chicago, which I couldn’t recommend enough.