Considering the excess of New York City, it’s no wonder a trip to the Big Apple can set visitors back a small fortune. From Michelin-starred restaurants to opulent hotel rooms costing hundreds if not thousands of dollars a night, a trip to the city is a hard pill to swallow for penny pinchers. Fortunately, there are some easy ways to see NYC’s top sights without spending a single cent.
There is no better way to explore New York City than by foot—just be sure to wear comfortable shoes. It’s insane how many blocks you’ll end up walking every single day, even if you happen to be holding a subway pass or spring for the odd cab. With that in mind, make the most of those treks by making sure your route includes stopping at some of the main sites. For example, Times Square is like Las Vegas on steroids, and is a must-see at night—those bright lights are second to only those found in Tokyo, Japan!
You’ll want to swing by the stunning New York Public Library, which is absolutely gorgeous (and of course free to enter). Fun fact: it costs $40,000 to rent out the space, so if you happen to see workers setting up for an event you can guarantee it will be one of the top social events of the season.
One of my favourite spots in the entire city is the High Line. This incredible park used to be an elevated train line, which has since been transformed with greenery that pokes out from the rails, leafy green trees and gardens. Winding through the west side, it affords a cool view of the neighbourhoods below, has lots of spots to sit down and enjoy a picnic or coffee, and even has artwork.
Finally, if you don’t want to shell out $29 to zip up the Empire State Building for a panoramic city view, you can always head over to the Brooklyn Bridge. Many choose to jog or bike along the pathway, which has a great view of the Manhattan skyline and is perfect for those who are afraid of heights. If you’re not great with directions and don’t want to wander aimlessly through the city, sign up for one of the city’s many free walking tours—just be sure to slip the guide a tip if you think they did a great job.
9/11 Memorial Museum
This incredible tribute to the thousands of lives lost on September 11th opened in spring 2014, and is well worth the $24 entrance fee. The museum is home to hundreds of items recovered from the devastation, including a burned-out fire truck and the American flag that emergency responders hoisted in the middle of the debris. In my opinion it’s well worth shelling out the money to visit the tribute centre, as it provides a space for somber reflection about an event that changed history forever. However, if you simply don’t have the extra cash then there is a way to get around it: visit on Tuesday.
Admission is free for all visitors from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesdays (last entry is at 7 p.m.), and some tickets are available to reserve online two weeks in advance. Same day tickets can be picked up at the ticket window, starting at 4 p.m. There are also discounts available for members of the U.S. military and NYC emergency responders.
Statue of Liberty
Many tourists take in Lady Liberty as part of a boat tour which leaves from Battery Park. Visitors are shuttled from Manhattan to Ellis Island, where everyone can get off and walk around the site. But if you want to get a view of that iconic statue without spending a cent, all you have to do is head to the nearby Staten Island ferry terminal. It’s totally free, and passes alongside the Statue of Liberty for a good 10 minutes. Just be sure to sit on the right side of the boat for the best view.
If you jump on a ferry bound for Manhattan as soon as you dock, the entire excursion should only take about an hour. Try to get a seat at the very back of the top deck, which makes for prime photo ops.
Metropolitan Museum of Art
If you like art, you’ll love the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which is just one of the half-dozen world class museums you’ll find in New York City. Filled with works from renowned artists like Picasso, Warhol and Rembrandt, there are five wings full of masterpieces, plus temporary exhibitions. Admission is $25 for adults—but that is recommended, so you could technically visit the museum for free if you felt so inclined. If that doesn’t sit well with you, you could pay for a $100 membership (of which $70 is tax deductible) which gets you admission as well as perks like discounts for parking, audio guides and merchandise and access to an exclusive dining room.
This is one of the most beautiful spots in the whole city, no matter what season it is. In the spring and summer, expect to find massive, leafy green trees sprinkled throughout the 843 acre park. Yes, you read that right—843 acres! You could easily spend an entire day here, what with all the restaurants, food stalls, parks, lakes, ponds, scenic city views and live music. There is even a castle!
There are a number of ways to explore, including walking or jogging. Of course those options are totally free, but keep in mind you’ll only be able to see a portion of Central Park this way, given its size. A good alternative is to rent a bike, which you can easily do at the park or through a tour company. However, some hotels like The High Line Hotel have cruiser bikes that they lend out to guests for free.
Other money saving tips
- If you’re picking up souvenirs in a place like Chinatown or Little Italy, be sure to haggle over the price.
- Chances are you’ll be taking the subway a lot, so it can be worth your while to pay for a metro card on the first day. For $30 (plus $1 for the card) you’ll get unlimited rides for 7 days. To put that in perspective, it normally costs $2.50 per ride.
- Get restaurant recommendations from your hotel’s front desk or concierge. They sometimes manage to get your meal comped, or at the very least will send you along with a discount card or be able to suggest a fun food tour.
- If you want to visit a number of attractions or do tours, it may be cost-effective to pick up a pass. I recommend the New York Pass which can get you into 80 attractions and also includes hop on-hop off tours and cruises for less than $200 per person, depending on how many days you’re there.
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