Backpacking in NYC and worried you’re gonna go broke?
Yeah, join the club. I rent here and that is ridiculous enough. But I was curious and looked at the price of hotel rooms in NYC and no joke, I almost choked.
One night at a swanky New York City Hotel will cost you more than a month’s rent in many other cities across the United States.
So How Do You travel to New York City on a budget, especially if you’re a backpacker?
Well, that’s what I’m here for. I’ve lived in New York City for over twenty years and know all the secrets to saving money in New York City like a poor, debt-riddled local.
In this New York City backpacking guide, not only will I show you the real cost of visiting NYC, but I’ll explain how to save money in New York City, and how to see New York City on a backpacker’s budget.
Because while it can be difficult:
It isn’t impossible. So when doing NYC backpacking, you really see New York City for $65 and $80 a day.
Just Be Aware That:
This city is enormous and you really have no hope of seeing all the major New York City attractions in one visit, Therefore, to make the trip worth your while, I highly recommend spending at least 4 days in New York City.
***This type of backpacker budget in New York City is not easy! You can only keep costs this low if you are staying in a hostel, cooking most of your own food, using public transportation, and doing as many free things in New York City as possible.
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When Backpacking in NYC, What Can You Do for Free in New York City (or for really cheap)?
A lot! Okay, post over.
The first thing I recommend doing is purchasing a CityPASS.
People always ask me, “Is the NYC CityPass worth it?”
Yes, it totally is. For $126, you gain access to the Empire State Building, American Museum of Natural History, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Top of the Rock Observation Deck (or the Guggenheim Museum), the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island (or Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises) and the 9/11 Memorial/Museum (or the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum).
The NYC CityPass is only worth it if these are things you actually want to do in New York City or if this is your first time visiting. If you’re an NYC veteran then chances are that you’ve done all this and don’t really need the CityPass.
***The New York City PASS is not the only discount pass in New York City. You can also check out the NYC Explorer Pass, the New York Freestyle Pass, or the Multi-day New York City sightseeing pass and see which option works best for you and your travel needs.
Once You’ve Procured Your CityPASS, there are a TON of Other Free Things to do In New York City!
Walk Along Fifth Avenue:
And you’ll see icons of New York City grandeur like Central Park (the North Woods is amazing and less crowded than many other sections of the Park), the Plaza Hotel, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Rockefeller Center, Tiffany’s (check out the Blue Box Cafe and have your very own breakfast at Tiffany’s), Saks Fifth Avenue, and Times Square.
All of Which Are Totally Free BTW!
What? That’s not enough for you? Then turn left onto 42nd Street (if you’re coming from Central Park) and you’ll also see Bryant Park, the New York Public Library, and Grand Central Terminal.
Other Awesomely Free Greenspaces Include:
Brooklyn Bridge Park (just walk along the Brooklyn Bridge and into DUMBO to get some amazing shots of the New York City Skyline), Washington Square Park, and the Highline (Chelsea Market is right near the High Line and a fabulous, budget-friendly option for any aspiring, NYC foodies out there).
Searching for the Best Free Museums in New York City?
Great because below, I’ve listed all the days of the week and the museums that will be free, or pay what you wish, on each day.
Yeah, we’re all about ease and comfort here at Girl with the Passport. And PS, all the museums listed below are free unless I specifically state that they are pay what you wish.
Monday: The Museum at Eldridge Street is pay what you wish (between 10 am and 5 pm).
Tuesday: The Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Wave Hill (9 am to 12 pm), and the 9/11 Memorial and Museum (5 pm to close).
Wednesday: The Bronx Zoo, the Frick Collection (pay what you wish 2 pm to 6 pm), the Museum of Jewish Heritage (2 pm to 8 pm), the New York Botanical Gardens, the Queens Botanical Garden, the Van Cortlandt House Museum, and the Staten Island Zoo (2 pm to 4:45 pm).
Thursday: The Brooklyn Children’s Museum (2 pm to 6 pm), the Museum of Arts and Design (6 pm to 9 pm is pay what you wish), New Museum (7 pm to 9 pm is pay what you wish), International Center of Photography (6 pm to 9 pm is pay what you wish).
Fridays: The Asia Society (September through June from 6 pm to 9 pm), Historic Richmond Town (1 pm to 5 pm), the Japan Society (6 pm to 9 pm), the Morgan Library and Museum (7 pm to 9 pm), the Museum of Modern Art (4 pm to 8 pm), the Museum of the Moving Image (4 pm to 8 pm), the New York Aquarium (pay what you wish from 3 pm to close), New York Hall of Science (2 pm to 5 pm), New York Historical Society (pay what you wish from 6 pm to 8 pm), the Whitney, and the Rubin Museum of Art (6 pm to 10 pm).
***The first Friday of every month, the Children’s Museum of Manhattan (5 to 8 pm), the Frick Collection (6 pm to 9 pm), the Noguchi Museum and the Neue Galerie (6 pm to 8 pm) are all free to visitors.***
Saturday: The Brooklyn Botanic Garden (10 am to 12 pm), the Jewish Museum, the New York Botanical Garden (9 am to 10 am), the Guggenheim (pay what you wish 5:45 pm to 7:45 pm), Wave Hill (9 am to 12 pm), and Cooper Hewitt (pay what you wish 6 pm to 9 pm).
***The Brooklyn Museum is free the first Saturday of every month from 5 pm to 11 pm.***
Sunday: The New York Hall of Science (10 am to 11 am), the Queens Botanical Garden (April through October, 4 pm to 6 pm), and the Studio Museum in Harlem.
***The American Folk Art Museum, the National Museum of the American Indian, the BRIC House, and the Bronx Museum of the Arts are ALWAYS free. WHOOP WHOOP!***
But There Are Other Free Things to See if You’re Doing Budget NYC Travel!
1. Check out some free New York City brewery tours!
Brooklyn Brewery offers free tours, starting every half hour, between 1 pm and 5 pm (tours stop at 4 pm on Sunday) on Saturday and Sunday. (You can add a free Williamsburg Walking Tour to your visit since this tour stops at the brewery).
Transmitter Brewery also offers free tours (They only last 15 minutes. Sob.) on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.
2. Take a ride on the Staten Island Ferry. Not only is it free, but you get a much better view of the Statue of Liberty since you’re not actually ON Liberty Island. Trust me, visiting the Statue of Liberty is one of the most OVERRATED experiences in New York City, at least in my humble opinion.
3. Visit one of New York City’s great bookstores, like Strand, Housingworks, the Mysterious Bookstore (mystery and crime related books only), the Corner Bookstore, Book Culture, and Albertine (best ceiling ever and right across from the MET), just to name a few.
4. Check out some of the best street art in New York City at the Bushwick Collective.
5. Visit some of New York City’s free monuments like the African Burial Ground Memorial Site, Federal Hall National Memorial, General Grant National Memorial, the Irish Hinger Memorial, Socrates Sculpture Park, and the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology.
6. Catch a Broadway show.
I know this option doesn’t scream discount, but hear me out. See, traditional tickets to Broadway shows can literally cost hundreds of dollars per ticket.
And Ain’t Nobody Got a Trust Fund for That!
So instead of paying full price, try the TKTS booth in Times Square. Here you can score same-day tickets at 40%-50% off regular ticket prices.
Not a Fan of Waiting in Line all day?
Try TodayTix! I’ve used this app more times than I can count and it has saved me so much time and money. Just download the app, purchase your discounted tickets (usually available about a week in advance), and pick them up outside the theater, from a friendly, TodayTix rep, wearing a delightful red sweatshirt.
Truly the Best Way to See Broadway Shows without Winning the Lottery.
A Local’s Favorite Backing in New York City Travel Tips
1. Eat Street Food – To find amazing food in New York City, you don’t have to sit down and have a formal meal. Instead, take advantage of the amazing assortment of street food that New York City has to offer. Between falafel carts, hot dog vendors, taco trucks, delis, and pizza places, there are a ton of places to eat in New York City if you’re on a strict budget.
2. Buy Metro Tickets in Bulk – When Backpacking in NYC, you want to walk/use public transportation as much as humanly possible. However, at $2.75 a ticket, the cost of riding the New York City subway can get pretty expensive pretty quickly (yikes). Therefore, when purchasing NYC subway tickets, buy in bulk and save money on all of your subway rides.
3. Use Uber and Lyft instead of Taxis – With the rise of rideshare apps, there is no need to use a New York City tax anymore. They are just too expensive and inconvenient. I mean, who wants to fight someone for a taxi at 5 pm when taxi drivers are switching shifts and there isn’t a vacant taxi to be found? Exactly. So when you can’t use public transportation, definitely stick with rideshare programs (sorry but rideshares can’t pick you up from the airport, but they can drop you off).
4. Use Airbnb or Couchsurfing if you can – One of the biggest New York City backpacking expenses that you will encounter is the price of a hotel. Therefore, definitely consider using hotel and hostel alternatives that are a bit cheaper. Also try and stay outside of Manhatten since prices tend to go down as you move outside the center of the city.
5. Get out of Manhattan – Manhattan is by far the most expensive borough in the entire city since, like every real estate market, New York City is all about location, location, location. Therefore, get away from the price gauging and explore the Bronx, Staten Island, Brooklyn, and Queens. These are the areas where you will find real, everyday people, who can’t afford to spend $20 on a small sandwich. So to spend like a local, live like a local and go where the locals go.
6. Take Advantage of Free Concerts – Between the Good Morning America/Today Show Summer Concert Series, as well as local bars, there is no reason to pay for live music in New York City. So take advantage of this and see as many free shows as possible if you’re looking for something to do in New York City at night.
7. Say it with me, “Happy Hour” – When drinks are $15 a pop, it can be easy to blow your entire NYC backpacking budget on one night out at the bar. Therefore, take advantage of the many happy hours that can be found throughout NYC, almost every day, between 3 pm and 6 pm. Do this and you’ll find some great meal and drink deals that won’t make you cry when you see your check (you can also make things even cheaper by drinking before you go out).
8. Use a Water Bottle – Instead of buying soft drinks and water from expensive drink vendors, use a water bottle and fill it with drinking water since New York City has some of the best tap water in the entire country.
9. Go to Trader Joe’s and Cook at Home – Not only is Trader Joe’s a fantastic grocery store, but it’s relatively inexpensive when compared to Whole Foods and Gristedes. Therefore, try to shop at Trader Joe’s and cook at your hotel, hostel, or Airbnb so that you can save money on your daily food budget (they also have amazing prepared food if your cooking prowess extends to microwave use only).
10. Have Picnics – Unless it’s the dead of winter, New York City has a ton of lovely parks that are perfect for a picnic. A fun way to save money while backpacking in NYC.
11. Street Art – New York City has some of the best street art in the entire world. So take advantage of this and do a self-guided street art tour of amazing places like the Bushwick Collective.
12. Skip the MET and go Gallery Hopping Instead – If you’re backpacking in NYC then you probably don’t have $25 to spend on a ticket to the MET. That’s okay though since Chelsea is filled with amazing art galleries where you can see some of the most stunning art in New York City for free.
13. Shop at Woodbury Commons or Century 21 – Looking to do some retail therapy while visiting New York City? If so then skip the expensive department stores and visit the fantastic outlets at Century 21 and Woodbury Commons instead. A great way to buy designer clothes for less (NYC also has some amazing thrift shops too).
NYC Backpacking Guide 101: What are Some of the Best Places to Eat in NYC on a Budget?
Good question! So glad we both think about food, glorious food, like ALL the time.
Well, Believe it or Not:
It isn’t that hard to find cheap food when traveling to NYC on a budget. Not only are there tons of delicious food trucks scattered throughout the city, but New York is home to some of the BEST street food in the entire world (not that I’m bias or anything)
Between pizza (Joe’s Pizza), bagels (Ess-A-Bagels), hot dogs, pretzels, and falafels (Mamoun’s Falafel), you can eat well without spending a lot.
What, none of these options appeal to you? Who are you and do you even eat?
You can also try a local deli, grab some Chinese food in Chinatown (Everything is cheap there but Tasty Hand Pulled Noodle is the best), or check out one of New York City’s many iconic food halls for cheap eats.
Some of the best food halls in New York City include Turnstyle (Columbus Circle), Chelsea Market, the Plaza Food Hall, Gotham West Market, City Market (great if you need to eat right before a Broadway show), Urbanspace at 570 Lex, Urbanspace Vanderbilt (right near Grand Central Terminal, which also has a great food court BTW), Gansevoort Market, and the Pennsy (above Penn Station).
***Bring a water bottle because the price of soft drinks in New York City is INSANE. You can also save money by shopping at Trader Joe’s instead of going out to eat; totally inexpensive and great food.***
How to Get Around for Less!
The New York City Subway!!! It is by far the best and cheapest way to navigate New York City. Sure, you can take a bus or an express bus ($6 a ride), but the subway is the king of public transportation in NYC.
Not only does it take you anywhere you want to go, but you never run into traffic and a single ride costs only $2.75. Do yourself a favor though and save your Metrocard so that you don’t have to constantly purchase a new one.
Only Down Side:
The New York City Subway can have a ton of service delays and cancellations, which is super annoying, Therefore, make sure to download the MTA transit app so that you know about service changes and can find an alternative route.
The New York Subway isn’t as bad as everyone says. Not great but not heinous either.
However, if you’re Subway Averse:
You can always grab an Uber (base rate of $2.50 and then $2 for each additional mile). Just avoid cabs since they will cost you almost $15 for a trip around town.
Want to Travel Green?
Then hop on a Citi Bike. Day passes cost just $12 for one fay or $24 for three days. Avoid this option in the winter though since New York City can get a bit chilly and icy (not the perfect bike riding combo).
One Last Thing:
Avoid the rickshaws. Yes, I once took one and they are the biggest scam ever.
*** To get to New York City from the airport, many different options are available to you since many different airports serve the city. From JFK, you can take the Airlink to Hamilton Beach and then the A express train to Manhattan ($7.25 and takes around 45 minutes). From Newark, make your life easy and take the Supershuttle for $17. I do this sometimes at JFK and it is so easy and so worth it, especially if you have a heinous amount of luggage. From LaGuardia, hop on the Q70 limited bus and get off at Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue subway station. From here you can catch the E, M, F, R, and 7 trains to Manhattan, and beyond.
Where to Find Budget Hotels in NYC when Backpacking New York City!
Not Gonna Lie:
Finding an affordable hotel room in New York City is about as easy as finding someone who isn’t a hipster in Brooklyn. So yeah, finding an affordable hotel in New York City is really flipping hard.
I think Reykjavik is the only city where hotels are even more expensive than New York City; I saw hotel prices there and nearly passed out. No joke, like $200 for a hostel room. But that’s another story.
To help you stretch your budget in a city that is infamous for draining your bank account, I mean the concrete jungle that dreams are made of, here is a list of some of the most affordable accommodations in New York City.
All the options below are hostels and some are a bit pricey for just a dorm room. But I swear these budget hotels are some of the cheapest places to spend the night in New York City unless you wanna rock a cardboard box along the Bowery.
So, Drum Roll Please, Your Best Hostel Options Include:
Chelsea International Hostel ($62 a night)
NY Moore Hostel ($55 a night)
Q4 Hotel (SUPER cheap at $34 a night)
Hosteling International New York ($81 a night for the party enthusiast)
The Local ($67 a night)
American Dream Hostel ($110 for a private room but it is a great place).
Tada (insert jazz hands here)! You’ve finished my fairly comprehensive, backpacker’s guide to New York City.
Hopefully, after reading this post, you’ve learned some super secret, New York money saving tips and understand how to save money in New York City, like a local.
Ready to Start Backpacking Through New York City? Then Pin This Now and Read it Again Later!