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Backpacking NYC on a Budget: How to Save Money Like a Local

Backpacking NYC on a budget and worried you’re gonna go broke? Yeah, join the club. I’m a 30+ year local and rent here is ridiculous enough. But I was curious and looked at the price of hotel rooms in NYC and no joke, I almost choked.

I mean, 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. This is why you may also be in need of a handy, backpacking USA travel guide

But, the question reamins. How do you travel to NYC 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 thrity years and know all the secrets to saving money in New York City like a poor, debt-riddled local.

That’s why, this guide to backpacking NYC on a budget, 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.

Just be aware of the fact 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.

But, before you plan the itinerary of your dreams, this insider’s guide to New York City on a budget is going to show you:

  • How much should I budget for a trip to NYC?
  • What is the cheapest way to New York?
  • How much does an average trip to New York Cost?
  • Where to stay in NYC on a budget?
  • How Can I Enjoy NYC on a Budget? 17+ Amazing Money Saving Tips!
  • And more!

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure for more information. As an Amazon Associate, I earn a small commission from qualifying purchases. 

Contents show

How Much Should I Budget for a Trip to NYC?

A helicopter pilot looking out at the Statue of Liberty. A helicopter tour is one of the many things to do in NYC on your birthday.

Honestly, that really depends on YOU. Because truth be told, you could easily drop between $500+ a day on fancy spa packages, luxurious helicopter tours, and swank AF dinners. 

But, if you’re insanely broke and want to explore New York City on a budget, then I would say that you should plan on spending between $65 and $100 per day. 

And on this type of NYC budget, you’ll need to keep costs low by cooking most of your own food, using public transportation (or walking when possible), doing as many free things in New York City as possible, and by eating at food vendors or cheap food markets. 

This also really doesn’t include hotels and transportation to and from the city. 

So, if you want to plan a FULL NYC budget, expect to spend:

  • $200+ on a Flight – Anywhere between $200 and $1200+ on a flight. This really depends on where you are flying to NYC from. 
  • $700+ on a Hotel – Around $700 on Housing. This obviously depends on the length of your trip and where you stay but you can definitely find places to stay that cost less than $100 per night, no question. Just keep in mind that city taxes on hotel stays in NYC are pretty dang steep. So yeah, you’ve been warned. 
  • $76 on Transportation – This assumes you are basically taking the subway or walking everywhere. This would also mean that you took the subway from JFK to Manhattan (that will be $21 round trip) and that you ride on the subway around four times per day ($2.75 per ride x 4 = $11 per day) for around five days ($11 per day x 5 = $55 in total). 
  • $150 per day on food – You could definitely get away with spending $30 per day on food ($10 per meal) but would basically be eating slices of pizza, bagels, deli sandwiches, falafels, and meals from food carts. You also would NOT be spending money on drinks and would be using a refillable water bottle the entire time. 

What is the Cheapest Way to Go to New York?

A subway sign since the subway in a great way to travel NYC on a budget.

Okay, so if you’re traveling to New York City, greyhound buses can be pretty cheap with fares that start at as little as $20 per person. Plus, you’ll arrive right in Port Authority which is centrally located in Manhattan – making it easy for you to get to your hotel/hostel. 

And while you CAN take a train into Penn Station/Grand Central Station (if you’re coming from upstate New York) I wouldn’t recommend it since they are notoriously expensive and flying is usually cheaper. 

Pro Tip: Do NOT under any circumstances drive into the city. Parking garages are insanely expensive, there’s a ton of traffic, and street parking is beyond difficult to find. Plus, once you FINALLY do find a spot on the street, parking restrictions are notoriously complex and difficult to understand – unless you live here. So, if you can, deffo avoid driving in the city like the plague. 

Now, if you’re backpacking NYC on a budget and are not sure which airport to fly into, I would go with either JFK or Laguardia since both are relatively close to Midtown and are easily accessible via public transportation. 

Newark is fine but it’s just a bit further away since it’s in New Jersey and not New York. On the whole though, if you’re traveling internationally, then you’ll probably fly into JFK or Newark. Otherwise, if you’re flying domestically, then you’ll probably arrive in LaGuardia.

And to help you get to and from the airport on a budget, see item number 3 below.  

But wait, if you’re backpacking NYC on a budget, what do you do once you get there? Well, I would definitely walk, rent a Citibike $3.50 for a single ride), or take the subway. 

Honestly though, after walking I think I would always opt for the subway. Not only is it fast, reliable, and safe (IMHO) but a single ride costs just $2.75. Therefore, if you’re only looking to travel within say Manhattan, you could easily get away with spending just $5.50 per day on public transportation. 

How Much Does an Average Trip to New York Cost?

If you’re trying to figure out how the heck you can actually see NYC on a budget as you backpack New York, then it’s crucial that you know EXACTLY how much an average trip to New York will cost.

So, in general, if you’re planning a week-long trip to NYC, then you can expect to spend around $2100 as a solo traveler, $3,700 as a couple, and $7,000 as a family of four.

Remember, hotels in NYC can be super expensive and are priced anywhere between $80 and $500+ per night. But, on average, most hotels in NYC will cost around $200 per night. 

But, what if you’re visiting New York City on a budget and want to Couchsurf or stay at an Airbnb or VRBO rental property? Well, you can definitely do this but there are a few things you’ll need to know before doing so.

  • Couchsurfing – While you CAN totally Couchsurf in NYC, it’s a popular spot for it so be sure to book your stay WAY in advance. And while I am personally not a fan, if this is something you want to do, be sure to check that your host is verified with tons of great reviews. I also wouldn’t personally suggest that a single woman stays with a single man but if you want to do this, just use your best judgment. Also, make sure to research his hosting history first because if he’s only hosting women then chances are pretty high that he’s using Couchsurfing like Tinder. 
  • Airbnb – Airbnb (and VRBO too) works a little differently in NYC. So, if you’re planning to stay in New York City on a budget then you’ll want to know that while Airbnb isn’t totally illegal, it is against the law to rent out an entire apartment (aka stay without the host) for under 30 days. Now, If you plan to stay over 30 days, then you can rent an entire apartment, no problem. That being said, are Airbnb officials gonna come and arrest you if you spend 7 days by yourself in an Airbnb? No. But, definitely don’t shout it from the rooftops since the NYPD might be a bit peeved by this. 

Side Note: PLEASE abide by this rule for short-term Airbnb/VRBO rentals in NYC. I am a local and I pay rent here and this law was designed to protect people like me from housing shortages and rent hikes as a result of these companies. Trust me, rent here is already high enough and I am sure that staying with an awesome host won’t be too much of an inconvenience. 

Where to Stay in NYC on a Budget?

Stunning room in one of the best places to stay when backpacking NYC on a budget.

So, if you’re backpacking in NYC on a budget, then there are a couple of different things that you’ll want from a hotel/hostel. You’ll want to be certain that your accommodations are:

  • Reasonably Priced – Obviously, this is a guide to New York City on a budget. Therefore, you’ll definitely want to try and book a hotel/hostel that is under  $100 per night. And while you won’t have a TON of options to choose from, it’s definitely doable. 
  • Well-located – Make sure that the place you’re staying is in a safe neighborhood and has a central location so that you can see everything you want to see. You also don’t want to be out in the boonies because then you’ll need to spend a ton of money/time commuting into and out of Manhattan every single day. So, If you need help with this, feel free to check out my guide to the best areas to stay in NYC
  • Safe – I think this is probably the number one concern of anyone backpacking NYC on a budget. So, your first priority should be to make sure that your accommodations are in a safe neighborhood and that they have all necessary safety measures in place (locks on doors, safes in rooms, attentive staff, cameras, etc.). I also like to be within a 15-minute walk of the nearest subway station to make getting around easier and safer. 

Therefore, keeping all those important factors in mind, here are my top picks for the places to stay when backpacking NYC on a budget!

  • The Leo House (Chelsea) – Technically speaking, this budget-friendly hotel doesn’t have any religious affiliations, However, The Leo House is operated by the Catholic Sisters of St. Agnes. They’re super nice though and the rooms here are extremely well priced at around $105 per night for a room with a shared shower. This place is also well-located in Chelsea so you won’t spend too much time commuting. And while the rooms here are pretty bare-bones, they’re comfortable and quiet with in-room safes, a 24-hour front desk, cable TV, use of a beautiful garden, and the opportunity to enjoy a $9 breakfast buffet (the fresh baked goods are amazing and the buffet is totally worth it).
  • The Jane (West Village) – With historic beginnings that go all the way back to 1908, this former sailor’s hotel is now a fly AF, boutique hotel in the West Village that is also a mere hop, skip, and jump away from the Highline and the Witney Museum. Expect to find cozy, well-priced, nautical-inspired rooms with free WIFI, flat-screen TVs, DVD players, iPod docks, shared bathrooms (upgraded rooms have private bathrooms), and potentially bunk beds. During your stay at The Jane you’ll also get access to free bike rentals and can have a drink in their Victorian-style bar too. And I almost forgot but rooms here start at $73 per night. 
  • HI NYC Hostel (Upper West Side) – Yeah, I’m not really into hostels but if I had to stay in an NYC hostel, I’d opt for this one since rooms start at $88 per night. It’s also just a straight-up lovely place to stay since it’s located on the Upper West Side (a great neighborhood) and is a quick 10-minute walk from Central Park. It also occupies a stunning, Victorian-style house that has light and airy dorm rooms with clean bathrooms and free Wifi. Guests here can also make use of the patio (with garden), a full kitchen, a game room/tv room, can participate in nightly happy hours, can participate in group nights out, and can rent bikes right from the hostel.

How Can I Enjoy NYC on a Budget? 17+ Amazing Money Saving Tips

1. Visit NYC at the Right Time of Year

Fall foliage in NYC

Summer in NYC is great but man oh man is it expensive. So, if you’re planning to visit New York City on a budget, then you need to time your visit just right. 

And while NYC is always busy and never DIRT cheap, some times of the year are better than others if you’re looking to save some cold hard cash. 

So, if you can avoid peak tourist season (Christmas holidays and the summer season) since hotels and flights will be ridiculously expensive.

Instead, opt for shoulder seasons like January through early April and September through November (minus Thanksgiving) since fall in NYC is always a good time. 

Cheapest Time to Visit NYC on a Budget: January through early April and September through November (not Thanksgiving or after since that’s the holiday season). 

2. Snag a Cheap Flight to NYC

Guess what? Grabbing a flight to NYC doesn’t have to be insanely expensive. See, LaGuardia, JFK, and Newark are all major travel hubs in the USA.

Therefore, you can usually find some pretty sweet flight deals if you travel at the right time of year and have some flexibility in your travel plans. 

But, if you’re not sure where to start when it comes to finding cheap flights, you could use amazing free tools like Skyscanner, Google Flights, and Scott’s Cheap Flights. 

The latter will send flight deals right to your inbox as soon as they become available, thereby ensuring that you’ll get the best rate possible on your flight to NYC. 

3. Take Public Transportation to and from the Airport

For the love of God and all that is holy, take public transportation to and from the airport. No joke, it will save you TONS of money and really isn’t that complicated. 

But to make your life even easier when backpacking NYC on a budget, here’s how to get from Manhattan to JFK, LaGuardia, and Newark (and vice versa). 

  • JFK (You can also read this handy post on how to get from JFK to Manhattan) – The quickest way to get into the city is probably via commuter train (it takes around 35 minutes and will cost about $15.50) while the cheapest way to get into Manhattan is via subway, which can be a long ride after a long flight (between 60 and 90 minutes and it costs $10.50). To use the subway, just take the Howard Beach AirTrain Line to the Howard Beach/JFK stop and connect with the A train from here. The train will be $7.75 one way while a single ride on the subway will be $2.75 (you can get a Metrocard at Howard Beach station), so $10.50 total. 
  • Newark (You can also read this handy post on how to get from Newark to Manhattan) – Use the NJ Transit train at Penn Station (or vice versa) to connect with an AirTrain that will take you to Newark (the AirTrain only costs $5.50 per journey). And if you’re not a fan of the train, you could always board an NJ Transit bus in Manhattan that will take you directly to the airport (traffic makes the train faster though).
  • LaGuardia – There are a couple of different ways to travel from Manhattan to LaGuardia and vice versa. You could take the M60 bus (from 106th street and above) to LaGuardia. You could also take the E, F, M, R, or 7 train to Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue and then take the Q70 bus to LaGuardia (this option is ideal if you’re in midtown). Otherwise, you could always take an LIRR train to Woodside and then take the Q70 bus to LaGuardia (perfect if you’re in lower Manhattan). All of these methods are pretty cheap and can cost as little as $2.75 for a single ride on public transportation.

4. Enjoy All of the Free Things to do in NYC

DUMBO and the Manhattan bridge surrounded by brick warehouses.

Contrary to popular belief, not every NYC attraction is stupid expensive. In fact, I have a whole post all about 30 of the best free things to do in NYC

However, if you’re looking for a quick and easy guide to some of the many free things to do in NYC, then some of my fave free things to do in NYC include the following:

  • Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge
  • Check out street art at the Bushwick Collective in Brooklyn
  • Enjoy the Highline
  • Stand on top of The Vessel in Husdon Yards
  • Picnic in Central Park
  • Ride the Staten Island Ferry
  • Check out the National Museum of the American Indian
  • Explore the New York Public Library and Grand Central Terminal
  • Admire the bright lights of Times Square
  • And so much more!

Trust me, if you’re backpacking NYC on a budget there are still a ton of amazing things for you to see and do!

5. Get the NYC CityPass (at least if it’s your first time in NYC)

NYC Citypass

So, if you’re backpacking NYC on a budget, I definitely recommend getting the NYC CityPass if it’s your first time in the city.

Trust me, it’s a great way to save tons of money on all of NYC’s top attractions. Yes, it does start at a hefty $136 per person ($112 for kids) but it gives you access to 6 major attractions for a savings of 40%. 

Also, if you have a CityPass, you’ll be brought to a separate line and won’t actually have to wait to get into all of these amazing places that are probably on your NYC bucket list. 

You also have nine full days after you visit your first attraction to actually use the pass. So, that’s definitely plenty of time to see everything listed below. 

And those attractions that are included with this pass are:

  • Ferry to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island ($18.50) or Circle Line Sightseeing Cruise ($33.00)
  • The Empire State Building ($53.25)
  • American Museum of Natural History ($28)
  • The MET aka The Metropolitan Museum of Art ($25)
  • Top of the Rock Observation Deck ($39.20) or The Guggenheim Museum ($25)
  • 9/11 Memorial and Museum ($24) or The Intrepid Air and Space Museum ($33)

Total if you visit all these sites individually = $173.75

Translation? That’s a savings of $37.50 and that’s if you do all of the CHEAPEST activities. That’s why, if it’s your first time in NYC, don’t waste time and money and get the CityPass now!

But for the full details, check out my full review of, “Is the New York Pass Worth It?” now!

Pro Tip: Planning a short 4 day in NYC itinerary and don’t have time to see all of these amazing places? That’s okay because you can always get the New York C3 Pass instead. it costs just $87 per adult (or $67 for a child) and allows you to visit three of the attractions above for a savings of about 25% on the a la carte price.  

6. Create a Budget and Stick to It!

NYC is one of those amazing places where you have to actively fight the urge to do ALL the things. I mean, splurge on a ticket to see Hamilton and a helicopter tour of NYC and you’ve just spent $1000+ in one evening. 

So, visiting New York City on a budget is gonna be all about tracking what you spend money on so that you don’t overspend. Because a coffee here (at a crazy $6 each) and a souvenir there and can add up hella quickly. 

Therefore, try to create a budget and actively write down/keep track of everything you spend money on. And yes, I really do mean everything. This way, you can actually see what you’re spending and plan accordingly to stay within your budget. 

And if you need a little help to do this, try these apps. 

  • PocketGuard
  • Mint
  • YNAB and EveryDollar

7. Ride the Staten Island Ferry

Take the Staten Island Ferry to NYC's forgotten borough. An essential part of any NYC bucket list.

Are the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island awesome beyond belief? Umm, hell to the yeah they are. Especially since Ellis Island is easily one of the best museums in NYC. Period. 

But, if you’re visiting New York City on a budget and don’t really have the extra $20 to spend (FYI, it’s not super expensive, and visiting both will take up the better part of the day), then try using the Staten Island Ferry instead. 

Not only will it give you amazing views of the Statue of Liberty (and Governor’s Island and Ellis Island and the Manhattan skyline), but the ferry between Manhattan and Staten Island is totally free, making it cheaper now than when it opened in 1817 and a ride cost $0.25.

The ferry also runs 24 hours a day 365 days a year and departs every 15-30 minutes from Whitehall Terminal in Battery Park (just take the 4 or 5 train to Bowling Green station to get here). The ride will last about 30-minutes each way and you will have to disembark to board a ferry back to Manhattan once you arrive in Staten Island. 

Pro Tip: The Ferry can get uber-crowded with commuters during weekday rush hours, between 6:00 am and 9:30 am and between 3:30 pm and 8:00 pm. So, try to board the ferry at basically any other time of day. And for the best views possible, sit on the right side of the upper deck. 

8. Use a Refillable Water Bottle Instead of Paying for Drinks

I’m not gonna lie to you, bottled water – and bottled drinks in general – are shockingly expensive in NYC. Therefore, one quick and easy way to save tons of money on drinks in NYC is to bring a reusable water bottle and just fill it up at any water fountain that you find. 

Trust me on this. It’s a lifesaver. And contrary to what you might think, NYC actually has some of the best and safest drinking water in the entire US. 

Pro Tip: Don’t just pack a regular water bottle that will just take up a ton of empty space in your bag when you’re not using it. Instead, use a collapsible water bottle that will easily roll up when you’re not using it. Personally, I love this one right here since it’s leakproof, BPA-free, costs under $20, and is just a solid water bottle all around. But don’t take my word for it check out some of the average 4.3-star ratings (out of five stars) from 500+ users. 

9. Get a Metro Pass Now

Interior of a subway car.

Everyone knows that next to walking everywhere (which is impossible since NYC is so damn big), the subway is the absolute cheapest way to travel around NYC on a budget.  

But what a lot of people don’t know is that you can actually save yourself a whole hell of a lot of money by purchasing either a 7-day or 30-day MetroPass with unlimited rides on it. 

Yup, the 7-day pass (the option most people will go with) costs just $33 while the 30-day pass costs $127. 

So yeah, do the math. Because in just 7 days, you only need to use your pass a total of 13 times to actually save money – and that’s easy to do since you’ll probably use your Metrocard at least twice to get to and from the airport. 

Therefore, use your Metrocard a mere three times a day (so easy to do) and you’ll automatically save money. 

Pro Tip: Uber really isn’t that cheap anymore but it’s definitely way cheaper than a cab.  And if you must use an Uber, go for an Uber Pool which will give you a cheaper rate since you’ll basically split the cost of the fare with another passenger that gets picked up along the way. 

10. Party in the East Village/Harlem and Avoid the Meatpacking District

Beautiful brownstones in the East Village of NYC

Real talk? Throughout the course of my young life, I think I partied in the meatpacking district a grand total of once. And, guess what? It was a nightmare of epic proportions. That is also why I never did it again. 

It basically felt like one giant cattle call where everyone wanted to be seen (by who I don’t know but it was annoying) by their adoring public.

There was also exactly nothing that felt moderately authentic about the experience. And yes, that includes people’s body parts.

Plus, the drinks were insanely expensive ($15 each back in the ye olde year of 2013). So do yourself a favor and stay away from the meatpacking district altogether if you’re backing NYC on a budget. 

Instead, do as the locals do and flock to places in the East Village or in Harlem. You’ll love that the vibe is infinitely chiller and the prices won’t make you physically cry out in pain, where things are low-key.

These parts of the city are also MUCH safer than they used to be and you will meet real New Yorkers and have a more authentic, New York experience. 

And if you want to party like an unassuming NYC rockstar, try Ginny’s Supper Club, Paris Blues, and Harlem Nights in, you guessed it Harlem and Nublu Classic, Rumpus Room, and Badlam in the East Village. 

11. Sign Up for The Skint

No, I haven’t been possessed by the devil and am now starting to speak in tongues. Rather, The Skint is actually this awesome, totally free, now online daily newsletter that you should definitely sign up for right this minute.

No worries, I can wait while you do that. And what you can expect from them is the very best and most up-to-date information on all of the free things that happen in NYC on the reg, or daily as other people might say. 

It’s just an all-around great resource that will give you insider info on all the cool, free events that are happening in NYC right now – all of which are delivered daily to your inbox!.

And trust me, these are super cool things that you’ll actually want to do…I pinkie promise.

Fun Factoid: The reason why it’s called, “The Skint” is that the word used to be British slang (1930-1935) for a person lacking funds or someone who is broke, bust, or impecunious. Yup, now you can go forth and win Who Wants to be a Millionaire like the total rockstar that you are. 

12. Take Advantage of Museum Free Days and Pay What You Wish Days

The exterior of the MET (metropolitan museum of art). One of the many cool museums in NYC.

Yes, some of the many cool museums in NYC can come with a hefty price tag. I mean, take the MET for example.

It used to be “pay what you wish” admission but is now $25 per person unless you are a resident of NY, NY, or CT with a valid ID.

Sigh. I’m still bitter about this change to their admission policy but that’s a tale for another post.  Anyway, what many visitors may not know is that most major museums have some kind of free or “pay what you wish” day where admission prices are significantly reduced. 

Therefore, stop by one of these awesome museums at the right time and you could easily save yourself a whole lot of money while backpacking New York City on a budget.

But, to make your life SUPER easy, I’ve broken down all of these special admission times for you below (or most of them since I may have missed one or two) – by day – to make the entire trip planning process infinitely less stressful. 

  • Always Free – African Burial Ground Memorial Site, American Folk Art Museum, BRIC House, The Bronx Museum of the Arts, Federal Hall National Memorial, General Grant National Memorial, Hamilton Grange, The Harbor Defense Museum, MoMA PS1 ( NYC residents ONLY), The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, the National Museum of the American Indian, The New York Public Library Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, New York Transit Museum Annex & Store, Grand Central Terminal, Queens Botanical Garden (November through March), Queens County Farm Museum, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden, Socrates Sculpture Park, Soldiers and Sailors Monument, and Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace.
  • Free on Monday – Museum at Eldridge Street Synagogue (pay what you wish)
  • Free on Tuesday – 9/11 Memorial & Museum (after 5:00 pm), Morgan Library and Museum (3:00 pm to 5:00 pm), Staten Island Zoo (2:00 pm to 4:45 pm),and Wave Hill (9:00 am to 12:00 pm).
  • Free on Wednesday – Bronx Zoo (no special exhibits), Frick Collection (pay what you wish from 2:00 pm to 6:00 pm), Historic Richmond Town (suggested donation), Museum of Jewish Heritage (4:00 pm to close), New York Aquarium (pay what you wish 3:00 pm to close), New York Botanical Garden (grounds only), Queens Botanical Garden (3:00 pm to 6:00 pm April through October and then all day the rest of the year), Van Cortlandt House Museum, and Staten Island Zoo (2:00 pm to 4:45 pm)
  • Free on Thursday – Museum of Chinese in America (first Thursday of the month), Brooklyn Children’s Museum (2:00 pm to 6:00 pm), Museum of Arts and Design (pay what you wish from 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm), and New Museum (pay what you wish 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm).
  • Free on Friday – Frick Collection (first Friday of the month between 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm, except September and January), the Neue Galerie (first Friday of the month from 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm), the Noguchi Museum (first Friday of the month), Asia Society (September through June from 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm), Brooklyn Botanic Garden (March through November, opening until 12:00 pm), the Japan Society (6:00 pm to 9:00 pm), Morgan Library and Museum (7:00 pm to 9:00 pm), Museum of Modern Art (5:30 pm to 9:00 pm), Museum of the Moving Image (4:00 pm to 8:00 pm), New York Hall of Science (2:00 pm to 5:00 pm), The New-York Historical Society (pay what you wish from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm), The Whitney Museum of American Art (pay what you wish from 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm)and the Rubin Museum of Art (6:00 pm to 10:00 pm).
  • Free on Saturday – Brooklyn Museum (5:00 pm to 11:00 pm the first Saturday of the month), The Jewish Museum, New York Botanical Gardens (the ground are free from 9:00 am to 10:00 am), Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (Pay what you wish from 5:00 pm to 8:00 pm), and Wave Hill (9:00 am to 12:00 pm).
  • Free on Sunday – Brooklyn Children’s Museum (4:00 pm to 7:00 pm), The Morgan Library and Museum (4:00 pm to 6:00 pm), New York Hall of Science (10:00 am to 11:00 am), and Queens Botanical Garden (April through October from 9:00 am to 11:00 am and the entire day the rest of the year).

13. Go Out for Breakfast/Lunch, Not Dinner

People eating brunch together.

Nine times out of ten, dinner is always way more expensive than breakfast or lunch. Therefore, one of my many money-saving tips for New York City is to eat out in either the morning or the afternoon.

This way, you can still enjoy some of NYC’s best restaurants but without creating a giant hole in your wallet. Then, once dinner time rolls around,  you can always just stop by a local grocery and get something for dinner.

And if the weather plays fair, you could even have a picnic in Central Park/Bryant Park.

Pro Tip: When shopping for groceries, be sure to stop one of NYC’s cheaper grocery store chains, like Trader Joe’s. Yeah, some brands – like Balducci’s and Gristedes – are way more expensive than their discount counterparts. 

14. NEVER EVER Pay Full Price for Broadway Tickets

The bright lights and marquee signs for Broadway shoes in Times Square.

First rule of backpacking NYC on a budget? You never EVER pay full price for Broadway tickets. The second rule of backpacking New York City on a budget? You never EVER pay full price for Broadway tickets (Get the Fight Club reference people?)!

Okay, I kid but seriously. There are about 10,000 different ways for you to get Broadway tickets at a discount of AT LEAST 50%. And these discounts are SUPER easy to get and don’t require you to fork over your firstborn or do anything supremely icky. 

In fact, there are so many different ways to get cheap Broadway tickets that I’ve written an entire post about it that you should deffo check out now. 

Otherwise, some of my fave ways to get super sweet deals on Broadway tickets are to:

  • Visit the TKTS Booth in Times Square
  • Use the TodayTix App
  • Enter the ticket Lottery at Lucky Seat
  • Try Broadway Roulette
  • Do Rush Tickets
  • Opt for Standing Room Only Tickets
  • Try the Cancellation Line

15. Eat Lots of Street Food

Dim sum from Tim Ho Wan

Because NYC is home to some of the greatest restaurants in the world. it can be easy to blow your entire budget on a single, 6-course tasting menu at Aquavit. 

And while Aquavit does offer patrons an exceptionally amazing dining, it’s probably not worth it if that means that you can’t do anything else while visiting NYC. 

So, to help you save some serious $$$ on foodage while you’re backpacking NYC on a budget, you should definitely try some of the amazing street food that NYC has to offer. 

Because 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 tight budget.

Some of my faves are:

  • Ess-A-Bagels (near Grand Central Terminal) for bagels
  • Shake Shack for burgers and fries
  • Food Trucks (all across the city)
  • Joe’s Pizza for a $1 slice (not the best pizza in the city but it’ll do). Artichoke Basille’s also has a really good spinach artichoke slice. 
  • Mamoun’s Falafel (right near the Comedy Cellar in the Village) for falafel
  • Tacombi and Los Tacos No. 1 for, DUH, tacos
  • Souvlaki GR – Great Greek food
  • Veselka – A Ukranian diner with epic pierogis
  • Dig Inn Seasonal Market
  • Dhaba for Indian food
  • Javelina for great Tex Mex cuisine
  • The Meatball Shop for great meatballs in Hell’s Kitchen
  • Crif Dogs and Gray’s Papaya for NY hotdogs
  • Chinatown – Basically every eatery there is cheap but Hwa Yuan (Peking Duck), Jim Fong (dim sum), Golden Unicorn (again dim sum), Deluxe Green Bo (soup dumplings), and Noodle Village (for noodles obviously). 
  • NYC Food Halls – Try 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 (near Grand Central Terminal), the food court in Grand Central, Gansevoort Market, and the Pennsy ( above Penn Station).

Pro Tip: In general, for cheap eats, try and get out of midtown/upper east and west side and go where the locals go. Harlem, Greenwich Village, Astoria, Chinatown, and LES are all more local neighborhoods that have better prices. And for the best Italian food in the city, skip over-priced Little Italy and go to the Bronx’s Arthur Avenue instead. 

16. Say Yes to the Happiest of Hours (aka Happy Hour)

Drinks in NYC are pretty dang expensive. So much so that you can expect, on average, to spend at least $16 on a cocktail. And yes, that’s the price for JUST one.

That’s why, if you love the alcohol-y goodness but are backing NYC on a budget, then you’ll definitely need to hit up some epic happy hours while in the city. 

Now, generally speaking, happy hour in NYC is typically from 3:00 pm to 7:00 pm, Monday through Friday, and 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm on Saturdays and Sundays. 

And while deals obviously vary from bar to bar, you can usually get well drinks for $3 and beer/wine for a $1 off. While you’re here, you can also typically get cheap appetizers but that depends entirely on the bar/restaurant. 

Now, for the best happy hours in the city, try:

  • Allswell (Williamsburg Brooklyn)
  • Amélie (Wine bar near Washington Square Park)
  • An Béal Bocht (Irish place in the Bronx)
  • Cooper’s Craft and Kitchen (East Village)
  • Corkbuzz Wine Studio (Wine Bar near Union Square),
  • Drop Off Service (bar near Veselka and the Ukrainian Village)
  • Full Circle Bar (Williamsburg Brooklyn)
  • Mess Hall (Harlem)
  • Skinny Dennis (Williamsburg Brooklyn and they have live music too)

17. Get Out of Manhattan

The Brooklyn bridge at sunset

For the love of God and all that is holy, do yourself a favor and get out of Manhattan. Because contrary to what some might think, the boroughs of Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, and the Bronx are pretty dang awesome. 

They’re also a whole lot cheaper than uber-touristy Manhattan since this is where REAL locals actually live. And sorry but we really can’t afford to spend $30+ on a burger on the reg. 

So, if you want to spend like a local then you’re going to need to go where the locals go. Plus. this has the added benefit of giving you a more authentic NYC experience since you’ll meet people who actually live here. 

18. Skip the MET and Go Gallery Hopping

Look, I’ll be the first one to admit that I love the MET with my whole heart since it’s easily one of my favorite museums in the entire world. 

But, if you’re from out of town and backpacking NYC on a budget, then spending $25 on a ticket for ONE museum can be a bit of a splurge. 

So, although it pains me to say this, you may want to skip the MET altogether and just go art gallery hopping in Chelsea instead! It’s an area that is filled with amazing galleries where you can see some of the best art in the city for FREE!

Pro Tip: Try and visit on a Thursday evening when many galleries host free wine and cheese events. 

Hopefully, after reading this post, you’ve learned some super-secret, New York money-saving tips and understand exactly how to save money in New York City, like a local.

Ready to start Backpacking New York City on a budget? Then join our mailing list and pin this now so that you can read it again later!

Clazz - An Orcadian Abroad

Thursday 7th of February 2019

Love this post, Kelly! I am always after ways to save money, haha. I really wanna go back to NYC now!


Friday 8th of February 2019

Come visit and I am so glad that you found it useful! Makes my heart so happy!!!

Lena Myers

Monday 1st of October 2018

When an amateur is ready to backpack for NY, he/she should read this. Thanks a lot.


Sunday 7th of October 2018

Happy to help.

Jimmy Webb

Wednesday 19th of September 2018

Backpacking is always excited to me, especially when it comes to beloved NY. LIke this much!!


Wednesday 19th of September 2018

Thank you so much! So glad to hear that!


Sunday 16th of September 2018

very good list of how to do NYC affordably. Via is also very cheap in addition to Uber. And NYC is such a walkable city too.


Monday 17th of September 2018

It really is a great place to walk around and thanks for the heads up on Via. I've never even heard fo them.


Saturday 15th of September 2018

Yes, NYC hotels are the worst. You did a great job finding some reasonable ones. I also love Traders Joes for cheap food. They have so many prepared meals that are easy as well as cheap.


Monday 17th of September 2018

Omg same! Trader Joe's is the best. Great quality and great price. Can't beat that!

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