Top Ways to Save on Your Next New York City Vacation
Take a bite of the Big Apple without breaking the bank.
A trip to New York City doesn't have to mean a hit to your bank account.(Getty Images)
Visitors to New York City may get sticker shock when they start planning their trip, but it doesn’t have to be that way. There are many opportunities to enjoy the Big Apple while staying within a budget, especially if you’re traveling with a family.
“One of the biggest misperceptions is that New York City is unaffordable,” says Chris Heywood, senior vice president of global communications at NYC & Company, the city’s tourism organization. Walking or taking the subway, sampling the city’s varied street food, visiting during off-peak periods and taking advantage of free days can add up to significant savings.
When to Visit
The most popular times to visit New York City are during the winter holidays, spring and fall, Heywood explains. January to March is a slow period, the hiatus between the city’s post-holiday hangover and spring break. “This is a great time to check out hotel deals,” Heywood says, “and you can practically experience Christmas in New York if you visit during the first week of January. It’s like having the city to yourself.”
[Read: The Best New York City Tours.]
Streets are often quiet and attractions are less crowded during the Jewish High Holidays, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, which typically fall in late September or early October, Heywood adds.
Also, rethink your weekend. Does it have to be Friday to Sunday? “I tell people: Make Sunday your new Saturday,” Heywood says. You don’t have to feed the parking meters on Sundays if you're driving a car, and some museums are free on Sundays, including The Frick Collection (visitors can pay an optional donation from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.), the New York Hall of Science (10 to 11 a.m.), the Queens Botanical Garden (from 9 to 11 a.m., except for festival days) and The Studio Museum in Harlem. Several of these attractions also have free hours at other times during the week. Check the museums' websites for more information and the latest hours.
Pack comfortable walking shoes because New York City is a kaleidoscope of culturally diverse neighborhoods best enjoyed on foot. Also, take advantage of the city’s vast public transportation system, with subways and buses that will take you almost anywhere, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art on the Upper East Side to Coney Island in Brooklyn to John F. Kennedy International Airport. Single rides on the subway or local bus are $2.75 per person (an express bus will cost $6.50). However, if you're staying for a week and want to zip around town at your leisure, consider the New York City’s Mass Transit Authority’s 7-Day Unlimited Pass, which, for $31, allows you to take unlimited subway and local bus rides until midnight for seven consecutive days.
[Read: The Best New York City Boat Tours.]
New York City restaurants are notorious for their long waits and high prices, but biting the Big Apple doesn’t have to break the bank, says Josephine Danielson, head concierge at the Four Seasons Hotel New York. “The city has so many great markets and food halls where you can just walk around and try different things,” says Danielson, who recommends Chelsea Market, Gotham West Market, the Great Northern Food Hall at Grand Central Terminal and TurnStyle at Columbus Circle.
Moreover, New York City’s quintessential foods, such as bagels, pizza and hot dogs, are not expensive. Delis are in many of the city’s neighborhoods and can be great for scoring an affordable sandwich. “Definitely try a pastrami or corned beef sandwich at Katz’s,” Danielson says. Katz’s Delicatessen, established in 1888 and located on East Houston Street, is a New York institution. A classic pastrami hot sandwich there is about $20. “There’s also Ess-a-Bagel, another favorite,” she adds. Located on Third Avenue near East 50th Street, Ess-a-Bagel offers a range of bagels and schmears. A standard plain bagel with cream cheese will cost just over $3.
The city’s public parks, including its famous Central Park, don’t cost a penny to enter and wander about. Take a stroll through Bryant Park in midtown Manhattan, or enjoy the artworks and views of the Manhattan skyline from the other side of the East River at Socrates Sculpture Park in Queens, which you can access by the N or W subway trains or the Q103 or Q104 buses.
[Read: The Best New York City Bus Tours.]
“People sometimes realize they’re spending most of their money on eating and drinking, when there are so many things to see here for free,” says Jennifer Picht, things to do editor at Time Out New York. “Visiting Central Park or the High Line park is free. Walking around [and] admiring Grand Central Terminal is free. Walking around Rockefeller Center is free. Walking across [the] Brooklyn Bridge is free. If you plan things out, you could spend a whole week not spending money on attractions.”
Other attractions and tours, such as the Empire State Building, the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises and the Statue of Liberty, do charge admission. NYC & Company sells a range of attraction passes that allow visitors to cover more ground while spending less and avoiding ticket lines. The New York CityPASS, for example, includes admission to several major Big Apple attractions for $116 for adults and $92 for children ages 6 to 17, and is valid nine days after the first use.
[Read: The Best Statue of Liberty Tours.]
Many museums also offer free admission depending on the day of the week. NYC & Company lists museums’ free days. The iconic New York Public Library is always free, including its tours throughout the historic Stephen A. Schwarzman Building and the famous Rose Main Reading Room. Some of the city’s top museums open their doors for free during certain times on Fridays, including the Museum of Modern Art (from 4 to 8 p.m.) and the New York Aquarium (from 4 to 5 p.m. during the summer and 3 to 3:30 p.m. the rest of the year). Children and adults can visit the Children’s Museum of Manhattan for free from 5 to 8 p.m. on the first Friday evening of every month. Every Saturday from 5:45 to 7:45 p.m., the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum allows visitors to pay as they wish.
To experience more of what New York City has to offer, check out the U.S. News Travel guide.
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