This post was originally published on A Globe Well Travelled in 2015. The content has been revised and updated with fresh information.
It’s no secret that NYC is one of the most expensive cities in the world.
But it sure is a place worth forking out a few extra dollars for. According to Alicia Keys, this concrete jungle is where dreams are made of. One walk through midtown Manhattan and you’ll feel that same sense of opportunity that inspired so many others who have wandered these streets.
So is it possible to visit this city on a budget? Absolutely. But there’s more than just a small selection of free attractions you can visit if you’re doing this city on the cheap.
You can get up to an observation deck, see the Statue of Liberty, enter museums, get broadway tickets, and make your way around Manhattan for a fraction of the price others are paying.
Want to know how? Here are my top 5 hacks to see the best of NYC for cheap or free!
1. Top of the Rock
The observation deck at Rockerfeller Center has arguably the best views of NYC. You can see the Empire State and One World Trade Center to the south and Central Park to the north, but it’ll set you back a fair chunk of cash.
For tricksy sightseeing hackers like us, there’s another way up. Head through the main entrance (not the tourist entrance) of Rockerfeller Center then take the elevators up to level 65. Here you’ll find a bar (appropriately named SixtyFive) a mere 5 floors below the observation deck, where you get 270 degree views.
This place opens at 5:00 PM daily and is rather fancy, so don’t expect that you can just go up after sightseeing on a sweaty NYC summers day in your shorts and ‘I heart NY’ t-shirt. You will be denied entry. Collared shirts and pants for men, and dresses (plus heels if you’ve got them) for the ladies.
If you’re like me and feel weird about going up and not paying for a drink at the bar, then you can order the cheapest thing on the menu – a $14 glass of Rosé. It might sound steep, but you’ve literally just saved $16 by not paying for Top of the Rock, and you got a glass of wine to enjoy with the sunset. You tell me which you think is the better deal.
2. Statue of Liberty
We all know that Lady Liberty is an essential attraction for any first-time visit to NYC, but a trip to Liberty Island will set you back a minimum of $18.
For a free option, head down to Battery Park and jump in line for the Staten Island Ferry which departs approximately every half hour. Don’t be deterred by the masses of crowds around the entrance, it’s a very large ferry and there’ll be plenty of room for you all on board.
This ferry takes you to Staten Island… and directly past the Statue of Liberty on the way. Stick to the right-hand side for the best views, and then move to the back of the boat for some fab views of the Manhattan skyline.
If this option won’t get you as close as you like, here’s how to see the Statue of Liberty from Manhattan.
3. Entry to museums
There are about a gazillion museums in NYC, and believe me, you’ll want to visit many of them. Now if you went to them all the admission prices might add up to a lot… unless of course you take advantage of free museum days.
Little do most people know, you can enter many of NYC’s museums for no charge. The Museum of Modern Art is free to enter on the first Friday of every month between 4PM-8PM, and the Museum of the Moving Image is free on Thursdays between 2PM-6PM. The Guggenheim has ‘pay what you wish’ on Saturdays from 4PM-6PM, and the 9/11 Memorial Museum gives out some free admission tickets on Mondays from 3:30PM-5PM.
4. Broadway tickets
Who could say no to seeing a bunch of people in flamboyant costumes dancing and singing for a few hours? Not me. I can’t get enough of it!
There’s no way of getting free Broadway tickets, but you’re a sucker if you pay full price. First off, choose a show that you’d like to see that day, then head the TKTS vendor (located in the middle of Times Square) around 9:00-10:00 AM or 2:00-3:00 PM. You’ll have to line up for a bit, but as a reward you’ll likely get your same-day Broadway tickets heavily discounted. Alternatively, you can check out the TicketNetwork website for cheap last minute show tickets without having to line up!
5. Getting around
Now we all know that public transport is usually the cheapest way to get around any large city, but in NYC there’s a few ways to twist the system to work best for you.
First of all, if you’re flying into NYC, don’t catch a taxi from any of the airports. You’ll probably end up paying an entire night of accommodation on the cab fare alone. From Newark Airport you can catch the New Jersey Transit to Manhattan for only $15.50, from JFK Airport catch the AirTrain to Jamaica Station for $8 and then the Long Island Rail Road to Manhattan for $10.75 depending on the time of day, and from LaGuardia Airport catch the M60 bus for $2.75.
To use the subway system within the city, you can now use a credit card to tap on the readers at the entrance to each station. This is a super easy and cheap way to get around NYC at $2.75 per trip.
Another option is to use Citibike. Cycling around is an awesome way to see all the pretty Manhattan buildings and make your way around Central Park, but is also cheap at $3.99 per ride or $15 per day for unlimited rides.
Other free attractions:
There are a million things you can do for free in NYC, but here are just some of them:
- Brooklyn Bridge
- Times Square
- Central Park
- 9/11 Memorial
- The High Line
- Chelsea Market
- Wall Street
- Flatiron Building