15 Cheap Things To Do in NYC: A Local Budget Traveler Guide

Summary

Activities prices: Mostly free
Top advice on cheap things to do summarised:
* Visit top sights with NYC CityPASS to save up to 40% (costs 129$). Read more
* Explore NYC’s parks (free). Find the parks here
* Rent a bike for Hudson River Greenway (from 10$). See the bike route
* Visit museums for free on certain dates. See here
* Explore top sights for free: Times Square, Statue of Liberty Brooklyn Bridge and more on 

Jackie from Globetrotting Teacher

Hi, I’m Jackie, the Globetrotting Teacher. I am a local New Yorker and lived in NYC for more than 20 years. Travel has been life-changing for me whether I’m traveling solo or with my favorite travel partner, Peter my husband! Find out more

Introduction

When you’re thinking about a visit to New York City, the phrase “cheap things to do” probably isn’t what comes to mind first. There’s no denying that between hotel rooms and eating out New York City can get pricey quick — and that’s before any sightseeing.

Yet, even if you’re on a strict trip budget, you can still enjoy a lot of the great things New York has to offer. In this guide, my goal is to highlight some of the best cheap things to do in NYC so you can experience all the city has to offer without hurting your wallet. 

Some are even free, and what’s not to love about that? 

Ready to explore NYC? Let’s go!

Table of Contents

Bundle sightseeing with a discount pass

New York City Pass advert
NYC pass saves a big chunk of money on top attractions

Price: From 129$, but saves up to 40% at the top 5 attractions

First, let’s get past one of the biggest money hurdles. If you’ve never been to NYC and you’re dying to hit all the top sights, your best bet is to bundle entry with a sightseeing pass like the New York CityPASS

How much money you will save: you can save up to 40% at top 5 attractions in New York with the New York CityPASS. 

Attractions to choose from

* Empire State Building
* American Museum of Natural History
* Top of the Rock Observatory
* Guggenheim Museum
* Ferry Access to Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island
* Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises
* 9/11 Memorial & Museum
* Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum

Top Tip: This is a much cheaper option than buying individual entry tickets for each place you’d like to visit. Not to mention, you’ll also get skip-the-line privileges for many sights so you save time too.

Explore NYC’s parks: Central, Riverside, Little Island, Brooklyn Bridge

People enjoying the sun in the Central Park, NYC
People enjoying the sun in the Central Park, NYC

Price: Free

Central Park

Central Park is arguably the most famous city park in the world and, regardless of your travel budget, it’s likely you want to spend some time seeing it. 

In fact, there’s so much to see and do in Central Park that you could easily devote a few days to really exploring and enjoying every inch of the park. 

From Bethesda Fountain and Terrace, the Great Lawn, Belvedere Castle, the Conservatory Gardens, the Lake, Bow Bridge, Strawberry Fields, the Reservoir, and the Mall, and so much more, you’ll not only see the park and all its highlights, but also have the opportunity to glimpse how Central Park is incorporated into the everyday lives of NYers. 

You can also choose to tour the park with a guide on this affordable Central Park tour.

Other Parks

Central Park isn’t the only green space in Manhattan waiting to be explored either. Riverside Park and its Hudson River path on the Upper West Side is full of gems, like the General Grant National Memorial. 

Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village is people-watching at its finest, including some pretty talented musicians and performers. 

Little Island Park is newly constructed on a Hudson River Pier between 13th and 14th Streets. The park’s unique construction offers the chance to view the city and the river from different angles and heights. 

The park’s “Amph” and “Glade” often host performers and artists offering free performances, so check the park’s website to see if free timed-entry tickets are needed when you want to visit.

And don’t forget about The Battery on Manhattan’s southern tip, or Brooklyn Bridge Park, just over the bridge in Brooklyn.

The best part about visiting all of these NYC parks, besides that it’s free, is you get to see and experience different parts of the city just by taking yourself on an NYC parks tour.

Parks at a glance

  What's special Price Time to spend
Central Park One of the most famous city parks in the world Free 2-4 hours
Riverside Park General Grant National Memorial Free 1 hour
Washington Square Park Talented musicians and performers Free 0.5-1 hours
Little Island Park Newly built. Great view on the city and the river. Free 0.5-1 hours
Brooklyn Bridge Park Great view on the Brooklyn Bridge Free 0.5-1 hours

Rent a bike

Sunny bike ride in the Central Park, NYC
Sunny bike ride in the Central Park, NYC

Price: from 10$ 

Don’t want to explore Central Park on foot? Rent a bike and see its best bits at a faster pace as you ride the Central Park Loop.

Where to ride a bike

Not only can you ride the bike in many NYC parks, but you can also ride the Hudson River Greenway. 

This 11-mile path takes you along the Manhattan waterfront from the southern tip of the island at The Battery, formerly and commonly known as Battery Park, all the way up to the Bronx. 

Along the way, you’ll ride past places like Chelsea Piers, the George Washington Bridge, and the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. You can also connect to Riverside Park.

Visit a museum for free

Visit museums cheap or for free

Price: Starting free

New York City is a cultural hub with no shortage of museums to explore and learn from. You might be surprised to discover that some of these museums are always free to enter, while others have specific days and hours where admission is free or pay-as-you-wish. 

Keep in mind these museums may be busier during these free or reduced-cost time periods, but it’s a great way to save money in New York City. 

However, if you’re timing isn’t right to take advantage or if you’re simply looking to maximize your time in NYC, you’ll want to book timed-entry or skip-the-line tickets in advance.

Always free

Museums like the American Folk Art Museum, the National Museum of the American Indian, The Bronx Museum of the Arts, MoMA PS 1, and The Museum at FIT are always free to enter.

Free on specific Fridays

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), the Noguchi Museum, and the Neue Galerie have free hours on the first Friday of every month, while the Rubin Museum of Art and the Morgan Library & Museum have free hours every Friday during the afternoon and evenings. 

Have pay-as-you-wish dates

The Frick Madison has pay-as-you-wish hours every Thursday afternoon, the New-York Historical Society every Friday afternoon, the Guggenheim every Saturday afternoon, and the Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum Thursday through Monday in the early evening.

Museum Price Free days/hours
American Folk Art Museum Free Always free
The National Museum of the American Indian Free Always Free
The Bronx Museum of the Arts Free Always Free
MoMA PS1 Free Always Free
Museum at FIT Free Always Free
MoMA From 25$ First Friday of month
Noguchi Museum From 6$ First Friday of month
Neue Galerie From 12$ First Friday of month
Rubin Museum of Art From 14$ Every Friday afternoon and evening
Morgan Library & Museum From 13$ Every Friday afternoon and evening
The Frick Madison From 12$ Pay-as-you-wish every Thursday
The New-York Historical Society From 6$ Pay-as-you-wish every Friday afternoon
Guggenheim Museum From 18$ Pay-as-you-wish every Saturday afternoon
Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum From 9$ Pay-as-you-wish Thursday through Monday

Admire the lights in Times Square

Winter atmosphere in the Times Square, NYC
Winter atmosphere in the Times Square, NYC

Price: Free

Times Square has bright lights and entertainment all in one place. No visit to New York City would be complete without seeing this iconic landmark. 

Climb the red stairs to get a birds-eye view of the organized chaos of traffic and people that flow through the crossroads of Broadway and 7th Avenue. It’s the perfect spot for your Times Square selfie. 

Top tip: Visit just before midnight any night of the week (except New Year’s Eve, of course). At 11:57 PM sharp, the digital screens show rotating artists’ work in what’s known as the biggest digital public art display in the world.

Score cheap Broadway tickets

People waiting in line for a Broadway show, NYC
People waiting in line for a Broadway show, NYC

Price: from 4$/month

The TKTS booth in Times Square is one of the best ways to get steep discounts on Broadway tickets. Tuesday through Sunday, Broadway shows offering same-day ticket discounts are listed on the electronic boards. They’re available until they sell out, right up until showtime. 

Top tip: If you’re super flexible and would like to see any number of Broadway shows, skip waiting in the long line that snakes around the iconic red stairs in Times Square all day. 

Go 30 minutes before showtime and get the best available show tickets. All the theaters are just a couple of minutes’ walk from the TKTS booth, so it’s easy to buy tickets and head directly to the theater.

Pay your respects at the 9/11 Memorial

Evening view of the 9/11 Memorial, New York City
Evening view of the 9/11 Memorial, New York City

Price: Free

At the former site of the World Trade Center Twin Towers, you’ll find a large open, outdoor space with two reflecting pools. 

The basins of cascading water mark the exact footprints of the towers that once stood there, and the names of those that fell victim to the US terror attacks of September 11, 2001 are etched into the bronze that surrounds the pools.

It’s free to visit the poignant memorial any day of the week, from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM, except on September 11 when entry is only possible for the public from 3:00 PM. 

Top tip: If you’d like to also visit the 9/11 Museum adjacent to the memorial, entry is free on late Monday afternoons — free tickets are available on a first-come, first-served basis each Monday morning for the same day. Otherwise, reserve a timed-entry ticket in advance.

Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge

Sunset on the Brooklyn Bridge, New York City
Sunset on the Brooklyn Bridge, New York City

Price: Free

After taking 13 years to complete, the Brooklyn Bridge opened in 1883. Then and now, it’s an architectural marvel that shouldn’t be missed. 

Best of all, it’s free to stroll across its pedestrian promenade. In doing so, you’ll have a vantage point looking out over the East River, back onto lower Manhattan, and into Brooklyn. 

Once in Brooklyn, you might like to rent a bike or get access to a self-guided walking tour you can listen to on your phone as you walk.

See the Statue of Liberty

Lady Liberty - helicopter view, NYC
Lady Liberty - helicopter view, NYC

Price: starting Free

If you’d like to get an up-close glimpse of Lady Liberty, ride the free Staten Island Ferry from the Whitehall Terminal to the St George Ferry Terminal on Staten Island, before hopping back on the ferry returning to Manhattan. 

Taking a ferry

From the ferry, you’ll get fantastic views of the Statue of Liberty from the water without spending a penny. 

For a closer look, you can also buy a ferry ticket that will take you directly to Liberty and Ellis Islands. Once there, you can freely explore and visit the monuments and museums up close. 

Keep in mind that pedestal access to the Statue of Liberty requires advanced booking directly with Statue City Cruises, and tickets are extremely limited so book well in advance.

Walk the High Line

High Line during autumn on a sunny day, NYC
High Line during autumn on a sunny day, NYC

Price: Free

This urban park was built on a reenergized section of elevated rail tracks that used to run through Manhattan from the 1930s up until the 1980s. 

After years of abandonment and at risk of being demolished, the tracks were saved and converted into a linear park above the city streets that connects Hudson Yards at the north end to Gansevoort Street in the West Village at the park’s southern end.

What to look for

As you wander the High Line, you’ll stroll past native plants growing between the old tracks, art exhibitions, food carts, and scenic places to sit and look out over Manhattan. 

Top tip: Along the way, you can exit and enter at various points should you want to stop at places like Chelsea Market — the 130-year-old market in the former biscuit factory where the Oreo Cookie was invented — to grab some delicious bites. 

Or explore the trendy Meatpacking District at ground level, before returning to the High Line to continue your walk.

Explore NYC’s colonial past

New York Stock Exchange, NYC
New York Stock Exchange, NYC

Price: Free

Federal Hall sits just across from the New York Stock Exchange with a large statue of George Washington looking out towards Wall Street. This spot commemorates the place where he, the first President of the United States, took the oath of office on his inauguration day. 

It’s also where the first congress met, as well as where colonists met to defy King George III and declare that British taxation without American representation wasn’t fair.

The original Federal Hall dates back to 1703, unfortunately though, in 1812 the original structure was demolished. 

The current Federal Hall was built in 1842, although its original structure dates back over 300 years, and contains historical artifacts and colonial period exhibitions. It’s free to visit.

Visit Trinity Churchyard

The Hamilton monument at the Trinity Churchyard, NYC
The Hamilton monument at the Trinity Churchyard, NYC

Price: Free

The first Trinity Church cemetery, Trinity Churchyard, located in downtown Manhattan at 74 Trinity Place near Wall Street. 

The cemetery dates back to the 1600s and is the resting place of many colonial period figures. 

Those include Founding Father Alexander Hamilton and his wife Elizabeth Schuyler, as well as well-known delegates of the Continental Congress, a Continental Army General, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and even the famed Revolutionary War spy, Hercules Mulligan.

Discover Grand Central Station

The Grand Central Information point, NYC
The Grand Central Information point, NYC

Price: Free

This historic landmark in the heart of midtown opened in the early 1900s and is still a major transportation hub with trains and subways carrying commuters and visitors throughout NYC and to the suburbs just beyond. 

Why it is special

The Beaux-Arts style of the building includes its famous main concourse with its ceiling of constellations. There are also shops, restaurants, and a gourmet market inside, as well as quirky spots like the whispering gallery just near the Oyster Bar. 

Thanks to an acoustic phenomenon, you can whisper into the wall and a person standing diagonally opposite can hear every word, even over the cacophony of commuters.

If you’d like to learn more about Grand Central, you can download a self-guided audio tour to your smartphone for only a few dollars.

Explore Governor’s Island

Governor's island - birdview
Governor's island - birdview

Price: 3$

Governor’s Island sits just off the southern tip of Manhattan, yet feels worlds away from the hustle and bustle of city life. The island is open every day and a round trip ferry ticket from South Street is just $3.

What the ex-Military Base has to offer

Historically, Governor’s Island served as a base for the US Military and then the Coast Guard, but now Fort Jay and Castle Willimas are managed by the National Parks Service and are open to the public to visit. 

In addition, the island has parks, bike paths, and hosts numerous cultural events and exhibitions throughout the year. Not to mention, the 360-degree views looking back at Manhattan, New York Harbor, and the Statue of Liberty are fantastic.

Admire NYC’s street art

One of the street arts in NYC
One of the street arts in NYC

Price: Free

New York’s museums aren’t the only place to see great art. Throughout the 5 boroughs of the city, there are a lot of public art exhibitions and painted murals to admire.

One of the most famous spots for street art is in Bushwick, Brooklyn. A street art collective used painted murals as a way to clean up their neighborhood. 

What’s happened since, though, is an ever-changing rotation of murals on the neighborhood’s apartment buildings and industrial spaces. 

Where to see the best street art

You could take the L Train to DeKalb Avenue in Brooklyn and wander the neighborhood to see the concentration of painted murals. Or you could join a budget-friendly street art tour to make sure you don’t miss any of the neighborhood’s street art gems.

Bottom line

As you can see from this list, there are a lot of amazing cheap things to do in NYC.

You can easily explore so much of what New York has to offer without breaking the bank and take yourself off the beaten path a bit to craft a trip to New York that’s all your own.

The only question that remains is when will I see you here in New York?

For visual stories related to this article, take a look at:

15 free things to do in New York City

Jackie from Globetrotting Teacher

Hi, I’m Jackie, the Globetrotting Teacher. I am a local New Yorker and lived in NYC for more than 20 years. Travel has been life-changing for me whether I’m traveling solo or with my favorite travel partner, Peter my husband! Learn more about my travels and how I use miles and points to travel around the globe.

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