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How to holiday in New York on a budget

If you’re looking for a cheap holiday to New York, there are loads of ways to make this expensive city a bit more affordable, from seeking out discounted Broadway tickets to finding out when museums are free to enter. Here are some top money saving tips for things to see and do in New York.

How to get cheap flights to New York

The low-cost airline Norwegian offers cheap flights to New York from Dublin that start from around €229. Flying indirect can also save a few tens of euros – WOW Air offers flights via Reykjavik in Iceland, for example – but generally flying direct is cheapest if you book far enough in advance. Our report on the Best Time to Book reveals that buying tickets 14 weeks in advance is generally the ideal time to purchase, and March is the cheapest month to fly. To root out the very best bargains, try selecting ‘Cheapest Month’ when searching on Skyscanner if you can be flexible about when you travel.

The best budget accommodation in New York

New York has a plethora of funky boutique hotels that won’t break the bank. The Pod Hotels work on the philosophy of focusing on the essentials to minimize the price – don’t expect huge rooms, but you’ll find them clean and comfortable, and amazingly cheap considering their location. Pod 39 is a ten-minute walk from the Chrysler Building, and Pod 51 is in Midtown East, not far from the Museum of Modern Art. If you’re looking for something a bit more chic, the Life Hotel just off 5th Avenue is a good-value boutique hotel nestled in the old headquarters of Life magazine. And The Jane has a fantastic early-twentieth-century look – all dark wood, overstuffed sofas and patterned wallpaper – which is fitting seeing as this is where the survivors of the Titanic disaster stayed in 1912. The rooms are small, but so is the price. Airbnb and other house-sharing websites are well worth a look if you want bargain accommodation in New York, but bear in mind that the city has passed strict laws on such sites: the rules include one stating that the owner must be present in a property if it is rented out for less than 30 days.

Free things to do in New York

Central Park is a huge, nearly three and a half kilometre squared open space in the centre of the Big Apple, and its packed with things to see and do for absolutely nothing. The Ramble is a twisting network of trails through native and exotic trees, and there are all sorts of grand old pavilions and bridges dotted across the park – there’s even a castle. Grand Central Terminal, meanwhile, is a stunning building that dates from 1871. After admiring the gold-leaf embossed ceiling, head down to the Whispering Gallery for some fun – the weird acoustics mean that if you and your friend stand at opposite corners and talk into the wall, it sounds as if you’re standing next to each other. Finally, the High Line is a fantastic, free recent addition to New York’s attractions. This 2.3-kilometre disused elevated rail freight line was converted into a park in 2009 – so now visitors can wander through trees and grass suspended 9 metres above the streets of the trendy Meatpacking District.

See top tourist sites for less

There are dozens of museums, galleries and gardens in New York that are either free or operate ‘pay-as-you-wish’ policies – and others are free at certain times. The 9/11 Memorial Museum is free between 5 and 8pm on Tuesdays, and its free to enter the grounds of the New York Botanical Garden all day on Wednesdays. For a full list of free days at New York attractions, see the NYC-ARTS website. If you’re planning to catch a show on Broadway, make sure you don’t hand over the full price – there are always discounted tickets on offer. The TKTS Booth in Duffy Square often has tickets on sale at half their face value, but be prepared to join a long queue. The TodayTix app is also a good way to find bargain last-minute tickets, and visiting the theatre’s box office in person when it opens in the morning means you’ll avoid paying reselling fees and you might be able to nab some cheap returns or ‘rush tickets’.

The cheapest views of the Manhattan skyline

Many tourists make a beeline for the Empire State Building to get a panoramic view of New York – but it’s not exactly cheap at $37, and the viewing deck is the one place you can’t see the most iconic building of the Manhattan skyline, the Empire State Building itself. One free alternative is taking a stroll across the famous Brooklyn Bridge. As long as you can tune out the traffic noise and remember to stay out of the busy cycle lines, the bridge provides a high, uninterrupted view of Manhattan’s skyscrapers – and it’s a historical site in itself, currently approaching its 150th birthday. The free Staten Island Ferry also provides amazing views of Manhattan island, as well as sailing past the Statue of Liberty – it runs 24/7 and ferries leave every 30 minutes or so.

Free film locations in New York

Walking around New York is like being transported to a film set – around every corner you’ll spot a location from the silver screen. The famous Library Ghost scene from Ghostbusters is set in the New York Public Library – you can see the building’s famous stone lions as Venkman and co. enter. The library’s collection is the fourth largest in the world, and there are free tours of the building on a first come, first served basis at 11am and 2pm, Monday to Saturday. If you want to recreate the opening scene of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the Tiffany and Co. jewellery store is located on 5th Avenue, and it’s free to window shop, as Audrey Hepburn does in the movie – although rather more expensive to buy. And Katz’s Delicatessen is the filming location for that scene in When Harry Met Sally (you know the one). You’ll need to order something if you go inside, but luckily their famous pastrami on rye is both inexpensive and delicious (and comes in huge portions). 

Top money-saving tips

The New York Subway is the budget traveller’s best friend. A 7-day Unlimited Metro Card is just $32, and the subway will take you anywhere in the city, 24/7. New York also has some amazing street food options that are incredibly cheap considering how good they are. The Halal Guys stall in Midtown West is justifiably famous for its sumptuous gyros, while the Korilla BBQ truck in Downtown offers delicious Korean food. Happy hours are also very much a thing in New York’s bars, offering steeply discounted drinks if you arrive at the right time – Eater New York has a handy list of some of the best deals. And the city offers loads of free walking tours where you simply pay what you want – Free Tours By Foot is just one of the operators that offers the option of paying nothing at all.

Now, with all that money you’ve saved on accommodation, food and travel, perhaps you could treat yourself to a little shopping spree? Check out our guide to the best shops that New York has to offer.

Published July 2018. Any prices are lowest estimated prices only at the time of publication and are subject to change and/or availability.