New York on a Budget: an Insider’s Guide to Things To Do in NYC

Are you looking for things to do in NYC but are you visiting New York on a budget and love to do more than just the standard touristy things? Then this guide, created by a New Yorker, is for you!

New York City is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. And because of that a lot has been already said and written about this city by locals and visitors alike.

You will find numerous articles on things to do, what and where to eat, where to stay, and much more. So what can I possibly tell you that you haven’t heard before, and that will actually add some value to what you already know?

Well, there are a few things.

I am not going to waste your time with the popular and obvious “budget” things like – visit Central Park, or stay in an Airbnb  – you already know that. What I am going to share with you here are some of the lesser known, more unique and fun things to do in New York City on a budget.New York on a Budget: an Insider's Guide to Things To Do in NYC

So, let’s dive in!

10 Things to Do in NYC on a Budget

1. Watch or Participate in a Parade

New York on a budget: parades in New York City
New York on a budget – watch a parade

New York is a Queen when it comes to parades. In fact, there’s at least one parade for every month of the year, except December.

There’s the Halloween Parade (October), Puerto Rican Day Parade (June), India Day Parade (August), a fun Cinco de Mayo Parade (May), St. Patrick’s Day Parade (March), and many-many more.

You can stand by and watch the procession of any parade, or you can even… participate in one! All you need is a fun costume, and that is not always the case.

Check out the individual website of the parade that you would like to participate in – for the detailed instructions on how you can join it (easily). You can find a complete list of every parade (and their respective websites), divided by month in this NYC Guide.

2. See a Free Film

In addition to the parades, there’s a ton of film festivals taking place almost every month of the year and this is a great way to enjoy New York on a budget!

There’s a Korean Film Festival, Jewish Film Festival, African Film Festival, Asian Film Festival, Polish Film Festival, Brooklyn Film Festival and even a Horror Film Festival, among many others.

The entrance tickets range anywhere from $10-$100, depending on the festival and on the event itself (i.e. opening nights are more expensive than regular sessions).

But, that’s not all. In the Summertime, there are a lot of movie screenings that are absolutely free. One of the popular ones is taking place on top of The Intrepid Museum Boat, and another one – in the Bryant Park. Check out the guide above for a complete list of festivals and free screenings.

3. Stroll Through the High Line Park

Things to do in NYC: High Line Park
things to do in NYC – a visit to High Line Park

High Line is a much lesser known “park” since it was opened fairly recently and is not even mentioned in the older guidebooks.

Once an abandoned, elevated railway that was passing through buildings starting from Midtown, all the way to the Lower West Side – it was recently converted into a gorgeous recreation area.

The entrance is free and you can enter or exit it at any point along its path. For anyone visiting New York on a budget, this would be one of my main insider tips!

For more information as well as directions and opening hours go to thehighline.org

4. Go on a Free NYC Walking Tour, with a Local

Skip the double decker bus – New York is a very walkable city!

And one of the best ways to see New York on a budget is by joining a free walking tour. There are multiple tours taking place every day of the week, divided by areas and your local interests (such as biking or food).

For more information: freetoursbyfoot.com

5. See a Broadway Show for a Fraction of the Regular Ticket Price

insiders guide to NYC: see a broadway show
insider’s guide to NYC – see a broadway show

Interested in seeing a Broadway show but don’t want to spend half of your budget on those overpriced tickets?

Here’s what you can do. Go to the box office early on the day of your selected performance, and ask for the unsold tickets. If you’re lucky and there are any, they can be up to 80% off. It all depends on how popular the show is, but all of them are worth a try, anyway.

For more information and tricks, check out this official guide: playbill.com

P.S. And yes, you can even get a seat in the front row, we are not even talking of those cheap “all the way in the back” spots.

Bonus: wait at the back door at the end of the show and you will have a chance to meet the lead actor or actress, take a picture with them and/or get their autograph. (And that’s how I met Al Pacino in person, and got his personal autograph, too – score!)

6. Have a Laugh – Go to a Comedy Show!

Another fun way to spend time in New York on a budget is to attend a free Comedy Show!

There are a ton of different shows happening almost every night in the city and most have free admissions. So what’s the catch? Well, the only requirement they normally have is for you to buy one (max two) drinks (you can always buy more, of course). But since the majority of the shows run in the evening, you would probably order one anyway.

Here’s a complete calendar list with the most current shows: nycgo.com

7. See NYC from a Unique Perspective – on a Roosevelt Island Tram

new york insider tips: take the aerial tramway
picture by: Jim Henderson – New York insider tips

You have probably heard of the free ride on the Staten Island Ferry (from where you can get amazing views of the Statue of Liberty). But did you also hear about the Roosevelt Island Tram?

Well, now you have, and it’s one of my favorite tips for seeing New York on a budget.

This awesome tramway goes all the way up above the East River, “landing” on the narrow Roosevelt island, located between Manhattan and Queens. You can access it with a regular metro card fee ($2.75 in 2019) and since you don’t have to get off, you don’t even have to pay twice. Just do a complete round-tour, enjoying the stunning views of NYC. Voila!

For more information and hours of operation: rioc.ny.gov

8. Save on Food – Order ‘Lunch Special’

Among some of our most popular restaurants in New York are the Japanese sushi bars.

So if you’re a fan of raw fish (well if not, relax – they have chicken, beef and cooked salmon as well), visit one during the lunch hours (anytime between 12:00pm-3:30pm) and look for the “Lunch Special” deals.

You will find great options for almost 50% off. And as to drinks – ask for tap water. It’s clean, healthy, and… free!

9. Shop at the Discount Stores!

Things to do in NYC on a budget: New York City shopping tips
Shopping in NYC – New York on a budget

New York is a huge city, with a very large choice of department stores. There’s Macy’s and Bloomingdales, Lord and Taylor, Guess, Juicy Couture, GAP and Banana Republic, and many more.

Once in a while – they all have “special sales” when they sell their merchandise at great discounts. Unfortunately, if you don’t live in New York – you don’t really have time to wait for that to happen.

But, there are some great alternatives, such as:

Century 21 – a nice selection of designer brands sold at huge discounts. Clothes, shoes, bags, accessories and even home decorations – they have it all.

DSW – another great selection of designer brands with large discounts, only for shoes.

Joe Fresh and Old Navy – good quality clothing lines sold at the everyday low prices.

Obviously, this list is in no way complete or extensive, and it would take another article to mention all of the stores. These four are just some of our major chains where you will find pretty much… everything.

10. Get out of the City – Visit Washington DC for $20

Or, Atlantic City for $25. Or Boston, for $30.

Prices are approximate – the more in advance you purchase your tickets – the less you will pay. Visit Wanderu to search for possible itineraries. This website will save you some time since it combines different prices from all the major vendors.

Final Tips for Visiting New York on a Budget

visiting New York on a budget

If you are landing at Newark airport, check out this guide about traveling to Manhattan from Newark. Jet lagged? Read this article about things to do with jet lag in New York.

Especially if your time in New York is limited, consider hopping on a BigBus to see as much of the city as you can.

And lastly, to save on countless attractions such as the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building, get a City Pass which offers great discounts.

Enjoy your trip and all the things to do in NYC on a budget!

Are you thinking about traveling to the USA? Then also check out Spend Life Traveling’s other articles about the USA. And if you are looking for a short trip or weekend getaway from New York City then I highly recommend visiting Boston.

Also Read: How to Find the Cheapest Flights

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Things to do on a budget in New York City - An insider's guide to what to see & do in NYC

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Daria Silter

Author: Daria Silter
Daria Silter was born in Ukraine and raised in the U.S. She’s been to over 50 countries, calling New York her home. Due to her love of travel, she founded a new platform called Global Storybook – a place where everyone is invited to share their local (and travel) stories.

15 thoughts on “New York on a Budget: an Insider’s Guide to Things To Do in NYC”

  1. I live in Montreal which isn’t too far from New York but I haven’t been in over 25 years (*bows head in shame*)! I’m due to go back and take in some of these activities especially a discounted Broadway show!

    Reply
  2. I didn’t realize there were free films! I wish I had swung by for one when I last went to NYC. Hopefully I get my visit back in in 017 so I can grab one then 🙂

    Reply
  3. Hey I am going to New York for Christmas and found your tips rather helpful! Especially a tip about stand up comedy. I think I’ll go and see something 🙂

    Reply
  4. These are some great suggestions! I absolutely love the High Line. I normally grab some food from Chelsea Market then hang out on the tracks. NYC doesn’t have t break the bank!

    Reply
  5. I should’ve known about these things before visiting New York two years ago! I didn’t know you could participate in a parade? That’s so much fun! And I’d love to get cheaper tickets to a show on Broadway. Well, there’s always a next time!

    Reply
  6. I live in NYC and I can say this post is great! I have actually NEVER thought of doing a walking tour…should add that! When it comes to food, HALAL guys sooo worth it!

    Reply
  7. Will use some of these tips next time I visit NYC. I have never heard about Century21 other than the real estate company. My best tip for doing something free is to walk over the Brooklyn Bridge. It’s lots of fun.

    Reply
  8. I have been to New York three years ago and definitely loved the city! I was able to visit High Line Park at night. It’s true about the food – huge servings and great quality! Would definitely go back!

    Reply
  9. I wish I had seen this post before I went to NYC! I love the idea of going on a walking tour with a local… that sounds like it would offer a much more authentic perspective. Also, great tips on getting cheaper broadway tickets rather tahn paying full price, and that’s awesome you got to meet Al Pacino :O

    Reply
  10. I’d love to watch a parade (especially the India day Parade) and go on a walking tour and a stroll in New York. Hopefully someday soon!

    Reply

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