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The Big Apple on a little budget

Featured Image
The Statue of Liberty in front of the city of New York.

I just got back from vacation, and my trip included an overnight in New York City.

So many things to do! So many sights to see! So many places to eat!

So little money to spend!

Yes, New York can be an expensive place to visit. My trip was just a quick overnight, so my opportunities for going overboard were constrained by the relatively few hours I was there. That certainly helped keep my expenses reasonable.

Even so, there are a few things I learned that can help you plan an outing to the Big Apple without it taking a major bite out of your wallet. And most of these rules will apply to other destination cities as well.

Do free stuff

I’m sort of a rails-to-trails buff, so when I read about The High Line -- the walking trail built on an abandoned elevated rail line in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood -- it became high on my list of priorities. The bonus? The High Line is free. You can buy a souvenir or make a donation to support the park, but the choice is yours. The 1.6 mile walk provides great views of Lower Manhattan, the Hudson River, and much more. And the thoughtfully-designed gardens of trees, grasses, and perennials make it a beautiful and refreshing alternative to the concrete jungle.

Take the subway

New York is known for its taxicabs, and they have now been joined by drivers from Uber and Lyft. So sure, you can take a cab, but it’s not the cheapest way to go. For the real NYC experience, and to save some cash, go underground. Get a free subway map to make sense of how the system is organized, and enjoy a low cost way to get from point A to B.


An even better way to get around is by foot. You can walk block after block of the city for views of skyscrapers, neighborhoods, shops, galleries and restaurants. Your own two feet are the cheapest form of transportation you’ll ever need.

Combine activities that are close together

New York is a big place and it’s simply not possible to do everything on one visit. Decide ahead of time what you plan to see and what you can save for next time. On my recent visit, I focused on lower Manhattan, visiting the High Line, the 911 Memorial and Museum, and Soho and Tribeca. Next time, I may stay in Midtown and include a visit to Times Square and Broadway, or get out of Manhattan altogether and focus my stay on sites in Brooklyn. By choosing activities that are located near each other, you can spend less time traveling between sights and more time enjoying your stay.

Research lodging choices                                                                     

If you’ll be staying in a hotel, take some time to research your options for a mix of price, quality, and location that fits your budget. Chances are, you’ll pay more for a hotel than you’re used to elsewhere, but there are plenty of clean, functional hotel choices that won’t set you back too far.

Want to know more?

Lonely Planet has a list of free or low-cost things to do in NYC.