When many people think of New York City, they think of Times Square, fancy restaurants, celebrities, lavish nightclubs and bottle service and high-end shopping. That said, NYC is notoriously expensive and many travelers feel the need to scrimp and save so they can afford to do anything and everything while they’re here.
Of course it’s not a bad idea to save up so that you can afford to do these things on your vacation, but you don’t have to spend extravagantly on everything the entire time you’re here, because there are plenty of things to do in New York City that don’t cost more than $20. Save up for your vacation, but don’t cut everything out of your life in the weeks prior to your trip to the Big Apple, because there are at least 20 things you can do while you’re here with an Andrew Jackson - and some of them will even give you a few George Washington’s back to use later!
- Walk the Brooklyn Bridge - it’s free. If you’re not a walker, you could also rent a bike and head over this NYC icon. Most bikes in this area rent for about $16 an hour, but look for a coupon in local tourist guides and packets and you can generally knock that price down to keep your bike for longer. Use your new ride to get back into town and save that cab money for a beer later - after all that biking, you probably earned at least one cold brew.
The Brooklyn Bridge
- Hit up a food truck for lunch.Some of the local favorites include Wafels & Dinges, Uncle Gussy’s, Korilla BBQ and Calexico. You can get a lot of food for cheap, and then eat it on the go so you don’t have to worry about getting dirty looks while you gorge it all by yourself.
- Head to MoMA. If you’re a student, show your student ID and it’s only $14. If you’re visiting a member of the museum, go with them because you’ll get in for $5 and they get in for free. Or you can go for their Target Free Friday Nights (4-8pm every Friday) and you get in for the best price of them all - free!
- Boat around in Central Park. Between the months of April and November, you see lovebirds out and about enjoying an afternoon on the lake. Rent a boat from the Loeb Boathouse for $12, and it’s $2.50 for any additional 15 minutes after that with a $20 cash deposit. Bring your sweetie (or sweeties - the boats can hold up to 4 people) and split the cost for a fun and oh-so-romantic afternoon.
- Get drinks at Rudy’s Bar and Grill. This little gem is one of NYC’s most famous dive bars, and they’ve got an outdoor patio, daily specials, plenty of bathrooms (are you sold yet ladies?) and free hot dogs! If you weren’t sold with the bathrooms, no matter what gender, that’s a major selling point! Pitchers run around $7, and their stiff drinks and great specials (like the classic $5 beer and shot that everyone enjoys on vacation) let the good times roll all night long.
- Head to Times Square or Chinatown for souvenirs. In Chinatown, bargain your must-have purchases down to fit your budget and get even more to take home with you. In Times Square, there are scores of huge souvenir shops led by Grand Slam New York (located in the heart of Times Square at 1557 Broadway between 46th & 47th St.) where you can buy everything from I Love NY tee shirts, Yankee gear (search through the largest selection of NY Yankee merchandise in the world), FDNY and NYPD gear, cups, tees, hats, memorabilia, a huge selection of hard to come by Converse All-Stars, TV and movie licensed souvenirs and apparel including Hello Kitty, Betty Boop, super heroes and more.
- Grab a 6-pack and a friend and head to one of NYC’s BYOB restaurants. Lomzynianka is Polish and Zaytoons is a Middle Eastern restaurant in Brooklyn. Milon is an Indian restaurant in East Village. Many of the entrees at all of these restaurants run around $5 - $8 each, so you might even be able to afford seconds depending on your choice of booze.
- Try some local beer. Head to a beer store like Good Beer and get a whole growler of local NY beer, most start around $11. If you want to sit down for some cheap local craft beers and a lot of good entertainment head to Pony Bar - they’re always packed and it’s a great atmosphere for travelers, but a good mix of locals.
- Check out one of the sample sales. Many top designers put their merchandise on sale when the season ends and it’s time for them to restock with more good stuff. They’ll put everything they have left on sale up to 80% off, so you can probably find some great accessories and more to stock your wardrobe with. And if not, looking is always fun, and free! If you have an interest in upscale leather goods, check out Jutta Neumann New York in Manhattan's East Village (355 East 4th Street) where all products are made on-site!
- Enjoy some ice cream on a hot summer day. The Big Gay Ice Cream Truck is a fan favorite, scooping up quirky flavors like the Bea Arthur, which is vanilla ice cream, dulce de leche and crushed nilla wafers, and American Globs, which is vanilla ice cream, sea salt, pretzels and chocolate chips. There something to satisfy everyone’s sweet tooth here!
Central Park Picnics
- Pack a Central Park picnic. If the cosmopolitan aspect of the city is starting to get a bit overwhelming, stuff your picnic basket with some tasty goodies from the grocery store or one of the fantastic New York City open-air markets, and enjoy a relaxing picnic in Central Park. Soak up some sun as you munch on your lunch, bring a Frisbee or ball to kick around, and partake in some people-watching - which is thankfully always free.
- Pay as you wish at The Met. The Met is one of the best museums in the world, with collections ranging from ancient Egyptian artifacts to 19th-century still lifes to everything in between. Luckily enough for your wallet, the Met has a pay as you wish policy, so feel free to donate whatever you can afford on the day.
- Jet Ski on New York City's waterways, or, kayak in the Hudson. Jet Ski with Jetty Jumpers or Rockaway's Jet Ski and view NYC as few do. For kayaks, the Downtown Boathouse in the West Village at Pier 40 is comprised of volunteers who provide free kayaking to amateurs and seasoned pros alike. Strap on a life vest and paddle around the river for 20 minutes to make a memory you won’t soon forget.
- Browse through Chelsea Market. This indoor market has an artsy atmosphere, and is well-worth strolling through on an afternoon. Purchase a few cheap souvenirs at one of the kitschy shops, or get some dessert at Eleni’s Cookies or Fat Witch Brownies; both treats are to die for.
- Tour the NYC Public Library. Retreat into the past by exploring this hidden gem. The architecture alone is worth further examination, and will make visitors feel whisked away to the past with its turn of the century features; there is usually an exhibition centered around books or maps as well, which will appeal to true bookworms out there.
- Sunbathe in Washington Square Park. Once the weather warms up, spend an afternoon dipping your feet into the famous fountain, grab a hot dog at one of the ubiquitous food carts and listen to some live music.
The Frick Collection
- Admire masterpieces at the Frick Collection. This museum was the former Fifth Avenue house and personal collection of Industrial Tycoon Henry Clay Frick, who amassed his impressive collection of Rembrandts, Goyas and Vermeers until his death in 1919. A ticket will cost $18 for adults, and is $10 for students with ID, but the beautiful paintings and picturesque setting justify the price of admission. And you still have $2 left adults!
- Laugh at an Upright Citizens Brigade Show. Most of the performances put on by this hilarious improv group will only set you back a mere $5, and the noteworthy laugh to dollar ratio will make an evening at the Chelsea or West Village location a comical and fun one.
- Grab a slice at Joe’s. This pizza joint in the West Village has a cult following, and is frequented by everyone from busy New Yorkers to A list celebrities and some tourists. The value is hard to beat at just $2.75 a slice, and what is more quintessential than a NYC pizza slice?
- See a Comedy Show. Comedy comes cheap in New York City. You may have to pay a little extra to see the big names when they roll through town, but tons of hilarious improv actors perform every night. One of our favorite comedy shows happens comes in at $5-$10 depending on the show, at Magnet Comedy Theatre
Of course the list can go on and on, as there are countless things to do in New York City that cost little to nothing, many of which are popular tourist destinations that make the the top of everyone’s bucket list!