Cheap City, USA is a CheapTickets blog series where we show you that any city can be enjoyed on a budget if you know where to look. In this breakdown of Cheap City, USA, we take a look at New York City.
Statue of Liberty
She’s the icon for New York City, and an entire nation. Avoid the $18 ferry tours to the Statue of Liberty by hopping aboard the Staten Island Ferry from lower Manhattan’s Battery Park. The free, round-the-clock ferry ride whisks passengers across New York Harbor and provides sweeping views of the lower Manhattan skyline, the Brooklyn Bridge, Ellis Island – and of course, Lady Liberty. The ride is 30 minutes each way.
The “Crossroads of the World” is a must for any first-time visitor to New York City, with its sensory overload of electronic billboards, street performers and awestruck tourists. And it’s free! More than 39 million people visit Times Square each year, from all over the world, making it a fabulous spot to people watch – especially at night, when lights glow bright. Grab a seat at the pedestrian plaza, where public chairs and tables are available, and gawk to your heart’s content. Bonus: Times Square offers free Wi-Fi, which means that you can post those selfies to social media for free, too.
The 9/11 Memorial is a solemn tribute to nearly 3,000 people who perished during the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Free to visit, the Memorial features the largest manmade waterfalls in North America, flowing into twin reflecting pools that reside where the Twin Towers once stood. Note: Admission to the adjacent 9/11 Memorial Museum requires an advanced ticket purchase.
While not necessarily touted as an “attraction” in guidebooks, there is something to be said about the colorful experience for out-of-towners with New York’s easy-to-navigate train system. (Just avoid morning and evening rush hours.) Plus, it’s cheap at $2.50 per ride. Tip: The Old City Hall Station, which closed in the 1940s, is visible when the downtown No. 6 train turns around after its last stop at Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall. So stay on the train for a peek into the past!
Step off the concrete sidewalks and play within one of New York’s great parks. Nearly 14 percent of the city is covered in green space, with a rotating collection of free and low-cost events taking place throughout.
Central Park: In the middle of New York’s urban jungle resides an 843-acre park boasting paths that wind past peaceful natural settings and attractions such as the Belvedere Castle, John Lennon Memorial at Strawberry Fields and the Central Park Zoo. For a lush, woodland experience, head to the Ramble, located on the west side of the park. For a deeper dive into the history and legend attached to this iconic setting, join one of the free guided tours offered by the Central Park Conservancy.
The High Line: This park dangles 30 feet in the air, built atop an abandoned, elevated railroad track on Manhattan’s West Side. Offering great Hudson River views – as well as pedestrians navigating the streets below – it connects the Meatpacking District with Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen. The park features regular public-art installations and events.
Simply strolling New York City streets is an experience unto itself – just don’t forget to look up! The energetic buzz of taxis and people from around the world mingle below some of the world’s most spectacular skyscrapers. Favorite stops include Rockefeller Center and the Chrysler Building (step inside for free to check out the ceiling mural art).
While getting to the top of icons such as the Empire State Building and Top of the Rock come with a hefty admission fees and lines, avoid those costs by crossing the Brooklyn Bridge via the pedestrian pathway for sweeping skyline views from Brooklyn Bridge Park.
Sidestep museum admission costs across the Big Apple by visiting free museums or timing a visit with days that are free or pay-as-you-wish. Most museums extend them. For a complete list, click here. A few favorites are below.
Museum at FIT: Can’t make NYC Fashion Week? Head to the only museum in New York City solely dedicated to the solely to the art of fashion. It’s free.
Museum of Modern Art: The MoMA is one of the top art museums in the world, housing masterpieces by the likes of Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, Marc Chagall, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Frida Kahlo and Salvador Dali. Each Friday from 4-8 p.m., admission is free – but do expect crowds.
American Museum of National History: Those who are balzy enough to say “no” to the “suggested” general admission of $22 needn’t worry about paying. For the rest of us, the museum is free the last hour of each day (4:45-5:45 p.m.).
Brooklyn Museum: Ancient Egyptian displays are among the highlights at New York’s second-largest art museum. It’s free the first Saturday of each month.
Chelsea Galleries: The cluster of galleries between 10th and 11th Avenues in the Chelsea neighborhood provides a free opportunity to scope out amazing art at no cost – and with no sales pressure.
It doesn’t begin and end with Broadway, people. Although the Great White Way attracts tourists with its bright lights and big names, shows at these 40 theaters clustered around Times Square often come with the steepest price – unless you heed these suggestions below.
TKTS Booths: Save 20 to 50 percent on same-day show tickets by heading to one of the TKTK Booths and checking availability. Arrive early, especially if you’re dead-set on snagging discounted tickets to one of Broadway’s most popular shows.
Rush, Lottery & Standing Room Only: Many individual theaters in Broadway release same-day discounted tickets, $30 to $35, a few hours before scheduled performances. Instructions vary theater to theater (click the link for details). Expect long lines for the most popular shows.
The Julliard School Student Performances: This school is world-renowned for producing some of the best musicians, opera singers and dancers. Catch student performances at venues across the city. Prices range from free to $20.
Off-Broadway Venues: Hundreds of small theaters feature and every-changing offering of performances for as little as $12. Click here for an updated Off-Broadway roundup by the New York Times.
New York City has a major funny bone. It’s where some of the most famous comedians got their start, and it’s where Saturday Night Live is taped. Laughter across the city, and on the cheap, is easy to find.
Upright Citizen’s Brigade: SNL has plucked many a comedian from this stage. Free shows take place most Sundays and Mondays; otherwise, shows are regularly $5 to $10.
Lucky Jack’s: This gem on the Lower East side hosts a free weekly comedy show called “Ghandi, is that you?” every Wednesday at 9 p.m. The show features seven to eight comedians, and surprise guests such as Louis CK and Jim Gaffigan are known to drop by the test out new material.
Cobra Club: Find free Friday night comedy at this quirky bar/yoga studio/coffee shop/event venue located in Brooklyn. Its “Live from Outer Space” comedy show starts at 9 p.m., followed by karaoke until 4 a.m.
The Stand: New York Magazine named it “Best Comedy Club” thanks to top comedic talent such as Judah Friedlander, Dane Cook and Janeane Garofalo regularly gracing its stage. Shows are regularly $5 to $15. Monday’s “Frantic!” show at 10 p.m. is free with an online RSVP.
Television show tapings
With a catchy sign, score some camera time with Matt Lauer, Savannah Guthrie and Al Roker during the live tapings of NBC’s Today show. It tapes at the corner of West 48th Street and Rockefeller Plaza from 7-11 a.m. Just show up – and weather-contingent, bundle up. It’s free.
Other famous television shows that tape in New York, such as The Late Show With David Letterman, Late Night with Seth Meyers, and Live! With Kelly & Michael, extend free tickets to fans. But snagging those seats vary from show to show, with some requiring several weeks of advance notice and planning. Click here to learn more.
New York’s music scene is as diverse as its people, and can be found everywhere – from restaurants and bars to the streets and subway. If music venues are more your thing, here are a few that fly more under the radar than, say, big-ticket shows at Madison Square Garden.
American Legion Post 398: Groove to free jazz while savoring cheap soul food at this Harlem mainstay. Each Sunday, the basement of the American Legion Post gets packed with locals and visitors alike who come to experience this weekly event. It’s been drawing crowds more than 50 years.
Knitting Factory: This Brooklyn venue features indie rock and underground hip-hop shows that range from free (with online RSVP) to $10 or $20.
Cameo: Pay $5 to $15 per show at this live-music venue tucked into the back of a Brooklyn restaurant.
New York has a tour for everything, from the ubiquitous double-decker bus tours that circle Manhattan’s top attractions to the niche walking tours that focus on food, film or fetish. All usually come with a price; below are a few that cost nothing.
Big Apple Greeter: Native New Yorkers play volunteer ambassadors to visitors in this free program (with a no-tipping policy). Request a greeter in advance and specify what you’d like to see or focus on. With more than 300 greeters and 22 languages spoken, there is someone for everyone.
Free Tours by Foot: Licensed tour guides offer tours with no upfront costs – pay what you wish at the end of the tour. Options go beyond walking tours of New York neighborhoods – also included are bus, bike, night and food-themed tours.
Federal Reserve Bank of New York: Reservations are required for this free, guided tour that includes a visit to the Gold Vault located five stories below street level. (A week’s advance notice is typically sufficient.) If money is an obsession, or you’re a big fan of “Die Hard 3: With a Vengeance,” then take this Financial District tour.
New York Public Library: Just sitting in the majestic main reading is like something out of “Harry Potter.” Free docent-guided tours are available for those interested in the history and legends attached to this architectural showstopper that’s been featured in films such as “Sex and the City,” “Spider-Man” and “Ghostbusters.”
City Brewery Tours: Both Chelsea Brewing Company and Brooklyn Brewery Tours offer free tours of their sites – complete with free samples, of course.
NYC Bike Share: Pedal across Manhattan and Brooklyn (carefully, of course) with bikes from Citi Bike. Stations are located throughout the two boroughs, and $10 will buy you 24-hour access to bikes. The only caveat is being sure to dock your bike every 30 minutes at a station to avoid surcharges.
Apps for the Big Apple: It’s you’re a DIY sort of person, download a free interactive walking or audio tour app to your smartphone and explore neighborhoods and major attractions at your own pace.