Local Secrets For Exploring NYC On The Super Cheap

Looking for cheap things to do in NYC?

Take it from a local (ah hem, me!), they do exist.

New York City has a reputation for being expensive, but let me shift your mindset by starting with a sample snapshot of my week:

  • My boyfriend and I enjoy a $30 dinner including two steak meals and a bottle of red wine. That’s $30 total, not each.
  • My friends and I decide to try something new: a two-hour salsa and bachata class. Afterward, we head nearby for an hour of yoga. Total cost of our active adventures: $0.
  • I decide to pamper myself with a face mapping consultation followed by a firming contour masque — all for just $10!

Okay, ready to learn the secret to finding cheap and fun things to do in NYC?

Read on, because many of the following budget-friendly New York discoveries you won’t find in your guidebook.

Looking for a New York City tour guide?

Don’t miss a Private Photo Journey with my company, NYC Photo Journeys. Part tour, part photoshoot, you’ll hang out with moi while leaving with professional photos of your group to keep!

Bonus: Get 10% off with code “JESSIELOVESME”. Because I do! 😍

cheap nyc activities

A snapshot of happy NYC Photo Journeys guests

How To Find Cheap And Free Things To Do In NYC

1. Discover Inexpensive NYC Activities Through Newsletters

There are tons of free parties and events in New York — that many times also include free food and drinks — going on at any given moment.

You just need to know where to find them.

Luckily, there are a slew of email newsletters you can subscribe to to stay in the loop. Some of my favorites include:

    • The Skint. They always know of the best cheap and free things to do in NYC, from comedy shows to music festivals and beyond.
    • Nonsense NYC. If you’re looking to explore secret things to do in NYC, this newsletter tells you how to discover the quirky, uncovered and often weird side of the city.
    • The PrintUp List. Want to learn about NYC nightlife — especially when there’s complimentary booze and swag involved? This is your list!
    • Nifty NYC. Like The Skint, they’re an incredible resource for free, cheap and fun things to do in NYC. Bonus: They send out an issue every day!
    • Brooklyn Brainery. Cheap NYC activities in the form of fun classes ranging from improv to block printing on tote bags to writing a hilarous sketch.
    • DoNYC. Awesome newsletter listing free and affordable things to do in New York. They actually have entire sections of their website dedicated to Free Events, Today’s Events and Win Tickets.
    • Brokelyn. If you want free and cheap things to do in Brooklyn specifically, you’ll definitely want to subscribe. Whether you want $50 spa treatments, to learn HTML on the cheap or to frolick in an immersive art playground, they’ve got you covered.

2. Book New York Tours At A Discount

As stated above, I own a photo tour company and offer my beautiful community — aka you! — a discount of 10% off private tours.

But, mine aren’t the only NYC tours you can snag at a discount.

I’m fortunate enough to also guide for a tour company called Urban Adventures New York City focused on sustainable, locally-focused experiences. And you get 10% any tour with code UANYC8!

Some of my favorite tours we lead:

Check out these incredible NYC tour options, and don’t forget your 10% discount code with UANYC8!

3. Opt For Inexpensive NYC Excursions

There are also tours in New York City that are very inexpensive, with or without a coupon.

Some unforgettable experiences that are $35 or less include:

These are just a few ideas to help with planning out some cheap things to do in NYC.

4. Visit NYC Museums On Free Nights

Certain museums are always free to visit, such as the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, Goethe House German Cultural Center and Guggenheim Museum Soho.

Others NYC museums are free at certain times, like the Brooklyn Botanic Garden (Saturdays 10am to noon) and the New Museum of Contemporary Art (Thursdays from 6pm to 8pm).

Keep in mind:

Going at free times often means bigger crowds.

There are also museums that are pay-what-you-wish, like the Museum of Natural History and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, or very inexpensive like the City Reliquary ($5).

The latter is quirky as hell, with rotating exhibits on local culture, show and tell events, and permanent artifacts ranging from rotting birthday cakes to old rat bones.

cheap things to do in NYC

City Reliquary via Jessie on a Journey

5. Visit NYC With Your Camera

When it comes to cheap NYC activities, nothing beats exploring local beauty through the lens of your camera.

An activity favorite:

Choose one of the many NYC neighborhoods at random — DSLR in hand — and wander without a plan. I always make awesome organic discoveries along the way.

Some of my favorite hoods to choose from:

  • The Lower East Side
  • The Upper East Side (and Central Park)
  • The Upper West Side (and Central Park)
  • The East Village
  • The Greenwich Village / The West Village
  • Long Island City (Queens)
  • Bushwick (Queens)
  • Downtown Brooklyn
  • City Island (The Bronx)
  • The Greenbelt Trail (Not a neighborhood, but a network of scenic trails on Staten Island)

Now, if you need some help with your camera — or would rather have photos taken of you — then again, I do recommend booking an experience with my company, NYC Photo Journeys.

Our Private Photo Journey is part tour, part photoshoot, so you can be a model for the day in New York. If you’d prefer instruction, this can be easily accommodated upon request.

And as a Jessie on a Journey reader, you snag 10% off with code “JESSIELOVESME”, making this an even more budget-friendly NYC activity.

Here's how to enjoy the best of #NYC for #cheap! #BudgetTravel Click To Tweet
cheap things to do in nyc

Having fun with a guest on a private photo safari in Brooklyn

6. Know Where To Drink In NYC For Cheap

Of course, the best time to go out for drinks is during happy hour, though it helps to also know of a few bars that are cheap to begin with. A few of my favorites:

  • The Library (East Village): This dive bar near Upright Citizen’s Brigade (budget-friendly comedy club) features a punk rock-focused jukebox and dusty books as well as uber cheap drinks in NYC, especially from 4-8pm Monday through Friday when it’s buy-one-get-one-free. You’ll pay ~$6 for two drinks.
  • The Late Late (East Village): They offer a $10 beer and burger special daily. Also their cocktails are phenomenal.
  • Boobie Trap (Bushwick, Brooklyn): This boob-themed bar features board games, dangling roller skates, F*ck Yelp t-shirts for sale, shelves of dolls and other kitsch knick knacks. Food on the menu ranges from $2 to $7, plus there’s free candy. From noon to 8pm it’s happy hour with $4 beer, wines and well drinks.
  • Pearl’s Social & Billy Club (Bushwick, Brooklyn): This chill bar is where jobless Bushwickians come to drink all day for cheap, with $6 beer and shot specials (all the time) and a happy hour from 2-8pm with $2 off drinks (so you’ll pay around $5).
  • At The Wallace (Harlem): This place is tons of fun with arcade games, shuffle board, and giant Jenga and Connect 4, as well as tasty grilled cheeses, waffle fries and hot dogs. All food on the menu is $8 or less, and beer and wine starts at $4!
  • Otto’s Tacos: Cheap tacos (~$3 each) and $2 beers.
  • The Wayland (East Village): Monday through Friday from 4pm-7pm they serve really tasty $7 classic cocktails, $1 oysters and $4 beers.
  • Dutch Kills (Long Island City, Queens): Sunday through Friday from 5pm to 7pm they offer $8 craft cocktails. While that might not seem uber cheap, this bar is affiliated with Milk + Honey staff, so you’re having what should really be a $16 cocktail for $8.

This list is in no way exhaustive.

Head to any neighborhood and just wander to find your own delicious budget-friendly discoveries.

cheap things to do in nyc

Cheers

7. Know Where To Go For Architecture

For those wanting cheap things to do in NYC you can simply stroll great New York streets and photograph or admire their beauty, which costs nothing.

A few recommendations for architecture nerds:

cheap things to do in nyc

Our Lady of Pompeii in the West Village. Photo via NYC Tours & Photo Safaris.

8. Enjoy Free/CheapSamples On Bleeker Street

In the West Village you’ll find Bleeker Street, a heaven for budget travelers, free sample lovers and those interested in budget-friendly bites.

Despite its luxe demeanor, it’s one of my favorite NYC neighborhoods for finding cheap things to do in Manhattan.

My recommendations:

These are some of the most delicious cheap things to do in NYC!

cheap things to do in nyc

Having a sweet and cheap snack at Rocco’s

9. Snag Last Minute Broadway Tickets For Cheap

TodayTix is a must-download app if you’re interested in theater — specifically in snagging discounted last minute Broadway tickets.

Basically, their selling you unsold seats that they’re trying to fill.

Looking at the app as I write this, I’m seeing shows for up to 50% off, with sample prices including $37 for Les Miserables, $25 for Bye Bye Birdie, $20 for Privacy, $35 for Fiddler on the Roof, $45 for Kinky Boots and $59 for The Color Purple.

Keep in mind, there are also a ton of free and cheap theaters in NYC if you don’t mind skipping Broadway itself. A few suggestions:

cheap things to do in nyc

Photo via Bizarre Bar

10. Ride The NYC Subway To Save Big

It may sound obvious, but there are many visitors who get freaked out by the subway (to the point where they’ll blow their vacation money on cabs instead of experiences!).

The cost of a subway ride is $2.75 to go anywhere — New York City doesn’t charge based on zones.

You can also purchase a weekly unlimited pass for $32, which, by the way, is less than it often costs me to take a cab from Brooklyn to the Upper East Side.

Additionally, a monthly unlimited pass is only $121.

If you need help navigating the subway download CityMapper, an app that tells you exactly how to get from Point A to Point B, as well as which train cars and station exits will most efficiently get you where you need to go.

The NYC transit app also gives funny tips, like that you’ve burned enough for one bite of a pretzel by walking to the station.

Now, if you’re someone who just can’t bear the thought of public transportation, Lyft is much cheaper than yellow cabs or even Uber.

If you’ve never used Lyft, you can use code JESSIE299142 for $20 off your first ride.

While I’ve personally never used Via, it’s another cheap car service in New York City.

cheap things to do in nyc

Being silly on the subway. Photo via Jessie on a Journey.

11. Check Park Calendars For Free & Cheap NYC Activities

Year-long, our many parks offer free things to do in NYC, especially when it comes to events.

For instance, Central Park hosts a slew of themed walking tours for $15, yoga classes with free mat rental for $15 and free concerts.

For 100% free things to do I love Bryant Park, home to complimentary juggling lessons, open air films, book club meetings and literary lectures, table games and more. They try to cover a variety of cultures with their events, from games of petanque (French) to Tai Chi and Maj Jong (Chinese).

From June through August you’ll constantly find me at the Prospect Park Bandshell for Celebrate Brooklyn!, an annual summer festival with free performances of all kinds. For ticketed events my friends and I often have a picnic outside the fence of the concert so we can still enjoy the sounds and each others’ company for free.

And the High Line offers everything from salsa dancing to meditation to Tai Chi and tons of art experiences, all for $0.

Pro tip:

The High Line is full of history that you wouldn’t realize simply by strolling it alone. Urban Adventures New York City — an ethical tour company I guide for and highly recommend — offers a High Line & Chelsea Market walking tour.

The experience includes a guided tour and some small bites from Chelsea Market for just $35. You can also use code UANYC8 for an additional 10% off this tour!

Tip: If you can’t find any park events that interest you, there’s always a bottle of Prosecco and a picnic blanket with your name on it. For the cheapest deals head to Astor Wine & Spirits, where $6 bottles of wine are prevalent and actually tasty!

Check out these local #secrets for exploring #NYC on the super #cheap! Click To Tweet

12. Enjoy NYC Nightlife For Cheap

Did you know there are apps that help you explore NYC nightlife on the cheap?

One great option:

Hooch, a members-only app that gets you one free drink each day for just $9.99 per month.

Honestly, even if you visit NYC for one day it’s worth it, as $9.99 is often cheaper than a single adult beverage!

Just remember to cancel once you leave.

cheap things to do in nyc

A night out in the East Village with my girlfriends

13. Get Creative With Your NYC Accommodation

Keep in mind:

You don’t need to stay in Manhattan to enjoy the best of NYC!

There are great inexpensive hotels in Brooklyn in Queens that are typically under $100 per night, too. Some of these include:

Even if you plan to spend most of your time in Manhattan, you can easily access the borough with the inexpensive subway, which runs all night.

Though hey, after doing some research myself I’ve found you can even find some well-rated, inexpensive hotels in Manhattan too — also under $100 per night — such as:

Now, hotels in NYC aren’t your only accommodation option.

Other platforms to consider:

  • CouchSurfing offers free couch accommodation no matter what NYC borough you decide to base in. It’s also a great way to meet locals, as it’s often a cultural exchange that’s used as payment in lieu of cash.
  • Airbnb allows you to stay with locals — or even rent out their entire apartments — at a much lower price than a hotel. Bonus: You can use this link to score $40 off your first Airbnb booking!
cheap things to do in nyc

Photo via AlexVan/Pixabay

12. Experience The Parks

I use the word “experience” for a very specific reason:

Our major parks don’t just offer scenic greenspace and events like those mentioned above, but things to do like hiking, climbing, bird watching, museum visits, viewing al fresco exhibits, wandering gardens, rowing, riding carousels and more.

A few incredible incredible and cheap things to do in NYC parks include:

  • Watching the many weekend buskers — from piano players to gymnasts to hip-hop dancers — in Washington Square Park
  • Hiking to waterfalls in River Park in the Bronx
  • Climbing up a castle for a beautiful view in Central Park
  • Viewing impromptu, multi-cultural performances in Prospect Park
  • Bird-watching in the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge
cheap things to do in nyc

A custom photo safari guest in Central Park

13. Know Where To Catch Great Views

I once wrote a guide to beautiful views beyond the Empire State Building, mentioning places like:

  • The Staten Island Ferry, which is free to ride and provides a view of the Statue of Liberty.
  • Upstairs at the Kimberly, a year-round NYC rooftop bar with a vista of the Chrysler Building, so close it feels like you could reach out and touch the landmark.
  • The Roosevelt Island Tram. For this, you can simply swipe your MetroCard for a panoramic tram ride over the sparkling East River.

Another to note is Pod 39 Hotel, a budget-friendly pod hotel that features a 17th-story rooftop.

Here you’ll be transported to Europe with terra cotta columns, sprawling ivy over brick walls, and brick arched widows and doorways.

Moreover, you’ll take in views of the Empire State Building, One World Trade Center, the Chrysler building and the East River.

cheap things to do in nyc

ROOSEVELT ISLAND TRAM. PHOTO COURTESY OF BRETT SAFFER IMAGES.

14. Cruise New York On The Cheap

You don’t need to buy pricey tickets for a scenic sunset cruise.

One of the top secret things to do in NYC:

Hop on the $10-to-enjoy North River Lobster Co boat.

From there, you’ll simply pay for what you eat and drink.

Sit on the top deck if the weather is warm. It’s open and you’ll be able to feel the breeze and work on your tan. Plus, the atmosphere on this level is very lively and social.

The second level is also nice, with window-side tables and a raw bar.

cheap things to do in nyc

Chillin’ on the North River Lobster Co boat

15. Attend Events & Excursions At A Discount

Another local NYC tip:

Download the Goldstar app or visit the website to purchase last-minute unsold event tickets at a deep discount.

Some discounted events I’m seeing on the site right now include a graffiti workshop for $35 (originally $70), a Bear Mountain cruise for $32.50 (originally $65) and a speakeasy Halloween cruise for $12.50 (originally $25).

Groupon and Living Social are also great for this, as well as eating on the cheap.

cheap things to do in nyc

Bear Mountain State Park via Jessie on a Journey

16. Get Glam For Free

No need to pay outrageous prices for hair and beauty appointments in New York.

The secret:

SalonApprentice.com.

Here’s how it works:

Licensed cosmetologists apprentice at local salons to gain hours and experience, allowing them to earn a beauty education beyond their Beauty School certification.

This means you can experience highly-rated New York salons, get a professional haircut or treatment, and save a ton of money.

Once in a while I also see postings that give the “models” — that would be you — a small stipend for their time. These slots fill up quickly, but are worth a shot if you see them. This goes well beyond affordable things to do in New York, as you can actually get paid!

New York City also has a number of budget-friendly beauty bars to check out.

One I love:

Dermalogica, an affordable SoHo spot offering free face mapping at their Skin Bar as well as a range of $10 15-minute “touch therapies” like a and skin extractions.

 

Cheap NYC Itineraries

Cheap Things To Do In Manhattan (Itinerary)

If you’re looking to spend time exploring on a budget, on Mahattan itinerary suggestion is:

  • Start your day in Central Park; choose to enter at 59th and 5th for a beautiful stroll including tunnels, bridges, a pond and even an aerial view if you climb the giant rock, or to enter at 79th to explore Belvedere Castle, Shakespeare Garden and Turtle Pond
  • Walk over the American Museum of Natural History, an incredible institution with pay-what-you-wish admission
  • Wander the Upper West Side to take in some of Manhattan’s most gorgeous brownstone architecture; recommended: 69th between Central Park West and Columbus Ave
  • Take the subway down to the High Line and take in the free public art
  • Nearby Chelsea Market certainly isn’t cheap, though a number of the eateries offer free samples, like Saxelby Cheesemongers, The Filling Station and Seed + Mill
  • Feeling like you need to burn some calories? Pop into Athleta on 5th Avenue for a free workout class
  • Then continue eating, by wandering down to Bleeker Street in the West Village for samples — one of the tastiest cheap things to do in NYC, mentioned above — and to take in the gorgeous architecture of Our Lady of Pompeii Church
  • Make your way toward the Lower East Side, where free and cheap NYC nightlife abounds, from live music shows at Pianos and Rockwood to trivia at Fools Gold and Parkside Lounge
  • Another idea: beers and old-school arcade games at Barcade, a fun no-frills night out in NYC

Cheap Things To Do In Brooklyn (Itinerary)

If you’re in need of an inexpensive Brooklyn itinerary, consider:

  • Take the train — the A/C train to High Street, 2/3 train to Clark Street or F train to York Street —over to Dumbo to wander the galleries, shops and cobbled streets
  • Check out Brooklyn Bridge Park, with gorgeous gardens, Manhattan skyline views, a small beach and a captivating photo wall with touching mini photo series’ (many of which will make you laugh or cry)
  • Walk up Atlantic Avenue toward Cobble Hill
  • On the way, window shop — there are incredible, albeit pricey, boutiques — though do stop into Damascus Bakery for some delicious Syrian baked goods
  • Eat your way through some of the delicious Cobble Hill restaurants, and make sure to check out the gorgeous Brooklyn brownstones in nearby Carroll Gardens; the Brownstone Historic District is bounded by bounded by Carroll, President, Smith, and Hoyt Streets
  • Take the subway over to the Jefferson L-train stop to explore the many, many blocks of street art in Bushwick
  • Still hungry? Enjoy an enormous artichoke dip-topped slice at Artichoke Pizza
  • Take a 25-minute stroll that encompasses stops at Fine & Raw Chocolate Factory (free samples!) and old Brewer’s Row, where the facades of Bushwick’s 1800’s brewery past can be seen; a beer at The Well, a former brewery turned craft beer bar, is in order
  • Take the L-train over to Lorimer Avenue to explore Williamsburg, starting with odd artifacts in the City Reliquary Museum
  • Walk toward waterfront to snap some photos of the Manhattan skyline
  • Feeling crafty? Baked in Brooklyn is a BYOB drop-in pottery studio with a studio fee that’s less than $10; from there, you just purchase the piece you want to paint
  • If it’s the weekend, check out energetic markets like Smorgasburg, the Brooklyn Flea, and Artists & Fleas
  • Grab dinner at Mugs Ale House, one of Brooklyn’s oldest craft beer bars and a hidden gem for its low prices and quality
  • Cheap Brooklyn nightlife abounds in this neighborhood, from dive bars like Rocka Rolla and Turkey’s Nest Tavern, to Brooklyn live music venues with inexpensive and sometimes free shows like Rough Trade and Pete’s Candy Store
  • Don’t forget about bars hosting free events in Williamsburg, too, like The Charleston, which offers free trivia nights and a free personal pizza with the purchase of a beer
  • Bonus experience: Depending on the weather and time, a walk over the Williamsburg Bridge is must-have experience.

What are your favorite cheap things to do in NYC? Please share in the comments below!

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6 Comments

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