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Local Secrets For Exploring NYC On The Super Cheap

cheap things to do in nyc

Me playing around in Brooklyn Bridge Park (for free!)

While New York gets a bad reputation for being expensive, the truth is that, while it can be, there are tons of free and cheap things to do in NYC. As a local with an intense curiosity, I’m constantly stumbling upon new budget-friendly discoveries, which I share below with all of you.

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1. Subscribe To Newsletters

There are tons of free parties and events — that many times also include free food and drinks — going on in NYC 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 be in the loop. Some of my favorites include The Skint, Nonsense NYC, The PrintUp List and Nifty NYC.

2. Visit 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

3. Let Your Camera Guide You

A fun and free way to explore cheap things to do in NYC is through the lens of your camera. One of my favorite things to do is choose a random neighborhood, DSLR in hand, and wander without a plan. I always make awesome organic discoveries along the way.

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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

4. Know Where To Get Buzzed

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, 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


5. 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.

6. 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. 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

7. Download TodayTix (Or Go Beyond Broadway)

TodayTix is a must-download app if you’re interested in Broadway theater. The app lets you buy uber discounted tickets on last-minute unsold seats. For example, 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.

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

8. Ride The Subway

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 ($31) or monthly unlimited pass ($116.50). 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.

cheap things to do in nyc

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

9. Check Park Calendars

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.

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

10. Drink All Night With First Call

First Call is a must-download app for anyone who enjoys a nice adult beverage. The app allows you to get your first drink free at 80+ bars around NYC. And you don’t even have to order a second. My friends and I all have the app and basically let it guide us for cheap nights out. It’s a subscription-based app that costs $25/month!

cheap things to do in nyc

A night out in the East Village with First Call as our guide

11. Sleep Outside Manhattan

You don’t need to stay in Manhattan to enjoy the best of NYC! Brooklyn and Queens offer amazing experiences too, not to mention the subway costs just $2.75 per ride (or $31 per week unlimited) and runs all night, so you can easily get into Manhattan at any time. For example, I offer an AirBnB room in Brooklyn for less than $60 per night (and I offer a discount on my NYC tours to guests!).

CouchSurfing is another option, offering free accommodation no matter where you want to stay. Note though that you’ll likely be sleeping on someone’s couch, and they may want to spend time with you for a cultural exchange (sometimes this is the form of “payment” instead of cash).

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 to check out include Central Park, Prospect Park, Brooklyn Bridge Park and Van Cortlandt Park. I also love Washington Square Park for watching buskers.

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, which mentions places like the Staten Island Ferry (free to ride and you get a view of the Statue of Liberty), Upstairs at the Kimberly (the Chrysler Building feels close enough to touch) and the Roosevelt Island Tram (simply swipe your MetroCard for a panoramic gondola 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


14. Cruise The Waters, Complimentary

You don’t need to buy pricey tickets for a scenic sunset cruise. Instead, hop on the free-to-enjoy North River Lobster Co boat and 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

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. Just go to SalonApprentice.com. How it works is 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 awhile I also see postings that give the “models” — that would be you — a small stipend for their time. These slots fill up quick but are worth a shot if you see them.

New York City also has a number of budget-friendly beauty bars to check out. One I love is 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 firming contour masque and skin extractions.

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


Who Knew Downtown Brooklyn Was So Awesome? [Blog Inspiration]

Fun Photo Tours In New York City [Amazing Experiences]

Clever Travel Companion Pickpocket-Proof Garments [Travel Safety]

nyc on the cheap

Jessie Festa standing in front of grafitti wall

Hi, I’m Jessie on a journey!

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  1. Stef on September 30, 2016 at 10:24 pm

    Goal next year: finally visit NYC. Hopefully you will be in town for one of your tours 🙂

    • Jessie Festa on October 1, 2016 at 12:34 pm

      @Stef: Yes please!! Would love to have you!

  2. Printup on October 9, 2016 at 8:49 pm

    Thank you for supporting DIY underground site like ThePrintuplist.com! Its a labour of love with the only intention of making sure EVERYONE and ANYONE can enjoy NYC to the FULLEST! Its readers like you who help spread the word and make it bigger and better! A huge thank you! xo PRINTUP

    • Jessie Festa on October 10, 2016 at 10:53 am

      @Printup: You’re welcome. I LOVE your mailing list!! 🙂

  3. Sam Chadwick on April 20, 2017 at 7:02 am

    Really useful, heading to NYC next month. Thanks!

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