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25 BEST Cheap Things to do in New York City

25 BEST Cheap Things to do in New York City

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New York City is known as one of the greatest cities in the world … but definitely not as one of the cheapest! After multiple visits to NYC, we know all too well that it can be pricey here, especially when trying to see and do as much as possible in a short space of time. But the good news is that we have found lots of fun and affordable things to do along the way. 

While New York City can be expensive, we were surprised at how many tours and activities there are here that don’t cost very much, from free museum days and fun walking tours to exploring food markets and checking out epic views of the city! 

So if you’re looking to save a few dollars on your next trip to NYC, stay tuned for the 25 best cheap things to do in the Big Apple.

Cheap Things to do in New York City

1. Head up the Empire State Building

Daniel walks along the outdoor viewpoint on the 86th Floor Observatory in New York, Empire State Building
The 86th-floor outdoor observatory!
Bailey looks through the Binoculars on the 86th floor of the Empire State building viewpoint
How’s the weather up here? Just fine!

Let’s kick off this list with New York’s most iconic building: the Empire State Building! I mean, in terms of world-famous buildings, it’s right up there with the Eiffel Tower and the Roman Colosseum! 

The Empire State Building was completed in 1931, effectively ending “the race to the sky” that had been in full swing among the city’s property developers for quite a few years. Standing at 1,250 feet (380 meters), it remained the tallest building in the world for 40 years, until it was overtaken by the World Trade Center in 1971. 

Due to its impressive height, the Empire State Building was instantly famous, but its reputation only grew over the years as it was featured in countless movies and television shows, from King Kong to Sleepless in Seattle – and hundreds more! 

So naturally, a visit to this worldwide icon is a must. We think even if you only have one day in NYC, the Empire State Building should be on your itinerary!

Bailey enjoys the view from the 86th Floor Observatory in New York at the Empire State Building
Some great views of the city!

The building is located in Midtown Manhattan and the entrance for the Empire State Building Observation Deck is on West 34th Street, between 5th and 6th Avenue. It’s really easy to find!

There are two observation decks inside the Empire State Building. The main one is on the 86th floor, but you can also pay extra to visit the one on the 102nd floor. I thought the views from the main observation deck were absolutely incredible and we loved our visit! 

Tickets to the main observation deck will cost $48 USD. I preferred the main observation deck to the one on the 102nd floor, so I don’t think you miss much by sticking to the 86th floor and it’s cheaper that way.

If you’ve got a Go City, a New York Pass, or the New York CityPASS® those will also cover entry to the Empire State Building. Plus we used our New York pass to tick off quite a few other attractions. If you aren’t sure which pass to choose, our guide to New York sightseeing passes breaks them down! 

You should allow 2-3 hours for your visit in total. This is not the kind of experience to rush. We spent lots of time walking around, snapping photos, and admiring the views because being up there was just such an amazing experience!

2. Take a free walking tour

Bailey in Brooklyn heights, New York with views of Manhattan
What a view of the skyline!
Flowers lay on the 911 Memorial in New York City
The 9/11 Memorial

I love doing free walking tours whenever I visit a new city. Not only are they a budget-friendly way to get acquainted with a place, but I find that we tend to get lots of great local recommendations about where to eat, drink, and shop. 

New York City is huge, and there are tons of different neighborhoods to explore, each with its own distinct character, so you might even want to do more than one free walking tour while you’re here. 

As is standard practice with free walking tours, it’s customary to give your guide a cash tip at the end of your tour. We think $5-$10 USD is the standard amount, but you can tip what you think the tour was worth. So basically, it’s free plus a tip. 

Free Walking Tour of New York

This free walking tour focuses on the city’s most iconic attractions. The route goes to Wall Street, the New York Stock Exchange, the World Trade Center, the 9/11 Memorial, and Battery Park, which is a great spot to view the Statue of Liberty. It leaves at 10 am on Wednesdays and Saturdays and we recommend it for anyone looking for a great way to tick off lots of the city’s highlights. 

Harlem Walking Tour

This free walking tour of Harlem showcases the area famous for its civil rights history and thriving jazz scene. Jazz legends like Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington made their names in Harlem. The area is also home to the famous Apollo Theatre, where all-time greats have performed. On the tour, we saw lots of Harlem’s historic sites and got some great soul food recommendations from our guide. The tour usually lasts for 2 hours and when booking online, a $3 USD booking fee is automatically added to your cart, but it’s optional so you can click on it and delete it. 

SoHo, Little Italy, and Chinatown

This 2-hour walking tour had us exploring artsy SoHo, Little Italy, and Chinatown. We learned more about the history of immigration in New York and saw film and TV locations from famous franchises including Men in Black and Sex and the City. The tour runs on Fridays and Saturdays or daily during the summer and leaves at 9:45 am. You need to make a reservation, and as with the tour above, there’s an optional $3 USD booking fee. 

Brooklyn Bridge, Brooklyn Heights, and DUMBO

This 3-hour walking tour will help you get your steps in (not that that’s difficult in New York City). You’ll walk across the iconic Brooklyn Bridge with your guide, and explore Brooklyn Heights and DUMBO, which are two of the borough’s best-known neighborhoods. The tour is offered year-round at 9 am and involves about 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) of walking. You’ll end up about a 10-minute walk from the High Street subway station to catch the subway back to Manhattan or just walk back across the Brooklyn Bridge if you’ve got time (and energy!).

3. Visit the 9/11 Museum and Memorial 

A man looks at a metal beam inside the 911 Memorial and Museum in NYC
At the 9/11 Museum
Bailey walks through the 911 Memorial and Museum in New York City
The steel beams that collapsed

The 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City were the deadliest terror attacks in history, and the shock and sorrow that they caused were felt around the world. Despite the fact that neither of us are American, and were very young at the time, we both remember where we were when the attacks happened – and if you were born before the mid-90s, you probably do too. 

The world was never the same after 9/11, and the 9/11 Memorial and Museum now mark Ground Zero. The memorial consists of two waterfall pools with the names of the victims inscribed around the edges. The museum contains over 70,000 artifacts recovered from the wreckage of the towers and multimedia displays showcasing first-hand accounts from people who were at the World Trade Center on that fateful day in 2001.

The 9/11 Memorial is free to visit, so you only have to pay to enter the museum. Museum tickets cost $33 USD. The line to buy tickets can be extremely long, so we were happy we had bought tickets in advance so we could skip it.

Elevator shaft from the World Trade Center that was destroyed sits inside the 911 Memorial and Museum in New York City
Debris from the attack

For a more in-depth experience, we highly recommend this walking tour. You’ll learn a lot more about the long-lasting effects on the city from a guide with a personal connection to 9/11. Everyone knows about 9/11, but hearing first-hand accounts from people who lived through it adds a layer of emotion and authenticity to this tour, and helps convey how the attacks rocked New York City to its core. As well as the Memorial Garden, it also visits St. Paul’s Chapel, which survived the collapse of the Twin Towers despite being just across the street and was used as a rescue center during the aftermath. This tour costs $39 USD or $79 USD including skip-the-line museum tickets.

4. Walk the Brooklyn Bridge

bailey walks along the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City
Walking the Brooklyn Bridge
People run along the Brooklyn Bridge Pathway
Everyone loves walking this bridge!

One of our favorite free activities in New York is walking across the Brooklyn Bridge! There are tons of iconic landmarks in this city, and the Brooklyn Bridge is definitely on this list. Not only is it a cool thing to do, but the views are outstanding so it’s a great place to take some photos of the skyline.

From midtown, it’ll take about an hour to walk to the bridge. Or, you can take a taxi or ride the subway to Chambers Street Station or Brooklyn Bridge – City Hall Subway Station.

In total, the bridge is 1.1 miles (1.8 km) long and it’s a pretty easy walk. It can get crowded, so we recommend going earlier in the morning, especially if you’re visiting during the summer.

There are also vendors on the bridge, so you can stop for a treat or cold drink. Enjoying breakfast on the Brooklyn Bridge sounds like a pretty great way to start the day! It’s the perfect chance to see epic views of the city, and we recommend planning about an hour for this trip, that way you won’t feel rushed.

If you don’t want to walk back, you can take the High Street – Brooklyn Bridge Station which goes to Manhattan. Otherwise, we suggest exploring Brooklyn a little further. A walk on the Brooklyn Bridge is a nice way to get some fresh air while seeing the sights for free!

Related Read: To see a different side of NYC, check out our guide to booking a New York City dinner cruise.

5. Explore Central Park 

Bailey walks through Central Park in New York City
Central Park is a great place to walk!
A trail through Central Park in NYC
Explore the lesser-known trails!

Central Park is the ultimate urban oasis. It’s just as much a part of New York City’s identity as pizza slices, Times Square, and the Empire State Building. Plus, there are a ton of free and cheap things to do inside this iconic park, which is spread across a whopping 1.3 square miles (3.4 square km).

Since this park is so big, do bear in mind that you won’t be able to do it all in a single visit – especially if you’re walking. We recommend strolling along the Central Park Mall, going people-watching in Sheep Meadow, and taking a walk through the beautiful Conservatory Garden without paying a penny. Plan for about 3 hours to walk around – that’s about how long we lasted before our feet needed a break!

The Mall in Central Park, NYC
Beautiful!

If you’re visiting with kids, then don’t miss the chance to check out Central Park Zoo! This world-famous zoo is home to stunning snow leopards, sea lions, and tons of exotic birds, and for $20 USD admission, it’s very affordable to visit. Make sure to book tickets online before you go. 

Since Central Park is huge, there are some cheap tours we like that help you cover more ground. This guided pedicab tour allows you to explore the park thoroughly with no effort on your part since your guide does all of the pedaling! We hopped on this tour last time we were here and saw iconic locations including the Strawberry Fields memorial to John Lennon, the Bethesda Fountain, and the famous bridge from Home Alone. It’s a fun way to explore the park, and we loved how much we got to see without having to walk! Plus, at $50 USD for a 1-hour tour, it’s a much more affordable alternative to the classic horse carriage tours.

6. Enjoy free museum days

Police door from the police car that was destroyed during 911 in New York City that sits in the museum
A destroyed police car door in the 9/11 museum
Bailey walks the library inside the Morgan Library in NYC
The Morgan Library!

New York has so many fantastic museums, and we discovered that it’s often possible to get in for free if you know when to go! This is an especially great thing to do while it’s raining in NYC.

One of the best-known museums in the Big Apple is the National Immigration Museum on Ellis Island, which visitors usually combine with a visit to the Statue of Liberty. Entry to Ellis Island and the museum are included with all ferry tickets to Liberty Island but do try and catch an early ferry to ensure that you have time to visit both. While the museum might not seem quite as exciting as the iconic statue, we thought it brought the history of immigration in America to life. 

Another of the city’s major museums is the 9/11 Museum, which is adjacent to the Ground Zero Memorial. We spent hours inside this huge museum, and it drove home the devastation of these attacks. Entry usually costs $33 USD, but you can get in for free between 5:30-7 pm on Monday evenings. You’ll need to reserve your free tickets in advance beginning at 7 am on the morning of.

For book lovers, the Morgan Library and Museum offers free entry between 5-7 pm on Friday evenings, although you will need to make a reservation. Meanwhile, the Bronx Museum of the Arts is always free, and the Guggenheim has a pay-what-you-wish entrance policy on Saturday evenings between 5-8 pm. 

7. Go on a food tour

Our food tour guide talks to our group in the Chelsea Market in NYC
A food tour is always a good choice.
Daniel eats his Bao on our Chelsea Market food tour in NYC
Bao is delicious!

Okay, so at first glance, a food tour may not seem like an especially cheap activity in New York, but bear with us. When you do a food tour, you’re getting a meal (and, in our experience, a very substantial one) as well as a sightseeing tour with a local, so it’s really a 2-for-1 deal. We’ve done some fantastic food tours in NYC, and we always ended up feeling stuffed! 

On this food tour of Greenwich Village, we explored one of New York’s trendiest bohemian neighborhoods with a local guide, and visited different eateries (a total of 7 on our tour!), from quirky cupcake shops to some of the city’s most celebrated pizzerias. Our guide also stopped at significant local sites, such as the Stonewall Inn where the modern LQBTQ+ liberation movement was born in the US. At $95 USD for a 3-hour walking tour with tons of food included, we think that this is a great deal! 

Or, if you’d prefer to explore a more diverse range of cuisine and multiple areas, you can’t go wrong with this Chinatown and Little Italy food tour – especially not at $79 USD per person! It’s a small group tour led by a historian guide who knows the areas inside and out. Plus, there are stops at four different family-owned eateries along the way and we thought the food got more delicious at each one!

Related Read: For foodies visiting the East Coast, we’ve got you covered with the best food tours in Philadelphia.

8. See the NY Yankees play

The New York Yankees play at Yankee Stadium in New York City
Let’s go Yankees!
Bailey and Daniel take a selfie at a New York Yankees game in NYC
They lost but it was still fun!

The Yankees are a legendary baseball team that plays at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. Going to a game is one of the best cheap things to do while you’re in New York City. Even if you’re not much of a sports fan, the Yankees are iconic and the atmosphere during the games is electric! 

The baseball season runs from the end of March to October, so we always try to get tickets if we’re going to be in New York during this time of year. You can get second-hand tickets on Stub Hub and tickets are also available on Viator which is where we got ours. Prices start at $39 USD but it varies based on the game and seats that you want.

It’s really easy to get to Yankee Stadium, too – it even has its own subway stop! Once you get to the stadium, there are loads of vendors selling beer and hot dogs. These are pretty pricey at around $6 USD for a hot dog and $15 USD for a large beer, but we think it’s worth splashing out a little because beer and hot dogs are a quintessential part of the American baseball experience! Plus, the beer we got was HUGE.

9. Go on the Gangsters and Ghosts Tour in NYC

Historic street in Little Italy known for being home to gangsters
Little Italy, home of the gangsters!

New York City has a checkered past, to say the least, and you can discover all of the dark details on this gangsters and ghosts tour! We thought it was almost like traveling back in time as our guide told stories of haunted mansions, cut-throat gangs, and shady deals gone awry. We toured around several downtown neighborhoods, including Little Italy, Chinatown, and the West Village to see mobster hotspots and lavish homes where strange sightings frequently occur…

We love these kinds of tours because they show you the human interest side of a city’s history – and New York City is brimming with grizzly tales! Plus, at $35 USD per person, it’s one of the most affordable tours available. 

The tour runs daily and you can go at 11 am, 3 pm, or 8 pm, but we recommend going later on in the day if you can, because doing a tour like this after dark feels so much more atmospheric! 

10. Have a drink at the oldest pub in NYC

Daniel and Bailey take a selfie at McSorley's Old Ale House in New York City
Such an interesting bar!
Four beers on a table at McSorley's Old Ale House in New York City
It’s an old-school pub.

When we say that McSorley’s Old Ale House is old school, we mean old school! New York may be full of glittering rooftop bars and swanky cocktail spots, but you just can’t beat McSorley’s. 

McSorley’s is the oldest – and greatest – pub in New York City, dating all the way back to 1854. It was founded by an Irish immigrant, Old John McSorley, and even managed to keep operating during Prohibition by serving patrons a “near beer” that had too little alcohol in it to concern the authorities. Since there was no brewery, this weak ale is said to have largely been made in bathtubs! 

Many famous figures have stopped here for a drink, from Abraham Lincoln to Harry Houdini – in fact, a pair of his handcuffs are hanging from the rafters! There’s also an original “wanted” poster for John Wilkes Booth, who assassinated President Lincoln.

This place really is perfect if you love old bars. They still put sawdust on the floors, which is what bars used to do back in the day to soak up spilled drinks (and other liquids that we’d rather not think about!). And as for the drinks menu, you’ve only got two choices: light or dark beer. We love the take-it-or-leave-it attitude that McSorley’s has.

A beer here is $8 USD but they serve double-fisted rounds, so you get two drinks at once. These are bargain prices by New York City standards! 

You’ll find McSorley’s on East 7th Street, between Noho and the Ukrainian Village. The Astor Place subway station is just a 3-minute walk away.

11. Visit a Speakeasy

Daniel rings the phone at Please Don't Tell Speakeasy in New York City to gain entry
The payphone to get into the speakeasy!
Bailey enjoys a cocktail at Please Don't Tell Speakeasy in New York City
Cheers!

Speakeasies have a long (and checkered) history in New York City, so visiting one while you’re here is a fun addition to any trip! 

The Prohibition era started in 1919 when the production and sale of alcohol were banned over growing moral fears about its effects. But as is often the case when you ban something, Prohibition only made alcohol more attractive. Speakeasies began springing up all over New York City. Since most of the legitimate, law-abiding bars had been shut down, these speakeasies were usually owned by organized crime groups. 

Prohibition ended in December 1933, but there are still lots of speakeasies in the city. Of course, they’re legal nowadays, but they’re modeled on the secret bars of the 1920s and 30s, which we think makes them a lot of fun to visit. 

Our favorite speakeasy in New York is Please Don’t Tell. It’s a short walk from McSorley’s, so you could combine a visit! It’s hidden behind a hot dog restaurant and we had to enter by going inside the phone booth and dialing 1. Because it’s so popular, be sure to make reservations online (sometimes as much as a week in advance!) to guarantee a spot.

The Woo Woo is another great one to visit. It’s located close to Times Square and pays homage to the seediness of the area in the 1980s before it was commercialized in the 90s. Even their website has an 80s-style interface – and you’ll need to check it out to find the secret password to get in! The Woo Woo also requires reservations online otherwise no promises you’ll get a table.

And if you’re keen to learn more about the history of speakeasies in New York City (and visit a ton of them) this fantastic speakeasy tour is our pick. It was great to hear the stories about New York’s secret liquor scene and visit some amazing hidden spots that we never would have found on our own! Plus, you get skip-the-line entry into the bars, so it’s less time queuing and more time drinking. The tour starts at $35 USD, but you’ll need to pay for your own drinks.

12. Take in the views from The Edge or Summit One

The Edge and Summit One are both futuristic observation decks offering amazing views of New York City. Both are fantastic but to be honest, you only really need to visit one – especially if you don’t have a ton of time. We’ll break down the details to help you pick!

The Edge

Bailey stands up against the glass wall with views of New York City at the Edge NYC
Some great views from The Edge!
Bailey leans against the glass corner at Edge NYC
The Edge!

We went up to The Edge NYC and loved it! It’s an outdoor observation deck on the 100th floor of the 30 Hudson Yards skyscraper. It’s one of the tallest buildings in New York, so you can’t miss it!

The entrance to the Edge is on Level 4 of the Shops & Restaurants Mall in Hudson Yards. Then it’s a pretty fast elevator ride (we counted – it’s less than a minute!) up to the top.

The highlight (as long as you’re not scared of heights!) is where the floor has a glass section that you can look right down to the streets below. The glass walls around the edge of the deck are also angled so you can lean against them and feel like you’re flying over the city – I found it a bit scary at first! 

There’s an indoor and outdoor bar at the top where you can get a glass of champagne or sometimes seasonal cocktails, and a cocktail lounge upstairs on the 101st floor.

The Edge is open from 10 am until 9 pm. You need to book tickets in advance as you need a time slot, but it doesn’t really matter if you’re late. It’s actually cheaper to book these tickets through Viator than the official website. Tickets cost around $42 USD.

Or tickets are included (along with 100+ other attractions!) with The New York Pass. Our full review on The New York Pass can help you see if this is a good option for your trip!

Summit One

Summit One Vanderbilt is an indoor observation deck that spans three floors of the One Vanderbilt building, which is currently the 4th tallest building in New York City. Although it’s indoors, we were impressed that the floor-to-ceiling glass windows still gave us insane views of New York City, including an awesome up-close view of the Empire State Building.

What makes Summit One unique, though, is that it’s also a digital art display. Using art and technology, it offers an immersive experience that really takes the term “observation deck” to the next level, if you’ll forgive the pun. For example, there are two glass boxes that make you feel like you’re levitating as well as virtual reality experiences, mirrors, and interactive digital art displays.

Ticket prices range from $46 USD to $58 USD depending on what day you go. You need to book tickets in advance and can choose a timeslot to go up between 9 am and 10 pm. One Vanderbilt is located right opposite Grand Central Station.

Basically, a visit to either observation deck is an amazing thing to do and you’ll have a great time at either one. We’d recommend The Edge if you want to be outdoors, or Summit One for the awesome digital art. 

Related Read: You can also get stunning views of the city from above on one of these Manhattan helicopter tours.

13. Explore the Chelsea Market

Daniel with his pizza at the Chelsea Market on our food tour
This was one of the best NY slices we tried in NYC!
Bailey with her Japanese Taco on our food tour inside the Chelsea Market on our guided food tour
Japanese tacos at Chelsea Market!

The Chelsea Market is a must-visit while you’re in New York City. In fact, it was one of the best things that we did in the city. It’s an indoor food market that’s a paradise for basically anyone with taste buds. You can find food here from all over the world, from Japanese-style tacos to authentic NY pizza. I’m getting hungry just thinking about it! 

Visiting the Chelsea Market doesn’t have to cost you a thing if you just browse. But, with that being said, the main reason to come here is to eat. If you’re visiting independently, some places we especially loved were the Doughnuttery (which makes Kim Kardashian’s favorite donuts), Los Tacos No. 1, and Filaga, where we had the most delicious New York slice ever. 

We chose to visit the market on this specific food tour, and we’re so glad that we did! For one thing, we got to skip all of the lines at the stalls and restaurants, which meant less time queueing and more time eating. We also felt like the experience was great value for $88 USD because we got to eat so much food (seriously, skip breakfast!) and our guide also took us on a guided walk along the High Line, which was just beautiful. 

14. See Grand Central Station 

People walk through Grand Central Station in New York City
Grand Central Station is huge!
A vintage clock at Grand Central Station in New York City
That’s a cool clock

Grand Central Station has to be one of the most beautiful train stations in the world – not to mention one of the busiest! Around 750,000 passengers pass through this gorgeous Beaux-Arts train terminal every day, and so many TV and movie scenes have been shot here that it has become iconic. 

Even if you don’t end up catching a train here while you’re in New York City, we say it’s still worth visiting to explore the main concourse, which features marble arches and beautiful frescoes. There are also plenty of shops and restaurants here, ranging from an Apple Store to an oyster bar. 

Make sure to check out the station’s two beautiful clocks while you’re here. There’s the Tiffany Clock above the 42nd Street entrance to the terminal, and then the opal glass clock at the information booth inside, which is said to be worth around $20 million USD! 

To dive deeper into the history of Grand Central Station, this walking tour does a great job of revealing its best-kept secrets. The guides know all the fascinating anecdotes from the station’s 125-year history and show you lesser-known parts of the station that even many locals miss out on, including a swanky secret bar. Honestly, I never thought a tour of a train station could be so interesting – and at $39 USD, it’s well worth the money for anyone interested in the history of New York. 

15. Take a Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour

The Charging Bull of Wall Street, New York City
The Charging Bull of Wall Street, New York City

This hop-on hop-off bus tour is a great way to see New York City, because it gives you so much flexibility, and you don’t have to plan out a route or try to navigate public transport. Plus, instead of traveling via New York’s busy subway system, you can enjoy the views of the city’s magnificent skyscrapers from an open-top bus. What’s not to like?

The downtown loop is $54 USD and stops at Times Square, the Empire State Building, Chinatown and Little Italy, the Brooklyn Bridge, and Wall Street, among other iconic sites. We found it really easy to track live bus times on our phones so we always knew when the next one was coming. Buses run every 10-15 minutes, between 9 am and 5 pm, so you’ll never have to wait too long for one either.

For $72 USD, you can also upgrade to a ticket that includes both the uptown and downtown loops or get a 2-day ticket for both loops for $90 USD and do them on consecutive days. The downtown loop is the more popular choice, but I opted to do both and was glad that I didn’t miss out on the uptown loop in the end! 

16. Take a Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island Tour

The Statue of Liberty as seen from a cruise in New York City
The Statue of Liberty from our cruise!
Building on Ellis Island on tour in New York City
Ellis Island!

The Statue of Liberty is a world-famous icon, so you wouldn’t think that sailing over to Liberty Island and seeing it up close would be a cheap thing to do in New York City … and yet, it is! In fact, you can do it for as little as $44 USD with this tour.

There are a few different options available, so we’ll quickly run through them. Basically, for $44 USD, there’s a 30-minute guided tour of Battery Park, which has great views of Lady Liberty, and then the price also includes your ferry ticket to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. 

Alternatively, for $69 USD, it includes a 2-hour guided tour of Liberty Island as well as your ferry ticket to Ellis Island. Or, for $79 USD (which is the option we went with), the tour includes reserve line access to both islands and a guided tour of each one, which lasts roughly 4 hours in total. We found it really cool to get a guided tour of Ellis Island because the history of immigration to New York City is just fascinating. 

Day time cruise in New York city with views of the city skyline
New York skyline from the water!

All of the options include entry to the Ellis Island Museum, which is a fascinating place to wander around. It tells the story of millions of immigrants who came to the US for a better life, and it made this part of history come alive for me while reading about their individual hopes, dreams, and reasons for making the journey.

Visiting the Statue of Liberty is one of those classic New York activities and we were shocked at how affordable it is – by NYC standards! Tours are available daily and leave between 9 am and 10 am.

17. Eat a New York Slice

Daniel eats a slice of pizza on a food tour in New York City
Yum!
Pizza in New York City on a food tour
You need to try the pizza!

One of the things we were most looking forward to with a visit to New York City was the food! A New York Slice is legendary and SO good. Seriously, we might have lived off of this pizza if we could have!

Plus, it’s a cheap meal – they say that a regular slice should cost no more than a train ticket, which is about $2.75 USD. And by a regular slice, we mean just cheese and sauce, without any extra toppings. 

You can get New York Slices all over the city. Some of the top places include John’s of Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village, Prince Street Pizza in Nolita, and Joe’s Pizza. The latter was born in the Village, too, but now has locations all over the city, including on Broadway and Wall Street! 

We also loved 2 Bros Pizza. There was a branch near our hotel so we went there a few times and it was really good. It’s not as famous, but we loved it! 

18. See a show at Pete’s Candy Store

show at Pete's Candy Store in New York City
Enjoying a great show at Pete’s Candy Store

Disclaimer: despite its name, Pete’s Candy Store has nothing to do with sweet treats. What it is, however, is one of the city’s coolest entertainment venues.

This is where real Williamsburg hipsters hang out – and if you don’t believe us, you can check out their events calendar. The music shows, comedy nights, and even the silent writing happy hour events speak for themselves! 

Pete’s started out as a general store in the 1920s, although it was called Funzi’s at the time, and eventually it became a greasy spoon/poker bar, and finally an entertainment hotspot. Known as “the biggest little venue in NYC”, Pete’s is all about helping local talent thrive. There’s no cover charge, although a $10 USD donation is suggested when the tip bucket comes around. Still, $10 USD to see a show in NYC is crazy cheap! 

Peter’s Candy Store is open until 2 am every day, so make sure to see what’s on when you’re in New York. You never quite know what will be on the schedule at this place! 

19. Take the Staten Island Ferry

Views of New York City from the Staten island Ferry in New York City
Views of New York City from the Staten Island Ferry

The Staten Island Ferry is a free ferry service connecting Manhattan and Staten Island. It runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, so this should be super easy to fit into your New York City itinerary!

Back in the day, free ferries were used to connect the different boroughs of New York before bridges and subway lines were built. Today, the Staten Island Ferry is the only route still in operation, so it’s super historic as well as a great free thing to do. The ferries even appeared in Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies. 

The Staten Island Ferry provides awesome views of the New York skyline and the Statue of Liberty, so we definitely think it’s worth doing. The fact that it’s free makes it even better!

There are also some cool activities available on Staten Island itself, like visiting the quirky Booze History Museum or the Kreischer Mansion, a haunted Victorian mansion where a grizzly Mafia murder took place in 2005. You can also check out Historic Richmond Town, a living history village that demonstrates what life was like in the US as far back as the 1600s.

The ferry rides aren’t ticketed (so don’t let any scammers try to sell you a ticket!) and you can’t reserve a spot in advance. Instead, just head to Whitehall Terminal, which is near Battery Park, and catch the next available ferry. They depart every 30 minutes during the day and more frequently during the morning and afternoon rush hours (6-9 am and 3:30-8 pm). We recommend going during the middle of the day, as this is when the ferry is the least crowded and we find it’s a more relaxing ride. 

20. Get a bagel from Liberty Bagels

The New Yorker Bagel from Liberty Bagels in New York City
This bagel is the New Yorker
Daniel with a bagel from Liberty Bagels in New York City
Delicious!

Liberty Bagels is known for its kettle-boiled bagels and homemade cream cheese. They’re famous for having the BEST bagels in New York and after having eaten them ourselves, we have to agree! 

There’s one on Broadway, one on Fifth Avenue, and one in Midtown, about a 10-minute walk from the Empire State Building. So if you’re staying in New York, chances are you’ll be close to a location!

Their most famous bagel is just a plain one with cream cheese, but there are tons of options available. I personally recommend ordering The New Yorker which comes with roast beef, egg, and a hashbrown. They’ve also got a fried chicken bagel that’s really good, so come with a big appetite!

21. Visit the Morgan Library and Museum

Bailey walks around the Morgan Library in New York City
Such a big collection!
Old books inside the Morgan Library in New York City
Isn’t it beautiful here?

This is another must-visit location for book lovers! The Morgan Library was founded in 1906 by J.P. Morgan – yes, the very one who founded the famous bank – to house his private collection of books and manuscripts from all over the world. 

The library itself is absolutely stunning. I felt a bit like Belle from Beauty and the Beast while wandering around here! The collection of books is seriously impressive too with a manuscript of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and writings from Marie Antoinette, among many other literary treasures.

Tickets cost $25 USD per person. There are free tours (included with your admission) at 12:30 pm every day except Monday when the library is closed, and these are worth doing. But even if you can’t make it in time for a tour, we still highly recommend going because the extensive collection of books is cool to see. 

For an even cheaper way to see the Morgan Library, visit on Friday evening. From 5-7 pm each Friday, it’s free to access the galleries! Free tickets are released one week in advance and can be reserved online.

Related Read: A few of our favorite US Capitol tours in Washington, DC include entry to the Library of Congress where you can see a portion of Thomas Jefferson’s original library plus other unique books!

22. Walk the High Line

Daniel poses for a photo at one of the city viewpoints along the High Line in New York City
A view from the High Line!
The High Line in New York City
The High Line is a must-visit!

The High Line is an elevated park located on the West Side of Manhattan. It was built on a former freight railway line that was due to be demolished but was saved and converted into an amazing walking trail above the city thanks to community efforts.

The trail is 1.4 miles (2.3 kilometers) one-way. It runs between Gansevoort Street and West 34th Street, right near Hudson Yards. You can access it via stairs, and there are also ramps and elevators for wheelchair users. It’s also totally free to visit, so take advantage! 

As well as a trail, it’s also a public park where you’ll find playgrounds, exercise classes, art installations, and places to eat and drink. Hearth on the High Line, for example, is an open-air wine bar where you can grab a drink and soak up glorious views of the Hudson River. We also like stopping at the Malai ice cream cart for some artisanal South Asian ice cream. New York’s food scene never disappoints! 

We visited the High Line as part of this guided tour which also took us to the Chelsea Food Market, so we were too full to buy more snacks, but we did grab some coffee along the way. 

We loved the views from the High Line and it’s clear that a lot of TLC goes into maintaining this park. It’s so unique and unlike any other urban park you’re likely to come across, so it deserves a spot on your agenda.

23. Wander the Rockefeller Center or Top of the Rock

The Rockefeller Center in New York City
The Rockefeller Center in New York City
Views of Central Park from the the Top of the Rock Observation deck in NYC
Top of the Rock has one of the best views of Central Park!

Rockefeller Center is a big complex in Midtown Manhattan that’s best known for its giant Christmas tree and ice skating rink in the winter. Visiting in the winter is a magical experience (and on my personal bucket list!) but it’s worth going at any time of year, especially to the Top of the Rock Observation Deck for awesome 360-degree views of New York City.

As you can probably deduce from the name, Rockefeller Center was built by the legendary Rockefeller family. Construction began in 1931 and the first building in the complex opened to the public in 1933, and it was completed in 1939.

There’s a ton to do in Rockefeller Center from exploring the Channel Gardens to shopping at the swanky mall or eating one of the yummy Italian sandwiches at Alidoro. Our top pick though is visiting the Top of the Rock for the great views of Central Park and the Empire State Building. Tickets cost $44 USD and are also included with the New York CityPASS

If you come by during the winter months, ice skating is a must but if you’re visiting NYC in the summer, there’s a roller rink instead! Flipper’s Roller Boogie Palace is a legendary roller skating venue that began life in LA during the 1970s, and now they take up residence at Rockefeller Center between April and October. The rink is open from 12-10 pm daily (or until 11 pm on Friday/Saturday) and they’ve got live DJs playing funky tunes all afternoon and evening! 

And as if all that weren’t enough, Rockefeller Center is also home to not one but two legendary entertainment venues: NBC Studios and Radio City Music Hall.

NBC Studios is where tons of super famous TV shows are produced and broadcast, including Saturday Night Live, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, and America’s Got Talent. If you’re reallllly lucky, you can try to get free tickets to one of the shows taped here or take a tour of the studios.

Meanwhile, Radio City Music Hall is famed for its neon lights and art deco architecture. When it opened in December 1932, it was the largest auditorium in the world. It has been the home of the legendary dance troupe the Rockettes since it opened, and you can still watch them perform here to this day. Their Christmas Spectacular show is actually on our list of the best Christmas tours in New York City!

For the rest of the year, there are all kinds of shows and concerts at Radio City Music Hall. But if you just want to check out the venue, we loved the stage door tour, which goes behind the scenes and teaches you all about this iconic venue’s glittering history. There’s even the chance to meet and have your picture taken with a Rockette! It costs $42 USD per person and is a fantastic way to see Radio City, even if you don’t take in a show. Behind-the-scenes tickets are available on Viator here!

24. Visit the American Museum of Natural History

A dinosaur at American Museum of Natural History in NYC
Who doesn’t love dinosaurs?
Stuffed animals at American Museum of Natural History in NYC
The animals come to life!

For a brief history of well … everything, make sure to pay a visit to the American Museum of Natural History. With over 40 galleries displaying everything from a 3 million-year-old hominid skeleton to a giant blue whale model and an insectarium, it’s a fun (and cheap!) way to take a journey through the history of our planet, and outer space in this huge museum. 

We spent about 3 to 4 hours here checking out the different exhibits, and there are lots of interactive ones that are perfect for families. This is one of those museums that requires comfy shoes because you’ll rack up lots of steps as you explore.

Really, for $28 USD per person, this is a very affordable way to spend a morning or afternoon in New York City. Best of all, tickets for the American Museum of Natural History aren’t timed, so you can visit anytime between 10 am and 5:30 pm.

25. See the New York Catacombs by Candlelight

Tommys New York Catacombs Tour
Photo credit: Tommys New York
Tommys New York Catacombs Tour 1
Photo credit: Tommys New York

Located in midtown Manhattan, St. Patrick’s Cathedral certainly stands out from the city’s skyscrapers. This Gothic Revival cathedral is the largest one in North America, and the original parts of the building were completed in 1879, although the spires and rectory were added later. In a city like New York, where skyscrapers were shooting up left, right, and center for most of the 20th century, that makes it practically ancient.

We think the best way to explore one of the city’s oldest buildings is with this catacombs by candlelight tour. We had a chance to explore parts of the cathedral that aren’t open to the public as we wandered underground to the catacombs. Our guide taught us so much about the history of Irish immigrants in New York and we visited the final resting place of some prominent New Yorkers, including John Connelly, the first resident Bishop of New York. 

I thought the catacombs felt surprisingly modern, but still a little spooky! At $38 USD, this 1.5-hour tour is definitely a budget-friendly activity and super unique too.

New York City Activity Passes

Daniel and Bailey poses for a photo on the Bateaux New York Premier Dinner Cruise
Some NYC sightseeing passes even include a cruise!
Views from the Empire State Building in NYC
View from the Empire State Building!

A NYC pass is a sightseeing pass that includes entry to a certain amount of tourist attractions. These passes exist to save you money and make visiting multiple attractions easier.

When you buy a NYC pass, you pay one flat fee, which costs less than purchasing tickets to each attraction separately. We found we saved a ton (sometimes as much as 50%) with our pass. This is huge because visiting New York is expensive, so saving a few dollars means extra cash to put towards a hotel or splurge on a few more slices of New York pizza!

There are a few different options available: the CityPASS®, the New York Pass, and the New York Explorer Pass by Go City. I know they all sound similar, but each pass is unique and covers a different set of attractions, so it’s important to figure out which one will be the right fit for your trip.

CityPASS® NYC

The New York CityPASS® is awesome because it’s nice and simple, and includes entry to the best sightseeing attractions. Depending on which attractions you visit, you should save 30-40% on admission – not bad! 

There’s only one “level” of CityPASS®. It costs $146 USD, is valid for nine days, and includes entry to five attractions. Two of these attractions are already chosen for you: the Empire State Building Observation Deck, and the American Museum of Natural History. It’s also worth noting that you get AM/PM tickets to the Empire State Building, meaning that you can go up twice on the same day. This is awesome because you get to admire NYC in daylight and then be dazzled by the city lights after dark as well! 

Then, in addition to the Empire State Building and the American Museum of Natural History, you get to choose three more attractions to visit from a list of six. 

You can buy it up to a year in advance and it’s activated the first time that you use it and then valid for nine days after that. When you visit the attractions it covers, all you need to do is show the pass on your phone on your way in, so you don’t need to line up for tickets! This was one of my favorite parts as there are a lot of lineups in NYC, so skipping out on waiting for tickets meant we got to enjoy the experience more.

New York Pass

The New York Pass covers a TON of attractions – over 100, in fact! 

You choose how long you want your pass to be valid for, and then visit as many of the attractions that it covers during that time. This is a fantastic sightseeing pass for anyone who wants to see as much as possible while in the Big Apple! We bought this pass our first time in NYC and it was perfect to tick off so many of the attractions we wanted to see.

This pass includes entry to four of New York City’s observation decks, tons of museums, cruises, walking tours, bike rentals, and hop-on hop-off bus tickets. So if you’re ready to do a ton of sightseeing, this could be the perfect pass for you. It’s priced like this:

  • $154 USD for 1 day
  • $214 USD for 2 days
  • $259 USD for 3 days
  • $299 USD for 4 days 
  • $339 USD for 5 days 
  • $359 USD for 6 days 
  • $379 USD for 7 days 
  • $399 USD for 10 days 

We wrote a full guide on The New York Pass since it’s an amazing option if you’re ready for an action-packed trip to NYC. Especially for first-time visitors, this is a way to pack a lot in without breaking the bank. However, if you’re the type of traveler who likes to take things at a bit of a slower pace (but still wants to tick off the top attractions!) then the CityPASS® or Pass by Go City might be a better fit for you.

Pass by Go City New York

The New York Explorer Pass by Go City covers entry to 2-10 attractions in New York City, so it’s the ideal way to tick off your must-dos! 

There’s a long list of attractions to choose from, including the Statue of Liberty, the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, going behind the scenes at Yankee Stadium, and tons of tours! 

This is a fantastic pass to choose if you plan to take lots of tours in New York City. There are so many tours to choose from with this pass including wandering around famous filming locations for shows like Friends, Gossip Girl, and Seinfeld, a ghost tour of Greenwich Village, or exploring the trendy (and tasty!) Chelsea Market.

The Pass by Go City is valid for 60 days after the first time you use it, so it’s really flexible. It allows you to go sightseeing at your own pace rather than worrying about trying to cram everything in! 

The price depends on the number of attractions you want to visit, and the options are as follows:

  • $84 USD for 2 attractions
  • $109 USD for 3 attractions
  • $144 USD for 4 attractions
  • $169 USD for 5 attractions
  • $194 USD for 6 attractions
  • $219 USD for 7 attractions
  • $289 USD for 10 attractions

Where to Stay in New York City

Bailey with her luggage in New york City
Ready to check in!

New York City is huge – there is just no other way to put it! Even Manhattan (the area you’ll want to base yourself in) is a lot bigger than you think. That’s why choosing the right hotel in the right location is so important during your stay in New York.

Below, we’ve simplified it all for you by choosing a couple of the very best hotels available in the city. All three of these options have ideal locations close to attractions and the subway system. They all have amazing reviews, too, so just choose the one in your budget category and you’ll be ready to pack your bags!

Motto by Hilton – $$$

Motto by Hilton is a gorgeous hotel located in the Chelsea neighborhood near the Flatiron Building. The hotel features modern decor that has “speakeasy vibes.” In fact, they have a beautiful bar onsite that looks like the perfect place to sip an Old Fashioned. There are a variety of rooms on offer including some that are a little more budget-friendly, and some that are pure luxury with city views!

Prices start from about $400 USD per night. You can check prices and availability for Motto by Hilton online here!

Delta Hotels by Marriott New York Times Square – $$

Delta Hotels by Marriott New York Times Square is where we stayed the last time we visited New York, and honestly, we loved it! This hotel is the perfect combination of comfort and value for money. It was clean, modern, and our room had all of the amenities we needed for an enjoyable stay (air conditioning, k-cup coffee maker, steamer, large shower, big windows, etc). Plus, the location is ideal – it’s only a couple blocks from Times Square!

Prices do range, but they do go as low as $200 USD per night depending on the time of year and day of the week. You can check prices and book online here!

Nap York Central Park Sleep Station – $

For those traveling on a tight budget, Nap York is a budget hostel that’s an ideal choice. Although affordable, this property is immaculate and offers a ton of amenities for a great stay including air conditioning and a shared kitchen. The rooms are modern and the location is about as central as it gets! This property only offers dorm rooms, but they are affordable at as little as $100 USD per night.

You can check prices and book Nap York online on either Booking.com or Hostelworld.

Thanks for reading!

Daniel and Bailey take a selfie in New York City
Thanks for reading!

New York City can be pricey, but all of these cheap attractions and things to do will help keep your budget in check. You can mix some of the ideas on our list with more expensive ones, or there’s enough on this list to fill up a few days.

If you found this guide helpful, be sure to check out more of our blogs about destinations in the USA. You can get started with one of the related guides below:

The 10 BEST Washington, DC History Tours for First-Time Visitors

How to Spend THREE DAYS in Philadelphia: 3-Day Itinerary

10 Things to Know BEFORE Booking a Harbor Cruise in New York City