It’s the Big Apple, the City That Never Sleeps and the Concrete Jungle Where Dreams Are Made Of… New York is more than just another great city, but in fact a magical and captivating place that many of us just can’t get enough of. Once you’ve visited for the first time there’s no doubting you’ll want to return again and again, and if it’s never been on your list of travel priorities it really should be! Ever since I first landed into JFK and drove over the Manhattan Bridge to the incredible views of the skyline so embedded in my mind, NYC became a place I adored; over the last thirteen years I’ve had the pleasure of returning five times, but the city never gets old. It does, however, get more expensive – and trips to the creative capital of the world can set you back a small fortune if you’re not careful with your dollars and cents. If you’re desperate to visit the Manhattan skyline but don’t have thousands of pounds to throw at the experience, how can you save money on a trip to New York but still enjoy the experience? Here are nine easy ways to keep your budget low but your excitement levels high…
GO OUT OF SEASON
It’s tempting to pop over the Atlantic in the height of summer, or wait until the famous Rockefeller Christmas tree is up, but in my opinion the best time to actually visit New York is either in spring or autumn – both of which are typically ‘out of season’ and therefore considerably more affordable. Hotels are always going to be costly, but often they can almost double in price during the peak months (which also includes things like the New York marathon!) so it’s best to plan and find a time to visit that suits your budget. From my experience AirBnBs are no longer a really cost effective option either, as the majority are just as expensive as hotels but in less convenient locations, so it’s all about when you can visit to get the most for your buck.
TRAVEL HAND LUGGAGE ONLY
This time around we actually traveled without check-in luggage, relying only on the generosity of Virgin Atlantic’s hand luggage allowance, and it saved us literally hundreds of pounds. For a long weekend exploring you really don’t need fifteen outfit changes (or so I kept telling myself,) so hand-luggage is all you really need. Keeping your packing light also not only saves you money on travel, but saves you money knowing you’ve no room to shop! I usually come back from NYC having spent a small fortune on stuff I didn’t really need, but this time around the only thing we returned with was a couple of bumper bags of M&Ms. A sure fire way to save money on a trip to New York, before you even take off.
TAKE THE AIRTRAIN & SUBWAY FROM JFK
One of the biggest expenses of traveling to Manhattan is the iconic yellow cabs that take you there. Although there’s a flat $52 fare (excluding toll, extra charges and tips) from my experience it’s always much more than that – and taxi drivers often pull a fast one on tourists they know don’t necessarily know the ropes. (A few years ago one actually chased me through the departures lounge because he didn’t think I gave him enough, despite us paying him well over the usual fare!) Waiting in the queue for a cab and then hitting rush hour traffic can often mean it takes a couple of hours to get to your destination, but taking the Air Train and Subway into Manhattan is a far more cost effective and comfortable way to travel after a long haul flight. It’s $7.75 for the Air Train and Subway, which is a huge saving on a cab; it took us 45mins to get to the Upper East Side, vs the two hours in an uncomfortable cab last time. I’m never opting for a yellow taxi again!
GET YOURSELF A METROCARD
It’s highly unlikely that you’ll be able to walk everywhere you want to visit in Manhattan; the maps can be deceiving, even if it only looks like a few blocks walk. Taxis can be costly, so the most efficient and cost effective way of traveling up and down Manhattan is by getting yourself a MetroCard – something that’s not dissimilar to London’s Oyster Card. A single ride will cost you $2.75, but an unlimited seven day pass will set you back $29, plus a dollar deposit; even though we didn’t think we’d use it that much, we whizzed through more than $30 of credit during our visit, so I wish we’d got the seven day pass rather than keep loading on credit! Even so, far more efficient and affordable versus endless yellow cabs.
EAT OFF THE STREETS
Not literally, because that would be gross, but from the hundreds of vendors that set up shop on the streets of Manhattan. I’d never eat a pizza slice or pretzel from a random dude with a cart on Oxford Street, but the NYC vendors take their job really seriously – so much so that there are stands that are celebrated as the best places to eat in the city. With slices starting at only $1 and pretzels being $3-5, it’s a super affordable (yet tasty and filling) way to refuel after a long day walking around the city. Restaurants can be super expensive (don’t fall into the tourist trap of eating around Times Square either!) so these carts, cafes and slice shops are a great way to cut your costs if you want something quick and tasty.
MAKE THE MOST OF HAPPY HOUR
So many of the great bars offer happy hours anywhere from 2pm to 7pm, reducing the cost of certain cocktails, beers or shorts significantly. Alcohol is super expensive in Manhattan (I didn’t find a cocktail cheaper than $14 or a glass of wine for less than $12, while a bottle of beer was $10-12 everywhere,) so if you like a drink it’s a good idea to do your research and find out where and when you can make a saving. Some bars also do things like ‘mystery beer’ for five bucks, if you’re not that fussy about what you’re drinking. A super easy way to save money on a trip to New York, while getting a good seat simultaneously.
ENJOY THE VIEWS FROM ROOFTOP BARS
Too many views and such a little amount of time. You can pay through the nose to get to the Top of The Rock or visit the Empire State Building (roughly $40 a pop) or you can take in those amazing views for the price of a glass of wine, while enjoying said glass of wine. This time around we decided to skip the touristy locations altogether (too expensive, too time consuming, too many queues) and instead spent our time on some of the hundreds of rooftop bars that provide a glorious view over the city: my ultimate is 230 Fifth which offers epic views of the Empire State, but the Moxy is a great place to spend a few hours (mini golf on the roof!) or Gallow Green offers an incredible outdoor setting if the weather is good enough.
TAKE THE STATEN ISLAND FERRY
Although everyone should see the Statue of Liberty up close once in their life, it can be expensive and time consuming to walk around; there’s nothing else to do on the island apart from visit the gift shop either, so it’s wise to decide whether it’s something you really want to do ahead of time. If you’re not that fussed then a great way to get a closer look at Lady Liberty is to take the free Staten Island ferry, take in the views and hop straight back again. Plus you won’t have to wait in line for an hour or battle with hundreds of others for the best Insta pic!
WALK, WALK & WALK SOME MORE
The beauty of New York is the fact it’s so easy to lose yourself wandering the streets day after day. There’s so much to see, and not just in Manhattan – Brooklyn, Queens, New Jersey and Williamsburg all have so much to offer if time allows. You don’t need to fill your itinerary with expensive tourist destinations, excursions or tickets, but instead take in your surroundings and just wander. Some of my favourite free places to visit in New York include The Vessel (an incredible new landmark that offers the best views,) The Highline (a re-purposed old railway line that’s now a protected nature walk), The Brooklyn Bridge, Central Park, Coney Island (the iconic beachside theme park) and Chelsea Market – but so many others exist for your pleasure too. We spent precisely $10 on a museum for the duration of our visit, proving you don’t need to be flush to spend a few days in Manhattan and there really are some super simple ways to save money on a trip to New York.