There’s no denying that NYC is expensive- the apartments, the swanky restaurants, even the cabs. However, there are still plenty of cheap things to do in NYC!
If you’re visiting the Big Apple on a budget, it will require a little bit of planning, but between the cheap and free things to do in NYC, you’ll still be able to see plenty of the city! (This is speaking as a semi-starving artist who still manages to have fun and pay rent in New York.)
Many of the most iconic places to see in the city are just that- things to see. You can have an excellent time in New York City just by walking through it. Places like Central Park, Greenwich Village, and Times Square are all free to visit.
However, if you want to enhance your visit to NYC, you don’t have to shell out the big bucks. This list of cheap things to do in NYC will save you some cash and hopefully show you tricks and tips you didn’t know about!
Granted, the word “cheap” is a relative term, so for the purpose of this post, we’re talking about activities and food that are under $25.
As I said, the cheapest way to see the city is just to walk as much as possible (if you’re able-bodied). Even in my ten years of living here, sometimes I’ll turn the corner and notice something new or beautiful I haven’t seen before.
To save your feet and/or time though, the next affordable transportation option is the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA). This includes New York’s subway and busses where a one-way trip on either costs $2.75.
Check out my post about getting around NYC to learn more!
Cheap Things to Do in NYC
Ride the East River Ferry
For the price of a subway ride, why not take the East River instead? Riding the ferry is one of the best cheap things to do in NYC, whether you have an actual destination or just take it for fun.
The East River Ferry makes stops between Long Island City (Queens), East 34th Street (Manhattan), Williamsburg and Dumbo (Brooklyn), and Wall Street (Manhattan). Taking the ferry is a fun way to get out on the water, and it gives you cool views of the Manhattan skyline and the Brooklyn Bridge.
Mini-Golf on the Hudson
Price: $10 per adult
When you think of all the things to do in NYC, mini-golfing is probably not high on the list. Where would they even put a course? “On the river” is the answer!
Located in the Tribeca area of Manhattan, Hudson River Park’s Pier 25 mini-golf course is the only 18-hole course in the city. With little streams and footbridges, it’s a fun spot to spend a couple of hours outdoors.
Grab some goodies or lemonade from the snack bar and challenge your friends to a game of put-put!
Shop Farmer’s Markets
Another one of the cheap things to do in NYC that might not immediately come to mind is visiting the farmer’s markets.
You don’t have to leave the city to find some awesome farmer’s markets! Usually on the weekends, vendors will travel into the city and pop up market stands and tents. New Yorkers will then flock to wander through the stalls and fill their reusable bags with bounty.
At NYC farmer’s markets, you can find fresh produce, bread, meats, and cheeses, as well as stunning floral bouquets. While the prices might be higher than you’d pay at a C-Town or Gristedes (NYC chain grocery stores), it’s absolutely worth it for the quality.
Pay What You Can at Art Museums
Many of New York City’s art museums have either free or “pay-what-you-wish” days, where you can do just that! Seeing masterful pieces of art in museums doesn’t have to be expensive.
Just be sure to check the website of whichever museum you choose to visit in case you need to reserve a time slot.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Known as “The Met”, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art is always pay-what-you-wish for New York State residents, as well as students studying in NY, NJ, and CT.
The Met is a sprawling collection of everything from Ancient Eygptian artifacts to impressionist works by Degas and Monet. Because of the sheer size of the place, I’d recommend grabbing a map on your way in and picking one or two sections to visit.
Did you know The Met also has a rooftop garden? The roof is free to visit with your admission ticket! Head to the roof to see the art that is being featured and the views of the surrounding city.
The Museum of Modern Art
The Museum of Modern Art, or MoMA as it’s commonly called, is free for New York City residents on the first Friday of every month, from 4:00 pm to 8:00 pm. These tickets must be reserved in advance!
MoMA has collections of paintings, sculptures, photographs, and videos of modern art from post-impressionists to contemporary artists.
Whitney Museum of American Art
Featuring American artists from the 20th and 21st centuries, The Whitney is located at the end of The High Line in the Meatpacking District. The Whitney is pay-what-you-wish every Friday, from 7:00 pm to 10:00 pm (though reservations are recommended).
Like The Met, you can also climb to the roof of The Whitney, where the views are just as interesting as the art within the museum.
Go Roller Skating
Roller skating is having a comeback, and NYC is only happy to oblige. Whether you’re a seasoned skater or a complete beginner, give some retro roller skating a go!
DiscoOasis in Central Park
Price: $12 on weekdays, $17 on weekends, and $20 on evenings (Skate Rental: $10)
One of the more unique things to do in NYC is roller skating, but even more so if you make it disco! While you can ice skate at Wollman Rink in Central Park during the cold months, this summer it has been transformed into a roller rink.
Skate around the rink with disco music playing, disco balls twinkling, and professional skaters in groovy outfits!
Runway Rink at TWA Hotel
Price: $20 per adult (skate rentals included)
At JFK Airport, you’ll find the TWA Hotel. Once an airplane terminal, the TWA has been renovated into a retro hotel, honoring its heyday of the 1960s. It’s a cool place to visit on it its own, as it is an iconic building designed by architect Eero Saarinen. This summer they’ve also added a roller rink!
At the TWA you can skate right next to “Connie”, the Lockheed Constellation airplane that is now a cocktail lounge. You’ll feel like you’ve skated back in time!
Note: Tickets cannot be purchased in advance, but they are first-come-first-served.
Ride NYC Carousels
Price: $2-$5 per ride
Whether you have children or just want to let out your own inner child, riding the city’s many beautiful carousels is one of the most pleasant, inexpensive things to do in NYC. Some of my personal favorites include:
One of the most well-known, and prettiest, carousels in NYC is Jane’s Carousel in Brooklyn Bridge Park. Located right on the water, you not only get to admire the carousel but the Manhattan skyline as well!
Jane’s Carousel is now a hundred years old and features classic antique horses.
Bryant Park’s Le Carrousel may be smaller, but that only adds to its charm. Giving off Parisian vibes, this beautiful carousel has 14 animals to choose from.
The best part about Le Carrousel is that it’s open all year, so if you’re spending Christmastime in NYC, you can go ice skating in Bryant Park and then hop a ride on the carousel!
One of my other very favorite carousels in NYC is the Seaglass Carousel. Located on the southern tip of Manhattan, in Battery Park, this unique carousel offers a magical ride.
Instead of horses, you ride iridescent fish that go up, down, and all around! The music and lights combine to make you feel like you’re under the sparkling waves.
Row a Boat in Central Park
Price: $20 for an hour
Row, row, row a boat in Central Park! One of the most iconic scenes in Central Park is the sight of the little row boats drifting along Central Park Lake.
Rowing in Central Park also happens to be one of the most fun, cheap things to do in NYC! You, and up to three other people, can spend an hour testing your rowing skills while feeling like you’re in a New York City Rom-Com.
Hit Up Happy Hours
If you’re looking to save money in NYC, try hitting up happy hours in NYC. On weekdays, usually between 4 pm and 7 pm, you can find happy hour drink specials.
“Cheap” drinks in NYC are considered around $6 for beer and wine and $10 for cocktails. Some places also offer discounted food as well, like $3 oysters!
You can find pretty much anything you want to eat in NYC. As it is a melting pot of culture, so is it a melting pot of cuisine. However, if you’re visiting the city on a budget, you’ll be happy to know the foods that NYC is most known for are usually cheap and fast.
It doesn’t get more New York City than a cheap slice of pizza. Believe it or not, you can still find some dollar slice places in the city! Unfortunately, these places are fading fast, but they are still there.
You can find good pizza for around $2 a slice. There are some chains around the city like 2 Bros. Pizza where you can find a deal like two cheese slices and a can of soda for $4.
Another food New York is known for is, of course, bagels. Good for breakfast, lunch, or even dinner, a bagel with cream cheese is always a good idea.
Favorite spots for bagels in NYC include Brooklyn Bagel & Coffee Company, Ess-A-Bagel, and (the aptly named) Best Bagel & Coffee.
New York street carts are definitely part of the city’s culture and have been long before food trucks came onto the scene. They allow New Yorkers to keep up their quick-paced lifestyle and eat on the go.
If you’re looking for a quick bite, pick up a hot dog or a pretzel. If you need more of a meal, definitely order a lamb gyro or an order of halal chicken and rice (and make sure to get the white sauce).
Note: Many street food carts are cash only, so make sure to have at least a $20 bill on you.
Ice Cream Trucks
New Yorkers know that summer has officially arrived when we hear the tune of the Mr. Softee ice cream trucks. You don’t have to be a kid to enjoy soft-serve ice cream from an ice cream truck! It’s the perfect treat on a hot day in the city.
I hope you found some cheap things to do in NYC in this post that you can take advantage of the next time you’re in the city! Whether you’re looking for cute date ideas, traveling on a budget, or are a fellow starving artist- you, too, can have fun for cheap in NYC!