New York City presents a travel dilemma. The city, especially Manhattan, is a must-see destination every American should experience at least once. Unfortunately, New York is one of the most expensive cities in the world, far beyond the reach of many budget-conscious travelers. Yet if you do some research, it’s possible to find ways to visit the city without maxing out your credit card and raiding your child’s college fund. Here are some money-saving tips we picked up from a recent four-day visit.
5. Park in Staten Island and Take the Ferry
Obviously, there are many different ways to get into Manhattan. But for visitors within a day’s drive, driving is a great way to skip those costly plane or train tickets and save $200 to $300 per person. Yet you don’t want to drive into Manhattan, where parking spots are expensive and hard to find. The city’s transportation system and walkability makes a car unnecessary, anyway.
Instead, consider parking on Staten Island and taking the Staten Island Ferry across to the southern tip of Manhattan. The ferry runs roughly every half an hour and is free. The Staten Island Ferry offers incredible views of the Manhattan skyline, and also provides a relatively close pass by the Statue of Liberty, so you won’t feel cheated if you skip those $20-plus sightseeing cruises that circle the statue. There are several municipal garages within easy walking distance of the ferry, and the parking rate as of summer 2015 is $8 per day.
4. Consider Spending the Night in Brooklyn or New Jersey
If you want to stay in Manhattan, you’ll pay for the privilege, especially if you want to stay in Midtown. A 2013 Huffington Post study found the average Midtown hotel rates were almost $317 per night, the priciest destination in the U.S. Sure, it’s great to be able to leave your hotel and be a five-minute walk from Times Square, or Central Park. But you can stay in Brooklyn or New Jersey, only a few minutes away from Manhattan on the transit lines, and save $100 or more per night. Plus, staying off-island gives you the most iconic views of the Manhattan skyline.
3. Purchase a Bundled Attraction Pass
Heading into New York you know your big-ticket items (airfare and lodging) will be expensive. But many of the most popular attractions in the city charge anywhere from $20 to $40 for a visit. If you visit one or two, you probably won’t notice the cost. Visit enough of these sites, especially if you’re paying for a family, and you’ll feel the pain in your wallet. But there are several comprehensive pass cards that bundle admission for many must-see attractions, offering savings of 40 percent or more. For example, the New York CityPASS lets you pick six Manhattan destinations (out of nine choices) to combine on one pass, available for $114 as of summer 2015. Destinations include sites such as the 9/11 Memorial Museum, Empire State Building and the American Museum of Natural History. If you visit all six attractions with the pass, you’ll end up saving about $80 per person.
Another sightseeing pass, the New York Pass, offers admission to more than 80 attractions, with prices ranging from $90 for a one-day adult pass to $254 for a 10-day pass. The New York City Explorer Pass offers passes for anywhere from three destinations ($76 per adult) to 10 destinations ($179). As an added bonus, these passes allow you to bypass lengthy ticket lines.
2. Think Like a Local For Meals
There are plenty of NYC restaurants, both ritzy and unpretentious, where you can spend a relative fortune for meals. Here it helps to think like a local. Many corner markets around Manhattan offer surprisingly good food at a very reasonable price. We’re not just talking deli sandwiches, either; one market in the financial district offers a Chinese buffet. Many restaurants in Chinatown and Little Italy offer great ethnic food at great prices. And while you will probably want something fancier for dinner, for lunch check out one of the many food trucks or vendors around town, which offer a wide range of foods at budget-friendly rates.
1. Take a Walk: Manhattan is Much Smaller Than You Think
Many people assume the most populated city in the U.S., a city with scores of towering skyscrapers, must be huge geographically. Quite the opposite is true. It’s only about five miles from Manhattan’s southern tip all the way to Central Park, and the island is just a little over two miles wide at its widest. The best way to get out and see the city is to put on a comfortable pair of shoes and take a walk. Walk through the financial district and take a photo in front of the iconic charging bull of Wall Street. See Central Park. Visit Times Square. Take a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge for a memorable view of the Manhattan skyline. Walking is the ultimate New York experience. Instead of being stuck on a tour bus, or standing in line for a pricey attraction, you’re traveling at your own pace, seeing what you want to see, when you want to see it. It’s free and you’ll get good exercise.
One More: Buy a New York City Transit MetroCard
The subway or buses can take you virtually anywhere in New York City (now figuring out how to get where you want to go on these transit lines is a story for another day). A $31 MetroCard allows you unlimited New York subway and bus rides for one week. Of course, this is assuming you’ll be in town two or three days and will take at least 10 subway or local bus trips. If you’re out and about seeing the city, it’s easy to hit that quota in a couple of days.