Share on Pinterest
Share with your friends


Touring the vibrant streets of New York is an exhilarating experience, but it may not take long before your credit cards start feeling a little fatigued. Common wisdom suggests that with big cities come big prices, but with a little creative trip-planning, you can keep those dollars where they belong—in  your wallet. Here’s how to do New York on a budget.

Orbitz-NYC on a budget-Statue of Liberty

Hop a ferry to Lady Liberty and Ellis Island

Climbing the Statue of Liberty to the pedestal or crown (which, incidentally, costs an extra $3) needs booking around three months in advance. But you can take a ferry tour—complete with an audio guide—to both Liberty Island and Ellis Island for $18 per person to explore the gateway through which millions of hopefuls first arrived in America. Visit the website to purchase ferry tickets in advance—this will get you ‘priority entry’ and a chance to visit the home of NYC’s iconic lady.

Brush up on American history at the Federal Hall National Memorial

This is the iconic site where George Washington’s first inauguration took place, and where the Bill of Rights was passed. The original building is long gone, but you can take a free tour of the Greek Revival-style Federal Hall to view historical exhibits and the bible upon which General Washington swore his oath of office when he became president. And best of all, it’s completely free.

Times Square Red Steps

Flickr CC: Roberto Ventre

RELATED: Bringing kids to the Big Apple? Here’s what to do

Watch the world go by from the Red Steps

The Red Steps in Times Square lead up to the TKTS booth, which sells discounted Broadway and theater tickets and overlooks this so-busy-it’s-insane city center. Grab a hot dog or a cup of coffee, and plop down on the crimson staircase to watchas all that bustle passes you by. It’s free, and it’s a perfect spot for some choice cityscape photos.

Get a lesson in money at the Museum of American Finance

Since tickets to the Broadway phenom Hamilton are basically sold out forever, here’s another way to get to know the man behind the Mint: the Museum of American Finance. Here, you can learn all about Alexander Hamilton’s contributions to the American financial system, as well as what makes Wall Street Tick. Naturally, it’s located at 48 Wall Street, and admission is $8.00 for adults, $5.00 for students and seniors, and free to children under 6.

From the Museum of the Moving Image

Flickr CC: Marcin Wichary

Get a film lesson at the Museum of the Moving Image

Learn about movie magic at this quirky, film-centric museum via choice film screenings and exhibits that immerse you in the creative process of film-making.  Check their website for special screening events (they’re often really cool, but also cost extra). Admission is $12 for adults, $9 for seniors and students, and $6 for kids between the ages of 3 and 12. All movie buffs under 3 get in for free.

Central Park

Enjoy the great outdoors at Central Park

You cannot come to NYC without visiting this world-famous park! Admission is free, and there is plenty to do while weaving between the towering trees and exploring new footpaths. Catch some Shakespeare in the Park at the outdoor amphitheater, or grab a map and head for the ponds, gardens, and bridges scattered throughout the park. The views of the city from here are incredible, and there’s nothing like enjoying some fresh air in the heart of the city will do you some good.

RELATED: Don’t miss these iconic New York eats and restaurants, worth every penny.

Go for a ride on the Staten Island Ferry

Here’s another free one: the Staten Island ferry. But in order to tour the New York Harbor like a local, you should probably enjoy a bagel and coffee along the way. During this 5-mile journey, you’ll take in some serious skyline views and the beautiful Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, which connects Brooklyn and Staten Island. You’ll also pass right by the Statue of Liberty.

From Chinatown Ice Cream Factory

From Chinatown Ice Cream Factory | Flickr CC: LabyrinthX

Visit Chinatown for some cheap eats

Wandering into New York’s colorful Chinatown district feels like wandering into a whole different country. You’ll find some of the city’s best Chinese and Asian restaurants here, but you can also grab a hearty snack for a serious bargain (try the steamed roast pork bun at Mei Li Wah Bakery; it’s only $0.80). Or sample some sesame or black-bean ice cream at the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory. When you’ve had your fill, explore the jewelry and gift shops along Canal Street.


Shop til you drop at South Street Seaport

This popular shopping district is right on the river, overlooking Brooklyn. It offers up artisan goods, clothing, sweets and gifts, meaning you can do some choice window-shopping for exactly zero dollars. The foodcourt here also has one of the best (free) views of the Brooklyn Bridge. There’s a pirate ship here, too, in case you manage to get bored with the shopping and the views.

ALSO: Why travel insurance might be worth the dough.


Indulge in a burger at Blue Collar

What visit to New York would be complete without a burger? Blue Collar serves a crave-able, cost-effective handheld served on a soft potato bun. Wash down your juicy, no-frills burger with a thick, hand-spun peanut butter or Nutella milkshake for a meal that’ll cost around $10, which is quite a bargain for the Big Apple. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to walk it off later.


Orbitz, app, iPhone, travel, deals

Tagged: Destinations, New York

Note: Orbitz compensates authors for their writings appearing on this site.

Elle-Rose Williams
Elle-Rose is an award-winning travel blogger from the UK, who is the editor of She is based in London, but travels as far and wide as she can, as often as possible.
Elle-Rose Williams

Latest posts by Elle-Rose Williams (see all)

6 thoughts on “New York on a budget: Cool things to do in the Big Apple for under $20”

  1. Travelling from Alberta to east coast then down to Florida and back west to Phoenix in a mini motor home. And good suggestions on camping and places to stop ? Thanks

  2. As a New Yorker one thing I’ve done for visitors they really get max enjoyment from is walk across the Brooklyn bridge, the complete the round trip walking back across the Manhattan bridge. And it’s free!!

  3. The building where the Bill of Rights were signed is long gone. So too is the Bill of Rights in that crybaby, nanny, sanctuary city.

  4. Things get even “cooler” in the summer, with free outdoor concerts, free dance parties to live bands, free outdoor films and more. Plus all the street fairs. NYCONTHECHEAP website has stuff never more than $20.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *