A Complete Travel Guide: New York City Under Budget

by Rich Jones
How to Get the Most of New York on a Tight Budget

New York City – the city that never sleeps.  It’s one of the best New York vacation spots.  In fact, it’s one of the biggest urban areas in the entire world.  Really, there is no end to the New York City tourist attractions that will catch your fancy.  If you’re traveling to the state, or really anywhere in the northeast, New York City is something you don’t want to miss.

With all of the places to go in New York City, it can be hard to decide what to see and do.  Further, narrowing down to the few that will fit into the time you have can be frustrating.  Understandably, you don’t want to miss out on amazing experiences.  Our New York City travel tips will help you decide which places you want to see on your getaway.  And, if you want to venture out of the city, we’ve got you covered there, too.  Just check out our mini New York state travel guide at the end of the article!

Top 10 New York City Points of Interest

Ground Zero

During any trip to the Big Apple, one of the New York City points of interest that you simply must experience is Ground Zero.  This is the memorial dedicated to remembering the September 11th attacks.  September 11th was one of the most pivotal moments in recent US history.  As a result, this memorial, dedicated to remembering all who lost their lives that day, is one of the most moving places in New York City.

The Twin Towers, brought down by an act of cowardly terrorism, have been replaced with simple, square waterfalls.  These wash into a central layer, with the names of each lost soul engraved on the sides of the monument.  Visitors can look at the names on the walls, visit the 9/11 museum, or simply sit on one of the benches for a moment of reflection.

It is included as an option on the New York CityPASS (discussed later in this article).  What’s more, it is included in just about every New York City travel guide.  It’s the place to go in NYC to experience the authentic side of life in the city.  This is a more serious and somber side, away from the glitz and glamour.  Indeed, it’s a place to reflect, and to never forget.

Shopping on 5th Avenue

One of the most famous addresses in New York City, Fifth Avenue is a sophisticated shopping district.  It’s also one of the most expensive places in the world to live.  If you’re looking for some retail therapy, this is where to go in NYC.  It is home to Saks Fifth Avenue, where you can browse the creations of high-end designers, covet beautiful handbags, and try out some of the most expensive makeup and perfume on the market.  If you’re lucky, you might even find something on the sale rack.  Other shops on this retail mecca include Lululemon, Victoria’s Secret, H&M, Zara, Gucci, Jimmy Choo, Adidas, Tiffany & Co., and many, many others, making it one of the most visited New York City tourist attractions.

If you’re on a budget, the thoroughfare is worth a visit simply for the iconic architecture and New York City points of interest along its route.  See the Empire State Building (included on the New York CityPASS), Rockefeller Center (also on the New York CityPASS), St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the Public Library, and the Flatiron Building, as you window shop along what is arguably the most famous street in New York City.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Every New York City travel guide, free or otherwise, includes this incredible cultural center as one of the top places in New York City.  It is the third most visited museum in the world, behind the Louvre and the National Museum of China, and for good reason!   The collection is simply unmatched.   Whether you want to see classical Greek sculptures, ancient Egyptian art, Renaissance portraiture, or Modern and Post-Modern masterpieces,  The Met is where to go in NYC for all things art and culture.

Rotating exhibits add extra interest to one of the most iconic New York City destinations.  They offer visitors the chance to see incredible creations ranging from architecture to fashion to sculptures.  You can even learn about how art and conspiracy theories are sometimes intertwined.  It is part of the New York CityPASS, and it is open every day of the week.

Times Square

As the epicenter of the entertainment industry in New York City, Times Square is one of the most visited attractions.  Some guides and locals even call it “The Center of the Universe.”  Skyscrapers climb to the heavens, and giant television screens flash 24 hours a day with the latest news, advertisements, and entertainment.  There are some great opportunities in Times Square.

At the heart of New York’s theater district, it is where to go in NYC for discounted theater tickets.  If you’re willing to queue up in the long lines waiting for the TKTS Booth, you can get up to 50% off tickets to some of the biggest attractions on Broadway.  You can shop ‘til you drop at one of the many commercial stores in Times Square.  These include Swarovski, Disney, M&M’s World, or one of the ubiquitous I Love NY souvenir shops.

One of the most memorable things in this New York City travel guide free attractions list is in Times Square.  If you’re lucky, you might see the Naked Cowboy!  He’s a street performer who wears a cowboy hat with boots and white briefs and carries a guitar.  This is also where to go in New York if you want to be on TV.  Here, you can be a part of ABC’s Good Morning America audience, if you’re able to get to the square between 7:00 and 9:00 in the morning.

Broadway

If you ask anyone for advice on what to do in New York, they will inevitably reply, “See a show!”  Broadway, one of the New York City points of interest known the world over, offers something to suit the tastes of everyone.  From mega productions like The Lion King, to small off-beat plays for the theater aficionado, you can get away from the chaos that is New York City and be entertained by the world’s finest thespians.  For a complete list of current shows, check out the free New York travel guide.  Visiting Broadway is a great attraction for couples.  For more travel ideas for couples, check out our article 10 Best Vacation Spots in the US for Couples.

Statue of Liberty

One of the most recognized statues in the world, the Statue of Liberty is visited by millions of tourists every year.  However, if this is on your list of New York City destinations, you’ll need to do a little advance planning.  The only way to reach the island is to take a ferry run by Statue Cruises.  Once on the New York Reserve island, you can go inside the statue, visit the immigrant screening rooms, climb to the pedestal, and even to her crown.  As one of the most visited places in New York, advance booking is strongly recommended.  There are some tickets available on site, but often the tours are booked out two to three weeks in advance.

Statue of Liberty, New York CityAs a word of advice, you might want to skip climbing to the top in summertime.  It can get extremely hot and crowded inside the statue on hot days.  Instead, we’d recommend only climbing to the pedestal, a short few stories up.  This is especially true if you fatigue easily.  It’s also a good idea if you have small children who don’t necessarily want to climb hundreds of steps.

One of the best New York City travel tips is to take the Staten Island Ferry to see Lady Liberty.  You won’t be able to land on the island, but you will get fantastic views from New York Harbor.  Best of all, the ferry is free, making it one of the top tips in our New York City travel guide free attractions list.

If you opt for the New York CityPASS, the Statue of Liberty is included.  But, this does not give you access to the pedestal or her crown.  Those reservations must be made separately.

Rockefeller Center

Get an unparalleled view of New York City points of interest from the Top of the Rock Observation Deck, open every day from 8 am to 12 pm, or take a tour of NBC Studios for a behind-the-scenes experience of some of the most popular shows on television.  Do a bit of shopping in one of their many retail stores, or dine at one of the many eateries on the grounds as you explore one of the most well-known New York attractions.

This is included in the New York CityPASS, and of the many New York City tourist attractions from which you can choose, this one is definitely not to be missed.

Restaurant Row

Between 8th and 9th Avenues on 46th Street sits a cluster of some of the best places for dining in NYC.   From American to Spanish to Italian to Japanese, you can be sure to find something that suits your tastes as well as your wallet.

If you’re looking for New York City travel tips, one of the best things you can do is to eat here prior to taking in a show.  Situated a short walk from Broadway, this is the perfect place to dine.  Then, you can experience the atmosphere of New York City as you stroll to the theater.  You’ll be feeling like a native New Yorker in no time.  Plus, it’s far more affordable than Broadway restaurants.  Many restaurants right near the theater district tend to have much higher prices.  We think $25 for a burger and a soda is a bit much for most people.

Central Park – Bike Rental

Whether it’s taking the family to the zoo or catching a large mouthed bass, Central Park is one of those New York City tourist attractions that locals love as well.  Here, you can take in a band or row on the lake in the park.  You can see a play or play croquet.  You can take in the centuries old Cleopatra’s Needle, and have a go at deciphering the hieroglyphs on the sides.  Or, simply spread out a blanket and enjoy the day.  Whatever your preference, you can find a myriad of New York City points of interest in this green belt in the center of Manhattan.

Apollo Theater – Amateur Night

One of the best entertainment options in the city is the Apollo Theater.  The Apollo has been the starting point for musical stars like Ella Fitzgerald, Jimi Hendrix, and James Brown for decades.  It is one of those New York City points of interest that you just don’t want to miss.  Wednesday nights feature the world-renowned amateur night experience.  For less than $30, you can see live entertainment and decide who will “be good or be gone.”

New York City Travel Tips

New York City Pass

Along with a free New York travel guide, the biggest budget busting item is the CityPASS.  This discount pass will give you access to multiple New York City tourist attractions, including:

  • The Empire State Building
  • American Museum of Natural History
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • Top of the Rock Observation Deck OR  Guggenheim Museum
  • Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island OR  Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises
  • 9/11 Memorial & Museum OR  Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum


If you’re having trouble deciding what to do in New York, this pass is a great way to organize your time.  Additionally, you can order it online, or pick it up at the first included attraction when you visit.  With the CityPASS, you can skip the ticket lines, and use it for up to nine days.

Hop On, Hop Off Bus Tours

If you have limited time in New York City and don’t know exactly where to go, these bus tours can be a good option.  For between $60 and $85, you can have unlimited access to the buses.  These travel the length of Manhattan Island and stop at the most popular New York City tourist attractions.  Further, they come with an on-board audio guide during the ride.  This is a great way to save money on costly taxis during your stay.

Free Make Overs at Saks Fifth Avenue

This is one of the best tips in our free New York travel guide.  When you visit any one of the many upscale makeup counters in Saks Fifth Avenue, you can score a free makeover.  They will be happy to demonstrate the effectiveness of their products first-hand.  However, you should be aware that while the makeover is free, they are doing it to convince you to buy their products.  Feel free to tell them when you start that you don’t intend to buy anything.  This way, you can avoid feeling pressured into buying something you can’t afford when it’s over.  As long as you’re OK saying, “No,” to their sales pitch, this is where to go in NYC for a bit of glamour and pampering.

Century 21 Shopping

One of the best-kept secrets of New York City travel tips, Century 21 offers high-end designer goods at huge discounts.  These are not knock-offs and are usually the current season, so if shopping is your ideal activity in New York, this is where to go!

The Met Donations

This is one of those New York attractions that is based on the honor system.  When you visit The Met, tickets are purchased at kiosks just inside the entrance.  In terms of cost, out-of-state visitors are asked to pay, and New York residents are asked to make a donation of any amount.  The Met is included in the New York CityPASS, but if you’d like to avoid costs altogether, you can opt for a $0 donation.

Traveling New York State

If you will be extending your New York getaway beyond the borders of New York City, you will need a New York visitor’s guide free of bias.  We’ve put together a few ideas for places in New York to visit and make the most out of your stay.  A full list of the best New York vacation spots can be found on the New York State Travel Guide, but we’ve compiled a quick list of some of the best places in New York to visit when traveling New York state.

Western New York

One of the best New York getaways is a trip to the Finger Lakes region in western New York.  Here, you can enjoy the outdoors.  Spend time in one of the many state parks that are among the best New York vacation spots.  There are also many resorts and amusement parks the whole family can enjoy.  Undoubtedly, the mountains and scenery are splendid.  In fact, simply driving through the region will have you telling others to add this to their list of what to do in New York.  You might even go so often you will start to write your own New York state travel guide!

Long Island

Just minutes from Manhattan, Long Island is sure to feature in every New York travel guide, blog, or bucket list.   Here you can escape the city and visit wineries, sandy white beaches, race tracks, and restaurants with some of the best seafood on the planet.  Unsurprisingly, there’s a good reason many celebrities and wealthy folks move here – it’s impressive, up-scale, and enjoyable.  If you don’t take the time to go here, you’ll be missing one of the most entertaining of New York attractions.

Upstate New York

Any upstate New York travel guide will be able to describe the natural beauty of this region of New York. State parks, lakes, and vineyards are only a few of the New York attractions you can visit upstate.  If you have the time to explore New York vacation spots outside of the city, this region is definitely worth a visit.

Recommended Reading

Upstate New York Off the Beaten Path:  A Guide to Unique Places

If you’re going to be traveling upstate, then look no further than this guide.  You can use this upstate New York travel guide to see the picturesque north like a local.  Inside, the author, Susan Finch, does a great job listing places to see.  These include major attractions worth a visit.  In addition, she highlights some hidden gems, away from the usual spots frequented by your everyday tourist.

The Truth About New York: The Long-Term Visitor’s Guide to the City that Never Sleeps

If you plan on spending more than a week or so in New York City, check out Amir Said’s New York visitor’s guide.  With this guide, you’ll be able to really dive into the sights of the city.  Once you get past the usual tourist attractions, you’ll want to know more about the ins and outs of New York City.  Where do locals go for fun and entertainment?  What are some amazing sights and experiences that can’t be missed?  This guide will help you make the most of a long-term stay in the city that never sleeps!

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ALSO READ: 10 Best Family Vacation Spots in the US

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