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How To Visit New York On A Budget

by Moderator May 2012 - last edited October by Virgin-Atlantic

There's no escaping the fact that a trip to New York can become a very expensive endeavour if you let it. But if you do your research beforehand, that doesn't have to be the case. There are countless ways to save money in the Big Apple - without missing out on any of the major sights - so here's the lowdown on how to enjoy everything the city has to offer without breaking the bank...


Invest in a New York discount pass

A discount pass is one of the best ways to save money in New York. The choice of which pass to go for depends on the length of your trip and how many attractions you plan on visiting. The two main contenders are the New York CityPass and the New York Pass.


The New York CityPass gives you admission to six of the city's top attractions: the Empire State Building, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the American Museum of Natural History and the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) plus a choice of the Guggenheim Museum or Top of the Rock, and the Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island or a Circle Line Cruise. The pass is valid for 9 days from the first day of use, and you get to skip the queues - a massive bonus at the Statue of Liberty and Empire State building in particular, where the lines can be immense. The ticket costs $89 (about £55) for adults and $64 (about £40) for 6 - 17 year olds, which is a saving of around 45% on individual ticket prices.


Statue of Liberty, New York © Maxine Sheppard

Statue of Liberty, New York © Maxine Sheppard


The New York Pass works differently. It covers more than 70 different attractions, including all those covered by the CityPass above, and offers visitors a choice of 1, 2, 3 or 7 day validity. The 2, 3 and 7 day passes must be used on consecutive days, and during that time you can visit as many attractions as you like. This means you'll need to pack a lot in to get the best value out of the 1 and 2 day passes, but you can make substantial overall savings on the 3 and 7 day passes. Prices range from $80/£50 for the adult 1-day pass to $210/£130 for the adult 7-day pass.


View of the Empire State Building from Top of the Rock, New York © Maxine Sheppard

View of the Empire State Building from Top of the Rock, New York © Maxine Sheppard


Other types of discount pass include the New York Explorer Pass, where you can select a fixed number of attractions to visit over a 30 day period, and the New York City Entertainment Book, which contains money-off coupons for attractions, restaurants, cinemas and sporting events.


Free events in New York's parks

The High Line is one of our favourite outdoor spaces in the city, and there are plenty of things to do in the park for little or no cost. Every Tuesday night, the Amateur Astronomer's Association of New York hosts a free stargazing night using high-powered telescopes. Also on Tuesdays are free guided walking tours, giving you an opportunity to learn more about the High Line's design and history. Most of all though, we just love hanging out at the '10th Avenue Theater' watching the world go by at our feet.



Tenth Avenue Theater, High Line Park, New York © Maxine Sheppard

Tenth Avenue Theater, High Line Park, New York © Maxine Sheppard


Central Park is not short on free events and activities either, with free Conservatory Garden tours every Saturday morning between April and October. If you're travelling with a budding LeBron James, then get them down to the free Youth Basketball Clinic for 9 to 17 year olds, where they'll learn to shoot hoops like a pro. Younger kids will also be in their element in Central Park - it's home to 20 different playgrounds and the Tisch Children's Zoo (within the main Central Park Zoo) where little folk can pet and feed the potbellied pigs and other barnyard animals. Entrance (which covers both zoos) is $18/£11 for adults (13 and up) and $13/8 for 3 - 13 year olds - cheaper if you buy tickets online in advance.


Central Park, New York © Maxine Sheppard

Central Park, New York © Maxine Sheppard



Great value, high quality restaurants and food trucks

We've written about the explosion of the food truck scene before, and it's still an ever-growing phenomenon. If you're on a tight budget, this is a really good way of getting to try a whole range of varied, quality food at reasonable prices. On everyone's radar at the moment is the Mexican/barbecue fusion Mexicue truck, which travels to different locations in Manhattan and Brooklyn throughout the week. Keep an eye on their Twitter feed for up-to-the-minute movements. Other great trucks worth investigating include Gorilla Cheese, Korilla BBQ and the Big Gay Ice-Cream Truck, which will hit the road again at the end of May 2012.


On the restaurant front, if you're a health-conscious traveller then take a look at our previous article on cheap and healthy eats in New York. For absolutely top-notch burgers - the 'Classic' is priced at $7.95 - head to Bill's Bar & Burger in the Meatpacking district or the Rockefeller Center. Award-winning Daisy May's BBQ in Hell's Kitchen serves up plates of pulled pork and chicken, and bowls of Texas-style chili for around $10, though if you're particularly hungry and you fancy a splurge, $150 will buy you a whole pig.


Pancakes at Clinton Street Baking © takahi rock

Pancakes at Clinton Street Baking © takahi rock


For the perfect Sunday brunch head to the Clinton St. Baking Company in the Lower East Side - the queues might be long but the food is worth the wait. The Buttermilk Biscuit Sandwich with scrambled eggs, melted cheddar, homemade tomato jam and hash browns will set you back $9. For more breakfast ideas, check out our previous feature on New York's best breakfasts.


Good quality, good value accommodation

On a trip to New York, the cost of accommodation can often be the biggest expense. Just like any huge, expensive city in the world, it can be difficult to find a decent place to stay that ticks both the quality and the budget box. There are genuine budget and lower priced hotels in New York, but you may have to compromise on location, space or en-suite bathrooms to grab a great deal. And don't forget to sign up to receive special offers from somewhere you especially like the look of; free nights and other money-saving deals are frequent at quieter times of year.


One such hotel offering regular promotions is the trendy Pod Hotel in Midtown. Rooms or 'pods' come in a variety of configurations, from hip and spotless single or twin bunk rooms with shared bathrooms (the availability of which is shown on an in-room display) to more spacious Queen pods and a 'Double Double Pod' that sleeps four. All rooms come with free wifi and MP3 docking stations, and there's a great rooftop garden. Rates start at $179/£110 for a twin bunk room in early June or $229/£142 for a double. A new Pod hotel is opening in the Murray Hill district in June 2012.


© courtsey the Pod Hotel New York

© courtsey the Pod Hotel New York


The Jane Hotel is a handsome old building with a great location in the West Village, and a compelling story behind it. Originally built as a hotel for sailors, it housed survivors from the Titanic in 1912, who stayed on until the end of the inquiry into the ship's sinking. Rooms are inspired by luxury rail cabins, and are cosy but well-designed. Bunk and standard cabins with shared bath start at $135/£83 in early June, Captain's Cabins with private bath are $250/£155.

The Flatiron District is home to the creative arts-focused Gershwin Hotel, one block from Fifth Avenue and Madison Square Park. Five different types of room are available, again starting with low budget bunk rooms and increasing in size to rooms that sleep up to four. Superior rooms (sleeping two) start at $179/£110 in June.

Also in Manhattan, check out the Americana Inn, the Tribeca Blu and the Chelsea Star Hotel.

For more money-saving ideas, read our article on how to see New York for free.

Virgin Atlantic operates five daily flights to New York from London Heathrow.

Thanks to Flickr photographer takahi rock.

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FayeRose May 2012
Yes, accommodation can often be the biggest expense for a vacation trip. The article suggested some nice and quality rooms. I just want to add that it you have friends where you want to have vacation, it is ideal to ask them the safest and convenient hotels.
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Alex May 2012
Another good option for cheaper accommodation (particularly if you are a larger party) to try VRBO and Airbnb.
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May 2012
Good tip, thanks Alex.
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cyndy November 2012
i want to spend a year in nyc, all my children will be graduated in june of 2013, i want to find a job, a safe place and be able to live my dream
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bsgtpepper February 2014 - last edited March 2014 Moderator

I am always searching for deals. For NYC I use the guide book 365 Guide. It lists restaurant deals and bar specials. Saves me a ton of cash.

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Mario March 2014

New York is an expensive city so it is very essential to decide the budget and plan the things otherwsie it may lead to a huge amount than anyone had ever thought of, if planned casually.

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ChrissyGaston October - last edited October Moderator

I have just booked my first trip to New York so I will definately be looking into the New York Pass.  I am also a big fan of the Entertainment Books.  I was worried about the cost of accommodation, but I managed to find a great deal though online

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About the author: Maxine

Maxine Sheppard

Maxine is the editor of the Virgin Atlantic blog. Travel and music are her joint first loves, and despite having written for Virgin for more years than she cares to remember she still loves nothing more than jumping on a plane in search of new sights and new sounds.