The Best Budget-Friendly Things To Do On Your Vacation To New York, According To Travelers

New York has so many activities capable of entertaining travelers year-round, that knowing exactly where to start can be difficult. Avid fans of the theater might think about taking in a Broadway musical. Art lovers might want to check out any one of the glamorous museums in the city, such as the Met, MoMA, the Whitney, or the Guggenheim. And of course, anyone who loves sports might be interested in catching a baseball, basketball, or football game at any of the city's illustrious stadiums.

As wondrous as New York City is at any time of the year, though, it's also no secret that the Big Apple can be a costly place to visit. With hotels, meals, and transportation alone having the potential to set you back exponentially, budget-savvy travelers might want to think about more cost-friendly activities during their visit to NYC. Thankfully, certain financial experts familiar with New York have highlighted some of the many activities in the city that don't cost altogether exorbitant prices.

Here are some inexpensive things for you and your party to do as you tour the City That Never Sleeps.

Stroll through Central Park

Certain landmarks instantly come to mind when someone hears New York City. These might include the Empire State Building, Madison Square Garden, or the world-famous Central Park. An iconic attraction of New York, Central Park requires no ticket or admission price, allowing visitors to stroll through its historic, beautiful grounds at their leisure.

Spread over 843 acres of lush forest grounds, Central Park caters to every traveler's interests. Animal lovers could stop by the legendary Central Park Zoo, coming face to face with such wide-ranging animal species as tropical birds and North American grizzly bears. Birdwatchers can bring their Audubon guidebooks in the hopes of spotting some rare avian visitors, including woodpeckers, cardinals, or Flaco, the Eurasian eagle owl who escaped from the Central Park Zoo in early 2023. Or art historians might think about dropping by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which can be found nestled along the park's Upper East Side.

Of course, Central Park also makes for an idyllic spot to hike, stroll, or bike your way through, featuring dense woodlands, scenic outlooks, and other carefree locales to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. In addition, the park features numerous artistic pieces and statues sprinkled throughout its grounds. If you ever need a break from your leisurely walk, chess and checkers players can always find a game going somewhere in the park as well.

Enjoy the sights of the New York High Line

The New York High Line is a relatively new attraction in New York City. In its earliest incarnation, the High Line was used as an elevated railway system owned and operated by the New York Central Railroad throughout the 20th century. Since the start of the 2000s, the High Line has been converted into a linear park that rises above New York's clogged streets, following the same route as New York's railroads a century prior.

Like Central Park, the High Line is free to visit, offering splendid opportunities for a stroll past numerous New York high-rise buildings. But what makes the High Line most worth visiting is not the lack of a price tag; it's the unparalleled views the park offers of New York's most wondrous sights. Running through the Meatpacking District up to the Jacob Javits Convention Center, the park has spectacular views of Chelsea and the nearby Hudson River, all of which are featured throughout the bridge's 1.45-mile-long walkway. You'll also find several plants and natural foliage sprinkled throughout the walkway, along with art galleries, statues, and other creative pieces from local and international artists.

Tour the world-famous Grand Central Station

Another famous New York landmark, Grand Central Station has been a tried-and-true railway system New Yorkers have relied on since 1913. To this day, the station continues to serve as a major hub of transportation within the Big Apple, receiving roughly 750,000 visitors daily. While the station still serves as a widely-visited railway line, the distinct architecture of Grand Central makes it a fascinating place to visit and admire at any time of the year, all without spending a dime on admission fees.

With its sleek Beaux-Arts architecture, sprawling main lobby, and 44 platforms, Grand Central Station makes for one of the most eloquent places to drop by in New York. Gazing at the station's gleaming architecture, guests will have little reason to wonder why Grand Central Station has been featured in such widely-loved films as "Superman," "North by Northwest," and "Men in Black."

Enjoy a sightseeing cruise on the Staten Island Ferry

Yes, you can pay for a cruise along the Hudson or East River, looking upon New York from the relative calm of the water. But it's also worth pointing out the incredible views of New York offered from the Staten Island Ferry, a free-to-use transportation service that ferries passengers back and forth from New York to Staten Island.

Offering idyllic overviews of the city, the ferry grants riders stunning views of New York as they cross the river on a half-hour boat ride to Staten Island's St. George Terminal. Shuttling through the New York Harbor on a 5.2-mile journey, passengers can glimpse scenic views of New York and nearby New Jersey, along with breathtaking looks at Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty, and the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Once you've arrived at St. Georges, you can choose to stay onboard the ferry, journeying back to New York along the same route they took to Staten Island. With a voyage that lasts 25 minutes each way, the entire seafaring experience lasts roughly an hour, offering unrivaled looks at Manhattan along the way.

Take a walk along the Brooklyn Bridge

Like the aforementioned New York High Line, the Brooklyn Bridge is a free-to-use walkway that offers splendid views of Manhattan and neighboring Brooklyn. Making history as the longest suspension bridge at the time of its opening in 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge also serves as the first official crossing point over the East River.

Measuring out at just over a mile in length, the Brooklyn Bridge may be a bit more of a strenuous activity for some tourists. However, walking across at least once should be at the top of everyone's New York bucket list, right there alongside visiting the top of the Empire State Building or enjoying an authentic NYC hot dog. Not only will crossing it on foot allow you to gain some wonderful views of Manhattan and Brooklyn from the East River, but it also helps you save significantly on cab fare during your travels.

Crack open a book at the New York Public Library

You don't have to be a book-lover to enjoy a visit to the historic New York Public Library (although it certainly helps). The second largest library in the U.S., and the fourth largest library in the world, the New York Public Library is a treasure trove of both New York and American history. Founded in 1895, the library is a lasting testament to the city's rich literary heritage, complete with more than a few sights you won't find anywhere else in New York.

Walking up to the library's front steps, the first thing visitors will notice is the awe-inspiring size of the library itself. Measuring up to a total of four stories high, the library keeps approximately 2.5 million objects stocked inside its walls, including rare manuscripts from John Bunyan, Voltaire, and Walt Whitman. Even if you're not interested in cracking open a book, guests can always check out the free exhibits inside the library. Alternatively, you might simply walk around and admire the library's incredible architecture (inspired by the Parisian Beux-Arts architectural style that was popular in Europe during the 18th and 19th centuries).

While non-New York residents have to pay a fee to gain a library card, simply visiting the New York Public Library and reading any one of the library's books is 100% permissible so long as the book doesn't leave the premises.

Admire the historical significance of the Hamilton Grange National Memorial

For anyone interested in seeing Lin-Manuel Miranda's world-famous "Hamilton" on Broadway, what better activity is there to coincide with the Broadway show than visiting the eponymous Hamilton's real-life home in New York City? The former residence of the Founding Father, U.S. statesman, and George Washington's trusted Secretary of the Treasury, the Hamilton Grange now serves as a national landmark dedicated to Alexander Hamilton and his family.

One of the many nationally registered Historic Places in New York, the Hamilton Grange is the only home Hamilton ever actually owned in his lifetime. Built a mere two years before Hamilton's tragic death at Aaron Burr's hands in 1804, the Grange remained in Hamilton's family for the next three decades, before briefly being converted into a chapel by St. Luke's Episcopal Church in the late 19th century.

In 1962, the house was established as the memorial and restored to an approximation of its original condition, complete with a meticulous recreation of the household as it might have looked in the early 1800s under Hamilton's care. Inside are artifacts that once belonged to Hamilton himself, including the statesman's writing desk and his library from the Revolutionary War era. What's more, the Hamilton Grange is completely free to visit, making for a factual counterpart for anyone planning to see "Hamilton" on Broadway.

Stop by the National Museum of the American Indian

Like most major cities in the U.S., New York is packed to the brim with fantastic museums everyone should visit at least once in their lifetime, from the biological wonders of the American Museum of Natural History to the artistic splendor of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. While each of these museums is certainly worth seeing, visitors to New York shouldn't look past the numerous other museums also featured in the city, starting with the National Museum of the American Indian.

As the name might suggest, the National Museum of the American Indian is a museum dedicated entirely to Indigenous American culture, the museum displays a catalog of artifacts dating back as far as 12,000 years into the past. A branch of the world-renowned Smithsonian Institute, the National Museum features a diverse range of exhibits that visitors can spend huge blocks of time studying, such as an in-depth look at the various Indigenous American tribes who populated New York before the Europeans' arrival in the 16th century.

Interestingly, the National Museum of the American Indian is not only worth visiting for its impressive array of exhibits alone. Given the fact that the museum has been established in the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House, visitors can spend just as much time marveling at the building's opulent Beaux-Arts architecture as they do perusing the museum's catalog.

Visit El Museo del Barrio

Another incredible NYC museum, El Museo del Barrio has a total of 6,500 pieces in its collection, all of which have been created by Latin American artists. The oldest American museum dedicated to artists from South America, Central America, and the Caribbean, El Museo del Barrio showcases over 800 years of art in its expansive catalog, including relics and artifacts from pre-Columbian society.

Like most museums in New York, El Museo del Barrio gives a platform to the diverse range of voices prevalent in international artistry, including a specific focus on contemporary artists. In particular, the museum does a great job highlighting the more unique elements found in Latin America's artistic movements, from classic surrealist paintings to religiously-inspired mosaics. At a mere $9 a ticket (students and seniors receive a discount of $4, with children granted completely free admission), El Museo del Barrio makes for an enrapturing way to spend an afternoon in the city.

Pay your respects at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum

On September 11, 2001, the United States was suddenly rocked by an egregious terrorist attack that destroyed New York's famous Twin Towers. Claiming the lives of thousands of people, 9/11 forever changed American history, launching the country into a lengthy war and serving as a national tragedy for decades afterward.

Today, the former site of the World Trade Center houses the commemorative National September 11 Memorial & Museum. A sobering homage to the victims of 9/11, the September 11 Memorial is split into two lasting monuments: the actual memorial pool and the museum that accompanies it. Divided into two reflecting pools positioned in the same spot the Twin Towers once stood, the memorial features the names of every 9/11 victim inscribed on its walls, along with the victims of the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center. Both the memorial and the museum are completely free to visit year-round and offer guests a key insight into a traumatic episode from New York's past.

See a Broadway show with discounted admission prices

It's difficult to think of a more iconic or quintessential New York activity than seeing a Broadway show. As the cultural center of the Western Hemisphere, Broadway remains synonymous with breathtaking theatrical shows, holding a tight monopoly over the entire theatrical world. All that said, seeing a show live on Broadway is an absolute must for anyone visiting New York, especially if it's your first time in the city.

Unfortunately, seeing a Broadway show can often come at a stiff cost, with most ticket prices fluctuating based on availability and specific seating location (as expected, the better the seat, the higher the ticket cost). To avoid breaking the bank while trying to see a classic Broadway show, it's recommended that you visit a discount ticket supplier — like TKTS Live — in Times Square. Yes, you'll probably have to wait in line, but these deals make the hassle more than worth the wait. Consider, for example, TKTS's discounted entry price for "Chicago," which tallies in as low as $107 compared to the formal asking price of roughly $150 on the show's official website.

Reserve tickets for a live television show

While a trip to Broadway is among the most notable theater-going experiences one can have in New York, visitors shouldn't look past the appeal of seeing a live taping of a TV show. In most cases, TV programs based in New York — "The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon" — offer free tickets in the hopes of filling out their audience for the episode, making it the ideal cost-friendly activity for pop culture enthusiasts in the city. 

Of course, some shows are far harder to get than others, with each series maintaining its way of securing tickets for a live showing. For example, tickets for "Saturday Night Live" are notoriously hard to reserve, with guests able to enter their name into a once-a-year lottery for a chance to see the famous NBC sketch comedy series in person. In contrast, other shows like "The Today Show" are far more readily accessible, requiring potential visitors to merely fill out a form to attend the show's taping (although they'll also accept passersby off the street so long as there's enough room in the crowd for additional onlookers).

Methodology used in this article

For this list, we looked extensively at multiple businesses' websites in New York City, comparing and contrasting the cost of certain destinations with other attractions in the city (such as analyzing which New York museums offer free entry and which do not). We also specifically looked at budget-friendly travelers' blogs, many of whom highlighted specific activities tourists in New York City can partake in without jeopardizing their financial well-being.

As seasoned travelers to New York ourselves, we also relied on our personal knowledge and experiences journeying through Manhattan and its surrounding neighborhoods for this piece. This includes purchasing discount Broadway tickets in Times Square, as well as stopping by such iconic New York attractions as Central Park, the Brooklyn Bridge, and the New York Public Library ourselves.