Exploring New York on a Budget

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New York isn’t exactly the cheapest of holiday locations. The flights alone can leave a significant dent in your wallet, and that’s before you factor in the cost of accommodation, food and transport around the city.

Whilst some of New York’s most famous sights are free (the Brooklyn Bridge, Grand Central Station and Central Park, to name a few), many of the city’s main attractions are relatively pricey. However, there are ways of seeing the best of what New York has to offer without bankrupting yourself in the process.

Here are a few of my favourite budget activities for those of you paying a summer visit to New York.

HBO Bryant Park Summer Film Festival

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My favourite memory from my New York trip is the evening we spent watching Ghostbusters in Bryant Park.

We were told about the HBO film festival by a local friend. Every Monday of the summer months, a film is screened in Bryant Park in the centre of Manhattan and members of the public can come and watch. The best part? It’s completely free.

The lawn opens at 5pm, but the crowds gather around the edges of the lawn much earlier. When we arrived at 4.45pm, there must have been around 1000 people waiting to claim their spot on the grass. At 5pm exactly, a steward blew a whistle and the crowds started to sprint onto the lawn, holding their picnic blankets out in front of them and diving onto the grass in order to secure a space. We joined them, clutching hands and flinging ourselves onto the floor as soon as we could, giggling crazily. It was wonderful, bizarre chaos.

Our visit to New York happened to coincide with the opening Monday of the festival. That and the very popular choice of film meant that the lawn was packed. The film itself didn’t start until 9pm (when the sun had set), so we sat and chatted in the sunshine for four hours, eating and drinking and watching the people around us.

It was definitely worth the wait. Singing along to the Ghostbusters theme tune in the Manhattan dusk, surrounded by happy faces and towering skyscrapers, was far and away the best part of my holiday.

Staten Island Ferry


No one wants to leave New York without catching a glimpse of The Statue of Liberty. If you head towards the ferry terminals, you’ll be inundated by guides offering tour packages that take in Ellis Island and Liberty Island. Whilst these boat trips can be lovely if you have the time and the cash (an adult ticket costs around $20), there is a more cost effective way to see Lady Liberty.

The Staten Island Ferry is a completely free service that transports 22 million people a year between lower Manhattan and Staten Island. The journey takes 25 minutes, giving you plenty of time to admire the views of New York Harbour, including the bridges and skyscrapers of Manhattan, as well as The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

Avoid hopping aboard at rush hour to miss the crowds of commuters.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art


The most famous museum in New York (and one of the largest in the world), the Met is one of those rare tourist attractions that actually lives up to the hype.

Boards across the entrance hall state that an adult ticket costs $25. If you have money to spare, it is worth paying the full amount. However, if (like me), your bank account is struggling to cope with the demands of New York culture, there is a way of getting into the Met without paying the full fee.

How, you ask? Well, the $25 price of admission is actually not compulsory – it’s a recommended amount. The Met grants entry in exchange for donations of any amount. Yep, ANY amount – even $1.

On top of that, you don’t need to pay extra to enter special exhibitions. We were able to walk straight into the incredible ‘China Through the Looking Glass’ exhibition without booking in advance or paying a penny extra.

The Rockefeller Center

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Ok, so this one isn’t exactly a bargain. However, if you’re desperate to get that iconic panoramic shot of New York from above, consider climbing the Rockefeller Center instead of the Empire State Building.

Whilst there’s only $2 between their prices (the Empire State costs $32, whilst the Rock costs $30), the queues for the Top of the Rock are generally shorter and you get wonderful photos that include the Empire State Building – the most recognisable building in Manhattan.

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