Budget Travel: A Day in NYC for $20

  • December 18, 2017

There’s no getting around it – New York is an expensive city. From real estate prices to $18 martinis, there is no shortage of ways to ball out in NYC. But it’s actually really easy to experience New York on the cheap as well. Not only are there tons of free attractions, but also inexpensive places to chow down, too. Need proof? Check out my budget guide to enjoying a day in New York City for just $20.

Note: This guide does not include lodging because, hey, I’m not a magician. But if anyone finds a cheap place to stay in New York that’s not a taxi, let me know. All prices are updated through December 2017. 

8:00 am. Start your day bright and early with a sun-soaked run (or walk!) through Central Park! This 843-acre park extends from 59th street all the way up to 110th, giving you plenty of choices for where to hop in. I’ve been to Central Park about a million times, and there are still plenty of spots I’ve yet to discover. A morning jog or stroll here is the perfect way to kick off a day in NYC (and will make you feel a little better about all of the bagels and pizza you’re going to be eating the rest of the day).

Cost: Free!

9:30 am. You can’t come to New York without having a bagel, and the cheapest place to get one are those questionable-looking carts you’ll see lining the streets of the city each morning. But it’s inexpensive and what NYC’s morning commuters eat, so you should give it a try.

Cost: Coffee + bagel with cream cheese: $2.50.

10:00 am. New York is home to some of the most impressive museums in the world, and there’s no reason you need to skip them just because you’re on a budget. While my favorite is the Museum of Modern Art, it’s steep $25 price tag would blow your budget immediately (admission is free on Friday nights from 5-8 pm, but it’s so crowded that it’s hard to enjoy the experience). Instead, head to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which has a pay-what-you-wish admission fee. They suggest $25, but you can pay as much or as little as you’d like.

Cost: $1.00.

1:00 pm. Lunch time! Hop on the subway and head downtown to one of my favorite banh mi spots, Banh Mi Saigon. A sandwich here will only run you $5.25, and it’ll be filling enough to power you through your afternoon.

Cost: Subway ride: $2.75, sandwich: $5.25. Total: $8.00.

2:00 pm. With your belly full of banh mi, it’s time to hit the streets and discover the magic of downtown Manhattan the old-fashioned (and free!) way: wandering! From Banh Mi Saigon, you’re well positioned to explore Little Italy, SoHo, and Chinatown. With funky shops, cool street art, and plenty of people watching, you’ll never get bored wandering around here. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, check out Free Tours by Foot. They offer free walking tours in all different parts of the city, and all you have to do is tip your guide at the end.

Cost: Free!

5:00 pm. Tummy rumbling but it’s not quite time for dinner? Enjoy the happiest of hours at a dumpling spot in Chinatown. An unfortunate rat-in-the-kitchen incident shut down my favorite spot (Prosperity Dumpling, RIP) a couple of years ago, but there are still plenty of cheap and delicious options. Try Tasty Dumpling (4 dumplings for $1.25) or Joe’s Shanghai (8 for $7.50).

Cost: $1.25.

6.00 pm. After museum-hopping, people-watching, and carb-loading all day, you’re probably going to be ready to rest your feet for awhile. Why not take in a great view while you’re at it? Rooftop bars are far from budget-friendly and are mostly filled with the type of people I go out of my way to avoid, but if you stick to one cheap beer, you can glimpse a gorgeous view of Manhattan’s skyline for less than a trip to the Top of the Rock. Check out Mr. Purple or The Heights.

Cost: $6.00 (beer).

8.00 pm. For a sight even more beautiful than the city’s skyline, grab a slice of New York’s famous $1 pizza on your way home. It’s the best way to cap off a full day of sightseeing in this incredible city.

Cost: $1.00

Stay tuned for more NYC budget guides – Queens and Brooklyn are next on my list!

What’s your favorite thing to do in New York on a budget?

  • Hayley

    That banh mi looks SO GOOD! Especially at $5 each 😉 I love walking the High Line and always head to Free Fridays at MOMA. Pretzels are irresistible too!

    • atlasaba

      I have a place in Queens I have to take you when you visit. They have VEGAN banh mi!!

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