Travel: Affordable New York City

As we start thinking about summer getaways, we’re looking at affordable options for travel especially since our dollar isn’t so hot right now. New York City is a no-brainer and it’s a great time to take advantage of free and low-cost options throughout the City’s five boroughs, including museums and attractions, hotels, outdoor activities and more. From exploring the High Line to hopping on the free Staten Island Ferry, and from theatre deals to free TV show tapings, travellers have the chance to experience an exceptional New York City vacation with a variety of free, low-cost and affordable activities. This spring, NYC & Company is showcasing a new “Free in NYC” guide,, highlighting the best free activities New York City has to offer. The portal, which lists free museums, activities for children, tours, and more, is an ideal source when planning an inexpensive NYC itinerary.

Known for its iconic museums and attractions, New York City’s cultural offerings include a variety of low-cost options as well, with many museums providing free admission. The Bronx Museum of the Arts, Socrates Sculpture Park in Queens, and Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden in Staten Island are just some of the cultural institutions that offer free admission year-round. Alternatively, museums open their doors for free during specific days or times—these include the 9/11 Memorial & Museum (free on Tuesdays, 5–8pm); New York Botanical Garden (free on Wednesdays); Museum of Modern Art (free on Fridays, 4–8pm); and the newly-renovated Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum (pay-what-you-wish on Saturdays, 6–9pm).

Culture buffs can purchase a variety of multi-attraction passes that offer savings at some of New York City’s most iconic attractions and museums. These include the newly-updated New York CityPASS, which now includes the 9/11 Memorial & Museum and the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in its offerings, in addition to the American Museum of Natural History, Empire State Building Experience, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, a choice between Top of the Rock Observation Deck or Guggenheim Museum, and a choice between the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island or a Circle Line Sightseeing Cruise; New York Explorer Pass, with savings at up to 10 attractions; The New York Pass, which gives access to more than 80 attractions including discounts on Broadway shows, shopping and dining; and the Downtown Culture Pass, which offers three days of unlimited admissions to more than 12 Lower Manhattan attractions, museums and tours.

To get an inside look at the five boroughs free of charge, visitors can partake in a variety of experiences, including Big Apple Greeter, whose volunteers conduct “welcome visits” in more than 20 languages. Several local non-profit organizations also conduct free neighbourhood tours, including Central Park Conservancy, Grand Central Partnership, the Village Alliance and the Battery Park City Parks Conservancy.

Another insider’s tip to consider when planning trips to NYC is that certain times of year and certain days of the week offer typically lower hotel rates for those looking to save. Visitors staying during a U.S. public holiday (for example Memorial Day, May 25; Independence Day, July 4; Labour Day, September 7; etc.), or on a Sunday night, can expect lower prices, as these are times when business travel typically slows down. NYC & Company’s Sunday Night Stays program offers discounted prices at New York City hotels, theatres and restaurants for visitors choosing to stay through the end of the weekend.

NYC & Company offers dining and theatre promotions during typically slower periods in the summer and winter. In its 23rd year, NYC Restaurant Week is a biannual dining program at approximately 300 restaurants in the City. During Broadway Week and Off-Broadway Week, theatre-goers can enjoy two-for-one tickets to a variety of shows, for the chance to see some of the City’s best performances at a lower cost.

New York City is one of the world’s most accessible cities, with an extensive 24-hour public transportation system (which allows visitors to get anywhere in the five boroughs via bus or subway for just $2.75, one way), walking and cycling options, at very little cost to the visitor—all ideal ways to get around as the weather warms up. For travellers with affordability and value in mind, a summer visit to New York City offers a plentitude of parks, beaches and recreational activities open to the public at little to no cost. New York City’s beaches will officially open Memorial Day Weekend throughout the five boroughs, as will Governor’s Island, a 172-acre island in the New York Harbor that is home to parks, public art and a Hammock Grove, all with 360-degree views of the Statue of Liberty, New York Harbor and Lower Manhattan. The City’s outdoor public pools, which are free, will be open from June 26 through Labor Day. Other low-cost outdoor activities include Staten Island’s Greenbelt, where visitors can hike, cycle, go fishing and more, or Jamaica Bay, an expanse of beaches, wetlands and wildlife trails in southeast Brooklyn and Queens. And, nearby in the Rockaways, visitors can “hang ten” at the City’s two legal surfing beaches.

Each year, free and low-cost events take place throughout the five boroughs, with many kicking off this summer. These include Museum Mile Festival on June 9, Celebrate Brooklyn! events which start in June and run through August, the famous Macy’s 4th of July Fireworks, Summer Streets on August weekends, the Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival on August 8–9 and more.

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My insider tip….upload the HotelTonight app for great hotel rates. This site is designed for the savvy last minute traveller. Seriously great if you are the type of person that likes the thrill of last minute deals and nice hotels.

Sonya is the Co-Founder and Managing Editor of She is also a well-established contributing lifestyle writer to other sites and magazines sharing her passion for arts & culture, fashion, beauty, travel and food. Sonya is based in Toronto, Canada. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @theculturepearl

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