Cheap Things To Do in NYC

CityDays' guide to cheap things to do in NYC that are cost effective but still absolutely worth your while!

New York City is filled with exciting things to do for visitors, but many of the most popular tourist attractions can be expensive. If you’re trying to visit the Big Apple on a budget there are plenty of things to experience and do that won’t break the bank.

From exploring world-class museums and catching a live comedy show, to grabbing a slice of the best pizza you’ve ever tasted, here are some of the best cheap things to do in New York.

Cheap Things To Do in NYC

If you’re watching the pennies when visiting the city there are plenty of cheap things to do that can keep you occupied for your whole trip!

Visit the ‘Pay What You Wish’ Museums & Galleries

Did you know that many of New York City's top museums and galleries offer a 'pay what you wish' scheme? Some will offer this option on a select day of the week or month whereas others have set evening hours every week. It’s a great way to experience world-class art and culture without busting your budget.

  • Museum of Modern Art -  One of the world's largest and most influential museums of modern art, the MoMA houses an extensive collection of paintings, sculptures, photographs. Visitors can pay what they wish for admission between 4-8pm on Fridays.
    📍 11 W 53rd St, New York, NY 10019
    Find out more - MoMA

  • Brooklyn Museum - Located in the heart of Brooklyn's cultural district, the Brooklyn Museum is home to an extensive collection of art and artifacts from around the world. Visitors can pay what they wish for admission at any time of the month.
    📍 200 Eastern Pkwy, Brooklyn, NY 11238
    Find out more - Brooklyn Museum

  • New Museum - Dedicated to showcasing contemporary art from around the world, the New Museum features cutting-edge exhibitions and programs that explore the most pressing issues of our time. Visitors can pay what they wish for admission during 7-9 pm on Thursdays.
    📍 235 Bowery, New York, NY 10002
    Find out more - New Museum

  • Museum of the Moving Image - Located in Astoria, Queens, the Museum of the Moving Image is dedicated to the art, history, and technology of film, television, and digital media. Visitors can pay what they wish for admission on Thursdays from 2-6 pm.
    📍 36-01 35th Ave, Queens, NY 11106
    Find out more - Museum of the Moving Image

  • International Center of Photography - Founded in 1974, the International Center of Photography is dedicated to the art and practice of photography. Visitors can pay what they wish for admission during 6-9 pm on Thursdays.
    📍 79 Essex St, New York, NY 10002
    Find out more - International Center of Photography

Enjoy Live Music at the Rockwood Music Hall

The Rockwood Music Hall is a small venue located in the Lower East Side that features live music performances every night of the week. The venue has three stages, each with its own unique vibe, and it hosts a variety of genres, including indie rock, folk, jazz, and more.

The best part? Many of the shows at the Rockwood Music Hall are free or very low-cost. The venue has a policy of not charging a cover fee for most shows, and the drinks are reasonably priced.

📍 196 Allen St. NYC

Find out more - RockWood Music Hall

Take Part in a Murder Mystery Escape Game

If you want a different way to explore the city, why not try an outdoor escape game!
Solve clues and riddles to unravel the mystery while roaming Manhattan's Middle West Side. Follow the trail and explore historic districts, discover unique buildings, and stop off at some of the best spots to grab a quick bite to eat and drink. From just $20 per person, it’s a great way to spend an afternoon without busting the budget.   

📍 8 Street Station, Manhattan, New York, NY 10003

Find out more - The Devil in Chelsea

Free Things to Do in New York City

New York City can be an expensive place to visit, but there are also plenty of free things to do that can help you stretch your budget. From museums to parks to cultural events, there's no shortage of activities that won't cost you a dime. Whether you're a local or a tourist, these free attractions are a great way to experience the city without breaking the bank.

Visit the High Line

The High Line is a unique and beautiful park that stretches for 1.45 miles along an old elevated railway track in Manhattan's West Side. The park offers stunning views of the city skyline, as well as a variety of art installations and gardens to explore.

The best part? Visiting the High Line is completely free! You can enjoy a leisurely stroll along the park's pathways, take in the panoramic views of the city, and stop to admire the various art installations and gardens along the way.

If you're interested in learning more about the history and design of the High Line, you can also take a free guided tour. These tours are led by knowledgeable volunteers who can provide insight into the park's unique features and the surrounding neighborhood.

There are multiple access points to the highline across the stretch of the walk but if you want to go end to end you can start at the northern end entrance on West 34th Street & 12th Avenue or the Southern end entrance on Gansevoort Street. 

Find out more - The High Line

Walk Across the Brooklyn Bridge

Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge is a classic New York City experience that won't cost you a penny. The bridge offers stunning views of the city skyline and the East River, and it's a great way to get some exercise while taking in the sights.

The bridge is open to pedestrians 24 hours a day, so you can walk across at any time that's convenient for you. The walk is approximately 1.1 miles long and takes about 30-45 minutes to complete, depending on your pace.

Along the way, you'll have plenty of opportunities to stop and take photos of the city skyline and the iconic bridge itself. You'll also pass by the bridge's famous stone arches and the Brooklyn Bridge Park, which is a great spot for a picnic or a game of frisbee.

Check Out the Street Art in Bushwick

Bushwick, a neighborhood in Brooklyn, is known for its vibrant street art scene. The area is home to dozens of murals and graffiti pieces, created by both local and international artists. 

To explore the area's street art, take the L line on the subway to Jefferson Street Station. Once there you’ll find colorful murals and tags on buildings, fences, and even sidewalks. The art is constantly changing, so you're sure to see something new and exciting every time you visit.
If you want to make sure not to miss anything you can Google for directions of self-guided tours of the area.

Take a Free Staten Island Ferry Ride

The Staten Island Ferry is a free ferry service that runs between Manhattan and Staten Island. The ferry offers stunning views of the city skyline and the Statue of Liberty, and it's a great way to see the sights without spending a lot of money.

The ferry runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and it departs from the Whitehall Terminal in Manhattan and the St. George Terminal in Staten Island. The ride takes approximately 25 minutes each way, and you'll have plenty of time to take in the views and snap some photos.

While on the ferry, be sure to head to the upper deck for the best views. You'll have a panoramic view of the city skyline and the harbor, and you'll be able to see the Statue of Liberty up close.

Once you arrive in Staten Island, you can take a stroll through the St. George neighborhood, which is home to a number of great shops and restaurants, visit one of the borough's many parks and nature areas,  or simply hop back on the ferry and enjoy the ride back to Manhattan.

📍 4 Whitehall Street New York NY 10004

Find out more - Staten Island Ferry

Attend a Free Poetry Reading at the Poetry Project

The Poetry Project is a non-profit organization that promotes and supports contemporary poetry and literature. The organization hosts a variety of events, including free poetry readings, workshops, and lectures.

Attending a free poetry reading at the Poetry Project is a great way to experience the city's vibrant literary scene without spending a lot of money. The readings feature both established and emerging poets, and they cover a wide range of styles and themes.

The Poetry Project is located at St. Mark's Church in the East Village, and the readings are usually held on Wednesday evenings at 8 pm. The events are open to the public and no reservation is required, so you can simply show up and enjoy the poetry.

In addition to the free poetry readings, the Poetry Project also offers a variety of workshops and classes for writers of all levels. These classes are taught by experienced writers and are designed to help you improve your craft and connect with other writers in the community.

📍 131 E 10th St, New York, NY 10003

Find out more - The Poetry Project

Best Spots for Cheap Food and Drink in New York

Dining out in New York doesn’t have to be expensive, you just need to know where to visit! There are some amazing spots offering delicious food and drink at affordable prices all over the city.

Try a Classic NYC Slice at Joe’s Pizza

No trip to New York City is complete without trying a slice of pizza, and Joe's Pizza is one of the best places to do it. This classic pizzeria, located in Greenwich Village, has been serving up delicious slices since 1975. Their pizza is made with fresh ingredients and cooked to perfection in a coal-fired oven, giving it a crispy crust and delicious flavor.

At Joe's Pizza, you'll find a variety of pizza options as well as a variety of other Italian dishes, such as calzones and pasta. And if you're in the mood for something sweet, be sure to try their delicious cannolis.

With prices starting at just a few dollars for a slice it’s a great way to cure those hunger pangs while exploring the area.

📍 7 Carmine Street New York, NY 10014

Grab a Bagel and Coffee at Ess-A-Bagel

If you're a carb lover you can't miss a visit to Ess-a-Bagel. This much loved bagel shop, located in Midtown Manhattan, has been serving up some of the best bagels in the city for over 40 years.

At Ess-a-Bagel, you'll find a wide variety of bagels, from classic plain and everything bagels to more unique flavors like cinnamon raisin and Pumpernickel, and a range of delicious fillings.

The shop is open 6am-5pm every day making it the perfect spot to stop off for wallet friendly and tummy-filling meals while you see the sights.

📍 831 3rd Avenue (between 50th & 51st Street), New York, NY 10022

Find out more - Ess-a-Bagel

More Things to Do in NYC

Whatever your interests are, there’s always something new for you to discover in New York City. In fact, you don’t have to go out of your way at all to find them - you just have to know where to look. 

Discover New York’s secret sites and noteworthy nooks by playing one of our New York treasure and scavenger hunts, escape room games or walking tours.

You’ll find curated trails and hunts all over New York, including Manhattan, Chelsea, Midtown and Chinatown. 

All you have to do is team up with your friends, family or whoever to solve riddles, complete challenges and answer trivia to lead you on an unforgettable journey around New York’s most intriguing streets. 

The best part? We’ll recommend top-rated bars, cafés and restaurants and give your team the chance to earn rewards by competing on our leaderboard. 

CityDays gives you total freedom to start and finish whenever you like, take extra breaks if you want or need them, and it’s suitable for people of all ages

You’re also guaranteed your money back if you don’t have an amazing time - although our previous reviews speak for themselves: we’re rated 5/5 on TripAdvisor and 4.95/5on Google Reviews!