Top tips for a budget break in New York City

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If you're planning to travel as far as New York* for a long weekend on a budget, you'll want to make sure that your days - and dollars - stretch as far as possible.

Top tips for a weekend break in New York City © sborisov - Fotolia.com
Top tips for a weekend break in New York City © sborisov - Fotolia.com

It might come as a surprise but there are plenty of ways to 'do' New York without breaking the bank. From discounted entry at museums and galleries to free outdoor attractions and tours, here are some top tips to help you get the most out of your city break on a budget.

Getting to NYC: British Airways operates numerous flights to New York City* direct from both London Heathrow and London Gatwick. You can also book a city break to New York*, including flights and a hotel stay in the latest BA sale.

Speedy repeaters

The queues at border control at JFK airport for first-time international visitors, who are interviewed and need to have their fingerprints taken, can be tedious.

However, if you are returning within two years of a previous visit, you can enter through US arrivals where there are shorter, faster-moving queues.

Take a taxi

With only a few days to see the sights, you'll want to get from the airport to your hotel as quickly as you can. If there are two or more of you travelling, it is far quicker and just as cheap to take a taxi rather than a shared airport shuttle.

Taxi rank at JFK airport © Sergio Calleja - Flickr Creative Commons
Taxi rank at JFK airport © Sergio Calleja - Flickr Creative Commons

A round-trip shuttle from JFK airport costs around $40 (roughly £35) compared to a fixed flat taxi fare of $52 (approximately £45) plus tolls and a tip.

Senior savings

Aged 65 or over? Always carry your passport with you to take advantage of the various discounts available around New York City.

Among the many museums offering discounted entry for seniors, you can save $6 on the $26 entrance fee to the museum at the National September 11 Memorial and $5 on the $22 entrance to the Frick Madison Museum.

Meanwhile, at the Rubin Museum of Art, seniors can save $5 on the $19 entrance or attend for free on the first Thursday of each month.

Andy Warhol exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art © Gorup de Besanez - Wikimedia Commons
Andy Warhol exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art © Gorup de Besanez - Wikimedia Commons

Fabulous freebies

There are freebies to be had for the younger generation too. Enjoy some 200,000 works of modern art by more than 10,000 artists for free on Friday evenings (4pm to 8pm) at MoMA. Be sure to book your tickets online in advance to skip the queue.

It's not all about Fridays though: stroll among thousands of roses and a Japanese garden at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden for free every Tuesday and Saturday morning (10am to 12pm). The museum at the National September 11 Memorial offers free entry every Monday from 3.30pm to 5pm.

Japanese section at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden © Betty Crocker - Wikimedia Commons
Japanese section at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden © Betty Crocker - Wikimedia Commons

Pay what you wish

If you don't want to splurge on museum visits, many such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, American Museum of Natural History and the SculptureCenter offer pay-what-you-wish options on selected days.

Skip the queues

On a short break, you don't want to spend hours queuing at attractions. The New York Pass* provides free entry to some 115 attractions and fast-track entry to many of the busiest, including Top of the Rock, Planet Hollywood and the Rockefeller Center Tour.

The New York Pass also includes hundreds of discounts at local shops, restaurants and experiences, making it exceptionally good value if used to the max. Passes are available for one to seven and 10 days and can be easily downloaded onto your phone.

Set sail for Staten Island

Cruise the waters of New York Harbor for an alternative vantage point of the city on the Staten Island Ferry. Free to use with a Metro card, hop aboard the last remaining service that connects Manhattan with the city in miniature on Staten Island.

Whether you disembark and explore or just go there and back for the ride, the journey takes 25 minutes each way and the ferry operates every 15 to 30 minutes depending on the time of day/day of the week.

Use local knowledge

Discover NYC through the eyes of a local resident with Big Apple Greeter. Meet your very own guide who will take you to all the sights and neighbourhoods for between two to four hours. It won't cost a dime but a donation is welcome.

Check out local tours as well, many of which are free to join or cost just a few dollars. These can range from a walking tour taking in the main sights to themed history, street art or foodie routes.

Take a trip to Little Island

Part nature park, part art installation, Little Island opened in 2021 in the waters of the Hudson River.

Built on stilts, pathways wind through this garden full of flowers and green spaces up to artifical hills that offer splendid city views. Various events such as live music and comedy shows are held throughout the year and while some require tickets, entry to the island itself is free.

Get a bird's eye view

See the West Side of NYC from the High Line, an elevated walkway built on a historic freight rail line which is free to visit. It runs from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to West 34th Street and there are signs highlighting the various areas, buildings and vegetation along the way.

On the High Line walkway between 20th and 30th, New York City © InSapphoWeTrust - Wikimedia Commons
On the High Line walkway between 20th and 30th, New York City © InSapphoWeTrust - Wikimedia Commons

Another good way of enjoying some fresh air for free is to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge with the East River flowing below. Head to Brooklyn Bridge Park for a view of Manhattan's familiar skyline.

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Kathryn Liston

Kathryn Liston
Article updated on Saturday 10th September 2022 in: City Culture North America Travel tips Virgin Atlantic

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