Yes, It’s Possible to Have an Epic (and Affordable) Weekend in New York City

Friends Visiting New York With Manhattan Skyline In Background
monkeybusinessimages/Getty Images

After having lived in New York City for three and a half years, I can confirm it’s an expensive place to live. I made an entry-level salary while living there, so I was always looking for cheap or free things to do on the weekends that didn’t consist of watching Netflix in my kiddie-sized apartment.

Whatever your budget is, with a little planning, you can tailor a weekend in the concrete jungle to work for you.

Read on for my tips and recommendations to help you plan your own fun and budget-friendly weekend in the Big Apple.

The Train Going Everywhere (a.k.a. The Subway)

Young woman waiting for the subway train in New York, USA.
LeoPatrizi/Getty Images

Navigating the subway system might feel intimidating, but with Google Maps synced up to the city’s transit system, getting around like a local is just about dummy proof and your most affordable option.

Just enter your destination, and you’ll get directions that include which subway line(s) to take, along with how to get to the subway station from wherever you are.

Plus, it’s usually up to date with any service changes or delays. You can get a seven-day unlimited pass for $32, but at $2.75 a ride, $20 will get you seven rides for the weekend, which might be plenty.

Find Your Muse in NYC Museums

Woman in museum takes notes as she is looking at fine art statue.
pawel.gaul/Getty Images

From the MoMA to the Museum of Natural History to the Guggenheim, the city holds some of the most celebrated art and artifacts in the world.

You can visit many of these for free or at the price of your choice if you time it right.

Nestled on the west side of Central Park, The Museum of Natural History is one of my favorites and happens to be pay-as-you-wish all the time. In the warmer months, don’t miss checking out the rooftop at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (pay-as-you-wish for New York residents; $25 for visitors), complete with a seasonal art installation, a bar and an impressive view of the city and Central Park.

Sidestep the Tourist Traps

You don’t need to sign up for expensive tours to see the sites. Instead of paying $34 to go to the Top of the Rock for a view of the skyline, sip on a Winter Berry Mule for just $14 at 230 Fifth for a front-and-center view of the Empire State Building.

To get a close-up of the Statue of Liberty, hop on the Staten Island Ferry for a free ride right past the Lady herself. For a quintessential NYC afternoon, grab a hot dog or falafel sandwich for about $5 from a sidewalk vendor, or a picnic lunch from Dean & DeLuca and head to Sheep’s Meadow in Central Park.

Take yourself on your own “You’ve Got Mail” tour through the Upper West Side or go for a walk on the Highline in Chelsea – an above-ground-railroad-turned-park. Depending on the time of year, there’s a slew of fun food, holiday and flea markets all over the city for your browsing pleasure.

Going Out on the Town

I find when I go to bars that offer some kind of entertainment, I tend to drink less because I’m preoccupied and having fun. And not blowing money on drinks is ideal for sticking to a budget – especially in New York City, where a cocktail can be $15 or more.

My suggestion for a night out? Soak up some live music. Depending on your taste, check out upcoming acts at Rockwood Music Hall in the Lower East Side for up and coming rock and folk bands, Ginny’s Supper Club in Harlem for live jazz and a speakeasy vibe or Brooklyn Bowl in Williamsburg for fun DJ sets and tribute bands. All offer shows for $20 or less – including some for free.

Besides live music, a few of my favorite nighttime activities include comedy shows at the Upright Citizens Brigade (tickets max out at $12). If you’re lucky, Amy Poehler, a founder, might even make an impromptu appearance. The Brooklyn Bazaar main entrance is free (concerts are in the $10 to $15 range) and at Beauty Bar (no cover), you might just find yourself drawn like a moth to the flame toward a glitter-walled back room, where retro classics will keep you busy dancing into the wee hours of the night.

Eating Your Way Through the City

Large selection of pizza slices at a New York pizzeria.
CampPhoto/Getty Images

As you might have suspected, eating in New York City can easily empty your wallet if you let it. So don’t! Surprise, surprise – you have options here, too.

For the classics, grab a $4 slice of pepperoni from Joe’s Pizza in the West Village and forgo brunch for a bagel at Bagel Pub in Park Slope ($4 for any bagel with specialty cream cheese). Or try the Milk and Honey for just $6 at one of the Manhattan Blackseed locations.

For a cheap but filling lunch or dinner in Manhattan, try the carnitas burrito for $9.00 at Taqueria Diana or a falafel sandwich ($4.25) at Mamoun’s. Enjoy unbelievably cheap but tasty dumplings at Vanessa’s (8 for $5) in the East Village or head to Nomwah Tea Parlor in Chinatown for some authentic dim sum and soup dumplings ($6).

Planning Ahead Never Hurt Anyone

To get the most out of your weekend, the key is to be a little strategic about where you go and when. While distance-wise, everything in the city is pretty close together, a subway ride can take from 15 minutes to an hour or more, depending on where you’re trying to go and from where. With traffic, a cab won’t necessarily get you there faster, either.

Once you have an idea of what your must-dos are, print out a map of the city and mark each location. For any that are nearby, try and do them back-to-back so you don’t waste precious time crisscrossing the boroughs by subway.

That being said, no borough is a one-hit wonder. If you have somewhere in mind you’d like to visit but aren’t sure what else is close, just tap the interwebs for things to do in that neighborhood, and several options are bound to pop up.

There is always more to do in New York City – my advice is to pick a handful of things that catch your interest, pack comfortable shoes and see where the weekend takes you.

Abbey Cory is a writer based in St. Petersburg, Florida. She can often be found applying sunscreen or trying to talk herself out of making unnecessary purchases.