One thing that turns many travelers off on a Big Apple trip is the cost. And since most of what tourists want to see and do is in Manhattan, the prices of accommodations, restaurants and attractions on the island can be prohibitive. Or so most people think. The truth is, despite its reputation as a pricey vacation destination, sightseeing, eating and even staying in Manhattan is do-able for those on a shoestring budget.
Free Things to Do
The best of Manhattan can be experienced for free from its sidewalks, parks and even its waterways. At the southern tip of the island next to Battery Park, the Staten Island Ferry costs nothing to ride across the harbor and back. Along the way you'll see the Statue of Liberty and Oz-like city skyline views. Back on land, the pedestrian walkway on the Brooklyn Bridge carries you above traffic across the East River for an up-close experience with one of the world's most iconic structures. In Midtown, Times Square and Rockefeller Center await. A few blocks north, one could easily spend the better part of a day exploring Central Park without spending a penny. And this is only scratching the surface of all the free things to do in Manhattan (such as scoring popular TV show tickets and ice skating at Bryant Park during winter).
Public Transit is the Way
Skip the yellow cabs and hop on the subway. New York City's public transportation system -- the MTA -- is much more affordable than taking taxis, and it goes where you want to go. The subway system is fast and efficient, with stations and transfer points spread throughout Manhattan, including major tourist zones. Buses work well, too, but can be slower, stopping every block or two, and the bus routes are harder to navigate. You'll need to purchase a MetroCard to ride on the MTA system; different price points are available. If you'll be using public transit more than 13 times during your trip, the 7-day unlimited ride card is your best bet. Otherwise, purchase the pay-per-ride card and receive a small discount for more than one but less than 13 rides.
Despite its reputation as a culinary hotspot with award-winning fine dining restaurants where a steak dinner can cost a hundred bucks or more, Manhattan is filled with affordable eating options. Every neighborhood has a pizza joint or three where you can grab a large New York-style slice served on a paper plate. Many neighborhood corner stores -- or bodegas -- have steam tables and salad bars where you can grab a cheap meal to go. And then there's the street food with vendors of all sorts dishing up much more than just pretzels and hot dogs. Grab a knish, a falafel, a gyro or any other number of ethnic foods and healthy snacks from sidewalk vendors any place where foot traffic is heavy.
The hardest thing to find on a budget in Manhattan is overnight accommodations, unless you have a friend or family member living in the city who will let you crash for free. What's considered affordable anywhere in New York City would likely be called "pricey" elsewhere. Manhattan does, however, have a handful of hostels and some lower-priced hotels. Some hostels, such as Hostelling International New York, are part of an organization that requires membership; others, like the Chelsea Hostel, are independently run and allow anyone. Some non-chain hotels, like the funky Carlton Arms, have hostel-like prices for private rooms -- if you're willing to share a bathroom with another room.