Life Travel NY travel: see the Big Apple for next to nothing

NY travel: see the Big Apple for next to nothing

Marley White
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“New York, New York.” Sometimes it seems as though everything in New York is double, but although the Aussie dollar has taken a tumble, not everything has to be double the price.

You might be surprised by how big a bite of the Big Apple you can have for next to nothing, with a little strategic planning.

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• Click the links throughout this article for information, prices and bookings

Cheapskates arriving from the airport

Travel to and from Kennedy (JFK) international airport on the subway and the AirTrain. The combined trip takes around an hour from JFK to Penn Station in Midtown Manhattan and costs a very reasonable $US7.50.

Forget Yellow Cabs

New York is a great walking city, and the subway is fast, a bargain and runs 24/7. Get a MetroCard and a local fare is $US2.50. Buses are also reasonably priced – you see more but they can get stuck in traffic. Express buses cost more ­ ­– but, hey, you get there more quickly.

Art and about

New York’s galleries and museums are famous for a reason – they’re amazing. Check admission prices – entry fees are often only ‘recommended’, even at The Met. Here’s a sample of museums with free or pay-what-you-wish entry:

• Museum of Modern Art (MoMa): free entry Fridays from 4 – 8pm to one of the world’s great contemporary collections of art, design and architecture.
• The Guggenheim: free entry Saturdays 5.45 – 7.45pm to Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic curved gallery, sweeping staircase and changing exhibitions.
• The New Museum: pay-what-you wish Thursday evenings 7 – 9pm for entry to this shimmering, Japanese-designed building in the Bowery, with its edgy and experimental art.
• The Frick Collection: Free entry Sundays 11am –1pm, to see extraordinary European and Old Master works in industrialist Henry Frick’s lavish former residence on Fifth Avenue.
• Click here for a full listing of free museums in New York.

Park yourself here

Central Park is big … and free. Photo: Marley White

Manhattan’s iconic Central Park is free – and it’s huge (around 341 hectares). The Central Park App (also free) lists over 200 things to see and do, has an interactive map and free audio guide narrated by celebs. Instead of renting a carriage (from $US150) rent a bike to cruise the park (from $US15). Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village is also fantastic and known for its fountains, buskers, chess tables and excellent people-watching. More on New York’s parks here.

See the Bard in the Park

Free Shakespeare in the Park at Delacorte Theatre in Central Park. This year, The Tempest (May­ 27 – Jul 5) and Cymbeline (Jul 27 –­ Aug 23) are playing. Join the (long!) queue on the day of the performance (two tickets per person, handed out from noon) or enter a virtual lottery.

Broadway and off Broadway bargains

Get your skates on at Bryant Park. Photo: Angelito Jusay

Buy same-day discount tickets (20–­50 per cent off) for plays and musicals at the Theatre Funds’ TKTS Booth in Times Square. Check the listings online (the TKTS App is free).

Get your skates on

Free entry to Bryant Park’s Midtown winter ice-skating rink (open Oct –Mar). Hire your skates (around $US15­–$19) and hit that ice.

Movie magic

Over summer, join New Yorkers and watch free outdoor movies at venues such as Coney Island and Bryant Park. Crowded, but fun and free.

Bronx Zoo

See a polar bear at Bronx Zoo. Photo: Marley White

Free general admission to Bronx Zoo on Wednesdays (some special exhibits still charge). Madagascan lemurs, sea lions, grizzly bears and more at New York’s best zoo, open daily. Donations appreciated.

Budget books

The New York Public Library Free entry every day, regular free exhibitions, tours, author talks and other events in this superb marble Beaux Arts building on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street.

The Highline

A free aerial walkway-come-park with fantastic Hudson River views, sculpture, music events and more. The converted, elevated highline rail track (‘the El’) is a community project.

Beer on tap

Join a free tour of craft brewer Brooklyn Brewery on Saturday afternoons, on the hour from 1–5pm, followed by bargain-priced ale.


To be honest, food in New York often seems reasonably priced compared to Australia. Keep in mind that serves (even sandwiches) are often so generous you can share one between two. Sample the street food, especially at street fairs and don’t order food at major tourist sites.


New York’s official website is NYCgo.

Nifty NYC is great for its calendar of free and low-cost activities in the five New York boroughs – stand-up comedy, theatre, movies, exhibitions, meals and deals.

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