A Family Trip to New York on a Budget

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We came at New York pretty much blind, I’d done almost no research on what to do nor where to go. All we had organised was a 4-night stay in a Holiday Inn not far from Times Square. Times Square sounds like a good place to stay, right? It’s actually an expensive area of NYC, but we found a good deal on a hotel. Check current prices on our bargain Times Square hotel here, there was plenty of room for our family and the location was good. It was about the cheapest place we could find and it was the most expensive place we’d ever stayed at that point. New York is not cheap! We hit New York in Arctic winter conditions, snow was on the ground, and temperatures were set to drop to -11 degrees C. That was pretty exciting for us, my kids had never seen snow and ice and they mostly loved the new experience.

This post is about a family trip to New York on a budget, with tips to save you money and ideas for less expensive (and free) things to do in NYC.

While visiting New York City on a tight budget is possible, most people won’t limit themselves to only the “free things to do”. It is possible to buy discounted tickets to must-see places in New York, such as the 9 11 Memorial and Museum, or Central Park Zoo, simply use our links. If you plan to visit multiple ticketed attractions in New York, a New York pass will save you money. These are available here at a site with a best price guarantee.

New York on a budget. Ship in New York harbour
Norwegian Getaway berthed in New York. A famous skyline inviting us to explore.

New York on a Budget

Budget-friendly things to do, ways to eat, and how to save are listed in the index above. We were on an ultra-tight budget on this trip to New York (our New York travel blog is below), but we made New York work for us.

Our New York Budget Travel Blog

This trip was for my husband. Chef loved exploring the city, it was a dream come true for him.

He was out wandering and exploring while we stayed indoors in the warm rather more often than we normally do.

What we did manage to see we loved, New York is a great city, and it is possible to make it budget-friendly.

Seeing the Statue of Liberty as we arrived on our cruise ship (it was Norwegian Getaway, an Atlantic Crossing to New York) was amazing. My fingers were frozen as I tried to take photos and my camera wasn’t cooperating.

This is the best photo I could get.

World Travel Family blog New York Budget
Seeing the Statue of Liberty lit up at night from our ship as we arrived in the USA

Even more amazing was where Getaway was parked (berthed?) almost in Central Park.

Our hotel was just a few blocks away. Right next door to Getaway’s berth, concord, and a submarine were sitting among the ice and snow. The Empire State building was there in all her glory.

Manhattan is probably the best place to stay in New York City if you need a central location, we were pleased with our choice.

Nw York World Travel Family Blog NYC
Arriving in NYC in winter sunshine. Photo taken from our cruise ship’s berth.

The kids wanted to see The Empire State building, they’d seen it in an episode of Doctor Who and we all wanted to check out Central Park and the museum featured in Night at the Museum.

We weren’t sure which museum that was, but we were pretty sure we could work it out.

I’m absolutely no expert on New York, so I’m not going to write any sort of authoritative post, but here are some of our experiences and things we worked out as budget travellers in the Big Apple.

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Tips For a Family Trip to New York on a Budget

Look out for free family-friendly events. There is a calendar of free events here.

Avoid peak times in NYC, Christmas is expensive, as is Easter and summer. If you visit in January or February, as we did, hotel prices should be lower, and the cost of your hotel will likely be your #1 expense in New York.

The subway is cheap for solo passengers, but for a family a cab may be economic and easier. The cheapest way to get around NYC, is of course, to walk, so bring your strollers or baby carriers and get active.

Staying in Manhattan is expensive, so consider staying further out, (consider Brooklyn and Queens), you have to balance convenience, safety, and cost.

Book a family hotel with breakfast included, feeding kids is expensive!

Free things to do and see in NYC include Central Park (which is just awesome to explore with kids), Grand Central Station, and Battery Park (with views of The Statue of Liberty).

Free Tours of New York

Free walking tours are available in New York City, use these rather than a paid tour. The best place to look is Freetours, there are a good selection of free tours of NYC on this site. Sandemans Walking Tours and Free Tours by Foot carry the “free” tag. However, you may feel you have to tip, so I’d suggest getting your Google maps app ready, and taking a self-guided walking tour of NYC.

Buy and use a New York Pass (here). This pass saves you money on New York’s main tourist attractions (including hop on hop off bus passes, which are great for families)

New York City Pass

Were we to visit New York again and wanted to save some cash while seeing as much as possible, we’d certainly invest in a New York City Pass.

Unfortunately, when we visited New York, we didn’t know they existed. You can buy your New York City Pass here. This should make a trip to New York more budget-friendly.

Taxi Cab or Subway for Budget Travellers in New York?

Taxi cabs work out cheaper than taking the subway (tube train) in New York,for a family of 4 on shorter trips. Cabs are really good value, we thought, compared to London.

Budget New York Eats

Pizza at $1 for a really huge slice fills us up on the cheap. It’s pretty good pizza and available everywhere.

New York on a budget, cheap pizza!
New York on a budget, fill up on the cheap on slices of pizza, this one was $2 . Double Asia prices, but affordable.

Night at The Museum

The American Natural History Museum is where you need to go to see a lot of things from the movie “Night at The Museum”.

New York on a budget? Get free museum admissions
AMNH and other New York museums.
New York yellow taxi, family trip to NYC on a budget
Little Boo’s first New York cab, they’re a lot cheaper than in London.

From the Hudson to Times Square

Ships dock almost IN Central New York, just a few blocks from Central Park on the Hudson River, a cab to our hotel just off times square was under $10.

Included Breakfast Save You Money

Breakfast in cheap hotels (ours, at least) is odd and served on disposable polystyrene plates and bowls.

I’d never seen that before.

But there is plenty of it, a few bananas followed us up to our room and made great snacks. Free tea and coffee all day in the hotel lobby was good news for me and others on a budget.

Take-away cups and lids made it portable. A hot cup of coffee is a good hand warmer in New York in January.

We paid around $140/night for a 4 bed room, including breakfast and wifi, we couldn’t find anything cheaper for a hotel with the features we needed.  See the hotel we used here.

 Budget hotel breakfast in NYC
Breakfast in a budget hotel in NYC was abundant, but not exactly good quality. It filled a hole and this is the first time, in the world, we’ve seen plastic single-use plates. Not good Holiday Inn! We’ve stayed at other Holiday Inn hotels in the UK and Thailand where their eco-friendly game is much stronger.

Hailing a Cab

You can’t call a cab, you have to hail a cab in New York. It’s super easy, and for a family a cab or taxi is actually quite economical.

Winter in New York

 -10 degrees C isn’t too hard to take so long as you aren’t in the wind.

Walking around New York was OK in the big freeze in jeans, normal shoes and a good hat and coat.  It was interesting to experience the famous Arctic Vortex.

I was starting to go down with a cold picked up on the boat, but I hit it with vitamins and Echinacea and soldiered on, no problem.

winter in new york
Family fun in NYC, me and my boy in Central Park in the snow.

New York Museums Can Be Free, Discounted Tickets

High admission costs in New York museums are somewhat off-putting at first after London’s free museums.

A lot of museums have a suggested admission fee only. If you’re cheeky, you don’t always have to pay.

If you’d like to pre-book your tickets to New York’s museums, you can do that here. This takes you to a site that offers discounted tickets to the American Museum of Natural History, that’s the Night at the Museum one and it’s excellent.

Toys R Us Times Square

The big Toys R Us store on Times Square isn’t like the warehouses we have in the UK and Australia, it’s more like London’s Hamleys. It’s well worth a visit.

Update – I’ve just been told that this store has since closed.

Free food in the M&Ms store on Times Square. Chocolate counts as food.

The M&Ms Store in Times Square

The huge M&Ms store on Times Square is also worth seeing. They were handing out free M&Ms and you can buy a bag of assorted pic ‘n mix chocolate goodies.

I’ve never seen this happen in the London M&Ms store.

Raspberry M&Ms were divine. The Hershey’s shop was directly opposite  None of us likes Hershey’s, we tried and failed.

The American Museum of Natural History

The American Museum of Natural History was fabulous. I’m a life-long fan of London’s Natural History Museum.  I actually thought the New York version was better.

Their dinosaur collection was fantastic and exhibits are presented in a really visually stimulating way, the kids loved it. Pre-book your tickets here.

Walking Around NYC

Because of the grid layout of the streets and avenues it was super easy to find our way around.

We walked from Times Square, to Central Park and on to the museum, it wasn’t far at all.

We rarely needed to use public transport, good news for those seeing New York on a budget.

Sony Wonder Technology Laboratory

The Sony Wonder Technology Laboratory was a great free and educational attraction for kids. We passed a pleasant couple of hours there.

The website said that visitors need to pre-book a time slot, we just turned up and got in straight away. Maybe phone first to check if they’re busy.

It looks as if the Sony Wonder Technology Lab in NYC (Manhattan) has now closed and their website no longer exists (2023 Updated)

Intrepid Sea Air and Space Museum

The museum next to our birth was the Intrepid Sea Air and Space Museum. We didn’t go but it looked cool! You can check availability and book discounted tickets for this museum here.

The Intrepid Sea Air and Space Museum, New York
The Intrepid Sea Air and Space Museum, New York

Staten Island Ferry

Had we wanted to get a 2nd look at the Statue of Liberty we could have taken the free Staten Island ferry.  

Staten Island has a park and it used to be a huge rubbish dump, but the views of the city skyline and Lady Liberty are great.

Ripley’s Oditorium

Ripley’s Believe it or Not was better than expected. If you chat to the guy trying to entice you in, he’ll drop the price for you.

Probably to the price you’d get with a discounted ticket.

To save more money we sent Chef for one of his walks while the boys and I got out of the cold in the museum.

Buy your Ripley’s tickets in advance here, no need to sweet talk the door guy!

New York on a tight budget
for Pinterest

Onward From New York a Budget USA Road Trip

We’ve hired a car for a month for a USA road trip, we’re going to tour around the East Coast states and just see what we can see. As a tip, use Discover Cars to find the best deal on car hire. We found it was much cheaper to ppick up our rental car from the airport than in NYC itself. It was much cheaper for us to hire a car and stay in hotels, than it was to hire an RV or camper for our road trip from New York.

I’m writing this from Amish Country Pennsylvania not a very big drive away at all. Our motel here was a bargain $40/ night, again, including a basic breakfast on polystyrene plates, so New York really is exceptionally expensive .

We’re seeing hotel deals on Priceline.com all over the country from around $35/night.

So far so good, we’re having fun in the US. It’s wonderful to not have any schedule to follow, we may pop up to Niagara falls tomorrow then down to Washington DC before slowly travelling on to Orlando Florida, New Orleans and the Florida Keys.

We have to be in Florida to drop off our car in a month’s time, that’s all the rules we have!

Update: We made it to Niagara and it was magical, post here! New York on a budget was probably the toughest part of our family trip financially. We’re seeing much lower prices now we’re out of NYC, good news for budget travellers like us. Want to see where else we went in the US after New York? It’s on our USA travel blog page.

If you'd like to hire a car during your stay, use this car rental comparison tool to find the best deal!

We also suggest you take a look at this company to get a quote for all kinds of the more tricky adventure or extended travel insurance.

Try Stayz / VRBO for an alternative way to find rentals on homes/apartments/condos in any country!

About the author
Alyson Long
Alyson Long is a British medical scientist who jumped ship to chase dreams. A former Chief Biomedical Scientist at London's West Middlesex Hospital she started in website creation and travel writing in 2011. Alyson is a full-time blogger and travel writer, a published author, and owns several websites. World Travel Family is the biggest. A lifetime of wanderlust and over 6 years of full-time travel, plus a separate 12 month gap year, has given Alyson and the family some travel expert smarts to share with you on this world travel site. Today Alyson still travels extensively to update this site and continue her mission to visit every country, but she's often at home on her farm in Australia.

22 thoughts on “A Family Trip to New York on a Budget”

  1. Lovely blog , That trips are so expensive ,whenever I go to trip I always spend lots of money.so as you said my next may be new York.

  2. I was just planning a trip to New York and searching for a suitable place to visit. After reading this blog, now I don’t need to search more I can pick some places from this blog for making my trip interesting. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Hi FYI all Toys’r’Us stores have closed in the U.S., he super nice one in Times Squares inlcuded.
    Interesting article. I would have preferred having a little more info on affordable lodging.

  4. We’re super fortunate that my brother in law lives in Queens. We spent a month living with him while we explored the city and surrounding areas. It was a lot of fun and we spent a lot of time outside of Manhattan. We love visiting but know living here isn’t for us!

  5. This is great. I recognize some of your trips from our stay back in 2011. But your post makes me want to return, there is so much to see (even in winter!). We actually had a hotel without breakfast, but a great supermarket (Fairway?) across the street; so much fresh fruit, bread, etc. Great option!

  6. I loved reading about your time in New York. We just went on our first family trip to New York a few weeks ago with a three and a five year old. We’re from near Vancouver so I was a little worried about the cold temperatures they kept warning about, but it really wasn’t too bad. And Central Park in the snow is just magical with kids, isn’t it?
    If you do get a chance to see the Intrepid Museum, don’t miss the giant Lego model of the Intrepid. My son was very disappointed when he found out we couldn’t buy our own model to take home! I’m looking forward to going back again when the kids are a bit older.

  7. Great to know that New York can be visited without spending toooo much money! I really want to go there – there are so many things I’d love to see! But I often worry that it would suck way too much money from our budget. Reading how much you were able to see in only 4 days encourages me!

  8. Sounds amazing!! I have been to New York before but only briefly, I can’t wait to make it back again some time. At a much warmer time of year though, those temps sound terrible!! (for me anyway, I am a summer person)

    Strangely, I never thought of the budget hotel breakfasts being odd until I read this!! You are right, they are a bit different. I just loved that we just about always did get some breakfast included though even when paying barely anything for the accommodation.

    I hope you are enjoying your road trip. We loved ours.

    • The breakfasts save us so much money Sharon, it’s all carbs and very processed, but at least we can get fruit and often a bagel or something to take with us. We stayed in one place without breakfast or coffee, it was $35, but breakfast at Mc Donalds cost us $15, just for an egg muffin and 2 coffees. Included breakfast is worth paying a bit more for every time.

  9. I sooo love New York. It’s one of my all time favorite destinations and great budget tips too! I’ll keep them in mind for next time!

  10. Same here Amy! Hostels would be cheaper for 1, maybe even 2, but for a family of 4, hotels are always cheaper, we’ve tested that many times. True for London too.

  11. I went to NY on a college trip when I was 18; we stayed in a YMCA near Central Park, it was a lot cheaper than a hotel I think – did you check hostel prices? That was over 10 years ago that I visited though so things may have changed! NY is cool but nothing beats London for me 🙂

  12. We just love NY and yes you can do it on a budget! The crossing of the Atlantic looks pretty cool too. We are going to have to check that out!

    • We both love a good bargain and put a lot of time into finding them Erin. I really like telling our readers how they can get the same sort of value too. Thanks, as always, for commenting!

  13. Great tips for seeing NY on a budget…it’s one of my favorite cities, and I will use this advice!!

  14. Great update. I grew up in the States but have never been to New York. The hotel-brekkie photo made me tense…when we’re in the US, we always stay in budget hotels, and the breakfast is always like that. Lots of carbs served on plastic. And we take bananas back to our room too! Safe travels…

  15. We are just starting to research traveling the world with kids and would love to hear more insights. We have three children and are a little worried about the expense than an additional child brings when traveling (because of rooms and transportation). Love hearing all about your adventures and look forward to creating our own.

  16. I LOVE New York! I went with family when I was 16, and with my hubby for Christmas just before we got married. NYC will be our last stop on our round the world tour and I can’t wait to show my kids it.


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