The Big Apple. The City of Dreams. New York, New York. The city so nice, they named it twice.

When fellow travelers ask me where I’m from in the US, I usually just tell them New York (even though I’m from New Jersey). Why? Because everyone knows New York City. It’s just that iconic.

Maybe you’re planning to visit Rockefeller Center during Christmas, go up to the top of the Empire State building, or just chill out in Central Park. What makes New York City so great is that it has something for everyone.

But visiting the Big Apple for the first time can be a bit overwhelming, especially when you realize it’s one of the most expensive cities in the world. That is, for bumbling travelers who’ve never read this epic guide on how to do New York like a true Broke Backpacker!

So is New York City expensive? Well, that depends.

If the thought of 73 Michelin-starred restaurants within the confines of one city makes you stumble in temptation — then yes. But if you’re willing to make some frugal (but very reasonable) choices, you’re in luck.

Times square lit up for pride month. New York, USA
NY is beautiful… but is it expensive?
Image: Nic Hilditch-Short

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So, How Much Does a Trip to New York City Cost on Average?

First, let’s break this down into some categories. Any good travel budget will include costs for the five main expense points:

  • Getting there
  • Sleeping (ideally, not on the street)
  • Getting around
  • Eating
  • Doing stuff (hopefully, fun stuff)

If you’re visiting the US, you’re going to save money right off the bat by not going during the high season.

The statue of Liberty with the sunsetting behind her. New York, USA United States of America.
NYC stamp.
Image: Nic Hilditch-Short

Prices in New York are generally highest in the summer months, from June through August. It can also be really freaking hot in the summer months, which is why my favorite time to visit New York is autumn.

All the prices listed in this guide are averages, so you may find slight gradations depending on when you choose to visit. As an American city, New York uses the US dollar; so if you’re from the States, no need to worry about an exchange rate.

Check out the below table for some broad estimates of how much you can expect to spend on a trip to New York City.

3 Days in New York City Trip Costs

A brief answer to the main question: is New York expensive?

Is Expensive in New York City
ExpensesEstimated Daily CostEstimated Total Cost
Average AirfareN/A$450-$1,750
Total (excluding airfare)$92-$840$276-2,520

Cost of Flights to New York City

ESTIMATED EXPENSE: $450-$1,750 for a round-trip ticket

New York City has two main international airports: John F. Kennedy Airport and Newark Liberty Airport. Note that Newark is technically in New Jersey, but it’s so close to New York City that many flights are routed here. John F. Kennedy Airport is the biggest and busiest, so it’s usually the cheapest as well.

That being said, every seasoned traveler knows that airfare, like any other travel expense, tends to vary throughout the year.

If your travel dates are flexible (or if you’re still in the very early trip planning stages), save yourself some easy money right from the get-go by booking flights only in the cheapest months. According to Skyscanner, these are January, February, and March for New York City.

Looking down a wide street in Lower Manhattan, NYC, New York, USA
A picture you can sense and feel!
Image: Nic Hilditch-Short

Here are some airfare estimates for round-trip flights to New York City, assuming you’re coming from a major center:

  • London to John F. Kennedy International Airport: £350-£850 GBP
  • Paris to John F. Kennedy International Airport: €400-€750 EUR
  • Sydney to John F. Kennedy International Airport: $2,000-$2,600 AUD
  • Vancouver to John F. Kennedy International Airport: $550-$800 CAD

As you can see from the numbers above, airfare depends substantially on where you’re flying from. If you’re a skilled internet explorer and you don’t mind venturing down the Google rabbit hole, you might end up finding some cheap flights and error fares.

But be reasonable; I wouldn’t advise condemning yourself to a Google-induced migraine just to save $15 on a flight. Especially when you’ll probably spend double that on a Taco Bell DoorDash order tonight.

Price of Accommodation in New York City

ESTIMATED EXPENSE: $30-$600 per night

There’s no way around it: staying in New York City can be pretty dang expensive.

Remember those fuzzy terms “supply and demand” from back in economics class? A lot of the crazy prices in New York City are due to the recent labor shortages happening in the US.

Fewer workers = fewer hotels, and the problem is that there are still just as many tourists. The demand for accommodation is greater than the supply, and that means prices can skyrocket.

As always, though, there is hope for the budget-conscious nomad.

Hostels, Airbnbs, and hotels are going to be your best bet in New York City. If you’ve never stayed in a hostel before, you’re missing out big time; there’s no easier way to connect with other travelers and even make lifelong friends.

Airbnbs are nice because you can often get full apartments with kitchens, and there’s a certain intimacy that comes with staying in an authentic local apartment. Hotels offer the most luxury, but, of course, at a higher price.

Let’s get into it.

Hostels in New York City

If you’re backpacking in New York City on a strict budget, you’re going to want to stay in hostels; they’re simply the cheapest option out there. A dorm bed in a New York City hostel will cost you anywhere from $30-$60 per night.

cheap places to stay in new york city
NY hostels offer an experience all their own.
Photo: NY Moore Hostel (Hostelworld)

Sleeping in a dorm room with five-10 strangers might not sound like your idea of a good time — but keep in mind all of the amazing benefits of hostel life:

  • You won’t have to go out of your way to meet fellow travelers
  • You’ll get sightseeing and activity recommendations from the owners
  • You’ll sleep like a baby knowing you’re spending every penny wisely!

I mean it — I was nervous the first time I ever stayed in a hostel, but now I usually prefer them, even over hotels!

And as far as pricing goes, things could always be worse: I once spent $150 on a hostel bed in Miami when I got stranded there during spring break — talk about a supply and demand problem!

Here are my favorite hostels in New York:

  • Chelsea International Hostel: Right in the heart of Manhattan, this huge hostel is within walking distance of many of the most popular sights in New York City (Times Square is only 15 minutes away!)
  • The Local NYC: Located in Queens, this hostel features a beautiful roof terrace, which is the perfect place to relax, see the sunset, and meet new people!
  • NY Moore Hostel: Though it’s the best budget option on this list, this hostel is newly renovated and located in a fashionable section of Brooklyn.

Airbnbs in New York City

The main thing to keep in mind with Airbnbs is that the prices vary greatly. This is because, with Airbnb, you can do everything from staying in a dingy shared room to living lavishly in a brand-new, eight-bedroom skyscraper penthouse.

As such, you should expect to spend anywhere from $150-$600 per night on a private Airbnb apartment, depending on your indulgence threshold.

new york city accommodation prices
Those views don’t come cheap.
Photo: 1 BD Luxury apartment with stunning views (Airbnb)

This is obviously quite a step up from hostel prices, but for good reason: in a typical Airbnb in New York, you’ll be enjoying an entire apartment all to yourself, complete with a kitchen, private bathroom, and sometimes balconies or roof terraces.

Additionally, Airbnbs are one of the best ways to really feel like a local in New York City, as most of them are not owned by companies, but by locals who’ve actually spent time personally living in the apartments.

Of course, there are other ways to find stays like this, but Airbnb is by far the easiest, with nearly 40,000 listings in New York City alone.

Another fun fact: there are now more Airbnbs than regular rental apartments in New York!

Here are three of the best Airbnbs in New York City:

Hotels in New York City

By and large, hotels tend to be a pretty expensive form of accommodation in New York City. Airbnbs can be more expensive, but this is usually because you’re getting a full apartment. On average, you should expect to pay $150-$300 per night for a hotel room in New York City.

cheap hotels in new york city
Photo: Hotel 50 Bowery, part of JdV by Hyatt (

Of course, staying in a hotel has its benefits: most include amenities, housekeeping service, and breakfast; some also have free fitness facilities, pools, and laundry service. If you’re someone who prefers this kind of easy living while traveling, you’re going to want to go the hotel route.

You can choose between luxury, or budget-friendly, historical or modern, city center or more on the outskirts. I recommend doing some of your own research to find the cheapest accommodation for your trip.

Here are three of my favorite hotels in New York City:

  • Freehand New York: Located in the former George Washington Hotel, this historic hotel is designed with a stunning blend of modern and vintage. It’s within walking distance of some of New York City’s most iconic sights, like the Flatiron Building (it’s also pet-friendly!)
  • Riu Plaza New York Times Square: If you want to truly ball out in luxury while in New York City, this is the way to go. Located right near Times Square, this hotel offers a terrace with stunning city views, a full fitness center, and some of the highest customer ratings out there.
  • Hotel 50 Bowery, part of JdV by Hyatt: A good option if you’re trying not to kill your budget, Hotel 50 Bowery offers clean, modern rooms. Its convenient location allows you to easily make your way over to the Lower East Side, Tribeca, Soho, Little Italy, and Brooklyn.
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Cost of Transport in New York City

ESTIMATED EXPENSE: $6-$30 per day

Transport in New York City isn’t crazy expensive, but it can add up if you’re making 5+ separate stops every day.

The city boasts a very efficient, heavily used public transport system, which includes the famous New York City subway and a network of nearly 6,000 buses. You’re going to want to use these as your primary modes of travel, as they are by far the cheapest.

Other options include taxis or bicycles, though taxis are much more expensive, and bicycles most likely won’t be able to get you everywhere you need to go.

Subway Travel in New York City

There’s a reason why most New York City locals choose to travel via the subway: it’s fast, convenient, and it’s cheap.

If you know where you want to go and want to get there as fast as possible, the subway is the best way to get around New York City.

A single-trip subway ticket costs just $3. Of course, when compared to a city like Bangkok (where metro tickets cost barely a dollar!) this may seem expensive. But relatively speaking for a city like New York, $3 per trip is dirt cheap. Plus, New York City doesn’t have a zone system, so if you want you can ride all the way to the end of the line on one ticket.

Nic on a subway train in NYC, New York, USA United States of America.
NYC’s underground rollercoaster.
Image: Nic Hilditch-Short

If you’re backpacking on a budget, I recommend paying via Metrocard or OMNY.

You can purchase a MetroCard at a vending machine at most subway stations. A Metrocard lowers your per-trip fare to $2.75, and it makes subway travel more convenient, as you can load the card up with money and pay easily for each ride by swiping your card.

OMNY is New York City’s contactless payment method. Paying with OMNY is as simple as using your credit card or phone to make a contactless payment just as you would anywhere else. OMNY also lowers your fare to $2.75.

But here’s the best part: if you pay using MetroCard or OMNY, then for the next two hours you can transfer to additional subway or bus routes for free. And with OMNY, once you’ve paid 12 fares in a week, you can ride the rest of that week for free!

Bus Travel in New York City

Bus travel is another economical New York City travel option. On average, buses will be slower and less convenient than the subway. However, you’ll usually always be able to get where you need to go, and you’ll get to look out the window during the ride and gaze at the bustling city rolling past you.

how to get around new york city cheap
The ride be longer than your Netflix queue!

New York City has both standard and express buses. Standard buses make lots of specific stops, while express buses stop less, and only in highly-trafficked areas.

A bus ticket costs about the same as a subway ticket: $2.75 for a standard bus, and $6.75 for an express bus. Just like the subway, the easiest and most budget-savvy payment method is Metrocard or OMNY. And yes, you’ll get the same bonuses and discounts as mentioned above in the subway section.

If necessary, you can also pay for a bus ticket in cash — just keep in mind you can only pay in coins, and the bus operators require exact change. So yeah, not ideal.

Renting a Bicycle in New York City

Renting a bicycle is another convenient way to experience The City of Dreams. There are bike paths everywhere, and although sometimes traffic can be a bit chaotic, the city is pretty easy to navigate by bicycle if you’re alert and aware.

Surprisingly though, it is somewhat more expensive to rent a bicycle than to ride on the bus or subway systems.

renting a bike in new york city
Fancy on the outside, pricey on the inside…

The easiest way to rent a bike in New York City is via the Citi Bike app. Here’s how it works:

  1. Download the app
  2. Buy a day pass for $19 or a single 30-minute ride for $4.50
  3. Use the app to find a nearby Citi Bike (they are everywhere)
  4. Ride away!

As mentioned above, this is somewhat expensive considering you’re renting a human-powered machine that’s been around since 1817. That being said, bicycle travel can be an especially fun and engaging way to travel in the city. So in many ways, the price is worth it.

Taxis and Ubers in New York City

The classic yellow taxi is ubiquitous in New York City. You’ll see these cars dotting the roads as far as the eye can see. In more recent years, the Uber platform has become another increasingly popular way to travel around the city.

An American flag and yellow NYC taxi cab
Photo: Nic Hilditch-Short

Taxis and Ubers are among the more expensive forms of transportation, and it’s tough to give estimates. This is because pricing depends on the market, the time of day, and the distance of travel. On average though, an Uber ride will cost you around $5-$6 per mile traveled, with taxis usually being slightly cheaper.

If money is not an object and you’re looking for the most comfortable ride possible, go with a taxi or an Uber.

Cost of Food in New York City

ESTIMATED EXPENSE: $30-$100 per day

Food in New York City should make up a significant part of your budget. It can be a bit challenging to find cheap options. But like everything else, the cost of filling your belly here depends heavily on where you choose to eat. Obviously, the more you eat out and the more high-end the restaurants, the more acute your financial strain.

Here are some common food options and prices in New York City:

  • Lunch at a casual American restaurant: $20
  • Slice of pizza: $3.25
  • Dinner for two at a classy joint: $70
  • Fast food burger meal: $10
how much does food cost in new york city

You could eat fast food three times a day, but a better way to save money (and to ensure your survival) is to buy food at local supermarkets or convenience stores. If you’re staying in an Airbnb with a kitchen, you can cook yourself some delicious, easy meals for a fraction of the price of eating out.

Beyond this, keep an eye out for meal specials and happy hours. Although these savings sometimes seem immaterial, they do add up if you’re consistent in looking for them.

Where to Eat Cheaply in New York City

If only you knew the same secrets the locals know, you’d really be able to save big on food. Well, here’s the good news: I’m about to let you in on those secrets!

cheap places to eat in new york city
  • New York pizza is famous, cheap, and arguably the best in the country (Chicago deep-dish fans, please stop reading and close this page). Plain pizza will cost you around $3.25 per slice, or $17 for a large pie.
  • Go to Chinatown! Not only is it one of the most striking cultural hotspots in the city, but the food there is generally much cheaper than in other parts. You can find full-meal portions of noodles, steamed buns, wontons, and dumplings for less than $10 here.
  • Sandwich shops are a tasty and convenient budget option, good for on-the-go eating. New York City is full of these, from genuine Italian delis to chain restaurants like Subway. You should expect to pay anywhere from $7-$15 for a 12-inch submarine sandwich.
  • BAGELS! If you’ve never been to the East Coast of the US, you’ve never had a real bagel. Trust me, they hit differently in New York City. A New York/New Jersey style pork roll, egg & cheese bagel sandwich is one of the greatest things your taste buds will ever experience. And I’m from New Jersey, so I have the authority to speak on such matters. A plain bagel will run you $1-$2, while a divine creation like the one just mentioned goes for about $8.
  • Convenience stores are always a frugal option for those avid snackers among us. Places like 7-Eleven, Duane Reade, or any store with a name that ends in “Mart” can be found pretty much anywhere in the city. A big bag of chips and a drink will cost you around $5.

Price of Alcohol in New York City

ESTIMATED EXPENSE: $6-$30 per day

In my experience, nearly all travelers like to enjoy a casual drink or two every night. After all, traveling is supposed to be like a vacation, right? If you’re a light drinker, you can get by pretty easily. If you want to be throwing back shots every night into the wee hours, not so much.

By and large, beer is New York City’s cheapest drink, with wine being a bit more pricey. Keep in mind though, that alcohol is one of those items where price can vary hugely. Domestic beers and regular table wines are the way to go over imported, exotic varieties.

how much does alcohol cost in new york city

Liquor is included as a taxable item in New York’s general sales tax of 4% — just keep that in mind when budgeting, as it can add up after some time.

Here are some average alcohol costs in New York City:

  • Pint of beer: $6
  • Glass of wine: $10
  • Cocktail: $17

So yes, alcohol is expensive in New York City, especially when drinking at bars and restaurants. Even so, you can save money by choosing to drink mostly at dive bars and cheap pubs (sometimes these are even more special and fun!) And just like with food, you can save by buying from grocery stores or liquor stores as opposed to bars.

Cost of Attractions in New York City

ESTIMATED EXPENSE: $20-$80 per day

Finding things to do in New York City certainly won’t be a problem. The city is simply bursting at the seams with history, culture, and entertainment. As you probably guessed, attractions in New York City tend to be pretty expensive. Here are some popular things to do, along with prices:

  • Go to the top of the Empire State Building ($44-$79)
  • Visit the Statue of Liberty ($24-$75)
  • Go ice skating at Rockefeller Center ($21-$54)
  • Visit the Museum of Natural History ($28)
  • Hang out in Central Park (free!)
Bow Bridge in Central Park, NYC United States of America.
Take a break from the busy streets in Central Park.
Image: Nic Hilditch-Short

If these prices took some of the wind out of your sails, don’t fear. There are always tips and tricks to help you save money on attractions:

  • Consider purchasing a CityPASS. Pay one bulk price and visit five top New York City attractions at a hefty discount.
  • Try not to visit attractions during peak hours. Ice skating at Rockefeller Center costs $54 at peak hours, vs. only $21 at other times.
  • Whenever possible, book tickets far in advance. While this won’t always help with saving money, it will ensure you don’t miss out on any must-sees.
  • Prioritize free activities! Central Park was mentioned above, and you’ll find many more if you’re willing to do some light research or ask around.
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Additional Costs of Travel in New York City

One thing that took me by surprise when I first started traveling was that I’d forgotten to account for a lot of random daily expenses. I quickly learned that there are always unexpected costs that come up here and there.

Gifts for family and friends, books, ATM fees, and even just water are some good examples. And if you’re into fashion, there’s no way you’re leaving New York City without a new jacket or a pair of Jordan 1s. Vintage thrift stores are everywhere here.

A yellow cab driving through Times Square with an American flag billboard in the foreground. New York, USA United States of America.
You’ll likely pay more than you anticipated.
Image: Nic Hilditch-Short

I recommend setting aside a 10% “I didn’t know I would need to pay for this” fund. Trust me, you won’t regret it!

Below are some other budget considerations you should make sooner rather than later.

Tipping in New York City

As someone who grew up in the US, I can tell you it’s just the unfortunate truth that tipping here is not really appreciated; it’s expected.

For any table service restaurant with good service, you’re going to want to give a 20% tip. I know that’s a lot, but it’s just how they do things in the States. Keep in mind though, if your service is exceptionally bad, then it’s fair game for you to reduce the tip.

These days you might get asked to tip even at casual, order-at-the-counter restaurants. This is not obligatory, and you shouldn’t feel one ounce of guilt at declining to tip.

Get Travel Insurance for New York City

You can spend days researching crime statistics, travel only to the safest destinations, or pay extra money to fly with the best of the best airlines. Still, you’re never totally safe from the unexpected.

Even though New York is by and large a very safe city, you should consider purchasing good travel insurance for the USA.

ALWAYS sort out your backpacker insurance before your trip. There’s plenty to choose from in that department, but a good place to start is Safety Wing.

They offer month-to-month payments, no lock-in contracts, and require absolutely no itineraries: that’s the exact kind of insurance long-term travellers and digital nomads need.

SafetyWing is cheap, easy, and admin-free: just sign up lickety-split so you can get back to it!

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Some Final Tips for Saving Money in New York City

a person holding united states dollars
Gotta save those bills, yo!
Photo: @amandaadraper

Congratulations! You now know more than most New Yorkers about how to live a budget-savvy life in the Big Apple. To summarize some key points:

  • Stay at hostels or the cheapest Airbnbs.
  • Cook for yourself or eat mostly noodles, dumplings, bagels, and pizza (doesn’t sound half bad!).
  • Have a water bottle: Don’t waste money on plastic, or bottled water; carry your own and refill it in the fountains and the tap. If you’re worried about potable water, get a filtered bottle, like the GRAYL, which filters out 99% of viruses and bacteria.
  • Get around the city using the subway or buses.
  • Prioritize free activities.
  • Earn money while you travel: Teaching English while traveling is a great way to make ends meet! If you find a sweet gig, you may even end up living in New York City.
  • Purchase a CityPASS to save on attractions.
  • Become a volunteer with Worldpackers: Give back to the local community and, in exchange, you’re room and board will often be covered. It’s not always free, but it’s still a cheap way to travel in New York City.

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    So is New York City Expensive?

    If there’s one thing you should take away from this article, it’s this: the cost of a trip to New York City is what you make it.

    Of course, there’s a bottom floor of around $90 per day that’s pretty hard to break through. But all in all, you could do much worse (or better, depending on how much cash you have to blow!)

    Hopefully, visiting New York City no longer seems overwhelming. In fact, maybe you now feel like it’s quite easily doable. You should feel like that — because it is.

    If this article has caused you to put down the guidebook and buy a plane ticket to the City of Dreams, then it has served its purpose.

    What we think an average daily budget for New York City should be: $150-$200.

    Nic looking out over the view of NYC from the Top of The Rock, New York, USA United States of America.
    Yes, Mom, I’m tapped out!
    Image: Nic Hilditch-Short
    Looking for more info on visiting New York and the USA?