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Hamilton New York Lottery
Photograph: Courtesy Joan Marcus

Cheap things to do in NYC

Enjoy the city without blowing out your budget with these cheap things to do in NYC

By Kevin Aeh, Will Gleason and Tim Lowery

Fact: NYC living comes with a hefty price tag. But thankfully there are plenty of cheap things to do in NYC that’ll make you feel like a baller. It’s totally possible to visit some of the top New York attractions, devour cheap eats and in general have a kickass time without going into credit card debt. And it doesn’t stop there: We’ve even got cheap date ideas and ways to score cheap Broadway tickets.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best things to do in NYC

Best cheap things to do in NYC

Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

1. Stroll through Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Attractions Parks and gardens Prospect Park

Visiting the stunning 52-acre Brooklyn Botanic Garden usually sets visitors back $15 each, but on Friday mornings, access to all its gardens and conservatories is yours for zilch. The Desert Pavilion, the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden, and the Aquatic House and Orchid Collection are exquisite sights to spend some time on. But come springtime, an even bigger draw lies in the Cherry Esplanade and its rows and rows of bright-pink blossoms, which typically hit peak bloom in late April.

Price: Free

Martin Sweeney

2. Kayak thanks to Downtown Boathouse

Sports and fitness Tribeca

Sure, you could pay a hefty fee to get to a skyscraper’s observation deck, but some of the best views of the city can be seen from the water. And from late spring to early fall, the Downtown Boathouse offers free-of-charge 20-minute kayaking sessions in which you can paddle around the Hudson River, snap pics of the Instagram-worthy West Side and then watch the likes roll in.

Price: Free


3. Sit under the stars at Syndicated

Movie theaters Independent East Williamsburg

With its chic Art Deco flourishes, the Bushwick movie-theater-cum-restaurant Syndicated has way more personality than your run-of-the-mill megaplex. Not only that, a ticket to a screening sets you back as little as four bucks—that’s less than a small popcorn at your average NYC chain theater, folks. This ain’t some janky screen in the back of a bar, either: The dine-in cinema seats up to 60 people and shows classic favorites (like, say, Boogie Nights) for just $7.

Price: $7

Mary Houlihan
Photograph: Courtesy Sandy Honig

4. Catch alt-comedians at Bright Horizons

Bars Cocktail bars Williamsburg

If you’re craving a free-of-charge survey of the Brooklyn alt-comedy scene, look no further than this new weekly stand-up showcase (Tuesdays at 8pm). Held inside a cozy Williamsburg watering hole, Bright Horizons is hosted by the hilariously off-kilter Mary Houlihan, Eliza Hurwitz, Sam Taggart and Joe Rumrill. In its brief run, the show has hosted the likes of big (and next-big) stars like Chris Gethard, Jo Firestone, Clare O’Kane and other charmingly off-center comics.

Price: Free

The Bell House
Photograph: Chad Herndon

5. Dance during Party Like It’s 1999 at the Bell House

Music Music venues Gowanus

This bash is basically a huge #TBT in real life—or #TBT IRL, if you want to be annoying about it. Each bash celebrates a different artist at their oh-so-’90s best (Janet Jackson, Third Eye Blind, Mariah Care, Backstreet Boys) and provides the perfect soundtrack for storming the dance floor to wave your hands in the air like you just don’t care.

Price: Free

6. See Hamilton (really)

Theater Musicals
Open run

Reasonable Broadway tickets? Somehow, even in 2020, they’re still a reality, thanks to TKTS booths, apps like TodayTix and same-day rush tickets. But for a truly insane deal on an insanely popular show, nothing beats catching Hamilton for, erm, a Hamilton. For each show, 46 lucky peeps are awarded the discount. How do you get in on the action? Enter the digital lottery, starting at 11am, two days before whatever performance you’re pining for—and make a wish. 

Price: $10 for lottery winners 

Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre
Photograph: Rafael Rautha

7. Giggle at Upright Citizen‘s Brigade Theatre

Comedy Stand-up Hell's Kitchen

At Upright Citizen‘s Brigade Theatre, the comedy mecca that Amy Poehler & Co. built, you can watch future SNL cast members say “yes, and” at budget-friendly prices. Weekend shows usually go up to $12, but most, including the popular Monday show Maude Night, are less than 10 bucks.

Price: $10

Van Cortlandt House Museum
Photograph: Courtesy Van Cortlandt House Museum

8. Explore the Van Cortlandt House Museum

Attractions Historic buildings and sites The Bronx

These days, New Yorkers feel real estate envy for the penthouse apartments foreign millionaires buy their newborn children. But if you want to see what would’ve popped on Pinterest in days of yore, head to the Bronx and take a tour of the Van Cortlandt House Museum. The gray fieldstone mansion, built before the Revolutionary War, served as the influential Van Cortlandt family’s homestead until the late 19th century. None other than George Washington himself spent the night here.

Price: $5

International Center of Photography
Photograph: Saul Metnick for ICP

9. Take a closer look at the International Center of Photography

Art Photography Lower East Side

The flagship of the International Center of Photography promotes thinking about the world beyond yourself. So, as you tour the modern space, you not only spy interesting images but also pieces meant to raise awareness about pressing social issues. On Thursday nights and occasional Saturdays, the center even drops its usual $16 fee, allowing guests to pay what they wish.

Price: Pay what you wish on Thursdays from 5 to 9pm and on the last Saturday of the month from 11am to 2pm  

Opening Night at Stern Auditorium, carnagie hall
Photograph: Julie Skarratt

10. Keep it classy at Carnegie Hall

Music Music venues Midtown West

As the saying goes, the way to get to Carnegie Hall is practice, practice, practice. This New York institution offers deep discounts on day-of tickets to Stern Auditorium/Perelman Stage concerts. Rush tickets are just 10 bucks—even for sold-out events—and, starting at 11am on the day of the show, are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Price: $10

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