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17 ways to explore NYC on a budget

Get to know New York City on the cheap with this list of fun tours, activities and things to do under $50

Photograph: Shutterstock

It’s all too easy for first-time visitors to NYC to fall into the tourist trap of hop-on hop-off buses, Times Square hotels and overpriced Broadway tickets—not exactly cheap or authentic ways to experience the city. Instead, try some of our favorite ways to explore NYC on a budget. Nothing on this list costs more than $50, and it includes some of the best New York attractions, museums and even a few New York City tours. You might even be able to afford a night out at one of the best restaurants in NYC with all the dough you saved.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to cheap things to do in NYC

Ways to explore NYC on a budget

Photograph: Jena Cumbo

Cruise by the Statue of Liberty

Sure, it may be a little touristy, but what visit to the Big Apple would be complete without a snapshot of Lady Liberty? Skip the pedestal access and just book a sightseeing cruise around the harbor to get the best view (and the best pictures) of the city’s signature statue. $21.27

Scavenger hunt
Photograph: Courtesy Viator

Go on a scavenger hunt

Everyone has that friend—the one they know would kill it on the The Amazing Race. Put your skills to the test on a Midtown Scavenger Hunt. You enter as a team, deciphering clues on a smartphone app and competing in challenges along the way. The chance to prove your superior navigation skills, plus built-in sightseeing—does it get any better than that? $15

Biking in Hudson River Park
Photograph: Whitney Lawson

Bike along the Hudson River

The Hudson River Park Bikeway runs from the very top of Manhattan (Fort Tryon Park) to the bottom (Battery Park). Rent a bike to see as much of the borough as possible in one day. It’s only a 13-mile ride, so you can easily accomplish it in one afternoon. $8 per hour

MoMA Sculpture Garden
Photograph: Shuttertock
Museums, Art and design

Get modern at MoMA

icon-location-pin Midtown West

Some of the most recognizable modern art in the city can be found at Museum of Modern Art, New York’s temple to works from the 18th century on. In just one visit, you can see Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night, Salvador Dalí’s The Persistence of Memory, Pablo Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon and countless other artists. Crowded galleries too much for you? Stop by the peaceful Sculpture Garden for a moment of serenity. $25

Attractions, Public spaces

Take the tram to Roosevelt Island

icon-location-pin Roosevelt Island

Why take a subway when you can take an elevated tram over the East River? For the same price as a regular subway fare, you’ll get outstanding views of Manhattan from above (and a little adrenaline pumping through your veins). Once you get to the island, check out the abandoned smallpox hospital and FDR Four Freedoms Park. $2.75

Photograph: Shutterstock

Tour Midtown's art and architecture

So you’ve already hit all the big attractions—Times Square, Rockefeller Center, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Radio City Music Hall—and want to explore a more subtle side of Midtown. That’s where this Art and Architecture Walking Tour comes in. You’ll discover public art, intriguing architecture, hidden passageways and other secrets of the city on this two-hour walk. $28

New York Public Library, Stephen A. Schwarzman Building
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/
Attractions, Libraries, archives and foundations

Spend an afternoon reading in the New York Public Library

icon-location-pin Midtown West

Exhausted from all the sightseeing yet? Find a quiet place to curl up with a good book in the famed Stephen A. Schwartzman branch of the New York Public Library. It has some of the most magnificent reading nooks in the city, and you’ll want to check out the giant marble lions on the front steps. Free

Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/melanzane1013

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