How to enjoy New York City on a budget

Tamara Hinson

Heading to New York City? Taking a bite out of the big apple needn't cost the earth, and we've got some top tips to help you get the most out of your dollars.

Embrace the outlets

10 years ago, tourists would fly across the pond to embark on shopping frenzies fuelled by the pound's strength against the dollar.

Today, our currency's strengthening once again, and the timing's perfect, because this August sees the opening of Empire Outlets, a shiny new dollar-dumping ground filled with 100 stores, only a 20-minute ferry ride from Manhattan.

It will be New York City's first outlet mall, and there'll also be a 190-room boutique hotel—just in case you can't bear to leave.


Saddle up

As much as we love those sunflower-yellow cabs, taxi fares can quickly add up, especially when you've ground to a halt during rush hour. Our advice? Saddle up in the city which rolled out America's first bike path, on Brooklyn's Ocean Parkway in 1894.

There are now several bike share schemes, the most popular of which is Citi Bike, which rolled out its final phase late last year, fulfilling its promise to install 12,000 of its bright blue bicycles by the end of 2017. The cost? 24-hour rental of a Citi Bike will set you back just $12 (£8.60) and a three-day pass will cost $24 (£17).


Enjoy a free ferry ride

You might dream of champagne-fuelled sunset sightseeing cruises, but in reality, it's highly likely you'll end up paying over the odds to squeeze onto a cramped boat before being hit in the head by another tourist's selfie stick.

Save your hard-earned cash (and sanity) by joining the locals on the free ferry which travels between Staten Island and Lower Manhattan. The service dates back to the eighteenth century and is used mostly by locals, meaning you'll enjoy selfie stick-free views of Manhattan's skyscrapers, the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.


Choose your hotel wisely

You don't have to stump up for a room at the Plaza Hotel to enjoy seriously stylish accommodation. Before you book, work out your priorities. For example, at the Kimpton Hotel Eventi, you'll enjoy complimentary nightly cheese-and-wine hours, and perks offered by The Bowery Hotel include complimentary bike hire.

Last year also saw the opening of the super stylish Arlo Nomad, near the Empire State Building. The rooms get cheaper the longer you stay—stay three nights and save 15 per cent, and five nights for a 20 per cent discount.

Another new opening is Pod Times Square (above), where a night in one of its 665 compact rooms will cost under £54.


Get a Big Apple Greeter

There are downsides to guided tours. To start with, despite the plastic flower your guide will be wielding, it's almost guaranteed that there'll be regular stops to wait for stragglers who've stopped to take a selfie, and then there's the tipping situation. That one-dollar bill you planned on handing over looks rather stingy when the designer-clad tourist next to you makes a show of handing over $20.

This is why we love the Big Apple Greeters—they're local people who sign up to give free tours of the city they love. To request the services of a greeter, simply go to the website and fill out the form, which allows you to specify particular interests.

Taking a bite out of the big apple just got even easier.


Get off the beaten path

We all love Times Square but it's also one of New York City's most expensive areas. To save serious amounts of cash, head to the city's neighbourhoods and get there using local transport.

We've mentioned the free ferry to Staten Island, but we're also huge fans of NYC Ferries. Single fares start from just £1.98—the same price as a single fare on the subway, but you'll get much better views.

The ferries cover large parts of New York City, including Astoria, the Lower East Side, Rockaway, Soundview and Brooklyn.


Embrace the subway

We're very aware we've just raved about New York City's wonderful ferry service, but if you're short on time, the subway is one of the cheapest and quickest ways to get from A to B.

It's also been given somewhat of a spruce up in recent years and there are free online guides available to its public art. One of our favourite pieces can be found at the Hudson Yards station, where you'll find beautiful glass tile mosaics designed by artist Xenobia Bailey.

$2.75 (£1.98) is the cost of a single fare, but you can make further savings by purchasing a rechargeable MetroCard.


Head to the roof

The view from the top of the Empire State Building might well be breathtaking, but so is the price—a ticket to the main observatory deck will set you back $57 (£41).

Our advice? Save your money and spend it on a cocktail at one of the city's rooftop cocktail bars—you'll enjoy better views, smaller crowds, and significantly fewer selfie sticks.

Some of our favourites include the St. Cloud Social atop the Knickerbocker Hotel, where you can sip your drink while peering down onto the chaos of Times Square, and the Salon de Ning at The Peninsula New York, which has sumptuous corner couches and views over Fifth Avenue.


Take a dip

Obviously this one depends on warmer weather, but that's hardly a rarity during New York's long, hot summers.

More than 60 pools, spread over five boroughs, are open to the public, and some of our favourite free places to take a dip include the Olympic-sized Astoria Pool near the Robert F Kennedy Bridge, where you can enjoy gorgeous views of the Upper East Side, and the Floating Pool at the Bronx's Barretto Point Park.

The pool sits atop a barge, so it's the closest you'll get to taking a dip in the Hudson, minus the fear of swallowing a passing piece of litter. For a dip in the ocean, our favourite spots are Brooklyn's Brighton Beach and Staten Island's Cedar Grove Beach. 


Choose your airline carefully

Choosing the right airline can save you serious amounts of cash. First of all there's Norwegian, which offers return flights to JFK for just £265.

Flying from Northern Ireland and planning on exploring beyond NYC? Consider their £205 return flights from Belfast to Stewart Airport in New York State's Orange County.

If you've got time to spare, why not fly with Wow Air, via Reykajvik? Returns from Stansted start from £266.

Finally, those living in London will soon have yet another option, because April will see the launch of Primera Air’s new flight from Stansted to New York’s Newark Airport. It will be the first airline in nine years to fly to the USA from Stansted.