You already know New York City is one of the world’s most expensive destinations, but most of us want to go there anyway, right?
If you’re headed there, here are some tips on how to save.
Avoid tourist pass: I was suckered into spending hundreds on tourist passes offering free visits to lots of attractions, plus a ride on the double-decker tourist buses, when I took my teens to New York, but I quickly came to regret it. When you’re on those buses, you are part of an obnoxious blight riding around the city with a microphone blaring out the attractions. We quickly abandoned the buses and just walked or took a taxi or subway. Later, I discovered that quite a few of the attractions I thought I was saving on could be accessed either free or nearly free anyway. Read on, and then decide. If you do buy anyway, spend some time shopping around because there are a lot of deals out there.
Take Staten Island Ferry: For a great postcard view of the Statue of Liberty, plus a 25-minute-long harbor tour with views of the Manhattan skyline, you can’t do better than this free trip to Staten Island. Did I mention that it’s free both ways? You’ve seen this ferry in countless movies and TV shows. It runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It’s most enjoyable when it’s not crammed with commuters at rush hour. The Manhattan terminal is at 4 Whitehall St., New York. siferry.com
See Metropolitan Museum: Did you know the Metropolitan Museum of Art does not have an admission fee? Instead, it’s by donation. You can pay what you like, every day of the week. There’s a big sign in front listing a “suggested donation” of $25, but only the tourists pay that. The city subsidizes the museum, and as a result, visitors can pay as little as one cent to get in. You choose how much to give, when you get to the ticket booth, even one penny. If you have a dollar bill or a few in your hand when you get to the front, just hand it to the ticket-taker, you won’t look like a cheapskate. Yeah, they might give you the stink eye, but only 11 percent of the Met’s annual budget comes from visitor fees, so don’t feel too badly. Don’t believe me? CheapInTheCity.com
Natural History Museum, too: Same deal as the Met. They want you to pay the “suggested donation” of $22 (ouch) but you can pay what you wish. Buy your tickets at any admissions desk in the museum. You can’t buy tickets online with this deal, you must buy in person. My teens loved this museum, across the street from Central Park. Amnh.org
Guided stroll in Central Park: One of New York City’s great free attractions is Central Park, with scads of things to do. There’s a lake, boathouse, bridle path, Shakespeare garden, “castle” and more. I liked the John Lennon memorial at Strawberry Fields, on the west side near the Natural History Museum. The Central Park Conservancy offers free guided Thursday evening strolls July 7-Aug. 18. Centralparknyc.org.
Free concerts and more: Get brochures and read oodles of information about things you want to know on the New York City Tourist Authority website at nycgo.com. There’s a list of free summer concerts, maps and guides, and lots more.
Tour Grand Central Terminal: This iconic landmark is indeed grand, and also free to visit. And you can take a free walking tour of the neighborhood every Friday at 12:30 p.m. that explores Midtown East sites such as the Whispering Gallery in Grand Central Terminal, the Chrysler Building, Pershing Square and more. You don’t need tickets or reservations, just show up at the sculpture court at 120 Park Ave. Sponsored by the Grand Central Partnership. Grand centralpartnership.nyc
Guggenheim for a penny: Saturday is “pay what you wish” night at the famed Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum of art, perhaps most noted for its remarkable architecture by Frank Lloyd Wright. From 5:45 to its 7:45 p.m. closing, pay as little as one cent to get in. (You can ignore the “suggested donation” of $10.) The line starts forming at 5:15, and the last ticket is issued at 7:15. Regular daily admission is $25. Visit guggenheim.org, and search under Plan Your Visit.
Get a free city tour: This is the coolest thing ever: Sign up at least three weeks in advance to get a free personal tour from a volunteer who lives in and loves New York City, through the Big Apple Greeters program. My friend gives these tours for fun. You’ll meet a real resident! You can request a neighborhood, or leave it up to them. No tipping required, but they will request a donation to support the organization. Bigapplegreeter.org
9/11 memorial for free: This is a somber memorial, not an attraction. But note that the Lower Manhattan site of the destroyed World Trade Center is free to visit, open daily 7:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Now, the adjacent museum is not free. You’ll have to buy a ticket for that, except on Tuesday evenings when it’s free 5-8 p.m. (A limited number of free tickets can be reserved online in advance.) But the memorial site costs nothing. It includes the names of everyone who died in terrorist attacks Feb. 26, 1993, and Sept. 11, 2001, listed in bronze around a pair of memorial pools. There’s a 9/11 Memorial mobile app available. 911memorial.org
Skip Times Square: OK, so you have to cruise through here just to gawk at the giant billboards, then get out fast. And don’t go when you’re hungry, there’s nothing but overpriced chain restaurants. This made my readers list of worst tourist traps in America. You’ll save a lot of money by avoiding it.
Visit The Cloisters: This is a hidden gem I discovered when a local took me there. Operated by the Metropolitan Museum, The Cloisters is a medieval-style building entirely devoted to medieval art, gardens and architecture, with sculptures, paintings, stained glass, illuminated manuscripts and more. If you want to feel like you’ve stepped back in time, go here. Your Met ticket gets you in free same-day here, or it’s the same “pay as you wish” policy as the main museum. It’s located in Fort Tryon Park. metmuseum.org/visit/met -cloisters
Got a travel tip on how to save money? Send it to me. If I use it, I’ll give you credit. Contact Marla Jo Fisher: firstname.lastname@example.org