How to visit New York City on a budget: Cheap flights and free things to do

If you’ve always wanted to see New York City but thought it was too expensive, January is the perfect time to go.

It’s officially low season now the peak dates of Christmas and New Year are out the way. Until early March, the city will receive fewer visitors, meaning prices are lower (as are temperatures – but don’t let that put you off).

Here are our top tips for getting the most out of a trip without breaking the bank.

Set off early

Low-cost airline Norwegian, which offers three daily flights from London Gatwick to New York JFK, recommends sacrificing sleep for spending money.

“Taking the earliest flight to New York JFK (which departs around 6am) will usually be cheaper than taking the mid-morning flight (which departs around 10am) due to the timing,” a spokesperson told The Independent. “Not only can you save on the fare but you also land in New York at 9am giving you a full day ahead to start your trip immediately.”

Take a ferry tour

NYC offers island hopping with a difference. The new NYC Ferry, which launched in May 2017, costs the same as a one-way subway ticket – $2.75 (£2.15) – and stops at various neighbourhoods along its routes, including Long Island City, South Brooklyn, Astoria, the Lower East Side and the Bronx. It also heads over to Governors Island at the weekend, where Collective Governors Island, a New York City lodge retreat, launched in June 2018.

Plus there are ferry services to Roosevelt Island and all the way from Wall Street to The Rockaways, a popular beach in Queens.

Maximise free activities

Though the Big Apple can be pricey, free activities abound if you do your research. The tourist board even have a page advertising the best things to do that won’t cost you a penny: nycgo.com/maps-guides/free-in-nyc.

Highlights include taking a stroll along public park the High Line, open from 7am-10pm, built on a once-abandoned elevated rail line; viewing a TV taping as a member of the studio audience; crossing the river by foot on the Brooklyn Bridge to stroll around Prospect Park, home to Brooklyn’s only forest; and taking in the city’s museums, many of which are free on specific days or between certain hours.

Plenty of city tours are free or tip-based too, including a Brooklyn Brewery tour, a Heart of the Park Central Park tour and a tour of New York Public Library.

Wander the High Line public park for free (iStock)

Travel light

For those keen to hit the shops, picking the right airfare for luggage allowance can help maximise space.

“Book LowFare economy (our lowest fare) on the outbound flight, which doesn’t include a checked bag and book LowFare Plus on the inbound flight which includes a 20kg checked bag to bring back any shopping,” advises Norwegian.

Catch a half-price Broadway show

Visit New York between 21 January and 10 February and you’ll catch NYC Restaurant Week (21 Jan-8 Feb), NYC Broadway Week (21 Jan-10 Feb) and NYC Must-See Week (21 Jan-10 Feb), during which hotel rates, airfares and activities offer great value, according to the tourist board.

Broadway show tickets, museums, attractions and tours are available at half price during this period, and nearly 400 restaurants will offer prix fixe menus.

Stay in luxury for less

There’s been a slew of hotel openings in NYC over the last two years which fall into the “affordable luxury” bracket – costing from less than $200 a night while offering premium design and service.

Freehand Hotel New York, for example, opened in January 2018 in the Flatiron District close to Gramercy Park, with 396 rooms and a restaurant and lobby bar led by restaurateur Gabriel Stulman’s Happy Cooking Hospitality. Doubles from $129; from $199 for a bunk room sleeping four.

Rooms at The Hoxton, Williamsburg, offer great city views (The Hoxton)

The first Hoxton also opened in the US last year. In Williamsburg, Brooklyn, it features 175 rooms and three restaurants, including terrace and courtyard spaces and a rooftop bar. All bedrooms come with the usual Hoxton perks: a free breakfast bag, fridge to stock with drinks and snacks from the lobby shop at supermarket prices, and free water and fresh milk, plus a free hour of calls to anywhere in the world. From $149, B&B.

The tourist board’s top tip? “Stay in New York City over a Sunday night or plan trips around US public holidays when rates can often dip to reflect a drop in business travel.”

Try a low-cost upgrade

If you’re keen to travel in style, book by 31 January for travel between January and March to benefit from Norwegian’s lowest ever Premium fares. The Premium cabin features larger seatback screens, complimentary premium meal service and drinks and wide leather seats that offer more than a metre of legroom.

Its one-way Premium fares to NYC start from £400.