How to Spend New Year’s Eve in New York City for Under $500
You read the title right — I did it and I can prove it to you.
For $500 you can spend three days and two nights in New York City and ring in 2019 like nowhere else. All your friends will be jealous and you can tell them all about it when you get back home.
Getting There First
My transportation was nearly free, but I will show you how I did it.
My bus ticket from Knoxville, Tennessee to New York City was $1 because I rode the Megabus. They really do have seats for $1, but you need to purchase as far in advance as possible. They open up their ticket sales around 90 days in advance.
It wasn’t the most luxurious way to travel, but it was a memory in itself. Even if I don’t go that way again, it helped me check off an item on my bucket list, which was spending New Year’s Eve in The Big Apple.
If you don’t have a Megabus option you could use airline miles to get there for free. How about opening up a new credit card that has a sign-up bonus? If you already have a credit card that gives you cash rewards, save them up and use it to pay for your way there.
If you own a car, you might be thinking it would be cheap to just drive there. But take into consideration how much parking will cost you while you are there. Parking is NOT cheap in NYC and could cost you as much as a hotel would cost in another city.
Where You Will Sleep?
Now you have it figured out how to get there and get back home, let’s look at the biggest expense while visiting NYC — where you’re going to sleep.
I stayed at the Jane Hotel in the Meatpacking District. It is a great historic and charming hotel that offers teeny, tiny rooms for under $100 a night. The single rooms have one twin bed and not much else. (They have bunk bed options for two people for only a few dollars more.)
The bathroom is a shared bathroom on the same floor. The bathrooms are large, spacious and well lit. The neighborhood is fantastic and the rooms are clean and quiet.
You can even go cheaper if you go the hostel route. There are hundreds of hostel options in New York City. If you don’t mind sharing a room with others, this is a great inexpensive way to sleep.
You won’t be using the room much at all. There is too much to see and do and only three days. You just need a bed, access to a bathroom, and somewhere to store your bags (you packed light, right?).
Once you have the transportation and lodging booked, you are two-thirds of the way there. Now for the details and the fun.
Public Transportation is a Must
Once you get checked into your room, go to the nearest subway station and buy a 7-day Metro Card for $32. This gives you full access to all the subway lines and city buses while you are there. All of Manhattan will be yours for the taking. Twenty-four hours a day you will have your ride options taken care of.
You Gotta’ Eat
The next category can vary widely among people and that is the food category. For three days I ate pizza 🍕, burgers 🍔and hot dogs and was quite happy about it. Eating healthier can be your New Year’s resolution and you can start as soon as you get back home. 😃
During my time there, I spent around $140 on food. This included fast food, restaurant food, and grocery store food. I ate from the hot dog carts and food trucks, a couple of sit-down burger joints and an Italian restaurant.
There are neighborhood grocery stores all over Manhattan. You can also find drug stores selling food items. Find one or several and stock up on bottled water, bananas, fruit, peanut butter, and bread.
Even if your room doesn’t have a refrigerator or microwave, that’s fine — New Yorkers don’t use their kitchens anyway. 😏 Just stop by the neighborhood grocer on your way out in the morning for yogurt, milk or cheese. Same thing in the evening. Grab some tuna and ice cream for dessert if you so desire.
My food breakdown was approximately $90 on restaurant and fast food, and $50 spent on grocery items.
Get Ready for Midnight…
Now for the New Year’s Eve fun! There are lots of options for this. You can get up early and get in line to be on Times Square for the ball drop. Be prepared to be corralled in for the duration with no access to food or bathrooms.
Or, you can do what I did and buy a ticket to one of the participating businesses on Times Square that have NYE events every year.
I chose to buy a VIP ticket to the AMC Theater on 42nd Street. For $89 I was allowed entry to Times Square, (sections are barricaded off throughout the day on NYE) and it included food and drink options, as well as movie access all evening up to midnight.
With a ticket like this, you will have access to Time Square, a place where it’s warm and out of the cold, and the freedom to move around, eat and drink.
Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum, Dave & Buster’s, several hotels, and AMC Theatres are just a few of the big names out there that will sell you a ticket to celebrate NYE with them. Some cater to more of an over 21, adult crowd and others are targeted to families. Check out this website for all the options.
So Many Things to See and Do
Now, it’s time to fill in the rest of your time there. And NYC has a lot of things that are free or nearly free. Just walking around the city can be exciting enough. Especially at this time of year, all of the city will still be decorated with Christmas and holiday decor.
Here are some free (or almost free) things to do:
- Walk the Brooklyn Bridge
- Ride the Staten Island Ferry (free views of the Statue of Liberty!)
- You don’t have to pay full admission to the American Museum of Natural History. The ticket prices are only suggested prices of admission. You can give them a donation of an amount of your choosing, and they will issue you a ticket. (Previously, the Metropolitan Museum of Art was this way as well, but their policy has since changed to full price for all non-New Yorkers)
- Go to Rockefeller Center to see the famous ice-skating rink and official Christmas tree
- Walk around Central Park
- Visit the 911 Memorials and fountains — see the new One World Trade Center up close
- Walk around neighborhoods (Chinatown, Chelsea, Dumbo, Soho, Times Square, etc)
- Walk 5th Avenue and peruse all of the expensive storefronts
- Walk the High Line Park. It was once an elevated railway and has been transformed into an elevated park with natural plants and beautiful views.
- Visit and tour the various cathedrals (St. Patrick’s and St. John’s are the big ones) (give a donation as you leave)
- Check out the beautiful Grand Central Terminal
As you can see from most of my suggestions, you will need comfortable walking shoes. New York City will definitely have you hitting the pavement. Even when you arrive at your destination, the walking just begins in some cases. Museums, train stations, parks, and neighborhoods require you to walk even more once you enter.
For a great, inexpensive souvenir, buy the New York Times newspaper while you are there. Whatever day you buy the paper, it will represent a snapshot of time that you were there and something you can keep forever.
New York City doesn’t have to be expensive. It can be done on a budget easily. I was so glad I went. The time I spent there was amazing and memorable. A trip I will never forget, and one I hope I get to repeat some day.
I hope this inspires you to plan your trip. If New Year’s Eve or cold weather isn’t your thing, you can use these same tips any time of the year. Have fun and make some memories!
Check out my post on “What I’ve Learned From Traveling Solo” here.