$20 in New York City: The 15 Best Ways to Spend It

by Anna Newell Jones on 3 June 2014 1 comment

New York City has it all — recreation and restaurants, theaters and tourist attractions. Since NYC has it all, it was hard to narrow down the best ways to spend $20, because there are pretty much a zillion ways to spend 20 bucks in New York City!

If you have been thinking of taking a trip to visit the Big Apple or if you are a local resident without a lot of cash to spare, know that you can still have fun and create great memories for $20 or less.

Here are 15 ways $20 or less can get you a great day in the big city.

1. Dine a la Food Carte

Some of NYC's best eats come from the many food trucks parked on the side of the city streets. For $20 or less, you can order a wide variety of tasty treats — from dumplings to eggplant panini — in just a few minutes. Grab your grub, and head to Central Park to people watch.

Check out NewYorkStreetFood for more details on all that the Food Trucks have to offer!

2. Visit the Chelsea Market

The Chelsea Market is an indoor affair that offers NYC souvenirs, fresh foods, and so much more in the block-long space. You could spend a whole afternoon browsing the shops without spending more than $20.

For $20 you can get yourself: a fancy coffee, a cinnamon bun, a NYC bookmark, and a lightweight scarf.

3. Wander the Met

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is one of NYC's most popular places to visit. You can hang out all day long with a donation of your choice for admission. For a little extra you can partake in a delicious martini at the Martini Bar found on the rooftop, where you can take in the skyline of Manhattan and other landmarks as you relax from a day of exploring.

4. Ferry Around a Bit

Take a ride for free on the Staten Island Ferry as the locals do. You get to see Lower Manhattan, the Statue of Liberty, and the New York Harbor on the 25 minute (one-way) journey and then make the return trip back to Manhattan.

5. BYOB Nights

New York City offers several locations where you can bring your own booze to a public restaurant. Entrees are affordable, and for $20 you can hang out with friends and spend a great evening indulging in your favorite food and drinks.

6. Bike the Brooklyn Bridge

For under $20 you can rent a bicycle and head over the famous Brooklyn Bridge, especially if you hunt down rental coupons ahead of time. It's great exercise and a great way to see the sites of the city.

7. Head to the Pier

At Pier 25 in Tribeca you can get physical in a game of football, volleyball, or mini golf for just five bucks, which is donated to charity. There is also a skate park and several exhibits that change throughout the months.

8. Get Out on the Water

The Loeb Boathouse is located in Central Park, and when you're there, you can rent a boat for just $12 for an hour. It makes a great date activity for its romantic setting.

9. Check Out the Brooklyn Flea Market

If you have a knack for finding deals, explore the Brooklyn flea market in search of vintage, second-hand, and unique finds.

10. Go Out for the Trivia

There are a host of eateries that sponsor trivia nights. In most cases, the cover charge is free and you can use your $20 to pay for a few favorite drinks while you show off your skills by answering questions and hanging out with friends.

11. Get Risque

The Slipper Room is a great place to take in a burlesque show for just $10. Bigger stars will come with a bigger cover charge, but you can still get an experience of a lifetime on the cheap.

12. Guided Tours

There are a lot of different tours available throughout the city — from Coney Island to Chinatown — and from the historical to the entertaining. Many are priced under $20 and last for an hour or two, giving you an opportunity to get an inside look at specific neighborhoods, historical sites, and where the movie stars live or work.

Big Apple Greeter is a donation-based, volunteer operated non-profit organization where you get to meet a "real New Yorker" along with getting to go on some very cool guided tours. The guides don't even accept tips for their service!

Another tour option is to do a free walking tours. (New York really does have it all!) Find out more by checking out New York Walking Tours. Then you can save that $20 for something else!

13. Visit the Only Aquarium in NYC

For $13 (less for kids and seniors), you can check out the flora and fauna of the underwater world. The only aquarium in New York is located in Brooklyn and houses over 8,000 different creatures of the deep.

14. Laugh Out Loud

A variety of comedy clubs featuring local acts that will be highly entertaining for a low cover charge (typically $5 or less) or the cost of a few drinks. Many of today's most famous acts started out on these NYC comedy stages.

To find show check out: Tell Your Friends, Comedy at The Knitting Factory, Whiplash Comedy, and Pretty Good Friends.

15. Go Off-Broadway

If theater is what you love, buy a ticket for an off-Broadway show. Prices average around $15 depending on the show and time. There is a great selection of shows to choose from to spend an enjoyable afternoon.

You can find Off Broadway shows by going to the New York City Theatre site.

What's your favorite way to spend $20 in the Big Apple? Please share in comments!

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Thrifty Writer

Don't limit your museum-hopping to the Met. Most museums in NYC have a pay-what-you-wish night. One of my favorite cheap outings is to go to the Museum of the Moving Image, just 20 minutes or so outside of Manhattan, in Astoria, Queens. It's across the street from a Five Napkin Burger. You can eat cheaply off the happy hour menu, then from 7 - 9, wander the museum.
Other fave museums include The Morgan, The Whitney, The Asia Society, and The Rubin Museum of Art (the Rubin used to also include a film screening on Friday night). Even MoMA has a pay what you can night (though the line can get long).
One of my favorite food carts is the Wafels and Dinges cart. Best Belgium wafels ever - the Wafel of Massive Deliciousness (WMD) can be had for $7, and is sooo worth it.
For other free/cheap stuff to do in NYC (some really great) check out theskint(dot)com.