Money & Career

How To Plan An Action-Packed Trip To New York Without Breaking The Bank

A trip to the city that never sleeps is more affordable than you think.

budget travel New York City feature image shows a shot of Time Square.

New York is one of the most visited cities in the world. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the most expensive cities — its forever-soaring cost of living doesn’t usually make it a wallet-friendly locale for visitors. That being said, if you do decide to spend some time in NYC, things don’t need to be entirely unaffordable. New York is still close to the border and offers a lot for families. If you plan accordingly, a family of four can spend a week in New York for less than $4,500 without sacrificing fun. Here’s how:


Cost: Approximately $1,480

Even during the peak travel time of the summer, you can find flights to New York City between $300 and $400 Canadian. However, to get fares that low, you may need to take a stopover in Toronto or Calgary. Direct flights from Vancouver are closer to the $500 range so you need to decide if the extra time spent travelling is worth the money saved. If you’re travelling from Toronto or Ottawa, a seat sale on Porter could cost you less than $300.

As for local transportation, getting around New York is reasonably priced and easy. A seven-day unlimited transit pass is $32 USD ($40 CAD), but kids under 3.7 feet ride for free with a fare-paying adult.

The iconic yellow cabs may also be tempting, especially for a family of four. But, keep in mind that traffic in NYC can be terrible, so that meter may be running for some time before you reach your destination, hiking up costs significantly.


Cost: Approximately $1,350

Even with a family of four in tow, there are a few good hotel options available to you. The Hotel Pennsylvania has one of the best locations in midtown Manhattan and goes for as low as $187 CAD a night in August. The Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott New York in Brooklyn has modern rooms and is close to transit so you can get to Manhattan quickly or enjoy the local neighbourhood for as low as $266 CAD a night. Remember, for a weeklong trip, most people will be staying just six nights.

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Another great option for families is to book a vacation home so you’ll have access to a kitchen. Buying groceries and cooking a few meals while on vacation can save a family of four a fair amount of money.

To help you manage your expenses, I recommend using for your accommodations since there are no reservation fees and you can find all types of properties including hotels, B&Bs, private apartments, and more. Quite often the prices quoted are cheaper than going direct. There’s also Airbnb, which allows you to rent entire homes directly from owners, with costs ranging between $150-$250 CAD a night. Which site you choose is a personal preference, but it’s worth looking at both.

What to do

Cost: Approximately $600

One of the best deals for visitors to New York is the New York CityPASS which lets you see six of the top attractions in the city for $126 USD (Adults) and $104 USD (youths), which is a savings of 43 percent compared to paying the regular admission price to each attraction. You’ll get access to The Empire State Building ($53.25), The Metropolitan Museum of Art ($25), American Museum of Natural History ($28), and much more, which could easily keep you busy for the week.

If you prefer to keep things even more budget friendly, there are plenty of things to do in the city for free. The Staten Island ferry will give you one of the best views of the New York skyline, while the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) is free every Friday from 4pm to 8pm. Every Wednesday, both the Bronx Zoo and New York Botanical Garden (which is down the street from the Zoo) are available by donation only, so you can pay whatever fits your budget. There’s also the High Line, the city’s elevated park (built on a former rail trail) that has become one of the NYC’s main attractions.

Alternatively, you could pack a lunch and have a picnic in Central Park with the family or check out some of the city’s other major attractions, including Times Square, Wall Street, The National September 11 Memorial, Grand Central Station, and Chelsea Market.

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What to eat

Cost: Approximately $780

Generally speaking, food in New York City can be expensive, which is why you may want to go to the grocery store when you arrive and pick up some supplies to make a few lunches throughout the week. If you don’t have the time, grab-and-go meals can be found just about everywhere.

That being said, there are a few local favourite spots that are reasonably priced. The Halal Guys serve gyros, platters and sandwiches for less than $10, while 2 Bros. Pizza has $1 slices. Not the healthiest choices, but definitely budget-friendly.

How much you spend on food is really up to you, but budgeting about $120 a day for your family is a reasonable amount, which will allow you to enjoy at least one nice meal at a restaurant if you choose wisely.

Total estimated cost for one week in New York for a family of four: $4,210

When you start travelling as a family, costs add up fast, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a reasonably priced vacation. New York is one of the greatest cities in the world and can also be one of the most expensive, but it’s also packed with plenty of cheap things to do as a family. Keep that in mind as you take the plunge and book your tickets this summer.

Barry Choi is a personal finance and budget travel expert at He makes regular media appearances where he talks about all things related to money and travel.

This post is part of Spend It Better, a personal finance collaboration between Chatelaine and MoneySense about how to get the most for your money. You can find out more right here.

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