New York is the fourth most expensive city in the world but that doesn’t mean you have to spend all your money when exploring it! In this article, I’ll share how to see the best of New York for under $100. There is the right way to see the city and the wrong way. The wrong way involves getting caught in tourist traps. However, the right way is what I’m going to talk about in this article and involves seeing the best of NYC for under $100. In fact, if you do everything in this article you will spend less than $70!
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Top of the Rock: $38 per person
Top of the Rock has the best views of all observation decks
First, let’s start with my top tip on the best thing to see in New York for under $100. As a licensed New York tour guide and company owner, I can assure you the most iconic view of any observation deck is from Top of the Rock. It is the best because you can see everything from one location, and the Empire State Building centered perfectly in the view. You can see the whole city from its observation deck. From the south side, you can see the World Trade Center, Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge, and the Chrysler Building.
From the north side, you can see Central Park, the historic Dakota apartment building, billionaires’ row, the Museum of Natural History, and the Met. It is a 360 experience you cannot get at other observation decks.
Top of the Rock has a fascinating history
Visiting Top of the Rock isn’t only about the view. It also has a fascinating history. Top of the Rock is the observation deck at Rockefeller Center and was built during the great depression by John D. Rockefeller. It is special because it is the world’s largest privately-owned business and entertainment center. The center includes 19 buildings on 21 acres and offers shopping, restaurants, ice skating in winter, the Radio City Music Hall, and is home to the famous Rockefeller Christmas tree during the holiday season.
Today it is home to NBC Studios which broadcasts many famous shows, such as Saturday Night Live, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, The Today Show, Late Night with Seth Meyers, and more.
When should you visit Top of the Rock?
There are two times I recommend visiting Top of the Rock; morning or sunset (add $10 to your ticket price for sunset). Before your visit, get a meal at one of the many restaurants in the plaza then eat in their outdoor dining area (if it is summer) while you take in the magnitude of the building from below.
What is it like to visit Top of the Rock?
While you are eating, take note of the 18-ft (5.4 m) figure of Prometheus (designed by Paul Manship in 1934). This eight-ton gilded bronze statue is depicted descending from a gilded mountain clutching a ball of fire in his right hand that is encircled by a ring containing the signs of the zodiac. Behind him you’ll see a red granite wall that has a quotation from Aeschyles (a Greek Tragedian) that says “Promethus, teacher in every art, brought fire that hath provide to mortals a mean to mighty ends.”
Once you’re done enjoying the stunning exterior, you can start your journey to Top of the Rock for the most stunning view of the city you’ll ever see! Top of the Rock opened to the public in 1933 and since then it has welcomed millions of guests. As you’re making your way up to the top, take note of the historic exhibits that talk about its creation. You can also get a photo on a construction beam similar to the famous “Lunch atop a Skyscraper” photo that was captured during the development of the building in 1932.
After a quick movie talking about the broadcasting studios and current events that happen at Rockefeller Center, you’ll be whisked away into an elevator that has a glass ceiling. Look up when you step in because you won’t want to miss the show. Finally, you’ll arrive on the 70th floor where you’ll see 360-degree panoramic views that reach the Hudson River Valley to the north and the Verrazano Bridge to the south, with Central Park and the Empire State Building in the near distance. Notice the Gothic-style cast-iron perimeter fence on the top level, it is beautiful.
Top of the Rock is great for photos!
Top of the Rock is a great place for photos and I recommend dressing for the occasion. I took my husband with me and we captured shots that I framed for the memories. The best time for photos is early morning when the Empire State Building is naturally lit by the sun or during golden hour. Golden hour normally happens in the 30 minutes surrounding sunset time. You can Google exactly what time that would be when you visit.
While taking your photos, make sure to also spend time enjoying the view. After seeing a skyline like that it is no wonder I included Top of the Rock in my list of how to see the best of New York for under $100! This view is worth trillions so be in the moment with your friends, family or loved ones and enjoy it.
More on how to see the best of New York for under $100!
Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge – FREE
When the Brooklyn Bridge was completed in 1883 it was the longest suspension bridge in the world and the tallest structure in the city (with the exception of Trinity Church’s spire). Walking across the bridge is a right of passage for every New Yorker and a great way to see the best of New York for under $100 because it is free! If you’re interested in seeing the best of New York for free, read my article about it or watch the video here.
It is 1,595 feet across, which is about one mile (1.6 km). The best way to walk across the bridge is to start in Dumbo, Brooklyn then walk towards Manhattan. This way you have the Manhattan skyline directly in front of you the whole time. It is also best for photos! To avoid crowds, I recommend crossing in the morning if you can.
Picnic in Central Park – $15 (estimate)
Central Park is the most filmed location on earth because its 843 acres have been expertly designed into a lush fairyland of compacted landscapes that could not possibly follow one upon the other in nature itself. It was designed in 1858 by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, who won a competition on the design of the park!
Today it is a place you can spend a whole day with everything from free fishing at Harlem Meer to free walking tours (though of course, I recommend my walking tours if you’re not on a budget).! I love biking there with Citi Bike (you can find them lining the park) or having a picnic.
Eat New York Pizza – $5
Want to know another way to see the best of New York for under $100? Eat your way through it! I have a whole budget guide to dining in the city that will help you taste the best for low prices. However, if you’re not on a budget, you may want to splurge on some of the best restaurants in New York City.
Did you know that although pizza was invented in Italy, it was actually made famous in New York when the Italian immigrants brought it over in the late 1800s? In fact, New York is credited with the first pizzeria in the United States; Lombardi’s (1905). Though Lombardi’s is good, it is not my favorite. I recommend eating at Prince Street Pizza. They are known for their square Sicilian slice with a thicker crust. A slice is $5 and one piece is enough to fill up most people!
If you are more of a thin slice pizza person then check out Bleecker Street Pizza. They are famous for their Nonna Maria Slice. It’s so good that I even have a recipe on how to make it from home!
Shopping & Street Art in SoHo – FREE
If you are a shopping lover than Soho will be your paradise! Exploring this area will help you see the best of New York for under $100 because it is free! Soho stands for SOuth of HOuston Street. It has the city’s greatest concentration of cast-iron architecture and is lined with stores ranging from high-end boutique shops to sidewalk carts.
In the late 1800s, this area had many of the factories that produced garments. Today it is a busy place during fashion week with many models doing photoshoots on its cobblestone streets. Walk along Broadway and Prince for the more mainstream stores. For high-end boutiques visit the side streets. While you walk, pay special note to the street art on some of the walls and buildings it is beautiful.
For more details on Soho, watch my Soho video below or buy my Soho e-book (it also includes Little Italy and Nolita). If you are interested in budget shopping, you should read my article on the best places to budget shop in New York.
Los Tacos No. 1 – $8.50 for 2 tacos
I’m married to a Central American so my standard for tacos is pretty high. There are few places in New York that can satisfy Luis but one of them is Los Tacos No. 1. This taco spot produces authentic Mexican street tacos in a few locations around the city. I recommend ordering the Carne Asada and the Pollo Asado tacos. They are so good that we even added them as one of the coveted spots on our NYC Foodie Feast tour! This is one spot you can’t miss if you’re trying to see the best of New York for under $100.
Virtual Tours of New York by Sarah – FREE
As a tour company owner, COVID may have impacted my business but it hasn’t put a damper on my love for New York. Since many people can’t visit New York right now I am bringing NYC to you through my free live YouTube tours.
I normally do one to two per week with the guides from my in-person tours. We cover a different area and topic each time. The tours we’ve offered in the past have been history, culture, and food tours.
Click here to join my YouTube membership program to watch them after they go live (watching live is free though). If you want to travel virtually then click here to see when the next live tour is! During the tour, we do trivia with viewers to give you the opportunity to win cool prizes. It is a fun way to connect with all of you, despite the distance.
With those seven things, you’ll see the best of New York for under $100. For even more tips on saving money in New York read my blog post about it here and to learn about all of the things you should know before visiting click here. Have fun exploring the city!