From the shores of Lake Ontario and the Thousand Islands on the Canadian border, down through the Finger Lakes and the Catskills, and out to the tip of Long Island, New York State has something to suit every kind of traveler.
These delights don’t always come cheap, though, and it’s not hard to approach the outer limits of your budget as you visit New York’s wineries, enjoy its fine dining and take in its world-class arts venues. Yet, with a little planning – and some insider tips – it’s not hard to economize while enjoying the best of the Empire State.
Below are our top tips for exploring New York State on a budget.
- Basic hotel room for two: from $125
- Self-catering apartment (including Airbnb): from $100
- Parking at state parks: $6 to $10
- One-way bus fare from NYC: from $25
- Restaurant dinner for two: from $60
- Beer/pint at the bar: $6 to $8
The bus is the cheapest way to get around New York State
New York is a bigger state than you think. And though Amtrak trains head north from New York City toward the Adirondacks and west to Buffalo, bus service offers the best deal for distance travel within the state. If you purchase your ticket in advance from a bus company such as NY Trailways, Megabus or Greyhound, you can get between most two points for around $30. Experiencing the luxury of the Hamptons will run you a bit more, with fares on the Hampton Jitney running $40 each way if you buy online in advance.
Fly to an airport outside of NYC
If you want to start exploring the state without hitting its biggest city, consider flying into an airport on the fringe of the New York City metropolitan area. New York Stewart Airport (SWF), west of Newburgh in the Hudson Valley, is served by ultra-low-cost carrier Allegiant Air, while Long Island MacArthur Airport (ISP) offers low-cost connections from Frontier, Southwest and Breeze Airways.
If you’re taking a road trip, bring an EZ Pass
A multilane freeway, the New York State Thruway runs from Westchester County to the Pennsylvania border on Lake Erie – and it’s hard to drive anywhere within New York State without joining it for at least a bit. It’s a toll road for its entire 500-mile length, with all fees cashless, so if you drive be sure to rent a vehicle with an E-ZPass transponder to pay all applicable tolls without exorbitant surcharges from your rental car company. If you’re visiting from another place with the EZ-Pass program, pack your tags with you: the system is compatible across 16 states on the East Coast and in the Midwest.
Buy an Empire Pass to enjoy New York’s state parks for less
New York’s fabulous state parks – which encompass 350,000 acres across 215 sites – are among its most popular attractions for good reason. To fund their preservation and operations, many charge for parking. If you’re planning on hitting up as many as you can – from Niagara Falls to Orient Beach – consider the Empire Pass, which provides unlimited parking at state parks for a full season. (A full-season 2023 pass costs $80; check back early in the year for 2024 rates.)
Time your visit to enjoy reduced admission at art museums
Excellent art museums and sites abound all over New York State – and if you plan your visit carefully, you can save on enjoying their masterpieces. The Impressionist and 20th-century masterworks at the Buffalo AKG Art Museum (formerly known as the Albright-Knox Art Gallery) are ‘pay what you wish’ on the first Friday of every month. Visit the IM Pei-designed Everson Museum of Art in Rochester on the third Thursday evening of every month to enjoy its galleries of contemporary American art and ceramics for no cost.
Winter is New York State’s low season, with prices to match
If you want to make your dollars stretch the furthest, consider a visit to New York State in the winter, from January through April. Hotels often offer promotional pricing during the off-season, Broadway shows in New York City offer deals to fill seats, and restaurant reservations tend to be easier to snag. Just bring plenty of layers: New York in winter can be cold indeed, and you may find a few feet of snow on the ground.
Hit the Finger Lakes winery trail for less
You might not know that New York is the third-largest wine-producing state (behind California and Washington); a wine-tasting weekend offers a wonderful way to taste some of its top vintages. The Finger Lakes in particular have a climate well-suited to standout rieslings and cabernet francs, and the region rightfully draws travelers in search of sips with a view. If you’re planning on hitting the wine trail, consider investing in a Finger Lakes Wine & Travel Card, which scores you discounts on tastings and purchases at wineries all over. If the options overwhelm you, the Wine Tasting Passport will get you extras at a half-dozen wineries on and near Canandaigua Lake.
Sample the Hudson Valley’s world-class dining during Restaurant Week
A longtime hot spot for inventive chefs and stylish entrepreneurs, the Hudson Valley has never been more popular. So popular, in fact, that it’s sometimes hard to decide where to start: in Kingston and Saugerties? Cold Spring and Hudson? Troy, Poughkeepsie or beyond? Enter Hudson Valley Restaurant Week, a twice-yearly promotion that allows diners to sample the work of some of the area’s best restaurateurs via reduced prix-fixe menus. The event takes place in spring and fall; check the official website for updates on the latest roster of participants.
Take the LIRR to save on a Long Island day trip
Looking for a budget-friendly day trip from NYC? The Long Island Rail Road has you covered. The venerable train operator has long specialized in creating discounted excursion packages that will make the (easy) roundtrip from Penn Station one to remember. Enjoy the golden sand of Long Beach with a train fare plus beach admission; you can also hop on the local trolley if you need a break from the sun. Head to the North Fork’s eastern tip with a full day in Greenport, including a guided tour of the town and a cruise to discover its lighthouse up close. And you won’t need a designated driver to sample acclaimed Long Island wines, thanks to an excursion that includes train fare and bus transport to Duck Walk and Pindar Vineyards.