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41 Awesome Free Things in NYC
NYC is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, and with good reason. The city can be expensive so it is nice to have some free things to do as well. If you are visiting New York City for the first time you will want to hit all the major sites, but save a day or two to do some fun FREE things.
Visit the Vessel
This new interactive sculpture is part of the new Hudson Yards development. The Vessel at Hudson Yards is a must-visit for anyone who loves architecture and design. The Vessel is an interactive, multi-level public art installation that has multiple sets of stairs leading to the top and bottom.
The Vessel was designed by Thomas Heatherwick, a British designer who has created some of London’s most recognizable landmarks like the Olympic Cauldron.
You will love walking up and down all the stairs to look at different views. If you want more information about how to get free tickets check out my post on Visiting the Vessel and Hudson Yards.
Walk Across the Brooklyn Bridge
When the Brooklyn Bridge opened back in 1883, it was the longest suspension bridge and the first fixed crossing over the East River. It has been designated a National Historic Landmark, a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark, and a New York City Landmark. Today it is one of four toll-free bridges that connect Manhattan with Brooklyn and Queens.
The Brooklyn Bridge is a New York icon that is popular with both tourists and residents. It’s one of those things that you must do on your first trip to NYC and it won’t cost you a thing. You can enjoy some of the best views of the city as you walk across the bridge.
Take the subway to the City Hall Station in Manhattan and close by you will find the pedestrian entrance to the bridge. As you cross the East River, you can see the Freedom Tower, Statue of Liberty, and more. Be sure to watch out for bikes as they share the same path. Once you get to the other side, you should enjoy some pizza from Juliana’s before heading back. If you don’t want to walk, you can take the ferry.
by Anisa from Two Traveling Texans
Visit Coney Island
When you think of New York City, you may not think of beaches, swimming, or building sandcastles. But one of the best free things to do in NYC is to take a trip to Brooklyn for a day spent at Coney Island Beach. While nearby Coney Island may find you paying some hefty fees, the Coney Island Beach is completely free to visit. Reaching Coney Island is easily done on the subway with the Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue taking you just steps away from the beach.
The Coney Island Beach and Boardwalk is made up of 3 miles of sandy beaches and boardwalk with plenty of activities to keep the whole family entertained. You can spend hours relaxing on the beach, enjoying the sun, or jumping waves in this otherwise concrete jungle or find some opportunities for recreational fun with volleyball and basketball courts.
If visiting with young kids (or even adults!) be sure to bring the sand toys and for sandcastle building. You will also find many street performers lined up along the boardwalk, which can be very entertaining, but be sure not to get caught up in the tourist traps looking for money. To get out over the water walk the pier, which extends out into the Atlantic Ocean.
Submitted by Melissa at Navigationjunkie.com
Walk Over the Manhattan Bridge
New York City’s Brooklyn Bridge is a tourist hogging granite and steel celebrity. However, there is another NYC bridge offering a unique skyline perspective but with far less chaos – the Manhattan Bridge.
Taking a walk over the Manhattan Bridge is a hugely underrated free thing to do in New York City thanks to a pedestrian walkway lacking in … let’s say ‘style’.
But does it really matter what the bridge you are walking on looks like? The more important aspect is the view and from the Manhattan Bridge, you can not only watch a stunning sunset over Lower Manhattan, but the Brooklyn Bridge becomes your foreground.
The Manhattan Bridge also features two of NYC’s top photography locations. First, the hole-in-the-fence image framing Madison Street in Chinatown and second, the famous Manhattan Bridge View from Washington Street in Dumbo.
Families can enjoy a considerably more relaxing stroll from Manhattan to Brooklyn, plus the kids will be whole heartedly occupied finding every single hole in the fence framing different parts of Downtown Manhattan.
Visit Times Square
When you think of New York City, what are the first things that come to mind? Broadway shows, Central Park, and the Statue of Liberty? Sure. But these days when someone mentions NYC they’re also likely to think of Times Square. And for good reason!
Take a look at all this city‘s famous landmark has to offer: The bright lights and Coca Cola billboards on the big screens, Madame Tussauds wax museum with its celebrity-filled halls, exciting games like Skee Ball or Carousel Horse Races for prizes galore—it’s no wonder why people flock here from across America. Plus, visiting the Square is completely free.
The lights in this area are unbelievably bright and colourful, making it look like an otherworldly place. You can’t beat the sense of wonderment engendered by these colours. However, you might be thinking that’s it’s packed and touristy. Sure, it’s a crowded, touristy place. It has more people than you can count and they’re always in your way. So why would you bother visiting?
Because it’s the experience of a lifetime!
This is one of the most iconic places on earth, after all. When you see the lights at night, it’ll be worth every second spent trying to cross that street just so you could get close enough to snap some photos of this spectacular view with your phone camera (or better yet – get up close and personal with those dazzling lights by walking through Times Square). Plus, when else are you going to have an opportunity like this again?
Recommended by Alice from Adventures of Alice
Visit the 9/11 Memorial
September 11, 2001, is the day that will never be forgotten by any American and probably by no one who understood the tragic event.
The 9/11 Memorial is a tribute to the nearly 3,000 victims, women, children, and men, from the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
Designers submitted several ideas for the commemorative monuments. The winner was the design called Reflecting Absence and belongs to Michael Arad.
You can read the names of all the 9/11 victims on the plates of the two pools. The memorial was opened to the public on September 11, 2011, to commemorate ten years since the event that shocked the entire globe.
The memorial is always free to visit, and there is even an application that can be downloaded and can guide you, giving you all the information you need. Instead, you have to pay to visit the museum. However, there is a day when you can get to see it for free, but tickets are limited. That day is every Tuesday, between 5 and 8 pm.
The 9/11 Memorial is also a good place for families with children. There is a separate guide for the little ones, and the information provided to them is undoubtedly interesting for their level of understanding.
By Raluca at whisperwanderlust.com
Do a Free Walking Tour of DUMBO
Cobblestone streets, a mixture of old and new buildings and warehouses give DUMBO a unique feel. Though it is a small area, you will find plenty to charm you.
One way to explore all the gems of the iconic area is to join a free walking tour with Free Tours by Foot. The tour takes you across the Brooklyn Bridge, to Brooklyn Heights and around DUMBO. You will explore historic locations and impressive art and architecture.
You will love the views of the Manhattan skyline from Brooklyn Bridge Park. At Washington Street between Front and Water Streets, you will find the famous perfectly symmetrical view of the Manhattan Bridge. Completing the scene is a cobblestone street and the Empire State Building framed perfectly between the bridge legs.
If you prefer to explore on your own, you can get to the DUMBO neighborhood by walking across the Brooklyn Bridge, taking a car, train, or ferry.
Contributed by Debbie Fettback from WorldAdventurists.com.
The High Line
The Whitney Museum of American Art
New York is the most alluring city in America. They offer free entry for certain museums, galleries on selected days of the month or in the evening every week. Whitney Museum of American Arts offers free entry on every Friday from 7 pm to 9.30 pm.
The Whitney Museum is located in Manhattan’s Meatpacking Street at 99 Gansevoort Street. It’s just a few steps away from the Hudson River Greenway and western side highway and is accessible by bicycle, car, or public transport.
Famous art exhibits like “Marsden Hartley,” “George Bellows, Dempsey and Firpo,” “Alexander Calder, Calder’s Circus,” Edward Hopper, a woman in the sun,” “Alice Neel, Andy Warhol,” etc. are free for viewing on Fridays, 7-9.30pm.
They offer various family programs that allow the children of age 4-12 and their parents to explore, observe and discuss the arts together. The programs develop the critical thinking and creativity of the participants and allow them to work with the museum educators and contemporary artists and thus attract a lot of visitors.
Be sure to visit the shop inside the museum for famous aesthetic products and unique artworks.
Visiting Brooklyn Heights is one of the best things to do if you are visiting New York on a budget. Located across the Brooklyn Bridge and on the other side of Lower Manhattan, this is the first ever suburb of the city, and despite the passing of time and increased attention from tourists it’s retained its local atmosphere and a lovely vibe. The area is packed with nice Victorian style buildings, small independent shops, boulevards lined with trees.
The main perk of visiting Brooklyn Heights is the incredible view of New York you’ll get from the promenade. Visit during the day, and you can see all the way to the Statue of Liberty; go later on at night and you’ll see the lights shine on Lower Manhattan. It is quite a show!
To get to Brooklyn Heights Promenade, cross the Brooklyn Bridge and turn right towards Whitman Park. Turn right again on Tillary St.. Finally, turn left on Clifton St. and right again on Pierrepont St.
By Claudia Tavani, My Adventures Across The World
Wander through The Strand
Wandering through the plethora of shops scattered throughout Manhattan is a fun and cheap way to experience some of what NYC has to offer. Though, there’s one shop in the Big Apple where I could easily spend hours perusing, yet not feel obligated to spend a single cent – The Strand.
The Strand is a well-loved bookshop that stands in Greenwich Village at Broadway and 12th Street, just a few blocks south of Union Square. There are a few smaller locations around the city, but the Greenwich location tends to be the most-appealing to both new and returning visitors.
This bookstore has thousands of books organized in various sections between multiple floors. You will come across new books, used books, and rare books of every genre imaginable. This may easily be one of the few attractions in the city that draws-in repeat visitors over and over again – there’s always something new and exciting to discover in The Strand.
Contributor: Kylie Loyd of Catch the Drift travel blog
Take a Ferry to Staten Island
If you are looking for free things to add to your New York itinerary don’t miss the boat trip to Staten Island.! The Staten Island passenger ferry is the perfect way to enjoy great views of the lower Manhattan skyline and to get up close to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.
The ferry travels between Whitehall Ferry Terminal (South Ferry) in Manhattan to St George’s Ferry Terminal in Staten Island- a distance of 8.4 kilometers which takes 25 minutes. Most passengers get on the ferry at Battery Park, at the southern tip of Manhattan. The ferries operate 24 x 7 and depart every 20 minutes, as they are the only way residents of Staten Island, can get to the city. The ferry travels through New York Harbour. For the best views, sit on the starboard side of the ferry when it leaves Manhattan and the port side as it leaves Staten Island.
Contributed by Chrisoula from travelpassionate.com
Grand Central Terminal
Grand Central Terminal to experience world class architecture, art and design with no other cost than your time. It’s one of our favorite things to do in New York City! Enjoy the spectacular ceiling that has been in more movies and pictures than almost anywhere.
You can go to Grand Central Terminal just for fun or take a tour as well- there are many tours offered by different companies like FREE tours by Foot. Enjoy learning about one of the busiest transportation hubs in the United States.
Domino Park is one of the most popular parks in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. There is a giant domino sculpture made of steel and concrete that towers over you when you walk inside.
Domino Park has three sections: an open park area with some trees, several swings and benches; an enclosed basketball court (with hoops) to which there are stairs on both sides; and a children’s play area for infants through 12 year-olds featuring slides, tunnels, bridges and climbing structures.
It’s free to enter but be prepared for crowds on weekends!
The Jewish Museum
This lovely museum is located in the Upper East Side and was founded to preserve Jewish history. It is FREE on Saturdays!
The museum has a permanent collection of over 13,000 objects relating to Jews worldwide from ancient times up until today, including art, ritual items such as synagogue furnishings and Torah scrolls. It also maintains America’s largest public archives of Holocaust era photographs.
The Morgan Library
The Morgan Library is one of my favorite museums in New York City, and it’s free every Friday night from 7-9. It has a fantastic collection of medieval manuscripts and illuminated texts, as well as important pieces of classical art. It is a little gem of a museum.
Visit the New York Public Library
New York Public Library is one of the most beautiful libraries in the world, and it has an incredible history to boot. It’s a place where you can spend hours browsing through old books or exploring some fascinating exhibitions about topics like fashion, photography, illustration, science and more.
Go see Saturday Night Live
Every Saturday night, the iconic show “Saturday Night Live” is filmed live on TV. You can see it in person at New York’s NBC Studio 30 Rockefeller Center between 49th Street and 50th Streets from October through May each year (check their website for updated info).
To get tickets you need to wait in a line that starts at the NBC Studio Tour entrance to get a standby ticket, or you can buy a ticket in advance.
Go see an opera
The Met has been performing operas since 1883 and is one of the most renowned operas in the world. Some nights during these performances will also be broadcasted live internationally through live stream. For more info click here.
Go to Rockaway Beach
Rockaway Beach is a little bit of a trek from Manhattan, but it’s worth it. The Rockaways are one of the few places in New York City that you can find free beach access. Located on Jamaica Bay, this secluded stretch of sand offers some amazing views and awesome waves for surfers who come at high tide to catch some major swells.
Go see Shakespeare in the Park
This summer, pay a visit to the Delacorte Theater in Central Park and watch free performances of Shakespeare’s plays. Performances are given every evening from July 12th to August 16th (except for Mondays). Bring a blanket or lawn chair and enjoy a perfect summer night under the stars while reveling in some timeless drama.
Free Julliard Performances
The world-class performances at the Juilliard School are always free and open to the public. The school offers a variety of different events from jazz concerts to lectures about dance, opera’s newest talents and more. Check their website for upcoming shows that interest you!
The Oculus is part of the new World Trade Center complex. It is a must-see for architecture fans, history buffs and New Yorkers who want to experience the city from a completely different perspective!
It is half mall half subway station and very instagramable place in New York City.
Movies at Brooklyn Bridge Park
Brooklyn Bridge Park is a beautiful waterfront park with stunning views of the Manhattan skyline. It also has free movie screenings on Wednesday nights during the summer months!
Check their website for upcoming showtimes and films being screened.
National Museum of the Native American
This is one of my favorite small museums in NYC. It features the art, history and culture of Native Americans from pre-Colombian, to the 17th century. It’s a great place for kids and adults alike! It isn’t too big and is a great stop if you are down in the Wall Street area.
American Folk Art Museum
TheAmerican Folk Art Museum is one of the best art museums in NYC and it’s FREE. It is across from Lincoln Center in midtown and is a great 30 minute museum.
This museum showcases folk, self-taught and outsider artists from America. The exhibitions are always really interesting and diverse!
Hamilton Grange is part of the National Parks Service. It’s the only private residence of a Founding Father open to the public!
The site is 20 acres and has original structures from Hamilton’s time, such as his orangery (a greenhouse), kitchen garden, and fields planted with crops. The tours are free but reservations must be made in advance by contacting: [email protected]
El Museo del Barrio
This museum showcases art that reflects Latin-American culture through their exhibitions curated by El Museo staff members, as well as special presentations by artists they invite every year. They have an amazing permanent collection on display which consists of paintings, sculptures and installations from Latino artists all over the world like Colombian painter Sofia Maldonado.
Fashion Institute Museum
This museum is located in the heart of Manhattan’s Midtown and has a lot to offer visitors. There are two floors which house exhibitions, an educational center for children aged five to fourteen years old, gift shop with New York-themed merchandise such as books and souvenirs, and they have free lectures on various topics all year round.
If you love “Project Runway” you will love visiting FIT.
St. Patricks Cathedral
This cathedral, located on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan is known for its beautiful stained-glass windows and mosaic ceiling. It’s not just a house of worship but also an architectural landmark which allows visitors to roam around the building as long as they don’t disturb anyone inside.
If you are lucky you might catch a beautiful wedding. (I’ve seen two and they were stunning!)
There are a number of place in Harlem where you can enjoy this style of music including Smalls Jazz Club, a speakeasy-style jazz club with live music nightly. Or Fat Cat Music Hall, a jazz club in the heart of Greenwich Village.
Free night at the Museum of Modern Art
Art at MoMA is free on Friday nights from dusk to close. Arrive after 6 pm to avoid long lines.They also have an app that you can download for free called “Make Art!”
Midtown Manhattan Art Walk
After dark on Fridays and Saturdays, visitors to Midtown Manhattan will find galleries open their doors until late into the night – this means hundreds of artists showing off their work with pieces available to purchase right away! There is no admission fee but most exhibits charge for entry. But you can see tons of amazing art without paying an entrance fee.
Free things in Central Park
An oasis in America’s busiest city, Central Park should be on every NYC itinerary. You can spend all day in the iconic 843 acre park and still not see everything! While there are plenty of ways to spend money in Central park like taking a horse drawn carriage ride, most of the best things to do in central park are free!
Make sure you get a map at the visitor’s information stand right before you enter the park (West 59th street at Central Park West or 6th Avenue). Remember, eating in NYC is expensive, so if you are planning to spend the day there, you may want to bring a picnic instead of buying the pricey park hotdogs.
Families should check out the Discovery center’s free tours and exhibits, but the best way to enjoy the park is to walk it and make your own discoveries. Strolling through the tree lined paths keep an eye out for birds—over 200 species live in Central Park. You’ll also recognize numerous sites that have appeared in countless movies and TV shows like Belvedere Castle, Bethesda Terrace, Bethesda Fountain, the Bow Bridge, Central Park Lake, and of course, the famous views of the surrounding landmark buildings.
Visit Manhattan’s oldest park on a free guided tour which is led by an expert who knows the Park intimately. These tours take place at 11am, 12pm and then again at around 20 minutes past the hour every day of the week aside from Christmas Day. You can also do one of these tours.
Central Park Conservatory
The Central Park Conservatory is one of the most popular destinations in New York City. The conservatories are home to beautiful indoor gardens and plants from all over the world, as well as a greenhouse filled with exotic orchids, bromeliad and ferns! Free tours take place at 11am Monday through Friday on weekdays.
The Turtle Pond
Skip rocks into the water or sit by it as many locals do during their leisure time. This pond used to be called “The Turtle Pond” because turtles had taken up residence here but they have all gone now so visitors won’t see them anymore!
Bethesda Terrace and Fountain
A great place to go anytime of year, this public space is hidden in Central Park but was designed by Calvert Vaux and Jacob Wrey Mould. Features include a large fountain that can be used as an ice rink during the winter months. The views are especially breathtaking during sunset!
Belveder Castles is a beautiful wooden castle that is located in Central Park. It offers stunning views of the city and is a great place to enjoy nature with your family.
Sheep Meadow is a great place for a picnic or to just relax. The area was only completed in 1934 and is the perfect place for sunbathing, reading, people watching and kite flying.
Located near Bethesda Terrace and Fouratin this archway features two dragons on top of it! It’s an especially good stop if you have children with you because it offers some fun photo opportunities without all that pesky walking.
This playground overlooks Central Park West as well as Wollman Rink where ice skaters can be seen throughout most months of the year during public hours. There are also plenty of spaces nearby to sit down and enjoy lunch brought from home so pack up your toddler’s backpack now before heading out!
Free Walking Tour in Lower Manhattan: Financial District
A self-paced walking tour with 16 sites that offer insights into New York City history as you enjoy some of its finest architecture! Start when you like but it takes about two hours to complete all the stops. Trams are available for those too tired but it goes at a fairly slow pace so you should be fine. For more information click here.
I hope this list helps you find some great Free things to do in NYC!
For more NYC content check out our other posts:
Best Desserts in New York City
Free walking tour of Christmas Trees in New York City
How to get from LaGaurdia Airport to New York City
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