New York is one of the most expensive cities in the world, both for locals and tourists.
But it does offer a lot of free things to do, unlike other major cities around the world.
So if you are on a budget or don’t want to spend much, you can still enjoy the city by doing these 40 things that will cost you absolutely nothing.
I am not including any cheap attractions and places to see, I am just listing totally free things to do and see.
I will tell you how to visit and what you can expect for each place, but for planning your visit refer to each place’s website to find additional information.
1 – Central Park
The obvious one. Probably the best thing to do in New York, or at least one of the best 5. Being one of the most beautiful parks in the world, there is no way to left the Central Park out of your list.
The Central Park receives more than 42 million visitors every year. You can easily spend a whole day in here (it covers around 3.5 square miles). There are lots of things to see.
Check out this NYCGo guide on the best things to do in Central Park for inspiration.
2 – Fifth Avenue
The best place to shop in New York, here you will find all the best brands and all the high-end stores. It is one of the most expensive and elegant streets on the world, so you can’t miss it.
Apart from the shops, you will find other popular spots in 5th Avenue like the Empire State Building, the Public Library, St. Patrick’s Cathedral and the MET (Metropolitan Museum of Art).
3 – Times Square
Times Square is located at the junction of Broadway and 7th Avenue. This is where you will find all that billboards, huge screens and crowds.
Of course you are not going to miss “The Center of the Universe” if you visit New York City. More than 330.000 people walk through Times Square every day, and more than 50 million visit it every year. If you want to see how that looks like, check this live camera located on 47 St. and Broadway.
Times Square can be chaotic, that’s why in 2016 the city designated different areas to relax, find activities and express lanes to avoid the crowds.
You can download the cheat sheet here, or take this copy:
4 – Brooklyn Bridge
The Brooklyn Bridge connects Brooklyn with Manhattan, and is another must-see in New York City. More than 120,000 vehicles, 4,000 pedestrians, and 3,100 cyclists cross the bridge each day.
Plan to spend about an hour to get from one side to the other walking (it’s a 1.3 mile walk). There are two lanes, one for bicycles and one for pedestrians, and they are both very narrow so be careful.
If you are visiting the bridge as a tourist, cross the bridge walking. If you ride a bicycle, you will find it harder to stop to take some pictures and enjoy the views.
For a full guide on walking Brooklyn Bridge, check out this post from Explore Brooklyn.
In my opinion, this is the best free museum in New York. If you like art, don’t miss it.
Admission to the MoMA is free for all visitors during UNIQLO Free Friday Nights, every Friday evening from 4:00 to 8:00 p.m. If you want to avoid long lines, arrive after 6.00PM.
The 9/11 memorial is located at the World Trade Center site, the former location of the twin towers destroyed during the attacks.
This museum is very moving and it’s a beautiful tribute to the victims. If you are not very familiarized with the incident, this is the best place to understand what 9/11 was. You will see lots of intimate stories that will help you to learn about all the implications of the attacks.
Admission to the 9/11 museum is free on Tuesdays from 5PM to 9PM. The tickets are distributed on a first-come, first-served basis starting at 4PM.
Rockefeller Center is a massive complex that consists of 19 commercial buildings. Here you will find the famous Top of the Rock observatory (not free).
In Christmas, the big tree at the Rockefeller Center is one of New York’s most famous attractions. Also, skating at the Rockefeller ice rink is a must for tourists visiting New York in winter.
Apart from just walking around this area, you can step into the lobby and grab a free map to find out more information and take a self-guided tour.
Another free thing to do is to be part of the studio audience of one of the big TV shows that tape in Rockefeller Center, like “Saturday Night Live” and “The Tonight Show”.
9 – Chelsea Market
As its name indicates, Chelsea Market is a food hall and market located in the Chelsea neighborhood. You will also find some offices and shops.
The Chelsea Market is a great choice for a rainy day. The building, more than 100 years old, has an industrial design, brick walls and high ceilings. You will find a lot of restaurants and fast food shops with lots of options to eat, and also several wine bars which are among the best in New York.
After grabbing some bites, wander around the market and check the fleas and the rest of the shops.
10 – The High Line
This is one of New York’s most unique attractions. The elevated High Line park is suspended 30 feet above the ground, and was created on a former railroad. Since its opening in 2009, the High Line has become an icon of contemporary landscape architecture.
The High Line runs from Lower West Side of Manhattan, through Chelsea to the northern edge of the West Side Yard on 34th Street. Access is available via stairs and elevators in nine different points.
The High Line is great for strolling, sitting and relaxing. You will also find temporary art projects, exhibitions, performances and video programs.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral is a prominent landmark in the city, and the seat of the archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York. It is located on the east side of 5th Avenue, between 50th and 51th Streets.
It is the largest Gothic cathedral in the US, and covers an entire city block. Over 5.5 million people visit it every year. The Cathedral is stunning, both from the outside and inside.
The two exterior spires rise 330 feet (100 meters) above the floor. Check out the huge bronze doors, featuring beautiful sculptures. Even though they weights 9.200 pounds each, they are so well designed that a single hand can open them.
Inside, the marble pillars support the vaults that rise 110 feet above the nave. Above the main doors you will see the Rose Window, one of the 70 stained-glass windows of the Cathedral. And below it, you will find one of the Cathedral’s organ, which contains 7855 pipes.
Be sure to learn more about the Cathedral’s history before visiting.
12 – Staten Island Ferry
When a friend of mine says he/she is going to New York, my first advice is this: don’t pay to see the Satue of Liberty. I just don’t think it’s worth the time and money you have to spend.
But I do tell them to take the Staten Island Ferry. It’s a free ferry that offers awesome views of Manhattan’s skyline and the Statue of Liberty.
It shuttles back and forth from the Whitehall Terminal at Manhattan to the St. George Terminal on Staten Island. It runs 24 hours a day, so you can even take it at night. The ride each way takes approximately 25 minutes.
The ferries run every 30 minutes, 7 days a week. During weekday rush hours (6AM-9.30AM and 3.30PM-8PM) the ferries run every 15 minutes. You can check here for the detailed schedules.
This ferry is free, the service is great and you will have a great view of the Statue of Liberty. You will be able to take as many pictures as you want.
13 – Chinatown
We all love browsing Chinatown markets and shops and seeing what products they sell. All Chinatowns from around the world are great for bargain shopping, food and history, and New York’s is not the exception.
Before exploring Chinatown, you can visit the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA), which features exhibits on the history of Chinese immigration to the US. Admission to the MOCA is free on the first Thursday of each month.
Go to Canal Street to find clothes, jewelry, handbags, watches and perfumes. For small restaurants and food shops selling fish and seafood, head to Baxter St. In Mulberry St. you will find gifts of jade and pottery.
Finally, at Bayard Street you will find Columbus Park, which is the town square for the community and where you can find local ensembles performing Chinese traditional music and people practicing Tai Chi or meditating.
14 – Little Italy
Immigrants from Naples and Sicily came to New York in the 1880s and established in this area. If you like italian culture and food, then you have to visit Little Italy. You will find streets lined with restaurants serving italian traditional plates.
There are also a lot of tourists traps, so be careful. You want to find the places that really serve traditional italian food.
If you want my advice, this is it: have a cannoli at Ferrara Bakery!
15 – Bryant Park
This 9603-acre park is located in midtown Manhattan, between 5th and 6th Avenues, and between 40th and 42nd Streets. Bryant Park hosts a lot of different events during the year, particularly in the summer.
This is the perfect spot to relax in chaotic Manhattan, an oasis among the huge skyscrapers. But there are also plenty things to do, including playing chess, backgammon or ping pong, riding Le Carrousel or ice skating.
16 – Battery Park
Also known as The Battery, this 25-acre park is located at the southern tip of Manhattan.
Most of the people just pass by the park in their way to take the Statue Cruises ferries to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, but it is a beautiful park to explore.
You will find several monuments honoring immigrants, soldiers, explorers and inventors. There are a lot of benches where you can relax and enjoy the beautiful trees, and if you are lucky you will see some squirrels.
Grand Central is located in Midtown Manhattan, at 42nd Street and Park Avenue. It is a landmark of New York City because of its distinctive architeture and interior design.
More than 22 million visitors enjoy it each year. The terminal covers 48 acres and has 44 platforms, more than any other railroad station in the world.
Apart from being a huge transportation hub, it’s also a shopping and dining destination, with 60 shops and 35 places to eat. That makes it one of the most visited attractions in New York City.
Highlights of the Grand Central include: the main concourse ceiling, the booth clock, the whispering gallery, the Grand Central Market and much more! Check the must-see spots in the Grand Central’s website.
You can also check the Grand Central’s calendar of events.
If you want to take an art walk, then you must go to Chelsea. This neighborhood is home to one of the largest concentrations of art galleries in the whole world. Between 10th and 11th Avenue, you will find a lot of galleries with their doors open to anyone. Some of them will even offer you some wine and cheese.
Check out this TimeOut guide on the best Chelsea art galleries to visit.
19 – Bronx Zoo
Bronx Zoo is American’s largest metropolitan zoo. Here you will find Asian elephants, California sea lions, snow leopards, grizzly bears, ring-tailed lemures and more than 750 other species.
This zoo is a major destination for families and school groups in New York City. It is too big to explore in one day, so be sure to plan your route in advance. If it’s your first visit, be sure to include the Congo Gorilla Forest and Tiger Mountain in your list.
On Wednesdays, admission to the zoo is by pay-what-you-wish donation.
Kayaking is a great way to explore the Hudson River. And if it’s free, even better!
The Downtown Boathouse provides free kayaks at pier 26 on Saturdays, Sundays and Holidays from 9AM to 5PM. In summer, the program is extended to include Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings from 5.30PM to 7PM.
At pier 96, Manhattan Community Boathouse also provides free kayaking on a first-come, first-served basis during the summer and early fall season.
21 – Take a Free Tour
There are A LOT of free tour options in New York City. Tours are a great way to explore the city, especially for first timers, and the best thing is that you’ll pay what you wish (if you want to pay at all).
You can take walking tours, of course, but also food tours, bus tours and bike tours for free.
Check out this guide to see the best 19 free tours in New York City.
Located in the Prospect Park neighborhood in Brooklyn and founded in 1910, this 52-acre botanical garden features 13 gardens, 6 flower collections and a conservatory with multiple environments to explore.
You can visit the garden year-round, and each season offers a different experience. Get a free map at the entrance and plan your route, because there are lots of things to see.
Free admission opportunities:
- Winter weekdays: Tuesday-Friday, December-February
- Friday mornings before noon, March-November
- Children under 12 are always free
23 – Canal Street
Canal Street is great for souvenir and knock off hunting. You will find New York City souvenirs at a fraction of the price you would pay in the major attractions. You will also find clothes, bags, jewelry and much more.
24 – The Love Sculpture
LOVE is a pop art image created by American artist Robert Indiana. We have all seen it at least once:
The original image was created for print media in the 1960s. Sculptural versions now appear in urban centers around the world.
There are a few of these in the US, and one of them is in New York City (at 6th Avenue and W 55th Street). It’s a very popular photo spot.
25 – Grab the Bull by the Balls in Wall Street
This iconic bull statue in Wall Street attracts thousands of tourists every day. Even though most people think that the bull is there to represent Wall Street prosperity and “money”, it was actually conceived “as a way to celebrate the can-do spirit of America and especially New York”, according to the creator’s website.
It’s not clear why grabbing the bull’s balls has become so popular, but most of the people say that doing it “gives you good luck”.
This is a great free tour where you will learn about the roles and responsibilities of the Federal Reserve. Apart from that, you will see the Gold Vault, one of the largest depositories of gold in the world.
How to Get a Ticket
Tickets are hard to get, but not impossible.
Registration for public tours opens 30 days prior to the requested date. Space is limited to 25 people per tour (there are two tours per day).
With only 50 tickets available per day, it doesn’t take more than 15 minutes for them to be taken. The registration begins at 9AM EST in this website.
The typical hours you can expect the tour to be offered is at 1PM and 2PM during weekdays. Occasionally they offer 4 tours per day. The tour lasts for approximately 1 hour.
27 – Coney Island
Coney Island has become one of the top New York beaches. Apart from the famous amusement parks, it offers a lot of things to do in summer, including many events like the wild Mermaid Parade.
Even though you don’t want to visit the amusement parks, you can take a walk on the beach and the boardwalk, and visit Nathan’s Famous hot dog stand for a bite.
You can easily get to Coney Island by taking the D, Q, N, or F train to Stillwell Avenue.
28 – Guggenheim Museum
The Guggenheim Museum is a popular choice for fans of modern art and architecture. Most people go to see the building itself, which is gorgeous, but the exhibitions are also worth a visit. They have excellent pieces of art work from Picasso to Pollock.
A great way to see this museum is taking the elevator up to the top floor as soon as you get in. Then you can work your way down the spiral while exploring the exhibitions and galleries. This way you can avoid the crowds by going in the opposite direction.
Every Saturday, from 5–7:45PM, you can pay what you wish for admission The last ticket is issued at 7:15PM.
This is the largest natural history museum in the world. The whole museum covers 4 city blocks and consists of 25 buildings. There are more than 40 exhibition halls displaying not just animals, but also vegetables and minerals.
If you like dinosaurs, then you have to visit this museum, as there are six halls telling the story of their evolution. This is the most important collection of dinosaurs and fossil vertebrates in the world.
Pay-what-you-wish admission for the museum is available every day at ticket counters.
This museum is part of the Smithsonian Institution and is committed to advancing knowledge and understanding of the Native cultures of the Western Hemisphere.
It is a small museum but very informative. You will enjoy it very much and I actually think it’s one of the most underrated attractions of New York City. The building itself is also beautiful.
Admission to the museum is always free.
31 -Jazz at Barbès
Founded by two french musicians, Barbès is one of the best places to enjoy some jazz in New York City. Children are allowed if they are accompanied by an adult.
While a $10 donation is the suggested price to enter, you pay what you wish.
Check out their calendar to learn more about upcoming events.
32 – Green-Wood Cemetery
This cemetery is a historic landmark and resting place of several Civil War heroes, famous inventors and also some notorious mobsters. It covers more than 478 acres and is very beautiful, featuring several ponds, gardens, statues and lakes. The landscaping is so exceptional that it even served as inspiration to the designer of Central Park.
Admission is free at all times, and you can get a free map at any entrance for a self-guided tour. They also offer some private, paid tours.
33 – Governors Island
Governors Island is a 172-acre island in the heart of New York Harbor. In 2018, you can visit it from May 1st to October 31st.
In order to visit Governors Island, you need to get a ferry from Manhattan or Brooklyn. You can check the full ferry schedules here. Tickets to the ferry cost $3 round trip, but they offer free rides on Saturdays and Sundays before noon (children under 13 are always free to ride).
The island is a former military outpost, which played a role in the Revolutionary War. Today it’s a beautiful island that people can enjoy to cycle, picnic with a great view and enjoy the free exhibitions and concerts. Also The Hills, consisting of four mounds, offers incredible views of Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty.
34 – Grant’s Tomb
This is the final resting place of President Ulysses S. Grant and his wife Julia, and the largest mausoleum in North America.
The General Grant National Memorial is located in Riverside Park overlooking the Hudson River. It offers a visitors centre, free tours and even some special events.
Apart from the memorial itself, the place also offers many exhibits that teach about the Civil War.
This building, a Greek structure completed in 1703, served as New York City’s first city hall. After the revolution, it served as meeting place for the Congress of the Confederation. In 1789 it became the first Capitol of the newly created United States, and renamed Federal Hall. On its steps George Washington was sworn in as the first President of the US.
It is located at 26 Wall Street. Admission is free and they offer free guided tours Monday-Friday at 10AM, 1 PM, 2PM and 3PM.
36 – City Hall
The New York’s city hall is one of the most impressive in America. It’s very popular among architecture fans. Also history fans love the Governor’s room, which has been visited by Abraham Lincoln and Albert Einstein. Of course, this is the place to see the inner workings of New York’s government.
They offer free tours. One of them is every Thursday at 10AM, and requires reservation which can be done here.
There are also a City Hall tour is available for individuals on most Wednesdays at 12:00 PM without a reservation. You can check here to see the non-reservation tours currently available.
The museum at FIT is the only museum in New York City dedicated just to the art of fashion. It is house to a permanent collection of more than 50.000 textiles and clothing dating from the 18th century to the present.
Admission to exhibitions is always free.
It is the oldest and largest known excavated burial ground in America for free and enslaved Africans. It is a sacred space honoring the historic role slavery played in building New York City.
The museum is very simple but very informative and moving, and it’s totally worth a visit.
Located in Queens, this space was turned into an open studio and exhibition place for artists in the 1980s. It’s now a popular outdoor museum and park, where you can also have a picnic and enjoy the excellent views of Manhattan’s skyline.
Admission to the park is always free.
40 – South Street Seaport
The South Street Seaport is a designated historic district, adjacent to the Financial District. It features some of the oldest architecture in Manhattan, and includes the largest concentration of restored 19th century commercial buildings in the city. You can see here original mercantile buildings, sailing ships and the former Fulton Fish Market.
Well, that’s it! 40 amazing things to do in New York that will cost you nothing.
Do you think there is any place missing in this list? Please leave a comment!
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