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Completely Free Things to Do in NYC

Free Things to Do in NYC
Written by Irina Vasilescu

New York City has a reputation for high-end activities and expensive restaurants. But it doesn’t have to be that way. As we’ve seen, finding cheap eats is only a matter of knowing where to go, and when it comes to activities, you can enjoy a wide range of entertaining outings without having to pay a cent. From galleries and museums to parks, iconic buildings and fascinating ethnic neighborhoods, we look at ways you can enjoy NYC for free.

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Just to the east of Central Park, you’ll find the Metropolitan Museum of Art. You can easily spend an entire day admiring the huge collection of art and artefacts. There’s a “recommended entry price”, but you can get in for free. Don’t miss the rooftop garden for a great view over the park and the city.

The American Museum of Natural History

Head for the western side of Central Park and visit a museum that’s sure to delight and intrigue. You can see space rocks, look at incredible reptiles or see how different biomes work. Kids love the giant blue whale feature in the atrium! Again, admission fees are suggested, but you can get in free.

Visit Times Square

Day or night, Times Square is an urban marvel. Known as the crossroads of the world, it’s the most visited tourist attraction ever. Don’t miss the photo opportunity, and if you’re in NYC over the New Year, this is the place to see it in!

Central Park

Don’t think you’ll be able to take in the splendors of Central Park and the nearby museums all in one day. Central Park needs a day to itself. If it’s winter time, don’t forget to bring your ice skates. From woodland meanders to sweeping lawns, there’s plenty of variety: not to be missed!

Central Park

Coney Island

Take the subway from the heart of the city into a spot that seems just made for holidaymakers. There’s always something going on, and of course, you should grab a hot dog for lunch to match the holiday mood of roller coasters, sideshows, ocean and boardwalk.

Governors Island

Get to Governor’s Island and enjoy miles of green space and a wonderful promenade. Pack a picnic lunch and spend the day on the lawns or beach. The views from the island are simply stunning.

Brighton Beach

Visit “Moscow on the Hudson”, an area where you could easily imagine yourself in Russia or the Ukraine. The beach is the main attraction, but do take a walk along the boardwalk and explore some backstreets. You’ll discover wonderful shops and restaurants worth looking at even if you don’t buy a thing.

Grand Central Terminal

No visit to New York City would be complete without a visit to Grand Central Terminal, an astounding piece of architecture that is wonderful to view from both the outside and inside. Even if you aren’t taking a train, you can check out wonderfully detailed model trains, enjoy the imposing concourse and see the Vanderbilt Hall. Go ahead and explore! There’s even more in store.

The Cloisters

Although the Cloisters form part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, they’re worthy of an entire day trip on its own. The Cloisters house the Medieval Collection with over 5,000 amazing historical artefacts on display. Don’t miss a walk around the herb garden in summer.

Chinatown

Another NYC must-see, Chinatown is chock-a-block full of interesting sights, sounds and smells. You’re likely to meet with spending temptation in the form of super-cool shops and street stalls, not to mention some really mouth-watering (and reasonably priced) cuisine, but if you are good at self-control, your visit won’t cost you a cent!

Chinatown

Little Italy

It may not be as authentic as it once was, but Little Italy remains a unique neighborhood packed with character, gorgeous foods and iconic landmarks. Take a walkabout. It’s completely free to look, experience, and enjoy.

Hike the Highline

High above the streets, an old freight train rail route has been transformed into a pleasant public space landscaped with plants. It’s a favorite with locals who love the urban green space. The walk is just over 2 km long, so you don’t have to be super-fit to enjoy it.

Chelsea Gallery District

What was once a tough industrial neighborhood has been transformed into a haven for the arts. Plan an arts meander using the High Line as your main thoroughfare. You’ll be spoiled for choice, so browse a listing of the arts in store in this area when planning your route.

DUMBO

No, it’s not a cartoon elephant, it’s an acronym for the area Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass! It’s a very picturesque old area with lots of upmarket galleries and antique stores. Take a stroll towards Brooklyn Bridge, and finish by relaxing in Brooklyn Bridge Park where you can enjoy the cityscape from the lawns.

Prospect Park

Although nowhere near as famous as Central Park, Prospect Park is not to be missed. This amazing 585 acre outdoor green space with sports facilities and even a zoo. Long Meadow is the favorite spot. Bring a sled in winter!

Arthur Avenue

We mentioned that Little Italy isn’t as authentic as it once was, didn’t we? If you want a taste of the real thing, Arthur Avenue is the place to be. There’s masses of ambiance, and if you’re willing to spend a few bucks, some truly excellent restaurants.

Brooklyn Bridge

It’s amazing to think that this bridge was completed back in 1883. Crossing the bridge is an experience in itself. Walk it or bike it for views of iconic landmarks including the Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline. Bring your camera for some brilliant photos to commemorate the occasion.

Brooklyn Bridge

Harlem

Despite modern gentrification, Harlem still retains a great deal of character. View mellow brownstone buildings and the landmark Apollo Theater where so many greats have performed. Quite a lot of the clubs and restaurants have gone upmarket, but if you check out your options, you’ll still find reasonably priced soul food.

Time Warner Center

The shops are way upmarket, but you don’t have to pay for window shopping. Who needs expensive restaurants when you can picnic in Central Park just across the way? It might e wise to leave your credit card at your lodgings. There’s huge consumer temptation in the Center.

West Village

Slow down the pace and take a stroll through West Village with its tree-lined streets and lovely old buildings. Expensive? Sure, but there’s nothing to stop you from taking a stroll. Who knows? You may even catch a glimpse of a superstar!

9/11 Memorial

For a more serious and contemplative free outing, visit the 9/11 memorial at ground zero. If you want to visit the museum, you have to pay for entry, but the memorial itself is free to visit. Spend a moment of silence in honor of the many who died on that fateful day.

David Rubenstein Atrium at the Lincoln Center

Would you like to see a free show? Thursday night’s your night and the Lincoln Center is the place to go. Shows stat at 7:30. But come early to be sure of a good seat.

Friday Night Free Museum Admission

From 4 pm to 8 pm, you can just walk into the Museum of Modern Art or the Museum of the Moving Image for free. Both are intriguing. Which one will you visit? If you can fit both in, all the better!

If you want to, you can easily fill a whole visit to NYC with nothing but free activities. Perhaps you’ll have a couple of “splurge” plans like taking in a really professional show, but many of the best things about NYC are totally free to enjoy.

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Free Things to Do in NYC

About the author

Irina Vasilescu

Irina Vasilescu is our crafty designer. She joined the team three years ago and is also involved in the writing process.

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