Free Things to Do in New York City

Travel

Cruising by the Statue of Liberty on the Staten Island Ferry is one of the great free things to do in New York City.

Although the Big Apple is known for being rather pricey, there are plenty of free things to do in New York City. Free doesn’t have to be a dirty word. Even if you’re a luxury traveler, you have no excuses! There are some really fun and engaging things to see and do that shouldn’t be missed even if you aren’t a budget traveler. I’ve put together a list of my favorites free things to do in NYC! You’ll have such a good time that you’ll forget you’re not even paying a dime with these free things to do in New York City.

Explore Museums — The Right Ones on the Right Days

As you may have heard, as of March 1, 2018, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s pay-what-you-wish policy will be ending. Admission will now be required for all out of town adult visitors to the museum. But that doesn’t mean you can’t soak in arts and culture.

New York City has a museum for everyone. Whether you like art, history, food or fashion. And while you might assume that these museums do charge admission, not all of them do!
In addition to museums that are always free, most of the big museums generally have one evening a month where admission is free or discounted. The Frick Collection, for example, is free on the first Friday of every month and pay what you wish Wednesday afternoons. Plan ahead and schedule your visit around those free days.

Enjoying public art like the Metronome in Union Square is one of the great free things to do in New York City.

A close up of a sculpture of Chester A Arthur in Madison Square Park in New York City.

A sculpture of Chester A Arthur in Madison Square Park in New York City.

Enjoy Public Art

While museums are probably the first place you think for art, the Public Art Fund is changing that thinking. The organization has partnered with artists to add art installations around the city and its boroughs. Famed artist Ai Weiwei has an installation on display through mid February 2018. With many of these outdoor installations not only can you enjoy them, but you can be a part of them. There’s a definite interactive, engaging experience between you and the art. It’s a whole new take on things, not to mention how weather and the surrounding environment play a role.

A sculpture of George Washington in New York City.

A sculpture of William Henry Seward in Madison Square Park in New York City.

Stroll the High Line

NYC is a walker’s paradise, not least because of the High Line. The nearly mile and a half long walking path runs up and downtown just a couple blocks from the Hudson River. The trail is built on former New York Central Railroad tracks.

But the High Line isn’t a boring walking trail. It’s a heavily curated experience with seasonal gardens, rotating art pieces and even special spots to sit and unwind. The trail is even elevated at some places so you are actually walking over traffic.

A stroll through Central Park is one of the great free things to do in New York City.

The view of the New York City skyline from Central Park.

Explore Central Park

There is a reason that Central Park is so iconic. The more than 800 acre park bridging the Upper West and East Sides is a tourist hot spot, a gym, a place to meet friends, people watch, animal watch — the list just goes on.

Because of its size, the park has many microcosms. Strawberry Fields holds a memorial to John Lennon and is a favorite spot of visitors. There are also the huge boulders protruding from the meadows. Or you can enjoy a walk around a lake. There’s a spot in Central Park for everyone and every season it holds something very different.

Cruising by Ellis Island on the Staten Island Ferry is one of the great free things to do in New York City.

The NYC skyline from the waterfront while cruising on the Staten Island Ferry is one of the great free things to do in New York City.

The Statue of Liberty and NYC skyline from the waterfront while cruising on the Staten Island Ferry is one of the great free things to do in New York City.

Cruise on the Staten Island Ferry

With NYC being an island, there is no shortage of cruises around the city. Many of these cruises target tourists and are not inexpensive. But cruising on the Staten Island Ferry is one of the great free things to do in New York City! The Staten Island Ferry is a 5-mile cruise that operates between the tip of Manhattan near Battery Park to Staten Island. The cruise goes right past the Statue of Liberty, Governors Island and Brooklyn. The views are simply fantastic and unbeatable.

Because the ferry is how locals commute and also free, you’ll mix with people of all types on board. At peak times the ferry can be quite crowded and, admittedly, a little pushy. My suggestion is to go off peak and leave plenty of time.

Central Park Walking Tours

Attend a TV Show Taping

Maybe you like morning, daytime, or late night talk shows? Or perhaps sitcoms are more your speed? Regardless of which type of show you like, in NYC you have a chance to be a part of the live studio audience. Although tickets can be difficult to get and require thorough planning ahead of time, you could find yourself in the audience for a taping of the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, The View or LIVE with Kelly & Ryan.

If you don’t manage to snag tickets for a taping, you can still go stand outside of the Today Show at Rockefeller Center or in Times Square for Good Morning America. No tickets are required but keep your eyes to the sky and dress weather appropriate.

Walking the Williamsburg Bridge is one of the great free things to do in New York City.

Take in the Views with a Bridge Walk

The Brooklyn Bridge is a romanticized icon. But it also offers great views! While a visit to the Top of the Rock or the Empire State Building can be pricey, try a walk on one of the city’s many bridges. The Brooklyn Bridge, Williamsburg Bridge, Manhattan Bridge and others are walkable with dedicated space for pedestrians. As you cross the bridge you can stop for a few photo opportunities to capture the river or that incomparable skyline.

Enjoying architecture like the Lower East Side is one of the great free things to do in New York City.

Enjoying the Empire State Building is one of the great free things to do in New York City.

Go for an Architecture Walking Tour

From the gigantic and futuristic Oculus of the World Trade Center train station to the spectacular Beaux-Arts style of Grand Central Terminal, there are countless architectural gems in New York City. With only your two feet and perhaps, if you want, a smartphone with access to Wikipedia you can enjoy countless buildings up close. You can even venture inside of public buildings, like the train stations, to take in all the small details.

Alternatively, you can focus on a specific neighborhood. The Upper East Side is always a favorite and with good reason. China Town is also always fun to explore.

Enjoying the architecture like the Puck Building is one of the great free things to do in New York City.

People Watch in Times Square

In my experience, Times Square isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s crowded, it’s full of tourists and it’s full of people trying to make a buck off of tourists. But, it continues to be a cultural landmark. Whether you’re looking to gaze upon the digital billboards that soar into the sky, read the news ticker on the ABC News Building or just sit and absorb your surroundings on the stepped seating that’s actually the roof of the TKTS Discount Booth, there’s no shortage of action in Times Square.


New York CityPASS

Tour the New York Public Library

There’s a building a stone’s throw from Bryant Park with sky high ceilings, chandeliers, marble details. But this isn’t a mansion I’m talking about. It’s the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building of New York Public Library. If you’re looking for a quiet place to get away from the rush of New York City, this is the place for you. Or, you can take a free tour of the library. There are twice-daily tours of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building every day of the week except Sunday.

From ferry rides to TV show tapings, there are plenty of free things to do in New York City. You do not have to be a budget traveler to enjoy them. #nyc #newyorkcity

All photos are my own. This post contains affiliate links.

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