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Looking for tips on FREE things to do in NYC? Keep reading as we’ve got some local tips for you!
New York City is widely known as one of the world’s most expensive cities, and for good reason.
It’s not cheap, especially if you live here, but one of the greatest things about NYC is that while there are countless wonderful ways to splurge, there are also plenty of awesome activities that are 100% free.
Some of them require a bit of planning or require you to be here on certain days of the month, but others are always available – and all give you the iconic New York City vibes that you’re looking for.
9 free things to do in NYC
These are the most fun and free things you can do in NYC! Yes, you really don’t have to pay for everything, and here’s how to do it.
1. See Manhattan from the Staten Island Ferry
I absolutely love the view of Manhattan from the water, no matter what time of day or what river. There’s something about the beauty and scale of the skyscrapers that you just can’t quite appreciate when you’re standing right below them.
Although I love the Circle Line cruises that take you all around the island with interesting commentary, the Staten Island Ferry is a wonderful way to get the same views with none of the price. Bonus: you go right by the Statue of Liberty!
Similarly, Ikea runs a ferry service from lower Manhattan to Red Hook, Brooklyn for free on the weekends – you can easily hop on or off without having to buy any cheap Scandinavian furniture. And in the summers, there is a free ferry from downtown Brooklyn to Governor’s Island.
2. Walk along the High Line
Introduced in 2009, the High Line has transformed western Manhattan. Built on a disused portion of the elevated New York Central Railway, it’s been converted into a pedestrian-only park and public art space.
Although it’s understandably more pleasant in warmer temperatures, it’s open year-round and only closed during intense rain and blizzards.
3. Explore Central Park
This place is huge! There is so much to do in Central Park, and all of them are free.
Central Park is an oasis of nature in the heart of a chaotic city, and a beloved escape for locals and tourists alike. On the short list of things worth doing in the park that is completely free:
- pay your tribute to John Lennon at Strawberry Fields
- watch the kids of all ages racing sailboats at the Conservatory Water or scrambling over the Alice in Wonderland statue
- watch the lovers rowing boats under Bow Bridge
- get lost in The Ramble
- search for turtles at Turtle Pond
- have a picnic in Sheep Meadow
- walk down elm-lined Mall
- people-watch at Bethesda Fountain
- wander through Shakespeare Garden
4. Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge
The Brooklyn Bridge is one of New York City’s most recognizable structures. Although it’s especially romantic to walk across at sunset, I love the beautiful light and serenity to be found on the bridge at sunrise.
Bonus: if you walk from Manhattan to Brooklyn, you’ll end up in DUMBO. You can wander through the expertly-planned Brooklyn Bridge Park promenade, see Jane’s Carousel and get the iconic shot of the Manhattan Bridge from the cobblestone intersection on Water Street.
And if you want another amazing photo of the Brooklyn Bridge: walk through DUMBO and then walk back to Manhattan on the Manhattan Bridge. It’s especially good when all the cars are driving home at sunset.
5. See the collection Metropolitan Museum of Art
Ok, the Met isn’t a completely free thing to do in NYC. You do have to make a donation. Although the signs will lead you (and all other unsuspecting tourists) to believe that the cost of entry is $20, it’s technically a suggested donation – and thus, you can donate whatever you please.
You do have to donate something, but for just $1, you get access to one of the greatest museums in the world – which is a pretty epic deal.
The museum itself is giant and overwhelming, so unless you want to spend your whole day here, pick a few things that you’re especially interested in seeing. And although it does require some planning and serendipitous timing, most of New York’s museums do offer free entry on certain days and times.
If you’re a Bank of America cardholder, many museums are free to you on the first full weekend of every month.
6. Watch the crowds in Grand Central Station
I used to commute daily in and out of Grand Central Station, and I never tired of the beautiful structure and all its bustle.
From the zodiac constellations on the ceiling to the four-sided clock, the Main Concourse is the hub of all of the back-and-forth activity. And you can’t miss the Whispering Gallery! The perfectly arched ceiling – and architectural anomaly – allows you to face into the wall and have a whispered conversation with someone in the opposite corner.
7. Look into the windows on Fifth Avenue
Although Fifth Avenue is surely at its greatest during the Christmas season – incredible window displays, the tree at Rockefeller Center, merriment and goodwill to all – it’s the most iconic street in New York City for good reason.
Start at 59th Street (just below Central Park) and head south: you’ll see the giant glass Apple Store cube, the old-world glamour of stores like Bergdorf Goodman, Saks and Lord & Taylor (all very good options for public bathrooms, BTW), the façade of Tiffany & Co. made famous by the lovely Holly Golightly, the soaring spires of St. Patrick’s Cathedral and the shadow of Rockefeller Center.
8. Read in New York Public Library and Bryant Park
When I first moved to New York City, I used to eat my lunch while reading a book on the sun-soaked steps of the New York Public Library or on the Bryant Park lawn – and it felt just like the movies.
I especially loved walking up on 41st Street – aka Library Way – where famous literary quotes are cast in bronze on the sidewalk. The building is a National Historic Landmark with a grand and imposing marble exterior.
The Rose Main Reading Room is everything a scholar could ask for: a hush of studied quiet, sturdy wooden desks with brass reading lamps, massive windows, and sparkling chandeliers. And behind the library, Bryant Park features rows of London plane trees surrounding a lush center lawn.
During the summer, there are even free yoga classes and free outdoor movies!
9. Be Dazzled by Times Square
Although locals tend to avoid Times Square at all costs, it’s still something you have to see at least once.
All of those bright neon lights and soaring skyscrapers! You don’t have to spend too much time here, but the energy can be intoxicating.
More New York City tips:
Plan Your Trip to NYC
If you are going to visit NYC, then here are the best places to stay and a few tours you can book.
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Do you have any tips on free things to do in NYC?