I know. It’s probably beyond difficult to believe that there are actually 30 free things to do in NYC.
But I assure you as a 20+ year local NYC resident that this beyond bold statement is 100% true.
And if I’m being totally honest, there are actually way more than 30 free things to do in New York City.
I just don’t want to turn this post into something that all too closely resembles War and Peace (talk about coma-inducing)., in terms of length since ain’t nobody got time for that.
Plus, my handy Google Analytics informs me that most of you only spend a few minutes on my site at most. So yeah, no need to make this post ridiculously long, even though you are visiting one of the best honeymoon destinations in the USA and that is hella awesome in and of itself.
Besides, if I took the time to introduce you to all of the best parks in NYC, you would fall asleep faster than a tenth grader in an algebra class (This never applied to me because I’m a weirdo who always liked math).
So while I know you guys need your beauty sleep, I would prefer if my posts didn’t become an instantaneous cure for insomnia.
Therefore, I have done my best to narrow this list down to just 30 free things to do in NYC.
Yes, some of the offerings on this list are pretty obvious (Spoiler Alert: Who doesn’t know about Times Square and the Brooklyn Bridge?). However, I hope there are some pleasant surprises here too; attractions that you might not have considered before.
But enough chit chat. Onwards and upwards, to the epic awesomeness that is this list of the 30 best free things to do in New York City (Wishful thinking on my part. Just don’t fall asleep. Pretty please with a cherry on top?).
Dear wonderful, beautiful, and oh-so-amazing reader (Yup, I lay it on thick for my dozens of fans). Since I am incapable of making it rain money, there’s a high probability (like 99.999%) that this post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure for more information. As an Amazon Associate, I earn a small commission from qualifying purchases.
***Booking a flight to NYC and not sure where to stay in NYC? Then check out 414 Hotel (Rooms at this chic, Hell’s Kitchen hotel start at $159 per night and include fridges, flat-screen TVs and iPod docks. There’s even a working fireplace in the lobby!), The James New York (Chic, modern rooms at this Soho hotel start at $177 per night and feature high ceilings, floor to ceiling windows, glassed-off bathrooms, plush linens made from natural materials, and more), The Bowery Hotel (Rooms at this 5-star, Nolita hotel start at $300 per night and are cozy, but stylish, with free Wifi, free bike rentals, exquisite city views, and more). and Pod 39 (Located in Murray Hill, this pod hotel sits inside a residential home from 1918. Rooms here start at $120 per night and are cozy and outfitted with queen-size beds or stainless-steel bunk beds with individual TVs and bedside shelves).***
Free Things to do in NYC – Manhattan
1. The Staten Island Ferry
Looking for one of the best things to do in lower Manhattan that is also one of the most epic free things to do in NYC?
If so then say hello to your nee best friend, the Staten Island Ferry. Just think of it as the frugal man’s solution to getting an up-close and personal view of Lady Liberty herself.
Also, fun little NYC fact for you. It’s one of the few free things to do in New York City that is actually cheaper now than it was in 1817 when a round trip ticket. cost $0.25.
Yup, crazy but totally true.
Plus, it not only connects the boroughs of Staten Island and lower Manhattan but it’s also open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Throughout the twenty-five minute ride (each way), you can capture stunning views of Governor’s Island, Ellis Island and the Manhattan skyline itself.
Just do yourself a favor and have your camera handy so that you can capture some of these beyond fantastic shots (or a selfie stick. whatever floats your boat) for yourself.
FYI, for the best views of the Statue of Liberty be sure to stand on the right-hand side of the ferry, as you make your way from Manhattan to Staten Island. I would also try to find a window that opens so that you don’t have to take pics through the window pane.
And just in case you were wondering, yes. It really is WAY better than the official Statue of Liberty Tour which is kind of overpriced and not really worth your time.
So, if you want to be like all the wicked cool locals, then hop on the Staten Island Ferry at the aptly named “Staten Island Ferry Terminal” in Battery Park.
Yeah, it’ll be on your left as you walk into the park. And trust me, you can’t really miss it since there is a huge, “Staten Island Ferry Terminal” sign right on top in big bold AF letters.
You also won’t be able to just stay on the ferry and will actually have to disembark in Staten Island and then re-board the ferry back to Manhattan. Kind of annoying but a minor convenience in the grand scheme of things.
***Want to live the high life while you’re in NYC? Then take a look at this epic 60-minute sunset cruise around New York Harbor. Not only is this cruise well-priced, but you’ll also enjoy sweeping, panoramic views of the Manhattan skyline, the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and the Brooklyn Bridge. And all at sunset for beyond Insta awesome photo ops. So, book now and start planning the New York City itinerary of your dreams!***
Address: Staten Island Ferry Terminal, New York, NY 10004
Hours: Ferries depart every 15 to 20 minutes 24 hours a day, seven days a week. However, the ferry can get insanely crowded during rush hour, which is typically on weekdays between 6:00 am and 9:30 am and then again between 3:30 pm and 8:00 pm. Therefore, I’d do my best to try and avoid taking the ferry at this time of day.
How to Get There: Take the 4 or 5 train to Bowling Green and then walk to the ferry terminal in Battery Park.
2. Central Park
Not surprisingly, a ton of NYC parks will make a stunning guest appearance on this list of free things to do in NYC.
And that’s because, well, let’s face it. Most parks are free.
But Central Park kind of stands above the rest for obvious reasons. I mean, it’s HUGE (843 acres to be exact. So don’t try to see the entire park in a single day because it won’t happen) and is home to a wealth of iconic NYC landmarks like:
- The MET
- The Museum of Natural History
- Central Park Zoo
- Belvedere Castle
- Strawberry Fields (a memorial to John Lenon)
- Sheep Meadow
- Bethesda Terrace
- The Mall
- The Alice and Wonderland statue
- Ther Conservatory Garden
- The Ramble
- The Shakespeare Garden (on the west side between 79th and 80th Street)
- The Boathouse (home to one of the best brunch spots in NYC)
It’s also home to basically anything and everything you could want from a park, including meadows, European-style gardens, beautiful lakes, historic castles, tree-lined walkways, and outdoor theaters.
Beautiful features that were designed by architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux throughout the 1860s and 70s.
Truth be told, they basically wanted to establish a beyond glorious oasis of greenery that was open to ALL New Yorkers, regardless of race and socioeconomic status.
Therefore, they created a complicated network of roads and footpaths to help keep foot and road traffic totally separate from one another. This way, visitors could actually feel like they were, “at one with nature”.
However, because this place isn’t exactly one of NYC’s many hidden gems, I’d try to plan my visit for a quiet weekday afternoon.
You know so that you can avoid hordes of selfie-stick-wielding tourists. While you’re at it, you could also check out slightly less popular sections of the park like the Harlem Meer and the North Meadow (both are well above 72nd street).
Also, just as an FYI. The Central Park Conservancy is next level awesome and runs fantastic themed tours of the park, including ones that focus on art, wildlife viewing, and other kid-friendly topics (check their website for more info but most are either free or under $15 per person).
If you want, you can even enjoy a Shakespeare in the Park theatrical performance. And yes, it really is 100% free. Shows are usually held in The Delacorte Theater in Central Park. However, tickets can be hard to come by since the event is INSANELY popular.
So, arrive as early as possible on the day of the performance so that you can nab your free tickets. That being said though, do check out their website for more info and upcoming performance dates/times.
***Since Central Park is enormous with a capital “E”, you may want to take a guided 2-hour walking tour of Central Park while you’re here. Because If you have limited time in NYC and want to see all of the park’s major attractions without getting hopelessly lost, then a guided tour of the park, for $24 per person, is where it’s at. This way, you can quickly see immortal Central Park landmarks like the Great Lawn and Bethesda Fountain (in addition to a variety of popular filming locations) while enjoying an interesting commentary from your knowledgeable guide.***
Address: Central Park, New York City, NY
Hours: Open daily 6:00 am to 1:00 am
How to get there: Take the A, B or C train to 72nd, 81st, 86th, 103rd or 110th Street Station. Also accessible by the 1 or 2 train to 59th Street Station, 2 or 3 train to 110th Street Station or N, R, W trains to 5th Avenue Station.
3. The Battery (Formerly known as Battery Park)
This 12-acre park along the tip of lower Manhattan overlooks the one and only Statue of Liberty and was actually first opened way back in ye olde 1823.
However, aside from enjoying sweeping views of good old lady Liberty, you can also take a ride on the State Island Ferry, hop aboard another ferry to Ellis Island/Statue of Liberty, explore Castle Clinton (a small fort that was initially built to protect NYC during the war of 1812 and where you can get ferry tickets for the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island), and take a ride on the Seaglass Carousel (tickets are $5 per person).
There are also a ton of public art displays here, in addition to a wealth of greenery that you can enjoy while walking among the area’s many gardens and scenic walkways.
It was also the site of the region’s very first Dutch settlement in 1625 and was where the city’s battery (hence the park’s name) was first built.
However, because this area is a hot spot of sorts for tourists, do be on the look for petty thieves and scammers who may try to sell you very not-real tickets for the Statue of Liberty.
Yeah, just so you. know, you can only get REAL tickets for the Ellis Island/Statue of Liberty from Castle Clinton.
That being said though, lines can be long and tickets can sell out quite quickly. So, you may want to do yourself a solid and purchase Statue of Liberty tickets online right now.
Address: New York, NY 10004
Hours: Open daily from 6:00 am to 12:00 am.
How to Get There: Take the 1 train to South Ferry Station, the 4/5 to Bowling Green station, or the R/W to Whitehall Street station and walk to the park from there.
4. Chrysler Building
This shining example of art deco style architecture is probably one of the most instantly recognizable buildings in all of NYC – aside from the immortal Empire State Building that is.
So, if you have time and are looking for free things to do in NYC that you can easily add to your 4 day NYC itinerary, then check out the Chrysler Building!
It is a towering, 77-story building that was initially designed by William Van Alen and finally completed in 1930 as the NYC headquarters for Chrysler, the famous car manufacturer that we all know and perhaps might or might not love.
It’s also guarded by eagles that are made out of a chromium/nickel mixture and is crowned by a seven-tiered series of triangular windows that converge to create a metallic crown that shimmers in the evening.
Yeah, it’s one of those buildings that oozes this Mad Men-esq level of sophistication that leaves you nostalgic for days gone by.
That’s why, even though there’s no swank AF restaurant or observation deck here, you can still visit the uber-cool lobby – a stunning room that consists of dark wood, marble floors, and tons of art deco inspired steel.
And if you’re really into architecture, definitely take a gander at the beyond stunning elevators. They have these next-level gorgeous Egyptian lotus motifs and inlaid wood panels that are one word…marvelous.
And if you look up, you even see a ceiling mural done by Edward Trumbull. It showcases various buildings, airplanes, and people working on the Chrysler assembly line.
Honestly, though, it’s way better in person and sounds kind of lame when I write about it here.
Anyway, for the best view of the building possible, head to the corner of Third Ave and 44th Street so that you can get a wicked awesome profile view of this amazing building.
And if you have a bit of extra cash at your disposal, you can always head to the top of the Empire State Building and get a bird’s eye view of this exceptionally delightful building too.
Address: 405 Lexington Ave, New York, NY 10174
Hours: Open Monday through Friday from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm.
How to Get There: Take the 4/5/6/S/7 train to Grand Central Terminal and walk to the building from there.
5. Grand Central Terminal
Initially built in 1913, Grand Central Terminal is this instantly recognizable, beaux-arts style building with swank marble floors, fancy Italian marble ticket countertops, and a main concourse that has this beyond gorg, constellation encrusted, turquoise ceiling.
However, aside from staring mindlessly at the structure’s beautiful decor, you could also:
- Visit the Whispering Gallery – It’s located near the Dining Concourse in the basement and sits just outside the famous Oyster Bar. Once you’re here, you can stand diagonally across from your loved one, speak into the wall, and your partner in crime will then magically be able to hear exactly what you’re saying from across the room.
- Check out the basement-level Dining Concourse – There’s TONS of delicious, reasonably priced food here, including Shake Shack, Magnolia Bakery (get the banana pudding), and Doughnut Plant, just to name a few.
- Visit the Great Northern Food Hall – They serve seriously delicious Scandinavian-inspired food here and host a holiday market here in the winter.
- Stop by Grand Central Market – It’s basically a supermarket on roids since all of the vendors here sell beyond delicious fresh fruit, cheese, bread, baked goods, pizza, and basically anything else you can dream up.
- Transit Museum Store – They sell cute little transportation-themed souvenirs.
- Have a drink at the Campbell – It’s an uber-cool 20s era, speakeasy bar right that you should NOT miss.
- Do a self-guided audio tour of the Building – Just head to the Tours Office in the Main Concourse and grab an audio guide that will take you on a tour of the building that will last anywhere 30 minutes and an hour. The office is open daily from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm and guides are priced at $12 for adults, $11 for students, and $10 for seniors/children.
Address: 89 E 42nd St, New York, NY 10017
Hours: Open daily from 5:30 am to 2:00 am.
How to Get There: Take the 4/5/6/S/7 train to Grand Central Terminal and you’re here.
6. The High Line
I love the Highline yes I do, I love the Highline, how about you?
Come on, you gotta ADORE the Highline.
I mean, not only is it one of the best free things to do in NYC, but it’s also this totally unique, elevated park that was actually built atop an abandoned railway track along the west side of Manhattan in ye olde 2009 (seriously, how is that over a decade ago?).
In total, it’s actually 1.5 miles long and runs all the way from the Javits Center (near Hudson Yards) to the Whitney Museum in Chelsea.
So yes, you really should stop by Chelsea Market, the Vessel, and the Whitney Museum of American Art while you’re here.
Other than that though, it’s just brimming over with large swaths of greenery and wicked awesome outdoor art displays that gove beyond stressed-out New Yorkers a much-needed respite from the chaos of the city.
***Because this park is insanely popular, try visiting early on a weekday morning so that you don’t feel like you’re walking amongst a rather large herd of cattle. And if you are looking for a guided tour, those are offered at noon on Saturdays.***
Address: Since the Highline spans 1.5 miles, check here for an entry point near you.
Hours: Open daily from 12:00 am to 8:00 pm
How to get there: Check here for transportation information since it will depend on your starting point.
7. The New York Public Library
Believe it or not, the New York Public Library is one of those awesome free things to do in NYC that is supremely well located.
I mean, it sits adjacent to Bryant Park and is a convenient stop when visiting either Grand Central Terminal or Times Square.
And guarding the gorgeous entrance out front? Well, you’ll find two exceptionally tall and proud marble lions known as ‘Patience’ and ‘Fortitude’.
However, the real magic happens once you step inside and discover an enormous reading room on the second floor that was built to accommodate more than 500 patrons.
Plus, the library contains a wealth of stunning and historically significant artifacts like the Declaration of Independence, the Gutenberg Bible, and the original Winnie the Pooh stuffed animals.
Heck, free tours of the building are even on offer at 11:00 am and 2:00 pm Monday through Saturday and at 2:00 pm on Sundays, except in the summer.
So, what are you waiting for? See the best of what NYC has to offer. And all for free I might add, you money-saving rockstar you.
***PSST…nearby Bryant Park is another one of the many free things to do in NYC and has a ton of free activities for you to enjoy throughout the summer. They include things like juggling, ping pong, yoga classes, fencing, movie nights, and occasional Broadway performances.***
Address: 476 5th Ave, New York, NY 10018
Hours: Open Monday and Thursday from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm, Tuesday and Wednesday from 8:00 am to 9:00 pm, Friday from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm, Saturday from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm, and Sunday from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm.
How to Get There: Take the B/D/F/M train to Bryant Park and 42nd street station and walk to the Library from there (You could also take a train to either Grand Central or Times Square and walk from there as well).
8. Rockefeller Center
’If you’ve ever seen the Today Show, then you have witnessed the enormity of this iconic, multi-block, city center that spans an impressive 22-acres and includes a whopping 19 different buildings in total.
Seriously, I honestly had no clue that Rockefeller Center was THAT big.
Anyway, as you probably already know, this place is seriously iconic. So much so that it was officially declared a national landmark in 1987, easily making it one of the best free things to do in NYC.
And if you have a little extra time or cash to spare, then you can do jazz hands level snazzy things like:
- Visit the Top of the Rock Observation Deck – PSST…You can also get a free view of the city from the 8th floor of Saks Fifith Avenue
- Take an NBC Studio Tour – easily one of the most romantic things to do in NYC.
- See the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree and skate on the rink here in the winter.
- The 18-foot Prometheus States overlooking the plaza
- The immortal, 24-foot tall bronze Atlas statue (in front of 630 Fifith Avenue)
Additionally, you can also enjoy totally free performances from top musical artists at the Today Show Live Summer Concert Series. I saw Maroon 5 this way and the shows are held right here in Rockefeller Center.
However, you will need to get here mad early (like the night before) to reserve a decent spot since these events are incredibly popular.
Otherwise, you could always attend the Good Morning America Summer Concert series instead. It’s held in Central Park and is how I saw the Backstreet Boys for like the 10 billionth time. Again, get here the night before so you can reserve a spot.
Address: 45 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10111
Hours: Open twenty-four hours a day.
How to Get There: It’s a short 10-minute walk from Times Square so you can take most subway lines to Times Square and then walk from there.
9. St. Patrick’s Cathedral
Without a doubt, St. Patrick’s Cathedral is the single most famous church in all of NYC. So, to say it’s one of the best churches in NYC is easily the understatement of the century.
It’s also super easy to find since this neo-Gothic style Catholic Church is located right across the street from the aforementioned Rockefeller Center.
Also, believe it or not, it is the single largest Catholic Church in the United States and was originally built during the Civil War for a hefty sum of $2 million,
Therefore, expect to find not-so-modest features like a Louis Tiffany–designed altar that sits beneath a hella large, 7000-pipe church organ, and a next-level stunning Charles Connick’s Rose Window.
Heck, there’s even a crypt in the basement that houses the remains of every cardinal in New York…EVER.
And even though semi infrequent walk-in guided tours of the church have been known to happen (Hint, hint, check their website for more details), I highly recommend doing this joint tour of 5th Avenue and St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
Because for a mere $35 per person, you’ll get a fantastic, hour-long tour of Fifth Avenue and Rockefeller Center, Fastpass admission to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and a free, self-guided audio tour of the building.
This way, you can actually learn a thing or two about the building and better appreciate the architectural awesomeness that stands before you.
Address: 5th Ave, New York, NY 10022, United States
Hours: Open daily from 7:00 am to 8:30 pm.
How to Get There: You could take the B, D, F, or M train to Rockefeller Center and walk to the church from there.
10. Roosevelt Island Tram
Looking for one of the best views in NYC? Then hop aboard the Roosevelt Island tram and savor some marvelous panoramic views of the Manhattan skyline and the East River.
Because let’s be real, this is probably the only time in your life that you’ll actually enjoy using NYC public transportation.
And while it’s technically not one of the totally free things do in NYC since you will need to swipe your Metrocard (or pay $2.75 each way) to get on the tram, it’s pretty dang cheap when you consider just how insanely expensive some of those iconic viewpoints in Manhattan really are.
Plus, Roosevelt Island itself is a pretty rad place to explore since it’s a little sliver of land that sits smack dab in the middle of the East River, just beneath the Queensboro Bridge.
It’s also home to an array of pretty amazing things like the Blackwell house, the North Point Lighthouse, the FDR Four Freedoms Park, and more – making it the perfect place to ride a bike or take a nice leisurely stroll on a warm summer’s day.
So, if you’d like to experience this wicked awesome ride for yourself, then just board the tram at 59th St and 2nd Ave and let the fun begin.
Address: E 59th St & 2nd Avenue, New York, NY 10022
Hours: Open Sunday through Thursday from 6:00 am to 2:00 am and Friday and Saturday from 6:00 am to 3:30 am, Morning rush hours are on weekdays between 7:00 am and 10:00 am while evening rush hours are on weekdays between 3:00 pm and 8:00 pm (PSST..a lot of locals live on the island and use the tram to get to work. Therefore, I’d try to avoid using the tram during rush hour)
How to Get There: Take the N/R/W train to 59th street and Lexington station and walk to the tram from there.
11. South Street Seaport
This historic harbor district showcases a series of buildings sit along picturesque cobblestone streets and that that have a quaint almost antique feel about them.
That’s why, exploring this area on foot is just one of the many free things to do in NYC.
Add in the Seaport Museum and the country’s largest privately-owned fleet of historic ships, and you begin to feel like you are walking through a picturesque fishing village in New England.
However, once you stumble across a gigantic shopping mall on Pier 17 that is brimming over with premium retail stores and hihg-end restaurants, you’ll quickly remember exactly where you are.
And if you happen to be visiting during the summer, then check out the assortment of outdoor concerts, lectures, and public programs that are routinely held here. Heck, there’s even a Farmer’s Market held here on Sundays between 11:00 am and 5:00 pm when it’s warm outside.
Address: 19 Fulton St, New York, NY 10038
Hours: The general area is open twenty-four hours a day but individual shops, restaurants, and museums will have their own hours of operation.
How to Get There: Take the 2 or 3 train to Fulton Street and walk to the district from here.
12. Times Square
Yeah, I’m not gonna lie. This is easily one of my least favorite free things to do in NYC. #sorrynotsorry.
It’s just way too touristy and overcrowded for me. And in flashing lights, scrolling television screens, Broadway show advertisements, randos dressed up like giant Elmos, and shouting food vendors and, well, you basically have my idea of a living nightmare.
However, Times Square really does sit at the heart of New York and is worth a gander if it’s your first time in the city.
Although, for awesome views that have a slightly quieter feel to them, you may want to consider having a drink at the R Lounge inside the Renaissance Times Square Hotel.
The food here kind of sucks though. So, I’d skip that altogether and just order a Rose All Day Cocktail for $16.
Address: 714 7th Ave, New York, NY 10036, United States
Hours: Times Square is open twenty-four hours a day. For the best photo ops though, go early in the morning when everyone is still sleeping.
How to Get There: Just about ANY subway you take will lead you to Times Square.
13. Washington Square Park
Although the hippies from the 1960s are long gone, they live on within the NYU college students that call this park home.
Because this is perhaps one of the best people-watching spots in the city since musicians, street artists, and skateboarders all congregate here near the base of the iconic, Stanford White Arch – a 73-foot tall arch made out of white Tuckahoe marble that was modeled after the immortal, Arc De Triomphe in Paris.
The perimeter is also lined with a series of stunning, Greek Revival townhouses that make the perfect backdrop for any photo you may want to take.
However, because this is easily one of the most Instagrammable places in NYC, definitely get here early to avoid the crowds.
You’ll also want to stand right in front of the Stanford White Arch, looking down Fifth Avenue, so that you can get a wickedly wonderful photo with the Empire State Building in the background.
Yup, you’re welcome.
Address: Washington Square, New York, NY 10012
Hours: Open 6:00 am to 12:00 am daily.
How to Get There: Take the A/C/E train or the B/D/F/M train to stops at Washington Square Park and walk from there.
14. Chelsea Market
O-M-G. Just hearing the words “Chelsea Market” makes me drool like a madwoman. That’s why the hangry beast within always has me running, not walking, to the foodie awesomeness that lies within.
However, just in case you’re not totally familiar with one of the best free things to do in NYC, Chelsea Market is a giant commercial center in the uber-posh Chelsea neighborhood of New York.
In its former life, this market was once an industrial factory that is now home to a variety of different food stalls and charming little shops that any hardcore window shopper will love.
It’s also not much of a hidden gem so I wouldn’t expect to have this all to yourself, even if you visit on a weekday afternoon. And on the weekends? Well, I’d try and get here early or avoid this place entirely since it WILL be packed with people.
And some of my fave shops include:
- Artists and Fleas – Quirky little flea market style store with trendy souvenirs and knick-knacks that are made by local artists.
- Bar Suzette Creperie – Crepes for the win!
- Doughnuttery – Made to order mini-doughnuts.
- Mok Bar – Yummy Korean-style Ramen.
- Takumi – Weird but delicious fusion of Japanese and Mexican cuisine.
- Very Fresh Noodles – Chinese noodle dishes made with hand-pulled noodles
- Ninth Street Espresso – One of the best coffee shops in NYC.
- Num Pang – Cambodian inspired sandwiches
- Fat Witch Bakery – Get the brownie…now. No really. Just do it.
Address: 75 9th Ave, New York, NY 10011
Hours: Open daily from 7:00 am to 2:00 am and on Sundays from 8:00 am to 10:00 pm.
How to Get There: Take the A/C/E from Port Authority, get off at 14th Street, and walk from there.
15. African Burial Ground National Memorial
This supremely awesome hidden gem in lower Manhattan is just another one of the many free things to do in NYC.
It was also first created in February of 2006 after local construction workers stumbled upon more than 400 different coffins in the area. Coffins that were remnants from one of the oldest and largest African cemeteries in the United States.
I know, beyond crazy but totally true.
Today though, there’s a monument, museum, and visitor center at the corner of Duane Street and African Burial Ground Way. It is here that visitors can go to their respects to 15,000 different people who were buried here throughout the 17th and 18th centuries.
Also, because the visitor center sits inside a federal government building (they share a space with the IRS), you will need to go through a security checkpoint before going inside.
It’s totally worth it though since there are a ton of fascinating exhibits inside the visitors center that do a great job of detailing the history of African Americans living in this city.
Address: 290 Broadway, New York, NY 10007
Hours: Open Tuesday through Saturday from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm.
How to Get There: Take the 1/2/3 train to Chambers Street or the 4/5/6 train to Brooklyn Bridge/City Hall and walk from there.
16. General Ulysses S. Grant National Memorial
If I was a betting woman, I’d venture to say that most of you probably didn’t know that General Ulysses S. Grant had his very own tomb/memorial right here in NYC.
I mean, I’d expect something like this in Washington DC but NYC? Surely not!
Well NYC travel fans, I am delighted to once again blow your minds and introduce you to yet another one of the many free things to do in NYC.
It’s more commonly known as, “Grant’s Tomb” and cost a ridiculous $600,000 to build this enormous granite structure in 1897, which currently holds the remains of the famous Civil War general (also the 18th president of the United States) and his wife Julia.
A claassical domed structure that is so big that it is actually the single largest mausoleum in the entire United States.
So, if you like visiting the final resting place of famous dead guys, then head on over to Morningside Heights neighborhood in upper Manhattan and sit on one of the seventeen Gaudi-like, mosaic-style benches that encircle the shrine (Riverside Park is also RIGHT here so you can take a nice stroll through the area after visiting the Memorial).
And added bonus? There are several different exhibits here that cover the details of Grant’s life, as well as guided tours of the area that are led by local park rangers.
Address: W 122nd St &, Riverside Dr, New York, 10027
Hours: Open Wednesday through Sunday from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.
How to Get There: Take the 1 train to 125th street station and walk to the memorial from there.
17. The Museum at FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology)
Fashion lovers of the world unite because this is one of the best free things to do in NYC for you!
Yup, this super awesome FIT museum is home to a wealth of stunning exhibits that display a whopping, 50,000 different garments. Some of which date all the way back to the 18th century.
Feel free to be duly impressed and “oh” and “ah” at will.
And another fun little factoid for you! This museum is actually the county’s first gallery of fashion and is home to a ton of rotating exhibitions that are sure to impress even the most fashion-challenged individuals, me included.
FYI, various film screenings and talks by iconic fashion designers/critics are routinely held here and are well worth your time.
So, if images of beyond beautiful garments, accessories, and vintage textiles are currently swirling around in your head, then you have a tiny idea of just how awesome this place really is.
Address: 227 W 27th St, New York, NY 10001
Hours: Open Tuesday through Friday from 12:00 pm to 8:00 pm and on Saturdays from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm.
How to Get There: Take the 1 train to 28th street station and walk to the museum from there.
18. Pace Gallery
Although there are a ton of different art galleries that line the 20s streets of Chelsea between 10th and 11th avenues, the Pace Gallery is easily one of my favie faves.
I mean, it’s just one of seven different Pace Galleries from across the world that showcase contemporary works from artists like Willem de Kooning, Barbara Hepworth, and Julian Schnabe.
And this gallery in Chelsea? Well, it’s an impressive, 8-story, 75,000 square foot building that is made of volcanic ash and that has an awesome 6th-floor open-air terrace that is great for photo ops.
So, if you’re an art enthusiast of even the smallest measure, then definitely check it out. Sure, all of the art here is for sale. But, I’ve been and nobody really pressures you into buying anything as you look around and savor the exquisite opulence that surrounds you.
***PSST…If you can, try and visit on a Thursday evening when many of the galleries have openings that feature free wine and cheese tastings.***
Address: 540 W 25th St, New York, NY 10001
Hours: Open Tuesday through Saturday from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm (opens at 12:30 pm on Wednesdays)
How to Get There: Take the C or E train to 23rd street and walk to the gallery from there.
19. The National Museum of the American Indian
This totally free museum in lower Manhattan is actually associated with the Smithsonian Museum of the same name in Washington DC.
Sure, it’s a hell of a lot smaller. But, it sits inside NYC’s former customs house from 1907, which features stunning beaux-srt style architecture that is pretty impressive all on its own.
A building that is flanked by four exquisite female sculptures that were created by artist Daniel Chester French in the early 20th century and that represent (going left to right) the continents of Asia, North America, Europe, and Africa.
However. to fully appreciate the complexity and beauty of traditional Native American culture, step inside the building’s central rotunda and explore a wealth of modern galleries with exhibits on Native American culture, art, lifestyles, and traditions.
If you have time, you can also explore the museum’s incredible permanent collection, which displays a multitude of Native American technologies in the imagiNATIONS Activity Center and a ton of different decorative arts, textiles, and ceremonial objects throughout the remainder of the building.
You can also enjoy live dance and musical performances here, as well as various children’s book readings, craft seminars, film showings, and educational workshops.
Address: 1 Bowling Green, New York, NY 10004
Hours: Open daily from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm and on Thursdays until 8:00 pm.
How to Get There: Take the R/W train to Whitehall Street station or the 4/5/6 train to Bowling Green and walk to the museum from there.
20. The New York Earth Room
This is one of those free things to do in NYC that is truly bizarre. I also don’t have any photos because they are definitely not allowed. You know, just as an FYI.
Anyway, this wonderfully weird experience is a giant art installation that was created by Walter De Maria in 1977. It consists of a single room that contains about 280,000 pounds of dirt.
Yeah, one of those oddities that you’d only find in New York.
And although the wet dirt scent is pretty intense, the whole thing was surprisingly beautiful since you get to enjoy the raw beauty of nature within the heart of a beyond chaotic city like NYC.
Also, you are 100% not supposed to walk on the dirt. So yeah, don’t do that.
Address: 141 Wooster St, New York, NY 10012
Hours: Open Friday through Monday from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm.
How to Get There: Take the B/D?F/M train to Broadway and Lafayette Station or the R/W train to Prince Street station and walk from there.
Free Things to do in NYC – the Bronx
21. Wednesdays at the Bronx Zoo
Okay, this isn’t one of the 100% free things to do in NYC. But, it’s pretty close and 110% worth your time since the Bronx Zoo is one of the finest animal research and conservation institutions in the entire world.
No really. It’s a ridiculous 265 acres, is the country’s oldest/biggest zoo (first opened in 1899), and houses an insane 6000 different animals – all of which reside in beautiful enclosures that mimic their natural habitat.
Plus, added bonus? They have some super cute gorillas and elephants too.
But the price tag can get a bit steep, especially when you add on a series of special exhibits that are not included in the price of general admission.
That’s why, if you can, try and visit on a Wednesday when the price of admission is a reasonable, “pay what you wish” fee.
Just brace yourself for the hordes of campers and school-age children who seem to take over this facility throughout the summer months (they show no mercy and take no prisoners).
Also, grab a free map before you enter the park since it’s ginormous. Trust me, it will be uber-handy since you can use it to plot out your day’s itinerary and figure out exactly which demonstrations/live animal feedings you want to see.
And if you have the money for it, definitely opt for the full experience ticket (10% cheaper if purchased online with a code from their website) that will give you access to:
- The popular 6.5-acre Congo Gorilla Forest
- The Wild Asia Monorail (Only open May through October)
- Bug Carousel
- Treetop Adventure
Plus, if you happen to visit on a Wednesday, it’s just $10 for a ticket like this, which will give you access to all rides and park attractions.
***If you’re arriving via subway, the southwest Asia Gate (four blocks away from West Farms Sq–E Tremont Ave stop) is the easiest place to enter the park.***
Address: 2300 Southern Boulevard Bronx, New York 10460
Hours: Open 10:00 am to 4:30 pm daily from November 1 through March 26 and then open daily until 5:00 pm between March 27 and October 31st, with extended hours until 5:30 pm on weekends and holidays.
How to Get There: Take the 2 train to the Pelham Parkway station and then walk to the zoo from there.
22. Bronx Museum of the Arts
I know, the Bronx isn’t typically on anyone’s New York City “Must See List”. However, this museum is well worth a visit and will hopefully (fingers and toes crossed) change your mind about this incredibly underrated borough.
Founded way back in 1971, the Bronx Museum of Arts features more than 800 prices of multicultural art – with a special emphasis on 20th- and 21st-century artists who are either Bronx-based or of African, Asian, or Latino descent.
Currently, some epic exhibition highlights include:
- Sanford Biggers Codeswitch – A contemporary art exhibit that has deep roots in African American history and urban culture. Motifs that are reflected in sacred geometry and American symbolism. This series, in particular, examines code-switching or the idea of switching from one linguistic code to another, depending on your surrounding environment.
- #SeeMeBronx – This outdoor exhibit was created in honor of the museum’s 50th anniversary and is an exciting interactive project about visibility, intersectionality, identity, and greater social justice.
- Shaun Leonardo: The Breath of Empty Space – A series of drawings from a Brooklyn native that reflect how images of violence against Black and Brown young men in modern-day America have shaped our fear, empathy, and how we perceive them.
Plus, any visit here gives you a great excuse to head over to Arthur Avenue and indulge in some of the best Italian food that the city has to offer.
Address: 1040 Grand Concourse, The Bronx, NY 10456
Hours: Open Wednesday through Sunday from 1:00 pm to 6:00 pm.
How to Get There: Take the D train to 167 street station and walk to the museum from here.
Free things to do in NYC – Brooklyn
23. Brooklyn Heights Promenade
No trip to downtown Brooklyn would be complete without a walk along this over 1800 foot long paved walkway.
First built in 1950, this awesome place also happens to be one of the best free things to do in NYC that will give you stunning views of Lower Manhattan and the surrounding New York Harbor.
Yeah, it’s so peaceful that you ALMOST forget that you’re walking atop the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE).
For the best views though, try and visit in the evening. You can also stroll across the Squibb Park footbridge which will connect you to Pier 1 in Brooklyn Bridge Park.
Address: Montague St &, Pierrepont Pl, Brooklyn, NY 11201
Hours: Open daily from 6:00 am to 1:00 am.
How to Get There: Take the 2/3 train to Clark Street station, the R train to Court Street Station, or the A/C train to High Street-Brooklyn Bridge station and walk to the park from there.
24. Coney Island Boardwalk
Walking along the boardwalk at Coney Island is definitely one of my favorite free things to do in NYC.
I mean, Coney Island is a beyond historic place that first became an amusement park in the mid-1820s. Eventually, the family-friendly, totally famous Luna Park was opened in 1903 and made this area the modern mecca of fun that it is today.
However, I’m not gonna lie to you. It can get quite crowded (especially on weekends in the summer) and takes a solid hour to get there from midtown if you use the subway.
So yeah, be prepared.
However, once you arrive, you can enjoy the sandy beaches, stroll along the boardwalk, take a ride on the world-famous Cyclone roller coaster (dating back to 1927), enjoy the 15-story Wonder Wheel (first built in 1920), and admire some of the overly touristy/nostalgia-inducing souvenir stands that proliferate throughout the area.
Other highlights include:
- Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs – Not my thing but people seem to love them
- New York Aquarium
- MCU Park – it’s a waterside park where you can watch minor-league baseball games
- The Annual Mermaid Parade
- Totonno’s Pizzeria – It’s an old-school pizzeria that was first established in 1924. They also serve some of the best pizza I’ve ever had in my life.
***Obviously, you can stroll along the Boardwalk at any time of year. However, most of the rides and stands here usually totally shut down between November and Easter. So if you hate crowds and people in general, then this is a great time to meander through the area, even if nothing will be open. And while you’re here, you could also visit one of the best family beaches on the east coast.***
Address: 1000 Surf Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11224
Hours: The boardwalk itself is open twenty-four hours a day. But, the amusement park and vendors here usually have their own hours.
How to Get There: Take the Q to Ocean Parkway station and walk to Coney Island.
25. Take a Tour of Brooklyn Brewery
Located in the uber-cool Brooklyn neighborhood of Williamsburg is the Brooklyn Brewery. A magical place where all of your alcohol-related dreams can come true. as you enjoy beer, beer, and, oh yeah, more beer.
However, if you’re broke like a joke and still want to savor all the alcohol flavor, then take a free tour of the brewery and learn interesting things like the fact that the brand’s iconic logo was designed by Milton Glaser (he did the “I heart NY” shirt/logo) in exchange for part of the profits and free beer for life.
They typically depart every hour, on the hour from 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm on Saturdays and from 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm on Sundays. They also last about 45 minutes and sadly, do not include any tastings. Yeah, you’ll need to head to the on-site bar to actually savor the flavor.
But, for a wicked awesome, very much un-free tour/tasting, visit during the week and enjoy samples of four different beers, as well as some pretty interesting history about the facility.
Spots fill up fast though, so definitely reserve a spot online. Also, just as an FYI, you’re not allowed to wear sandals or high-heeled shoes on the tour.
Address: 79 N 11th St, Brooklyn, NY 11249
Hours: The Brewery itself is open Thursday and Friday from 4:00 pm to 8:00 pm and Saturday and Sunday from 2:00 pm to 8:00 pm.
How to Get There: Take the L to Bedford Ave station and walk to the brewery from there.
26. Green-Wood Cemetery
This beautiful Cemetery was first established in ye olde 1838 and stretches out over 478 acres. In total, more than 600,000 souls are permanently in residence.
And although this may seem like one of the more macabre free things to do in NYC, it’s actually a fantastic place to take a walk, marvel at all the ornate headstones/mausoleums, enjoy the stellar views of Manhattan, and escape the insane chaos of the city.
It’s also home to Brooklyn’s highest point, Battle Hill, which a site from the Revolutionary War that is currently marked by a seven-foot statue of the Roman goddess, Minerva. So yeah, I definitely wasn’t kidding about the awesome views.
Also, watch out for a flock of green Monk Parakeets that inhabit the cemetery’s Gothic entry (steer clear of the poop) and check out some of the famous graves here, including ones for Jean-Michel Basquiat, Leonard Bernstein, and Boss Tweed.
***Crazy fun factoid for you! Throughout the 1800s, this place was actually one of the most visited tourist attractions in New York State. Yeah, surprisingly enough it was actually second, in terms of total visitors, after Niagara Falls.***
Local Tip: Pick up a free map at the entrance before exploring the cemetery. Fantastic two-hour, twilight tours are also conducted here around sunset and feature a fun history of the area, a close-up look at the catacombs, and stops at the graves of some of the famous people interred here.
Address: 500 25th St, Brooklyn, NY 11232, United States
Hours: Open daily from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm.
How to Get There: Take the 2/3 train to Barclays Center and transfer to the N/R. Ride the N/R for four stops, get off at 25 street station, and walk to the cemetery from there.
27. Walk Along the Brooklyn Bridge
Perhaps one of the most iconic free things to do in NYC is to take a beyond scenic walk across the Brooklyn Bridge.
And that makes sense since this suspension bridge is a total icon that was first built in1869. It’s also open twenty-four hours a day and offers visitors stunning panoramic views of the surrounding area.
Just do yourself a favor and go as early as possible since it quickly becomes packed with absent-minded tourists.
Also, watch out for bikers (they show no mercy), wear comfy shoes, and start in Brooklyn and then work your way into Manhattan so that you can nab awesome shots of the NYC skyline.
And since you’ll be in the DUMBO area anyway (aka down under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass), don’t forget to experience everything this amazing neighborhood has to offer since it’s easily one of my all-time favorite places in NYC.
Address: Brooklyn Bridge, New York, NY 10038
Hours: Open all day, every day.
How to Get There: Take the C train to High Street/Brooklyn Bridge station or the 2/3 train to High Street station and walk to the bridge from there.
28. Brooklyn Botanical Gardens
This is one of those free things to do in NYC that is way less well known than its brother in the Bronx but that is just as awesome. And it is none other than the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. It’s also free ONLY on Friday mornings between 8:00 am and 12:00 pm.
It was also opened way back in 1911 and is a serene 52-acre park that is overflowing with thousands of species of plants, including a superb collection of Bonsai trees that can be upwards of 300 years old.
Yup, there’s a whole lot of Japanese inspired loveliness here. So, imagine groves of Cherry Blossom trees and a Japanese-style Shinto Shrine that are all a part of the single largest Japanese garden in the United States.
That’s why, you should definitely plan your visit for either late April or early May when all of the Cherry Blossoms are in bloom and the park hosts a little Cherry Blossom Festival.
And after exploring this exquisite Japanese Garden, be sure to visit the Shakespeare Garden (a collection of plants that were mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays), the Rose Garden (home to a thousand different flower species, including waterlilies in the terrace pools), Daffodil Hill, The Desert Pavilion (home to desert plats), the Discovery Garden (designed for kids), and more.
Address: 900 Washington Avenue Brooklyn, New York, 11238
Hours: Open Tuesday through Friday from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm and Saturday and Sunday from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm (March through October). The gardens close at 4:30 pm instead of 6:00 pm in November and are open Tuesday through Sunday from 10:00 am to 4:30 pm in December and February.
How to Get There: Take the 2 or 3 train to Eastern Parkway Brooklyn Museum station and walk to the garden from there.
Free Things to do in NYC – Queens
28. Public Boathouse Kayaking
Okay, so truth be told I’ve only actually done free kayaking at the Brooklyn Bridge Park Boathouse.
Obviously, they only do this in the summer and you only get to kayak for twenty minutes, but whatever. It still fun and a great way to see the Manhattan skyline.
However, it you don’t want to schlep all the way there, then you can always do a bit of free kayaking at the Long Island Community Boathouse in Queens.
I’ve heard it’s a bit quieter and you don’t have to reserve spots in advance since not as many people know about that place.
However, there are a ton of other places where you can do free kayaking in NYC. FYI, sessions are usually pretty short, are typically only held throughout the summer on the weekends, and do require a reservation since this is one of the many popular free things to do in NYC.
Other popular boathouses include:
- North Brooklyn Boat Club
- Kayak Staten Island
- Hudson River Park
- Red hook Boaters
- LeFrak Center at Prospect Park
Address: 46-01 5th St, Long Island City, NY 11101
How to Get There: Take the 7 train to Vernon Boulevard and Jackson Avenue and walk to the boathouse from there.
Other Free Things to do in NYC Tips
- Sign up for the Skint – It’s basically a free daily newsletter that lets you know all about some of the best and totally free things to do in NYC that happen on the reg. Honestly, it’s pretty awesome since it’s delivered right to your inbox and includes an ever-changing list of free/budget-friendly activities that you will actually want to do.
- Check out some of the City’s BEST Free Museums – There are a ton of museums in NYC that are either always free or that have select days where you can visit free of charge. So, below you’ll find a comprehensive list of all those museums.
- Always Free – African Burial Ground Memorial Site, American Folk Art Museum, BRIC House, The Bronx Museum of the Arts, Federal Hall National Memorial, General Grant National Memorial, Hamilton Grange, The Harbor Defense Museum, MoMA PS1 ( NYC residents ONLY), The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, the National Museum of the American Indian, The New York Public Library Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, New York Transit Museum Annex & Store, Grand Central Terminal, Queens Botanical Garden (November through March), Queens County Farm Museum, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden, Socrates Sculpture Park, Soldiers and Sailors Monument, and Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace.
- Free on Monday – Museum at Eldridge Street Synagogue (pay what you wish)
- Free on Tuesday – 9/11 Memorial & Museum (after 5:00 pm), Morgan Library and Museum (3:00 pm to 5:00 pm), Staten Island Zoo (2:00 pm to 4:45 pm),and Wave Hill (9:00 am to 12:00 pm).
- Free on Wednesday – Bronx Zoo (no special exhibits), Frick Collection (pay what you wish from 2:00 pm to 6:00 pm), Historic Richmond Town (suggested donation), Museum of Jewish Heritage (4:00 pm to close), New York Aquarium (pay what you wish 3:00 pm to close), New York Botanical Garden (grounds only), Queens Botanical Garden (3:00 pm to 6:00 pm April through October and then all day the rest of the year),
Van Cortlandt House Museum, and Staten Island Zoo (2:00 pm to 4:45 pm)
- Free on Thursday – Museum of Chinese in America (first Thursday of the month), Brooklyn Children’s Museum (2:00 pm to 6:00 pm), Museum of Arts and Design (pay what you wish from 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm), and New Museum (pay what you wish 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm).
- Free on Friday – Frick Collection (first Friday of the month between 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm, except September and January), the Neue Galerie (first Friday of the month from 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm), the Noguchi Museum (first Friday of the month), Asia Society (September through June from 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm), Brooklyn Botanic Garden (March through November, opening until 12:00 pm), the Japan Society (6:00 pm to 9:00 pm), Morgan Library and Museum (7:00 pm to 9:00 pm), Museum of Modern Art (5:30 pm to 9:00 pm), Museum of the Moving Image (4:00 pm to 8:00 pm), New York Hall of Science (2:00 pm to 5:00 pm), The New-York Historical Society (pay what you wish from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm), The Whitney Museum of American Art (pay what you wish from 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm)and the Rubin Museum of Art (6:00 pm to 10:00 pm).
- Free on Saturday – Brooklyn Museum (5:00 pm to 11:00 pm the first Saturday of the month), The Jewish Museum, New York Botanical Gardens (the ground are free from 9:00 am to 10:00 am), Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (Pay what you wish from 5:00 pm to 8:00 pm), and Wave Hill (9:00 am to 12:00 pm).
- Free on Sunday – Brooklyn Children’s Museum (4:00 pm to 7:00 pm), The Morgan Library and Museum (4:00 pm to 6:00 pm), New York Hall of Science (10:00 am to 11:00 am), and Queens Botanical Garden (April through October from 9:00 am to 11:00 am and the entire day the rest of the year).
A Map of this Local’s Guide to 30+ Free things to do in NYC!
Well my faithful NYC lovers, that just about concludes this insanely long guide to 30+ free things to do in NYC!
I hope you found it useful and can now plan the best ever, budget-friendly New York City itinerary.
Tell me, did all your fave places make the list? If not then tell me about it in the comments below!
And if you found this post useful, please pin it now so that you can read it again later!