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Visiting the City that Never Sleeps can certainly cost a pretty penny, but there are lots of things you can do that don’t cost a dime! Here is a list of 25 FREE things to do in New York City that will leave you feeling frugally fulfilled after your vacation is over.
Central Park spans 843 acres and is beautifully designed. It’s more than just an escape from the city; it’s like a separate world. Watch numerous performers, visit the Imagine mosaic dedicated to John Lennon, see architecture, picnic in one of the many green spaces, or visit areas seen in movies (like Home Alone II, Enchanted, or When Harry Met Sally).
Located in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, this brewery brews craft beer and distributes in 25 states and 20 countries. Take a tour on Saturdays and Sundays to see how this brewery operates.
Even if there were no books in this building, it would still be something of wonder to stroll through. The building itself is gorgeous (and huge) and holds over 51 million items. See lots of ongoing exhibits and collections and make sure to stop by the Reading Room, an absolutely beautiful space (that stretches the length of two city blocks) with 52-foot tall ceilings, bronze lamps, and captivating murals.
Have a hankering to see some art? Head to Chelsea where art galleries flow freely between 10th and 11th avenues. They are free and some galleries will even host events like wine and cheese tastings.
While you’re in Chelsea, visit Chelsea Market, a huge space known for housing some of the best food vendors in the city. Of course, buying food wouldn’t be free, but the whole market is worth seeing, plus you can catch events like art exhibits, flea markets, and more.
Famed 5th Avenue hosts stores to some of the most luxurious brands on the planet and, while not all of us can buy those items, it can be really fun to look at them. Plus, lots of the stores put tons of effort into the window displays, making them exquisitely charming or eccentric (make sure to check out the windows of Saks Fifth Avenue and Lord & Taylor).
7. Bryant Park
There’s something magical about parks nestled in NYC and Bryant Park is no exception. See beautiful flowers and gardens and have lunch on the green or at one of the park’s quintessential green cafe tables. See a free concert or catch a film screening in the evenings.
One of the oldest suspension bridges in the United States, this bridge connects the boroughs of Brooklyn and Manhattan by spanning the East River. Take a stroll across the bridge to see each side from a different perspective. Plus, the bridge itself is a National Historic Landmark and really neat to look at.
If you are a fan of the show Friends, head to the corner of Grove and Bedford streets in Greenwich Village to see the the building that was used for exterior shots of the characters’ apartment building.
11. The High Line
The High Line is a neat public park and a unique way to see the city. It’s built on an old rail line and it’s elevated above the streets on the West Side. The park features a green space, restaurants, and more.
If you’re wanting to catch a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty, but don’t want to pay a fee, check out the Staten Island Ferry. It’s designed to take commuters to and from Staten Island and Manhattan, but it’s completely free and you’ll be able to get a good photograph of Lady Liberty. Once you get to Staten Island, you can hop right back on to get back to Manhattan.
12. The Today Show
Design a fun poster and head to Rockefeller Plaza for your chance to be seen on the Today Show. This daily morning show lets guests be part of the experience and you’ll be able to see your favorite anchors and maybe catch a concert. Arrive early (before 6 AM) to get a good spot.
13. Listen to Jazz
Head to Arthur’s Tavern in the Village to catch some live jazz starting at 7 PM with no cover charge. Plus, if you go on a Monday, you can hear the same jazz band that’s been playing there for 35 years.
See beautiful trees and flowers for free on Tuesdays. They offer all kinds of exhibits, as well as education programs and activities.
15. Bronx Zoo
You can enter the Bronx Zoo on Wednesdays without an admission fee (though there is a suggested donation). See a dinosaur safari, the children’s zoo, or Komodo dragons.
Make sure you hit Chinatown at least once to see really neat and exotic veggie and fruit stands, shop for inexpensive souvenirs, smell the delicious scents from the dim sum restaurants, or play at Hester Street playground.
Head to the Museum of Modern Art on Fridays between 4:00 and 8:00 to get in for free. See original paintings from Van Gogh, over 10,000 drawings in different mediums, or catch a film screening.
If everyone in your group is 18 years or older, you can take advantage of free kayaking in the Hudson River on select weekends! The trips are run by experienced volunteers and you’ll get a brief run-down before heading out. This would be such a neat way to get a new perspective on the city.
The Fashion Institute of Technology hosts a free museum with a permanent collection of garments and accessories from the 18th century to the present. There are new exhibits every six months and also a whole section dedicated to student and faculty work.
If you’re riding the subway during your trip, chances are that you’ll have a transfer in Grand Central, but if not, you’ve gotta head there anyway. The building is massive and absolutely beautiful. There are shops and restaurants to explore, but you can stroll through just to see the mural on the ceiling, the huge windows, and the breathtaking architecture.
Times Square at all times of the day is bustling with people, lit with bright lights, and there’s always something to see. Visit the huge Toys R Us store, see historic theaters, and visit the Times Square Museum (where you can learn some really neat history of the area).
This historic cathedral that began construction 1858 is located in midtown Manhattan and boasts beautiful stained glass, organs with a total of 9,838 pipes, and a massive vaulted ceiling. Guided tours are free of charge.
23. Federal Hall
Located on Wall street, this building that is now a museum was once home to the first Congress, Supreme Court, and Executive Branch offices of our nation. Stand in the spot where George Washington was first inaugurated and see the Bible he placed his hand upon when he recited the oath of office.
Even if you don’t plan to buy anything, take a quick visit to Tiffany & Co. to see some of the most beautiful displays of diamonds, china, and crystal. Make sure you see the 128 karat Tiffany Diamond on display on the main floor before you leave.
Sure Manhattan is fun and exciting, but the surrounding boroughs have a ton to offer, too. Visit Williamsburg in Brooklyn to explore a hip neighborhood, head to Astoria, Queens to the Museum of the Moving Image (it’s free on Fridays from 4:00-8:00), or take a trip on the Bronx Culture Trolley.
See frugal travel for more free city guides!