New York City is one of the most expensive cities in the world, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find some meaningful and interesting experiences for free. Stretch your travel budget by taking advantage of the following free activities.
1.) Central Park
Central Park is an escape from the commotion of the city and can give you an entire day of sightseeing for free! With over 800 acres to explore, it will take at least a few hours to discover the major sights. Aside from the Great Lawn, tennis courts and Wollman Skating Rink, where locals go to spend a couple of hours, there are other things to see like sculptures, beautiful scenery, and even a castle! My favorites are the Alice in Wonderland and Balto sculptures, the ancient Egyptian obelisk named Cleopatra’s Needle, The Pond, Strawberry Fields, and Bethesda Terrace. There are even companies like Free Tours by Foot that offer free tours of Central Park and many other sights in New York.
2.) Brooklyn Bridge
Walk across one of the oldest bridges in the United States. At 5,989 feet long and 85 feet wide, building this bridge in the 1880’s was an amazing feat. It currently carries over 100,000 cars across each day on its six lanes of traffic, and there’s even a separate level for pedestrians to cross the bridge in safety. After you walk (or before, depending on which direction you’re traveling), make sure to check out the Brooklyn Bridge Park. Rest your street beat feet (say that five times fast) and get a great view of the river with the bridge and the city in the background.
What do you get when you cross an abandoned elevated rail line with a public park? You get the Highline! This 1.45 section of rail line that runs from the Meat Packing District through Chelsea was saved from demolition in the 1980’s. It was cleverly turned into a “linear park” with stunning landscaping and beautiful city views due to its elevation. Weekday mornings are peaceful and weekends can be busy, so plan accordingly if you want to go on a relaxing walk.
4.) Federal Reserve Bank of NY Tour
Have you ever wanted to see a real gold bar or feel how heavy it is? Well, you’re in luck, but you’ll see it from a secure distance and feel the weight of some other object just as heavy as the bar. You didn’t think the Fed would let you hold about $500,000 in your own hands, right? Aside from seeing about 28 pounds of gold, the Federal Reserve Bank has an impressive coin collection on display and an interesting exhibit of the role they play in monetary policy. Make reservations in advance and don’t forget to take your ID and printed tickets when you get there.
5.) Staten Island Ferry
Get great views of the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and the lower Manhattan skyline from the free Staten Island Ferry. The ferry goes from Whitehall Street in lower Manhattan to St. George on Staten Island, and the 5 mile rides takes about 25 minutes. Boats depart about every 30 minutes and you can take leisurely ride anytime outside of rush hour, which runs 7am-9am and 5pm-7pm. Once you get to Staten Island you can just hop off the boat and get in line to get right back on.
6.) Free Shows
The words “free,” “shows,” and “New York” don’t go together in one sentence very often, but there are some exceptions. Good Morning America, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Live! With Kelly and Michael, The Rachel Ray Show, Saturday Night Live, The Today Show, The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, and The View are just a few examples of the free shows you can see in New York City. The process for getting tickets for each of these shows is different, so do some research in advance for acquiring tickets to the show you want to see. If you’re lucky enough to score tickets for a show, be prepared to make all of your friends back at home jealous!
7.) New York Public Library
Typically going to the library means you want to check out a book, but this isn’t always the case at the New York Public Library. The main branch of the library can be a destination in itself because of the architecture and sheer size. Opened in 1911, it’s the 2nd largest public library in the United States (after the Library of Congress) and it’s the 4th largest library in the world. Don’t miss the picturesque Rose Main Reading Room, lined with thousands of reference book and 52 foot high ceilings.
8.) Grand Central Terminal
With 68 shops and 35 places serving food, Grand Central Terminal is a train station on steroids. It’s so rich in history that tours are even offered here. It was opened in 1871, rebuilt from 1903 to 1913, and today has 44 platforms and 67 tracks. It has more platforms than any other train station in the world, so even if you’re not catching a train to or from here, it’s still worth a visit.
9.) Times Square
As I stated in my New York Top Ten List, locals avoid Times Square like the plague, but all tourists should go at least once. It’s a great place to people watch and dive headfirst into the hustle and bustle of New York City. With all of the lights and humongous monitors and billboards, it’s full of glitz and glamour – so much so that even at 2am it feels like you’re right in the middle of it all.
10.) Explore the Villages
Greenwich Village, Chinatown and Chelsea are just a few of the villages you can explore for free. Window shop the hip shops or relax in the parks of Greenwich Village, see what’s being sold in the markets of Chinatown, or peruse the art galleries in Chelsea. There are so many interesting neighborhoods to explore, but these are a few of my favorites.
The following free sights are bonus attractions because they are not free all of the time, but they are definitely worth planning your schedule around.
1.) Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
Entry is free at MoMA on Fridays from 4pm-8pm. It can get crowded, so get there early to see some great pieces of modern art.
2.) 9/11 Memorial and Museum
The 9/11 Museum is free for entry on Tuesdays from 5pm to close, but the outdoor memorial is always free. Even if you can’t arrange your schedule to get to the museum for free, I highly recommend going to the outdoor memorial.
3.) Brooklyn Botanical Garden
With free admission all day on Tuesdays, weekdays from December through February, and Saturdays from 10am-12pm, you can most likely fit one of these times into your itinerary to enjoy this peaceful garden.
4.) Bronx Zoo
The Bronx Zoo should be more of an Honorable Mention on this site, because entry isn’t free. However, they do have “pay what you want Wednesdays,” where you can pay whatever price you want to get into the zoo. If you love animals, it’s a great way to see this impressive zoo at a discounted rate.
Is there something different on your NYC free top ten list? Please comment and let me know what you would add. Thanks!
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