Top Bar Menu

The Best Things to do for Free in New York City

Pictures of New YorkThe Big Apple, the city that never sleeps and where anything is possible – including having a great time on a budget.

Free Things To Do in NYC

Backpacking in a big city can be pricey, especially in a prosperous country such as America.  But it is possible to find cheap accommodation in New York City, to see the sights and experience life in New York without blowing your meager backpacker’s budget.  After all, it costs nothing to soak up the atmosphere of bustling, neon light-filled Times Square, gaze up at the jagged skyscrapers, or watch the sun set over the Hudson River from Battery Park.  The best of New York is completely free.

Spend Hours in Museums

Things to do NYC
Whilst the most famous museums in New York charge an astronomical fee, believe it or not free ones do exist in the city.  Try the National Museum of the American Indian, housed in the beautiful 1907 Beaux Arts U.S. Customs House.  This National Historic Landmark, worth a visit in its own right, contains an impressive collection covering over 10,000 years of mainly North American and Hawaiian Native heritage. Other museums have free evenings, such as the highly regarded and diverse Brooklyn Museum, which opens its doors admission-free every first Saturday after 5pm.

Ride the Staten Island Ferry

Things to do NYC
A ride aboard this commuter ferry provides the best way to the see the city, and it costs absolutely nothing.  Fantastic views of the lower Manhattan skyline, the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and the New York Harbor can all be experienced from the ferry, making it possibly the best attraction in the whole city!

Relax in Central Park

Things to do NYC
For over 150 years, New Yorkers have taken refuge from the hustle and bustle of the city in the 843 acres of green parkland in central New York.  Wander through the winding paths past green meadows, woodland, lakes, bridges, gardens and monuments, and take a breather in the city’s lung.
Christmas in New York City

Window Shop

Just visiting Macy’s, Sak’s Fifth Avenue, and Barney’s is an essential New York experience.  In November and December, the windows of all the major stores are spectacularly dressed for Christmas – Sak’s Fifth Avenue is arguably the best.

Walk and Gawk at the City

It costs nothing to use your legs and your eyes so don a pair of comfy shoes and walk around the city.  Don’t miss the iconic art deco Empire State Building and Chrysler Building, the imposing and always busy Grand Central Station and, in December, the fabulous Christmas tree and ice skaters at the Rockefeller Centre.  You may not be able to afford to stay in them but don’t miss a couple of New York’s grand, beautiful and historic hotels, such as The Plaza and The Waldorf-Astoria, the only 2 hotels in the city to be designated National Historic Landmarks.  With the GFC leading to great deals on hotels, you may even be able to stay in a fabulous hotel in New York City yourself!
Things to do NYC

, , , , ,

Rizalenio says:

Wow! Awesome. Very informative. Love the photos too. Happy weekend!

devi says:

love NEW YORK..wish to go back there again! 🙂 🙂

Jason says:

NYC never gets old.

Sabina says:

This is great. New York City is definitely somewhere you don’t have to spend anything and can still have an amazing time. Like you said, just walking and gawking is enough. Chinatown is one place to walk and gawk where I feel like I’m on another continent. There’s just almost no tourists there, ever, that I see – just me and the Asians. The Brooklyn Bridge is another excellent place to walk and gawk. The views of Manhattan from the bridge as well as watching the diverse crowds of people crossing it – from Wall Street execs, to joggers to Chasidic Jews, make the half hour crossing take an hour or more.

Jason says:

Sabina, crossing the Brooklyn Bridge is incredible. And getting that picture of Pier 17 through the cables of the bridge is awesome. Here is some of our old pictures of the Brooklyn Bridge when we lived in Hoboken a few years ago:

If you’re chilling in Central Park, you might as well time it with one of the productions of Shakespeare in The Park. It’s one of the best free things to do anywhere. In recent years they’ve attracted big name actors. You have to get there early, and wait on line for the first come, first serve tickets. Pack a pick-nick and enjoy the park while you wait.

Jason says:

Thanks for adding the tip Brian.

Nancy R says:

I am going to NYC in two weeks. Thanks for the tips. I already have on my list to see Empire State Building and Central Park. I did not realize it is 843 acres. Wow! It’s HUGE!!! I look forward to my trip! 🙂

Jason says:

It is very huge and would take days to see it all. If you want to spend some money on excellent meals check out Lidia’s Becco Italian restaurant and The Central Park Boathouse for brunch in Central Park. It’s our favorite city in the world. Enjoy!

Laura says:

I would add this to your museum info. The Guggenheim offers admission by donation on Saturday evenings. I recently read the most popular donation is just $1. And though the MET advertises a $20 admission fee, it’s technically a suggested donation so you can pay what you like to enter there too. A lot of museums in the city have deals throughout the week so be sure to scope them out online before you go.

Jason says:

That’s a good point Laura. They often make you feel like the minimum donation is $20, but it’s not. It’s entirely up to you. Thanks for adding to the post.

I am surprised that walking the Brooklyn Bridge did not make your list… considering you had a picture of it and everything. I also like the new High Line Park as Aaron suggested.

Steve says:

I love the idea of visiting New York and seeing a lot of sites for free. Thanks for sharing this.

Kelly says:

I know it seems counter intuitive, but I actually find I can have fun more cheaply in a big city than in a small one. It’s so entertaining just to people watch. I heart NY!

Jason says:

People watching, my favorite!

Aaron says:

To this list I would add:

-Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge.
-Visit the High Line Park (an old elevated railroad turned into a beautiful riverside park)
-Attend a TV taping (it’s a little bit more work, but still free).

Jason says:

Yes, absolutely the Brooklyn Bridge. And fitting since I put the picture of it in this article.

Andrea says:

Having lived in NYC, I can completely agree that some of the best things to do there are free! You’ve provided a great list here.

Free??!! I love free. And beer. And free beer. 😉

great post, thanks for all the tips!

Jason says:

Free beer? Where? I want some.

Castellani Media LLC.