Sure, you could—drop a bunch of coin to go to the top of the Empire State Building, eat at the fanciest restaurants or walk around on the grounds of the Statue of Liberty. But what if we told you that you could take a boat ride right past Lady Liberty without spending a dime? It’s a possibility and thousands of New Yorkers who ride the Staten Island Ferry do it every day.
New York is chock full of free gems like these ones, but to find them, the secret is connecting with a local who knows all the tricks. Luckily for you, we’re spilling our beans and dishing up the best free spots to enjoy in New York City.
From long, luxurious walks through the city’s parks, including the elevated High Line, to the weird, wacky and wonderful sights at Coney Island, this list curates the best of New York’s offerings into a tidy little package.—
So, no matter how small – or non-existent- your budget is, you’re still capable of having a great time in the Big Apple. Now, without further ado, allow us to present to you the 10Best list of New York City’s free things to do.—
Photo courtesy of Luna Park
Coney Island is home to New York’s alternative side. From the yearly mermaid parade to the nationally televised hot dog eating contest, this beachy outreach of the city feels a million miles away. If you can’t make it for an event (though you really should try!), you’ll still find plenty to do once you arrive. Take your chances on a ride at the amusement park, Luna Park, or if you’re able to drop a few bucks, gain admittance into the Coney Island Circus Sideshow. We won’t ruin the surprises but this freak show will have you scratching your head – or in some cases, hiding your eyes.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Coney Island is grimy, weird and unforgettable experience. For free.
Andrea’s expert tip: Check the schedule and try to go when an annual event, such as the summertime Mermaid Parade, is in full swing.
Serving as New York’s seat of the archbishop, this gothic-style building has distinct American features while maintaining a European feel in the heart of Midtown Manhattan. New York architect James Renwick, also known for designing “The Castle” (the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC), completed work on the church in 1879. Renwick also designed the New York Public Library and the former facade of the New York Stock Exchange. The largest church in New York, St. Patrick’s seats over 2,000. New Yorkers consider the cathedral’s steps a good, scenic meeting spot. Download the Cathedral Tour App in advance for a self-guided audio tour narrated by Cardinal Timothy Dolan and rector Msgr. Robert Ritchie.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Arguably one of the most stunning cathedrals in the country, the free daily tours put this at the top of the list.
Courtney’s expert tip: Get there early to snag a spot in the free 10 AM tour group.
Even if going to a library isn’t on your list of “must see” attractions back home, be sure to make an exception for the New York Public Library. This system holds one of the world’s largest and most comprehensive collections. Books, periodicals, maps, videos, musical scores and other electronically formatted items make up the more than 52 million items currently being held here. Special collections include art and architecture, print, photography, rare books, manuscripts and archives. The library also hosts special events, exhibits, instruction and classes (adult literacy, Internet workshops, etc.). In addition, free tours are offered Monday – Saturday at 11 AM and 2 PM, and at 2 PM Sundays.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: The New York Public Library is a stunning example of architecture and free for all to wander.
Courtney’s expert tip: The lions out front are named Patience and Fortitude.
Socrates Sculpture Park was founded in 1986 to provide artists with the opportunities and the space to exhibit large-scale sculptures and multi-media presentations. In this unique outdoor environment, trees are dwarfed by the results of creative expression. Prior to 1986, the location was an illegal dumpsite until artist Mark di Suvero transformed it into an open studio, allowing the space to be expanded from there. During the summer, crowds gather for everything from kite flying events to circus performances. Free yoga classes are designed for every level and there’s even an eight-week outdoor cinema program that celebrates the cultural diversity of Queens.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Free yoga classes, outdoor cinema and art exhibitions make Socrates Sculpture Park the place to go for summer entertainment.
Courtney’s expert tip: Sunswick Creek is next door and offers free science classes for kids and kayaking for all.
Spanning from the South Street Seaport to Brooklyn Heights, the famous Brooklyn Bridge has ushered New Yorkers across the East River since 1883. A must-see for any visitor to the Big Apple, the best way to experience the bridge is to take the 30-plus minute, 3,455-foot expedition and walk it. The view of Manhattan is incredible, suddenly making it easy to understand why decades of poets and painters have been fascinated by it. The great Walt Whitman even described the view from the bridge as the “most effective medicine my soul has yet partaken.” For best results, we’d recommend going in the early morning during the summer months to miss the crowds.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: The Brooklyn Bridge is an iconic landmark seen in countless movies and shows.
Maria’s expert tip: It’s a must, but think twice before going on a cold and rainy day. The whipping winds can ruin a good time.
Said to be “Manhattan’s only remaining great gateway,” Grand Central Terminal (not “station” as it is often mistakenly called) is a magnificent example of art meeting functionality. The Beaux Arts facade that stretches along 42nd Street features a beautiful clock and crowning statues of Minerva, Mercury and Hercules. Inside the terminal, a vast blue ceiling twinkles with fiber optic lighting depicting the zodiac constellations, while one level below, sixty railroad tracks transport over 500,000 commuters a day. Since the building’s revitalization, Grand Central has enticed visitors and locals alike, with quick bites and delicacies located in the Grand Central Market, fine cuisine in the Dining Concourse and free arts events in Vanderbilt Hall.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: It’s grandiose, but Grand Central Terminal is also filled with small wonders if you know where to look.
Courtney’s expert tip: Fun fact: check out the NW corner of the ceiling. See that patch of black? That’s the color the entire ceiling (due to smoking) before they cleaned it.
For nearly a century, the brightest lights, the biggest music, the longest parties and all the star power you could ask for have stemmed off a street called Broadway. At one time not so long ago, this area was a haven for decadence. Seedy sex shops and peep shows infested the area until a successful revitalization effort and the arrival of tenants like David Letterman paved the way for a new Times Square. Now, it’s one of the most influential theater districts in the world. Times Square also hosts the largest New Year’s Eve celebration in the country. Half a million people flock to the square every year to bid the old year goodbye and to welcome in the New Year, New York party style.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: It’s a must when you’re visiting New York. And unlike the person who pays the electric bill, it’s free for you.
Andrea’s expert tip: Go at night. There’s something much more magical about seeing it all lit up.
Leaving Manhattan, you gaze at the most enduring symbol of the city, the Statue of Liberty, ahead on the right and the sleek Verrazano-Narrows Bridge dominating the left. Then you realize that skyscrapers are assuming postcard dimensions of grandeur behind you. It is New York, even America, at its best, a truly thrilling experience. The magnificence of the Brooklyn Bridge soon completes the view behind you on the right. And best of all, it’s free! Once at the terminal on the Staten Island side, grab a departing boat (or stay for dinner), then enjoy the dramatic view in reverse. Hint: avoid the newer, faster craft with no outside deck.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: It’s the best way to see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island for free.
Andrea’s expert tip: On the other side, check out Enoteca Maria, a casual joint that features different nonnas from around the world cooking in the kitchen.
Eight hundred acres of green space in the middle of Manhattan sounds like a fable. And yet, that’s exactly what Central Park is, which is why you’ll find joggers, nature lovers and bikers getting their fix of greenery every day. In the winter, visitors can lace up their skates for a twirl at Wollman Rink, while summer favorites include the Central Park Zoo and the Friedsam Memorial Carousel. For lazier days, catch some rays with the sunbathers in Sheep Meadow or on the Great Lawn and if you stay after the sun goes down, you may be serenaded by one of the many live performances that occur here, including some by The Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic. There’s no better place in the city to escape the city, making Central Park an oasis amongst the chaos right outside.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Central Park is as iconic as it gets. There’s perhaps no better way to spend a free afternoon.
Andrea’s expert tip: Don’t try to make your plans here hard and fast. You’ll likely get lost in the park – instead of stressing out, embrace it.
A true lesson in urban renewal, the High Line is built on an abandoned railroad line elevated above Manhattan’s west side. Running from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to Midtown’s W. 34th Street, the High Line has quickly claimed its place in the hearts of New Yorkers and visitors. Dotted along the grated overpass are food stalls, restaurant pop-ups and magnificent overlooks. To do it best, go on a Tuesday and amble along until you find Terroir, a wine bar near 15th Street. Grab a glass of vino at dusk, and then make your way a couple blocks south to hook up with the Amateur Astronomers Association stargazers who’ve set up telescopes and offer explanations of what’s going on in the sky.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: It’s the perfect place to feel like you’re still in the action but away from the madness below.
Andrea’s expert tip: If you’re able to swing it, go during the week and avoid the weekend crowds.