The first time I visited New York City for a day trip I didn’t think about how much money I spent because I was only there for a day. But when staying in New York for a few days or more, you can overspend on your budget real fast.
You probably know that New York is one the most expensive places to live or visit in the United States.
Fortunately, there are lots of cheap things to do in NYC. So, you can hang on to your cash while exploring New York on a budget and see a lot of stuff without spending a bunch of money.
In this post I’m sharing 21 free things to do in NYC. Especially when you are visiting New York alone, it’s nice to have some cheap or free stuff to do.
Free Things to Do in New York City
1. Bryant Park
Bryant Park, which is known as Manhattan’s Town Square, is a beloved park with beautiful seasonal gardens. The fantastic park is open all year round and is visited by millions of people every year.
And in wintertime Bryant Park offers you the chance to go ice skating for free! It’s another reason NYC is a great Christmas vacation destination.
2. Staten Island Ferry
The Staten Island Ferry is free to everyone, tourist or local. And it’s a great way to get some amazing views of the Statue of Liberty as well as the New York skyline.
The Staten Island Ferry carries passengers from Manhattan to its boroughs every day of the year.
The ferry service runs 24 hours 7 days a week. Weekdays every 15 to 20 minutes and weekends every 30 minutes.
Currently, the ferry service transports around 22 million passengers annually.
Tip: It’s best to plan your trip sometime between late morning and early afternoon (10 am to 3 pm) to avoid the rush hour of commuters on the ferries.
3. Washington Square Park
Washington Square Park is located at the heart of the world-famous Greenwich village. The park has been around for almost two centuries and is about 10-acres in size.
Whether you are a new resident to New York or just visiting you’ll want to wander over to Washington Square Park to relax, do some people watching, or dine outdoors.
Moreover, Washington Square Park hosts numerous events, which can be an excellent way to spend your weekends and meet new friends in New York.
LEARN MORE: 10 Best Food Tours in NYC
4. Christopher Street Pier Hudson River Park
At Pier 45 in Hudson River Park, you can take in the waterfront view while relaxing on the lawn at Christopher Street Pier. This is the perfect place for a picnic lunch and people watching.
And it’s a beautiful place to watch the sunset in New York.
This West Village park also features the first LGBTQ monument in New York, designed by Brooklyn artist Anthony Goicolea.
Hudson River Park is also known for hosting the summer music series Sunset on the Hudson and the Sunset Salsa dance party.
5. Central Park
Do you want to escape into nature without leaving the heart of New York City? Then you’ll want to spend some time wandering around a few of the 843 acres of Central Park.
There are plenty of events, activities, and attractions that you will find in this vibrant urban park.
Central Park first opened to the public in 1858, the first major public landscaped park in the United States and took 15 years to complete all the landscaping.
Some incredible attractions you will find at Central Park:
- The Carousel
- Bow Bridge
- The Pond and Gapstow Bridge
- The Dairy (A victorian-style cottage)
- Sheep Meadow
- The Mall
6. Elevated Acre
The Elevated Acre is a beautiful acre of green space that sits in the heart of Manhattan’s Financial District at 55 Water Street.
At the Elevated Acre you will get to experience a luscious and tranquil space with amazing views of the Brooklyn Bridge and the New York harbor.
The best time to visit the Elevated Acre is during the summer when this garden oasis is at its most luscious and the beer garden is open.
To get to the Elevated Acre take the escalator at 55 Water Street.
7. Brooklyn Bridge
Brooklyn Bridge is suspended over the East River in New York City, linking Brooklyn to Manhattan. It’s free to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge.
This unique bridge has gone down in history for being the first bridge to use steel as its cable wires. It is also a National Historic Landmark.
It’s an excellent example of classic 19th-century engineering. There are many aspects of this mesmerizing structure to be admired as you walk across, taking in the sweeping views of the cityscape.
8. The High Line
If you want to try something a bit more offbeat while in the city, be sure to walk along The High Line.
What is the High Line? It’s an old railway with a greenway path beside it and it boasts a magical design. It is an elevated park and spans 1.45 miles.
Found on the west side of Manhattan, this is an attraction that is well-worth seeing when visiting New York.
9. The Downtown Boathouse
Are you excited about spending some time on the water? Maybe improve your kayaking skills? The Downtown Boathouse is a must-visit for you if you want an incredible outdoor experience in New York.
The Downtown Boathouse is an all-volunteer and non-profit organization that started its operations in 1994.
The organization’s primary mission is to offer safe and free access to the New York Harbor to the public through kayaking programs.
You can book a morning kayaking session (sign up the night before) or an afternoon session. You will go kayaking around the Pier 26 Tribeca Boathouse.
10. Prospect Park
Prospect Park is a beautiful urban park in Brooklyn. This lush park is an excellent place to relax and experience nature. Prospect Park opened in 1867, designed by the same folks that created Central Park.
Enjoy the hiking and biking trails and be sure to visit the Audubon Center at the Boathouse in Prospect Park. Explore the exhibits then do some exploring in nature and go birdwatching.
You can also borrow a free Discovery Pack, filled with items such as binoculars, magnifying glasses, nature journals, and games like scavenger hunts and bird bingo, to help you explore in the park.
11. Socrates Park – Queens
Socrates Sculpture Park in Queens is an outdoor museum that offers artists a space to create and exhibit media installations and sculptures.
In addition, it serves as a public park.
Socrates Park is open from 9 am to sundown year round and admission to the park’s grounds, exhibits, and programs is free.
12. Charging Bull Statue
The Charging Bull at Bowling Green Park is arguably one of the most famous sculptures worldwide. It was curated by the Maestro sculptor Arturo Di Modica and installed in December 1989.
You should know that there is more to Bowling Green Park than just the Charging Bull. This small park is the oldest park in NYC, designated in 1733.
There is a fountain at Bowling Green Park and the fence surrounding the park is the original from 1733.
The fence at Bowling Green was built to help protect a statue of King George III (created in 1770) but the people decided this statue didn’t belong in NYC and it was toppled in July 1776.
Go take your photo with the charging bull and know that you are standing on historic ground.
13. Grand Central Terminal
One of NYC’s most legendary places to visit is none other than the Grand Central Terminal.
This commuter railway terminal is located in midtown Manhattan and has some beautiful architectural and design features such as the ceiling mural.
Not only is it a railway terminal, it is also a huge NYC landmark that provides excellent cultural, dining and shopping experiences.
There are lots of shops and over 30 places to get something to eat.
14. City Hall
New York’s City Hall holds a special spot as one of the nation’s oldest and continuously used city halls.
Opened in 1812, the building has been serving as the headquarters for the New York City government for more than 200 years.
The walls of the City Hall have a lot of history to tell; thus, it’s a great place to spend time if you want to know more about early NYC.
When they start up again you can get a tour of the city hall on Wednesdays at 12:00 pm and Thursdays at 10:00 am. Reservation required as only 20 people per tour group.
15. African Burial Ground National Monument
Rediscovered in 1991, the African Burial Ground in Lower Manhattan is now the African Burial Ground National Monument and is managed by the National Park Service.
The burial ground dates from the mid-1630s to late 1700s. It is the burial site of both free and enslaved Africans.
In addition to the burial grounds there is a memorial, interpretive center, and research library on the site.
At the visitor center you can watch a 20-minute video and explore the exhibits which examine topics such as archeology, colonial enslavement, and civic engagement.
16. NYC Public Library
The NYC Public Library has its flagship location on 5th Avenue’s Stephen A. Schwarzman Building.
While here, make sure to visit the Rare Book Division, the Rose Main Reading Room, and the General Research Division.
17. Hamilton Grange
Hamilton Grange, which also goes by The Grange, is a national monument under the management of the National Park Service.
Its claim of fame is that it was home to one of the US founding fathers, Alexander Hamilton.
The Grange underwent restorations and reopened to the public in 2011.
When they start up again, tours of this historical home begin with watching a film about Hamilton’s life.
If you are fascinated by American history, this is one tour that will amaze you.
18. St. Patrick’s Cathedral
The St. Patrick’s Cathedral is one of NYC’s most distinguishable landmarks, and you can’t fail to notice its decorated neo-gothic architectural style compared to the modern architecture around it.
The primary parts of this iconic Catholic cathedral were built between 1858 and 1878. Over the years, numerous expansion and restoration works keep St. Patrick’s Cathedral in good shape.
Some of the most breathtaking features of this cathedral, besides the architectural design, are its majestic stained-glass windows and artwork.
19. Museum at Fashion Institute of Technology
Fashion has played a critical role in society since the beginning of civilization.
If you are in New York and are looking to experience fashion from a broader perspective, there is no better place than The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology.
When the museum opens again you will get a chance to walk through the fashion memory lane and visualize its future.
As fashion is ever-evolving, this is a place that you can visit repeatedly and see the various exhibits with no admission fee.
20. National Museum of the American Indian
Reopening on June 23, 2021
The National Museum of the American Indian is home to one of the world’s most comprehensive collections of artifacts, archives, photographs, and media of the Native peoples of the Americas.
Besides the collections and exhibits, the National Museum of the American Indian also conducts research, educational activities, and performing arts programs on Native American culture.
You could easily spend a few hours at this fascinating museum.
21. Castle Clinton National Monument
Castle Clinton, which is located at Manhattan’s southern tip, was built between 1808 and 1811 as the Southwest Battery to protect against invasion from the British.
Now Castle Clinton (repurposed over the years as an immigrant landing depot, aquarium, and gardens) is a national monument for sightseers to visit and explore history.
And it’s totally free to visit Castle Clinton.
Why is it called Castle Clinton? In 1817, the fort was named in honor of Dewitt Clinton, the Mayor and later Governor of New York.
You can take a ranger guided tour of Castle Clinton (also free) check the schedule posted on the door to the exhibit.
No reservation is necessary for these free tours. Generally, the tours start at 10:00, 12:00, 2:00 and 3:30 daily.
Castle Clinton is located in Manhattan at the southern edge of Battery Park, by the water.
Hours: 7:45 am – 5 pm every day except Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.
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