With a population of 8.8 million people, New York City is the most populous city in the United States, a reason more to see what is the Big Apple all about. Whether you are traveling solo, with friends or family, New York has so much to offer especially if you are a first-timer.
Every city has free things and activities to offer to tourists traveling on a budget. Luckily, New York City is no exception. With so many budget-friendly things to do in the city that never sleeps, you can’t help but want to extend your stay.
From historic sites and museums, parks and art galleries, to outdoor movies and some of the best Instagrammable places, your trip to New York is going to be memorable and won’t break the bank. Here are some of the most amazing free things to do in NYC.
Ride the Staten Island Ferry
It is almost impossible to find a free ride in NYC, that is why taking an advantage of the free Staten Island Ferry is one of the best free things to do in NYC. This 25-minutes ride from Manhattan to Staten Island is the ideal way to get an incredible view of the city’s most famous national historic landmark, the Statue of Liberty.
The boat leaves from Battery Park, Lower Manhattan every day. Drop your extra bags and backpacks with our luggage storage in NYC and ride the ferry without worrying about your belongings. Make sure to get a good viewing spot and enjoy the peaceful Manhattan skyline and some incredible views, for free.
Walk the High Line
The High Line is an elevated park, a peaceful spot in the middle of the concrete jungle, and one of the most artistic public spaces in NYC. Starting at Meatpacking District, the High Line runs 1.45-mile long to Midtown. This public park is created on what once used to be the New York Central Railroad.
Since its opening in 2009, the High Line has become one of the most visited places in New York, with about 8 million visitors per year. With so many free things to do and see walking the High Line like street art, free programs, and all kinds of free events, we are sure it will become your favorite spot to hang out in NYC.
Visit Chelsea Art Galleries
Art is a big part of New Yorkers' lifestyle which makes art galleries a really cool place to visit on your stay in NYC. Head down to the West Side of Manhattan, towards the neighborhood of Chelsea. Not only it is a historic district but with 400 galleries Chelsea is also the center of the art world in NYC.
Admire some great world-class pieces of contemporary art, enjoy free exhibits, drink free wine, and eat delicious snacks in Chelsea’s galleries which are by the way, all free to enter.
If you happen to be walking the High Line, then you should stop by Chelsea Market. Open in the 1990s, this is one of the best food halls in NYC that also houses media and broadcasting companies such as Food Network and the local New York City cable station NY1, as well as Google and YouTube offices.
Visiting the Chelsea neighborhood is definitely one of the best free things to do in NYC.
Take Photos at Times Square
Visiting NYC can't go without snapping photos at the most Instagrammable place on Earth, Times Square. Located between 7th Avenue and Broadway in Midtown Manhattan, this cultural hub is packed with theatres, music halls, and touristy museums like the Wax Museum and Ripley’s Believe It or Not. Times Square is worth checking out at night to experience the lit city and the huge billboards that can cost up to $3 million per month to advertise.
Besides seeing a Broadway Show or staying in an upscale hotel, this part of NYC offers a ton of free things to do and see. Here, you may witness some of the best free things to do in NYC like the many street performers dressed as superheroes, or cartoon characters, or take a photo with the Naked Cowboy. People watching is fun while on Times Square as is listening to the incredible gospel choir at the Times Square Church.
Free Things to do in Central Park
Whether you are visiting alone or with family, Central Park has to be on top of your list of free things to do in NYC. This urban park in the middle of the city covers an area of 843 acres. Simply walking around Central Park and enjoying this tranquil oasis in the heart of the bustling city is worth the visit.
You will find tons of things to do in the park that are completely free, like bird watching for instance. There are 230 different species of birds in Central Park. Visit the Central Park Conservancy visitor center to get a free discovery kit that includes binoculars, maps and guides and everything you need to make this experience more fun!
If you are a fan of live music and happen to visit Central Park from June to September, the SummerStage event may be just the right thing for you. Free concerts, free events, and celebrations of all genres of music are mainly located on Rumsey Playfield.
You may have heard of Shakespeare, but how about Shakespeare in the Park? Starting in May, you get to see free performances of masterpieces of William Shakespeare at the Delacorte Theatre. Knowing that famous Hollywood stars like Meryl Streep and Al Pacino have taken part in the plays, you may be in for a big treat!
New York Public Library - Main Branch
Libraries are usually not one of the things you want to do during an exciting trip, but the New York Public Library will give you an incredible surprise. The library is located on 476 Fifth Avenue, within a short walking distance from Grand Central Terminal. With nearly 53 million items, this is the second-largest library in the United States and undoubtedly one of the best and free things to do in NYC.
The building was built over a century ago, and its grandeur Beaux-Arts design mixed with Renaissance elements is like no other in NYC. The name New York Public Library doesn’t cover only one library. It’s in fact the name of the library system that includes all library branches and buildings across all boroughs in NYC.
The Main Branch is the most touristy one and easy to recognize from the lion sculptures at the entrance. While in the library you get to do all sorts of free things, such as do a little research, attend some of the events, or take a free walking tour. Some of the highlights to see are the Rose Reading Room or the Children’s center where you will find all the original stuffed animals that inspired classic stories such as Winnie-the-Pooh.
Free Activities in Bryant Park
Central Park is not the only park in the Big Apple where you can spend a day and not spend a dime. Located near New York City Public Library is Bryant Park, the perfect urban space to get a little peace and quiet from the hustle and bustle of the city.
If you happen to be here during summer, you get to watch free movies under the stars. Make sure to bring a blanket and some popcorn to get the best out of this experience. Movies start at sunset, so be there in time to find the best spot.
And if you are visiting NYC for the winter holidays, then the magical winter village is a must-visit. There are many adorable shops, cozy igloos, and fairy lights that turn this place into one we see in the movies. Also, if you like ice skating, you are going to love this!
Free ice skating is possible if you bring your own skates, but you can also rent some. If you are not into skating, you can stand on the side with a cup of hot cocoa and watch some of the free skating events and shows.
At the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter which day or season you are visiting Bryant Park as it offers free activities every day. From yoga and ping pong lessons to free Broadway performances, Bryant Park should be on top of your list of free things to do in NYC.
Brooklyn Bridge Park
Located on the Brooklyn side of the East River, you will see an 85-acre plot of land, the Brooklyn Bridge Park. Once you cross the famous 1.1 miles long Brooklyn Bridge, make a stop in Dumbo ( Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) near Brooklyn Bridge Park. It is one of the most crowded areas in Brooklyn, with cobblestone streets and trendy cafes worth checking out.
Brooklyn Bridge Park offers some of the best free things to do in NYC. The park is more lively during warmer months as you see lots of people picnicking, playing sports or roller skating. You also get to watch movies with incredible views of the NYC skyline as the screen is set at the bottom of a hill.
Free kayaking is also available in the park. If you want to take advantage of the free kayaking tour, but don’t know how to kayak, the team from the Brooklyn Bridge Park Boathouse will prepare you well before your adventure. After a fun day of activity, seek out some of the best local fare in NYC – the street food!
Brooklyn Botanic Garden
In the heart of Brooklyn in close proximity to the Brooklyn Museum, just northeast of Prospect Park lies Brooklyn Botanic garden covering 52 acres of land. If you are into flowers like roses and water-lilies, there is no better place to see some, but in this beautiful and serene garden. The entrance is free every Friday before noon or weekdays in winter.
During winter, visit the Conservatory where you get to see a desert and tropical rainforest. There are many free indoor and outdoor exhibits year-round. Check out the butterfly garden if you happen to be there in the fall.
The garden is a great place to spend a full day. Grab a sandwich and a coffee from the coffee bar and enjoy this rare gem in Brooklyn.
While there are many comedy shows where you have to pay to laugh, New York City is also famous for the tons of free-entry comedy shows. Some of the best comedy clubs in the city offer free comedy shows with rising comedians or well-established ones.
Check out the free comedy show "Let's See, What Else" for a night to remember. Or head down to LAf DAnce SAloon for a free comedy show that will make your jaw hurt. Don't be surprised if you see famous stand-up comedians among the aspiring young comics in the Lantern Comedy Club.
A good laugh shouldn't cost money, and that is why there are many comedy shows in NYC with free admission that are so worth checking out.
One of the best and free things to do in NYC is visiting Bronx Zoo. The zoo is popular for NYC residents and tourists alike. It covers an area of 265-acres making it the largest zoo in the United States.
This means you get to spend a good 4-5 hours here. When the zoo first opened in 1899, there were only 843 animals. Today the zoo is home to just over 6,000 animals and many award-winning exhibitions.
The entrance is not always free but on Wednesdays, it is "pay what you wish" admission. If you are traveling with kids, the zoo should be on top of your list of free things to do in NYC.
Free Tours and Free Tickets
New York City has some of the best things a tourist can see and do in a big city on a budget. Starting from Grand Central Station all through downtown Manhattan, visitors can enjoy hundreds of free things to do in NYC. From the beautiful Manhattan skyline and vast parks with free music, free tickets or pay what you wish for admissions, to comedy shows that will make your stomach hurt from laughing, this city is one of the best for budget-friendly trips.
Check out some of the best places to stay in New York City, and extend your stay as many times as you can.