With its bustling streets, world-renowned sights and a foodie scene that can rival most countries, New York City is a place that is as diverse as it is unique. Better still, there’s a heap of the best free things to do in New York that are dotted all across the city.
Now, as with most global cities, New York has a reputation for costing lots of money, particularly when you want to see and do everything whilst you’re visiting.
Of course, NYC has shed loads of glitzy restaurants and speak-easy bars where you can wine and dine the night away, though not everything has to cost the earth!
That being said, if you’re looking to experience more of the city without the $$$ flying out of your pocket, then take a gander at some of the best free things to do in New York if you’re a little savvy with your planning.
Oh, and don’t forget to check out New York City’s Secret Spots that you must explore, too. These are great if you’ve saved a little dosh and want to find some other cool spots in the city.
With that in mind, take a look at these free things to do in New York City. Have the best trip!
1.) MoMA’s Sculpture Garden
You might have heard of MoMA- especially if you’re an art buff! The Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan is one of the best art museums in the entire world (*yep, I’m slightly biased), and on Friday afternoons, it’s totally FREE – it won’t cost you a single cent.
From 4:00-8:00 pm every Friday, MoMA is free to every visitor but beware of long lines that can take up a big portion of your time. Thankfully, queues disappear quite fast after 6 pm though, this will mean you’ve got less time inside, so plan ahead.
Oh yeah, and if you’re not in NYC on Friday afternoon, don’t worry; MoMA has an outdoor space free to the public every day from 9:00-10:15 am. It’s called the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden and features art and sculptures for viewing that most visitors don’t even know about.
2.) New York Aquarium
Fridays are popular for freebies in NYC it seems! Seals, sea lions, and walruses—oh my. For free, you say?
If you can manage to get there on a Wednesday, then yes, the New York Aquarium is free. There is a little-known free time slot happens every Wednesday, from 3:00 pm until closing.
This means you can head inside totally for free but can contribute with a donation if you’d like.
3.) American Folk Art Museum
For a museum visit that’s free every day of the year (no specific slots or times to worry about), dive straight into the American Folk Art Museum -which is a great way to learn more about folk art and its place in the USA.
Admission is always free here, rather than at certain hours on certain days so take your time getting there and really enjoy the beautiful art inside – just remember that weekends can get especially busy.
4.) Central Park
What could be more free than walking around one of the most famous urban parks in all the world?
One thing that you’ll notice straight away is how vast the park actually is…and although you can’t get too lost, you may well lose your way (if you’re anything like me) when navigating the hundreds of walkways and promenades.
Each and every day, there are totally free walking guides that you can download online and take with you to the Park and discover at your own pace.
Make sure to take a spot at Bethesda Fountain and even enjoy a gander around Belvedere Castle.
5.) Visit like a local
Have you always wanted a personalised tour of New York City from a local’s perspective, but never wanted to dish out a hefty sum for it? Look no further than Big Apple Greeter, a volunteer-based visitor service for tourists heading to the city.
All of the volunteers are native New Yorkers, and many of them are multilingual; so you’re likely to find a volunteer that can speak your local language.
Oh yeah, and make sure you Sign up and request which parts of New York City you’d most like to see, whether it’s a specific neighbourhood, or maybe the most secret spots in the city.
As long as there is an available volunteer willing to take you on, your tour is all for free though a little pit-stop for a coffee and a nice cake will always be appreciated.
6.) Greenwich Village
Those wanting to discover the bohemian streets of Greenwich Village can do so for free in two different ways.
The Village Alliance has a website section for self-guided tours, and even categorises the tours into interest area groups: art and architecture, cultural heritage, film, food and drink and many more.
The Village Alliance also has free tour guides that walk you through Greenwich Village. The free tours are available every Saturday from June through September.
Tours meet rain or shine (so pack an umbrella) at 11:30 am outside 130 Second Avenue and last for about 90 minutes.
7.) Catch Some Comedy
If you’re a lover of comedy and a fan of Seth Meyers you’ll be happy to know that you can attend live recordings of his show for FREE!
For instance, NBC’s “Late Night”, which visitors to New York City can get free tickets to. The only catch is that you have to book four to six weeks in advance to make sure you get the tickets.
Just remember, you must be at least 16 years old, and only groups of four people or less are allowed.
8.) Visit the Vessel
Perched in Hudson’s Yard, the Vessel is one of the newer and easily one of the best free things to do in New York is visiting for a long weekend.
Tickets to go up the Vessel are totally free but they can go fast, so make sure you check out the website for the latest availably.
9.) Bryant Park Summer Film Festival
Every summer, HBO sets up a free film festival in Bryant Park that anyone can take part in.
Film viewings are from June through August at 5:00 pm every Monday. Be sure to arrive early as spaces fill up very fast.
The movies tend to nostalgic and have the particular meaning as to why it’s shown (all of which will be made known to you at the time). It really is one of the best free things to do in New York, especially on a warm summer evening.
10.) Central Park Conservancy Festival
Lovers of films, rejoice…the Central Park Conservancy Film Festival is located in—you guessed it—Central Park in the summer.
Classic films are typically screened near the Sheep Meadow (minus the sheep), and there is a live DJ performance before every show. Gates open at 6:30 pm, and the film starts at 8:00 pm.
11.) Spot the NYC Parakeets at Green-Wood Cemetery
This sounds much more creepy than it actually is but Green-Wood Cemetery is one of NYC’s National Historic Landmarks that sprawls a whopping 478 acres of hills and valleys in Brooklyn.
Beyond the fact that you’ll be visiting a cemetery, it’s actually one of the city’s best places to go bird-watching. Over the last few decades, parakeets have come to call this place home. Make sure to keep your eyes peeled and enjoy the whole neighbourhood, too.
12.) Walk The High Line
One of New York’s most famous walkways, the High Line stands 30 feet above the ground (on a disused metro line), connecting the Meatpacking District to the Javits Convention Center.
Built on an abandoned railroad track, this 1.45 mile (2.3km) long plant-covered path offers awesome views as it takes you through Manhattan’s West Side.
If you want to hear the story behind the park, free public tours are also available and you’ll no doubt see many public art displays that are commissioned along the route.
If you want to hear the story behind the park, free public tours are also available and you’ll no doubt see many public art displays that are commissioned along the route. It really is one of the best free things to do in New York.
13.) Staten Island Ferry
While normal ferry tours to Staten Island are about $12, the Staten Island Ferry is completely free!
The ferry is mainly for commuters but that doesn’t mean everyone else can’t ride it as well. The ferry has been operating since 1905, and its route cuts across the New York Harbour.
Whenever you’re done exploring Staten Island, feel free to hop on another free ferry ride back to Manhattan, where you’ll also get a great view of the Statue of Liberty too.
It’s honestly a great way to see one some of the most iconic landmarks and one of the best free things to do in New York.
Plus, it’s a great way to save some pocket money and spend it some of the city’s best doughnuts!
14.) Chrysler Building
One of the most iconic skyscrapers in New York is the Chrysler Building and one of my favourites too! Located in the area of the city known as Midtown East, the building is a beautiful example of Art Deco architecture.
What’s really great about it is that you can actually discover the lobby for free.
The lobby is the only area of the building open to the public and a great place to see an insight into the period decor of the building. Featuring stunning red Moroccan marble walls and Art Deco light fixtures, the lobby is open to the public from Monday through Friday, 7:00 am to 6:00 pm.
15.) Coney Island
Located south of Brooklyn, right next to the New York Aquarium in Coney Island Beach and Boardwalk.
With nearly 3 miles (4.8km) of sandy beaches to walk along, visitors can fully enjoy their stroll for free as they take in the sights and sounds of Coney Island (whilst enjoying some saltwater taffy). It really is one of the best free things to do in New York.
Though, be sure to plan your visit during the summer, as the beach is generally closed during the winter months.