New York City is famously one of the most expensive cities on the planet. Len has already covered ways to experience New York City on a budget. However, there is also a variety of attractions and activities you can include in your Big Apple itinerary for free.
The first money-saving tip for visiting the city is to wear comfortable walking shoes. New York taxis may be famous, but they’re a good way to watch your money slowly drain as the meter runs. Instead, stay somewhere near the sites you’d like to visit. Walk or take the subway (if you must) to get around.
Take a Self-Guided Walking Tour
Of course, you’ll also see a lot of Gotham on your walks. Here’s a walking route for taking in some of the local color of Manhattan: Start at Grand Central Terminal and head for the iconic Saks Fifth Avenue department store. Remember to just window shop — unless you want to buy something small — or else you’ll have to lug your shopping bags around with you on the rest of your walking tour (and shopping certainly isn’t free). From here, direct your feet to the amazing facade of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. You can go inside this Gothic structure, the largest of its kind in the United States on certain dates. After this, stroll along in the footsteps of the rich and famous to see the outside of the Plaza Hotel and visit Grand Army Plaza, which commemorates soldiers from the American Civil War.
You’ll find yourself at the corner of Central Park. This famous park has a heap of free-entertainment opportunities, and is worth visiting purely for its own charm. In the summers, you can take in free classical music concerts. All year round, you can enjoy the statuary and other art erected in the park. Especially interesting is Cleopatra’s Needle, an obelisk originally from Egypt in the time of the pharaohs. There are three of these “needles.” Another one is in Paris and the third is in London.
Experience Free Activities in the Bronx on Tuesdays and Wednesdays
If you’re visiting New York City on a Tuesday, head to the New York Botanical Gardens in the Bronx, as admission is free that day of the week. It has a greenhouse dating from the 1800s, a waterfall, wetlands and old-growth forest. The Bronx is also a good destination on Wednesdays when the Bronx Zoo offers admission for a “suggested donation” instead of the regular ticket price. This huge zoo has about 4,000 animals in its exhibits. The Congo Gorilla Forest and the Tiger Mountain are particularly noteworthy.
On any day of the week, however, visitors can take in the art on display at the Socrates Sculpture Park, an outdoor museum located in Astoria, Queens. In addition to the statuary, you can catch free theater performances, free cinema showings and other arts-related events at this park.
Free Activities in the Winter — and All Year
In the winter, taking a spin on the ice at Bryant Park is free. Bring your own skates or rent them there. If the weather makes you yearn for indoor activities, you won’t need to pay for entrance to the National Museum of the American Indian in Battery Park. A Smithsonian institution dedicated to indigenous Americans, it offers a look at history, handicraft and even contemporary pop culture. Another free indoor venue is the Fashion Institute of Technology Museum. Located at Seventh Avenue and 27th Street, this museum has some 50,000 garments in its collection, plus special exhibitions.
One last tip for a free New York activity: If you’re hoping to visit the Statue of Liberty, but forgot to book tickets for the paid cruise, you can always take the Staten Island Ferry — meant for commuters — from Battery Park across the harbor. You’ll get a view of Liberty, a free boat ride, and some excellent views of the New York skyline — all for free.
Photo Credit: Anthony Quintano
Free Money Minute says
Central park is a great activity to do on the cheap. It is beautiful and offers many simple things. What an interesting city.
New York is great for just walking round and seeing the sights, and it’s one of the easiest cities I have ever had to navigate.
Get out there and explore!
Joe Saul-Sehy says
Cool! I could spend days in Central Park. If I lived in Manhattan I think that’s where I’d spend my summers!
Debt Blag says
New York can be a very inexpensive tourist trip if you want it to be. Take it from the locals; we’ve figured out how to not drown under the living expenses and still manage to have a fun time of it
I love NY. The staten island ferry is free for pedestrians and you get great views of Manhattan instead of taking the paid ferry to liberty island, the Moma and other museums also have a free day or evening, you just have to look it up online, Moma is $20 so it is really worth it.
I’m so glad you put Staten Island Ferry on this list! I really believe it’s a hidden gem that needs to be advertised more.
I’d also recommend Brooklyn Heights Promenade. Hands down, it’s the BEST free view of the Manhattan Skyline.
Thanks for putting together this list!
Although it goes unadvertised, many museums in NYC have a “pay what you wish” policy. Two of the most popular are the Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met) and the Natural History Museum.
Although their ticket counter lists an admission price, it is really a suggested donation. You can tell the teller you would like to pay any amount (even nothing) and you will be admitted just like everyone else.
We only had a short time at each, so we paid $1 for admission to both the Met and the Natural History Museum.
Here’s a link that lists most of the participating museums:
I would add in Chelsea Highline as an enjoyable walk. Also, the Cathedral of St. John the Devine and Riverside Church have awesome architecture and are worth a visit. For a low cost treat, stop in at Juniors for a piece of cheesecake. Simply delicious.
Troy @ Bull Market says
I’ve been to NYC a couple of times, and never particularly like it when I went. I’m not a city kind of guy. I need the open air and outdoors. NYC just feels too congested.
Len Penzo says
It’s not my cup of tea either, Troy.