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20 Things to Do in New York for Free

A trip to the Big Apple doesn’t have to break the bank. Here are 20 things to do in New York for free.

New York City is known as one of the most expensive cities in the world. While being part of such a world-class, inspiring, and bustling city does come with a price tag, a trip to New York doesn’t have to completely bust your travel budget. Want to be in-the-know about some free New York attractions throughout the city? Here are some suggestions for things to do in New York for free, including when to visit the MOMA and other New York museums and attractions that are completely free and open for everyone to enjoy. We’ve also included some recommendations for cheap eats in New York, along with tips on how to keep your trip to New York on budget.

new york yellow taxi and busy crossroad during the day
20 Things to Do in New York for Free | Skyscanner Canada

20 Things to Do in New York for Free

1. Walk along Fifth Avenue

Fifth Avenue in Manhattan is probably one of the most famous streets in the world. Stretching down from Harlem to Washington Square Park, a wander along Fifth Avenue is a must if you want to see some of New York’s top landmarks. Start your walk at Central Park and make your way south, counting the street numbers down from 59th Street to 30th Street and below. Some New York attractions along Fifth Avenue include the Plaza, St. Patrick’s Cathedral (open to the public from 6:30 a.m. to 8:45 p.m. with Mass throughout the day), Saks Fifth Avenue, Tiffany & Co, the Empire State Building, and the Flatiron Building.

2. Be an audience member for a TV show

New York City is home to some of the nation’s biggest networks like NBC and ABC. Morning shows like Kelly and Ryan and The View invite a studio audience for free almost every weekday, and late-night shows taped in the studios of 30 Rockefeller Plaza include Late Night with Seth Myers, Jimmy Fallon, and let’s not forget about Saturday Night Live. You might have to plan a bit ahead to get a seat at the more popular shows, but it’s worth a try! Head to the NYC Go website for a list of shows that are taped in New York, and how you can be an audience member for free.

3. Visit Rockefeller Center

Located in Midtown Manhattan along Fifth Avenue, this New York attraction is recognized worldwide. Named after and commissioned by the billionaire family the Rockefellers, Rockefeller Center is most known for the Christmas tree lighting every December and the popular skating rink that’s open (guests skate for a fee) throughout the winter. The outdoor plaza is a beautiful area to walk around, where you can take a picture in front of the iconic Prometheus statue, admire the 200 flagpoles that line the plaza and the 14 original Art Deco buildings that are part of Rockefeller Center.

Cheap NYC eats: The restaurants in the lower-level food court are a little expensive, but buying a cheap New York hot dog and a coffee from a nearby street vendor and sitting down on one of the benches in Rockefeller Center isn’t.

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Museum of Modern Art New York sign
20 Things to Do in New York for Free: The MoMA

4. Head to the MoMA during UNIQLO Free Friday Nights

New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) has a $25 admission price, but UNIQLO (you know, that place with the best cheap clothes ever) sponsors free Friday nights every week from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., where anyone can come and see world-class contemporary art for free. Note that groups of 10 or more need to need to pay a special admission price. Four hours at the MoMA will give you enough time to cover the best of the museum. It will most likely be crowded, so try heading there well before 4 p.m. to get a good spot in line rather than later in the evening.

5. Take a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge

The Brooklyn Bridge is another New York City attraction and an iconic landmark that’s high on the list of things to do in New York for free. And this one is a local favourite! You’re bound to catch a few New Yorkers jogging across the bridge (and dodging lots of tourists along the way). The bridge connects Lower Manhattan to Brooklyn, and you can start your walk from either end. Be sure to spend some time at the Brooklyn Bridge Park just south of the bridge on the Brooklyn side. You’ll get great views of Manhattan right across the river, and it’s a good spot to just wander along the path and people watch.

people walking on the Brooklyn Bridge in New York for free
20 Things to Do in New York for Free: Brooklyn Bridge

7. Go to a free New York museum

While a lot of New York’s museums require you to pay an admission fee, there are plenty of fantastic museums and art galleries which offer free admission or at least have free/pay-as-you-wish days. Included in this list is the American Folk Art Museum in Midtown and The Bronx Museum of the Arts, which Time Out New York named the most underrated museum in New York. El Museo del Barrio in Harlem is free every third Saturday and the Brooklyn Museum offers free admission the first Saturday of the month from 5-11 p.m.

Cheap NYC eats: Head to Crif Dogs, a popular spot in the East Village, for some of the best hot dogs in the city (there are vegan options, too!).

6. Wander Times Square

Times Square is one of the most famous corners in the world is outdoors, always busy, and completely free. Head here any time of day (really) and you’ll be blinded by the lights of the massive billboards all around you. It’s a place New Yorkers usually avoid, but it’s so New York at the same time. The heart of Times Square is located along 7th Avenue & Broadway, between 48th and 49th Streets. Venture down one of the streets off of Times Square and you’ll find New York’s Broadway Theaters, like the August Wilson Theater and the Winter Garden Theater, to name a few. Can’t afford a Broadway ticket at full price? There’s always the option to play the Broadway lottery, where you can get tickets to many of the Broadway shows at discounted rates.

8. Spend the day in Central Park

Central Park in New York City is a city in itself. You can easily fill a few days in New York exploring the many areas of this giant (840 acres!) public park. Some highlights include the Central Park Zoo, The Mall and Literary Walk, and the Bethesda Fountain. The Central Park Conservancy also offers free guided walking tours, so check their website for more info. If you feel like you need to relax after some long days wandering New York, Central Park offers the best recluse. Take a seat at one of the benches along one of the many pedestrian paths of the park or relax on the grass for some of the best views in the city. Pack some food for a picnic and spend the afternoon just relaxing in one of the biggest cities in the world.

view of Central Park on a sunny day in summer
20 Things to Do in New York for Free: Central Park
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9. Laugh your butt off at an improv show at the UCB Theatre

The Upright Citizens Brigade, or the UCB Theatre, is one of the best places to see live comedy in New York. Founded in the 1990s by comedy icons Amy Poehler, Matt Walsh, Ian Roberts, and Matt Besser, the UCB hosts a mix of improv, stand-up, and sketch comedy shows every night. Head to the UCB location in Hell’s Kitchen on Sunday nights for their ASSSSCat improv show, and the 9:30 p.m. show is completely free. The lineup changes every week, and comedy celebs tend to make surprise appearances. You’ll have to go to the box office and make reservations on the day of the show starting at 12 p.m.

10. Visit the 9/11 Memorial

Located on the grounds of the former Twin Towers is the 9/11 Memorial, where guests can pay their respects to the victims of the attacks in 2001 and 1993. There’s a Memorial Museum inside which charges an admission fee, but access to the site and twin memorial pools and 9/11 Memorial Glade is completely free. The Memorial is open to the public from 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day. Splurge the $2.75 (or free with a subway transfer) and take a 4-minute ride on the Roosevelt Island tram, where you can get a bird’s-eye view of the memorial.

11. Go to the beach

What?! There are beaches in New York? Yes, there are. And they have a few, and many of them are open to the public and free. Rockaway Beach in Queens is a popular beach close to the city, complete with a boardwalk and a coastline that’s decent for surfing. For some family fun, head to Coney Island Beach in Brooklyn. There’s plenty to do there apart from the beach, including a long boardwalk lined with food stalls and carnival rides to keep everyone entertained.

Cheap NYC eats: RIPPERS sandwich shop by Rockaway Beach provides beach bums with good eats on the cheap.

the highline in chelsea, manhattan, a free things to do in New York
20 Things to Do in New York for Free: The High Line

12. Walk the High Line

The High Line is an elevated railway track that’s been transformed into a public park and urban garden, where anyone can wander along the elevated path and see New York from another perspective. This track that runs along the west side of Manhattan by the Hudson River was abandoned for 25 years before the revival project in 2009. Continue your free New York tour by joining a free guided tour of the High Line and learn about the history behind this popular attraction. Bonus! The High Line usually hosts free stargazing evenings on the High Line at 14th Street, every Tuesday from April through October. Check the High Line’s website for information on times opening times, entrance points, and other events.

13. Free yoga at Bryant Park

If you’re visiting New York in the summer, you can participate in New York City’s popular free outdoor yoga class! That’s right, FREE yoga. There’s a class held every Tuesday morning and evening throughout the summer on the grounds of Bryant Park. The yoga session is an hour long and a very popular thing to do in New York. Head there at least 30 minutes ahead of time to get a free yoga mat rental to use for your class. They recommend fellow yogis to register for the class beforehand, but walk-ins are also welcome.

Cheap NYC eats: Dig Inn is a fast-casual eatery nearby that serves simple plates, soups, and salads using fresh ingredients from local farmers.

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people enjoying the reading room in the New York Public Library
20 Things to Do in New York for Free: New York Public Library

14. Be amongst literary legends at the New York Public Library

Not just for book nerds (but especially for book nerds) this New York landmark is so beautiful, awe-inspiring and completely free to visit. There are many locations of the NYPL throughout the city, but the most popular is the New York Public Library Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, located right next to Bryant Park in Manhattan. Open to the public from 10-6 p.m. daily, guests can use the reading rooms free of charge and explore the many areas of the library. There are always rotating exhibitions on the main floor, and the library often hosts author events and talks for free, so check their events schedule before your trip.

15. Explore Flushing Meadows in Queens

Go borough on your trip to New York and head to Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens. Flushing Meadows was the home of two World Fair’s and the park hosts a variety of sports and events throughout the year. It’s the largest park in Queens and just next door is the Mets Stadium (CitiField). Be sure to check out the Unisphere – the symbol of the 1964 New York World’s Fair. Head to the Queen’s Botanical Garden on-site, which is free during the winter months and has free hours from April through October on Wednesdays (3-6 p.m.) and Sundays (9-11 a.m.)

Cheap NYC eats: Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao is a highly-rated soup dumpling restaurant if you’re looking for some delicious food on a budget.

20 Things to Do in New York for Free: Unisphere in Flushing Meadows Park

16. Go to Grand Central Station

Nothing is more New York than heading to one of the biggest and busiest train terminals in the country and taking in all of the hustle and bustle. Located in the heart of Manhattan, Grand Central Station is the main transportation hub in the city, along with the nearby Penn Station. But you can’t beat the experience here: admire the Beaux-Arts design and gaze in awe at the zodiac ceiling of the terminal’s Main Concourse. Inside Grand Central there are plenty of little shops and restaurants, so you can easily spend a few hours in this New York attraction.

Grand Central Terminal during rush hour
20 Things to Do in New York for Free: Grand Central Station

17. Explore New York’s street art

From the DUMBO Walls, the Bushwick Collective, and lots of Banksy scattered around the city, New York City is one of the best places in the world to experience street art. You’ll need more than a few days to see them all! Head to Brooklyn where you will find a few of the most popular neighbourhoods for street art and graffiti. The city also offers a few weekly tours of New York’s best street art spots which are pay-by-donation.

18. Go on a walking tour of the Flatiron district

Every Sunday, tourists and any history and architecture enthusiasts can join a free ninety-minute walking tour of the Flatiron District in Midtown Manhattan. Tours are led by a professional guide and there’s no need to book ahead. The meeting point is at the tip of the famous Flatiron Building before the tour begins at 11 a.m. Open to all ages, and this free walking tour goes on rain or goes. During the tour, you’ll learn about the history of the Flatiron Building and other noteworthy architecture and landmarks in the area.

Cheap NYC eats: After or before your walking tour, head to Eisenberg’s Sandwich Shop, a classic New York deli that’s been serving the neighbourhood since 1929.

view of the Flatiron building in New York
20 Things to Do in New York for Free: Flatiron Building

19. Take a picture at the LOVE Sculpture

This recognizable New York attraction and pop art piece made by artist Robert Indiana is a popular stop on any New York tour. The artist designed it for the Museum of Modern Art Christmas card in 1965 and reproductions of this piece can be found worldwide. You can find the LOVE Sculpture in Midtown Manhattan standing on the corner of 55th Street and 6th Avenue. There’s usually a line to get that perfect photo in front of the iconic sculpture. Still craving more outdoor art? Head to the HOPE Sculpture, inspired by Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign, nearby on West 53rd Street and go selfie crazy.

20. Hop on the Staten Island Ferry

Cruise across the New York Harbor and see New York from another perspective on the Staten Island Ferry. This is a perfect thing to do if you’re visiting New York with kids, or if you’re just travelling the city solo. The ferry serves passengers throughout the day every day of the year and runs between downtown Manhattan and Staten Island. Check the Staten Island Ferry website for schedules and other important information. Taking the ferry is a consistently popular and free thing to do in New York City. It’s also one of the best (and free) ways to see New York’s famous Statue of Liberty!

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view of the manhattan skyline and the One World Observatory in the background from the Staten Island Ferry
20 Things to Do in New York for Free: Staten Island Ferry

Getting Around New York on the Cheap

All of the attractions mentioned above are easily accessible by the New York subway system, the MTA. A single ride on the New York City subway is $2.75. Depending on the length of your trip, the 7-Day Unlimited Ride Metrocard might be a good investment. The Metrocard also includes discounts on entrance to some of New York’s top sites. You can also buy daily passes or a 3-day pass on your Metrocard, so you can see these free New York attractions on a budget. See their website for maps, schedules, and prices.

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