As you probably already know, New York City has a reputation for being a ridiculously expensive city to visit – a fact that makes this list of the best free things to do in NYC even more important.
Trust me, I know. I’ve lived in NYC for 30+ years and die a little inside every time I have to fork over thousands of dollars for my itty bitty, closet-sized apartment.
But, the high price tag associated with visiting NYC is worth it since this is the greatest city in the world – at least IMHO.
And since you probably don’t have a secret trust fund to call your own, you might want to use this epic list of free things to do in New York City to help you plan a slightly more budget-friendly trip to one of the greatest cities on the planet.
So, stop stressing and start living the proverbial NYC dream with this mega epic list of the best free things to do in NYC.
Because while some super obvious free things to do in NYC today will be on this list (Yes Central Park, I’m referring to you), we’ll definitely get off the well-trodden tourist trail and explore some free things to do in NYC this weekend (and beyond) that most people don’t know about.
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⏰ In a hurry and haven’t booked your accommodation yet? Book your stay at the Pod 39. It is convenient, cheap and one of the best places to stay in the city. ?
Where to Stay in NYC
Not sure where to stay in NYC? If so then you’re not alone.
In fact, it can be a real challenge to find a room that costs less than $100 per night in a notoriously expensive place like the Big Apple.
Luckily for you though, I’m a savvy, 30+ year local who knows all about where to stay and how to save money when enjoying some of the best free things to do in NYC.
So, check out any of the following places when looking for a super sweet hotel.
Pod 39 (budget) – If you’re on a budget, then Pod 39 is ideal. After all, it’s conveniently located in Murray Hill, a neighborhood that is notorious for its delicious Indian food.
It’s also a nice contemporary spot with rooms that include queen-sized beds, TVs, night tables, etc. And while everything here is definitely “cozy” you get to stay inside a historic home from 1918. So, yeah, that’s pretty rad.
The Leo House (Budget) – This Chelsea area hotel is run by the Catholic Sisters of St. Agnes and is a great option if you’re on a budget.
After all, rooms start at around $105 per night but are pretty bare-bones and include only in-room safes, a 24-hour front desk, cable TV, access to an on-site garden, and a $9 breakfast buffet with amazing fresh baked goods.
HI NYC (Budget) – This Upper West Side hostel is actually really nice since it’s just a 10-minute walk from Central Park and is situated inside a gorgeous, Victorian-style home.
Dorm rooms are also bright and welcoming and include free Wifi, communal bathrooms, and access to a patio. There are also organized, nightly evenings out which provide you with a great way to meet people.
The Duffy Times Square by Kasa (midrange)– Well-located in Hell’s Kitchen, this incredibly affordable modern hotel offers guests stylish suites that come appointed with Belgian linens, iPod docks, flatscreen TVs, and WiFi.
Rooms also feature fabulous views since they overlook a stunning central courtyard.
Free Things to do in NYC – Manhattan
1. Central Park
Probably one of the most iconic free things to do in New York City, Central Park is a stunning, oasis of greenery that covers an astonishing 843 acres of land.
It’s also an NYC bucket list activity that was originally designed by architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux in the 1860s and 70s – both of whom wanted to create an amazing place where all New Yorkers, regardless of their race and economic status, could get back to nature by exploring a vast network of complicated roads and pathways.
Therefore, you definitely won’t be able to enjoy in a single day since this impressive place is home to incredible sites like:
- The MET
- Sheep Meadow
- The Ramble
- The Boathouse (home to one of the best brunches in NYC)
- The Museum of Natural History
- Central Park Zoo
- Belvedere Castle
- Strawberry Fields (a memorial to John Lenon)
- Bethesda Terrace
- The Mall
- The Alice and Wonderland statue
- Ther Conservatory Garden
- The Shakespeare Garden (on the west side between 79th and 80th Street)
Plus, add in a wealth of spacious meadows, awesome castles, stunning European-style gardens, incredible lakes, tree-lined pathways, and outdoor theaters and you have a small idea of just how awesome this place really is.
To avoid the crowds though, try and visit on a quiet weekday afternoon. You can also try exploring less crowded sections of the park (anything above 72nd Street), like the North Meadow and Harlem Meer.
However, if you’re a little overwhelmed by the sheer size of their place, you can always enjoy a themed tour of the park with The Central Park Conservancy for under $15.00 per person.
Pro Tip: If you love theater then one of the best free things to do in NYC for you would be Shakespeare in the Park. Shows are typically held in the Delacorte Theater and are totally free to attend. However, these performances are super popular so get your tickets asap.
Address: Central Park, New York City, NY
Hours: Open daily from 6:00 am to 1:00 am.
How to get There: Take the A, B or C train to 72nd, 81st, 86th, 103rd or 110th Street Station. Or, take the1 or 2 train to 59th Street Station, 2 or 3 train to 110th Street Station or N, R, W trains to 5th Avenue Station.
2. The Battery (aka Battery Park)
First opened in 1823, this fantastic 12-acre park sits right on the southernmost tip of Manhattan and looks out onto the Statue of Liberty, New York Harbor, and good old Staten Island.
This is also where you can explore Castle Clinton (a small fort designed to protect New York during the war of 1812) before catching a ferry to either the Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island or Staten Island.
Additionally, there are a ton of different art pieces scattered throughout the park, as well as several memorials and plaques that commerate this as the site of the city’s first battery and first Dutch settlement in 1625.
But, because so many tourists stop here, always be on the look out for petty theives/scammers who are trying to sell you fake tickets to the Statue of Liberty (you can get these for real at Castle Clinton or purchase them here now to avoid a long line).
Pro Tip: Be sure to take a ride on the fun, nautical-themed seaglass carousel here for just $5.00 per person. And while you can see the Statue of Liberty from here, it’s kind of far away. So, try and hop on a local ferry for a better view or bring a zoom lens with you.
Address: New York, NY 10004
Hours: Open daily from 6:00 am to 12:00 am.
How to Get There: Take the 1 train to South Ferry Station, the 4/5 to Bowling Green station, or the R/W to Whitehall Street station and walk to the park from there.
3. Grand Central Terminal
Another one of those super classic free things to do in NYC, Grand Central Terminal is a true delight for anyone who can appreciate beautiful architecture.
After all, this impressive, beaux-arts-style building was first erected in 1913 and comes fully outfitted with sleek marble floors, Italian marble countertops, and a famous, constellation studded turquoise ceiling that you need to see to believe in the main concourse.
Then, after you’ve enjoyed all of the building’s impressive design elements, check out:
- The Whispering Gallery – It sits right outside the Oyster Bar – a super cool restaurant in NYC – and is where you and your companion can hear each other if you stand diagonally across from one another and speak into the wall.
- The Great Northern Food Hall – Great food hall on the main level that serves stellar Scandinavian fare.
- Basement Dining Concourse – Tons of amazing eateries are hidden away down here like Shake Shack, Doughnut Plant, Magnolia Bakery (order the banana pudding, nor the cupcakes), and more.
- Self-Guided Audio Tour of the Building – You can get one from the Tours Office on the main level and the tour can last anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. The office is open daily from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm and tours start at $12 for adults, $11 for students, and $10 for seniors/children.
- Grand Central Market – This is a fantastic, upscale food market where you can get all sorts of fresh fruit, bread, cheese, pastries, and freshly prepared foods. Definitely stop here if you want to have a picnic in Central Park later.
- Transit Museum Store – This is on the main floor and is a great place to shop for NYC souvenirs since it’s a small outpost of the museum.
- Campbell – Great 1920s-era speakeasy where you can grab a cocktail in the evening.
Address: 89 E 42nd St, New York, NY 10017
Hours: Open daily from 5:30 am to 2:00 am.
How to Get There: Take the 4/5/6/S/7 train to Grand Central Terminal and you’re here.
4. Staten Island Ferry
Easily one of my all-time favorite free things to do in NYC, the Staten Island Ferry is perfect if you want to get a great view of the Statue of Liberty but don’t feel like paying for it.
It is also one of the only things in NYC that is actually cheaper now than it was when it first opened in 1817. See, way back when, the Staten Island Ferry charged people a quarter for a round trip ticket.
Today though, the ferry is 110% free and operates all day, every day – shuttling eager passengers back and forth from lower Manhattan to Staten Island.
Just be prepared for a twenty-five-minute trip (each way) during which you can enjoy epic views of the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Governor’s Island, and the Manhattan skyline.
Also, be sure to have your camera handy. Because if you sit on the right side of the boat and peek out through an open window, you’ll be able to get some nice shots of good old lady liberty.
So, what are you waiting for? Head on over to the aptly named, “Staten Island Ferry Terminal” in Battery Park and enjoy one of the best free things to do in New York City now.
Just be aware that you will need to disembark from the ferry on Staten Island and then reboard another ferry to return to Manhattan.
Pro Tip: Try to avoid the ferry on weekdays between 6:00 am and 9:30 am and between 3:30 pm and 8:00 pm since this rush hour and the ship will be packed with people.
Address: Staten Island Ferry Terminal, New York, NY 10004
Hours: Ferries depart every 15 to 20 minutes 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
How to Get There: Take the 4 or 5 train to Bowling Green and then walk to the ferry terminal in Battery Park.
5. Times Square
Easily my least favorite thing on this list of free things to do in New York City, Times Square is great if it’s your first time in the city and wants to see the bright lights and neon hues of this world-famous place.
However, it 100% is a giant tourist trap that you will really only need to see once. I also would NOT recommend actually doing anything in the area (like eat or shop) since everything is overpriced AF and the quality is less than stellar.
Also be on the lookout for random people dressed as Elmo, Dora the Explorer, Elsa (from Frozen), and everything in between since they will accost you so that you can get your picture taken with them.
And yes, they will expect to be paid for this less than stellar photo op, so be aware of that.
Now, for the best views that aren’t shattered by an unrelenting amount of noise, head to the R Lounge inside the Renaissance Times Square Hotel and order a Rose All Day Cocktail for $16.
Address: 714 7th Ave, New York, NY 10036, United States
Hours: Times Square is open twenty-four hours a day. Visit before sunrise for people-free photos.
How to Get There: Just about ANY subway you take will lead you to Times Square.
6. The Highline
Honestly, The Highline and Central Park are two of my all-time favorite parks in NYC. The Highline though is particularly special since it is a 1.5-mile-long, elevated railway track that was converted into a super snazzy park in 2009.
So, as you walk all the way from the Javits Center/Hudson Yards to the Whitney Museum in Chelsea, be sure to take in the sweeping panoramas of the city and enjoy the many public artworks on display here.
Also, be sure to check out local hot spots like Chelsea Market. the Vessel, and The Whitney Museum of American Art since they are all literally steps from one of the best free things to do in NYC.
Pro Tip: Per usual, this is one of the best free things to do in New York City that you should enjoy on a quiet weekday morning since this place gets packed with people. You could also try doing a guided tour on Saturdays at 12:00 pm.
Address: Since the Highline spans 1.5 miles, check here for an entry point near you.
Hours: Open daily from 12:00 am to 8:00 pm
How to get there: Check here for transportation information since it will depend on your starting point.
7. New York Public Library
If you love books almost as much as I do then run, don’t walk to the New York Public Library. After all, it is easily one of the best free things to do in NYC that is well located in midtown Manhattan – just a hoot and holler down the road from Bryant Park, Times Square, and Grand Central Terminal.
So, after admiring the two marble lions that stand guard outside of the main entrance (FYI their names are Patience and Fortitude), walk inside and head inside to marvel at an enormous reading room that can hold upwards of 500 people.
Just keep your voice down while taking photos of the stunning ceiling before seeing impressive on-site artifacts like the Declaration of Independence, the Gutenberg Bible, and the original stuffed animals that were the muse for the Winnie the Pooh novels.
However, if you really want to learn all there is to know about one of the most incredible free things to do in NYC, then join a free tour of the building at 11:00 am and 2:00 pm Monday through Saturday and at 2:00 pm on Sundays (just not during the summer).
Address: 476 5th Ave, New York, NY 10018
Hours: Open Monday and Thursday from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm, Tuesday and Wednesday from 8:00 am to 9:00 pm, Friday from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm, Saturday from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm, and Sunday from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm.
How to Get There: Take the B/D/F/M train to Bryant Park and 42nd Street station and walk from there.
8. Bryant Park
Sure, Bryant Park may be small, like 9.6 acres small, But, what it lacks in size it more than makes up for with a wide variety of fun and mostly free things to do in New York City.
So, take some time to explore the on-site lending library, enjoy a ride on the vintage French carousel, and marvel at the impressive European-style fountain here before grabbing some chocolate Babka from the Bread Bakery kiosk, or some waffles from the Wafels and Dinges kiosk.
Then, savor these decadent delights at some of the green metal tables and chairs in the park before exploring other local attractions like the Morgan Library (epic and the library looks like something out of Beauty and the Beast).
If you want, you can also come back in the evening and have a drink at the one and only, Bryant Park Grill. Yeah, this place is so pretty that many people actually have their weddings here.
Pro Tip: If you visit between November and February, you’ll find that Bryant Park has been transformed into a magical winter village where you can go ice skating and shop/eat at tons of local vendors.
Tons of free activities are held here including juggling classes, ping pong games, yoga classes, fencing workshops, outdoor movie nights, and Broadway performances (rarer than the others).
Address: Bryant Park, New York, NY 10018
Hours: Open all day, every day.
How to Get There: Take the B/D/F/M train to Bryant Park and 42nd Street station and walk from there.
9. The Vessel
Love it or hate it, this wonky, beehive-like structure in Hudson Yards is easily one of the best free things to do in NYC.
And that’s mainly because tickets to ascend to the top are free during the first hour of operation (and for kids 5 and under) and then $10.00 per person any time after.
So, to get those free tickets, be sure to book your spot well in advance. Then, once you have your ticket in hand, feel free to climb an astounding 2,000 stairs and enjoy unparalleled views of the Hudson River.
Pro Tip: For the best photos, stand to the left and to the back of the structure as you’re facing the Hudson River. Also, try and time your visit for sunset so you can enjoy epic lighting.
Please Note: At the time of writing this post, the Vessel is still temporarily closed as the result of a recent suicide. However, you can still visit and take photos of the structure.
Address: The Shops and Restaurants at Hudson Yards, New York, NY 10001, United States
Hours: Open daily from 10:00 am to 9:00 pm, except between January 6 and February 29 when the Vessel is between 10:00 am and 7:00 pm.
How to Get There: Take the 7 train to 34th street and Hudson Yards station and walk to the Vessel from there.
10. Rockefeller Center
Probably most well-known for the famous Christmas tree and ice skating rink that pop up here every winter, Rockefeller Center is a definite front runner for one of the best free things to do in NYC at any time of year.
I mean, not only can you explore the various shops (FYI FAO Schwartz recently reopened here and is DEFFO worth a look) and restaurants that proliferate throughout this impressive, 19 building, 22-acre area, but you can enjoy stunning views of the Empire State Building from The Top of the Rock too.
However, if you have limited funds, you can always watch the Today Show/Good Morning America show being taped here or visit the nearby bronze Atlas Statue (24-feet tall and in front of 630 Fifth Avenue) before heading over to St. Patrick’s Cathedral right across the street.
And if you have a bit of extra time, other fun things to do include:
- Take a tour of the NBC Studio
- Admire the 18-foot Prometheus States overlooking the plaza
- Enjoy the free Today Show Summer Concert Series (get here the night before to reserve a spot)
Address: 45 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10111
Hours: Open twenty-four hours a day.
How to Get There: It’s a short 10-minute walk from Times Square.
11. St. Patrick’s Cathedral
Proudly displayed on Fifth Avenue, St. Patrick’s Cathedral is a masterpiece of neo-gothic architecture that is also the single most famous church in all of New York City.
It’s also pretty dang easy to locate since it sits right across the street from Rockefeller Center and is currently the largest Catholic Church in the United States – a place that was originally constructed after the Civil War for a hefty, $2 million price tag.
So, be sure to pop inside and admire a Louis Tiffany–designed altar, a 7000-pipe church organ, and Charles Connick’s Rose Window as you enjoy one of the best free things to do in NYC.
And if you want to learn even more about St. Patrick’s Cathedral, try booking a one-hour tour of the church for just $35.00 per person.
Not only will you learn all about the basement crypt – where every cardinal of New York is entombed – but you’ll also get Fastpass admission and can skip the line to enter.
You’ll also learn tons of fascinating facts about the church that will enable you to appreciate it just a little bit more than you already do.
Address: 5th Ave, New York, NY 10022, United States
Hours: Open daily from 7:00 am to 8:30 pm.
How to Get There: You could take the B, D, F, or M train to Rockefeller Center and walk to the church from there.
12. 9/11 Memorial
If you only have time to do one of the free things to do in NYC on this list, let it be the 9/11 Memorial. Especially since it’s a stunning but somber tribute to all those who lost their lives on that tragic day.
And while the associated 9/11 Museum is wonderful and I highly reckoned that you visit (artifacts are well-preserved and tell the story of that day while honoring the victims), it’s a challenging place to see and I know not everyone has $26.00 to spend on a ticket.
So, if you can only visit one of these places, let it be the 9/11 Memorial. It’s free to enter (hence its place on this list) and features “Reflecting Absence”.
They’re basically two enormous black reflective pools that sit where the towers once stood. And as you walk along the perimeter of the memorial, you’ll see the names of all the victims etched into the bronze panels as water seems to endlessly cascade down into a central void.
Pro Tip: If you can, please visit the museum. It’s exceptionally well-done and you can book your tickets in advance now to avoid any lines.
Address: 180 Greenwich St, New York, NY 10007
Hours: Open daily from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm.
How to Get there: Take the 1 to Rector Street, the 2/3 train to Park Place, or the 4/5 to Wall Street station and walk from there.
13. South Street Seaport
If you’re looking for the best free things to do in NYC then nothing beats walking down the cobblestone streets of this amazing district and looking out at all of the historic schooners that sit moored at the docks.
And once you get tired of walking, feel free to step inside the Seaport Museum, which is a fascinating place that is home to the country’s single largest fleet of privately owned historic ships.
Next, head inside the giant mall that is Pier 17 and grab a meal at The Fulton by Jean Georges before doing a bit of retail therapy at one of the high-end shops here.
Plus, if you time your visit for the warmer summer months you’ll also be able to check out an assortment of outdoor concerts, lectures, public programs and even a Farmer’s Market on Sundays between 11:00 am and 5:00 pm.
Pro Tip: Walk to the end of any of the piers here and you’ll be able to get stunning, panoramic shots of the Brooklyn Bridge. You can also visit the stone street and the historic Fraunces Tavern while you’re here.
Address: 19 Fulton St, New York, NY 10038
Hours: The general area is open twenty-four hours a day but individual shops, restaurants, and museums will have their own hours of operation.
How to Get There: Take the 2 or 3 train to Fulton Street and walk to the district from here.
14. The Oculus
Located literally right next door to the 9/11 Memorial, the Occulus is a transportation hub that forms the stunning, modern architectural center of the new World Trade Center.
In fact, it was completed by architectural master Santiago Calatrava in 2016 and is meant to represent the outstretched wings of a dove that is ready to take flight.
Now, whether or not this place resembles a dove is up for debate. But, what I do know is that the white steel and glass of this place make for some hella awesome photo ops.
So, be sure to visit in the evening when the white of the structure stands in beautiful contrast to the dark sky.
You can also try shooting from the center of the interior viewing platforms, from the bottom level of the building (you’ll get sweet panoramas), and from the unusual exterior if you want some truly awesome photos.
Then, when you’ve photographed until you can photograph no more, try checking out some of the 100 different stores that can be found inside the Westfield World Trade Center Mall before heading to nearby Brookfield Place or grabbing some grub at Market Lane food court.
Pro Tip: While you’re here be sure to stop into Eataly and grab some authentic Italian cuisine.
Address: The Oculus, New York, NY 10007
Hours: Open 24/7. It will be least crowded though between 11:00 am and 3:00 pm and then again after 7:00 pm on weekdays.
How to Get There: Take the E train from Port Authority to the World Trade Center or the 2/3 train from Times Square to Chambers Street.
15. The National Museum of the American Indian
Love museums but having trouble finding one to add to your list of the best free things to do in NYC? If so then hit up the National Museum of the American Indian.
In fact, it’s an incredible, Smithsonian-associated institution that is brimming over with fun, insightful, and highly interactive exhibits that teach you all about the people who first called Manhattan home.
It also sits inside the old customs house – a historic building that dates back to 1907 and features exquisite beaux-art style architecture.
Now, is it the biggest museum I’ve ever been to? No, not really since you can see everything on display here in a short one or two hours.
However, it does contain several modern galleries with exhibits on Native American culture, art, lifestyles, and traditions that can all be accessed from a single, central rotunda.
There’s also a great permanent collection with info on Native American technologies in the imagiNATIONS Activity Center and various decorative arts, textiles, and ceremonial objects for you to enjoy.
Pro Tip: The gift shop here sells some great stuff and is well worth a look. Also, be sure to visit their website for info on when live dance/musical performances, children’s book readings, craft seminars, film showings, and educational workshops are held here.
Address: 1 Bowling Green, New York, NY 10004
Hours: Open daily from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm and on Thursdays until 8:00 pm.
How to Get There: Take the R/W train to Whitehall Street station or the 4/5/6 train to Bowling Green and walk from there.
16. Federal Hall
Located in the Financial District, Federal Hall is a legendary building that is instantly recognizable from its signature, Greek Revival-style architecture.
However, if those enormous columns out front made you think you were in Athens, there’s also a giant statue of George Washington here to remind you that you are very much still in New York.
This is also one of the more historic places on this list of free things to do in New York City since this building served as NYC’s second City Hall upon its completion by Pierre L’Enfant in 1788.
In fact, no less than George Washington himself actually took the official presidential oath of office here in 1789.
Truth be told though, the building didn’t really get its current face list until 1812, after there was a fire and the building was replaced and used as a Customs House until 1862.
Today though, this magnificent piece of history stands as a museum that educates visitors about post-colonial life in New York.
So, stop inside and be sure to hit up the Washington Inaugural Gallery, which educates visitors about Washington’s inauguration, Alexander Hamilton in NYC, and attacks on John Peter Zenger in 1734.
Pro Tip: Free thirty-minute tours of the facility are also run daily at 10:00 am, 1:00 pm, 2:00 pm, and 3:00 pm.
Address: 26 Wall St, New York, NY 10005
Hours: Open Monday through Friday from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.
How to Get There: Take either the 2/3 train or the 4/5/6 train to Wall Street station and walk to Federal Hall from here.
17. The Flatiron Building
Possibly one of the most famous architectural wonders in all of New York City, the Flatiron Building in Gramercy features a distinct, triangular shape that was developed in 1902 by renowned architect, Daniel Burnham.
Fast forward 100+ years and this epic, 20-story, limestone, beaux-arts building with a terracotta facade are still wowing eager tourists all across Manhattan.
And while you can’t really venture inside the building itself, you can take photos of the exterior. Just don’t photograph the building straight on since you’ll lose its signature shape in the shot.
Instead, stand at the traffic island on 23rd street – between Fifth Avenue and Broadway – and capture the building from there.
Address: 175 5th Ave, New York, NY 10010
Hours: Open twenty-four hours a day since you’ll just be admiring it from the outside.
How to Get There: Take the R or W train from Times Square to 23rd street station and walk to the building from there.
18. Washington Square Park
Located right near NYU, this vibrant greenspace is flanked by historic Greek-Revival-style townhouses and is always brimming over with energetic students who like to play music, skateboard, and perform street art within the bounds of this 9.75-acre park.
However, the real highlight of any visit to this park is the Stanford White Arch – an enormous, 73-foot-tall white Tuckahoe marble arch that was designed after the Arc De Triomphe in Paris.
So, for the best photos, visit early in the morning. You’ll also want to stand right in front of the arch because as you look down Fifth Avenue you’ll see the Empire State Building in the background.
Pro Tip: Stop by the NY Dosas vendor here and order the Pondicherry dosa. So good since this guy has been here for 20+ years. Also, check out the best happy hours in Greenwich Village while you’re here.
Address: Washington Square, New York, NY 10012
Hours: Open 6:00 am to 12:00 am daily.
How to Get There: Take the A/C/E train or the B/D/F/M train to Washington Square Park and walk from there.
19. Pace Gallery
Short on cash but looking for a little bit of culture in your life? If so then mosey on over to the Pace Gallery in Chelsea and enjoy some next-level amazing art.
Because even though there are literally tons of galleries that line the 20s streets between 10th and 11th avenues, the Pace Gallery is one of the best since it displays stunning, contemporary works from legends like Willem de Kooning, Barbara Hepworth, Julian Schnabe, and more.
This is also one of those free things to do in NYC that sits inside an impressive, 8-story, 75,000 square foot building constructed from volcanic ash. There’s also a great open-air terrace on the 6th floor that is worth a look too.
Because while all of the art here is on display and for sale, no one will really pressure you to buy anything as you take your time looking around.
Pro Tip: Stop by on Thursday evenings when many galleries have fun openings that include free wine and cheese tastings.
Address: 540 W 25th St, New York, NY 10001
Hours: Open Tuesday through Saturday from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm (opens at 12:30 pm on Wednesdays)
How to Get There: Take the C or E train to 23rd street and walk to the gallery from ther
20. The Museum at FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology)
Located inside the Fashion Institute of Technology in Greenwich Village, the Museum at FIT is a cute little spot that introduces fashion-conscious visitors to the fascinating history of fashion.
Because, in total, upwards of 50,000 different garments are on display here, many of which date back to the 18th century.
However, many of those pieces are in storage. So, this museum will really take you only about an hour to walk through.
On the plus side though, they have great temporary exhibits that showcase signature pieces from various decades in history, like the 1990s.
You’ll also love that this museum was the first gallery of fashion in the United States and is known for hosting film screenings and talks from iconic fashion designers/critics.
So, stop by today and enjoy all that one of the best free things to do in NYC has to offer.
Pro Tip: Stop by Tea and Sympathy afterward for an authentic British afternoon tea when you’re done here.
Address: 227 W 27th St, New York, NY 10001
Hours: Open Tuesday through Friday from 12:00 pm to 8:00 pm and on Saturdays from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm.
How to Get There: Take the 1 train to 28th street station and walk to the museum from there.
21. General Ulysses S. Grant National Memorial
If you dare, haul ass all the way up to the Upper West Side of Manhattan and check out one of the most unique and totally free things to do in New York City.
Because what you might now know is that Civil War General/18th president of the USA, Ulysses S. Grant, is actually buried here, inside an enormous granite structure that was first built in 1897 for an astounding, $600,000.
In fact, his wife Julia is also buried inside this massive, domed mausoleum that is the single largest in the country.
So, if you want try something a little bit different, then head to Morningside Heights and relax on one of seventeen mosaic benches that surround this memorial near Riverside Park.
Pro Tip: If you really enjoy history be sure to explore exhibits on Grant’s life and enjoy a guided tour of the area with a local park ranger
Address: W 122nd St &, Riverside Dr, New York, 10027
Hours: Open Wednesday through Sunday from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.
How to Get There: Take the 1 train to 125th street station and walk to the memorial from there.
22. Chrysler Building
Besides the Empire State Building and the Flatiron Building, this is easily one of the most famous structures in the entire city – a place that also happens to be one of the best free things to do in NYC.
After all, this edifice is a stunning, 77-story example of art-deco style architecture that was first developed by William Van Allen, in 1930, as the Chrysler headquarters.
As a result, you can still see eagles guarding the building and can admire a series of triangular windows that adorn the top and look almost like a crown when they shimmer to life in the evening.
And while they are no epic observation decks or swank restaurants here, you can still stand in the lobby and take in the marble floors and steel-plated decor.
Just don’t leave without looking up at the ceiling since it has a marvelous mural – done by Edward Trumbull – that includes buildings, airplanes, and people working on the Chrysler assembly line.
FYI, the elevators here are also super impressive and feature Egyptian lotus motifs and inlaid wood panels that are stunning.
Pro Tip: For the best photos stand on the corner of Third Ave and 44th Street. You can also get a great bird’s eye view of the Empire State Building from the top of the Empire State Building.
Address: 405 Lexington Ave, New York, NY 10174
Hours: Open Monday through Friday from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm.
How to Get There: Take the 4/5/6/S/7 train to Grand Central Terminal and walk to the building from there.
23. African Burial Ground National Memorial
Get off the well-trodden tourist trail and enjoy another one of the free things to do in NYC that is also a total hidden gem of Lower Manhattan.
And that’s mainly because the African Burial Ground National Memorial was recently established in 2006 when construction workers unearthed 400+ coffins that were part of one of the largest African cemeteries in the country.
So, in an effort to honor the 15,000 people buried here (in the 17th/18th centuries), a museum, monument, and visitor center were all established at the intersection of African Burial Ground Way and Duane Street.
However, because the visitor center shares space with a federal IRS building, you will have to go through some intense security to get inside.
It’s worth it though since this incredible museum features a wealth of intriguing exhibits that explain the history of African Americans in this city.
Address: 290 Broadway, New York, NY 10007
Hours: Open Tuesday through Saturday from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm.
How to Get There: Take the 1/2/3 train to Chambers Street or the 4/5/6 train to Brooklyn Bridge/City Hall and walk from there.
Best Free Things to do in NYC – Brooklyn
24. The Brooklyn Bridge
No list of the best free things to do in NYC would ever be complete without the one and only, Brooklyn Bridge. After all, this famous suspension bridge was first completed in 1869 and offers pedestrians stunning, unobstructed views of the New York City skyline.
So, if you can, start in DUMBO (Brooklyn) and make your way to Manhattan since the route gives you the best views of the NYC skyline. You’ll also want to wear comfy shoes and watch out for bikers since it is easy to accidentally step into the bike lane.
Also, try to visit as early as possible since this is one of those free things to do in New York City that is very popular among tourists and locals alike.
Pro Tip: Before you make your way across the bridge, be sure to grab some pancakes at Timeout Market and explore the great neighborhood of DUMBO (aka down under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass).
Address: Brooklyn Bridge, New York, NY 10038
Hours: Open all day, every day.
How to Get There: Take the C train to High Street/Brooklyn Bridge station or the 2/3 train to High Street station and walk to the bridge from there.
25. Tour Brooklyn Brewery
If you enjoy craft beer even more than you love breathing, then run – don’t walk – to the always happening neighborhood of Williamsburg and visit the Brooklyn Brewery.
Because this fine purveyor of craft beer actually offers guests a free tour of the facility, during which you can learn all about the history of this company and how they create their incredible beer.
Generally, tours depart every hour, on the hour, between 2:00 pm and 5:00 pm on Saturdays and between 2:00 pm and 4:00 pm on Sundays.
They also run for a solid 45 minutes and do not include any tastings. Womp, womp, womp. However, there is an on-site bar (DUH) if you’re in dire need of some refreshments.
Just be sure to make a reservation since spots fill up quickly. You are also not allowed to wear open-toed shoes/high heels on the tour.
Pro Tip: This brewery also offers a tour/tasting during the week that includes a sample of four beers for a nominal fee.
Address: 79 N 11th St, Brooklyn, NY 11249
Hours: Open Thursday and Friday from 4:00 pm to 8:00 pm and Saturday and Sunday from 2:00 pm to 8:00 pm.
How to Get There: Take the L to Bedford Ave station and walk from there.
26. Domino Park
Tucked away in Williamsburg, this small, 5-acre park was initially built in 2018 – where the former Domino Sugar Factory once stood.
In fact, was actually designed by the same people who developed the High Lone and is a fantastic, riverside park where you can enjoy unobstructed panoramas of the Manhattan skyline.
Plus, there’s a fun modern playground (it mimics modern pipes) on-site, as well as a bocce ball court and volleyball court.
Heck, you can even bring your fave canine companion with you since this is very much a dog-friendly park.
Address: 300 Kent Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11249
Hours: Open daily from 6:00 am to 1:00 am.
How to Get There: Take the L train to Bedford Avenue station and walk there.
27. The Bushwick Collective
Love seeing amazing street art from some of the best artists in the world? If so then head on over to Bushwick and check out this 12-acre collection of murals.
Not only is this one of the best free things to do in NYC, but this collection was actually first started by Joe Ficalora, a long time resident who wanted to promote the arts and help beautify his local community.
So, what are you waiting for? Hop on the L train, take it to Jefferson Street station, and admire a series of 50+ murals that start at the intersection of Troutman Street and St. Nicholas Avenue.
Then, once you’re through taking about 10,000 different photos, head over to Artichoke Basille’s and get a giant slice of artichoke piza for me. It tastes like spinach artichoke dip and is next-level delicious.
Pro Tip: Stop by in June to see street artists at work during the Collective’s block party. And if you love street art, consider doing a tour with Graff Tours. Not only do you get to see beautiful street art but you get to make fabulous street art too.
Address: 427 Troutman St, Brooklyn, NY 11237
How to Get There: Take the L train to Jefferson Street and walk from there.
28. Coney island Boardwalk
Go back to yester-year with me and enjoy a leisurely frollic along the Coney Island Boardwalk. Yes, it’s a bit of a pain to get here since it’s ALL the way at the end of Brooklyn.
As a result, you will have to endure an hour-plus ride on the subway of doom to enjoy one of the best free things to do in NYC.
However, your efforts will be rewarded handsomely since this place has been an amusement park since the 1820s and features Luna Park, the Wonder Wheel, The Cyclone, Coney Island Beach, and more.
Therefore, it’s a wonderfully family-friendly place to visit – especially since the New York Aquarium is right here too. So, although you will have to pay for rides, you can definitely walk along the boardwalk and hang out at the beach for free.
Just be prepared for crazy crowds since this place is mega-popular during summer weekends. And if you want to enjoy some other fun things to do in the area then try:
- Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs – Coney island is where the first hot dog stand was built.
- MCU Park – it’s a waterside park where you can watch minor-league baseball games
- The Annual Mermaid Parade
- Totonno’s Pizzeria – Old-school pizzeria that was first established in 1924. Yeah, their pizza is epic.
Pro Tip: Most of the rides and stands close from November through Easter. Therefore, if you’re not a fan of crowds then this would be an ideal time to visit.
Address: 1000 Surf Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11224
Hours: The boardwalk itself is open twenty-four hours a day.
How to Get There: Take the Q to Ocean Parkway station and walk to Coney Island.
29. Brooklyn Heights Promenade
You can’t really visit downtown Brooklyn without exploring the Brooklyn Hieghts Promenade, now can you? Good, glad we agree in the little things in life.
After all, this 1800 foot long paved walkway was first built in 1950 and has quickly become one of the most beloved parks in NYC due to its stellar location and primo views of Manhattan and New York Harbor.
In fact, this idyllic promenade will have you walking atop the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE). Yup, crazy but totally true about one of the best free things to do in NYC.
Pro Tip: For the best views, visit in the evening. Also, check out Squibb Park footbridge since it will connect you to Pier 1 in Brooklyn Bridge Park.
Address: Montague St &, Pierrepont Pl, Brooklyn, NY 11201
Hours: Open daily from 6:00 am to 1:00 am.
How to Get There: Take the 2/3 train to Clark Street station, the R train to Court Street Station, or the A/C train to High Street-Brooklyn Bridge station and walk from there.
30. Green-Wood Cemetery
Home to one of the best, totally free views in NYC, Green-Wood Cemetery is an amazing place in between Greenwood Heights and Park Slope that was first established in 1838.
As a matter of fact, it covers an impressive 478 acres of land, is the final resting place of 600,000+ people, and was the second most visited tourist attraction in New York (after Niagara Falls) in the 1800s.
Today though, locals love it because it’s one of the best free things to do in NYC that allows you to walk around, enjoy epic views of Manhattan, and admire impressive headstones/mausoleums.
It also happens to be home to the single highest point in all of Brooklyn, Battle Hill – a site that played an important role in the Revolutionary War and that is marked by a seven-foot statue of the Roman goddess, Minerva.
Also, be on the lookout for a resident flock of green Monk Parakeets that inhabit the Gothic entry and visit the famous burial spots of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Boss Tweed, and Leonard Bernstein, among others.
Pro Tip: Before you visit, pick up a free map at the entrance. Fantastic two-hour, twilight tours are also conducted here around sunset and feature a fun history of the area, introduce you to the catacombs, and stop at famous graves.
Address: 500 25th St, Brooklyn, NY 11232, United States
Hours: Open daily from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm.
How to Get There: Take the 2/3 train to Barclays Center and then transfer to the N/R. Ride the N/R for four stops, get off at 25th street station, and walk from there.
Other Free Things to do in NYC
31. Free Kayaking
The only thing better than kayaking is FREE kayaking. And luckily for you, this is one of the best free things to do in NYC that you can find all over the city.
So, if you want to get out on the water and back into nature then check out:
- North Brooklyn Boat Club
- Kayak Staten Island
- Hudson River Park
- Red hook Boaters
- LeFrak Center at Prospect Park
And while I’ve only ever done free kayaking at the Brooklyn Bridge Park Boathouse, I’ve heard great things about the free kayaking at Long Island Community Boathouse in Queens too.
Not surprisingly though, this is one of the best free things to do in New York City that can be only done throughout the summer. You also only get to use the kayak for like 20 minutes at a time.
But, whatever, It’s still fun and free so it’s okay. The Queens location also might be a little better since it’s quieter and not quite as far from Manhattan as Brooklyn.
Pro Tip: This is one of the more popular free things to do in NYC so reservations are usually required.
Address: 46-01 5th St, Long Island City, NY 11101
Hours: Check out their website for more details.
How to Get There: Take the 7 train to Vernon Boulevard and Jackson Avenue and walk to the boathouse from there.
32. Flushing Meadows Corona Park
Easily the single most famous green space in all of Queens, Flushing Meadows Corona Park covers an insanely large, 900-acre area that is home to Citifield (the Mets play here) and the US Open.
However, this is one of the best free things to do in NYC that is also overflowing with amazing cultural institutions like the Queen’s Museum, the New York Hall of Science, and the Queens Zoo.
And that makes sense since this place was primarily built to host the 1939 World’s Fair. (this event was so successful that the park hosted the 1964 World’s Fair too).
As a result, you’ll definitely see a ton of sci-fi inspired structures scattered throughout the park, in addition to the New York State Pavillion and the Unisphere – a 12-story tall, stainless steel globe with three rings that mark the orbits of Yuri Gagarin (first man in space), John Glenn (first American to orbit the Earth), and Telstar (first American satellite to orbit the Earth).
Whatever you do though, don’t leave this park without visiting the Queen’s Museum. Yeah, this ultra-snazzy place is home to a miniature replica of NYC from 1992 that is super accurate and way cheaper/less crowded than the one in Times Square.
Address: Kennedy Circle, Queens, New York, 11368
Hours: Open daily from 6:00 am to 9:00 pm.
How to Get There: Take the 7 train to 111th Street station and walk from there.
33. Bronx Museum of the Arts
Another one of the great free museums in NYC, the Bronx Museum of Arts was initially founded in 1971 and currently showcases upwards of 800 different pieces of multicultural art – with an emphasis on works from Bronx-born artists of African, Latino, and Asian descent in the 20th and 21st centuries.
And while exhibits here are always changing, some recent highlights include:
- Sanford Biggers Codeswitch – This contemporary art exhibit represents African American history and urban culture. through the use of sacred geometry and American symbolism. Essentially, it looks at how people switch from one linguistic style to another based on their surroundings.
- SeeMeBronx – An interactive, outdoor exhibit designed to celebrate the museum’s 50th anniversary.
- Shaun Leonardo: The Breath of Empty Space – Drawings from a Brooklyn resident that demonstrate how images of violence against men of color have impacted the way we perceive them in contemporary America.
Pro Tip: be sure to enjoy incredible Italian food at nearby Arthur Avenue.
Address: 1040 Grand Concourse, The Bronx, NY 10456
Hours: Open Wednesday through Sunday from 1:00 pm to 6:00 pm.
How to Get There: Take the D train to 167 street station and walk to the museum from here.
Free Things to do in NYC FAQ
How Can I Have Fun On A Budget In NYC?
NYC is a pretty expensive city by all definitions BUT that does not mean that you can’t have fun on a budget. There are plenty of free things to do in NYC for both first time and repeat visitors. Aside from all the fun things I’ve listed above, make sure to make use of the free museum days, use your culture pass and always know where the cheap eats in the city are!
Also make note of the happy hour timings! Trust me, if you want to head out on the town and stay within a budget, going during happy hour timings is a must!
What Are Some Great Free Things To Do Indoors In NYC?
If you are looking for some fun things to do indoors in NYC, I would highly recommend heading to the museums. Don’t worry. These don’t always need to be expensive. In fact, many of the museums have free museum days.
Other great free things to do indoors in NYC include visiting the New York Public library, the Chrysler building, the Oculus, St Patrick’s cathedral and the Vessel.
Are There Any Free Museums In NYC?
One of the best ways to visit the museums in NYC is to check out the free museum days. There are a couple of museums that are free depending on your place of residence so you can check those out. Some of them have a pay what you wish entry.
These museums are the American Museum of Natural History, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Bronx Museum of Art, the American Folk Art Museum and the National Museum of the American Indian.
⏰ In a hurry and haven’t booked your accommodation yet? Book your stay at the Pod 39. It is convenient, cheap and one of the best places to stay in the city. ?