Just because you’re in New York, it doesn’t mean your trip has to be expensive. Whether you want offbeat culture or iconic NYC moments, read on for HI USA’s pick of the best free things to do in the Big Apple.
Soak up the culture at a world-class museum
Plan your trip right and you can bypass the eye-watering admittance fees at NYC’s finest museums. For example, a trip to the excellent Museum of Modern Art will usually set you back $25, but on Fridays between 4pm and 8pm it’s completely free. Exhibits include Picasso’s famous “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” and van Gogh’s “Starry Night”.
Similarly, the famous Guggenheim Museum, which is worth a visit for the architecture alone, is pay-what-you-wish on Saturdays from 5.45pm to 7.45pm, instead of the usual $22 admission fee. For fashion lovers there’s the excellent Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) Museum, home to more than 50,000 garments dating from the 18th century to the present day. Famous designers featured in the exhibitions include Chanel, Dior, and Balenciaga and entrance is free at all times.Admire Manhattan from a disused railway track
Admire Manhattan from a disused railway track
The High Line or High Line Park is one of the New York’s best free attractions. This abandoned elevated railway track was converted into a stunning urban jungle just a few years ago, and is now home to wildflowers, public art and plenty of sunbeds. The line runs from the Meatpacking District to the northern edge of Chelsea, and offers stunning views of Manhattan.
Art, wine, cheese – repeat!
Go on a gallery crawl through Chelsea and admire the incredible artworks, with no pressure to buy. The galleries are scattered predominately in the 20s Streets between 10th and 11th Avenues, and all are free. Pro tip: coordinate your visit with a free wine and cheese opening event on a Thursday night.
Cruise past NYC’s most famous landmarks
The Statue of Liberty is one of the most recognizable landmarks in the world, but nothing can prepare you for seeing the real thing up close. Skip the $12 ferry tour and instead hop on the free ferry to Staten Island, which takes you right past this iconic symbol of freedom and many other architectural wonders. Once you arrive on the island, head to the zoo, which is free on Wednesdays between 2pm and 4.45pm.
Tai Chi, open-air cinema and sports screenings in the park
There’s never a shortage of free things to do in New York, particularly during the summer months at Bryant Park, located just around the corner from Grand Central Station.
From Tai Chi to open-air cinema or sports screening, the park offers all manner of cool free events. Check their website for a full program.
Watch an iconic American TV show live
Ever wish you could get front seat tickets to the likes of the Daily Show, the Tonight Show, or Dr. Oz? Well, all you have to do is ask! For some shows you can simply turn up on the day and queue, but others recommend sending a request in advance. Click here find out how to request free tickets to some of the best-known American TV shows.
Tour the Brooklyn Brewery, a beer lover’s paradise
Explore a wide range of local beers at the Brooklyn Brewery, home to a James Beard Award-winning brewmaster. At weekends take advantage of a free tour every half hour, from 1-5pm on Saturday and 1-4pm on Sunday. (Photo courtesy Brooklyn Brewery)
Free hotdogs and pizza – yes, really!
When you’re ready to fill your belly, head to the Full Circle Bar in Brooklyn on Tuesdays and Thursdays for free hotdogs, and enjoy free skeeball while you’re there. Friday nights should be spent at Standings Bar in Manhattan, where you’ll get free pizza from 8pm until closing. If you’re visiting in September through January, Standings Bar also offers a free bagel bar on Sundays.
Your hostel is your friend
Not only is a stay at HI New York City – located just moments from Central Park – ridiculously affordable, there are also a ton of free events and activities included. From free pub crawls to comedy nights, Central Park walking tours to karaoke.
Get away from it all on Governor’s Island
Discover the idyllic Governor’s Island that sits just 800 yards from Manhattan, but feels like a faraway land. You’ll find a range of activities, including hiking, cycling, and mini golf, with acres of green open space to have a picnic or soak up the sun. The ferry is free from Manhattan on Saturdays and Sundays at 10am, 11am, and 11.30am.
About the author
Hostelling International USA (HI USA) is a non-profit organization with a mission to create a more tolerant world through travel. There are over 50 HI USA hostels nationwide.
Got any more tips for free things to do in New York? Let us know in the comments below!