NYC doesn’t have to be expensive. Explore these free or nearly free activities in the city.
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Whether you’re visiting NYC or you live here, NYC is expensive AF. But I don’t need to convince you. Everyone has a love-hate relationship with the cost of living here, but there’s just so much that this city has to offer that it offsets the cons.
Below are just a few of my favorite things to do in NYC that’s either free or on a tight budget.
1. Explore Central Park
This one is a no brainer. There’s just so much to do in Central Park from people watching to picnics to exercise. Although it can get insanely crowded on a nice day, this piece of green space is wonderful. I love grabbing wine and snacks and hanging with friends here.
2. Walk the High Line
Walking The High Line is pretty much a must. It’s such a beautiful walk with gorgeous views. It’s perfect at sunset too. There are food vendors in certain parts in case you get hungry.
3. People Watch in Washington Square Park
When I first moved to NYC, my apartment was two blocks from Washington Square Park. I don’t remember how many times I just hung out and ate a bagel from Bagels on the Square or relaxed after work and people watched. One of my favorite things here is to sit and listen to the man that plays piano.
4. Explore a new neighborhood (bring your camera!)
Since NYC is massive and ever-changing, it’s hard to know everything about a neighborhood. I love just walking around and taking photos and looking at what’s new or what’s closed down. It’s a little bitter sweet, but a great activity to do alone or with a companion.
5. Watch a movie in a park
In the summertime, there are a ton of different movies showing in different parks throughout the city. Remember to get there super early though as sitting spots fill up quick. I like to bring a blanket and, of course, snacks.
6. Take advantage of Free concerts
Like movies, but more frequently, there are constant free concerts in the cities. There’s something for everyone. Usually for the really popular artists, they’re extremely early in the mornings for the tv shows, like Good Morning America.
7. Walk the Brooklyn Bridge
This list wouldn’t be complete without a mention of the iconic Brooklyn Bridge. It actually took a few years of living in the city to actually do this. I suggest going early on a cooler day as it’s hot and packed on the bridge.
8. Take in views at 230 Fifth Rooftop Bar
Okay, you might think it’s weird, but you should go up to 230 Fifth Rooftop Bar and hang out. You don’t have to get a drink, so that’s why I’m including this. There’s also a decent happy hour. Anyways! It has really close views of the Empire State Building.
230 Fifth Rooftop Bar // 230 5th Avenue, New York, NY 10001
9. Watch the dogs in Madison Square Park
I don’t know what it is, but the dog park in Madison Square Parks attracts the cutest doggos. There’s just so many that I see every time I walk through there. It’s also just a cute park to sit and relax. Plus, there’s tons of food in the area.
10. Explore Eataly
Eataly is right by Madison Square Park, so if you’re famished, head on over. While technically not free, it’s fun to walk around and explore the different food stalls and restaurants. It can be overwhelming and loud, so don’t be discouraged to take your time.
11. Take the Staten Island Ferry
Did you know the 25 minute ride to Staten Island is free? It also provides incredible views of the Statue of Liberty and lower Manhattan. You can even buy food and beer on the trip! Note: It’s not recommended to take a leisure trip during rush hour.
12. Picnic on Governor’s Island
Take an even shorter ferry ride (~5 minutes) to Governor’s Island. Spend a day picnicking, eating at food trucks or the new oyster bar and taking in views of lower Manhattan. Unfortunately, alcochol and doggos can’t come onto the island. Roundtrip tickets are $2 or free during certain times on the weekend.
13. Explore the shops + eateries at Chelsea Market
One of my other favorite food spots is Chelsea Market There are smaller food stalls hidden away that are a lot cheaper than the restaurants here. If you like sample sales, there’s a couple of different spaces for some designer clothes at a steep discount.
Chelsea Market // 75 9th Avenue, New York, NY 10011
14. Take a free fitness class
Did you know that there are a TON of free fitness classes in NYC? I only just found out about this. You can choose from zumba to aerobics to dance to yoga. There are a ton of different classes to choose from in a really wide range of locations throughout the city’s boroughs.
15. Visit a museum, Garden or zoo
I swear there’s a museum, garden or zoo for everyone in NYC. Some places have a pay-what-you-wish policy (at ticket office only), which is the best if you’re on a budget. You can also visit for free at certain days and times each week. It’s packed though, so be prepared for it.
16. Go gallery hopping
Did you know peeking inside art galleries is totally free? Yup. There are a ton in Chelsea that you can scope out as well as in the Lower East Side.
17. See Shakespeare in the Park
Interested in a live performance? You can get free tickets to Shakespeare in the Park at 12pm for performances at 6pm that night. Make sure you go early since the line is crazy long. Each person is able to receive vouchers for two tickets only.
18. See a comedy show
Walk down MacDougal Street and you’ll find one comedy club after the other. There are a ton of reps standing outside shouting about free shows. They’re not technically free though. You just have to buy at least two drinks with your tickets. Sometimes, you’ll even see celebrities perform!
- Comedy Cellar // 117 MacDougal Street, New York, NY 10012
- The Village Underground // 130 West 3rd Street, New York, NY 10012
- Greenwich Village Comedy Club // 99 MacDougal Street, New York, NY 10012
19. Go to a street fair
It seems like there is always some sort of street fair happening in NYC. This means tons of street foods, local vendors, art, and more.
20. VISIT THE STRAND
One of the most iconic bookstores in NYC is The Strand. There are a few floors you can get lost in thought on. Make sure you check out the rare book collection while you’re there. You can even buy some of the vintage ones.
The Strand // 828 Broadway, New York, NY 10003
21. Discover local vendors at the Union Square GreenMarket
Even if you don’t buy anything, walking through the Union Square Greenmarket on an early weekend morning is such a calming experience. I love seeing all the different veggies, dairy products, flowers (and succulents), and more.
22. Take a Brooklyn Brewery Tour
Are you a beer fan? Stop by Brooklyn Brewery to learn more about the beer company and get a free tour around their facilities. Unfortunately, beer is not included.
Brooklyn Brewery // 79 N 11th Street, Brooklyn, NY 11249
23. Not into beer? Take Brooklyn Winery Tour
If you’re not into beer or if you like both beer and wine, stop by the Brooklyn Winery for a free tour as well. The winery is actually a really cute and intimate wedding location.
Brooklyn Winery // 213 N 8th Street, Brooklyn, NY 11211
24. Go sightseeing
This is NYC—you have to go sightseeing! Now this doesn’t mean you have to spend an arm and a leg. You can definitely do this for free. Wander around some of the below sights!
- The Oculus // 33-69 Vesey Street, New York, NY 10007
- Grand Central Terminal // 89 E 42nd Street, New York, NY 10017
- Saint Patrick’s Cathedral // 5th Avenue, New York, NY 10022
- Empire State Building // 350 5th Avenue, New York, NY 10118
- Chrysler Building // 405 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY 10174
- One World Observatory // 285 Fulton Street, New York, NY 10007
25. Visit the William Vale Rooftop Bar
Westlight // 111 North 12th Street, Brooklyn, NY 11249
26. See a free tv show taping
There a ton of tv shows that are taped in NYC that you can score free tickets too. Some tickets are based on a lottery system or based on how often you can check for tickets.
27. Visit the New York Public Library
Take a look or read a book inside the New York Public Library, specifically the Rose Main Reading Room. It was closed for a few years due to renovations, but it’s finally back open! Doesn’t it remind you of Hogwarts?
New York Public Library // 476 5th Avenue, New York, NY 10018
28. Walk Around the Socrates Sculpture Park
Head to Queens and check out the Socrates Sculpture Park that has a rotating exhibit of different works. You’ll also see a view of upper Manhattan from the park.
Socrates Sculpture Park // 32-01 Vernon Boulevard, Long Island City, NY 11106
29. Grab a $1 Slice
Okay, this isn’t free, but c’mon. It’s $1! My fave dollar slice is Percy’s Pizza in Greenwich Village, off of MacDougal Street. It’s the perfect combo of crispy crust and melty cheese.
Percy’s Pizza // 190 Bleecker Street, New York, NY 10012
30. Go Mural hunting in Bushwick
Every time I visit Bushwick, I swear I see a new mural pop up. Even though I know some are actually ads, the level of creativity in these murals are astounding. I love seeing these masterpieces!