Venture & Eat

30 Things to Do in NYC for Free or On a Budget

Budget Travel, TravelAnna FatlowitzComment
NYC is one of the most expensive cities in the world, whether you live here or are visiting. This list of free or almost free things to do is perfect for sticking to your budget, but lets you have still have fun!

NYC doesn't have to be expensive. Explore These free or nearly free activities in the city.

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.

Related reading // 15 NYC Date Spots, 15 Ways to Save Money on Travel



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 my 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.

NYC is one of the most expensive cities in the world, whether you live here or are visiting. This list of free or almost free things to do is perfect for sticking to your budget, but lets you have still have fun!

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.

Check here for dates and times

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.

Check here for dates and times

NYC is one of the most expensive cities in the world, whether you live here or are visiting. This list of free or almost free things to do is perfect for sticking to your budget, but lets you have still have fun!

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

Okay, you might think it's weird, but you should go up to 230 Fifth 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.

Check here for the 24/7 schedule

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.

Check here for the schedule

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.

Shape Up NYC

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.



NYC is one of the most expensive cities in the world, whether you live here or are visiting. This list of free or almost free things to do is perfect for sticking to your budget, but lets you have still have fun!

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.

Check here for more info

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 Country 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.

Check here for street fair schedules

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.

Check here for more info

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 a 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

NYC is one of the most expensive cities in the world, whether you live here or are visiting. This list of free or almost free things to do is perfect for sticking to your budget, but lets you have still have fun!

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!

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 Trade Center // 285 Fulton Street, New York, NY 10007

25. Visit the William Vale rooftop bar

Grab a drink (or don't) at Westlight, the rooftop bar and restaurant The William Vale in Williamsburg. You'll get beautiful views of the Manhattan skyline. Sunset would be perfect (duh).

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.

Check here for available shows and 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 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!

What're your favorite free or budget activities in NYC? Let me know in the comments!

NYC is one of the most expensive cities in the world, whether you live here or are visiting. This list of free or almost free things to do is perfect for sticking to your budget, but lets you have still have fun!

NYC is one of the most expensive cities in the world, whether you live here or are visiting. This list of free or almost free things to do is perfect for sticking to your budget, but lets you have still have fun!