An intimidating metropolis for many and a blast for others, New York City has everything you could ever hope for, from world-class art and culture to a vibrant gastronomic scene and boundless entertaining options. And no matter what, it will always be a hub of superlatives, the city of the latest and greatest.
With smart planning and a bit of knowledge you can enjoy the best of New York City for free. Here are my proposals:
1. Take in the art, walk along the East River, and get a nice view of Manhattan’s skyline in Socrates Sculpture Park, in Astoria, Queens. During the summer months, the park plays host to a series of events, all of them free of charge.
2. Admire the stunning American Gothic Revival architecture of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, on the 5th Avenue. All tours are free of charge, though contributions are accepted.
3. Get lost in a high-tech heaven while visiting the Sony Wonder Technology Lab, on Madison Avenue. Admission is free, but prior reservation is highly recommended at least one week in advance.
4. Relax and soak up the natural beauty at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. It is free to visit all day on Tuesdays, Sundays from 10 am to 12 am, and in winter weekdays (November–February).
5. Walk the spectacular grounds of New York Botanical Garden (Bronx) all day on Wednesdays, and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m.
7. Stroll the Central Park. Besides being the most famous park in the world and one of New York City’s major sights, this huge oasis of greenery in the heart of Manhattan boasts an amazing array of things to see and do.
8. Hop on the Staten Island Ferry. The 25-minute ride is completely free and will take you from St. George Ferry Terminal on Staten Island to the Whitehall Terminal in Lower Manhattan, offering lovely views of the Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline.
9. Wonder the Riverside Park, one of Manhattan’s most remarkable waterfront grounds. The park is a wonderful area to walk, play and take in the beautiful surroundings. Moreover, it plays host to a number of monuments (Eleanor Roosevelt Monument, Joan of Arc statue, Grant’s Tomb), and free events (May-October).
10. There is an amazing variety of tours in New York City, but none of them compares with the Big Apple Greeter‘stours. Since 1992, their kind volunteers have provided visitors to the city with free, personalized tours of NYC and plenty of useful tips. Make sure you book well in advance, and don’t hesitate to visit their website for more info.
11. Go see the Forbes family’s amazing collection of toys at the Forbes Galleries in Greenwich Village, Manhattan. Notable exhibitions include the “Olympic Gold” and the largest collection of Faberge Eggs in the world. Although admission is free of charge, avoid visiting the galleries on Thursday, when group tours are planned.
[Update: The Forbes Galleries have been permanently closed.]
12. Step into the world-famous Grand Central Terminal and admire the impressive Beaux-Arts architecture of this NYC historical landmark. For a one-of-a-kind experience, though, check out Grand Central Partnership’s free 90-minute guided walking tour. It happens each Friday and leads you through some of the most notable sights of Grand Central neighborhood, including the Grand Central Terminal, Chrysler Building, Pershing Square, and much more.
14. Visit the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. All bank’s exhibits are free, but if you want to see the gold vault, booking several months in advance is mandatory.
15. Soak up the Times Square’s intoxicating energy. No trip to New York is complete without a visit to the iconic Times Square, and although there’s plenty to pay for around here (including the dazzling Broadway shows), starring at the giant electric billboards, admiring the street performers, and feeling the heartbeat of the world’s most vibrant city won’t cost you a penny. Come in winter to see the fabulous New Year’s Eve ball drop.
16. Visit the beautiful ceiling mural in the lobby of the Chrysler Building at no charge. Just make sure you’ll be there during the normal business hours.
17. See the largest Gothic cathedral in the world,Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Although admiring its magnificent exterior it’s free of charge, admission is made by donation.
18. Learn about Spain, Portugal, and Latin America at the Hispanic Society of America, on Broadway. The museum is free to the public and plays host to the largest collection of 19th-century Spanish art and manuscripts outside of Spain, including notable works by El Greco, Goya, and Velázquez.
19. Walk the iconic Brooklyn Bridge. Don’t forget your camera as you’ll have the opportunity to capture some awesome views of the Manhattan skyline.
20. Attend a free Juilliard performance. The country’s most prestigious performing arts school holds almost 700 free concerts each year.
21. Visit the Swiss Institute of Contemporary Art, on Wooster Street, and discover a great collection of Swiss and European contemporary art in an innovative, Scandinavian-style venue.
22. “Pay What You Wish” at the Guggenheimeach Saturday between 5:45 and 7:45. Housed in an eye-catching building designed by famous American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, the Guggenheim boasts a wonderful collection of contemporary art, including modern sculptures and paintings by such artists as Wassily Kandinsky, Pablo Picasso, Paul Klee, or Joan Miró.
24. Explore South Bronx Cultural Corridor with the free Bronx Culture Trolley. Tours are available on the first Wednesday evening of the month (except January and September) and feature attractions such as art exhibits, poetry readings, film screenings, comedy shows, as well as various live theatrical, musical, and dance performances.
25. Take a glimpse into the history of beer making atthe Brooklyn Brewery. Free tours are available on Saturdays (1-5 pm) and Sundays (1-4 pm).
26. Visit the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in Midtown Manhattan. Although it hosts some of the most prestigious collections of contemporary art in the world, MoMA can be visited for free each Friday from 4 to 8 p.m. Highlights include The Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh, Claude Monet’s Water Lilies, and many other works of art by illustrious artists such as Picasso, Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, Matisse, Rousseau, or Salvador Dali, to name but a few.
28. Attend a popular TV Show. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, The Colbert Report, Dr. Oz Show, Good Morning America or Late Show with David Letterman – they all offer free tickets for those who want to be part of the studio audience. Make sure you check out their websites and book well in advance.
29. Explore the memorial and visitors center at the African Burial Ground in the Civic Center, and learn about the history of African slaves in New York City.
30. Stop by the Bronx Museum of the Arts, an excellent cultural center designed to reflect Bronx’ multicultural identity through an interesting collection of artworks by African, Asian, and Latin American artists.
31. Learn interesting things about the American history with a free tour at the Federal Hall National Memorial, on Wall Street. This is the first US Capitol Building and the place where the Bill of Rights was officially passed.
34. Walk along the delightful Battery Park Esplanade, an award-winning walkway that runs along the Hudson River’s edge of Lower Manhattan, providing stunning views of the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and the Jersey skyline.
38. Enjoy free Mondays at the Museum at Eldrige Street. Situated in Chinatown, this is the first great house of worship built by Eastern European immigrants in America.
39. If it’s Wednesday, go to the Museum of Jewish Heritage and discover some interesting aspects of the Jewish history and culture, before, after, and during the Holocaust. Free admission from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.
40. Get your dose of Japanese culture at New York’s Japan Society. Admission is free on Friday nights, 6 PM–9 PM.
41. Take a stroll along the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. Arguably the most romantic and picturesque place in New York City, this third-of-a-mile stretch lined with grandiose mansions and pretty landscaped gardens offers some of the most incredible vistas of Lower Manhattan, the historic South Street Seaport, the East River, Staten Island, Governor’s Island, the Statue of Liberty, and the mighty Brooklyn Bridge.
42. Explore the Historic Richmond Town, a charming museum village on Staten Island. On Fridays, admission is free from 1pm to 5pm.
43. Every third Saturday of the month you have the opportunity to visit El Museo del Barrio for free. This lovely cultural center in East Harlem focuses on Caribbean and Latin American art.
44. Immerse yourself into the fascinating black culture at the Studio Museum in Harlem (admission free every Sunday).
45. Soak up the vibrant atmosphere and indulge in farmers’ regional goods at the Union Square Greenmarket. The market is held each Monday and most of the farmers are eager to offer samples of their organically grown produce, be it homemade bread, garden-fresh fruits, artisan cheese, wine, or heritage meats.
46. Check out Chelsea’s remarkable array of free galleries. This elegant neighborhood on Manhattan’s West Side has been converted into a cultural mecca thanks to the hundreds of renowned and talented up-and-coming artists who decided to open galleries in the area’s industrial spaces. Among the most impressive are The Pace Gallery, Cheim & Read, Sean Kelly Gallery, Matthew Marks Gallery, Gladstone Gallery, Luhring Augustine, Tanya Bonakdar Gallery and David Zwirner – all of them located between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues.
47. Keep in shape with Shape Up NYC, a free fitness program held each week in numerous locations throughout the city.
48. Walk the High Line. The gorgeous elevated park runs 30 feet above the busy streets of Manhattan’s West Side, providing a plethora of free attractions, including works of art, lovely views of the Hudson River, as well as the High Line Art’s wonderful programs and video projections that enliven the buildings’ facades from time to time.
49. Have some fun at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in Chelsea. Excellent improvisational and sketch comedy shows are held seven nights a week and although prices are always low, they also offer two free spectacles each week.
50. Eat for free at the Cupping Room Cafe, right in the heart of SoHo. They offer free bar food and affordable drinks from Monday to Friday, between 5:00pm and 8:00pm.