The Best Cheap & Free Stuff New York State Offers
For travelers looking for a destination that offers a little bit of everything, few places match the sights and experiences New York has to offer. From Buffalo in the west to the Adirondack Mountains in the north to New York City in the south, the Empire State boasts a wealth of natural and manmade wonders, including mountains, lakes, beaches, skyscrapers, museums, theaters, great food and drink, and much more. Here are nearly 50 reasons to put New York on the list of places to experience and explore.
This 1,250-foot treasure in midtown Manhattan needs no introduction. It may be best admired from afar: The price for a trip skyward is nearly as high as the spire. Tickets start at $27 for children and $34 for adults.
To see the tallest residential building in the world, head to Park Avenue and East 56th Street in New York, where 432 Park Avenue holds 104 condominiums. The 85-story, 1,396-foot tower is taller than the Empire State Building.
This historic destination has 3 miles of sandy beach, a boardwalk, a Ferris wheel, vintage rides, and lots of classic, New York street food. It gets crowded in summer, but people watching is part of the appeal.
With 104 stories rising a symbolic 1,776 feet, One World Trade Center has officially been the tallest skyscraper in America since its completion in 2012. The nearby 9/11 Memorial is free and open to all. Two large reflecting pools mark the footprints of the Twin Towers and honor the lives lost.
There’s no shortage of hoopla in New York on national holidays, and July Fourth is no exception. The Independence Day spectacle is every bit as huge and exciting as the city itself. The fireworks blast off from barges in the East River, and the city skyline sets a beautiful backdrop.
Open every weekend throughout the year, Brooklyn Flea runs an outdoor market from April through November. On Saturdays the venue is in Fort Greene; on Sundays it transfers to Dumbo.
Coopers Beach in Southampton offers sparkling blue water, sand dunes, and waves perfect for body boarding -- all straight out of a postcard. The downside is beach parking that's some of the most expensive in the country, at $40 a day in summer. Consider taking a taxi to the beach to skip the fee (or visit the Southampton beach that doesn’t require a parking permit, Road D Beach).
Set in bucolic Westchester County, Mount Kisco is less than 40 miles north of Manhattan but a world away from the city's infamous hustle and bustle. Established in 1875, the village describes itself as the shopping capital of northern Westchester, with small shops and restaurants worth exploring along quaint downtown streets. Leonard Park offers ample space for families to picnic, play, and enjoy the calm and tranquility of a classic small town.
When heading to Jacob Riis Park Beach in Far Rockaway in summer, plan to make it a full day outing. There are lots of great restaurant and snack options for a midday meal, and on Sunday evenings, a drum circle gathers to play. The waters can get rough, so it's not always the best choice for a swim, but the beach doesn't get too crowded. Parking fees are $10 a day Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day, or purchase a season pass for $65.
This iconic New York food rarely costs much. Sure, a bagel loaded with lox ain't cheap, but a bagel with a schmear (a spread of cream cheese) shouldn't set you back more than a few bucks. Ess-a-Bagel, founded in 1976 by an Austrian baking family, is considered by many to produce the best bagels in Gotham. On Long Island, A & S Bagels operates a 24/7 retail store where customers can stop in anytime and select from a huge variety of bagels, from plain, poppy, and sesame to French toast pumpernickel, and more. Reviews warn there's often a line at both places, but they're definitely worth the wait in spite of the lines.
Surfers can catch a wave at Ditch Plains Beach in Montauk. Rugged cliffs make for a memorable stroll, but for many visitors, the lure is that Ditch Plains is a point break, which creates ideal conditions for summer surfing.
The Adirondack Mountains boast a wide assortment of color-changing trees, including sugar maple, birch, oak, aspen, and beech, making the fall foliage here among the most diverse in the country. Lake Placid is an ideal spot to appreciate the autumn rainbow reflected into its waters. Other views appear along the 170-mile Olympic Trail byway, which runs through the village of Lake Placid, and Route 86, which runs northeast along the cliffs of the Au Sable River. The Adirondack Scenic Railroad offers a fall foliage train tour with open-air cars. A visit in early to mid-October promises the best part of the color change and may coincide with the Lake Placid Brewfest, a local beer event.
Nathan's Famous is a 101-year-old hot dog shop that's hit it big, with franchise locations across the country. Wait with the crowds at the original in Coney Island to grab a dog for under $5. For only-in-New York flavor, Crif Dogs in Manhattan serves all-beef, beef and pork, or veggie dogs topped with an assortment of condiments and sauces -- and lays claim to being "New York's No. 1 Weiner." Signature concoctions in the $5.50-$6.50 range include the jon-jon deragon, a pork and beef hot dog topped with cream cheese, scallions, and everything bagel seeds. (If you visit at night, you may notice that people seem to disappear from the restaurant. The phone booth inside this hot dog hotspot is actually the door to speakeasy bar PDT.)
Jones Beach on Long Island isn't just a beach; it's more like a swimming park. In addition to the beach, there are two swimming pools, as well as frequent air shows and volleyball tournaments. The state park entrance fee is $10 a vehicle when the beach is open. Visitors say the beach and bathrooms are clean and the boardwalk is great for families.
Fill a day with a yoga retreat at Sivananda Ashram and enjoy morning and afternoon hatha yoga classes and group satsangs made up of a meditation session, chanting, and spiritual lectures. The ashram is nestled in the Catskill Mountains, with sweeping views and nearby hiking trails. There's also a Russian sauna if a serious sweat sounds relaxing. Rates (including organic vegetarian meals) start at $60 a night for guests who bring tents, $80 a night for a shared dorm room, and $95 a night for a private double room.
New York Harbor and downtown Manhattan are home to 11 sites administered by the National Park Service, including the Statue of Liberty. The Stonewall Inn was declared one of the country's newest national monuments in June 2016. The Greenwich Village bar is viewed by many as the place where the modern struggle for gay rights began. A police raid in June 1969 led to six days of demonstrations by several thousand protesters.
Amid the legion of New York City museums, consider a few lesser-known spots: the Museum of Jewish Heritage ($12 for adults), the Skyscraper Museum ($5 for adults, $2.50 for kids), and the National Museum of the American Indian (free), which are all within easy walking distance of each other in historic Battery Park.
Not only is the Staten Island Ferry an inexpensive way to see the skyscrapers of Manhattan, but it gives passengers a great view of the Statue of Liberty from New York Harbor -- for free. Considering that some cruise tickets (which often include a stop at the Ellis Island Immigration Museum) can cost as much as $55 for adults, the Staten Island Ferry is even more of a steal. To get the most out of this scenic ferry ride, plan to leave with just enough daylight to view Lady Liberty before sunset; the Big Apple shines brightest after dark. Ferries leave every 15 to 30 minutes and a snack bar on board sells food and beverages, including beer.
There's no need to hike into the wilderness to see the leaves change. While the Adirondacks and the Catskills in upstate New York present magnificent foliage, the same colors flourish in New York City's Central Park. Take a stroll along the Mall flanked on both sides by American elms, which form a canopy over the walkway, one of the Central Park's most photographed features. Or walk around the reservoir and pay a visit to Strawberry Fields. The park has served as a backdrop to many movies and books and hosts events throughout the year. The Central Park Conservancy offers free tours, and you can enjoy a self-guided tour while listening to the Celebrity Audio Guide, featuring some of the park’s most famous fans, like Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Yoko Ono.
At Wave Hill, manifold gardens, wooded walks of conifers, and flowering ornamental trees sit on 28 acres just outside the concrete jungle of Manhattan. The Palm House conservatory holds bulbs and plants from around the world. The mission of this botanical garden is to combine plants with the arts through frequent exhibits, concerts, and family art projects. Events include lectures, cooking programs, bird watching, and nature hikes. Admission to the estate, open Tuesday to Sunday, is $8 for adults and free on Tuesday and Saturday mornings.
One of the most amazing libraries in America, the New York Public Library has 88 branches, but the Main Library on Fifth Avenue, known as the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, is the most iconic -- it's the one with the lions out front. It holds nearly 15 million items (of the system's 53 million) and docents lead free daily tours of the building's highlights and exhibits.
Tucked between the Robert F. Kennedy and Hell Gate bridges in Queens, New York City's oldest and largest public pool offers Olympic-size swim lanes and lots of spots to sunbathe. Astoria Park also features walking trails, a track, tennis courts, basketball courts, and a handful of playgrounds.
This free museum houses vast collections covering the science, history, anthropology, and art of the Empire State. The New York State Museum has exhibits ranging from Harlem in the '20s to indigenous birds of the state to objects commemorating the events of Sept. 11, 2001.
Not just another karaoke bar, Planet Rose in Manhattan is a riot of zebra print and disco lights. The beers are cheap and basic, the songbooks are full of oldies and classics, and the owners of this unique bar in the East Village are committed to remembering patrons' names and favorites.
The Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center is an icon, but the outer boroughs have holiday spectacles, too. In Brooklyn, Dyker Heights puts on a neighborhood extravaganza (83rd to 86th streets between 11th and 13th avenues) that inspired a PBS documentary called "Dyker Lights" in 2001. In Queens, the lights at 166th Street and 23rd Avenue in Whitestone get increasingly elaborate every year. The Pelham Gardens area of the Bronx holds the strange and wonderful home of the Garabedian family, collectors of dolls, nativity scenes, and curios stylized as a holiday soiree since 1974 at 1605 Pelham Parkway North at Westervelt Avenue.
On the second Tuesday in June, several major museums in Manhattan waive admission fees during the annual Museum Mile Festival. Museum hours are extended for the event, which includes the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Cooper-Hewitt, the Jewish Museum, the National Academy Museum, Neue Galerie, and the Museum of the City of New York.
New York yogis celebrate the summer solstice in Times Square at an annual gathering that offers free yoga classes throughout the day to honor the sun.
A winter getaway to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown can tide over fans until baseball season starts again in April. Interactive exhibits intertwine with video and audio first-person stories by Hall of Famers. Fans can pay homage to their favorites at the Hall of Fame Gallery.
There's more to Cooperstown than the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Nestled on the shores of Lake Otsego, it's a place where history, art, romance, culture, golf, and baseball coexist in an unspoiled natural setting. Savvy opera lovers flock to Cooperstown each summer for its Glimmerglass Festival, where some shows have tickets as low as $10. There's also a handful of museums dedicated to the nation's history, including the Fenimore Art Museum ($12 for adults, free for kids 12 and under) and a Farmers' Museum that re-creates local life in the 19th century ($12 for adults, $6 for kids 12 and under).
Looking for an inexpensive place to lay your head while visiting nearby Cooperstown or on the way to the Adirondacks? Guests who've stayed at the Brookside Inn at Laurens (starting around $130) give the place rave reviews on TripAdvisor. There's a buffet-style breakfast, a brook flowing right outside, and a sumptuous great room.
World-famous Niagara Falls comprises three waterfalls -- Horseshoe Falls, American Falls, and Bridal Veil Falls -- and what a sight! Pay a parking fee ($10 or $8 a vehicle depending on which lot you use) to enter Niagara Falls State Park and then enjoy views, hikes, and picnic areas at no extra charge. For good food nearby, skip the tourist traps and head to Griffon Gastropub for the chicken and waffle sandwich.
Smack in the middle of Catskill Park, Woodland Valley Campground is close to hiking trails and the village of Phoenicia. Located next to cold Woodland Creek, it provides hot showers and flush toilets for campers. Some like this spot so much they've been returning here for almost 40 years, according to comments posted on TripAdvisor.
Nicknamed "Queen of the American Lakes," this lake in the Adirondack foothills offers tons of fun, from playing on its beaches to renting a boat, or chartering a fishing boat. Visitors can book a ride on the Lake George Steamboat Co.'s Minne-Ha-Ha, one of the last steam paddlewheel boats in America. After some sun and fun, grab a cocktail or dinner at one of the many waterfront restaurants. Rates at Lake George RV Park top out at $105 a night for full hookups and cable, and reviewers say the hotel-like setting and amenities easily justify the cost. There are free nightly movies, an arcade, and a playhouse that schedules entertainment events such as magic shows and wildlife lectures featuring live animals.
Eternal flames burn around the world to commemorate notable people and events. In Chestnut Ridge Park in upstate New York, a natural eternal flame burns behind a waterfall, fueled by a stream of natural gas (although it does need to be relit occasionally).
The focus at this affordable all-inclusive resort is horseback riding for all skill levels, including pony rides for young children, but there are indoor activities for rainy days and plenty of other things to do year-round. In the winter, guests can go tubing, skating, skiing, and snowboarding and take horse-drawn sleigh rides.
The Great New York State Fair in Geddes boasts a stellar midway full of rides, live entertainment, a gigantic sand sculpture, animal exhibits (including a chance to watch a dairy cow give birth), wine and cheese tasting events, and much more. The 2017 fair closes today, and the 2018 fair is slated for Aug. 22 to Sept. 3.
Rochester's Mount Hope Cemetery opened in part because of a cholera outbreak in 1838 and now has more than 350,000 graves. It is said the land itself was haunted even before the cemetery was opened, and visitors to the spooky graveyard may see odd lights and hear wailing and cries during the day or night.
Move over Empire State Building: The lake- and mountain-studded panoramic view from the 1,756-foot summit of French Point Mountain on Lake George is breathtaking, and free. The 8.8-mile round-trip hike is difficult but well worth the stunning views of the surrounding natural landscape.
Channing Daughters Winery on the South Fork of Long Island churns out delicious wines from a wide array of grape varieties, including a selection of affordable, everyday wines that stand as good examples of what this wine region is capable of producing. The sprawling Wolffer Estate Vineyard makes a variety of labels that appeal to all budgets, including various styles for less than $15. Wolffer is known for fresh and lively summer whites and rosés, which have won numerous awards. On the North Fork, Shinn Estate Vineyards and Farmhouse is a biodynamic and organic winery that pioneered sustainable farming practices. It offers unique wines at value prices.
One of the most iconic wineries in New York's Finger Lakes region is Dr. Konstantin Frank Wine Cellars, which has a reputation for value, freshness, and consistency. The maker is best known for its aromatic whites -- in particular a riesling that has won accolades across competitions and wine rating outlets nationwide. As one of the driving forces in the New York wine industry, the Frank family continues to produce wines at prices everyone can enjoy.
Greenwood Park is a family-friendly beer garden in Brooklyn built out of an old gas station and mechanic shop. It boasts 60 beer lines, bocce ball courts, and weekly specials such as 2-for-1 drafts and well drinks on Tuesdays. But it's not as big as Studio Square in Long Island City. This massive beer garden and entertainment space serves patrons who love sports, live music, or just good beer. Happy hour lasts from opening to 7 p.m., offering $4 tap beers and $4 sangria.
One of the best is the canary yellow Wafels & Dinges truck that roams the streets of Manhattan and Brooklyn. The curious name marries the Dutch words for waffles (wafel) and, loosely, toppings (dinges). Among the mobile waffle maker's more interesting offerings are BBQ Pulled Pork and Smoked Salmon waffles. Or walk away with just a taste -- grab a Mini Wafelini for under $5.
While there are plenty of options at Katz's Delicatessen, the place is probably most famous for its pastrami sandwich on rye (and "When Harry Met Sally"). The family-run business dates back to 1888, and Serious Eats calls the sandwich a contender for "New York's most iconic dish." Katz's can get extremely busy, but reviewers say it's worth the wait and the $21 price for a New York institution.
Around the World Golf in Lake George has been a popular destination for putt-putt enthusiasts for more than 50 years. There are two 18-hole "itineraries" players can choose between -- a trip around the world or a trip around the United States. At each hole golfers find replicas of attractions associated with various locales, such as the New York City subway and a Dutch windmill.