BIG APPLE, SMALL PRICE TAG
New York City is among the most expensive places in the world to live in or visit, but it's also among the richest in free or inexpensive things to do and cheap places to eat — resulting from a mix of philanthropy, loss leaders, and a mass of artists, musicians, comedians, foodies, curators, and other creative types who want to share their work with the world. Look past the city’s skyscrapers, and try some of these down-to-earth diversions while in the Big Apple.
ENJOY A SLICE
Some of the top-rated pizza shops charge more than $4 a slice, but it's easy to get $1 classic slices around the city from one of the many 2 Bros. Pizza locations and other independent joints.
VISIT THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART
One of the most famous museums in the world, the Met has a suggested ticket price of $25, but residents of New York state can pay what they want. Previously, visitors from anywhere could name their own price. Children under 12 still get in free.
FREE WINE AND SPIRIT TASTINGS
Astor Wines and Spirits in Greenwich Village regularly hosts free wine and spirit tastings in the evenings. Sometimes there are even multiple events in one day. Those who like something they taste can get a bottle of wine or spirits for 20 percent off or 10 percent off, respectively, the day of their visit.
TOUR THE BROOKLYN BREWERY
The Brooklyn Brewery has grown to be one of the city's best known. Small group tours Monday through Thursday require $18 tickets, but weekend brewery tours are free. They start on the half-hour from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.
SLURP $1 OYSTERS
Happy hours across the city offer raw oysters for $1 each, and some even extend into the weekend. There's an entire website devoted to oyster happy hours, with a breakdown by borough and neighborhood and links to each restaurant.
CATCH AN IMPROV SHOW
The Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre offers improv comedy classes and performances. On Sunday nights, the UCB Chelsea hosts "Asssscat 3000," an improv show that often features famous comedians. The 9:30 p.m. show is free — although getting the free tickets usually requires standing in line for several hours before they're handed out.
TAKE IN A SHOW AT CARNEGIE HALL
Known worldwide for A-list music performances, Carnegie Hall sells tickets for $10 each to students, or to anyone the day of a concert. Discounts are also available for members of the military, Bank of America cardholders, members of the music-appreciation group Notables, and for partial-view seats.
EXPLORE THE BROOKLYN FLEA
Wander through hundreds of booths selling vintage clothing, antiques, jewelry, furniture, artisanal foods, and more. Visit the Brooklyn Flea year-round in Industry City on Saturdays or in DUMBO on Sundays from April through October.
ATTEND THE KNITTING FACTORY'S FREE COMEDY SHOW
The Knitting Factory in Williamsburg hosts free comedy at 9 p.m. on Sundays. It's smart to arrive early (doors open at 6 p.m.). This is a popular event, and the venue can fill up before showtime.
KAYAK FOR FREE
From May through mid-September, the Downtown Boathouse, a volunteer-run nonprofit on Pier 26, offers kayaks, bike locks, lockers, and sunscreen to the public free of charge — but use of kayaks is limited to 20 minutes at a time.
RELAX AND STRETCH IN THE PARK
Bryant Park in Midtown Manhattan hosts free yoga classes. There are morning and evening classes from mid-May through the end of September led by different teachers.
WATCH OUTDOOR MOVIES
New York hosts free outdoor movie series at Bryant Park, Brooklyn Bridge Park, Rockaway Beach, and more. Many of the parks have their last showing in late August or early September, but the Habana Outpost restaurant in Fort Greene has shown movies through October.
STOP AT THE BRONX MUSEUM OF THE ARTS
The Bronx Museum of the Arts is a contemporary art museum that is always free to visit. The museum's permanent collection has more than 1,000 pieces, plus rotating exhibits and educational programs.
TAKE IN THE VIEW AT BROOKLYN BRIDGE PARK
Brooklyn Bridge Park's six piers offer panoramic views of downtown Manhattan and New York Harbor, along with free movies and concerts during the summer, a playground for children, a roller rink, bocce, handball, and more. A tour series starts in May and continues through the end of September, with hour-long talks and walks with guest lecturers. Tickets are often $5 and free for Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy members, but some tours are free for everyone.
STROLL THROUGH THE MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY
The American Museum of Natural History has a suggested ticket price of $23 but allows visitors to pay what they want. Permanent exhibits at the family-friendly spot include giant dinosaur skeletons and the Hall of Biodiversity. Don't miss the planetarium!
TAKE IN FIRST SATURDAYS AT THE BROOKLYN MUSEUM
The Brooklyn Museum has a free night on the first Saturday of each month (except September). Enjoy free shows and music, grab a bite or drink at the Norm restaurant, and explore the museum's many exhibits.
WALK THE BOARDWALK AT CONEY ISLAND
Coney Island's historic rides and boardwalk are at their best during the summer, when the amusement park (open with limited hours on September and October weekends) is bustling and there's a long line for hot dogs at Nathan's Famous. But even when it's cooler out, a walk along the boardwalk is pleasant.
VISIT THE NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY'S MAIN BRANCH
More than a century old, the New York Public Library's Stephen A. Schwarzman Building is a landmark in Midtown. The Rose Main Reading Room, which underwent a restoration in 2016, is a highlight. The library hosts free exhibits and free docent-led tours Monday through Saturday.
HOP A FREE RIDE ON THE STATEN ISLAND FERRY
Ask New Yorkers the cheapest way to see the Statue of Liberty and they are likely to point you to the Whitehall Terminal at the tip of Manhattan. A free ride on the Staten Island Ferry takes passengers right by the statue on a 25-minute trip, which is one of the most scenic ferry rides in the U.S.
HEAR FREE JAZZ NEAR CENTRAL PARK
Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola at Lincoln Center hosts late-night jazz performances on the cheap. Doors open at 11:15 p.m., and on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, the cover is just $5.
EAT A DUMPLING DINNER
Manhattan boasts several well-known dumpling shops that are especially cheap. Tasty Dumpling on Mulberry Street and Vanessa's Dumpling House on Eldridge Street serve up dumplings for less than 50 cents each. There are also several cheap and well-known dumpling houses in Flushing, Queens.
MARVEL AT THE LIGHTS IN TIMES SQUARE
It is a tourist trap, but this landmark is known around the world. Standing in the lights of Times Square can be magical, especially for those who have not visited before.
WALK ALONG THE HIGH LINE
An elevated-rail-line-turned-pedestrian-walkway, the High Line hosts meditation practices, tai chi, stargazing, garden tours, movies, and more throughout the year, all free. The park runs down the West Side from 34th Street to Gansevoort Street. Open 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. in the summer (beginning in June), it closes an hour earlier in May and November; winter hours are 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
REST IN WASHINGTON SQUARE PARK
Washington Square Park is often packed with NYU students during the school year but can be a nice place to sit down and take in the city. When the weather is warmer, acclaimed artist Joe Mangrum often can be found creating one of his sand paintings just north of the fountain.
GET CULTURED FOR FREE AT MOMA
The Museum of Modern Art offers free admission from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. every Friday. It's not uncommon for there to be a long line to get in when the evening begins. Wait out the crowds by going after 6 p.m.
WALK THE BROOKLYN BRIDGE
Locals and tourists alike walk, jog, run, and bike this New York icon. It's best on a warm day, but pedestrians make the 1.1-mile trip throughout the year.
Fridays and Saturdays are bingo nights at Le Poisson Rouge. Starting at 7:30 p.m. (after happy hour from 6:30 to 7:30), drag queen and veteran bingo hostess Linda Simpson takes the stage alongside a DJ and a helper. Entrance is free, and bingo boards are $2 a pop.
STEP INSIDE ST. PATRICK'S CATHEDRAL
The cathedral underwent restoration in 2016 and shines with a freshly cleaned exterior, repaired stained glass, and a painted ceiling, but the inside remains largely untouched. Regardless of your religious affiliation, St. Patrick's is worth visiting.
GAZE AT GRAND CENTRAL TERMINAL
Guided 75-minute tours of Grand Central's main concourse, topped by an iconic roof, start at 12:30 p.m. each day and cost $30 for adults; $20 for students, seniors, and children under 10. An audio version is available for $7 to $9, and an app with the tour costs $5.
WANDER CENTRAL PARK
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 of different areas within the park, or 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.
VISIT THE 9/11 MEMORIAL
The attached museum costs $15 to $24 to visit, but the 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.
STOP BY UNION SQUARE
In the summer, take a minute to sit down in this popular park and enjoy the city's energy. There's a greenmarket on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays throughout the year, and a holiday market opens in November.
TAKE A PEEK AT THE FLATIRON BUILDING
The iconic triangular Flatiron Building is a landmark on Fifth Avenue. After snapping a picture, enjoy a burger and shake at the nearby Shake Shack in Madison Square Park.
TOUR A CHOCOLATIER
There are several places in New York where chocolate lovers can sample the goods and watch small batches be poured and cut. At environmentally friendly and vegan Raaka Chocolate in Red Hook, Brooklyn, a 45-minute tour for $15 includes tastings of raw cocoa and samples of the company's finished bars.
FROLIC IN A CHILDREN'S MUSEUM
Families with little ones can take advantage of the pay-what-you-wish admission at Brooklyn Children's Museum from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Thursdays.
PAY WHAT YOU WANT FOR TOURS
Free Tours by Foot offers some 30 pay-what-you-want tours of the city. Reservations are required, and there is often a minimum group size. Foodies can sign up for one of the food-focused tours, and bike tours traverse Central Park or the Brooklyn Bridge and Lower Manhattan.
JOIN THE AUDIENCE AT A TV SHOW
NBC Studios offers free tickets to several shows, including "America's Got Talent," "The Voice," "American Ninja Warrior," and late-night shows with Seth Meyers and Jimmy Fallon. Tickets must be reserved, but some of the most popular shows also have standby tickets the day they're shot.
WANDER THE STACKS OF THE MORGAN LIBRARY
The private collection of one of New York's most well-known financiers, the Morgan Library and Museum is free from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Fridays. A section of the museum is also free to the public from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Tuesdays, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Fridays, and 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays.
PLAY POOL AT HUDSON NEW YORK
The drinks and food can be expensive, but the chessboards and billiards table are free at the hotel's Library Bar. Sit and relax by the large fireplace and take in views of the Hudson River from the rooftop terrace, weather permitting.
SIP FREE BOOZE AT CHELSEA GALLERY OPENINGS
Starting at 6 p.m. on Thursdays, Chelsea's art galleries open their new exhibits. Spend an evening hopping from one to the next while sipping on the wine or beer that's often provided.
RELAX IN PROSPECT PARK
Brooklyn's Prospect Park shares the same designers as Central Park. It hosts free shows at the bandshell in the summer, and there's a greenmarket at the north end of the park open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays year-round. The Prospect Park Zoo houses animals from around the world and tickets are just $10 for adults, $8 for seniors, and $7 for children.
EAT YOUR WAY THROUGH ECONOMY CANDY
The Lower East Side's Economy Candy is not the largest candy store around, but the selection is vast and prices are low. Many candies are sold in bulk, and customers rave about finding treats that make them nostalgic for childhood.
TOUR GREENWICH VILLAGE
The Village Alliance offers free tours of storied Greenwich Village on Saturdays from June through the end of September. Led by a licensed guide, the 90-minute tours start at 11:30 a.m. at Second Avenue and St. Marks Place. There's also a list of 27 self-guided tours at the Alliance's website.
ATTEND A FREE BOOK OR POETRY READING
Bookstores, universities, and libraries often host free book or poetry readings. Some days there are three or four starting at the same time, and choosing one can be hard. Club Free Time keeps an up-to-date list.
HIT A HOLE IN ONE ON THE HUDSON
The 18-hole miniature golf course at Pier 25 in Hudson River Park features waterfalls, sand traps, and a cave. Hours are flexible based on the weather — it officially closes at 6 p.m. but may stay open until 10 p.m. Games are $5 for children and $7 for adults.
RECHARGE AT THE BATTERY (FORMERLY BATTERY PARK)
At the lower tip of Manhattan, the Battery doesn't have the same profile as famed Central Park. But the 25-acre park at the confluence of the Hudson and East rivers is the largest public open space downtown. It features gardens, an urban farm, a waterfront promenade, and a "labyrinth" path created to mark the one-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center. Don't miss the whimsical Seaglass Carousel at the park's southern end, designed to conjure the Battery's history as the first home of the New York Aquarium.
ELECT TO VISIT GOVERNORS ISLAND
Open May 1 to Oct. 31, Governors Island has a food court, bicycles for rent (including tandem bikes and quadricycles), a farm, a beach, and historic houses. Hour-long bike rentals are free from 10 a.m. to noon on weekdays. The ferry ride — usually $3 round trip — is free weekend mornings from Manhattan and Brooklyn.
SEE THE ANIMALS AT THE BRONX ZOO
The Bronx Zoo, one of the largest zoos in the world, is open year-round. Tickets can cost up to $36.95 for adults, but it’s pay what you wish all day on Wednesday.
TAKE A SPIN ON A CAROUSEL
The painstakingly restored Jane’s Carousel is a whirl of lights and color in Brooklyn Bridge Park. The 48-horse carousel was originally built in 1922 for an Ohio amusement park and debuted in the Big Apple in 2011. You want cheap fun? Rides are only $2.
SEE A HISTORIC GAY PRIDE LANDMARK
This bar in lower Manhattan was the site of the Stonewall Riots in 1969, considered a transformative event for the gay liberation movement, when members of the LGBT community demonstrated against one of the police department's regular raids. The building has been occupied by many other businesses over the years, but the Stonewall Inn returned for good in 2007 and has remained a popular nightlife spot for its live music, trivia nights, drag and cabaret shows, as well as historical significance. It is now a federally recognized national landmark.
FIND OUT WHO'S BURIED IN GRANT'S TOMB
The largest mausoleum in the United States is located in Harlem. The Gen. Ulysses S. Grant National Memorial houses the remains of our 18th president and his wife, Julia. Take time to reflect on the memorial's simple quote: Let us have peace.