Where You Live or Work

43 Free or Cheap Things to Do in New York City

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Where You Live or Work

Big Apple, Small Price Tag

New York City is among the most expensive places in the world to live or to visit, but it's also among the richest in free or inexpensive things to do and cheap places to eat. If you're planning a visit to the Big Apple this year, look past the city’s skyscrapers and try some of these down-to-earth diversions. Don't worry; you'll still get to take in some of the city's most iconic sites while discovering some hidden gems only the locals know. You can even get around easily without breaking the bank: The subway system is extensive, Citi Bikes abound, and walking is a preferred mode of transportation (though you'll likely need to walk a little faster than you're used to!). 

Note: Be sure to check rules and restrictions in advance before visiting any destinations.

RelatedBest Hole-in-the-Wall Restaurants in New York

Enjoy a Slice

Enjoy a Slice

Sure, you could drop $20 or more at some fancy pizza joint like Roberta's in Bushwick (and it's worth it). But no visit to New York is complete without a classic New York slice for a buck from one of the many 2 Bros. Pizza locations and other independent joints. Just look for the long lines at lunchtime.

RelatedWhere to Get Delicious Pizza in All 50 States

Walk Along the High Line

Walk Along the High Line

An elevated rail line turned pedestrian walkway, the High Line is a green oasis in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood worth a stroll. But it also 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 and is open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. from June to September and 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. from October to May. Note that weekend visits require reserving time in advance online.

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Walk the Brooklyn Bridge

Walk the Brooklyn Bridge

Locals and tourists alike walk, jog, run, and bike across this New York icon day and night, 365 days a year. It's best on a warm day, but you can make the 1.1-mile trip throughout the year. 

Related: 27 Vintage Photos of Historic American Bridges

Visit The Metropolitan Museum of Art

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, as well as students from New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, can pay what they want. And anyone from anywhere can get in for free at (or next to nothing) at museums including the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, the Rubin Museum of Art, and the New Museum during limited hours.

RelatedSpectacular Outdoor Art You Can See for Free

Hop a Free Ride on The Staten Island Ferry
Christopher Penler/shutterstock

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.

Related30 Signs You're a New Yorker

Explore The Brooklyn Flea

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 on weekends in Chelsea and on weekends in DUMBO from April through December.

Gaze At Grand Central Terminal
Luboslav Tiles/shutterstock

Gaze at Grand Central Terminal

It's hard to believe that this magnificent structure was once threatened with demolition in the 1970s. Meet in front of the information booth in the magnificent Main Concourse and gaze up at the restored Zodiac Ceiling or sip cocktails at the Campbell Bar, once the opulent offices of financier John W. Campbell, then head to the lower level of the station to the Whispering Gallery to share a secret.

Eat a Dumpling Dinner
Allison Y./Yelp

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.

Step Inside St. Patrick's Cathedral
Sean Pavone/shutterstock

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, and it's right across from another NYC landmark worth visiting: Rockefeller Center.

Gorge at Smorgasburg
Rayne K./Yelp

Gorge at Smorgasburg

Billed as the "largest weekly open-air food market in America," Smorgasburg operates at various times over the weekend at four locations — Jersey City, Williamsburg, Prospect Park, and the World Trade Center. It's free to attend and, with more than 100 local food vendors, fair to say there's an option for every taste and budget. 

Stop By Union Square
Sean Pavone/shutterstock

Stop by Union Square

In the summer, take a minute to sit 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 and runs through Christmas Eve. The park has some of the best people watching in the city and is conveniently atop the equally busy Union Square subway station.

Marvel At the Lights in Times Square
Luciano Mortula/shutterstock

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. Be sure to check out the TKTS booth, where you can sit on the red step that creep up one side of the structure and watch the world go by.

Juilliard School exterior

Attend a Julliard Performance

The Juilliard School hosts numerous music, dance, and drama performances each year that feature talented students as well as special guests. Many are free, and even the ticketed events are usually offered at a reasonable price. Free tickets are available at the Juilliard box office, and standby tickets are sometimes available the day of a performance.

Kayak for Free
Samuel Borges Photography/shutterstock

Kayak for Free

From May through October, 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. 

Bryant Park in New York City is a great place to stretch out and relax
Nature, food, landscape, travel/istockphoto

Stretch and Move in the Park

Bryant Park in Midtown Manhattan hosts free classes, including tai chi, ribbon dancing, and juggling. Other events, including musical performances, chess matches, and pop-up markets are also scheduled throughout the summer.

Astoria Park at Night

Watch Outdoor Movies

Who needs to hit the movie theaters when you can watch fan favorites al fresco? Film buffs can enjoy free classic and recent hits at parks around the city. Films on tap for this summer include "Luca, " "Sing 2," and "Ghostbusters: Afterlife."

Walk the Boardwalk At Coney Island

Walk the Boardwalk at Coney Island

Coney Island's historic rides and boardwalk are at their best during the summer, when the amusement park 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. If sea creatures are you thing, be sure to spend a few hours at the nearby New York City Aquarium. Admission isn't cheap ($27 to $30) but it's worth it.

Related40 Iconic and Beautiful Boardwalks in the Country

Wander Central Park
Kathia Tamanaha/istockphoto

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 tours of different areas within the park, or you can enjoy a self-guided tour. Of course, the best way to experience Central Park may be to simply wander about.

Stop At The Bronx Museum of the Arts
Stop At The Bronx Museum of the Arts by Jim.henderson (CC BY)
Visit The New York Public Library's Main Branch
Stuart Monk/shutterstock
Take in the View At Brooklyn Bridge Park

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 Waterfront Walks tour series offers hour-long, docent-led talks and walks that are free (RSVP encouraged).

Rest in Washington Square Park

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. If you're feeling lucky, challenge one of the many chess hustlers to a game (expect to pay $10 or $20); or, grab a bite from one of the many food trucks that line the park perimeter. When you're ready to move on, the West Village beckons.

Visit the 9/11 Memorial
Take a Peek At the Flatiron Building
Erika Cross/shutterstock

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 or from one of the food trucks. Dog lovers will want to take a few minutes to watch the canines frolick in the park's doggie area.

Brooklyn Children's Museum display
Seon B./Yelp

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 5 p.m. on Thursdays. The museum is in the Crown Heights neighborhood, a few subway stops east of Prospect Park.

Pay What You Want for Tours

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.

Wander the Stacks of the Morgan Library

Wander the Stacks of the Morgan Library

New York City is home to several palatial mansions that the robber barons of the Gilded Age called home. The Morgan Library and Museum — home to the private collection of J.P. Morgan, one of New York's most well-known financiers — is free from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Fridays. Online reservations are required.

Relax in Prospect Park
T photography/shutterstock

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 3 p.m. on Saturdays year-round. The Prospect Park Zoo houses animals from around the world and tickets are just $9.95 for adults, $7.95 for seniors, and $6.95 for children.

Eat Your Way Through Economy Candy
Amy D./Yelp

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. Once you've gorged yourself, spend some time wandering the neighborhood and explore the many boutiques, restaurants, and bars this hipster enclave holds.

Attend a Free Book or Poetry Reading
Matthew Dicker/shutterstock

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.

The Battery (Formerly Battery Park), New York City

Recharge at the Battery

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.

Elect to Visit Governors Island
Keith Sherwood/shutterstock

Elect to Visit Governors Island

Open year round, 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 $4 round trip — is free weekend mornings from Manhattan and Brooklyn.

Jane's Carousel Brooklyn Bridge Park

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.

Stonewall National Monument in New York
Stonewall National Monument in New York by Rhododendrites (CC BY)

See a Historic LQBTQ+ Landmark

The Stonewall Inn 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 LGBTQ 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.  

Grant's Tomb in New York City, NY

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. Admission is free, and that includes entrance to the memorial and the visitor center, and to all ranger-led programs. While there, take time to reflect on the memorial's simple quote: Let us have peace. 

Free Wine and Spirit Tastings
Marian Weyo/shutterstock

Free Wine and Spirit Tastings

Astor Wines and Spirits in Greenwich Village hosts occasional free wine and spirit tastings, with themes like natural Peruvian and New Georgian wines. Those who like something they taste can get discounts on wine or spirits the day of their visit.

Hit a Hole in One on the Hudson
Matt E./Yelp

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 officially 10 a.m.-9 p.m., daily. It's recommended that golfers keep an eye on the Twitter feed for updates. Games are $5 for children and $10 for adults.

Sip Free Booze At Chelsea Gallery Openings

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.

Brooklyn's Prospect Park
Dmitrii Sakharov/istockphoto

Peep the City's Fall Foliage

Autumn is one of the city's most popular tourist seasons, and NYC offers plenty of opportunities to gaze at some stunning fall foliage. Central Park is an obvious choice, but quieter locales like Fort Tryon Park's Linden Terrace, one of Manhattan's highest points, offers gorgeous fall vistas. And Brooklyn's Prospect Park's 585 acres contain 30,000 trees of more than 175 species.  

Stroll Through the Museum of Natural History
robert cicchetti/shutterstock

Stroll Through the Museum of Natural History

The American Museum of Natural History has a ticket price of $23 but allows visitors who live in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut to pay what they want at the ticket counters. Permanent exhibits at the family-friendly spot include giant dinosaur skeletons and the Hall of Biodiversity. Don't miss the planetarium!

Queens County Farm Museum
Queens County Farm Museum by Nick Normal (CC BY-NC-ND)

Check Out the Queens County Farm Museum

Take the kiddos to the Queens County Farm Museum, in operation since 1697 and free to visit most of the year. In addition to taking care of sheep, goats, alpaca, pigs, and steer, the farm has its own apiary that houses more than two million bees. You can bring home a slice of the farm with a trip to its farm stand, which sells honey and locally harvested produce.

Green-Wood Cemetery
Green-Wood Cemetery by Rhododendrites (CC BY-SA)

Explore Art and History at the Green-Wood Cemetery

You don't need to be paying respects to a loved one in order to visit Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn. The 478-acre plot, which is free to the public and open seven days a week, is a destination for art and history lovers. Slip a secret into Sophie Calle’s "Here Lie the Secrets of the Visitors of Green-Wood Cemetery," a 25-year-old installation, or peruse 9,000 artifacts belonging to Green-Wood residents. Despite being in the city, the cemetery's world-renowned arboretum provides a tranquil escape to nature. 

Socrates Sculpture Park
Socrates Sculpture Park by David Wilson (CC BY)

Roam Around Socrates Sculpture Park

Open every day from 9 a.m. to sunset, the Socrates Sculpture Park is situated on a former abandoned waterfront landfill in Long Island City, and has hosted large-scale works from more than 1,000 artists over the years. Past exhibits include "‘Planeta Abuelx" by Guadalupe Maravilla and "The Lake Project 62" by David Maisel. The park also hosts activities like yoga, meditation, and a farm stand.

New York City

Keep Up With the Latest Events

Keeping track of the latest deals and free or cheap events in the Big Apple is a never-ending process. Follow The Skint, Time Out New York, and NYC & Company to stay on top of the offerings.