50 Free or Cheap Things to Do in New York City
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 and Sundays or DUMBO on Sundays from April through October.
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.
From May through mid-September, the Downtown Boathouse, a volunteer-run nonprofit on Pier 96, 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Every Wednesday, the club Cielo hosts DJs Louie Vega and Kevin Hedge for a dance party that lasts all night. Admission is free for the first 100 people before 11 p.m. ($20 after).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 peruse the offerings at Eataly.
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.
Families with little ones can take advantage of free days at the Children's Museum of Manhattan (5 p.m. to 8 p.m. on the first Friday of the month) and pay what you wish at Brooklyn Children's Museum (2 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Thursdays).
Free Tours by Foot offers more than 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 $8 for adults, $6 for seniors, and $5 for children.
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.
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.
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 $6 for adults.
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.
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 $2 round trip -- is free weekend mornings from Manhattan and Brooklyn.
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.
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