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The Top 20 Free Things to Do in New York City

New York

New York City is an extremely popular tourist destination, especially among those who enjoy the urban buzz over rural charm. In fact, it is one of the top places to visit in the whole of the United States. Planning an itinerary for your stay in this amazing city is relatively easy as there are so many things to see and do. The city boasts outstanding buildings and structures, historically interesting attractions, wonderful stores, family fun events, and a vibrant nightlife. Unfortunately, New York City is well-known for being an expensive place to live and to visit.

However, this does not necessarily have to be the case as there are many things you can enjoy in this city even if you have a limited budget. Better still, there are a wide range of sights you can enjoy and places you can explore without it costing you a single cent. Regardless of whether you are visiting for just one day or you are enjoying an extended vacation in the city, you can keep your expenses to a minimum. Similarly, there are free things to do for people of all ages and to suit all interests.

Here are 20 of the best things to do in New York City for free:

1. Central Park

Central Park is one of the most famous landmarks in New York. The Manhattan park was designed in the 1860s in an attempt to boost the prices of real estate in the area. Now, it is a fantastic outdoor space to enjoy the fresh air, take in the skyline of New York, get some exercise or have some fun with the kids. There are regular free events to attend and the landscaping and statues are something to admire as you take a stroll.

2. Brewery Tours in Brooklyn

Tours of Williamsburg’s Brooklyn Brewery run every hour on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. It is a chance to learn about how different beers are made in the brewery and there is the opportunity to buy some of the beer to sample yourself. This is a particularly interesting activity if you are passionate about food and drink.

3. The African Burial Ground

In 1991, a construction project in Lower Manhattan uncovered a burial ground of black slaves. During the height of the slave trade era, there were more slaves in New York than in any other American city, with the exception of Charleston in South Carolina. When the burial ground was uncovered, it revealed more than 400 caskets. The story became controversial when the construction project was started and the burial ground was partially covered with buildings.

4. Chelsea Galleries

If you admire the arts and fancy a gallery crawl, then Chelsea galleries are the best option as there are many interesting exhibitions to view. Most of these are located on 10th and 11th Avenues in Chelsea. Try to time your visit for a Thursday evening as this is when many of the gallery openings take place and free cheese and wine are offered to visitors.

5. Federal Reserve Bank of New York

Six daily tours take place at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. However, you should really book a week in advance as this is a popular attraction and you can only get in if you are booked in for a tour. The most significant feature of the building is the high-security vault which is 80 feet below the ground and houses 10,000 tons of gold. Some of the exhibits on display include counterfeit currency and interesting coin collections. The bank is located at 33 Liberty Street, Lower Manhattan.

6. Federal Hall National Memorial

Federal Hall was built in 1700 and demolished in 1812. It was replaced in 1842 by the Federal Hall National Memorial. and this is where two of the American presidents were inaugurated; George Washington and Chester A. Arthur. It overlooks the Stock Exchange at Wall Street and contains a small museum that focuses on postcolonial New York. Outside, there is an interesting statue. Federal Hall National Memorial is operated by the National Park Service and is situated at 26 Wall Street in Lower Manhattan.

7. Governors Island

Governors Island is located in New York Harbor. There is a free ferry to Governors Island and this is a pleasant trip with great views of both the city skyscape and the island itself. Once on the island, you will have access to 172-acres that were opened to the public in 2003. Features of the island include Admiral’s House and Nolan Park, which is kind of a ghost town. There is also a picnic area, a bike trail and a mini golf course. Throughout the year, there are various free events and recreational activities taking place. You can catch the ferry from Lower Manhattan at Slip 7 of the Battery Maritime Bldg.

8. Green-Wood Cemetery

Other than Niagara Falls, this is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the United States. The cemetery was founded in 1838 and it is home to over 600000 people. An interesting fact is that if you laid all their bodies head to toe, they would cover approximately 530 miles. Battle Hill, a site from the Revolutionary War, lies within the cemetery and this is the highest point in Brooklyn. This spot is marked with a seven-foot statue of Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom. An interesting feature of the cemetery is the green parakeets at the entrance. These have lived here since 1980 following a JFK mishap.

9. High Line

Like most parks, it is free to visit High Line. This park is rather unusual and feels more like an attraction and this makes spending time there a unique experience. High Line was created using a stretch of abandoned railroad track that is elevated 30 feet in the air. The landscaping of this park has a native theme and connects the Chelsea galleries with the Meatpacking District. There are often public art installations on display and many events are also hosted at High line. You can enjoy spectacular views across Hudson River from this elevated position. High Line is located between Grosvenor Street to 30th Street between 9th and 11th Avenues.

10. New York Earth Room

If you are looking for a completely different experience during your trip to New York that is also free, then visit the New York Earth Room. This is a single room that is a 1977 art installation by Walter De Maria. The room is filled with 280,000 pounds of dirt. The framework is that of an ordinary office but has the scent of a wet forest. Initially, this was intended as a temporary three-month exhibition but remained for continuous review. New York Earth Room is located at 141 Wooster Street in SoHo.

11. National Museum of the American Indian

This museum is just off Bowling Green and Battery Park. It often gets missed by tourists as they rush by on their way to view the Statue of Liberty. The setting for the museum is a stunning for US Customs House that was built in 1907. It boasts one of the best collections of Native American art in the whole of the United States or anywhere else in the world. Unlike other museums that focus on history, this museum focuses on the culture of Native Americans. You will find the National Museum of the American Indian at 1 Bowling Green, Lower Manhattan. There are many programs taking place throughout the year and this adds an additional level of interest to a visit here.

12. Hispanic Society of America Museum & Library

With the exception of Spain, this is the largest collection of Spanish art in the world. The Beaux Arts space is an ornate room that is filled with fine examples of Hispanic art. This museum and library I located in the far north of Manhattan at Audobon Terrace on Broadway and 155th Street in Washington Heights.

13. Public Boathouse Kayaking

Spending time in New York is not just about admiring the surroundings or taking in the history and culture of the city as there are plenty of fun activities you can enjoy. One example of this is the free kayaking from the public boathouses. There are several of these, including Long Island Community Boathouse in Queens and Downtown Boathouse.

14. Staten Island Ferry

The Statue of Liberty is one of the biggest tourist attractions in New York and it is something that everyone visiting the city wants to see. There are many ferry tours that allow you to view the Statue of Liberty but you generally have to pay for these. The Staten Island Ferry is a great alternative as it is free (a few times per year) and provides fantastic views of this historic landmark. It has been running since 1905 and is widely used by commuters and cuts across New York Harbor between Manhattan and Staten Island. You can catch the ferry at East End of Battery Park in Lower Manhattan.

15. Socrates Sculpture Park

Overlooking the Upper East Side and Roosevelt Island is the Socrates Sculpture Park located on the East River. Originally, this was a dump site but has now had a complete transformation. It now has interesting art installations and there are regular light shows and movies shown at this park throughout the summer months. The park was created in 1986 by sculptor Mark di Suvero so that artists had a place to exhibit their work using a variety of media. It was given official city park status in 1998.

16. Rockefeller Center Public Art

The Rockefeller Center Public Art is located between 5th and 6th Avenues near 49th and 50th Streets in Midtown. The Rockefeller Center was built in the 1930a during the Great Depression and covers a site of approximately 22 acres. There is a wide range of artwork on display here from paintings to large sculptures. The center is also the setting for the filming of NBC’s Today Shows, so there are often large queues at this attraction. If you are in New York in December, there is an impressive Christmas tree at this venue.

17. Grand Central Partnership Walking Tours

If you want to learn more about the history of the area and discover the important landmarks in the area, then a walking tour is the perfect option. The Grand Central Partnership Tours are free and they are led by two historians. The tours begin at 12:30pm every Friday and last for 90 minutes. They include visits to places such as the Chrysler Building and the ‘whispering gallery’ at Grand Central Terminal.

18. Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) Museum

This museum combines historically significant fashion items with the innovative work of fashion students. It was the country’s first gallery of fashion and includes over 50,000 items from between the 18th century to the present. There are also rotating exhibits of the work of fashion students throughout the year. You will find this museum on 7th Avenue and 27th Street in the Garment District, Midtown West.

19. General Ulysses S Grant National Memorial

The General Ulysses S Grant Memorial is also known as ‘Grant’s Tomb’. This granite structure cost $600,000 to create and holds the remains of the general who was a Civil War hero and the 18th president of the United States. The remains of his wife Julia are also within the structure. This is the largest mausoleum in the United States and the pattern is copied from Mausolus’ tomb in Halicarnassus. Therefore, this memorial is a copy of one of the Seven Wonders of the World. You can visit the memorial at Riverside Drive at 122nd Street at Morningside Heights.

20. Hamilton Grange

Following a renovation in 2011, Hamilton Grange reopened to the public. This Federal-style country retreat is the place where Alexander Hamilton, the Founding Father of the United States, would retreat for quieter days in New York prior to his death. This venue is sometimes known as The Grange or Hamilton Grange Mansion. It is part of the St. Nicholas Park in Manhattan.

These are just some of the amazing ways you can spend your time in New York if you have a limited budget and you are looking for things to do for free. There are many more free activities that you can enjoy that will suit a diverse range of interests.




Garrett Parker

Written by Garrett Parker

Garrett by trade is a personal finance freelance writer and journalist. With over 10 years experience he's covered businesses, CEOs, and investments. However he does like to take on other topics involving some of his personal interests like automobiles, future technologies, and anything else that could change the world.

Read more posts by Garrett Parker

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