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Think it’s impossible to find free or cheap things to do in New York on your vacation? I can totally understand why. New York City ranks as THE most expensive city in the U.S. Rent in Manhattan (the most expensive borough) averages $3783/month, median home price 1.26 million. Grocery costs are 28-39% higher than the national average depending on the borough you are shopping in and restaurant prices are about 50% higher than the national average.
Does that mean that the budget minded guy or gal should wipe NYC off her list of travel destinations this year? Absolutely NOT!
There are plenty of awesome fun and free things to do in NYC!
OMG! New York has some of the most amazing museums. And not just art museums, either, but we’ll start with those because they are some of the most famous in the world.
MoMA – Museum of Modern Art. Admission is normally $25.00 – but it is FREE every Friday night between 4:00 and 8:00 PM. This isn’t a secret to New Yorkers, and this is a VERY popular place, so get in line early to take advantage of the free entrance fee!
Guggenheim – Think Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, early Modern and Contemporary Art. Adult admission is usually $25. But on Saturdays from 5:45 to 7:45 PM you can “pay what you wish” to enjoy all the awesomeness inside (PLUS the Frank Lloyd Wright designed building).
The Met – Metropolitan Museum of Art – This one is my absolute FAVORITE! I could spend days in here. Unfortunately, they no longer have a “suggested admission” policy for everyone. It’s $25 to get in UNLESS you are a New York State resident, or a student from NY, NJ or CONN. Then with your valid ID you can get in with the “suggested admission policy” and pay what you can afford.
The reason I’m including the MET, even though it doesn’t have free hours or a free day, is because with 1 general admission ticket for $25 you have access to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Met Breuer (Madison Avenue at 75th Street) with its focus on Modern Art AND The Met Cloisters (in northern Manhattan’s Fort Tryon Park) which focuses on the art, architecture and gardens of medieval Europe.)
You don’t have to try to do this all in one day, thank goodness. The $25 general admission gives you 3 full days (consecutive) to explore it all. So it’s like buying 1 admission and getting 2 free!
Whitney Museum of American Art – One of the best collections of modern and contemporary American Art. Their “pay what you wish” hours are Friday from 7:00 to 9:30.
American Folk Art Museum located at 2 Lincoln Square. Admission is always free!
Brooklyn Museum – Free First Saturdays 5-11 PM
Rubin Museum of Art – Free Fridays 6-10 PM
Castle Clinton Always free! It’s located in Battery Park and originally built to protect the island of Manhattan during the war of 1812. It then became America’s first “immigration station.” More than 8 million people came through between 1855 and 1890. It’s now where the ferry to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty start. But there are tours of the grounds as well.
Museum of Gold & Vault Tour – A different kind of museum tour! This one is at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. And, yes, you do get to see the vault with all the gold! It’s free! But you have to have a reservation and space is limited. So you’ll need to plan ahead.
Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology Always free! If you’re into fashion it’s a great place to go!
National Museum of the American Indian Always free! The exhibits are fascinating and the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House building where the museum is located is one of the most gorgeous Beaux Arts buildings in New York
Museum of Jewish Heritage Free on Wednesdays and Thursdays from 4-8 PM. It’s easy to get to as well. The museum is just a 12-minute walk from the 9/11 memorial.
Brooklyn Children’s Museum – Pay as you wish Thursdays 2-6 PM and Sundays 4-7 PM
National September 11 Memorial & Museum The Memorial is free and open daily from 7:30 AM to 9:00 PM. Museum has free admission (on a first come first served basis) on Tuesdays from 5 PM until close. Free admission tickets become available at 4 PM
It’s the second oldest Chinatown in the U.S. (the one in San Francisco is older). Take a free walking tour. Just click here for the map and info. Would you rather have a guide? You can take a “pay what you like” walking tour with Guided Tours of Chinatown.
The Staten Island Ferry is ALWAYS free! Take a ride in the harbor and view the amazing cityscape from the water. Plus, get a great close up view of the Statue of Liberty. The ride is about 5 miles long and takes 25 minutes. You must disembark on Staten Island. You can then either reboard right away or check out Staten Island. The ferry runs 24 hours a day. (There will be crowds during commute times because this is primarily a commuter ferry. So plan accordingly.)
Almost free: – Want a ride on the East River? For 2.75 (the price of a subway fare) you can ride the NYC ferry. Find routes here.
THE HIGH LINE
This attraction gets it’s own category because it’s a park and a garden and an art walk and an entertainment spot all rolled into one 1.45 mile long elevated park, created where an old elevated train line used to be. Click here for more info!
Of course, you’ll be visiting Times Square to see all the lights. But if you can’t afford tickets to a show, in the summer you can see Broadway numbers put on by Broadway stars in Bryant Park. Admission is free and on a first come first served basis. In 2018 the shows were scheduled on Thursdays at 12:30. Check the website for the 2019 schedule coming soon.
You don’t necessarily think of gardens when you think of a huge urban area like NYC. But there are several awesome ones available.
Brooklyn Botanic Garden Free Fridays from 8 AM until Noon. December-February free weekdays.
New York Botanic Garden (in the Bronx) (Grounds-only pass) is free Saturdays from 9-10 AM and all day on Wednesdays!
Queens Botanical Gardens Free admission November-March, April-October Free Wednesdays 3-6 PM, Sundays 9-11 AM
Snug Harbor Botanic Garden & Cultural Center (Staten Island – Something for you to explore when you get off the ferry!) Main Campus is free of charge to all visitors.
Wave Hill Botanic Gardens Public Garden & Cultural Center (Overlooking the Hudson River in the Bronx – AWESOME views!) Free Tuesdays & Saturdays 9 AM until noon.
Gorgeous architecture is all over the place in New York. But a few buildings are truly amazing.
Grand Central Terminal Even if you’re not taking a train anywhere it’s worth a stop. There’s the famous Information Booth Clock, the Whispering Gallery, the Main Concourse celestial ceiling, the Tiffany glass clock, and over 90 shops & restaurants!
Central Park – It’s free to everyone, but did you know you could get free guided tours of special areas? Some tours do charge a fee, but there are a lot that are absolutely free.
New York Aquarium in Summer it’s free on Fridays from 4-6 PM, and in the Fall from 3-5 PM.
Hamilton Grange National Memorial – Visit Alexander Hamilton’s historic home. Free admission.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral – Free tours that will explore the architecture and history of this amazing building begin at 10 AM Monday – Friday. There is a suggested $5 admission. St. Patrick’s also offers concerts and musical programs that are free and open to the public. So check those out as well.
Brooklyn Brewery – Free tours Saturday & Sundays from 1-6 PM
New York Distilling Company – Free tours Saturday & Sunday at 2:30, 3:30 and 5:00 PM
Eating out in NYC can be SO expensive. But here are a couple of places you can get free food with the purchase of a drink!
Alligator Lounge – 600 Metropolitan Avenue, Williamsburg, Brooklyn If you’re in Brooklyn and in the mood for pizza, stop by for a free personal pizza with the purchase of a drink. All day – every day!
Crocodile Lounge – 325 East 14th Street, East Village, Manhattan – Hungry for pizza while you’re in Manhattan? You get a free personal pizza with the purchase of a drink here as well. All day – every day!
Ryan McGuire’s Ale House – 28 Cliff Street, Financial District, Manhattan Stop by weeknights between 5 and 7 PM for a free buffet!
Rudy’s Bar & Grill – 627 9th Avenue, Midtown West, Manhattan Get a free hotdog with every drink ordered!
Matt Torrey’s 46 Bushwick Avenue, East Williamsburg, Brooklyn Saturdays and Sundays starting at noon, with a $5 Bloody Mary you get free bagels with all the fixin’s & this great “brunch deal” lasts until 8 PM!
Watch a taping of The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon! You can request free tickets here. But sometimes if you get lucky you can get tickets on standby the night of the taping.
If you’d rather see a taping of The Daily Show, Good Morning America or The Dr. Oz Show or The Late Show with Stephen Colbert or The Rachel Ray Show or Saturday Night Live you can request tickets here. A lot of these shows are super popular, as you know, so plan ahead to get the best chance to score free tickets!
Grand Central Neighborhood Tour – Free 90-minute tour 12:30 PM every Friday all year long. Tour includes the Whispering Gallery in Grand Central Terminal, great view of and info. about the Chrysler Building, the original Lincoln Memorial and more!
There are a million stores and places to shop in New York. But there’s one that’s just a must see. Get your Holly Golightly on and visit Tiffany’s. You may have been in a Tiffany’s store elsewhere but none of them are quite like the flagship store on 5th Avenue. It’s just an iconic experience. So dress up a little bit and go browse! Free of course – and no purchase necessary!
If you’d rather have a little guidance from a friend while you’re in New York, check out Big Apple Greeters – You can arrange to meet a “volunteer greeter” during your visit to NYC. These are people who live in NYC and like to share their knowledge and can take you to their favorite spots or areas you want to check out. You’ll need to book a “greeter” in advance (3-4 weeks) but there is no charge and no tipping is allowed.
This list could have probably run to 400 free things to do in New York City, but this should get you started! Happy Travels!
Planning a trip to Chicago? Check out 15 Fun & Free Things to do in Chicago!
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