New York City is one of the most popular tourist destinations on the planet. It also has the dubious distinction of being one of the most expensive. However, I can tell you from personal experience that it doesn’t have to be that way.
Over the years, I have had the privilege of visiting – and, for a few periods, living – in New York City. As somebody who was raised to be mindful of his money, I’ve never been particularly crazy about the high price tags of many of New York City’s most popular attractions.
For that reason, I’ve spent much of my time in the city seeking out its free activities. There are literally hundreds to choose from. For this article, however, I have chosen only my absolute favourites.
Here are 10 X MUST DO Free Things in New York City!. These are guaranteed to keep both your wallet and schedule filled throughout your time in the Big Apple.
Visit Times Square
Let’s start off with the most obvious thing to do in New York City. I know this may seem like a bit of a cop out, but Times Square is truly magical and no visit to New York City is complete without an evening spent basking in its bright lights.
Times Square has no shortage of restaurants and shops. Thankfully, the square itself is free to visit. I’ve always found the square to be far more enthralling than its stores, particularly if experienced during a warm summer’s evening. There are plenty of photo opportunities, with one of my personal favourites being the Red Steps.
Stroll Down Broadway
Not far removed from Times Square is the world-famous Broadway theatre district. It is here that countless iconic hit musicals were first introduced to live audiences, including Wicked, The Book of Mormon, and, of course, Hamilton. The street itself has also been memorialised in books, movies, television shows, and just about every other medium you can imagine.
A stroll down Broadway is a great way to experience the glitz and glamour of New York show businesses without dropping the high costs typically associated with seeing a Broadway musical.
If the mood does take you to see a musical, I highly recommend The Book of Mormon. I was lucky enough to see it during one of my first visits to New York City and still find myself laughing at the genius of Trey Parker and Matt Stone.
Visit Alexander Hamilton’s Home
It’s impossible to talk about musicals without mentioning Alexander Hamilton. These days, the American hero’s home is very firmly Broadway. However, history buffs and fans of the musical (and recently released Disney movie) are definitely going to want to visit the Hamilton Grange National Memorial.
The Hamilton Grange National Memorial was once the home of Hamilton himself. It was built in 1802 in upper-Manhattan. However, it has been relocated on multiple occasions and today rests in St. Nicholas Park.
The interior has been decorated to recreate the rooms as they were during Hamilton’s residency, transporting visitors all the way back to the founding of the United States.
Ride The Staten Island Ferry
New York is famous for its subway system. Sadly, riding the subway comes with a price tag that seems to be perpetually increasing. That is, of course, unless you’re skilled in the art of jumping turnstiles. I can tell you from firsthand experience doing so is much harder than it looks.
What is free to ride is the Staten Island Ferry. As its name suggests, the ferry connects the New York City boroughs of Manhattan and Staten Island. For no cost at all, you can take the ferry out to Staten Island and enjoy everything the oft-overlooked borough has to offer.
The ferry operates 24 hours a day and promises boats every 20 minutes or so.
Visit The Brooklyn Botanical Garden
As long as we’re talking about leaving Manhattan, let’s take a minute to discuss Brooklyn. The borough itself is beautiful and certainly worth a visit, but I’ve always found its botanical garden to be its greatest charm.
The Brooklyn Botanical Garden sprawls across 52 acres and is home to more than 14,000 strains of plants. It also boasts a number of breathtaking specialist gardens, including a Japanese garden, a water garden, and a Shakespeare garden.
The Brooklyn Botanical Garden is free to visit, inspiring more than one million tourists to visit every year.
Catch A Show At The Bitter End
Manhattan’s Greenwich Village is famous for its coffee shops and nightclubs. Perhaps none is more famous than The Bitter End. Recognized internationally for its mammoth contributions to the music industry, The Bitter End has launched the careers of icons such as Bob Dylan, John Prine, Billy Joel, and, more recently, Lady Gaga.
I’m a big music fan, so this venue is always a favourite haunt of mine when I’m visiting New York. Knocking back a beer or a coffee at a table a pre-fame Dylan did the same at is a surreal experience.
The cost of admission rises and falls depending on who’s performing, but you can catch The Bitter End’s Saturday open mic free of charge. You never know, you might even see the future of rock and roll while you’re there.
Visit The 9/11 Memorial
On September 11th, New York City and the world changed forever. Thousands of lives were lost in the horrible terrorist attacks of that day and millions more were irrevocably changed.
Today, the 9/11 memorial serves as a somber tribute to those who lost their lives on that day. It also acts as a reminder of just how valuable and vulnerable life is.
A visit to the 9/11 memorial is free. In my opinion, it’s also a must if you’re visiting New York City. While the Twin Towers’ absence from the New York skyline is a constant reminder of the tragic attacks, you can only truly understand the magnitude of that day when you escape the car horns and bright lights and gaze upon the names of its victims.
Visit The New York Public Library
Technically the New York Public Library is a system of libraries within the city, but it is synonymous with its main branch building.
Resting just outside the pyro and ballyhoo of Times Square, the New York Public Library Main Branch is home to some 2.5 million books and attracts 4 million visitors annually.
A visit to the library is free, although you may experience some limitations. If you can time your arrival to coincide with a tour, you can also learn about the history of the main branch building and the library system itself.
Even if you’re not a fan of literature, you will enjoy visiting the library’s rooms that have appeared in movies and TV shows such as Ghostbusters and Seinfeld.
Stand On The Highest Point
Washington Heights is my absolute favourite neighbourhood in New York City. There are three reasons for this. Firstly, very few tourists know about it, so you don’t have to deal with the crowded streets and loud noises of midtown. Secondly, Le Chéile, an Irish bar located on 181st Street, serves $3 pints during Happy Hour. And, finally, Washington Heights is home to Bennett Park.
Bennett Park is a small but breathtaking park removed from the hustle and bustle one would commonly associate with Manhattan. It also holds the destination of being home to a large patch of rock, the tip of which comes in at 265 feet above sea level. This makes it the highest natural point in all of Manhattan.
Visit Central Park
Okay, you can’t talk about parks in New York without mentioning Central Park. Since it’s so synonymous with the City that Never Sleeps, it seems like the perfect way to finish off this list.
Whether you have thousands of dollars to spend or are working off a tight budget, be sure to spend an afternoon in Central Park when you visit New York.
With breathtaking scenes of nature and cafes and food carts to keep you fed, Central Park is almost a city of its own. Admission is free – something many tourists don’t realize – and there are plenty of activities within its grounds that won’t set you back a dime.