My first trip to New York City was amazing—and it certainly won’t be my last! But as one of the most visited cities in the world and by far the most popular in the United States, I was fairly hesitant about the prices. Having heard nothing but how horribly expensive NYC is, I found that while yes, New York City is expensive, there are plenty of free things to do! While some of the major attractions will cost a pretty penny, not everything you do will break the bank. Here are 12 free things to do in New York City:
1. The New York Public Library (Rose Main Reading Room)
I really lucked out with this one, as it had been closed for renovation for over a year and opened back up on my first day in the city! This beautiful reading room is one of the main attractions of New York’s public library—and best of all, it’s completely free! Just be aware that it is available for public use as a study space, so try to be as quiet and non-disruptive as possible.
2. The Statue of Liberty from the Staten Island ferry
The Staten Island ferry makes its way across the water from the southern tip of downtown Manhattan (near Battery Park), and there is no charge for riding the ferry! You can get some amazing views of the Statue of Liberty on your way to Staten Island, and then all you need to do is hop right on the next boat and head back!
3. Central Park
Central Park is absolutely massive. It stretches 60-some blocks long through upper Manhattan, and dividing the city neighborhood of the Upper East Side and the Upper West Side. There is so much to do here, you could spend an entire day just hanging out! Don’t miss the Reservoir, the Mall (Literary Walk), Bow Bridge, the John Lennon “Imagine” mosaic at Strawberry Fields, the Lake and its rowboats, and Gapstow Bridge. Also, make sure to visit Belvedere Castle, which although today is a meteorological observatory, has great views from the platform at the top. It’s all free to enjoy!
4. Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge
The Brooklyn Bridge is one of those classic things you can’t not see when you come to New York City. As a regular, public, city bridge, there’s no cost associated with it—so cross as many times as you like! You may however need some patience to deal with the crowds.
5. Walk the High Line
The High Line is an old railroad bed track that’s been transformed into a public green space with art installments all down the road. It’s about a mile and a half long, and runs through the Meatpacking District. You don’t necessarily need to walk the whole way—there are exit points with stairs down throughout—but as a public park, it’s again completely free. I’d recommend walking in either the morning or evening, as it can get pretty packed with other tourists during the day.
6. Times Square
One of the most recognizable places in the whole city, Times Square is completely free to wander around when you’re not seeing a nearby show. There is such an incredible and lively atmosphere here, and there are always some street performers to entertain you. You could spend loads of time people watching and just hanging out without spending any money at all.
7. Grand Central terminal
New York City’s main railway terminal is an absolutely beautiful building that dates to 1913. Located in Midtown, the main concourse is stunning and although it might be a bit overwhelming, it’s definitely someplace to see on a visit to New York City. It’s completely free to visit, although taking the trains (of course) costs money.
8. The Museum of Modern Art (MoMa)
While this is one of the most famous art museums in the world, and charges accordingly (adult prices are steep at $25), it’s free to visit every Friday from 4-8pm! If you can plan it right, you can save some money and wander the galleries for free. It’s also worth noting that the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Met) lets you choose the price you pay for admission.
9. St. Patrick’s Cathedral
This beautiful Roman Catholic cathedral, located on 5th Avenue, opened in 1879 after about 20 years of construction. It is a stunning building, in the neo-Gothic style, and an important place of worship in New York City. The cathedral also saw funeral requiem masses for Babe Ruth, Bobby Kennedy, and others. There is no admission charge to enter.
10. The 9/11 Memorial
The September 11th terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers changed both the United States and New York City forever. The 9/11 Memorial is one place you must visit—it’s poignant and moving, and forever a part of New York. There’s no charge for visiting the memorial.
11. Wander around Greenwich Village
If you have the time, one of my favorite things that I did was walking around Greenwich Village (or just the Village). Located between Midtown and Downtown, the buildings are beautiful and the area has a very residential vibe. You could visit the apartment from Friends, or even Carrie Bradshaw’s apartment from Sex and the City! And even better—it’s free!
12. View the NYC architecture from the outside
Some of the buildings in New York City are famous around the world. While of course it’s great to get inside them (usually by paying a ton of money for skyline views from an observation deck), plenty of buildings are noteworthy for their exterior. You can see the Empire State Building, the Chrysler building, the Freedom Tower, and the Flatiron Building all from the outside. All of which is completely free to do!
A trip to New York City doesn’t necessarily have to break the bank—there’s plenty to do in the city that’s free or very cheap. Enjoy your trip to the concrete jungle without the giant price tag!
Do you have any money-saving tips for New York City? Let me know in the comments below!