You don’t have to spend a fortune to enjoy yourself when you visit New York City. While there are certainly tourist-y things to do – and every tourist should take in the sights when they’re in NYC – there are also lots of ways to enjoy the city without spending a dime. Next time you’re in town, take a bite of the Big Apple for free at one of these many gratis events and attractions in and around New York City. You don’t have to spend a fortune to have fun in NYC. We’ve got a roundup of free things to do in New York City right here.
NYC is a wonderful amalgam of musical and artistic events and styles. From blues to techno, and primitive to contemporary, you’ll find an assortment of free artistic and musical events to enjoy around the city.
- 1. Love music? You don’t have to go to the Met or Carnegie Hall to enjoy the latest sounds. Plan your trip to the city to take advantage of one of these weekly free concerts or musical events.
2. The Brooklyn Academy of Music invites the public to the BAMcafe on Friday and Saturday nights for free music and dance. You’ll hear experimental artists, jazz and world beat musicians among the many local and visiting acts booked at the BAM.
3. Before heading out to the BAM for a Friday night concert, drop by the American Folk Art Museum to take in the latest exhibit by contemporary artists from around the country. The public is invited in for free on Friday evenings from 5:30 to 7:30.
4. Or, for an artistic outing any time of the week, drop by Socrates Sculpture Park and view works by local sculptors. You can also enjoy a panoramic view of Manhattan from the park.
5. And for even more art enjoyment, drop by the Brooklyn Museum any first Saturday after 5 p.m. to enjoy Egyptian artifacts, Renaissance masterpieces and a diverse offering of other art pieces.
6. From early spring through autumn, enjoy free performances of all types of music at the Central Park Stage. Check their website for the most updated list of events.
7. If you love the blues, drop by B.B. King Blues Club & Grill on Friday and Saturday nights for the free shows. Shows start at 9 p.m., but get their early if you want decent seats.
8. Drop by the Museum of Modern Art on Fridays from 4 to 8 p.m. when the MOMA opens to the public with free admission.
Architecture, animals and city attractions are free for the observation at many times and places throughout the week in the city. These attractions are appropriate for kids of all ages, from 6 to no, I’m not THAT old!
- 9. Lions and tigers and bears, oh, my! Those are just a few of the animals you and the kids can meet on Wednesdays when the Bronx Zoo is open to the public.
10. See the sights for free, at least from the outside. NYC is home to some of the most iconic examples of art deco architecture. You could drop a few bucks on an uptown tour, or you could take your own walking tour to include the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building and Grand Central Station.
11. If you’re here in winter, drop by Rockefeller Center to enjoy the skaters and take in the city’s official Christmas tree.
12. Speaking of architecture, some of the most impressive examples are the beautiful churches. At the very least, drop by Riverside Church to see the 16th-century Flemish windows, and St. Patrick’s Cathedral to enjoy the stunning Gothic architecture – and take a tour of the gardens at the uptown Cathedral Church of St. John Divine.
13. After you’ve done the gardens at the Cathedral, head over to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, whose greenhouse offers free admission all day on Tuesday and from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday.
14. On Wednesdays (and Saturday 10 a.m. to noon), you can also enjoy the 50 gardens at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx.
15. Wander on down to the Chelsea Piers where you can enjoy an unparalleled view of the Hudson River for free.
16. Visit Ellis Island, where you can view the Statue of Liberty and tour the American Family Immigration History Center and search the records of 25 million immigrants, passengers and crew members who passed through New York Harbor between 1892 and 1924.
17. Drop by Federal hall and see the very spot where George Washington took the oath of office as the first president of the United States, then wander through the many exhibits that trace New York’s role in the development of the new nation. Admission is always free at this national park.
18. Board the historic schooner Pioneer or watch artisans at work at the Maritime Crafts Center at the South Street Seaport Museum, free to the public on the third Friday of the month.
19. Watch episodes of your favorite television shows and see exhibits related to television at the Museum of the Moving Image on Fridays from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., when admission is free.
20. Take in the tapestries, cave paintings and other indigenous art from across the Americas at the National Museum of the American Indian. This branch of the Smithsonian is open free to the public.
21. Visit the Sony Wonder Technology Lab and talk to robots, watch hi-def movies and challenge the latest PlayStation games.
22. Drop by the NBA Store and play on the half-court, take a free basketball clinic or enjoy one of the other free events that take place regularly throughout the year. If you’re lucky – and you don’t have to be VERY lucky – you may even run into an NBA or WNBA player, many of whom frequently make appearances at the store.
Cultural Events and Attractions
Get to know the people and the neighborhoods of the big city through a variety of tours and museums that are available to the public for free.
- 23. Check out the schedule of events at the New York Public Library, which offers exhibits, music, art and dance performances at the various branches throughout the city – always with free admission.
24. Schedule a tour with a Big Apple Greeter, informed locals who offer free tours of their respective neighborhoods to tourists and others. Schedule early, and prepare yourself with questions about the area if there’s anything you want to know. They’ll answer questions on anything from historical events to the best place to get a pizza in the area.
25. Visit the museum at the Hispanic Society of America to see art and artifacts from Latin America, Portugal and Spain.
26. View exhibits of African-American art, literature and achievement and enjoy free music by local artists at the Schomburg Center.
27. See photography, modern artwork and ancient artifacts produced by Jewish artists around the world at the Jewish Museum, which offers free admission on Saturdays after 5 p.m.
28. Take a guided tour of Union Square Park offered by the Union Square Partnership, a walk through St. Marks Place offered by the Village Alliance and a visit to Times Square guided by a member of the Times Square Business Improvement District.
29. Check the Queens Library website for a list of cultural events – including concerts, performances and poetry readings – open to the public for free at various times throughout the week.
30. Enjoy poetry performances and readings by notable authors in the scenic botanical gardens at Wave Hill on any Tuesday, when admission is free all day.
Adults may be fine with wearing out the shoe leather seeing the sights, but kids want a bit more concentrated activity. Luckily, NYC has plenty of free attractions for kid visitors, too.
- 31. If you’re in town with kids on a weekend, bring them by the Brooklyn Children’s Museum before noon to enjoy the interactive exhibits that let them try on wizard dress, examine insects in the wildlife collection or watch larger animals of the Animal Outpost. Even your youngest kids can enjoy the visit in the Totally Tots area, and during June and July, you can take in one of the concerts in the free concerts series.
32. On Thursdays from 4 to 6 p.m., bring your children by the Children’s Museum of the Arts, where the admission is “donation only” during those few hours. They can take part in many activities, including art appreciation, painting and sculpting.
33. While not strictly free – admission to the museum is $5 – kids can participate in daily free programs at the Staten Island Children’s Museum. The programs include cooking at Kidz Cook, and various crafty undertakings at Crafty Kids.
There’s always a gallery opening, book signing or other event happening somewhere in the city where you can score free appetizers, samples and other treats. These two are among our favorite ongoing freebies.
- 34. Drop by Brooklyn’s Mark Bar after 6 p.m. any day of the week and grab complimentary pizza and cold cuts alongside your drink. On Sundays at noon, come by for free coffee and bagels.
35. Wine lovers can attend a free wine tasting at Big Nose Full Body in Brooklyn on Saturday afternoons. Each week, the wine megastore features a different theme for the tasting, so drop by the website first to find out the week’s theme. If you choose to buy, you can expect a discount on entire cases.
The Big Apple may be most famous for its skyscrapers and office towers, but it has a softer, more natural side, too. Don’t miss out on these free outdoor activities when you’re visiting New York City.
- 36. Explore artifacts from the Leni Lenape Indians or take a nature walk to learn about local ecology at Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve on Staten Island.
37. There’s so much to do in Central Park that it deserves its own website. Among other things, you can climb rocks, sunbathe and fish in Harlem Meer Pond, or jog on the jogging path. Don’t forget that there are frequent free concerts and plays throughout the spring and summer.
38. Drop by Jones Beach State Park to fish or wade, or visit the Theodore Roosevelt Nature Center for a close-up view of the local environment. Open during daylight hours, with free admission.
39. Enjoy free concerts and free movies at Bryant Park. Visit their website for a schedule of events before you travel.
40. Take a tour of New York Bay on the free Staten Island Ferry and take your requisite shots of the Manhattan skyline and the Statue of Liberty.
41. Get outside for some free relaxation at Riverside Park, on the Hudson River. You can wander through the scenic gardens, join a free yoga class or even borrow a kayak to get up close and personal with the river.
42. Visit Castle Clinton National Monument and learn about the park’s military history from costumed park rangers.
- 43. Any Monday night from June through August, drop by Bryant Park for a free outdoor movie screening. They movies are generally old classics, but you never know what will be shown. Get there early for a decent spot – the park fills up early.
44. Shakespeare in the Park is a New York tradition, but it takes some work to participate. There are two productions of Shakespeare in the Park each summer, five weeks per year. Free tickets are distributed the day of the show starting at 1 p.m., but fans start lining up at 6 a.m. to score them.
45. Be part of the audience. Many of television’s top shows tape in NYC, but seats fill up early. If you want to be in the audience for the taping of iconic television shows like the Tonight Show or Good Morning America, you’ll have to write for tickets early. Visit www.nycgo.com/tv-show-tapings for details on which shows you can attend and what you need to do to be in the audience.
46. Visit Fort Wadsworth on Staten Island, one of the oldest military sites in the U.S. The park is open dawn to dusk, and the visitor center is open Wednesday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free and tours are led by park rangers.
47. Take a step back in time when you enter the grounds of Historic Richmond Town. The historically correct installation is a collection of 28 buildings staffed by costumed historic interpreters who will interact in character. Admission is free on Fridays to everyone, free to active military members with ID anytime.
48. Enjoy the peace and beauty of the botanical gardens at Snug Harbor Cultural Center and botanical Garden on Staten Island. The park is open 7 days a week from dawn to dusk, and admission to the grounds is free, though there is a nominal admission to the Newhouse Gallery and the Chinese Scholar’s Garden.
Check out even more free things to do in New York City at the official NYC website at http://www.nycgo/free-stuff.