Free Things to Do in New York City – 20 Amazing Activities

From the Empire State Building to the glittering marques of Times Square, every block of the Big Apple is iconic. Regrettably, covering every corner of the City that Never Sleeps doesn’t always come cheap.

Broadway theater tickets, steak dinners at Peter Luger’s, and shopping sprees on 5th Avenue can quickly add up. Luckily visitors will never have to wonder what to do in New York for free. From gratis museum visits to public tours of City Hall, there are copious free things to do in New York City. Follow along to uncover the 20 best free things to do in NYC

Spot the Statue of Liberty from a windswept Staten Island Ferry ride, or plan to enjoy an al fresco picnic and movie night in Bryant Park. Delight in Picasso and Warhol at MoMa, or savor the sweet taste of free beer samples at the Brooklyn Brewery.

Save your fingers from googling ‘things to do in Times Square free’ or ‘what to do in Manhattan for free.’ Our Big Apple professionals have compiled their NYC expertise to bring you the most incredible free attractions in NYC.

What to Do in New York City for Free

Some NYC experiences are non-negotiable, a bagel with a schmear, a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, or a stroll through Central Park. Thankfully free things to do New York City* are plentiful.

Live out your cinematic fantasies when you walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. Or get up close and personal with farm animals in Queens. With a little help from our list of free NYC attractions, you’ll cover all of the Big Apple without spending a dime.

*Please note that this is not an exhaustive compilation of free activities NYC or New York City attractions free, but rather a list of our top NYC free picks.

close up of staten island ferry on the water in new york cityRide the Staten Island Ferry

One of NYC’s best-kept secrets lies on the way to one of her most overlooked boroughs. Make the voyage from Lower Manhattan to Staten Island completely free courtesy of the NYC Department of Transportation.

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Your open-air 25-minute ferry cruise will afford a near-perfect view of the Statue of Liberty. Depart from Battery Park, and capture snapshots of the sparkling skyline as you ferry across the Hudson River. Once you make it to St. George Terminal in Staten Island, stick around and check out the lush botanical gardens at Snug Harbor or grab a slice of pizza.

Visit Art Galleries

Are you an aspiring gallerina or just looking to fill your creative cup? Dive into one of the richest art scenes in the world when you tour some of the city’s most inspiring galleries. From sculptures to street art, many of NYC’s premier galleries offer free admission.

Wander through Philips on Park Avenue or trek downtown to appreciate works by Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Christopher Wool, and Keith Haring at Soho Contemporary.

Street View and Exterior of The Museum of Modern Art - NYC, New York, USA
photo credit: Jamison McAndie via Unsplash

Museum Offerings

Don’t let an errant day of rain ruin your NYC plans. A spot of cloudy weather presents the ideal excuse to devour all of the Big Apple’s museum offerings. Many of the city’s most beloved institutions from Moma to the Guggenheim provide free or pay-what-you-wish admission:

  • MoMa – Home to a staggering collection of contemporary and modern art, NYC residents can visit Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Monore or masterpieces by Jackson Pollock completely free, on the first Friday evening of every month, from 4:00 to 8:00 p.m.
  • The Guggenheim Museum – Renowned for its arresting architecture, the Guggenheim is also home to inspired works of Manet, Picasso, and Degas. Pay what you wish admission is in effect every Saturday from 6 to 8 p.m.
  • New York Historical Society – History matters. Part museum, part library, the New York Historical Society lets you peek into the lives of some of the city’s most notable public figures. From graffiti photographs to a stunning collection of Tiffany lamps, there are dozens of installations and exhibits to uncover. From 6 to 8 p.m. every Friday. Entry is pay what you wish.

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  • Queens Museum – Dedicated to preserving the dazzling diversity of this multicultural borough, the Queens Museum can be found in a building that formerly housed the United Nations. Visitors here can spot everything from relief maps of the NYC water supply to outdoor murals that display the Black Trans experience. Admission to the museum is always free, although advanced ticketing is suggested.
  • Brooklyn Museum – Well worth the trek out of Manhattan, the Brooklyn Museum brings a global perspective to art. Guests can travel around the world, as they see Egyptian artifacts, pottery from the Islamic world, and seminal works by Judy Chicago. Admission is always free for children under 19 and First Saturdays provide evenings of free programming every Saturday from February–August and October, 5–11 p.m.
  • Queens County Farm Museum – Ready to channel your inner Old McDonald? Swing by this fully functioning historic farm and revel in 47 acres of growing fields, livestock, and more. Participate in a hayride, or coo over cuddly, alpacas, sheep, and goats. Admission to the farm museum is always free to the public.
friends having beer together at a brewery
Leo Patrizi / Getty Images

Brooklyn Brewery

Thirsty? Squash that craving for an ice-cold glass of suds when you load up on free samples at the Brooklyn Brewery. Beer fiends can come by this beloved Brooklyn institution for free hourly tours on Sundays from 1 to 6 p.m.

In addition to sampling brews, you’ll glean first-hand knowledge of their brewing science, beer history, and more.

Walk Across Brooklyn Bridge

Daydreaming about your own magical movie moment? Score some incredible selfies and East River views when you make the pilgrimage across the Brooklyn Bridge. Originally completed in 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge was the first bridge to connect Manhattan and Brooklyn across the East River.

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At its time, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world. Walking across the little over 1-mile bridge takes about an hour. Access to the bridge is available through the Brooklyn Bridge Pedestrian Walkway, which begins at the intersection of Tillary Street and Boerum Place. Or through the pedestrian walkway at the staircase located in the underpass on Washington Street/Cadman Plaza East and Prospect Street.

ground view of river and Brooklyn Bridge with skyline in background in NYC, New York, USA

City Hall

Built in 1803, New York City Hall is a towering testament to both the French Renaissance and Georgian style architecture. Often declared as one of the most beautiful 19th-century public buildings in the United States.

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This landmark has been the seat of the New York City government since 1812. Hightail it downtown to discover the intricacies of the rotunda, the city council chamber, and the Governor’s Room. Free tours must be set up in advance and are offered every week.

Psst.. can’t get enough of NYC’s most beautiful buildings? Indulge your inner bookworm and say hi to some very famous lions when you reserve an official free tour of the New York Public Library. Official tours showcase all the highlights of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building and grant you access to the historic Rose Main Reading Room.

Walk the High Line

Once scheduled for demolition, this lush urban oasis has now become an international inspiration for other cities to repurpose old industrial spaces for public use. Today visitors and locals alike can spend hours enjoying the sun-soaked gardens and Hudson River views of the High Line.

Take an afternoon to traverse the 1.45-mile-long elevated linear park, stopping to admire zones of meadow and grasslands. Be sure to check out their official event page where you can often discover free events such as stargazing or salsa classes.

people strolling the path with pink flowers and plants on the side and buildings in the background in High Line Park, Manhattan, New York City, USA
photo credit: Gettyimages

Be a Guest on Late Night

Looking for a LOL activity that won’t break the bank? Many of your favorite NBC late-night shows like The Tonight Show, starring Jimmy Fallon, and Late Night with Seth Meyers, are filmed at 30 Rockefeller Plaza.

Most of these shows provide free seats to audience members through lotteries or standby lines. You could become part of the live studio audience with a little pre-planning! Be sure to carve out some time before or after your silver screen debut to check out the nearby Rockefeller Center.

Free Places to Visit in New York

Washington Square Park

Beloved by both locals and tourists this almost 10-acre public Greenwich Village park is a beacon of neighborhood activity. Known for its emblematic arch and its built to honor George Washington, this land of chess matches and buskers was once a marsh located near an Indian Village.

Take advantage of one of the best free places to go in NYC, by spending a day uncovering the intricacies of this almost 200-year-old park. Cool off in the summertime under one of Washington Square Park’s spray showers, or scurry over to the Northwest corner to see the famous Hangman’s Elm, one of the oldest trees on Manhattan Island.

Washington Square Memorial Arch with people walking during the daytime in Washington Square Park, Manhattan, New York City, USA
photo credit: Simi Iluyomade via Unsplash

9/11 Memorial

Never forget. September 11th, 2001 is a day that will forever live in infamy. Honor the lost souls of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in when you pay your respects at the 9/11 Memorial. Entry to the memorial is free and open to the public seven days a week from 8 a.m.–8 p.m. Located at the site of the former World Trade Center.

The memorial’s twin reflecting pools measure nearly an acre in size and are the largest man-made waterfalls in North America. This stunning tribute of remembrance also includes a bronze parapet of every 9/11 victim’s name. To purchase tickets to the accompanying 9/11 museum, click here.

Times Square

Historic theaters, Superhero impersonators, and millions of flashing LED lights. This mess of neon and glitter is a must-see for any NYC visitor. While tickets to a matinee will cost you big bucks. There are multiple free ways to entertain in this hub of creativity and commerce.

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Every summer TSQ Live returns to showcase hundreds of artists, performers, and cultural acts in Times Square. This year guests will be privy to over 80 free, open-air events across two stages, including DJ sets, live concerts, and dance workshops.

street view of times square at night with taxi cab and people walking along the streets in NYC, New York, USABryant Park

Just a hop, skip, and jump from Times Square lies a verdant wonderland of grassy lawns, carousels, and free cultural programming. Bryant Park can be found between Fifth Avenue and Avenue of the Americas and between 40th and 42nd Streets in Midtown Manhattan.

Make a date with this public space, and enjoy everything from free juggling classes to exercise classes. If you are lucky enough to visit the Empire City during the summer months, pack up a picnic and enjoy an al fresco spin on dinner and a flick when you attend Movie Nights. For 30 seasons, Bryant Park has enchanted film fanatics with outdoor screenings under the city skyline.

Little Island

A newer addition to the Big Apple’s public park scene, Little Island is a man-made nirvana that can be found at Pier 55. Designed by Heatherwick Studio, this charming green space effortlessly merges nature, art, and urban structure.

Let the beauty of the sparkling Hudson River wash over you, as you take in the sunset from your seat in the amphitheater. Or, tap into your mediation practice from your perch on the boulder scramble. Admire the seasonal blossoms from the Akebono Cherry Tree or sway in time to the tunes provided by free musical concerts.

Golf tee looking pillars with trees and greenery making up little island in nycCentral Park

Almost every inch of Central Park is recognizable from the Imagine Mosaic to the Bethesda Fountain. This 843 urban paradise of greenery may be the fifth largest park in the city, but it is widely considered a modern masterpiece of landscape design. Hosting more than 40 million visitors each year, Central Park’s free amenities and activities know no limits.

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Pack up a picnic and savor a dreamy lunch in Sheeps Meadow. Or watch hobbyists race miniature sailboats on Model Boat Pond. Let little ones scramble on the park’s many playground features, or plan for a saunter across the Gapstow Bridge.

Delight in the drama of the Elizabethan era when you elect to attend free Shakespeare in the Park. This Central Park tradition is now entering its 61st season. And continues to bring world-class performances from Tony and Oscar award winners to the public.

New York City Hotels

Looking to save on your Empire City adventure? While there are many ways to be thrifty in NYC, the last place we’d suggest to scrimp is on your lodgings.

Take in even more of the best things to do in New York City for free, when you reserve any of our premier New York City Hotels.

Whether you are looking to reside on the west side and stroll on over to the Museum of Natural History. Or preserve that budget with a modest Midtown accommodation, we have hotels for all types of travelers.

ground view of the Hilton Midtown at night with lights in NYC, New York, USA
photo credit: New York Times Square via Facebook

A wondrous mess of skyscrapers, art, and green spaces, it’s no surprise that over 50 million tourists make a date with the Big Apple each year.

While we would never put a price tag on an Empire City experience, endless nights out and tickets to every museum, show, and concert can easily put a dent in your budget.

No need to survive on hot dogs and roasted nuts just yet! Intrepid visitors will soon discover there are endless things to do for free in New York City.

Related Post: One World Trade Center vs Empire State Building

Admire the red, orange, and purple hues of a Hudson River sunset at Little Island, or attend a free Sufi music concert.

Watch Jimmy Fallon charm A-listers on the Tonight Show. Or take yourself on a tour of the rugged Ramble in Central Park.

Hear the hallowed words of William Shakespeare as you sit pretty in the Delacorte Theater. Or see if you can count all of the arches in Washington Square Park.

This jungle of concrete and steel might seem impenetrable. But with our handy guide to gratis entertainment, you’ll be well on your way to conquering the best free attractions in NYC.

Tell us, Did We Miss Any of The Top Things to Do in New York For Free?

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Written by Isis Maya Nissman

A New York native, Isis-Maya spent most of her professional life working in TV production until a vacation whisked her away to Central...

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