New York City offers visitors a tremendous amount of things to see and do. Home to bright lights, towering skyscrapers, and abundance of attractions for all ages, like the Statue of Liberty and Broadway shows, the Big Apple is teeming with activities for vacationers. Best of all, though, NYC visitors can have a blast without spending a fortune to do so.
1. Friday Nights at MoMA
On Friday nights from 4:00 pm-8:00 pm, you can tour the incredible Museum of Modern Art for free. Zero money and some of the world’s best art? Yes, please. Bonus: Kids 16 and under are always free at the MoMA.
2. Guggenheim Museum
Saturday nights, from 5:00 pm-7:45 pm, entry to the Guggenheim is “Pay What You Wish.” (Cash only.) This admission by donation means you can get in free, but the suggested donation is around $10. Be sure to arrive early, though, so you can admire the Frank Lloyd Wright designed building.
3. Central Park
Ahh, Central Park. This urban greenspace, sprawling over 800 acres, is the breath of fresh air every New Yorker needs. Yes, it’s a park so admission is guaranteed free but Central Park isn’t your typical park. Free events, sightseeing, people-watching and indelible sights like the Bow Bridge, Strawberry Fields, Imagine Mosaic, the Onassis Reservoir, Belvedere Castle and so much more make a Central Park a haven for free fun.
4. New York Public Library
The New York Public Library, located in Bryant Park, is a beautiful building inside and out, and one of my favorite free things to do in New York City. You can visit for free, and gain access to the Rose Hall Reading Room, browse their collection of books, art and architecture, and exhibits like the Gutenberg Bible. Tour the library on your own or opt for a free daily tour at 11:00 am and 2:00 pm (Sundays 2:00 pm tour only.) Oh, and their Wi-Fi is free too.
5. Brooklyn Botanic Garden
Stop and smell the roses (and other flora and fauna) at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Free admission is offered on Fridays from 8:00 am-Noon. From December to February, winter weekdays also offer free admission for visitors.
6. Chelsea Galleries
Chelsea is NYC’s art mecca. Along 10th and 11th avenues there is a concentration of galleries ideal for browsing. Almost all allow free entry, and some even have complimentary wine and cheese platters on Thursdays. Score!
7. The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon
An hour of entertainment starring Jimmy Fallon… for free? Yep, you’re not dreaming. Plan your trip in advance to score these free tickets, as they’re released for the next month on the first week of the previous month. (Example: tickets for June are made available the first week of May.)
8. The High Line
Technically, the High Line is a park so it is free. But, this is no typical park. Designed using an abandoned stretch of elevated railroad track, the landscaped High Line connects the Meatpacking District with nearby Chelsea and runs all the way to the south side of Hell’s Kitchen. Take in views of the Hudson River, people watch or simply go for a stroll on this unique NYC attraction.
9. Staten Island Ferry
Everyone wants to see the Statue of Liberty, but only a select few know how to do it for free. Hop on the free Staten Island Ferry, which commuters use to travel from Staten Island to Manhattan, for excellent views of Lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty. You won’t stop at Liberty Island for a close-up, but you’ll get near enough to make a memory.
10. Bronx Zoo
On Wednesdays, the Bronx Zoo has a “Pay What You Wish” policy. A donation is appreciated, but if you’re low on cash entrance is offered free of charge. Not too shabby of deal since you’re accessing 265 acres teeming with nearly 4,000 animals.
11. New York Aquarium
On Friday afternoons, from 3:00 pm to close, you can explore the New York Aquarium for free. This on a pay what you wish scale, and donations are accepted. Double check the aquarium's hours of operation, as they vary seasonally.
12. New York Historical Society
Another Friday freebie can be found at New York Historical Society. From 6:00 pm-9:00 pm, pay what you wish to gain access to a storied collection on NYC history. If you wish to visit a special exhibit during this time, paid entry may be required.
13. Brooklyn Brewery Tour
Stop by for a free sip and tour of Williamsburg’s Brooklyn Brewery available on Fridays at 7:00 pm and 8:00 pm, Saturdays from 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm on the top of the hour, and Sundays on the top of the hour from 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm. Due to the brewery's rising popularity, free tours are only available at these select times.
14. City Hall
Free tours of City Hall must be set up in advance. That said, they grant access to the cupola-topped marble hall, the governor’s room and the spot where Abraham Lincoln’s coffin lay in state briefly in 1865.
15. Federal Hall
Another free tour for history buffs is of Federal Hall. See where George Washington took the presidential oath in 1789, and browse through a small museum on post-colonial New York. Nearby is Wall Street and the New York Stock Exchange.
16. General Grant National Memorial
Known as Grant’s Tomb, this $600,000 memorial holds the remains of the 18th president of the United States and is the largest mausoleum on the United States. It is modeled after Mausolus’ Tomb, making it a copy of one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
17. Socrates Sculpture Park
Located in Queens, the Socrates Sculpture Park offers free art installations, amazing waterfront views and light shows. In the summer, free Wednesday night movies are shown. Other free events at the park include seasonal festivals, art exhibitions, and musical performances.
18. Shakespeare in the Park
One of the most celebrated free things to do in New York City is Shakespeare in the Park. Held each summer in Central Park, tickets are available starting at 12:00 pm the day of the show at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park or Public Theater in the East Village. Be advised tickets are highly coveted and people line up as early as 6:00 am for these free tickets. A mobile digital lottery is also used to distribute free tickets on the days of performances.
19. St. Patrick’s Cathedral
Taking a tour of St. Patrick’s Cathedral is a wonderful opportunity to come to a deeper understanding of the architecture, history and spirit of this great Cathedral. The Neo-Gothic-style Roman Catholic cathedral church is also a stunning architectural marvel, as well as America’s first cathedral. Free guided tours are available in addition to services.
20. Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine
Browse the gardens, grounds and cathedral of St. John the Divine, an Upper West Side worship center featuring Gothic Revival and Romanesque Revival architecture. If you are interested in learning more, daily tours are available for an additional fee.
21. Brooklyn Children’s Museum
If you’re traveling with kids, go to the Brooklyn Children’s Museum on Thursdays from 2:00 pm-6:00 pm and Sundays from 4:00 pm-7:00 pm for free admission. Kids get to play dress up, observe creatures in the Animal Outpost and even enjoy free concerts in June and July.
22. Children’s Museum of the Arts
Another great freebie for kids is the Children’s Museum of the Arts, offering free entry on Thursdays from 4:00 pm-6:00 pm. Kids can learn how to paint and sculpt, all while learning about the creative arts.
23. Movies at Bryant Park
During the summer months (June-August), Bryant Park features free outdoor movies on Mondays between 8:00 pm-9:00 pm. Movies screened are generally classic favorites, but change week to week. Arrive early for the best viewing spots. The park also offers free festivals, events, and programs throughout the year.
24. Big Apple Greeter
Want to learn about the unique neighborhoods of New York through the eyes of a local? Meet up with a Big Apple Greeter for a tour of the East Village, the Upper West Side, and more. All tours are free, but schedule early as these free tours are very popular.
Free Things to Do in New York City: A Never Ending List
These are only some of the best free things to do in New York City. There are hundreds of free activities, events, and attractions located across all five boroughs. Have a freebie that I missed? Share it with me in the comments.