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New York City is undeniably one of the most expensive cities in the world. The average cost of dinner out here is $48, a martini will easily cost you $17, and it costs at least $25 per person to visit many of the museums and attractions around town. However, this most certainly doesn’t mean you can’t visit NYC on a budget. In fact, there are tons of free activities in the Big Apple that are just as fun as the pricey ones and won’t empty out your wallet. To show you what we mean, here are nine suggestions of free things to do and ways to explore New York City.
Walking through a New York City park won’t cost you a dime, and Central Park deserves a place on every NYC traveler’s itinerary. This large urban park in the borough of Manhattan always has something going on, such as discovery walks for families, conservatory garden tours, volunteer activities to keep the park looking beautiful, and flower tours led by horticulture experts. There are actually four Central Park visitor centers (a fifth is undergoing renovations) where you can start your exploration of this free park and learn about what’s going on that day. You can also rent out bikes, row boats, and gondolas here, try your luck at catch-and-release fishing at the Harlem Meer, go ice skating, and simply soak up the culture of the city in Central Park.
Most of the time, a visit to the Museum of Modern Art is $25 for adults, which is a hefty price to pay if you’re traveling on a budget. Instead, plan your trip to the museum for Friday night, because museum admission is free for everyone on Friday nights between 4pm and 8pm. Plan to arrive after 6pm to avoid the longest lines on this free night. Some of the most interesting and innovative modern art collections in the world are housed here, so you won’t want to miss out!
Another great way to explore New York City’s art scene for free is to browse the art galleries in the Chelsea neighborhood. Chelsea is known as the art mecca of the city and the place to walk around if you love exploring new art. Unlike art museums, it’s totally and completely free to walk in and browse many of the art galleries here. Some galleries to add to your to-do list to check out include the Pace Gallery, Cheim & Read, Lehmann Maupin, Sean Kelly, Gagosian, and the Mary Boone Gallery. Browsing art galleries is a wonderful way to spend a spontaneous day in New York City without spending anything at all.
While there’s rarely such as thing as free beer, free brewery tours are a real possibility when you visit New York City. One of the most popular breweries in town, Brooklyn Brewery, offers free tours on Fridays and weekends to introduce you to local beers and how they’re made. You can visit the tasting room here without any cover charge or reservation needed. Free tours take place at 7pm and 8pm on Fridays, on the half hour between 12:30pm and 6pm on Saturdays, and on the half hour from 12:30pm to 4pm on Sundays. You’ll also find some great food trucks onsite during tour times.
Lots of TV shows are filmed in New York City, and with a little advance planning, you can attend a taping for free. It’s a good idea to request free tickets by mail or reserve them online for the time you’ll be in NYC. Some of the tapings that are free and allow audience members to attend include the Chris Gethard Show, the Daily Show with Trevor Noah, the Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, The View, and Good Morning America. Tickets are awarded by random lottery at certain times of year, or you can stand in line for standby tickets if you’re feeling lucky.
Many NYC travelers don’t think of this as much of a beach destination, but there are some nice city beaches that are free to visit and perfect on a hot summer’s day. The city maintains about 14 miles of beaches between Memorial Day and Labor Day with lifeguards on duty. The beaches that you can visit here include Brighton Beach next to Coney Island, Cedar Grove Beach on Staten Island, Manhattan Beach in Brooklyn, Orchard Beach and Promenade in the Bronx, and Rockaway Beach and Boardwalk in Queens. Pack a picnic, bring a volleyball, and slather on some sunscreen!
It’s not hard to find stunning views of the NYC skyline when you visit the Big Apple, but one of the most unique views comes from the surrounding waterways. The Downtown Boathouse provides free kayaks for public use in the Hudson River between May and October. The staff here will hook you up with all the safety gear and instructions you need at Pier 26 as a way to promote free water access for everyone. Seasonal free kayaking opportunities also exist at the Long Island City Community Boathouse, the Manhattan Community Boathouse, and the North Brooklyn Boat Club.
Boat cruises in on the New York Harbor are pretty pricey, but not every ride on the water has to be! The Staten Island runs from Staten Island to Manhattan and back across five miles and lasting about 25 minutes long. What’s great about this ride is that it’s very scenic and totally free! The ferry carries around 22 million people per year and offers great views of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.
The New York Public Library is one of the greatest libraries in the world, and you can explore the various branches for free when you visit the city. You can take a free one-hour tour of the Stephen A. Schwartzman Building at 11am and 2pm on Mondays through Saturdays or simply walk through on your own to browse the rows of books. Also, check the websites for library branches near where you’re staying to see if any interesting free events are taking place during your trip.