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21 Free Things to Do in New York City

Picture of Julia Goicochea
Updated: 8 March 2018
New York is one of America’s most expensive cities, but that doesn’t mean free fun can’t be on your agenda. When you’re paying $1,600-plus on rent each month (and nearly as much on morning lattes), the city’s gratis goings-on will save your social life and your bank account. Because rent is due, here are 21 free things to do in New York City.

Tour the Brooklyn Brewery

This weekend, don’t just drink beer, learn it at Williamsburg-based beer maker Brooklyn Brewery. Free tours of the facility occur every half hour on Saturdays and Sundays and are followed by discounted $5 drinks.

Walk the entire 13-mile length of Manhattan

Don your most comfortable shoes for New York City’s ultimate walking tour: a scenic 13-mile trek from the top of Manhattan Island to the bottom. Tip: simply pick any avenue and walk its length to avoid getting lost.

Shakespeare in the Park

For more than 60 years, Shakespeare in the Park has been the New Yorker’s pick for free Summer entertainment. The tradition of outdoor productions of the bard’s most beloved plays has showcased top talents like Denzel Washington and Meryl Streep.

Ride the Staten Island Ferry

If booking a sightseeing cruise would sink your savings account, the Staten Island Ferry is the lifeboat you’re looking for. The vessel provides free 25-minute rides between Manhattan and Staten Island along with picture-ready views of the Statue of Liberty and city skyline.

See outdoor artworks at Socrates Sculpture Park

Socrates Sculpture Park in Long Island City is one of just a handful locations in New York City specifically designated for outdoor artworks. The 4.5-acre space is home to lush lawns and large-scale and multimedia installations, all of which can be seen for free.

See world-renowned art for free

Free admission times and pay-what-you-wish entrance fees mean you can see some of the world’s finest art free of charge. Some popular picks include the Museum of Modern Art’s UNIQLO Free Friday Nights (4 to 8pm), the Brooklyn Museum’s Target First Saturdays (first Saturday of the month from 5 to 11pm), and the always-free Museum at FIT.

Sunbathe on the Great Lawn

Manhattan’s Central Park is one of New York City’s best free attractions, thanks in part to iconic activities like sunbathing on the Great Lawn, a popular Summer pastime in New York for decades.

Ice skate under the stars at Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park

Provided you bring your own skates (a worthy investment for New Yorkers looking to avoid cabin fever this winter), the outdoor rink at Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park makes for a great gratis destination.
© Colin Miller / Courtesy of Bank of America Winter Village

Take in the absolute best views of New York City— for free

Before the Brooklyn Heights Promenade was made famous by its scene stealing appearance in Moonstruck, the pathway was already regarded by New Yorkers as a local star. Providing the best views of Lower Manhattan, the promenade is a popular pick for free photoshoots.

Settle down with a book in New York City’s most famous reading nook

The Rose Main Reading Room at the New York Public Library is famous for its ideal reading atmosphere. Settle in under the room’s chandeliers and murals with your favorite book or take a peek at the library’s Gutenberg Bible or copy of the original Declaration of Independence.

Attend a live taping of a talk show

Many of the highest-rated daytime and late-night talk shows film in New York City, meaning you can watch programs including Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and Late Night With Seth Meyers before they air as they’re taped live.

Governors Island

Trade one island for another when you visit the 172-acre Governors Island. Access to the island’s 2.2-mile bike path, picnic area, and military sites is free, though the ferry from Manhattan will set you back a whopping $2.

The Hills Governors Island Timothy Schenck 2_preview
© Timothy Schenck / Courtesy of The Hills Governors Island

Embark on a self-guided walking tour of New York City street art

For priceless (literally) Instagram shots, embark on a self-guided walking tour of trendy Bushwick, Brooklyn. New York City street artists like Buff Monster have transformed the industrial area into an ever-evolving open air art gallery, which you can tour for free.

Catch a movie in the park

Outdoor screenings are a popular summer pastime in New York City, where you can watch films like Moonlight and The Goonies for free at McCarren Park, Bryant Park, and more.

© Courtesy of Socrates Sculpture Park

Sing along to Broadway performances in Bryant Park

If your theater habit is turning your saving plans into a tragedy, allow us to spotlight the annual summer series, Broadway in Bryant Park. At this alfresco fest, performers from current Broadway and Off Broadway productions put on their best show yet for free.

Walk the Brooklyn Bridge

Every New Yorker should walk the Brooklyn Bridge at least once in their time in the city. For the best views and crowd size (i.e. nonexistent), embark on this free scenic schlep early on a weekday.

Snag a seat at the city’s most popular free comedy show

The long line leading to Upright Citizens Brigade every Sunday night (people start queuing before 6:30pm in the hopes of snagging tickets at 8:15) is an endorsement in itself. ASSSCAT 3000 taps talents from the likes of Saturday Night Live for an improv show you won’t want to miss.

See a new side of New York City

The Roosevelt Island Tram, the aerial public transportation providing some of the best bird’s eye views of New York City, can be ridden for free if you have an unlimited MetroCard. If not, a standard swipe setting you back $2.75 grants you access to the free Roosevelt Island.


See artists ranging from the Metropolitan Opera to Public Enemy at mostly-free performances at SummerStage, Central Park’s annual outdoor music fest.

Stargaze on the High Line

Everyone’s favorite free elevated park gets even better on Tuesday evenings, when the Amateur Astronomers Association sets up open-to-the-public telescopes between West 15th and West 16th Streets.

Sundeck Water Feature and Preserve
© Iwan Baan / Courtesy of Friends of the High Line

Whisper sweet nothings at the Whispering Gallery in Grand Central

The trains at the world-famous Grand Central may not be free, but experiencing its Whispering Gallery is. Located beneath the arches near the Oyster Bar, the gallery allows two people standing at diagonal ends to carry on a secret whispered conversation over the din of one of New York City’s most popular attractions.