Popularly known as ‘The Big Apple,’ New York City is the largest – and one of the richest – cities in the United States. As a center of power, culture and commerce, it has become one of the most visited cities in the world, attracting 56 million tourists in 2014 alone. But with this reputation comes a steep price: a high cost of living. Not to worry, though, there are still amazing things you can do in NYC for free or on a budget. Read our guide below to discover some of them:
Open House New York
An annual NYC event, Open House New York aims to showcase (for free!) the city’s most culturally and architecturally significant structures. This year’s event, which will be held on October 17 and 18, will unlock the doors of some of the city’s most important, usually closed-off, buildings. Included in this year’s list are the newly renovated City Hall, Ford Foundation, Brooklyn Army Terminal, New York State Pavilion, and Google’s Headquarters in Chelsea.
If you are an art enthusiast, you’re in for a treat, because NYC has some of the most amazing museums in the US. What makes it more exciting is that a lot of them give free admission, including the Bronx Museum of the Arts, Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, National Museum of the American Indian, and the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology. On the other hand, more famous institutions such as the Museum of Modern Art and Brooklyn Museum give free admission on certain days and times. Admission to MoMA is free every Friday from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. while the Brooklyn Museum hosts special free events every first Saturday of the month.
Watch Live Show Tapings
As an entertainment capital, New York is home to several famous television shows, most of which admit audiences for free. Among these in demand shows are The View, Good Morning America, The Voice, America’s Got Talent, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. You either sign up for tickets online or wait in line on the day of the show to get free admission. It may take some time to get confirmation, but it’s worth the effort to see your favorite celebrities live.
Film Screenings and Musicals in Bryant Park
Admission to movies and musicals tend to be expensive, especially in New York. Good thing Bryant Park gives audiences an alternative, even though it’s only during summer. The park offers free performances of the biggest Broadway hits, such as Wicked, Matilda, Chicago, and Kinky Boots. It also offers free screenings of classic Hollywood films such as Chinatown, Footloose, and Back to the Future.
Bryant Park, 6th Avenue between West 40th and West 42nd Streets, New York, NY, USA, +1 212 768 4242
Shakespeare in the Park
Shakespeare in the Park
For something more traditional, try Shakespeare in the Park. One of the most famous attractions in NYC, it is a free performance of some theater masterpieces at the open-air Delacorte Theater in Central Park. The performances are staged by New York City arts organization The Public Theater, which relies on donations to fund the event. You may have to wait in line to get tickets, which are distributed on the day of the performance.
Delacorte Theater, 81 Central Park West, New York, NY, USA, +1 212 539 8500
Explore Central Park
Explore Central Park
If you don’t feel like watching Shakespeare, you might want to walk around or have a picnic in NYC’s famed Central Park. A fixture in popular culture, Central Park was the location of some scenes in famous movies such as Hitch, Serendipity, The Avengers, Cruel Intentions, and When Harry Met Sally. If you want to recreate some of these scenes, don’t worry, because admission to the park is free, and it is open from 6 a.m. until 1 a.m. daily.
Central Park, 59th to 110th Street, from Central Park West to 5th Avenue, New York, NY, USA, + 1 212 310 6600
NYC’s Botanical Gardens
When you of NYC, you may not picture a lot of greenery. But there actually are few other urban sanctuaries aside from Central Park. Among these are the New York Botanical Garden, which gives free admission on Wednesdays and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m., and the Queens Botanical Garden, which gives free admission on Wednesdays from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. and on Sundays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., April through October.
New York Botanical Garden, 2900 Southern Boulevard, Bronx, NY, USA, +1 718 817 8700
Queens Botanical Garden, 43-50 Main Street, Flushing, NY, USA, +1 718 886 3800
Visit NYC’s Zoos
If you are with kids or just a plain animal lover, New York City’s zoos are a must-see. Admission (and parking!) to the Staten Island Zoo on Wednesdays after 2 p.m. is free while you can just pay what you want for grounds access at the Bronx Zoo on the same day.
Staten Island Zoo, 614 Broadway, Staten Island, NY, USA, +1 718 442 3100
Bronx Zoo, 2300 Southern Boulevard, Bronx, NY, USA, +1 718 367 1010
Ride the Staten Island Ferry
The Staten Island Ferry, which operates between the St. George Ferry Terminal on Staten Island and the Whitehall Terminal in Lower Manhattan, transports people daily for free and allows them to get a good view of the New York City skyline and landmarks. The trip is typically 25 minutes long and takes off every fifteen minutes or every half hour depending on the day.
Staten Island Ferry, 1 Bay Street, Staten Island, New York, NY, USA, +1 718 876 8441
Visit the 9/11 Memorial
Although it is considered one of the most horrifying moments in US history, it is important to remember what happened on September 11, 2001. And the 9/11 Memorial does that tastefully, by displaying twin memorial pools with the names of the 1993 and 2001 bombing victims inscribed in bronze. Admission to the memorial is free of charge and, it is open from 7:30 a.m. until 9 p.m. daily.
National September 11 Memorial & Museum at the World Trade Center, 200 Liberty Street, 16th Floor, New York, NY, USA, +1 212 312 8800
By Kimberly Jane Tan
After graduating from Columbia University with a Master of Arts in Journalism, Kimberly is in New York writing about politics and whatever catches her fancy. She likes going on random food escapades in the city but she also enjoys anime and Netflix binges at home.