We’ve seen and done a lot in the Big Apple, but some of my most memorable experiences didn’t cost a penny, and I want you to know all about them! Obviously this list doesn’t contain all the free things to do, but I focused on things that interest me and I think will interest you too 😉
I genuinely mean it when I say the best things to do in New York City are completely FREE! Here’s our list of things for you to consider on your travels. Do let us know below if you have any recommendations. We love exploring new places!
Our New York Travel Map
Anywhere that I have mentioned in this blog post, or in any of my New York blog posts, is pinned to the map below. You can save this map and use it when you’re over there… you don’t even need an internet connection 😀 It’s broken up into different sections like; where to stay, things to do, places to eat, etc. I hope you find it useful!
New York is expensive, but there are loads of free things to do in New York City. Check them out below.
1. Walk Everywhere
First up on my free things to do in New York City list is one of the best tips I can give you. Walk everywhere! Walking around New York, with Darren, with a coffee in my hand is honestly one of my favourite things to do in the whole world. I’m so content, not rushing to go anywhere, just looking around and observing an amazing, and very different, city. I recommend taking a stroll on the Upper East side and marvelling and the most amazing homes!
2. Central Park
Walking through Central Park is not only one of my favourite free things to do in New York City but one of my favorite things to do in the whole world. I can’t explain to you how breathtaking it is. My favourite time of year to visit is autumn (or as the America’s say, fall). I love the colours!
There’s something magical about a park in the middle of the hustle and bustle of one of the busiest cities in the world. It has the most beautiful backdrop of a New York City skyline and ice-skating there was one of the best things I’ve ever done… even if I did fall flat on my face on more than one occasion.
In the summer months, there’s Movies in the Park and Shakespeare in the Park. I would love this but I don’t think I’d ever choose to visit New York in the summer time over autumn or winter personally.
Oh and did you know? It is FULL of turtles!!!!!!! I am obsessed with turtles and getting to see them in their natural habitat blew my mind!
Last thing on this amazing park, there were so many TV shows and films shot in Central Park – ELF, Enchanted, Gossip Girl, The Avengers, to name a few. You’ll recognise some places as you’re walking around. You can do free walking tours like this Movie and TV Tour but you are expected to tip, like everywhere else in NYC 🙂
3. Visit Famous Film Locations
Friends, Sex and the City, Ghostbusters, Gossip Girl, Spiderman, are some of thousands of shows and films set in New York (or Manhattan to be exact). All you have to do is Google to find out the locations. I wouldn’t bother paying for tours. Also, look out for these signs that indicate when and where filming will be taken place! We’ve been lucky enough to see Sarah Jessica Parker filming the new Sex and the City series “And Just Like That”. You literally never know what you’re going to see around New York, another reason to walk everywhere (“.)
Insert post signs
4. Metropolitan Museum
Gossip Girl fans, you can have lunch on the steps of the Met like Serena and Blaire. Fans of the show will recognise these steps from some of the most dramatic scenes in the show. Besides that, fashion fans will know that the Met Ball, “fashion’s biggest night out”, takes places here every year. Oh and of course, it’s home to over 2 million works of art! If you want to go in, it’s about $25.
5. New York Public Library
Fear not, this is absolutely nothing like your public library… I promise :p The building is… majestic and beautiful! We went for a wander around and even looked up our family history! I found my grandad’s records, it is so cool and FREE!
6. Times Square
Does one of the most famous landmarks in the world need any commentary? Read 10 facts about Times Square here. And if you’re lucky enough to be in New York for New Year’s Eve, yourself and a million others can watch “The Dropping of the Ball”.
FYI, my favourite part of Times Square is Bubba Gump Shrimp!
7. 9/11 Memorial: Ground Zero
A memorial in honour of those who lost their lives on September 11th 2001, now stands where the Twin Towers once did. Although very poignant, it’s done very tastefully. The Freedom Tower, one of the world’s tallest buildings, is there too! While it’s not free, you can also visit the museum to learn about the lives of all the men, women and children who died. I’m not sure how I feel about that so we’ve never visited the museum. Oh and while you’re down that way, I recommend popping into Marshall’s and TJ Maxx for some beauty bargains.
8. Statue of Liberty
The Staten Island Ferry is free and brings you to Staten Island, but on a clear day you get a great view of Lady Liberty herself and incredible views of the Manhattan, Jersey City and Brooklyn skiline. This is one of the lesser known free things to do in New York City.
9. Walk Over Brooklyn Bridge
When you’re staying in Manhattan, you don’t have the best views of the New York City skyline… because you’re in it! So when you come outside of the city centre, the views are incredible! We even stayed at The Bentley Hotel before just so we could have a better view of the city.
One of the best, and most iconic, views of New York City is from one of the most famous bridges in the world… The Brooklyn Bridge. The views are truly breathtaking and I don’t say that lightly. Nearly all of the key figures in building the bridge were Irish or Irish-American, so I have a little soft spot for it anyways :p
Oh and after you cross the bridge, you MUST visit DUMBO! Keep scrolling to read more.
No definitive free things to do in New York City list would be complete without this one. All dramatics aside, I would move to DUMBO tomorrow! Where and what is DUMBO? The answer is in its name. DUMBO is Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass. When you cross the Brooklyn Bridge, you’ll see it signposted, just stay to the left and follow the signs.
It’s the most beautiful, chilled out town with UN-BE-LIEVE-ABLE views of Manhattan! Look…
Grab an ice-cream and walk around the pier/ viewing platform; there is nothing like it. How did I not know about this place before!?
It full of highly regarded restaurants and you get get, arguably New York’s Best Pizza, Grimaldi’s there too!
To get back to Manhattan, you can walk back across the Bridge, get the Subway or get a water taxi!
11. American Museum of Natural History
I am not a museum person but this was SO COOL. Dinosaur bones, meteorite fragments, mummies… they had it all (this is also the place where they filmed Night at the Museum). This is such a well put together museum and so interactive. There’s no way you will find The American Museum of National History boring, trust me, I have the attention span of a fly (is that even a saying!?).
The museum is free entry but you can make a donation if you wish.
12. Bryant Park
Bryant Park is a privately run park located between 5th and 6th Avenue. Chess, backgammon, painting, juggling, people watching :p… there’s so much going on and so much to do!
13. Walk the Highline
The Highline is a public park on the West Side, that was built on top of a historic railway. It’s a very unique structure and boasts some of the best views of Manhattan. It starts around 14th Street and ends at 34th Street but there are a few more entries/ exits if you don’t fancy walking the whole thing.
14. Go New York Building Spotting
Besides the Empire State Building and The Rockerfellar Center, New York is home to some of the most spectacular buildings in the world.
Most of them are free to enter, but even those that aren’t (like the Empire State), you can just look at them from the outside, their scale and architecture is breathtaking!
Grand Central Station, the Flat Iron Building, New York Public Library, the WTC Transportation Hub, Carnegie Hall, are all worth a visit!
15. Public Boathouse Kayaking
Free kayaking on the Hudson River, how amazing is this opportunity? We rented boats on The Lake in Central Park and I would imagine this would be just as good.
16. TV Show Tickets
So many of our favourite shows are filmed live in New York with a live audience. We managed to nab tickets for the David Letterman Show one year, it was great craic!
Saturday Night Live, The Today Show, Jerry Springer, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, are some worth mentioning. If you go to the location on the day, you can go on stand-by for tickets. This is your best chance of getting tickets but you can also apply online to be entered into a lottery.
I hope you enjoyed reading this list of free things to do in New York City and I hope this makes you excited for your next trip!
Thank you for reading!
P.S. If you enjoyed this one, check out some more of my NYC related blog posts here.