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Free Things to do in New York City

Free Things to do in New York City - See the Statue of Liberty

I was 19 when I went to New York, on my very first solo trip abroad.  I was too scared to do very much apart from the Empire State Building and Statue of Liberty, so I’m glad that Chrysoula from Travel Passionate has put together this guest post of the best free things to do in New York City.

New York City – the city that never sleeps – is chock full of fun and exciting things to do so you can spend several days in New York and still not see everything!  However, many of them cost money, like going to the top of the Empire State Building or One World Trade Center, seeing a Broadway show or visiting the Statue of Liberty. But there are some excellent free things to do in New York City too. And the best part is that they are scattered all over the city, so no matter where you are you will be able to experience the best free activities in New York City and enjoy NYC on a budget.

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The Best Free Things to do in New York City

Cruise with the Staten Island Ferry

Get the best views of Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the Statue of Liberty while riding the Staten Island ferry. This free ferry runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week and travels between the Whitehall Ferry Terminal at the tip of Manhattan to St George Terminal on Staten Island.

The ferry is completely free, so don’t fall for any scammers offering to sell you tickets!

Cruise the bay on the Staten Island Ferry
Cruise the bay on the Staten Island Ferry | Credit: Travel Passionate

Free Things to do in New York – Walk Through Central Park

Central Park may be one of the most famous parks in the world, featuring in numerous movies and tv shows. It is perfect for a stroll, as you can spend a good bit of time exploring the various nooks and crannies of this 843-acre park.

Some of the most popular places within the park include Strawberry Fields, the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir, the Bethesda Fountain and Bethesda Terrace, and Sheep Meadow.

Central Park - Free Attractions in New York City
Central Park – Free Attractions in New York City | Credit: Travel Passionate

Stroll along the High Lane

Another great place for a long walk is along the High Line. This former elevated rail line runs along the west side from 34th Street to 14th Street and is full of art installations and gardens.

In summer months and in the evenings, there are often video or dramatic performances along the line. The High Line continues to develop, with open-air food courts and piazzas that overlook the city streets below.

The best way to explore is just to wander and stop where you desire, as you can get in and out of the High Line from a variety of places along the rail line.

High Lane - Free Things to do in New York City
High Lane – Free Things to do in New York City | Credit: Travel Passionate

Check Out the Free Museums in New York

There are a number of museums in NYC that offer free admission, either every day, on certain days of the week, or during specific hours, and that list includes some of the best in the city, like the MOMA, 9/11 Memorial and Museum, and the Guggenheim. This website breaks down the free museums so you can plan your day around visiting. 

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Visit the Impressive New York Public Library

The main branch of the New York Public Library is located at 41st St and 5th Ave. It is an impressive Beaux Arts building on the site of the former Croton Reservoir. Parts of the foundation of the reservoir can be seen on the lower level of the library.

The Astor Hall is the most visited as it is directly inside the Fifth Avenue portico, though there are various reading rooms and other halls accessible to the public.

New York Public Library - Free things to do in NYC
New York Public Library – Free things to do in NYC 

Explore Grand Central Station

Grand Central Station is one of the most visited destinations in New York City. Its vaulted ceiling in the main concourse, which features a painting of the zodiac in gold leaf, is an iconic spot, as is the information clock in the same hall. This is where many New Yorkers meet friends or family.

The information booth beneath the clock answers more than 1000 questions per day! Other highlights of Grand Central include the famous Oyster Bar on the lower level, the Jackie Kennedy Onassis Foyer, the Whispering Gallery, the Campbell Bar, and the Park Avenue facade.

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Go inside St Patrick’s Cathedral

St. Patrick’s Cathedral, at 5th Avenue between 50th and 51st Streets, is a beautiful neo-Gothic cathedral across from Rockefeller Center.

Built in 1879, the building is made from marble quarried in New York and Massachusetts while the slate roof came from Maine, and the spires rise 330 feet from street level. The cathedral is known for its art and stained glass.  

Inside St Patricks Cathedral - Free Attractions in New York
Inside St Patricks Cathedral – Free Attractions in New York

Tour the Brooklyn Brewery

The Brooklyn Brewery is located in Williamsburg, just north of the Williamsburg Bridge. The brewery began in the early 1980s as a way to honour the original brewing and manufacturing era of Brooklyn.

The team behind the Brooklyn Brewery is heavily involved in community involvement and they offer free tours on Saturday and Sunday only.

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Walk Across Brooklyn Bridge

The Brooklyn Bridge is a popular spot for a long walk. The view of Brooklyn from Manhattan highlights the warehouses and piers of the island while the view of Manhattan from the bridge and the Brooklyn side is spectacular.

Walkers can also spot the Statue of Liberty. The bridge is 1.13 miles long and most visitors take about an hour or so to walk it. Once you get to the Brooklyn side, make sure to get a slice of pizza or visit some of Brooklyn’s galleries before heading back across to Manhattan.

You can also walk across the Manhattan and Williamsburg Bridges, but the Brooklyn Bridge is probably the most iconic.

Brooklyn Bridge - New York for Free
Brooklyn Bridge – New York for Free | Credit: Travel Passionate

Museum & Gold Vault Tour 

Learn about the responsibilities and roles of the United States Federal Reserve with a free tour at the Federal Reserve Bank. Some of what they do include “setting monetary policy, promoting financial stability, and serving communities to advance economic growth,” according to the museum website.

The New York Federal Reserve acts as the guardian and custodian of gold on behalf of governments, central banks, and international organisations, not private individuals.

Tours are only offered at 1pm and 2pm Monday to Friday. Each tour takes one hour, and all visitors MUST register in advance for the tour (so do this before you leave home!). You will be required to show your government-issued (passports for non-US citizens) and the name on the ticket has to match the name on the ID.

New York City has some amazing things to do and many people will fill their time with Broadway shows, museums, food tours or experiences, and shopping. This list of free things to do in New York City will help flesh out any New York itinerary with budget-friendly ideas, whether its exploring Central Park and Midtown Manhattan, strolling along the High Line through fashionable Chelsea, or taking in the view from an alternate location like the Brooklyn Bridge or Staten Island ferry! 

About the Author

Chrysoula is a travel blogger with a professional background in Tourism and Marketing. Her blog Travel Passionate is in English and French and is focused on luxury travel, cultural and culinary experiences around the world. She enjoys exploring off-the-beaten-path destinations and she is interested in presenting the best locations, attractions and accommodation in each area she visits. Travelpassionate is a trusted resource for travel tips and destination guides that aims to inspire others to travel and experience different cultures.  You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.

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Just to let you know, this post may contain paid or affiliate links, which help to maintain Tales of a Backpacker and give me the chance to keep travelling, and to keep creating awesome content for you!

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Last updated: October 11, 2020

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