18 Free Things to do in NYC From a Local New Yorker: Best Free NYC Attractions

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The Top 18 Free and Totally Awesome Things to do in NYC from a Local!

As a college kid in NYC, it was my goal to do as much as I could for free. Over 12 years later I can still say many of these free NYC attractions are my favorite places to visit! In this post, I am covering 18 totally awesome and free things to do NYC, especially for New York first-timers!

While visiting the Big Apple, also check out the Most Instagrammable Places in NYC – many of which are free!

Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links where at NO additional charge to you I may receive a small commission.

1. The Vessel

Starting with NYC’s newest attraction, The Vessel! Located in the Hudson Yards, the Vessel is easily one of the best free things to do during your visit to NYC.

Standing at 150 ft high with 154 flights of stairs, make your way to the top around sunset for some epic views!

Update: Unfortunately, you can no longer climb the Vessel, for free, however, you can still enjoy it from the ground. Tickets can be purchased to go up the Vessel here. Please note, you can only go up the Vessel in pairs.

Address: The Shops and Restaurants at Hudson Yards, New York, NY 10001

Vessel NYC free things to do
The Vessel is one of the top free things to do in NYC and is super Instagrammable

2. The Highline in Chelsea

From Hudson Yards, make your way to the Chelsea Highline. This iconic railway turned greenway is one of my all-time favorite places to visit, especially on a nice sunny day!

On either side find murals, greenery, and views of NYC through the Chelsea neighborhood (where I used to live)!

FYI: If the weather is nice, be prepared for lots of other visitors unless you go early in the morning. There are also a lot of cute photo spots on the Highline you can take advantage of.

Insider tip: If you’re feeling hungry, you can walk the Highline all the way down to Chelsea Market where you can eat and explore like a local!

One of the best things to do in NYC is walking the Highline
View of the Empire State Building from the Highline

3. Chelsea NYC Art Galleries

Speaking of Chelsea, if you happen to be in NYC on a Thursday night and love art, make your way down to the Chelsea Galleries!

This was one of my favorite things to do as a broke fashion college student! Enjoy free wine, bites, and awesome art around/after 6:30 PM! You’re welcome for this very local NY’er gem of a spot!

4. Central Park

Central Park is a staple for NYC and luckily for all of us, it’s among one of the many free things to do!

On top of that, Central Park is great to visit all year round. Whether it’s Spring Cherry Blossom Blooms, Epic Summer picnics, Fall foilage or covered in a blanket of snow, you won’t be disappointed with what Central Park has to offer!

Some of my favorite places to visit in Central Park include Bow Bridge, Bethesda Fountain, The Mall (especially in Fall), and Belvedere Castle.

The park is located between the Upper West and East Side and covers 843 acres! If your budget is not too tight, I would even consider taking a walking tour through the park! There is a lot of history.

Please do not take a horse and carriage ride. The horses are treated poorly.

Bow Bridge in Central Park, NYC during the Fall
Central Parks Bow Bridge

5. Grand Central Terminal Station

Grand Central Station is probably one of the prettiest subway stations in NYC. Who knew a train station could be NYC must-do on your itinerary?!

Besides being the backdrop of more movies than I can count, the ceiling art is stunning, and it’s a great place to people watch. After hanging out at Grand Central, you can take the S line right into Time Square, win, win!

NYC Insider travel tip: If you plan to shoot with a Tripod, supposedly you are not allowed to use it at Grand Central Station.

6. Times Square

Did you even visit NYC without walking through Times Square? This is easily one of the top things to do in NYC especially for first-timers that of course, is also free.

With huge billboards, the M&M store (yum),  the naked cowboy, people doing street performances, it’s definitely an interesting place to experience, to say the least!

While most local New Yorkers avoid Times Square, it’s nice to feel the hustle and bustle of the city that never sleeps.

NYC Travel Tip: I would recommend heading around here during the day and evening so you can see the city all lit up.

Most instagrammable places in NYC includes Time Square
Time Square

7. Washington Square Park

Washington Square Park is another one of my favorite places to hang in the city, especially on a Spring or Summer day.

Head here to hang around the fountain, people watch, eat a snack, and view the Washington Square Arch. During the Summer, they also hold different free events you can check for!

Address: Washington Square N, New York, NY 10012

One of the best free things to do in NYC is hanging out at Washington Square Park
Washington Square Park from the fountain

8. The Oculus

The Oculus is a part of the new World Trade Center Transportation hub that acts as both a mall and subway station. This architectural gem was designed by Santiago Calatrava.

Make sure to check out the Oculus from both the inside and outside since both are very picturesque! They often have a farmers market inside the Oculus as well.

Insider tip: While at the Oculus, you can also view the 9/11 memorial for free. If you also plan on visiting the 9/11 museum, it’s free on Tuesdays from 5 PM – 8 PM

Address: Church St, New York, NY 10006

The Oculus in the World Trade Center Park
View inside the Oculus

9. The Brooklyn Bridge

Make your way to the famous Brooklyn Bridge and cross over to DUMBO (Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass), Brooklyn. The bridge spans 1.1 miles and was once the largest suspension bridge.

When the bridge originally opened, it actually wasn’t a free NYC activity to do. It cost a penny to cross by foot, and 5 cents by horse and carriage.

Thankfully, we can add crossing the Brooklyn Bridge to one of the many awesome free things to do in NYC now!

Fun NYC Travel fact: After mass panic happened about safety during the first week of the bridge being open, they ensured safety by letting 21 elephants cross into lower Manhattan.

most instagrammable places in NYC include photographing the Brooklyn Bridge
Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge

10. Brooklyn Bridge Park

After crossing the bridge, hang out in Dumbo around Brooklyn Bridge Park. The park/pier is especially nice during the Spring/ Summer where you will find people out picnicking on the lawns, and further down roller skating and playing basketball.

From the walkway, you can even see the Statue of Liberty from a “very” far. Additionally, if you are visiting NYC during the Summer, feel like a local New Yorker and watch Movies with a View at Brooklyn Bridge Park!

Dumbo NYC Instagram spot
Statue of Liberty on the top left side!
Views of the Brooklyn Bridge from the Brooklyn Bridge Park
Views from Brooklyn Bridge Park

11. Staten Island Ferry

Did you say free transportation in NYC?! I know, shocking right! I guess they had to make it up somewhere for charging us locals over $15 USD to cross into Staten Island over the Verrazano Bridge.

Anyways, so why would you even want to take a ride on this ferry you ask? Well because it’s the closest you will get to the Statue of Liberty for free!

While on the ferry is that you can stand in the front and back of the boat while in motion to get a really nice view.

For epic views of the NYC skyline, head around sunset!

A great free activity in NYC is taking the staten island ferry to see the statue of liberty.

12. The Flatiron Building

If architecture fascinates you,  pay a visit to one of NYC’s most photographed buildings for its unique triangular shape splitting the streets.

While you can’t officially go inside, you can snap a couple of photos, hang out in Madison Square Park, or even hit up Eataly for food heaven!

Address: 175 5th Ave, New York, NY 10010

Flatiron Building Photography
Flatiron Building

13. Soho NYC Murals

Soho happens to be one of my top 3 favorite neighborhoods in all of New York City! I worked in Soho for 2 years and the cute cobblestone streets, art, and shopping make it the perfect place to explore.

If you are a Nespresso lover like me, they have a flagship store on Spring and Prince street, which is where I worked during my college days.

While the art is always changing, some noteworthy places to check out are:

  • Bowery New York Mural on 76 E Houston St.
  • Flowers mural by Jet MartinezAddress: 250 Mulberry St., New York, NY 10012
  • Yumi Kim trash can mural 105 Staton St #1, New York, 10002
  • Color Factory Wall 251 Spring St 251 Spring St, New York, NY 10013
Visit the murals in Soho for the best free things to do in NYC
Bowery New York Mural
Visit the Soho Murals in NYC
Flowers mural

14. Bryant Park

If you love parks in urban spaces, make sure to add Bryant Park to your list! This green square regularly holds events during the Summer including movie screenings and during the holidays is a go-to spot for their winter village.

Bryant Park is also right next to the iconic NYC Public Library.

Visiting New York City in December? Make sure to visit the Bryant Park Winter Village!
Bryant Park during their Winter Village

15. NYC Public Library

I’ve never been inside, but as a kid, I did once sit on the lion statues outside….. and then prompted to get down immediately!

But if you love books and pretty spaces, the NYC Public Library should definitely be on your list of free things to do in NYC! It is still on my bucket list to visit!

Address: 135 E 46th St, New York, NY 10017

NYC Public Library is free to visit and a must-see
Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

16. Chrysler Building

One of the coolest Sky Scrappers IMO goes to the Chrysler Building. This gem of a building stands at 1,046 ft high and you can visit the lobby for free.

It’s open 8 AM – 6 PM Monday – Friday for your viewing pleasure!

Address: 405 Lexington Ave, New York, NY 10174

17. Rockefeller Center

Rockefeller Center is one of my all-time favorite places to visit in NYC during the holidays, but it’s still great all season long. Around the area are tons of food spots, Radio City Music Hall, Saint Petersburg Cathedral, and a stroll down 5th Ave to all the high-end designer stores.

If your budget does allow, I would recommend getting tickets for visiting the Top of the Rock. This is easily the best observation deck of NYC and located at Rockefeller Plaza.

Rockefeller Center in December with holiday decorations! One of the top places to visit in NYC for the Holidays!
One of the top things to do in New York City in December is visit Rockefeller Center

18. NYC Museums

NYC is full of amazing museums and while not all museums are not free every day, they should still be on your list as one of the top things to do during your visit!

  • The MoMA: Free for all visitors every Friday evening, 5:30–9:00 p.m.
  • American Museum of Natural History: Has suggested prices but is pay what you wish only in person at the ticket counter.
  • The Met: If you happen to be a New Jersey, Connecticut or NY State resident, its pay what you wish.
  • 9/11 Museum: The museum is free every Tuesday from 5 PM – 8 PM
  • Morgan Library and Museum: On Fridays from 5 PM-7 PM they hold a happy hour and then its free admission to the galleries from 7 PM – 9 PM
  • FIT Museum: Free for all visitors. I think I took this museum for granted since I went to college at FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology.
  • Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum: Pay as you wish on Saturdays from 4 pm – 6 pm and select Saturdays (free all day). 

First time riding the Subway? Use this guide to learn How to Navigate the NYC Subway

NYC Neighborhoods – Bonus

Another free NYC activity that you will enjoy without even realizing it is just walking through the various NYC neighborhoods! Some of my favorite areas to visit include Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, China Town, and the financial district (Charging Bull).

Additionally, while this guide is full of tons of fun activities you can enjoy for free in NYC, if you do plan on seeing a lot of the top attractions, one of the most affordable ways is through City Pass.

They include the top NYC attractions at a better rate since it’s all bundled together. I’d highly consider looking into it if you want to do things like the Empire State Building, Top of the Rock, and the Ferry to Ellis Island. 

Free Thing to Do in NYC Review

This concludes the best things to do in NYC that are all free! I hope you have the most amazing time in the Big Apple and you are able to cross a ton of NYC staples off your bucket list!

For additional New York Guides including Important things to know before visiting NYC, New York Food You Must Try, and Words New Yorkers Say!

Where to Stay: MOXY NYC Times Square | Hyatt House Chelsea | Hotel Edison Times Square | New York Marriott Marquis | Lotte New York Palace | NYC Airbnb

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Free Things to do in NYC from a Local New Yorker

24 thoughts on “18 Free Things to do in NYC From a Local New Yorker: Best Free NYC Attractions”

  1. Much thanks; Fun reading and viewing. Perhaps when my 80-yr body allows, finances, time, and fate permits I might return to try a smattering more of your suggestions. For now, I’ll wallow in memory of previous infrequent NYC visits and those treasures tried!

  2. #11 spelling error, charGing us locals, add the G. then, While on the ferry…something missing in that sentence. Otherwise great post.

  3. I am a New Yorker transplanted from The Dominican Republic, currently living in Barcelona and, after checking out your free things to do in NYC, I cannot wait for this pandemic to be over so I can do/visit everything on your list!!!!!
    Thanks! Your list was spot on!

  4. Such great ideas here. The Vessel is so cool, I’d love to visit. I’m a big fan of any street art so would really enjoy looking for the murals

  5. So many great places to visit, and them being free is the best part! I have been to many of them, but I am embarrassed to say that despite the number of times I have been to NYC I have yet to visit Central Park. I now have some great new things to add to my list for my next visit!

  6. I love New York more each time I ago and I still havent checked off some of the attractions you mentioned, will def do them next time!

  7. I’m all about free things to do! I lived about an hour from NYC for the past couple years but recently moved back to the SF bay area. I never got to check out The Vessel or the Chelsea Art Galleries! These are gorgeous photos! <3 (I miss the Met so much!)

  8. This is such a great list!! And love all the places especially bc they would be great for IG shots! Thank you for sharing!


  9. What a great and complete article, thanks for sharing it. NYC is still one of my favorite places in US…I get to go every year for work and I never get tired, I always take some days off to just explore this no stop destination.

  10. I didn’t realize there were so many free things to do in NYC! I would loooove to visit the Vessel, it looks like such an amazing piece of architecture that I want to photograph so bad! Also love the little fun fact about the bridge haha!

  11. Great list! We have 3 days in New York this summer, so will totally be checking some of these out. Thanks for sharing!

  12. Amazing post! NYC is one of my favourite cities in North America, and I love that there are so many free things to do! Helps keep the budget in check a little bit. The Vessel looks amazing, and I can’t wait to check it out next time I’m there.

  13. Love this list! I only just visited NYC for the first time 2 years ago, and I can’t get enough. I have a feeling you could live in NYC for a lifetime and still not explore it all!


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