50 Free Things to Do in NYC From a Local (Best Free NYC Attractions)

We all know NYC can be expensive. I grew up and went to college in NYC, and made it my mission to enjoy all the fun, free things to do in NYC. Over 15 years later, I can still say many of these free NYC attractions are my favorite places to visit! In this New York guide, I am covering 50 totally awesome and free things to do NYC, especially for New York first-timers!

Additionally, at the end of this post, I will share MY top 10 as a Local, what I believe the top 10 is for first-timers, and budget tips for visiting!

Below you will find:

  • Popular free attractions
  • Museums
  • Hidden Gems
  • Seasonal free attractions
  • Parades
  • Performances and Live Shows
  • Budget tips
Free Things to do in NYC - Brooklyn Bridge Park
Walking along Brooklyn Bridge Park is one of the best free things to do in NYC
Free Things to do in NYC from a Local New Yorker

This map has all the points of interest and is color-coordinated. You can save this map to your maps by hitting the star. Click the “view map larger” to see it in more detail.

The Top 50 Free and Totally Awesome Things to Do in NYC from Attractions to Events!

1. The Vessel & Hudson Yards

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

Standing at 150 ft high, this is one of the most unique structures to find in New York City. While you can no longer climb to the top of the Vessel, you can still enjoy visiting this attraction for free at the ground-level base with no reservation.

The Vessel is also a really fun place to take pictures as well! For free ground access, head there between Monday through Saturday from 10 AM- 8 PM and Sunday from 11 AM – 7 PM.

The Hudson Yards is known as an upscale shopping mall where you can get food, visit the famous Edge Sky Deck, and have a connection to the High Line. The Hudson Yards often offer free movies and broadcast sporting events, and one of my favorite times to visit is during the holidays for the lights!

The Hudson Yards in NYC
The Hudson Yards in NYC
Vessel NYC free things to do
The Vessel is one of the top free things to do in NYC and is super Instagrammable
Inside hudson yards christmas decorations. Giant hot air balloon decoration

2. The High Line in Chelsea

From Hudson Yards, make your way to the Chelsea High Line. 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)! The Highline is 1.45 miles long and ends at Gansevoort St.

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 High Line you can take advantage of.

NY 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! Even if you don’t decide to eat at Chelsea Market, it is still cool to explore – especially during the holidays!

The High Line in the Summer NYC
Credit: sergey.miami2you/depositphotos
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 New York City had to offer me when I was a broke fashion college student!

Enjoy free wine, bites, and fantastic art around/after 6:30 PM! You can find the Chelsea Galleries between 10th and 11th Ave from 19th to 26th Street. You’re welcome for this very local NY’er gem of a spot!

First time in NYC? Check out these Travel Tips to Know Before Visiting NYC

4. Central Park – A Top Free NYC Thing To Do

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 blossoms, epic summer picnics, fall foilage, or being 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), Strawberry Fields, Gapstow Bridge, The Central Park Conservancy (a great place to see tulips in NYC and Cherry Blossoms in NYC), and Belvedere Castle.

Plus, one of my favorite things about Central Park is people come to sing and play music on nice days. It makes you feel like you’re actually in a movie.

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.

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Bow Bridge in Central Park, NYC during the Fall
Central Parks Bow Bridge
Central Park in NYC is a great free things to do
Strolling around Central Park is one of the best free things to do in NYC

5. Shakespeare in the Park

Visiting New York City in the summer? Then you might want to catch the totally free public theater event, Shakespeare in the Park! It will be their 61st anniversary this year in 2023! Also located in Central Park at The Delacorte Theater. 

Additionally, they have other shows going on around the city. Check their schedule here!

6. Grand Central Terminal

Grand Central Terminal is probably one of the prettiest subway stations in NYC. Who knew a train station could be a 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. While inside, you will find restaurants, a farmers market, the whispering walls, and shopping.  After hanging out at Grand Central, you can take the S line right into Times Square, win, win!

Fun Fact: Did you know Grand Central has around 750,000 visitors a day? It is Second to Times Square in most visits! If you love learning about history, this NYC landmark has a lot of it!

If you decide to do a paid attraction, the Summit One Vanderbilt is also here. The observation deck offers some of the best views of NYC, and the closest view of the Empire State Building. I think it might be my all-time favorite observation deck.

Related: Best Things to Do on a Rainy Day in NYC

Grand Central Terminal NYC

7. 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, which of course, is also free.

With huge billboards, the M&M store (yum), the naked cowboy, and street performers, it’s definitely an interesting place to experience, to say the least! It is also one of the best free things to do at night in NYC!

While most local New Yorkers avoid Times Square, it’s nice to feel the hustle and bustle of the city that never sleeps – especially if this is your first time in NYC. Just don’t eat in Times Square. The food is usually over-priced, and the quality is not as good.

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

Times Square in NYC

8. Washington Square Park

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

The park is almost 10 acres and has a ton of history. Going as far back as being marshland for Native Americans and a burial ground for those who fell from Yellow Fever, the green space has become one of the most coveted places to visit in New York. 

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 activities you can check for!

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

9. The Oculus

The Oculus is part of the new World Trade Center Transportation hub, which acts as 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, along with a Christmas Market during the holidays. It is also part of a larger shopping hub with tons of stores.

Just outside, you will also find unique street art shipping containers that have a beer garden inside, but you can just enjoy pictures from the outside.

Currently, they have a 12-month installation just outside the Oculus called A Wild Life for Wildlife, where you can see unique animal sculptures.

New York 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 Mondays from 5:30 PM – 7 PM – reserve tickets online.

the Oculus is one of the best free things to do in NYC
Colorful pop art outside the Oculus
A Wild Life for Wildlife art installation outside the Oculus

10. The Brooklyn Bridge – My Favorite

Make your way to the famous Brooklyn Bridge and cross over to DUMBO (Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass), Brooklyn. The bridge is 1.1 miles long and was once the longest 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! When crossing the Brooklyn Bridge, you will also be treated to fantastic views of Manhattan! I believe you get the best views closer to the Brooklyn side, looking towards Manhattan.

Fun NYC Travel fact: After a 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

11. Brooklyn Bridge Park

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

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! You can find showings here.

NYC Free Bonus Photo Spot: While in DUMBO, Brooklyn, you might want to check out the iconic photography spot with the Manhattan Bridge nearby. You have likely seen this photo all over Instagram, and it is located on Waters Street and Washington Street. Check my NYC Instagram guide for more photo spots!

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

12. The Brooklyn Promanade

Another epic and free view of New York City is from the Brooklyn Heights Promenade (Esplanade). Stretching 1,826 ft long, this pedestrian walkway is a favorite among locals! Even my mom always talks about her days hanging there! From the Dumbo, Brooklyn side facing Manhattan, it is to the left by Pier 4 beach. It is open until 1 AM if you want to see the city all lit up!

Related: This is a very DETAILED breakdown of the Best Neighborhoods and Hotels in NYC.

The Brooklyn Heights Promenade views of the skyline and brookyln bridge

13. Hang out at Domino Park

Domino Park in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, is a great way to have a nice day with great views of Manhattan across the East River. The park offers 5 acres and was designed by James Corner Field Operations, who also designed The High Line! 

Enjoy an elevated walk, lawn areas, dog run, volleyball, a playground, and more! It is a great non-touristy and free thing to do in NYC! During the summer, you can also head over to Smorgasburg in Williamsburg! Located by Charlotte Beach, you will find dozens of amazing food vendors! If you’re a foodie, I would highly recommend it.

New York Travel Skyline

14. Brooklyn Brewery

Since we are talking about Williamsburg, it would be doing you a disservice not to check out the free tours at the Brooklyn Brewery! Brooklyn Brewery and even tour their distillery! On Sundays from 1 PM – 6 PM, you can tour the microbrewery for free, although I can’t promise you won’t grab yourself a Brooklyn Lager by the time you leave!

15. Staten Island Ferry (Best Free NYC Boat Ride)

Did you say free transportation in NYC?! I know, shocking right?!

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! I’ve taken the Staten Island ferry more times than I can count, and honestly, it is a really lovely ride.

While on the ferry, you can stand in the front and back of the boat while in motion to get a really nice view of the Statue of Liberty and that stunning NYC Skyline. 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.

16. 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. This 22-story building, originally known as the Fuller Building, opened in 1902. 

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! 

Update: The Flatiron currently has scaffolding up. It is still a great area to check out. 

Flatiron Building Photography
Flatiron Building

17. 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. They offer “complementary tastings” if you are interested in learning about getting a machine. 

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 Martinez is located at 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
  • Tristan Eaton – “Audrey Hepburn” located on 176 Mulberry St, New York, NY 10013

If you don’t mind leaving Manhattan, you can also check out the large collection of Bushwick Collective Murals. Additionally, you can find some of the best Pizza in NYC located around SoHo as well!

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

18. Bryant Park – One of the Best Parks for Free Activities

If you love parks in urban spaces, make sure to add Bryant Park to your list! This green square is 9.6 acres and regularly holds free events during the Summer, including free movie screenings, performances, exercise classes, and more!

Oh, and during the holidays, Bryant Park hosts the Bank of America Winter Village! This Winter Village is my all-time favorite and offers free Ice skating in NYC (bring your own skates), a pop-up Christmas Market, tons of food vendors, and even Cozy Winter Igloos!

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

19. NYC Public Library (NYPL)

If you love books and awesome architecture, the NYC Public Library should definitely be on your list.

While there, you can check out The Polonsky Exhibition of The New York Public Library’s Treasures as the library’s first permanent collection, which is also free to enjoy at the e Stephen A. Schwarzman Building.

Did you know the NYC Public Library is the second-largest library in the United States, with 55 million books? The building was also declared a National Historic Landmark in 1965 and considered a New York Landmark in 1967! 

Hours: Monday – Saturday: 10 AM – 6 PM; Tuesdays & Wednesdays is open until 8 PM

NYC Public Library is free to visit and a must-see

20. Chrysler Building

One of the coolest Sky Scrappers, in my opinion, goes to the Chrysler Building. This gem of a building stands 1,046 ft high from the antenna spire and is the world’s tallest brick building with steelwork! The building was completed in a little less than 2 years, opening up in 1930.

The Chrysler Building is the 11th tallest skyscraper in NYC, and it can be found on lists of favorite architecture due to its unique Art Deco style. So why should you care? Because besides seeing it in the famous NYC skyline, you can also visit the lobby for free. It’s open 8 AM – 6 PM Monday – Friday for your viewing pleasure!

Insider NYC Tip: Although it won’t be free, the Chrysler Building is working on getting an observation deck!

Chrysler Building up Close

21. Rockefeller Center

Rockefeller Center is one of my all-time favorite places to visit in NYC during the holidays. This is where you will find the famous Rockefeller Christmas Tree, decorations, and the Saks 5th Ave light show, which usually goes up at the very end of November. If you are not visiting during the holidays, don’t worry because Rockefeller Center is still great all season long.

You will find over 40 food spots, Radio City Music Hall, Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, and a stroll down Fifth Avenue to all the high-end designer stores. If you love Art Deco (the 1930s) architecture and art, this is also the place for you. 

If your budget allows it, I would recommend getting tickets for visiting the Top of the Rock. This is easily one of the best observation decks in NYC and is located at Rockefeller Plaza.

Throughout the year, Rockefeller Center does have a ton of fun free activities happening. Currently, they have Space 776 Gallary at Rockefeller Center, which is free to visit! Check it out before November 5th!

This is also where you will catch some of the free live tappings in NYC. More on that is below.

NYC Fun Fact: Did you know the first Rockefeller Christmas Tree was put up in 1931? It was 20 ft tall. 

FREE NYC Bonus: Want a free audio tour around Rockefeller Center? Rockefeller Center teamed up with local Gesso to create an immersive free audio walking tour through the Gesso App. Learn more here!

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

22. NYC Museums FREE Days (A Top FREE NYC Activity)

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 to New York!

  • The MoMA (Museum of Modern Art): Free for New York Residents on the first Friday of the month from 4 PM – 8 PM.
  • American Museum of Natural History: Has suggested prices but is pay what you wish only in person at the ticket counter. (NY, NJ, and CT Residents)
  • The Met (Metropolitan Museum of Art) If you happen to be a New Jersey, Connecticut, or NY State resident, it’s pay as you wish.
  • Date Night at the MET: A really cool event the Met has is free Date Night every Friday and Saturday night. Bring someone or even yourself from 5 PM – 9 PM for live music, drinks, and 5,000 years of art. Learn more!
  • New Museum of Contemporary Art: Another great free NYC museum offers “pay what you wish” from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. every Thursday. Timed tickets are required.
  • 9/11 Museum: The museum is free every Monday from 5:30 PM – 7 PM – Online reservation needed.
  • Morgan Library and Museum: On Fridays, they offer free admission from 5 PM until 7 PM – reservation required. 
  • The Fashion Institute of Technology Museum (FIT Museum): Free for all visitors. I think I took this museum for granted since I went to college here at FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology).
  • Whitney Museum of American Art: On Fridays, it is “pay as you wish” from 7 PM – 10 PM!
  • Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum: Pay as you wish on Saturdays from 4 PM – 6 PM and select Saturdays (free all day). 
  • Brooklyn Botanic Garden: Pay as you wish in the winter on weekdays – Call ahead. After you can enjoy Prospect Park.
  • New York Botanical Garden: The grounds admission is free to all Wednesdays from 10 AM to 11 AM. NYC residents, it is free all day on Wednesdays.
  • International Museum of Photography Museum: On Thursdays, it is “Pay as you wish” from 6 PM – 9 PM. Timed tickets are required.
  • Brooklyn Museum: Starting this spring, they will begin first Saturdays again where the museum will not close until 11 PM, and it is free. 
  • The Jewish Museum: Free on Shabat – Saturdays.
  • National Museum of the American Indian: As a part of the Smithsonian Museums, this one is always free! They also have one in Washington DC.
  • The 81st Street Studio: Free and great for kids.

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

Visiting the MET Museum is one of the top free things to do in NYC
Outside of the MET Museum

23. Little Island NYC

All the hype has been around the new New York City Public Park, Little Island! This is a really unique and free public park because it is actually built on 132 pillars, making it an artificial island. The park is 2.4 acres and is located at Pier 55 on the Hudson. 

Furthermore, this summer, Little Island has a ton of free programming to enjoy. You can find a list of free events happening at Little Island here.

Little Island at Sunset in NYC
photo: JoseAbalos/depositphotos

24. Gantry Plaza State Park

Not to be mistaken for Long Island, NY, I feel like Long Island City, which is in Queens, is often forgotten. Quite frankly, it is a shame because Long Island City (LIC) offers great restaurants, museums,  and one of my favorite parks, The Gantry Plaza State Park.

This epic and free NYC park offers 12 acres of riverside views, green spaces, recreational spaces, and an incredible backdrop of Midtown Manhattan!  Make sure to see the giant Long Island sign and the Pepsi-Cola sign while you are there!

25. Visit Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens (Off the Beaten Path)

Another excellent and free park to visit in NYC is the Flushing Medows Park! You might remember this park from the Movie Men and Black with the two observation towers! Located in Flushing, Queens, it is also the 4th largest park in NYC! 

The park is also widely known as the home of the 1939 and 1964 World Fairs! Additionally, if you visit during the spring, you will have the opportunity to see some really beautiful cherry blossoms!

NYC Corona Flushing Park. Walking through Cherry Blossoms in NYC

26. Explore the Coney Island Boardwalk

This can’t be a full list without adding the famed Coney Island Boardwalk. It is especially nice to visit during the spring/summer when the weather is nice. You can enjoy getting some sun at the beach, and people watch some really interesting characters! If this is your first time in New York and you are pressed for time, I would leave this one out.

However, if you do make it out this way and you are feeling a bit hungry, check out Nathan’s Hotdogs and get fries with cheese, and all your candy delights at Williams Candy Shop.

If you want to relive my teenage years, hit up Rollin Roasters for a roast beef sandwich with cheese and fries.

Related: Best Things to Do in NYC in the Summer

Coney Island Boardwalk

27. Free Fridays at the Intrepid Museum

Looking for something free to do on a Friday night in NYC? Well, if astronomy or movies are of any interest to you, then head over to the Intrepid Museum!

The Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum displays exhibitions and interpretations of science, history, and service, although you will likely have to pay to do this. But the astronomy meetups and movies are totally free programs through the museum! 

Get more information on Free Friday nights at the Intrepid Museum here.

28. 9/11 Memorial Pools

The 9/11 Museum can be tough to visit for free, but that doesn’t mean you can’t visit the two stunning 9/11 Memorial Pools that were designed to honor those who lost their lives during the attack at the Twin Towers. The memorial pools are about 1 acre in size and contain the largest man-made waterfall in North America.

Additionally, there are 400 swamp white oak trees that fill the Memorial plaza around the pools. 

Hours: The 9/11 Memorial is open daily from 10 AM – 5 PM.

9/11 memorial in NYC

29. Roosevelt Island

Since I am always listening to my readers in the comments, I had to add Roosevelt Island to my list of free things to do in NYC. While taking the tram to Roosevelt Island technically isn’t “free,” the cost is literally the same as your MetroCard, $2.90. 

Not only do you get to see some of the best NYC views from the Roosevelt Island Tram, but those views continue once you cross over the East River. This New York island actually has quite a bit of history. This is where they used to keep smallpox patients, had asylums, and prisoners.

Now, the island is frequented by those looking to relax on the benches along the river and take in the views. The Roosevelt Tramway runs every 7-15 minutes. 

Roosvelt Island Cherry Blossoms in NYC

30. Pier 57 Rooftop Park

The Rooftop Park at Pier 57 is an awesome and free park that has been built right next to Little Island and has pretty epic views of the skyline. The space in total is 80,000 square feet, 2 acres of which is a public park from the Google Campus.

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31. Saint Patricks Cathedral

We kind of brushed by the St. Patrick’s Cathedral while talking about Rockefeller Center, but I feel like it deserved its own line. This stunning Cathedral is known as one of the largest Gothic Revival Catholic cathedrals in North America! Enjoy a free peek inside the church or even attend a mass.

St. Patricks Cathedral during Christmas time in NYC

32. Attend a Live Taping

One of the most popular free things to do in NYC for first-timers is to attend a live taping. Tons of big shows, including Good Morning America, Saturday Night Live, the Daily Show, and more, offer free tickets. Some shows are harder than others, so it does take a little bit of planning. 

Most of the shows require you to go to 1iota to get tickets. SNL is based on a lottery that will reopen for 2024/2025 in August. Additionally, you can get more details on getting tickets, check NBC here.

33. Visit the Green-Wood Cemetery (Off the Beaten Path)

A more unique thing to do in NYC is to visit the Green-Wood Cemetery. This iconic National Historic Landmark opened in 1838 and is known for its 19th-century architecture, famous residents, and skyline views. 

I never thought I would enjoy spending time in a graveyard, but there is something really peaceful about being here. You also have the green parrot residents who have nested at the entrance gate. Plus, no matter the season, it’s worth coming since it’s like one big giant park.

The Cemetery covers 478-acres of winding roads, green spaces, and ponds. Additionally, they often hold additional events and tours (I’ve done the Nightfall Danse Macabre). This more off-the-beaten-path free attraction is considered a gem of New York City! It’s also not too far away from Prospect Park – which is also free to visit.

Green-Wood-Cemetery in Brooklyn is one of the best free things to do in NYC

34. Stroll Through The Battery Park

Battery Park is located in Lower Manhattan, right by the Staten Island Ferry. This 25-acre public park is a great place to wander around, explore, hang out on a park bench, or even have a picnic. You may even recognize the park from the SeaGlass Carousel. 

During the summer, you can enjoy the free 195 square-foot garden of perennials or even cool off by the Bosque Fountain’s 35 jets to run and jump through.

Moreover, similar to Bryant Park and Washington Square Park, Battery Park also holds free events, including Yoga in the Park. Learn about the free events at Battery Park here.

Battery Park gardens Free activity in NYC

35. Explore Socrates Sculpture Park in Long Island City (Off the Beaten Path)

If you want to visit a New York park that is less touristy, then head down to the Socrates Sculpture Park. This New York park’s admission to the grounds, exhibitions, and programs are all FREE. Enjoy cool and ever-changing art projects throughout the park, gardens, and events. The park also offers lovely views of the Manhattan skyline!

36. African Burial Ground National Monument

Did you know the oldest and largest known North American excavated burial ground for African Americans can be found in NYC for both free and enslaved Africans? It was originally founded when preliminary archeologists were checking the area before the construction of a building. 30 ft below, they found over 15,000 skeletons dating back to the 1630s to 1795.

The African Burial Ground became a National Historic Landmark in 1993 and shares the historic role slavery played in New York. You can visit both the indoor visitor center and outdoor memorial for free while in NYC. 

Update: Ancestral Chamber temporarily closed

37. Check out a Free Lincoln Center Performance

If you have a thing for the arts and just happen to be in New York on a Thursday, you are in luck. Lincoln Center offers weekly free performances in the David Rubenstein Atrium.

Enjoy live music, theater, and workshops. Won’t be in NYC on Thursday? You may still have an opportunity to see a free show since they sometimes have additional free shows throughout the week, along with “pay as you wish,” which is great if you’re on a budget!

Seating and entry are on a first-come, first-served basis, so make sure to get there a little early. Find free Lincoln Center performances here.

The line will generally form at the Atrium’s entrance on Broadway, between 62nd and 63rd Street.

skyline view of New York City

38. Queens County Farm Museum

The Queens County Farm has been in operation for 325 years and is included in the National Register of Historic Places. The farm stretches for 47 acres and offers a lot of educational programs throughout the year, along with additional fun seasonal events (especially during the fall), so it’s great for kids.

The farm usually does a lot of fun activities during the different seasons. A crowd favorite is visiting the Queens County Farm in the fall. They often have hayrides, photo props, and a corn maze. Additionally, the Queens County Farm Museum is a New York City Landmark. 

39. Head to Governors Island

This car-free island is another free place to enjoy your time in New York City! You can take the ferry on Saturdays and Sundays for free before 12 PM, and after that, it is $4 USD, so even if you don’t catch the ferry during the free rides, it is still very cheap!

Governors Island offers tons of green spaces and free activities throughout the year. You can enjoy nature trails, see stunning views of New York City from the island, and even enjoy their lavender farm during the summer!

Governors Island is one of the best things to do in NYC in the summer

40. Visit the Hamilton Grange National Memorial

If you want to do something that is more off the beaten path in NYC, consider visiting the Alexander Hamilton National Memorial estate. The home was completed in 1802 and sits on 3 acres inside of St. Nicholas Park.

Indoor access is open Friday – Sunday and requires a guide, which is free. The 25-minute tour will show you the historically furnished floor of The Grange by a park ranger since the estate is run by the National Park Service. You do have to get a ticketed timeslot, however, and those are first come, first served. You can find more information on getting tickets here.

The outdoor grounds have access throughout the year.

41. See the XO World Project Sculpture

Consider checking out the XO World Project Sculpture located at the World Trade Center Campus. Designed by Daniel Anderson, the sculpture is a part of the “Share Love” movement to activate positivity, hope, and inclusiveness among people.

The sculpture is made from 20,000 lbs of stainless steel and stands 12 ft. high by 24 ft. wide!

How to get here: It is right outside of the entrance to go up to the One World Trade Observatory.

XO World Project Sculpture in NYC
Photo Credit: XO World Project

42. See NYC’s Bean

You may be familiar with the famous Chicago Bean landmark, but did you know NYC just got its very own version of the Bean that is completely free to visit? Although not as spectacular as the Chicago bean, in my opinion, this 40-ton shining ball is located in Tribeca in front of the “Jenga Building.”

If you find yourself around the Tribeca neighborhood, give this new piece of art a look! 

Seasonal Free Things to Do in NYC

If you didn’t have enough things to do, here are some additional seasonal things to do in New York City for free! 

43. Go Kayaking

Did you know you could go kayaking down the Hudson River for free with Manhattan Community Boathouse at Pier 96. They are a non-profit, run entirely by volunteers and funded through donations from the public.

Kayaking starts in Spring and closes around October 10th. The kayaking is first-come-first-served, so it is recommended to get to the dock early. If there is a long wait, your time on the water is usually around 15 minutes, but this is still a fun, free, and unique way to enjoy NYC! All skill levels are welcome as long as you know how to swim! Additionally, they offer lockers!

For more information, check the Manhattan Community Boathouse website.

Address: Pier 96 Boathouse – 56th Street in Hudson River Park

44. SummerStage Concert Series

If you’re visiting NYC during the summer, one of the best free things you can enjoy is the SummerStage Concert series. This event hosts around 80 free music concerts to enjoy from June through October and is spread out through all 5 boroughs!

This year is the 38th season and will happen across 13 different parks. You can enjoy music across many different genres, including Salsa, Hip-Hop, Country, Indie-Rock, and more! This year, the event is hosted by Capital One, and you can find more information and the lineup for SummerStage here!

NYC Central Park NYC travel tips
Central Park

45. Free Summer Events in Times Square

If free music concerts throughout New York City’s parks were not enough, you can also enjoy music concerts right in the heart of NYC at Times Square for FREE with TSQ LIVE!

They have invited DJs, artists, and Performers to host 80 free events for the summer. You can find a whole list of events and scheduled timing here, and these free and awesome New York City events will be running until the end of September!

46. Fall Happenings in NYC

One of my favorite times to be in NYC is during the fall, so I want to highlight some free fall activities as well. The most popular reason people love going to the city is for the fall foliage around the NYC Parks, including Central Park, Washington Square Park, and Brooklyn Bridge Park.

If you find yourself visiting around October, you may even be able to attend the Central Park Foatilla. This free event sends dozens of pumpkins to float across the Harlem Meer!

There is also a very popular pumpkin arch that graces the Seaport at Pier 17 each year. You will see awesome views of the city and get to take pictures in the arch for free.

Lastly, you can visit the FAD Market, which has pop-ups all around the city. This is a place where Fashion, Art, and Design meet!

Seaport Pumpkin Arch in NYC

47. Free New York Christmas Decorations

During the Holidays, there are a lot of Free Christmas decorations to see all around NYC. Some of the best places to see Christmas decorations in New York include the holiday windows in Manhattan, Dyker Heights, the South Street Seaport, and more! You can see a list of the Best NYC Christmas decorations here!

Cartier NYC Christmas decorations. Woman in red dress in front of building in street

48. NYC Free Parades

Additionally, there are seasonal festivals and Parades in NYC that are free to attend. Some of these free NYC events and Parades include: 

  • The Saint Patrick’s Day Parade (March)
  • Halloween Parade (October)
  • Thanksgiving Parade (November)
  • Santacon (December) Like Christmas Santa 
  • West Indian Day Parade (Caribbean Carnival) Labor Day (September)
  • Feast of San Gennaro (September) Italian Festival
  • New Years’ Eve Ball Drop – personally wouldn’t recommend it – but hey, clearly some people like it lol.
  • Chinatown Lunar New Year Parade & Festival (February)
  • New York Tartan Day Parade (April)
  • National Puerto Rican Day Parade (June)
  • Columbus Day Parade (October)
  • Bay Ridge 3rd Ave. Festival (October) This is in Brooklyn.
  • The Mermaid Parade — Coney Island (June)
  • The Puerto Rican Parade
Overlook at Central Park in NYC

49. NYC Neighborhoods – Bonus Free Activities

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, Chinatown, and the financial district, Wall Street (Charging Bull).

Additionally, while this New York City travel 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 one of the NYC passes.

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, The Edge at the Hudson Yards, and the Ferry to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. You can learn more about those passes in my New York Travel Guide.

All the passes work great, so when deciding which pass is best for you, just choose the pass that offers the most attractions you would like to see and do!

Best Places to Stay in NYC Empire State Building Skyline

50. Free NYC Walking Tour (Bonus)

If this list of free things NYC offers can’t get any longer, here is another bonus! I am adding free walking tours at the end because they are really “pay as you wish,” which includes giving your guide a tip based on your experience.

This is a great way to learn more about Manhattan and a more budget-friendly option to do it! You can easily Google “free NYC walking tours,” and dozens will pop up. Just look for a neighborhood/topic that interests you! Popular areas for free walking tours include the Upper East Side, Flatiron District, Harlem, Soho, Chinatown, and Lower Manhattan. You can also do the free Brooklyn Literary Audio Walking Tour.

Views of New York City with Empire State Building free walking tours

My 10 Favorite Free Things to Do in NYC as a Local

Before getting into the full list, here are the top 10 things I love to do as a local New Yorker.

  1. Central Park
  2. The Brooklyn Bridge
  3. The High Line
  4. Washington Square Park
  5. Soho & Murals
  6. Bryant Park & Rockefeller Center during the Holidays
  7. The Chelsea Art Galleries
  8. Grand Central Terminal
  9. Oculus and 9/11 Memorial Pools
  10. The MET and The Morgan Library

Top 10 Free Things to Do For First-Timers

If this is your first time visiting New York, I would recommend these top 10 things to do. My visiting friends and family always want to do these.

  1. Times Square
  2. Central Park
  3. The Staten Island Ferry
  4. The Brooklyn Bridge
  5. A Live Taping
  6. 9/11 Memorial Pools and 9/11 Museum on the Free Day
  7. Rockefeller Center & Bryant Park during the Holidays
  8. Grand Central
  9. Little Island NYC
  10. The Hudson Yards and Vessel
NYC Buildings looking up

NYC Budget Tips

As I am sure you have already established, NYC can be an expensive place, especially when it comes to food. So, if you’re looking for some budget options in the food department, food carts, pizza, and delis will be your best friend! Thankfully, you can find them all over the city.

The food carts are famous for warm pretzels, hot dogs, Halal, and roasted nuts. These are a NYC staple. You will also find pizzerias with a slice (pizza is sold by the slice) specials. Additionally, getting bagels and sandwiches is something easy to grab and go so you can see all that New York has to offer!

Hot dog stands in NYC

Best Free Things to Do in NYC Wrap-up

This concludes what I deem the best things to do in NYC that are all free! As you can see, NYC has tons of fun and free activities to do that can help anyone experience New York on a budget. 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 on a budget!

Did I miss any of your favorite free things to do in New York City? Or do you have any NYC questions? Let me know in the comments below!

Love this Free Things to Do in NYC Guide? I’d appreciate it if you could share it below!

Photo of author

Samantha Oppenheimer

Samantha Oppenheimer (Sam Opp) quit her corporate marketing job in 2018 to travel the world and become a travel writer, blogger and content creator. She loves experiencing authentic travel experiences, photography, and nature. Sam shares helpful travel itineraries, travel tips, budget tips, and travel advice from her personal experiences. You can also find Sam's words featured in large publications including Mirror, Thrillist, and Well + Good.

47 thoughts on “50 Free Things to Do in NYC From a Local (Best Free NYC Attractions)”

  1. This list is pretty good, but you TOTALLY missed out on all the amazing free stuff in the Bronx!!! There’s museums, parks, tours… lot’s to see and do! Hopefully you can add them to your list soon.

    • Hi – I appreciate your comment! I am not up in the Bronx too often, so what are some of your favorite things you think I should check out? Thanks!

  2. Thank you so much for all of your wonderful tips & information! We recently visited NYC for the first time last month and right away decided to come back for the Holidays this year to bring our girls.. this was the perfect read I’ve been looking for! I’ve read many on here so far! Thanks a million!

    • Great post ! I’d also add DUMBO, Washington street, where you could see Empire State Building aligned right under Manhattan bridge arch . Iconic !

    • You’re right! Plus many of these places will have you swiping your metrocard anyways! I’ve added Roosevelt Island – Thank you for your input!

      • Do you have any info about how to use the bus system and subway? I know more about the subway since we did use it a few times during our first visit, but we could not master the bus system!

        • Hi! I do have an article about using the subway, but not the bus. However, Google maps is so easy if you put it to taking transit. It will tell you exactly which metro line you need to get on.

          I haven’t taken the bus much unless I was coming from Staten Island or Brooklyn. This is because generally speaking the bus is much slower than taking the subway.

          You should be able to use the tap and go with your credit card or apple pay/android pay.

          Hope this helps!

  3. Thank you so much for this. Visiting NYC (from Scotland) in June. We haven’t been for 25 years – so there have been some changes. This has been so helpful ?

  4. Going to the city with the whole family, I Used to live in NYC and reading through this just put me back on track on the places I need to take my family! Thanks great resume of the city

  5. 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!

  6. #11 spelling error, charGing us locals, add the G. then, While on the ferry…something missing in that sentence. Otherwise great post.

  7. 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!

  8. 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

  9. 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!

  10. 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!

  11. 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!)

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


  13. 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.

  14. 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!

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

  16. 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.

  17. 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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