There’s no questioning how energetic, unique and diverse New York City is. But if there’s one negative? It’s definitely the cost.
But even though it’s one of the most expensive cities in the world, there are loads of completely FREE things to do. If you’re paying the rent to live in a city this fantastic, you must take advantage of all there is to do and see.
Explore Museums During Free Hours
New York is full of the most prestigious art and history museums, but sometimes their entrance fees don’t feel quite accessible enough to the everyday New Yorker. Luckily, most have special “free” days when entrance fees are waived completely.
1. The Museum of Modern Art (Every Friday evening, 5:30–9pm): Thanks to clothing store UNIQLO, museum admission to the Museum of Modern Art is free every single Friday night! The ticket they give you also works for their sister museum in Long Island City, MoMA PS1, so save it for the next day.
Address: 11 W 53rd St.
2. Bronx Museum of the Arts (Free everyday!): This uptown museum known for its innovative contemporary art exhibitions houses over 2,000 pieces of artwork in a variety of mediums.
Address: 1040 Grand Concourse, Bronx
3. Brooklyn Museum (Usually the first Saturday of the Month, 5-11 pm, but currently paused through Spring 2022): Head to the outer boroughs to experience this historic museum whose roots trace all the way back to 1823.
Address: 200 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn
4. El Museo del Barrio (Third Saturday of the Month, 11am-8 pm): More casually known as simply “El Museo,” this museum specializes in the art of Latino, Caribbean, and Latin American cultures through comprehensive collections and exhibits.
Address: 1230 Fifth Ave.
5. Neue Gallerie (First Friday, 4-7 pm): For a more specialty European cultural experience, the Neue Gallerie’s main collection features German and Austrian art created between 1890 and 1940. There is also a Viennese-inspired café in-house!
Address: 1048 Fifth Ave.
6. Noguchi Museum (First Friday): You may recognize the name of this museum from that line in the iconic film “The Devil Wears Prada,” but the museum is definitely worth an in-person visit. Depending where you live it could be a little out of the way in Queens, but the museum has many interesting sculptural works and performance art pieces you can experience for free on the first Friday of every month.
Address: 9-01 33rd Rd, Queens
7. Queens County Farm Museum (Everyday, 10am-5pm): Say hello to farm animals, take part in a scavenger hunt to learn about the farm’s plants, animals, and history, or, weather permitting, hop on a hayride.
Address: 73-50 Little Neck Parkway
Tour Street Art Galleries
Besides museums, did you know there’s a ton of one-of-a-kind art to be seen right on the streets of NYC? Here are the best spots for street art in the city:
8. First Street Green Art Park (this is where the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Mural Popped Up): This special park on the Lower East Side celebrates art with murals, music, sculpture, workshops, photography and installations.
Address: 33 E 1st St.
9. The Bowery Wall: The history of this mural wall goes back to 1982, when Keith Haring created his first public work there. It moved back and forth between artistic endeavors and advertising space over the years, but now is reserved for murals by new NYC artists. Currently there is a mural that reflects the graffiti roots and history of NYC.
Address: 76 E Houston St.
10. Wellington Art Mural Project: This display in Astoria hosts over 100 murals by local and international artists alike spanning multiple blocks. See a full map on their website here.
Address: 11-98 Welling Ct., Astoria
11. The Bushwick Art Collective: This Brooklyn outdoor street art gallery is likely the largest in NYC, totaling about 100 blocks of art displays.
Address: 427 Troutman St., Brooklyn
12. Freeman Alley: You might pass this little alley, also on the Lower East Side, without a second glance, but it actually holds some of the most interesting layered displays of local artwork and graffiti. And, there’s even a restaurant hidden at the end of the alley!
Address: Between Bowery and Chrystie St. on the Lower East Side
Jump On a Walking Tour
Tours in NYC are known to be pricey, but there are actually a variety of walking tours given by volunteers that are completely free.
13. Flatiron District: If you’re interested in learning more about NYC’s most iconic triangle-shaped building, the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership sponsors free 90-minute walking tours around the neighborhood on Sundays at 11am. Meet on the southwest corner of Madison Square Park.
14. Grand Central (Suspended until further notice but will hopefully be up and running again soon!): Similarly, the Grand Central Partnership hosts a 90-minute guided walking tour led by an urban historian in and around Grand Central and the surrounding neighborhoods. They meet Fridays at 12:30pm.
15. Free Tours By Foot.com: Though not completely free, these walking tours are unique in the fact that you pay-as-you-wish. There is no upfront cost and after the tour, you decide how much to give the guide based on the quality of the tour/what you think it was worth.
16. Central Park Conservancy: The Central Park Conservancy offers a few free tours. They are: The Southern Welcome Tour, which highlights the noteworthy aspects in the southern part of the park, admiring the Pond, Gapstow Bridge, and the Dairy Visitor Center which used to serve children fresh milk in 1871; the Memorial Tour, which showcases monuments and statues in the park honoring veterans; and the Discovery Walks for Families, which is perfect for children of all ages. Plus they have a few virtual tours to choose from, all which have a suggested donation of $5. See more on their website here.
Try Everything NYC Parks Have to Offer
Speaking of Central Park, taking a walk in one of our green NYC parks is always free! No matter the time of year, they are perfect for a stroll. And even more than that, there are so many free activities in the parks you may not even know about.
17. Play Tennis: Hudson River Park, which runs from Chambers St. all the way to 59th St. on the west side, has free tennis courts that are available on a first come, first served basis, all year-round! You can find them at Pier 40 (at W Houston St. in Greenwich Village).
18. Go Fishing (Summer/Fall): Hudson River Park also offers catch-and-release fishing from July through September at Pier 25 (N. Moore St.), Pier 84 (E 44th St.), and Pier 51 (Jane St.). They provide the rods, reels, bait and instruction for participants to drop in a line. You can also learn about the Hudson River water quality (!) from chatting with environmental educators.
19. Kayak Around the Hudson (Summer/Fall): Being a park along the river provides lots of opportunities for water activities! HRP also offers kayaking during the summer and early fall season at Pier 96 (W 55th St.), Pier 84 (W 44th St.), and Pier 26 (N. Moore St. in Tribeca).
20-26. Watch a Free Movie (Summer/Fall): Hudson River Park also has free outdoor movie screenings in the summer, as with most of the other parks in NYC (Central Park Great Lawn, Washington Square Park, Bryant Park, Brooklyn Bridge Park, Tompkins Square Park, Thomas Jefferson Park, etc). Check each park’s website come summertime for the schedule.
27-32. Yoga (Summer/Fall): Throughout the summer and fall, most parks also have free exercise classes. Battery Park, Washington Square Park, Bryant Park, Astoria Park, Flatiron Plaza and Hudson River Park all offer free yoga classes in the summer season.
33-36. Go for a Run: Of course you can always create your own running path throughout the park, but these ones have dedicated tracks: Riverside Park, Randall’s Island, Astoria Park and Van Cortlandt Park.
37. Check out Winter Jam in Central Park (Winter): The Winter Jam is a festival of winter activities for all ages in Central Park that takes place every year. And the best part? It’s totally FREE. A snowfield is blown by Gore Mountain in the morning, and all day New Yorkers can try their hand at skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing and more.
Catch a Show
38-51. See A Live TV Show Taping: From “The View” to “Saturday Night Live,” you can score tickets to 14 of your favorite TV show tapings for FREE in NYC.
Take a Break from the City…While You’re in it
52-61. Check out 10 Extraordinary Places You Wouldn’t Even Believe Are in NYC: (a few of these are museums that cost a *suggested* admission to enter, but you can still walk around the grounds for free!).
62-72. In the mood for a hike? Here are 11 Stunning Hikes Around NYC You Can Get To With Public Transportation
73-82. If it’s the middle of winter, these 10 spots (most within the city) make the perfect “walking in a winder wonderland”!
83. Indulge your inner child and play a ginormous version of Twister!
84. While we’re speaking of childhood fun, ride on these giant swings at Pier 35 on the Lower East Side.
85. Visit the Highline, a park atop an old railroad line running from the Meatpacking District to W 34th Street.
86. Take a stroll through this hidden indoor garden in Midtown.
87. Pay a visit to your furry friends; the Bronx Zoo offers free admission on Wednesdays.
88. The Arsenal Gallery in Central Park is also always free to enter, Monday-Friday from 9-5 p.m.
89. While you can no longer climb the wacky Vessel at Hudson Yards, access to the ground-level base is open to the public.
90. Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge…and think about all of the hidden fun facts while you’re doing it.
91. Stroll through Chelsea Market, a food hall located in the Chelsea neighborhood.
92. Check out Rehearsal by Claudia Wieser, a constellation of five large-scale geometric sculptures each different in size, shape, and pattern in Brooklyn Bridge Park.
93. Visit the Union Square Greenmarket open year-round to peruse goods from regional farmers, fishermen, and bakers.
94. Ride the Staten Island Ferry (free boat ride with a great view of the Statue of Liberty! Find out the schedule here.
95. Visit the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, which is not necessarily *free* but offers pay-what-you-wish daytime admission.
96. Attend Shakespeare in the Park, the 60-year-old tradition in Central Park.
97. Visit General Ulysses S. Grant’s tomb in Morningside Heights. Who knew we had such a rich piece of history right here in the city? It’s also the largest mausoleum in North America.
98. Another rich piece of history, the Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn was founded in 1838 and is 478 acres!
99. Technically not free, but $1 comes very close! Find out our top picks for NYC’s dollar slices here.
101. Tour the Ample Hills ice cream factory/museum in Brooklyn.
102. Hershey’s World in Times Square routinely hands out free sample chocolates when you enter the store.
featured image source: Instagram / @newyorkcity4all