10+ Free Things to do in NYC from a Local

NYC has a pretty bad rep for being one of the most expensive cities in the world. And while the claims aren’t exactly false, you’ll be surprised to know that there are actually so many free things to do in NYC.

I’ve put together a list of the 10+ best free things to do in NYC, but I promise you that there are actually way more than that! In fact, you may even find that it is quite easy to take a trip to NYC while on a budget.

So while you’re puruising this list, you may want to make a minute to bookmark my local’s guide to 4 days in NYC. You’ll actually find a ton of my favorite free activities on this NYC itinerary.

But for now, let’s dive into my list of my favorite free things to do in NYC – most of which are open daily, all year round!

Hanging out on an NYC rooftop
Hanging out on a NYC rooftop

15 Best Free Things to do in NYC

Activities in Bryant Park (ice skating, shows, movies, winter market)

Bryant Park, located smack in the middle of midtown Manhattan, offers a whole host of free NYC activities. What you’re going to find depends on what time of year you’re visiting. Visiting during the warmer months? You can expect to find free movie nights, concerts, and shows. You can enjoy join free yoga classes outside! In the cooler months, however, you’ll find a bustling winter market and options to ice skate right in the heart of NYC. Whenever you choose to visit Bryant Park, you’re sure to find something that interests you!

Address: between 40th and 42nd Streets and Fifth and Sixth Avenues, open daily from 7am-11pm.

Enjoying all of the free winter events at Bryant Park
Enjoying all of the free winter events at Bryant Park

NYC Museum – Free Days

New York has hundreds of museums, and some of the best in the world at that. Luckily many NYC museums offer free entry, such as the outdoor Socrates Sculpture Garden in Astoria and the American Folk Art Museum.

Other museums operate on a pay-what-you-wish system for easier access to the arts. Some examples of pay-what-you-wish museums include the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum and the Cloisters.

There are also specific free entry days for paid museums, such as the Neue Gallerie and the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. Just make sure to look up these dates/times ahead of time, and plan to arrive early to beat the crowds.

Check out NYC murals in Bushwick and Soho

NYC has tons of incredible art to check out at it’s many museums, but also right on the streets. You can find some of my favorite street art murals in Soho and Bushwicks. In fact, in Bushwick you’ll find the Bushwick Collective which offers

Don't miss the Bushwick Collective for a compilation of free street art.
Don’t miss the Bushwick Collective for a compilation of free street art.

Have a picnic in Central Park

Having a picnic in Central Park is easily one of the best free things to do in NYC. It may seem a bit cliche, but it truly embodies what it feels like to be in New York on a beautiful spring or summer day. There are tons of different areas to picnic in, but I personally like to head to Sheep’s Meadow.

If you’re staying in Brooklyn, then Prospect Park or Fort Greene Park are also amazing parks to picnic in. You’re also much less likely to find tourists in these parks, if you’re looking for a more local vibe.

Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge

No trip to New York City is complete without a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge – but do yourself a favor and do it early! This is one of the best free things to do in NYC! The bridge gets extremely busy during the day, both with tourists and New York locals. Arrive shortly after sunrise (or during for great views), and you’ll find a relatively empty bridge. Both of these shots were taken shortly after sunrise. Although the views are slightly better walking towards Manhattan, I recommend starting on the Manhattan side and making your way across to Brooklyn. You can always turn around for Downtown Manhattan views.

For the easiest access take the 4/5/6 subway to Brooklyn Bridge – City Hall station in Manhattan. If you’re starting on the Brooklyn side then you can take the F to York street station. Make sure to watch out for bikers and commuters while on the path!

The Brooklyn Bridge is one of the busiest free things to do in NYC
The Brooklyn Bridge is one of the busiest free things to do in NYC – I recommend walking it at sunrise to avoid the crowds.

New York Public Library

Not only is visiting the New York Public Library completely free, but it is also one of the most beautiful places to visit in NYC. While there are quite a few branches of the NYPL, you’ll want to make sure that you’re visiting the midtown location. Best room in my opinion? The Rose Main Reading Room. The perfect oasis from midtown’s hustle and bustle.

Address: 476 5th Ave, New York, NY 10018

Take the Staten Island Ferry

Seeing the Statue of Liberty up close? For free? If you’re looking to check out lady Liberty herself, but looking to fork up the money for a proper tour, then this is the best option for you! Hop on the ferry and cruise from Downtown Manhattan to Staten Island, with up close views of the statue.

Address: Staten Island Ferry Terminal, New York, NY 10004

Visit The Vessel

The Vessel is one of the newer free things to do in NYC, although I guess it is no longer even that new! Unfortunately you can no longer climb the structure for free, but it is still a really cool spot to visit. Plus, it is conveniently located by the next item on this compilation of free adventures – the Highline.

While visiting the Vessel, you’ll often find tons of free events surround Hudson Yards. You will also find one of the largest shopping centers in NYC. Completely free to enter and explore, as long as you can refrain from actually shopping.

Posing outside of the Vessel in Hudson Yards
Posing outside of the Vessel in Hudson Yards

Walk along the Highline – an elevated park in Chelsea

Albeit touristy, the Highline is definitely one of the best free things to do in NYC. The Highline is an elevated park in Chelsea that was built on old train tracks. The park itself stretches some 30 or so blocks. When the Highline first opened back when I was in high school, I was obsessed. I would insist on visiting every time I was in the city.

Make a stop at Grand Central Terminal Station

Grand Central Station is a classic NYC establishment. Growing up just outside of the city, I have commuted through this train station more times than I can count. I used to joke that it was my second home. But in reality, I should feel lucky to have had the opportunity to commute through one of the most beautiful train stations in the world.

If you’re heading to Westchester or Connecticut (and soon to be New Jersey), you’ll want to grab a train at GCT. If not, it is still worth a visit. Head to the main hall to admire the beautiful ceiling artwork. Time to spare? Have a drink at The Campbell, a bar located within the station.

Plus, while you’re already in midtown you can snag some views at some of NYC’s most classic buildings – like the Empire State Building.

Address: 89 E 42nd St, New York, NY 10017

Grab lunch in Washington Square Park

Located right by NYU, Washington Square Park is pretty much almost bustling with energy (and admittedly lots of college students). On most days you’ll find some form of live music or activity going on.

Located smack in the middle of a number of downtown neighborhoods, you’ll find lots of cheap local eats. Grab your lunch to-go and head to the park to enjoy it.

Enjoying Washington Square Park (and the famous arch)
Enjoying Washington Square Park (and the famous arch)

Rockefeller Center

If you’re visiting NYC during the holidays, it would be a shame to miss out on a (quick) trip to Rockefeller Center. I say quick because the crowds at this time of year can be quite insane. But it is still a magical place to visit when the tree is up and lit nevertheless. Go during the week and early in the day if possible to skip out on some of the crowds.

If you’re looking to splurge a bit, then you can actually ice skate in front of the tree. Tickets range from $20-54.

Take a stroll through Chelsea Market

Chelsea Market is one of my favorite places to take friends and family when they visit from out of town. Although it is worth mentioning that although visiting and strolling through the market is free, it will take some willpower to not actually spend any money here!

In my opinion, whatever you do, don’t miss out on the tahini soft serve from Seed + Mill, a local female-owned seed-based company making some of the best halva and tahini in NYC.

Visit the Coney Island Boardwalk

The Coney Island Boardwalk – another NYC classic. Stroll along the boardwalk with a hot dog (from the original Nathan’s hot dog shop), spend the day on the beach, or explore the amusement park, although that will cost you extra.

Explore the DUMBO waterfront and Brooklyn Bridge Park

Having lived in Cobble Hill for a few years, this park will always hold a special place in my heart. The park stretches from DUMBO to Brooklyn Heights. Stroll along the waterfront and you’ll find it all – epic views of the Manhattan skyline, large patches of grass to sit and enjoy, and plenty of courts/fields for volleyball, soccer, and the likes.

You can also make your way from here to the Brooklyn Heights Promenade which offers some of the best sunset views in NYC, plus views of the Statue of Liberty.

Make sure to check out DUMBO and the entire Brooklyn Bridge Park
Make sure to check out DUMBO and the entire Brooklyn Bridge Park

Visiting NYC? Here are some other articles that you should check out:

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Taylor Taverna
Taylor Taverna

Taylor is a NYC-based solo traveler and travel blogger. Taylor shares travel tips and itineraries from the 70 countries she’s visited around the world.

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