Travel blog & tips on a budget from a 30 year old blogger

30 Free and Cheap Things to Do in New York City

New York City North America
Posted: August 31, 2014

New York is the city that never sleeps and many may think it is too far out of their price range to visit.  I love NYC and want others to know it is possible to visit without blowing your budget. I have discovered 30 free and cheap attractions to visit that will not break the bank.

1. Central Park

Escape from the hustle and bustle of the city in the 843 acres of gardens in the middle of the city. Central Park was inspired by public parks in London and Park and was the first landscaped public park in the US. In the winter, there is an ice skating rink and in the summer, a roller blade rink.  I come to the park to run and there is one way to run around the park – go clockwise only, or meet the wrath of locals.  In the center of the park is the Jackie Onassis reservoir, challenge yourself and run around it.  The full route round the park is around 10km.

Central Park, NYC

2. Statue of Liberty

View the Statue of Liberty either from Battery Park or take the free ferry to Staten Island where you can get relatively close to the statue. The free ferry takes 30 minutes and runs 24 hours a day.  This is not the sightseeing cruise so passengers cannot disembark and go onto Liberty Island.

Statue of Liberty

Nearest subway: Bowling Green, the 4-5 Train

3. Brooklyn Bridge

Walk over the Brooklyn Bridge which is one of the oldest suspension bridges in the US. It was completed in 1883 and is one of the many icons of New York city, connecting Brooklyn with Manhattan. There is a dedicated walkway for pedestrians and cyclists, above the car traffic.

Brooklyn Bridge
Nearest subway: York Street F (Brooklyn side)

4. Real Life Movie Set

Grand Central Station and Washington Square Park, home of “I am Legend” is one of the many venues in New York city that have been featured in movies and well known TV shows. Katz’s Deli, which is on 205 E Houston Street at Ludlow Street, Lower East Side is the location of the famous scene from “When Harry Met Sally”.  It is where Meg Ryan’s Sally fakes an orgasm. The New York Public Library was the scene in “The Day After Tomorrow”, where they waited out the Ice storm.

Grand Central At Night

5. City Hall

On the way down to Battery Park, stop by City Hall, which is home to New York City’s government and has been since 1812.  There are tours of City Hall but these must be reserved in advance.  The governor’s room in City Hall was where Abraham Lincoln’s coffin lay in state briefly in 1865.

Nearest subway: Brooklyn Br City Hall, 4-5-6 Trains

6. Governor’s Island

There is another free ferry in NYC, this time to Governor’s island.  The island is 172 acres and has been open to the public since 2003.  It is a great afternoon out as there is min golf, a picnic area and a 2.2 mile bike path.

The ferry departs from Battery Maritime Building, Sip 7.

Nearest subway:  Bowling Green, 4-5 Train or Whitehall St. R Traing

7. Highline

My friend Dan, recommended going to the High Line in the New York City on a budget post.  The High Line was created from an abandoned stretch of elevated railroad track. It has now been turned into an elevated park, 30 feet above Manhattan and with great views of the rest of the city.

Nearest subway: 14 St A-C-E Train

8. Public Library

There are free daily tours  of the New York Public Library which is located just east of Times Square. The tours start at either 11am and 2pm.  Outside of summer there are also tours on Sundays at 2pm. The library, built in 1911, was the largest marble building in the US at the time.  The library has many temporary exhibits that are free to attend and open to the public.  It is also home to a copy of the Declaration of Independence.

NYC Public Library
Nearest subway: 42nd Street/Bryant Park

9. St Patrick’s Cathedral

This Cathedral, built in 1858, on the well known 5th Avenue, is biggest Gothic Catholic Cathedral in the US.  It can seat up to 2,200 people and there are regular Masses at the cathedral.  For those who would prefer to learn about the building, there are free public tours through out the week, starting at 10:00am. Check the website for details.

Nearest subway: 5th Avenue  EM

10. Visit MoMA on a Friday night

New York City is not only home to theaters but also museums.  Friday nights between 4pm and 8pm, the admission fee for the Museum of Modern Art is waived. Due to the popularity, bookings are not allowed but just arrive early as it is first come, first serve. Works by Dali, Picaasso, Van Godh as well as moder and contemporary art are on display.

Location: 11 West 53rd Street between 5th & 6th Avenues, Midtown.

11. Times Square

This is one of the most famous landmarks and attractions of New York City, to visit at night or during the day.  There is a famous “Naked Cowboy”. There are also lots of Disney characters with whom you can have your photos taken, but they will expect a tip. Elmo, the cutest Sesame character was not on his best behaviour when I met him. Time Square stretches for 5 blocks, from West 42nd to West 47th Street and is one of the world’s busiest intersections.

Times Square
Nearest subway: 42 St Times Square

12. Grand Central Station

The station was first built in 1913 and was under threat of demolition before it was fully restored in 1998.  With its Beaux-arts architecture, it is a major destination in NYC and even has a cocktail bar called The Campbell Apartment.   Downstairs is the Oyster Bar with Whispering Gallery. The station is a well used terminal and commuters take the subway from this station as well as the Metro-North trains.

Grand Central Station
Nearest subway: Grand Central Terminal, 42 St. 4-5-6 7 S

13. Little Italy

An area that once was full of Italian immigrants, the area has seen a decline in the number of restaurants serving authentic Italian cuisine The area was severely affected by the September 11 attacks with tourism in the area declining. Little Italy consists of three blocks on Mulberry street but used to extend down to Worth Street and up to Kenmare Street.

Little Italy

Nearest subway: Canal St. 6 J-Z N-Q, Grand St. B-D or Bowery J-Z

14. China Town

China Town grew once the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 let more immigrants from Asia into the USA. China Town, like Little Italy was affected by the September 11th attacks.  There has been redevelopment in parts of China Town, making rents very expensive and as a result many moving to other areas of New York. However, there are still a wide range of Chinese restaurants in the area which are relatively good value for money.
China Town

Nearest subway: Canal St. 6 J-Z N-Q or Grand St. B-D

15. Broadway

This is the home of American theater and is one of the most famous destinations in NYC.  London and New York are both fantastic cities which host a wide range of shows and performances for both tourists and locals to enjoy.  The Majestic on Broadway is has been hosting the longest running Broadway show which is The Phantom of the Opera.

Nearest subway: 42 St Times Square

17. Brooklyn Brewery

A tour of the Brooklyn Brewery is free on afternoons over the weekends. The Brooklyn beers are very popular outside of the US as well.  Visit the brewery in Williamsburg to try out some of their American beers.

Address: 79 N. 11th St., Brooklyn

Nearest subway: Nassau Av G

18. Free Gallery Openings

There are many free gallery openings throughout New York City.  It can be hard to find them if you do not know where to look.  However ClubFreeTime is one of the best resources. The most concentrated area for galleries is in the Chelsea area, mostly in the 20s Streets between 10th and 11th Avenues. There are also wine and cheese openings on Thursday evenings, check the galleries for more information.

19. Drink

A venue in Brooklyn that gives complimentary products is the Big Nose Full Body.  They give free wine tastings on Saturdays with each Saturday having a different theme.  There are more than 300 wines in stock, so once you have finished the wine tasting, you will have plenty of wines to purchase, should you wish. There are discounts when buying an entire case of wine.

Address: 382 7th Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11215

Nearest subway: 7 Av F-G

20. Movies in the Park

From June to August, Bryant Park in Manhattan has free outdoor movie screenings.They are shown every Monday between 8pm and 9pm.  This is a popular Monday night activity with the park filling up fast to watch old movie classics.

Nearest subway: 42 St. B-D-F-M

21. Rockefeller Center

The Rockefeller Center is a major tourist attraction especially in winter, when the outside area has been converted into an ice skating rink. There always plenty of vendors selling hot drinks and snacks which adds to the festivities.

RockeFeller Center

22. Kayaking on the Hudson River

The New York Downtown Boathouse is a volunteer organisation that provides paddles, kayaks and life jackets free of charge.  The trip is 20 minutes but you can also take free kayaking classes on Wednesday morning. For those feeling energetic, there are guided  6 – 8km kayak trips along the Hudson. The organisation provides these kayak lessons from mid May to mid October.

Address: Pier 40, W Houston Street; Riverside Park, 72nd Street and Pier 96, Clinton Cove Park, 56th Street.

Nearest subway: 72 St. 1-2-3 and Columbus Circle A-C B-D-1

23. M&M Store

I love M&Ms, so no visit to NYC would be complete without a trip to the M&Ms store.  Located in the center of Times Square, this is one of the biggest chocolate stores I have visited, over 25,000 square foot of M&Ms.  There are three stories selling these famous candies as well as PJs, toys, mugs and more.  More than 4,000 gifts to choose from or a treat for yourself.  The store is open 7 days a week and from 9am to midnight.

M&M Store

Nearest subway: 42 St Times Square

24. Fed Vault

There are free tours of the NY Fed’s Gold Vault which is 50 feet below sea level. It is a very popular tour, so make sure you book at least one month in advance.  The NY Fed is one of only 12 Fed Banks in the United States. To enter the building you will need to show photo ID and go through security checks, so allow yourself an extra 30 minutes before the tour begins.

Address: 33 Liberty Street between Nassau and William Street

Nearest subway: Wall St. 4-5

Opening hours: Tours take place Mon-Fri at 9.30am, 10.30am, 11.30am, 1.30pm, 2.30pm and 3.30pm.

25. Bronx Zoo

The zoo is free every Wednesday.  There are over 4,000 animals and reptiles at the zoo, making it the largest metropolitan zoo in the US.  It also has over 265 acres of parklands which makes the animals feel (and visitors too) that they are in a natural environment.

26. See the Yankees Play

The New York Yankees are one of the most famous baseball clubs in the United States. If you are in NYC for at least a week, I would recommend going over to see the Yankees play over in the Bronx. The “bleachers” tickets cost between $15 and $20.  They are not the most comfortable seats but they are the cheapest.  Bring a cushion with you, which will make your experience much more comfortable.

Nearest subway: 161st Street/Yankee Stadium – The No. 4 train (East Side) and the B and D trains (West Side)

27. Sightseeing on Foot

This is one of the best ways to see New York.  Bring a pair of really good walking shoes with you and walk around the city. The photo below is taken from the Empire State Building, but you can also get great views of NYC from rooftop bars, you only need to buy a drink which is cheaper and quicker than going up the Empire State building.

View of Downtown from Empire

28. Exercise in Central Park

Running in Central Park is one of the most popular ways of keeping fit in NYC.  The route round the park is about 6 miles or 10km.  There is also an outdoor Wollman rink which is a roller skating rink in the summer and an ice skating rink in the winter. It is cheapest if you have your own skates, but you will still need to pay a fee to use the rink. There is a snack bar and hire locker available.

Nearest subway: Columbus Circle A-C B-D-1 and 5 Av N-R-Q

29. Botanical Gardens

The green house at the Brooklyn Botanical gardens is free on Tuesdays and then 10am to 12 noon on Saturdays.  The New York Botanical Gardens in the Bronx are free on Wednesdays and also from 10am to 12 noon on Saturdays.

Nearest subway:

Brooklyn: 2-3 Train to Eastern Parkway – Brooklyn Museum Station or B Q S  to Prospect Park station or 4- 5 to Franklin Avenue

Bronx: The B, D, or 4 train to Bedford Park Blvd Station

30. South Street Sea Port

This rejuvenated part of NYC is now a hub or restaurants, cafes and shops. It is the site of the original port of New York City but by the 1950s, most of the docks were vacant. Redevelopment began in 1982 and this areas is now home to South Street Sea Port Museum  and the Bridge Cage which is supposed to be the oldest drinking establishment in New York.  I really like coming down to South Street Sea Port and it is relatively close to Brooklyn Bridge which I walked over after a quick visit to the shops.

South Street Sea Port

Nearest subway: Brooklyn Br-City Hall 4-5-6

The Big Apple is great place to visit and contrary to many expectations, you don’t need to spend a fortune to have a good time. Just being there, soaking up the atmosphere and taking part in city life in the streets, cafes, restaurants or even in the metro allows the visitor to feel the pulse of the city.  The sights and historical buildings tell a story of their own and of the hardship of the first immigrants. They made New York their home and what it has become, one of the of the greatest cities in the world.

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