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30 free things to do in New York

30 free things to do in New York

“New York, New York, it’s a hell of a town!” as the song goes and it absolutely won’t disappoint! I recently did a post on 30 free things to do in London and had some great feedback so I thought I’d do a similar post on things you wouldn’t think to do in New York City, or things you wouldn’t even think were free. Like London, New York can be an expensive city to site see in but at least you know with a handy ‘free things to do’ guide you can mix things up with a few freebies too.

1) Central Park

Central Park has become one of the most famous and beloved urban parks in the world. But it’s not just any old park, it also has a Zoo, Lake, Shakespearean Garden and Castle (well, miniature anyway!). It also boasts year round performances and beautiful statues with my favourite being the Alice in Wonderland statue.

2) Times Square

Times Square is a New York City icon. Home of Broadway and some of the best shopping and eats in town, you don’t even need to spend anything, just taking in the sights and sounds of Times Square will be enough to indulge your senses!

3) Theodore Roosevelt’s Birthplace

One of the greatest presidents and the only one to boast an NYC upbringing, he became the 26th president of the United States in 1901 and was immortalised on Mount Rushmore for his important progressive reforms for the 20th Century. Now, you can have a nosey through his family hame, an exact recreation built on the same site as the original house. Guided tours are completely free.

4) Flushing Meadows Corona Park

As the city’s second-biggest park it still packs a lot in! It houses culture and sports at the New York Hall of Science, Arthur Ashe Stadium and Citi Field as well as a Zoo, a boating Lake, a Skate Park, a barbecue area, playfields, and an Aquatic and Hockey Centre, phew!

5) Flat Iron Building

Originally named the Fuller Building, the Flat Iron Building is located at 175 Fifth Avenue right next to Central Park. It was built in 1902 and considered to be one of the groundbreaking skyscrapers in New York. Fun fact: There’s a wind tunnel near the Flat Iron building and at the turn of the century men used to gather outside to watch the ladies skirts fly up, tut tut chaps!

6) Brooklyn Bridge

Arguably one of the most iconic bridges in the world, the Brooklyn Bridge opened in 1883 and at the time was the longest suspension bridge in the world. It boasts a wide pedestrian walkway which offers unbelievable views of the city. Make your way across as the sun is setting, it makes a fantastic photo opportunity! Fun fact: Circus entertainer P.T. Barnum took 21 elephants over the bridge in May 1884 to show that it was safe to cross.

7) Bronx Museum of the Arts

The Bronx Museum of the Arts is an internationally recognised cultural institution in the Bronx borough of New York. It focuses on providing innovative contemporary art exhibitions and education programs, helping to make art accessible everyone in New York.

8) East River State Park

East River State Park is a waterfront park located along the East River in Brooklyn and offers visitors a stunning view of the Manhattan skyline. As the site of a 19th century shipping dock, you’ll also discover unique historical remains like the old cobblestone streets and abandoned railroad tracks.

9) Be part of the audience at a TV show taping

Imagine yourself behind Kim Kardashian waving a banner that says, “Hi Mum!” whilst waving on live TV. No? Ok you don’t have to go that far! But being an audience member during tapings is free and who knows you may even get a glimpse of one one of your favourite stars. You can go to The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Good Morning America and The Today Show, not to mention all the awesome night tapings such as Saturday Night Live and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.

10)  Coney Island Boardwalk

Coney Island Boardwalk is known for it’s sandy beaches, sunny skies and rolling waves…during the summer anyway! If you find yourself there on an overcast day and can’t catch any rays there are courts for playing beach volleyball, handball, and basketball as well as playgrounds and amusement rides.

11)  Hamilton Grange National Memorial

Hamilton Grange National Memorial is a National Park Service site in St. Nicholas Park that preserves the relocated home of U.S. Founding Father and George Washington’s right-hand man, Alexander Hamilton. Find out more about the controversial founder and the country home that he built on his Harlem estate at this great historic site.

12) New York Public Library

The scene of Carrie Bradshaw’s ill-fated first wedding and the not-so-busted ghost from 1984’s classic Ghostbusters, the New York Public Library is a character in itself. Watched over by the beloved Lions, Patience and Fortitude it is a quintessential icon in NYC. It’s an incredible building and houses outstanding research collections in the humanities and social sciences as well as a circulating children’s collection.

13) Chrysler Building

Another classic New York skyscraper, The Chrysler Building is a site to behold with its triangle-shaped windows in the shape of a crown. Very representative of the Old New York, it features giant eagles (replicas of ones added to Chrysler automobiles in the 1920s) instead of traditional gargoyles and a brickwork relief sculpture of racing cars, complete with chrome hubcaps.

14)  Harbor Defense Museum

Built between 1825 and 1831 in order to expand New York’s defences, Fort Hamilton is now home to the Harbor Defense Museum which details the history and evolution of NYC’s coastal defense systems. As the only army museum in the city, it has a great collection of military artifacts from the Revolutionary War right up to World War II.

15) Grand Central Partnership Walking Tour

Can you believe that Grand Central was going to be knocked down?? One of the world’s most famous train stations was going to be replaced with an 80-story building taller than the Empire State Building. Luckily the first lady (and native New Yorker) Jackie Kennedy led the campaign to save Grand Central and when you go see it for yourself, you’ll understand why!

There are different walking tours you can take but two historians lead the free 90 minute walking tours at 12:30pm every Friday so try to squeeze it in your itinerary for then. Fun fact: the constellations on the Main Concourse ceiling are drawn in reverse, as if seen from heaven. Cool!

16) The Hispanic Society of America

The Hispanic Society of America is a museum and library dedicated to Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American culture and art. The Hispanic Society’s extensive collection is one of the finest outside Spain and features paintings, sculptures, textiles, archaeological finds and other historical relics. The surrounding neighborhood is teeming with authentic Spanish and Latin American cuisine so make sure you grab something to eat whilst you’re there.

17) The High Line

A relatively new feature in New York, the High Line is a park built on an abandoned railway track. It’s a genius way of using abandoned industrial space as the pathway takes you above the city while keeping you rooted in urban life. Where else can you walk through a field of wildflowers whilst cabs fly past underneath you?

18) The Fashion Institute of Technology Museum

If you love fashion, you’ll love the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology. It’s the only museum in New York which is dedicated solely to the art of fashion, and features innovative and award-winning exhibitions. The museum’s Fashion Culture special programs run year-round and include talks with leading designers and book signings.

19)  Prospect Park

Designed by the same designer of Central Park, Frederick Law Olmsted, Prospect Park offers plenty of space to pull up on a patch of grass and indulge in some people-watching. You can also go boating, skating, bicycling and bird watching. If none of that takes your fancy, spend just $8 (about a fiver) and dive into the Zoo for some wildlife-watching.

20) National Museum of the American Indian

This museum is a fantastic tribute to the Native American culture and is dedicated to the life, languages, literature, history, and arts of the Native Americans of the Western Hemisphere. Exhibitions change regularly so check the website to see what’s on if you fancy going.

21) St Patrick’s Cathedral

This famous Cathedral boasts Presidents, movie stars, and business moguls amongst past and present attendees. Trust me, you don’t need to go to Church on Sunday to be wowed by it’s impressive Gothic Revival architecture and stained glass windows!

22) Rockefellar Center

It’s amazing to think that Rockefeller Center is just someone’s every day office! The ground level alone is home to the tourist-packed ice-skating rink, the bronze Atlas statue and The Today Show plaza. Higher up, Top of the Rock offers the best panoramic views of the city (in my opinion) as there are glass walls instead of railings and a more open viewing deck than any other skyscraper. You have to pay to go to the top but exploring the ground floor is completely free.

23) Queens County Farm Museum

Enjoy a farm visit within the city limits at Queens County Farm Museum. Situated on the largest remaining tract of farmland in New York, it features historic farm buildings, greenhouses, an orchard and herb garden, farm machinery and (of course!) everyone’s favourite farm animals.

24) Socrates Sculpture Park

Socrates Sculpture Park is one of the few locations in the city specifically designated for artists to create outdoor works. This fantastic park located in the borough of Queens looks out over the Manhattan skyline and is open all year round to visitors looking to enjoy some alternative artworks.

25) Public Boathouse Kayaking

Kayaking is not usually something that you would associate with the asphalt jungle that is New York but you can actually kayak for free from public boathouses such as the Downtown Boathouse and Long Island Community Boathouse in Queens. Sorted.

26) Museum of Moving Image

The Museum of the Moving Image aims to advance the understanding, enjoyment, and appreciation of the art, history and technique of digital media. It offers visitors exciting exhibitions, education programs and a look at their collection of moving-image related artifacts. It’s free entry every Friday 4pm until 8pm.

27) City Hall

Home to New York City’s government since 1812 and the oldest City Hall in the country, it’s a great place to take advantage of a free walking tour. Take in its opulent marble hall, the governor’s room as well as the spot where Abraham Lincoln’s coffin lay in state briefly in 1865 (morbid much?).

28) Staten Island Ferry

Everyone wants to see the Statue of Liberty but why bother going on a paid-for tourist ferry when you can go across to Staten Island for free?! It’s only about a 25 minute journey with great views of the Statue of Liberty and the New York skyline. Plus, you don’t even need to get off the other side if you’re strapped for time, you can hop straight back on the ferry when you reach the other side.

29) Federal Hall

The original inauguration place of George Washington who took the oath in Federal Hall in 1789 (back when New York was the first capital) overlooks the New York Stock Exchange across Wall Street and has a museum on post-colonial New York inside.

30) American Museum of Natural History

From dinosaurs to outer space and everything in between, this huge museum showcases all of nature’s wonders. The dinosaur exhibit is the best and largest in the world (and my favourite!) so make it a priority if you’re short on time. It’s free in its last hour (4:45pm-5:45pm), and admission price is ‘suggested’ at all other times. It also has some great views of Central Park.

So what are we waiting for? Let’s go to NYC! Have you been to New York? Would you add anything onto the list? Comment below :)

Mel x


For more information on New York check out my other posts, Top tips when visiting New York and 25 things you didn’t know about New York.

About the author

Hi, I’m Mel! The adventure-seeking vegan travel blogger behind Footsteps on the Globe. On this blog you'll find my latest adventures, travel inspiration as well as tips and tricks on how to be vegan around the world. You don’t have to give up being vegan to follow your travel dreams and I’m here to show you how!