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Ultimate 25 free things to do in New York (from a NYC fanatic!)

Road side view of Times Square with billboards and cars and people in the background

Ultimate 25 free things to do in New York (from a NYC fanatic)

“New York, New York” – the city so good, they named it twice!

It’s a firm favourite amongst travellers and one of my all-time favourite cities too. But with a city so famously rich in diverse things to see and do, can you visit New York without breaking the bank? 

Well, fear not friends as the answer is a resounding, “YES!”. Not only is there plenty to do in New York that is epic and affordable but also unforgettable and totally free!

Here are the best 25 free things to do in New York from a bonafide NYC fanatic.


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 personal favourite being the Alice in Wonderland statue.

People sat by Central Park lake in New York with The Plaza hotel in the background

2) Times Square

Times Square is a New York City icon. Home to Broadway and some of the best shopping and eateries in town, you don’t even need to spend anything.

Just enjoy the overload to your senses by taking in the sights and sounds of one of the world’s most famous squares.

Huge crowd at night in Times Square in New York with billboards lighting up the square

3) Theodore Roosevelt’s Birthplace

One of the greatest presidents (and the only one to boast an NYC upbringing), Theodore Roosevelt, became the 26th president of the United States in 1901 and was immortalised on Mount Rushmore for his progressive reforms.

Whilst visiting New York you can have a nosey through Roosevelt’s family home, an exact recreation built on the same site as the original house.

Guided tours are completely free!

Presidents faces carved on Mount Rushmore

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, play fields and an aquatic and hockey centre, phew!

Metal globe statue fountain in Corona Park New York

5) Flatiron Building

Originally named the ‘Fuller Building’, the Flatiron Building was built in 1902 and was considered to be one of the most groundbreaking skyscrapers in New York at the time.

Although not one of the tallest or oldest of New York’s skyscrapers, it’s unique design and historic significance led to its iconic status and is a quintessential symbol of New York which is truly awe-inspiring in real life.

Fun fact: There’s a wind tunnel near the Flatiron building and at the turn of the century men used to gather outside to watch the ladies skirts fly up. Tut tut chaps!

Flat iron building in New York with yellow taxi cab driving by

6) Brooklyn Bridge

Arguably one of the most famous 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.

Fun fact: Circus entertainer P.T. Barnum took 21 elephants over the bridge in May 1884 to show that it was safe to cross!

New York skyline from the Brooklyn Bridge

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.

Also totally free to visit!

Spray paint art in the Bronx Museum New York
Photo credit: Amaury Laporte

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 some cool unique historical remains like the old cobblestone streets and abandoned railroad tracks.

New York skyline at sunset from East River State Park

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

One of the only opportunities for many of us to have our 15 minutes of fame, granted from the darkness of a packed studio audience, however still exciting to be part of! TV show tapings are free and who knows, you may even get a glimpse of 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.

The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon sign in New York

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.

Coney Island ferris wheel with seagulls flying in the foreground

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.

Home of U.S. Founding Father Alexander Hamilton in New York - a yellow house amongst greenery
Photo credit: Malcolm Manners

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 its own right.

The New York Public Library is an incredible building and houses outstanding research collections in the humanities and social sciences as well as a circulating children’s collection.

Inside the New York Public library with rows of people studying at desks, hanging lights and and a painted ceiling mural

13) Chrysler Building

Another essential New York skyscraper, the Chrysler Building is an art deco masterpiece. 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.

Chrysler Building, a New York city sky scraper with rows of triangular windows

14) 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. What pillock thought that was a good idea?

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 in reverse, as if seen from heaven. Cool!

Inside Grand Central Station in New York with people walking around the main concourse, high arched windows and turquoise ceiling

15) 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 neighbourhood is teeming with authentic Spanish and Latin American cuisine so make sure you grab something to eat whilst you’re there!

Paintings and wood work arches in the Hispanic Society of American in New York
Photo credit: Mark B. Schlemmer

16) 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 former 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?

Former railway arches on the High Line in New York

17) 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.

Even better, entry it totally free!

Man pushing bike past The Fashion Institute of Technology Museum's poster wall in New York
Photo credit: Elvert Barnes

18) 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.

Outside the National Museum of the American India in New York
Photo credit: angela n.

19) St Patrick’s Cathedral

This famous, turn of the century, neo-gothic Cathedral boasts Presidents, movie stars, and business moguls amongst past and present attendees.

But trust me, you don’t need to go to church on Sunday to be wowed by it’s impressive gothic architecture and stained glass windows – it’s well worth a visit!

Outside St Patrick's Cathedral a gothic revival style building with stained glass windows with other New York skyscrapers in the background

20) Rockefeller 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 in New York.

You have to pay to go to the top but exploring the ground floor is completely free!

Rockefeller Center in New York lit up in purple light with a Christmas tree and angel statues at the bottom of the building

21) 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.

Socrates Sculpture Park with the New York skyline in the background

22) 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? 😂).

Outside New York City's old city hall, a beige Georgian building

23) 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.

Staten Island ferry on the Hudson river in New York

24) Federal Hall

New York’s Federal Hall was the original inauguration place of George Washington who took the oath here in 1789 back when New York was the first capital.

It overlooks the New York Stock Exchange across Wall Street and has a museum on post-colonial New York inside that’s well worth a visit!

Outside the Federal Hall in New York - with columns and tall steps and a George Washington statue outside

25) 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.

The museum is free between 4:45pm and 5:45pm and admission price is ‘suggested’ at all other times.

It also has some great views of Central Park!

T-rex skeleton in the American Museum of Natural History in New York

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Which free things to do in New York are top of your list? Let me know in the comments below! 😊

Mel x

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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!