New York attracts a lot of visitors, over 55 million a year. These visitors bring with them A LOT of cash and are willing to spend it. The attraction owners (along with a lot of others) know this and are willing to charge a lot of money for their attractions. Meaning a trip to New York can be expensive! But it doesn’t have to be. There are loads of things to do in New York City for free!
This is Our guide for What to Do in New York City for Free, without spending a dime well You may spend a bit getting to and from the places but once there its all FREE)
1 – Walking
New York is a fantastic Walking City. Almost everywhere to go you are bombarded with iconic sights and attractions. Simply walking from Penn Station to our hotel on our last trip took us up past Madison Square Gardens, Macy’s, the Empire State Building, Bryant Park, New York Public Library, and Grand Central Station. That was less than a mile.
We regularly end up walking over 10 miles a day just walking around between places. There is always something incredible to see making getting somewhere almost as exciting as the destination.
Most of my Free suggestions below will involve walking of some kind. When doing New York on the Cheap there is really no substitute for walking. You will truly experience the real city along with seemingly endless iconic landmarks, along with much smaller but still iconic New York sights. Such as Hot Dog carts, Taxi-cabs, and even just street signs.
2 – Central Park (and Others)
New York’s Oasis of Calm is right in the center of it all. A Relaxing slice of natural beauty surrounded by some of the densest urban areas in the world. The park is 6.1 miles around, 2.5 miles long, and half a mile wide. It really is a huge space to be devoted to nature while the real estate around it is some of the most valuable in the world. It’s been estimated that if sold for development the park would value at $529 Billion. There is almost zero chance that will happen. Take a stroll through and you will see why.
In Spring the Parks are awash with beautiful Spring flowers. In summer it’s cooler than the city Streets and perfect for a spot of sunbathing. Autumn brings incredible color as the trees turn red and orange. And winter makes for great walking in the cooler temps.
A trip to New York is really not complete without a trip to Central Park, and it won’t cost you a dime. Be warned though there are plenty of people in the park ready to take your cash. Be it fake monks wanting a tip (please don’t!), to horse and carriage rides, or the hire of a rowing boat, it’s certainly possible to spend in the park, but no requirement at all.
All that Nature, not enough? Well, worry not there are plenty of smaller and just as interesting parks. All this concrete, Glass, and steel mean New Yorkers need their r&r Space. Some of our favorites are below but there are many many more beautiful parks to enjoy.
The High Line
This old disused railway line has been converted into a park that runs for 1.5 miles above the hustle and bustle of the city streets. Tree-lined and planted the whole way it gives a unique and interesting perspective of New York.
Right at the bottom end of Manhattan, this park gives the best land view of the statue of liberty and great views out over the bay.
Nestled behind the New York Public Library Bryant Park has a cultured upmarket feel. Great for relaxing with a coffee and just generally unwinding. Come Christmas the park is converted into a German Style Market, complete with an ice skating rink.
Brooklyn Heights Promenade, Brooklyn Bridge Park, and Main Street Park
Located on the Brooklyn side of Brooklyn Bridge these three parks line the coastline. The Views of Manhattan Skyline defy belief. If you want to see New York in all its glory THIS is where you need to be. Plenty of delightful eateries populate the parks too. Great for a fuel stop while walking the Bridge.
3 – Statue of Liberty
New York’s most iconic and enduring landmark. A visit to New York can not be complete without a trip to see the Statue of Liberty. The perfect location for the ultimate selfie or couple photo.
Visiting the Statue of liberty is not possible for free. But you can get pretty close. The view from Battery Park or the Staten Island Ferry are both pretty good and do not require you to reach into your wallet. Read Our Full guide for more info.
4 – Times Square
Times Square is definitely a’ love it or hate it’ type of place and it’s a tourist trap of the highest order. However, a Stroll through it taking in all the crazy business of the place will cost you nothing. The lights and the ambiance are all free.
While some people come away from times square with a feeling of disappointment, we love the uniqueness of the place. Food and Souvenirs are all up priced for being on Times Square but as we are not spending money who cares, we just have a chuckle at the people paying twice the price for a hotdog or a tacky empire state key ring.
It is a must-see place even if you decide it is not for you and you will never return. At least you have experienced it and know exactly what the fuss is or isn’t about.
Remember Visiting Times Square need not cost you a dime but there are plenty who will try and extract them from you, read our full Survival Guide to make sure Times Square does not cost you more than you intended!
5 – Window Shopping
Of course, you can still go shopping without spending money. In a city so renowned for its shopping they do things kind of differently. Most of the world’s biggest names in luxury retail have locations in New York’s shopping areas. The Stores offer more of an experience than anywhere else in the world. Dramatic Window displays, High-Value goods, and iconic shops and brands all lead to making just walking around the shopping districts an attraction in itself.
If I’m honest, it is hell but Kate insisted we add this to the list as she absolutely loves it.
Macy’s – The Worlds Biggest Store (well not quite now) occupies a whole city block and is a cavernous display of luxury shopping. It can take hours to wander its massive 11 floors. Particularly impressive at Christmas time. It’s actually considered and National Landmark! We Particularly love the original wooden escalators
Tiffany’s – This Flagship store is a sight to behold in itself. Location for multiple films (Breakfast at Tiffany’s anyone ?) The staff are perfectly happy for you to look around at their fantastically expensive jewels. A quick warning, if you visit the Engagement ring floor as a couple, expect “Questions” from people riding the elevator back down.
Sachs Fifth Avenue – This Iconic department store can now be found across the USA (and Beyond) But this is the only one on Fifth and the original. The light shows at Christmas are fantastic but very crowded.
Of course, there are plenty of regular chain stores available but this is more for conventional shopping where you will need to spend money.
6 – Iconic Buildings and Architecture
New York is a rare example of human activity really improving a landscape. The barren wetlands the City was built on were never really much to look at. Our endeavors over the years have turned this marsh into one of the most breathtaking spectacles in the world. The Buildings and Skylines are simply staggering, from the first moment you touch down in the City.
Empire State Building
It costs $34 to visit the top of the Empire State Building. But it costs nothing to stand below and gaze up at its magnificence. Located on the corner of 34th street and 5th avenue it’s hard to miss when visiting Midtown. And it’s visible from many locations around the city as well.
One World Trade Centre or Freedom Tower
The Tallest Building in New York and America and is really very beautiful. On a clear day, the blue of the building matches the blue sky perfectly and it seems to climb up forever. This is one building that will really make you feel small.
My personal favorite. The beautiful metallic sheen of the tower’s crown really sets it apart from the others. We always feel a bit sorry for it as it was the tallest building in the world for only 11 months after being eclipsed by the Empire State Building.
Standing guard at the edge of Central Park this grand old hotel is a New York Icon. It’s also open to the public. So feel free to pop in and experience the elegant lobby area before heading to the plaza to check out the luxurious shops and restaurants. (COVID restrictions dependent)
Going to the Top of buildings is normally a paid experience. There are plenty of rooftop bars that are free entry but you are of course expected to purchase food or drinks. But you have to eat and drink anyway so you could combine the two for a “sort of free” experience.
Failing that if you want to get up high you’ll have to pay read my guide to the best observation decks here
7 – National September 11 Memorial
A place of quiet reflection and remembrance. The 9/11 Memorial is a place every visitor should take the time to visit. The Terror attacks that took place that day are etched in New York’s history and visiting the fountains is something we should all do. It is not a joyful experience but an important one.
The Museum charges for entry to cover its upkeep. But the Memorial grounds are completely free for all the come visit and pay respects to the victims. The Towering presence of the Freedom Tower is also a potent reminder of how New York, America, and the West as a whole have recovered from the attack and are stronger than ever before.
8 – Film locations
New York is one of the most filmed cities in the world. And there are locations from hit (and not so hit) Movies all around the city. And of course, there are multiple TV locations too. Whether it’s ghostbusters, home alone, sex in the city, or friends. The streets are lined with locations made famous by the big and little screens.
9 – Brooklyn Bridge
One of the best free things to do is walk across Brooklyn Bridge. The walkway is suspended above the roadway so it’s a safe relaxed walk. The views out across the bay are spectacular and the Manhattan Skyline is jaw-dropping from here.
We like to walk it from Brooklyn to Manhattan. That way you are viewing the Manhattan Skyline the whole way rather than the Brooklyn skyline which is … Less Jaw-dropping, sorry Brooklyn. The best way is to hop on a subway to Brooklyn and then have a stroll along the Brooklyn Heights promenade before ogling the Manhattan skyline from Brooklyn Bridge Park. Then Stroll back across the bridge for an unforgettable experience.
Don’t expect to be alone, though, the walkway does get very busy. Oh and watch out for cycles.
10 – Wall Street
A walk down Wall Street is a wonderful way to spend a few hours. The heart of one of the world’s biggest financial centers is both fascinating and historic. You have seen the buildings a thousand times on Film and TV. It is great to just soak up the muscle of America’s financial powerhouse.
Look for the New York National Stock Exchange, one of the largest stock exchanges in the world, where untold billions are bought and sold as you stand there admiring it. Also, look for the federal hall national memorial. and be sure to brave the crowds for a raging bull selfie…or maybe don’t bother.
It’s an old part of the city with narrow streets, classic architecture, and dark alleyways. It can feel a million miles away from the cut and thrust of the biggest economy in the world. But behind these antique doorways lie some of the most powerful institutions in the country. The Old is also set against some much more modern architecture giving a unique feel as towers of glass and steel rise above the institutions of old.
11 – Museums
Both the American Museum of Natural History and the Metropolitan Museum of Art both operate on a Suggested donation system. This means you pay what you like. If $0 is what you want to pay they will not argue with you. However, these world-class museums do cost a lot of money in upkeep so your donation would go a long way.
We are a bit cautious to include this as we don’t see this as a fair money-saving trick for the savvy traveler. The Pay what you like option isn’t there for people looking to save a few bucks it is there for good reasons.
Firstly New Yorkers have the right to visit their own Museums whenever they like and shouldn’t really have to pay a large fee every time. Also, it is there, because These Museums hold some very important artifact’s that really EVERYONE, should be able to see. So it allows people access to those who really can’t afford the entry fee. We think that’s very important and not something to be taken lightly.
The Museums are very good value for the money. So if you can afford the fee you probably should pay. But if it really is beyond your budget feel free to use the discounted entry as we should all be entitled to view these wonders. The queues for the pay-what-you-like tickets are normally very long.
There are plenty of smaller museums in New York that are genuinely free. They are not on the level of the American Museum of Natural History and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. But you can find some interesting places to have a look at.
Other Museums offer free entry on certain days but again this is more aimed at new Yorkers than Tourists.
Take a look at our Best Museums in New York Article.
Now you have a taste for what New York has to offer you may be hungry for more and willing to dig a bit into your pockets? A great way to enjoy the Best of New York while saving loads of money is to use a Pass.
For Example, the New York CityPASS is only $116 and includes all the top New York attractions. You can read my review of the New York CityPASS here.
I have written a comprehensive guide to the City Passes of New York. They are a great money-saving tool. But obviously not free
Have Your Say
So have any of you Money Savvy Travellers got any ideas to add? Have you tried any of these Free ideas before? Did you enjoy them? Do you use free activities to complement Paid ones? Feel free to comment below if you have anything to add or have any questions.