50 Free and Cheap Things to Do in New York City
New York City is among the most expensive places in the world to live in or visit, but it's also among the richest in free or inexpensive things to do -- resulting from a mix of philanthropy, loss leaders, and a mass of artists, musicians, comedians, foodies, curators, and other creative types who want to share their work with the world.
Some of the top-rated pizza shops charge more than $4 a slice, but it is easy to get $1 classic slices around the city from one of the many 2 Bros Pizza locations or even more numerous independent joints.
One of the most famous museums in the world, the Met has a suggested ticket price of $25, but many people do not realize they can pay what they want. Pick a price that seems fair and affordable.
Overtime Group hosts happy hours on rooftops and yachts around the city. They are advertised as free to attend, with free drinks for several hours.
The Brooklyn Brewery has grown to be one of the city's best known. Small group tours Monday through Thursday require $12 tickets, but weekend tours are free. They start on the half-hour from 1 to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and 1 to 4 p.m. on Sundays.
Upright Citizens Brigade offers improv comedy classes and performances at its four theaters in New York and Los Angeles. On Sunday nights, UCB Chelsea hosts "Asssscat 3000," an improv show that often features famous comedians. The 9:30 p.m. show is free -- although getting the free tickets usually requires standing in line for several hours before they're handed out.
Known worldwide for A-list music performances, the theater sells tickets for $10 each to students, or to anyone the day of a concert. Discounts are also available for members of the military, Bank of America cardholders, members of the music-appreciation group Notables, and for partial-view seats.
Wander around hundreds of booths that sell vintage clothing, antiques, collectibles, jewelry, arts and crafts, furniture, artisanal foods, and more. Visit the Brooklyn Flea year-round in Fort Greene on Saturdays or Williamsburg on Sundays.
The Knitting Factory in Williamsburg hosts free comedy at 9 p.m. Sundays. It's smart to arrive early; this is a popular event, and the venue can fill up before show time.
From May through October, the Downtown Boathouse, a volunteer-run nonprofit on Pier 96, offers kayaks, bike locks, lockers, and sunscreen to the public free of charge -- but use of kayaks is limited to 20 minutes at a time.
The Bronx Museum of the Arts is a contemporary art museum that is always free to visit. The museum recently raised $1 million to strengthen its collections by acquiring more art made by contemporary artists with a strong connection to the Bronx.
Brooklyn Bridge Park's six piers offer visitors top views of downtown Manhattan and New York Harbor, a ferry landing, free movies and concerts during the summer, artisanal ice cream, pizza, a playground for children, a roller rink, bocce, handball, and more. Interactive sculptures by Jeppe Hein, including a mirror maze and another with walls formed by jets of water, are on display through Jan. 1.
Like the Met, this museum has a suggested ticket price of $25 but allows visitors to pay what they want. Permanent exhibits at this family-friendly spot include giant dinosaur skeletons and the Hall of Biodiversity; don't miss the planetarium.
Target sponsors a free night at the Brooklyn Museum on the first Saturday of each month (except September). Enjoy free shows and music, grab a bite or drink at the Saul restaurant, and explore the museum's many exhibits. There are often programs throughout the night that require free tickets distributed at the admissions desk.
Coney Island's historic rides and boardwalk are at their most fun during the summer, when the amusement park is thronged and there's a line out the door for hot dogs at Nathan's Famous. But even when it is cooler out, a walk along the boardwalk is pleasant.
In addition to many professional sports teams, two minor league baseball teams call the city home: the Brooklyn Cyclones and Staten Island Yankees. Tickets often start at just $9 or $10, and the stadiums are small enough that everyone gets to be close to the action.
More than a century old, the New York Public Library's main branch in the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building is a landmark in Midtown. (The Rose Main Reading Room is usually a highlight but is closed for restoration until early 2017.) The library puts on interesting free exhibits, and free docent-led tours start at 12:30 and 3:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
Ask New Yorkers the cheapest way to see the Statue of Liberty and they are likely to point you to the Whitehall Terminal at the tip of Manhattan. The free ride on the Staten Island Ferry takes passengers right by the statue on a 25-minute trip.
Dizzy's Club at Lincoln Center hosts late-night jazz performances on the cheap. Doors open at 11:15 p.m., and on Tuesday and Wednesday nights the cover is just $5.
Manhattan boasts several well-known dumpling shops that are especially cheap. Tasty Dumpling on Mulberry or Prosperity Dumpling and Vanessa's Dumpling House on Eldridge all serve up dumplings for 25 cents or less each. There are also several cheap and well-known dumpling houses in Flushing, Queens.
It is a tourist trap, for sure, but this landmark is known around the world. Standing in the lights of Times Square can be magical, especially for those who have not visited before.
A former raised railroad turned pedestrian walkway and garden, the High Line hosts meditation practices, Tai Chi, stargazing, garden tours, movies, and more throughout the year, all free. The park runs down the West Side from 34th Street to Gansevoort Street. It is open 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. June through October and 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. December through April; hours for the remaining months are 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.
A nice place to sit down and take in the city, Washington Square Park is often packed with New York University students during the school year. When the weather is warmer, acclaimed artist Joe Mangrum often can be found creating one of his sand paintings just north of the fountain. Follow him on social media to be notified when he starts and finishes a piece.
Every Wednesday, the club Cielo hosts DJs Louie Vega and Kevin Hedge for a dance party that lasts all night. Admission is free before 11 p.m. ($20 after), and there's often an open vodka bar (two drinks for free) from 10 to 11 p.m.
The clothing store Uniqlo sponsors free admission to the Museum of Modern Art from 4 to 8 p.m. every Friday. It's not uncommon for there to be a wait to get in when the evening begins, thanks to the free tickets (and always-free admission for full-time students at nine New York City universities).
Locals and tourists alike walk, jog, run, and bike this New York icon. The Brooklyn Bridge is best on a warm day, but pedestrians make the 1.1-mile trip throughout the year.
Fridays and Saturdays are bingo nights at Le Poisson Rouge. Starting at 7:30 p.m. (doors open 45 minutes earlier), drag queen and veteran bingo hostess Linda Simpson takes the stage alongside a DJ and a helper. Entrance is free, and bingo boards are $2 a pop.
Although the cathedral is undergoing renovations, the inside is largely untouched. Regardless of your religious affiliation, St. Patrick's is worth visiting.
Guided tours of Grand Central's Main Concourse, topped by an iconic roof, start at 12:30 p.m. each day and cost $20 for adults; $15 for students, seniors, and children under 10. An audio version is available for $7 to $9, and an app with the tour costs $4.99.
Filled with adventures waiting to be had, Central Park never seems to get old. The park has served as a backdrop to many movies and books and hosts events throughout the year. The Central Park Conservancy offers free tours of different areas within the park. Listen to a self-guided audio tour by calling numbers found on placards throughout the 843-acre park.
The attached museum costs $18 to $24 to visit, but the 9/11 Memorial is free and open to all. Two large reflecting pools mark the footprints of the Twin Towers and honor the lives lost.
In the summer, take a minute to sit down in this popular park and enjoy the city's energy or watch as people go head-to-head in chess matches. There's a greenmarket on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays throughout the year, and a holiday market opens in November, with dozens of vendors selling gifts and foods.
The iconic triangular Flatiron Building is a landmark on Fifth Avenue. After snapping a picture, enjoy a burger and shake at the nearby Shake Shack or peruse the offerings at Eataly.
There are several places in New York City where chocolate lovers can sample the goods and watch small batches be poured and cut. At environmentally friendly Raaka Chocolate in Red Hook, Brooklyn, a 45-minute tour for $10 includes tastings of raw cocoa from different areas and samples of the company's finished bars.
Those with little ones looking for something to do can take advantage of free days at the children's museums in Manhattan (on the Upper West Side, free from 5 to 8 p.m. the first Friday of the month) and Brooklyn (in Crown Heights, free from 2 to 6 p.m. on Thursdays, and from 3 to 7 p.m. the third Thursday of each month).
Free Tours by Foot offers more than 30 pay-what-you-want tours of the city. Reservations are required, and there is often a required minimum group size. Foodies can sign up for one of the food-focused tours, and those with access to a bike can opt for a bike tour of Central Park or the Brooklyn Bridge and Lower Manhattan.
NBC Studios offers free tickets to several shows, including "America's Got Talent," "The Voice," and late-night shows with Seth Meyers and Jimmy Fallon. Tickets must be reserved, but some of the most popular shows also have standby tickets the day they're shot.
The private collection of one of New York's most well-known financiers, the Morgan Library and Museum is free between 7 and 9 p.m. on Fridays. A section of the museum is also free to the public from 3 to 5 p.m. on Tuesdays and 4 to 6 p.m. on Sundays.
The drinks and food can be expensive, but the billiards table is free at the hotel's Library Bar. Sit and relax by the large fireplace and take in views of the Hudson River from the rooftop terrace.
Starting at 6 p.m. on Thursdays, Chelsea's art galleries open their new exhibits. Spend an evening hopping from one to the next while sipping on the wine or beer that's often provided.
Brooklyn's Prospect Park shares the same designers as Central Park. During the summer, the park hosts free shows at the Bandshell, and there's a greenmarket open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays year-round.
The Lower East Side's Economy Candy Market is not the largest candy store around, but the selection is vast and prices are low. Many candies are sold in bulk, and customers rave about finding candies that make them nostalgic for childhood.
At Pier 25 in Hudson River Park, the 18-hole miniature golf course features waterfalls, sand traps, and a cave. Hours are flexible based on the weather -- it officially closes at 6 p.m. but may stay open until 10 p.m. Games are cheap: $4 for children and $5 for adults.
Williamsburg's Nitehawk Cinema often screens cult classics while serving up reasonably priced food and a variety of beers, wines, and cocktails. At 10 p.m. on Mondays, the Simpsons Club offers a free showing of three "Simpsons" episodes in their original form -- complete with commercials.
Open May 23 to Sept. 27, Governors Island has a food court, bicycles for rent (including tandem bikes and quadricycles), a farm, beach, and historic houses. Hour-long bike rentals are free from 10 a.m. to noon on weekdays. The ferry ride -- usually $2 round trip -- is free Saturday and Sunday mornings from Manhattan and Brooklyn.