You are currently viewing 11 Top Free Things to Do in NYC + MorePin

11 Top Free Things to Do in NYC + More

Visiting NYC on a budget? Here are the best free things to do.

When you think of NYC, the word you look for to describe it is never ‘cheap’. It’s known as the most expensive US city to live in. Eating out, going to shows, and all the attractions are easily double the price of many other cities and can quickly empty your pockets.

It’s also a city where you can never run out of things to see and do, which makes a lot of visitors pack in their schedules. Luckily, though there’s an endless list of activities that cost money, there are also plenty of free options.

The Ultimate Guide to Free Things to Do in New York City - Free NYC Attractions - Free Museum Days and More // Local Adventurer

This post may contain affiliate links, where we receive a small commission on sales of the products that are linked at no additional cost to you. All opinions are always our own. Read our full disclosure for more info. Thank you for supporting the brands that make Local Adventurer possible.

Last Updated: September 9, 2023

11 Popular Free Things to Do in NYC

We’ve compiled a list of all the free things to do in the city. First, we listed the top 11 most popular spots, and then you can see the rest organized by category below or by location with the map below. Keep in mind that there are always exceptions (special events and/or holidays), so it’s always good to double-check each site before visiting.

Everything is Always Free unless noted otherwise and PAYW = Pay As You Wish.

1. Chelsea Galleries

Chelsea is home to a ton of art galleries, and you can find most of them between West 14th Street and West 29th Street. A lot of them have museum-quality exhibits and are open to the public during opening hours.

Local Tip: A lot of the galleries serve complimentary wine or beer during opening nights. We went to the Yayoi Kusama exhibit at David Zwirner Gallery had lines wrapping around the building. We got there an hour before it opened and still waited 2 hours.

See More: 25 Fun Things to Do Indoors in NYC for Rainy and Cold Days

2. The Oculus, World Trade Center’s Transportation Hub

185 Greenwich St LL3110, New York, NY 10006, map

Although the nearly $4 billion dollar price tag has raised a lot of debate over the space, photographers all flock to this spot. The beautiful and clean design make for amazing photos. You can also pay respects at the 9/11 Memorial. The museum has a fee, but the outdoor memorial is always free.

See More: 27+ Most Instagrammable Places in NYC

3. Staten Island Ferry

4 Whitehall St, New York, NY 10004, map

Most ferries have some sort of fee, but the Staten Island Ferry is always free. It’s a great way to get out onto the water to see the city from a different view.

Staten Island Ferry - The Best Free Places to Go in NYC - NYC on a Budget - Free NYC Attractions (pc: Malcolm Brown) //
photo: Malcolm Brown

4. The High Line

The High Line is a beautifully designed elevated park. Read about the history, take in the art, and there’s even a viewing window to the traffic below. On Tuesdays at dusk, telescopes are set up by the Amateur Astronomers Association and anyone can take a peek.

5. New York Public Library

476 5th Ave, New York, NY 10018, map

This historic building is a must stop for anyone who appreciates grand architecture. It’s also a great spot for movie buffs (how many movies can you name that were filmed there?). They also have period exhibits and author talks.

Bury your nose in a book at New York Public Library + 25 Things to Do in New York Indoors // Local Adventurer

6. Grand Central Station

89 E 42nd St, New York, NY 10017, map

Even if you’re not hopping on the train, you should stop by Grand Central Station. It’s over 100 years old and an iconic spot in NYC. There are also Pay As You Wish tours on Fridays at 12:30 pm.

Grand Central Station Pictures + 25 Best Instagram Spots in NYCPin

7. Live Tapings

There are a few live tapings in NYC, but the two most popular are probably the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and Saturday Night Live. Free tickets are released a month in advance for the Tonight Show and SNL is done on a lottery system.

How to Get Tickets to the Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon Taping + What to Do at Rockefeller Center // Local Adventurer

8. Brooklyn Brewery Tours

79 N 11th St, Brooklyn, NY 11249, map

You can tour one of New York’s most popular local craft breweries. They do free hourly tours every Sunday from 1-6 PM.

Local Tip: They fill up quickly, so be sure to get a ticket early. We showed up 30 minutes ahead of the tour we wanted to go on and we were fine. You can always grab a few beers while you’re waiting (unfortunately not free) or there’s a Joe’s Pizza a few blocks away if you’re hungry.

See More: The Ultimate NYC Food Bucket List

Brooklyn Brewery Tours - Your Complete List of Free Things to Do in New York // Local Adventurer

9. Brooklyn Bridge

Take a walk over the iconic Brooklyn Bridge, but don’t miss the views from the Brooklyn Bridge Park as well. It runs along the waterfront and you get amazing views of the skyline.

10. Central Park →

Central Park is full of endless corners to explore, but a great way to see the park is through the free guided tours put on by the Central Park Conservancy. They have different programs throughout the year and if you’d rather go at your own pace, check out the self-guided tours.

See More: 45 Central Park Secrets Plus Popular Attractions You Can’t Miss

11. Times Square

As touristy and crowded and unpleasant as the experience might be, it’s something you have to see at least once. There isn’t anything quite like it. If you get lucky, there will be a pop-up exhibit or event there.

Local Tip: If you take a photo with any of the characters on the street, they will expect payment. If you want to see it without any crowds, try going at 4 am. It was also pretty empty on a rainy night.

See More: Your Ultimate Guide to the Best Broadway Musicals

Times Square ManhattanPin

Free NYC Attractions

  • Brooklyn Bridge
  • Chelsea Market
  • Empire State Building
  • Flatiron Building
  • Little Island
  • The Oculus, World Trade Center’s Transportation Hub
  • Riverside Church
  • Rockefeller Center Public Art – See Ice Skaters, Tree, Holiday Decorations in the Winter
  • St Patrick’s Cathedral
  • Times Square
  • The High Line – Stargazing on Tuesdays

Outdoors + Urban Parks

  • Astoria Park Pool – City’s Largest & Oldest Pool
  • Battery Park City Parks Conservancy
  • Bike Rental Governors Island – Free Weekdays 10 am – 12 pm
  • Brighton Beach
  • Brooklyn Bridge Park
  • Bryant Park Ice Skating – Free if you have your own skates
  • Central Park
  • Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve
  • Douglas and DeGraw Pool
  • Fort Tilden Beach
  • Green Markets (Union Square on Saturdays)
  • Hamilton Fish Pool
  • Jones Beach State Park
  • Kayaking on Hudson River – Free 20 Minute Rental
  • Kayaking Under Brooklyn Bridge – Free 20 Minute Rental
  • McCarren Park Pool
  • Old Stone House
  • Pebble Beach
  • Rockaway Beach – watch the surfers

Free NYC Museums

Always Free

  • African Burial Ground Memorial Site
  • American Folk Art Museum
  • BRIC House
  • The Bronx Museum of the Arts
  • Federal Hall National Memorial
  • General Grant National Memorial
  • Hamilton Grange
  • The Harbor Defense Museum
  • MoMA PS1 (free for NYC residents)
  • Museum of Chinese in America
  • Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology
  • National Museum of the American Indian
  • New York Public Library, Stephen A. Schwarzman Building
  • New York Public Library for the Performing Arts
  • New York Transit Museum Annex & Store, Grand Central Terminal
  • Queens County Farm Museum (except during special events)
  • Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
  • Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden (grounds and botanical garden only)
  • Socrates Sculpture Park

Sometimes Free


  • 9/11 Memorial & Museum (3:30 to 5 PM)
  • Museum at Eldridge Street Synagogue (PAYW)


  • The Morgan Library and Museum (J. Pierpont Morgan’s Library only, 3 to 5 PM)


  • Bronx Zoo (park entry only; does not include admission to special exhibitions like the Butterfly Garden, Congo Gorilla Forest and JungleWorld nor the activities at the Bronx Zoo Treetop Adventure)
  • New York Aquarium (3 PM to close)
  • New York Botanical Garden (free grounds access 10 to 11 AM; free grounds access all day to NYC residents; does not include entry to the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, special exhibitions or Tram Tour)

Sometimes Free (Continued)


  • Queens Botanical Garden (April to October, 3 to 6 PM)
  • Van Cortlandt House Museum Staten Island Zoo (2 to 4:45 PM)


  • Brooklyn Children’s Museum (2 to 5 PM)
  • Frick Madison (PAYW 4 to 6 PM)
  • Museum of Jewish Heritage (4 to 8 PM)
  • Museum of the Moving Image (2 to 6 PM)
  • New Museum (PAYW 7 to 9 PM)
  • Wave Hill


  • Asia Society and Museum (Sept to June, 6 to 9 PM)
  • The Morgan Library and Museum (5 to 7 PM)
  • Museum at Eldridge Street Synagogue (PAYW)
  • New York Hall of Science (2 to 5 PM)
  • The New-York Historical Society (PAYW 6 to 8 PM)
  • Rubin Museum of Art (6 to 10 PM)
  • Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) (First Fridays NYC residents only, 4 to 8 PM)
  • Neue Galerie (First Fridays 5 to 8 PM)
  • The Noguchi Museum (First Fridays)


  • The Jewish Museum
  • Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (PAYW 6 to 8 PM)
  • Brooklyn Museum (First Saturdays 5 to 11 PM; does not apply to January, July, September or December)


  • The Morgan Library and Museum (J. Pierpont Morgan’s Library only, 3 to 5 PM)
  • Queens Botanical Garden (April to October, 9 to 11 AM)


  • Brooklyn Botanic Garden (pay what you wish, December to February, Tuesday to Friday)
  • Queens Botanical Garden (November to March, Tuesday to Sunday)

Free NYC Shows

Comedy & Talk Shows

  • Comedy Night at the Knitting Factory – Free Fridays
  • Saturday Night Live – Lottery System
  • The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon
  • Upright Citizen’s Brigade – Free Shows Sundays

Music, Movies, & Theater

  • Arthur’s Tavern – Oldest Continuously Operating Bar in the City – Live Jazz/Shows
  • Central Park’s SummerStage – Most Performances Free
  • Trinity Church and St. Paul’s Chapel Concerts
  • Harlem Meer Performance Festival
  • Hip to Hip Theatre Company
  • St. Peter’s Church – PAYW for Jazz on Wednesdays 1 pm
  • Julliard School – Some Free Recitals
  • Movies Under the Stars  (Most Popular one is at Bryant Park)
  • Prospect Park‘s Summer Concert Series
  • Shakespeare in the Park
  • Subway Musicians / Buskers – There are so many talented musicians in the subways. We started making it a habit to carry around cash for tip.

Free NYC Tours

Boats & Ferries

  • East River Ferry – Technically not free but the same cost as a subway ride. Kids under 44″ ride for free with an adult.
  • Staten Island Ferry
  • Water Taxi IKEA Shuttle Ferry – Free on Weekends & Free with $10 Purchase at IKEA

Brewery Tours & Wine Tastings

  • Big Nose Full Body – Free Tastings Sun-Fri 5-7 PM, Sat 4-6 PM
  • Brooklyn Brewery – Sundays 1-6 PM
  • New York Distilling Company – Moving locations

Neighborhood & Building Tours

  • Big Apple Greeters – PAYW
  • Central Park Tour – PAYW
  • City Hall Lunchtime Tours
  • The Federal Reserve Bank
  • Free Tours By Foot – PAYW
  • Grand Central Terminal – PAYW on Fridays
  • Greenwich Village – PAYW on Saturdays 11:30 am June-September
  • The High Line – PAYW on Tuesdays 6:30 pm and Saturdays 10 am (Only During Warm Months)
  • Lower East Side – PAYW on Sundays 11 am April-December
  • Union Square – PAYW on Saturdays 2 pm

Map of Free Things to Do in NYC

Use this map if you’re looking for something free near you, and if you only want to see specific categories, just check or uncheck the boxes in the legend.

Essential Tips for NYC

  • Some museums do not allow large bags and rules on what’s considered a large bag varies per location. Before visiting, check their respective sites to see rules.
  • Free events and entrances can always change if there are special events. It’s always good to double-check before heading over.
  • When using the subway system, Google Maps is really helpful. You will lose service so it helps to screengrab directions.
  • Phone batteries die really quickly in the city. When you’re on the subway, it’s constantly searching. Go to airplane mode on long rides, and bring an extra battery pack!
  • If you’re visiting in the winter, here’s a packing list and ways to survive the winter in NY.
  • Also read, 21 Things You Need to Know Before You Visit New York.

Where to Stay

Use this map if you’re looking for something free near you, and if you only want to see specific categories, just check or uncheck the boxes in the legend.

Planning Checklist

How many of these free things have you done? Anything we need to add to the list?

Did you enjoy this post? Pin it for later

SEE MORE Free Things to Do


“Discovery consists not of seeking new lands but in seeing with new eyes” – M. Proust

Esther and JacobPin

Esther + Jacob

Esther and Jacob are the founders of Local Adventurer, one of the top 5 travel blogs in the US. They believe that adventure can be found near and far and hope to inspire others to explore locally. They explore a new city in depth every year and currently base themselves in Las Vegas.

Follow on Instagram (E + J), YouTube, TikTok, and Pinterest.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Emily

    Thanks for this list of reminders! I am taking my cousin for her first visit to NYC in a few weeks and I can’t wait! Hope you guys are enjoying your time there so far.

    1. Esther JuLee

      NP! That’s gonna be so great for her to have someone who knows the area to show her around. :) We…. are. It’s just been cold. haha

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.