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.
Last Updated: October 11, 2020
YOUR COMPLETE GUIDE TO 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.
11 POPULAR FREE THINGS TO DO IN NYC
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.
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.
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.
photo: Malcolm Brown
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.
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.
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.
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.
You can tour one of New York’s most popular local craft breweries. They do tours every half hour on the weekends (12:30 pm – 6 pm on Saturdays and 1 – 4 pm on Sundays).
Pro 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.
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.
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.
FREE NYC ATTRACTIONS
- Brooklyn Bridge
- Chelsea Market
- Empire State Building
- Flatiron Building
- 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 Yoga – Free Tuesdays & Thursdays Warmer Months
- 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
- Rockaway Beach – watch the surfers
- Roller Skating to Live DJ Music in Central Park – Saturdays & Sundays 2:45-6:45 pm April-October
FREE NYC MUSEUMS
- American Folk Art Museum
- BRIC House
- Broken Kilometer
- Bronx Museum of the Arts
- Brooklyn Art Library
- Brooklyn Museum – Free First Saturday 5-11 pm
- Bushwick Street Art Collective
- Cheim and Read
- Cooper Hewitt – PAYW on Saturdays 6-9 pm
- David Zwirner Gallery
- El Museo del Barrio – Free Every Third Saturday
- Frick Collection – PAYW on Sundays 11 am – 1 pm
- Gagosian Gallery
- Gladstone Gallery
- Godwin-Ternbach Museum
- Guggenheim Museum – PAYW on Saturdays 5:45-7:45 pm
- International Center of Photography Museum – PAYW on Thursday Nights
- Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art
- Luhring Augustine Gallery
- Matthew Marks Gallery
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art – PAYW
- The Met Cloisters – PAYW
- Museum of Arts and Design – PAYW on Thursdays 6-9 pm
- The Museum of Biblical Art
- Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology
- The Museum of Modern Art – Free Fridays 4-8 pm
- Museum of Moving Image – Free Fridays 4-8 pm
- Noguchi Museum – Free First Fridays
- Neue Galerie – Free First Fridays 6-8 pm
- New Museum – PAYW on Thursdays 7-9 pm
- New York Earth Room
- The Pace Gallery
- Queens Museum of Art – PAYW
- Rubin Museum of Art – Free Fridays 6-10 pm
- Sean Kelly
- South Street Seaport – Free Every Other Friday 3-7 pm
- Studio Museum in Harlem – Free Sundays
- Tanya Bonakdar Gallery
- Waterfront Museum – Free Saturdays 1-5 pm
- Whitney Museum of American Art – PAYW on Fridays 7-9:30 pm
Botanical Gardens, Aquariums & Zoos
- Brooklyn Botanic Garden – Free Every Tuesday
- Bronx Zoo – PAYW on Wednesdays
- The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine Gardens
- New York Aquarium – Free Fridays 4-6 pm in the Summer, 3-5 pm in the Fall
- New York Botanical Garden – Free Wednesdays & Saturdays 9-10 am
- Queens Botanical Gardens – Free Sundays 9-11 am April-October
- Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Gardens
- Socrates Sculpture Park
- Staten Island Zoo – Free Wednesdays After 2 pm
- Wave Hill – Free Tuesdays 9 am – 12 pm
- Brooklyn Children’s Museum – Free Thursdays 3-5 pm
- Children’s Museum of the Arts – PAYW on Thursdays 4-6 pm
- Children’s Museum of Manhattan – Free First Fridays 5-8 pm
Commemorative Museums & Memorials
- Castle Clinton National Monument
- Federal Hall National Memorial
- General Ulysses S. Grant National Memorial
- The Hamilton Grange National Memorial
- The National September 11th Museum – Free Tuesdays 5 pm to Close
- Soldiers and Sailors Monument
- Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace
- African Burial Ground National Museum
- Asia Society – Free Fridays 6-9 pm from September to June
- Hispanic Society of America
- Irish Hunger Memorial
- Japan Society – Free Fridays 6-9 pm
- Jewish Museum – Free Saturdays, PAYW on Thursday 5-8 pm
- Museum of Chinese in America – Free First Thursdays
- The Museum at Eldridge Street Synagogue – Free Mondays (Groups Less Than 6)
- Museum of Jewish Heritage – Free Wednesday 4-8 pm
- National Museum of the American Indian
- Scandinavia House The Nordic Center in America
History Museums & Libraries
- The American Museum of Natural History – PAYW
- Historic Richmond Town – Free Fridays 1-5 pm
- New York Historical Society – PAYW on Fridays 6-8 pm
- New York Public Library – Tours at 11 am and 2 pm
- Morgan Library and Museum – Free Tuesdays 3-5 pm
- Queens Library Culture Events
- Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture – Free Music, Performances, Lectures
- Staten Island Museum – Free Tuesdays 12-2 pm
- The King Manor Museum – PAYW
- BLDG 92 at Brooklyn Navy Yard
- Harbor Defense Museum
- New York Hall of Science – Free Fridays 2-5 pm September-June
- New York Transit Museum – Free with the NYC Pass
- Queens County Farm Museum
New York City is full of amazing murals and is like an ever-changing art gallery. We spent an entire afternoon exploring ones just in the SOHO / East Village area. We also found a lot walking around different Brooklyn neighborhoods.
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
- The Late Show with Stephen Colbert
- The Daily Show with Trevor Noah
- 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 – PAYW There are so many talented musicians in the subways. We started making it a habit to carry around cash for tip.
- Syndicated Bar in Bushwick – Free Movie Trivia Tuesdays 8 pm
- Videology in Williamsburg – Free Move Trivia Tuesdays 8:30 pm
FREE NYC TOURS
Boats & Ferries
- East River Ferry – Technically not free but same cost as a subway ride. Kids under 44 inches 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
- Bierkraft Brewery – Free Tastings Tuesdays After 7 pm
- Big Nose Full Body – Free Tastings Saturdays 4-6 pm
- Brooklyn Brewery – Free Tours Saturdays and Sundays
- New York Distilling Company Free Tours and Tastings on Saturday and Sundays 2-5 pm. Sundays during their tour they have single barrel tastings, and Tuesdays they have free comedy.
- SingleCuts Beersmiths – Free Tours Saturdays and Sundays 3 pm
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 at 12:30 pm
- 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
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
- See Reviews and Best Prices for Hotels in Brooklyn
- Prefer Central Park? Check for Reviews and Best Prices for Hotels.
- See Reviews and Best Prices for Hotels in SoHo
- The Times Square is also a great area. See Reviews and Best Prices for Hotels.
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.
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“Discovery consists not of seeking new lands but in seeing with new eyes” – M. Proust