New York City is one of the top travel U.S. destinations but also one of the most expensive.

Getting a decent accommodation is usually among the most expensive items on your travel budget in New York City, but even if you find a cheap hotel in New York City, the task of exploring the city’s attractions can still feel heavy in your pocket. But not necessarily.

New York counts with hundreds of free activities catered to locals and tourists alike who are looking to save money without compromising on the entertainment. Here are some of them:

Central Park view from Rockefeller Center

Best Arts and Culture Activities in New York City

  • New York’s most famous museums offer free or pay-what-you-wish entrance to the public –among those: Guggenheim Museum (Saturdays), MoMA (Fridays), Whitney Museum (Fridays).  Be sure to arrive early in the afternoon, these museums get crowded during “free afternoon” days.  Also, the Natural History Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art offer suggested donation entrances, so, feel free to spend as little as you wish.
  • On a less formal approach, the Socrates Sculpture Park in Long Island City exhibits a selection of sculptures and installations by local artists.  While appreciating the art, take some time to enjoy the panoramic view of Manhattan’s skyline.
  • The New York Public Library offers regular events that include visual arts exhibits, live music, dance performances, and others, at many of their citywide locations.  Check their schedule for upcoming events.
  • Bryant Park, in Midtown, offers free concerts performances and feature-length movies projected on large screens during the summer, making it one of the city’s premier outdoor cultural locations.  During the winter, this park offers free ice-skating.

Free Tours Around New York City

Midtown Empire State Building Architecture

  • Explore New York’s unique neighborhoods with a Big Apple Greeter. This is a non-profit organization that matches visitors with friendly and enthusiastic New Yorkers who are happy to share the city they love with families, friends, and travelers.  These volunteer locals offer free tours of their neighborhoods and various parts of the city.  Book in advance, these tours have a high demand.
  • Other groups offer neighborhood tours at no cost. Among these are the many neighborhood partnerships and alliances like: the Union Square Partnership, which provides guided tours of Union Square Park; the Village Alliance, which offers guided walks through St. Marks Place; and the Times Square Business Improvement District, which offers a unique tour to one of the most famous squares in the world, Times Square.
  • Discover Central Park history, ecology, and design through the free volunteer-led walking tours given by the Central Park Conservancy.  Enjoy the gardens, play areas, Belvedere Castle, fountains, and ponds that compose this 843-acre park.
  • You can’t visit New York City and not eat its pizza! There are a few tours dedicated to that, but you can skip them and instead pick the best pizza in each borough by using this New York Pizza Guide.

Historic Sightseeing in New York City

  • See the New York Harbor and have an up-close view of the Statue of Liberty at the Ellis Island National Monument. Also located on Ellis Island is the American Family Immigration History Center, which contains searchable records of 25 million immigrants, passengers, and crew members who entered the U.S. through New York Harbor between 1892 and 1924.
  • Go to Federal Hall, on Wall Street, where George Washington took the oath of office as United States’ first President. See other free exhibits that show New York’s role in the birth of Congress, the Supreme Court, and the Executive Branch offices.

Architectural Sights in New York City

New York City Cathedral

  • There’s nothing like New York’s architectural variety. Architectural styles range from colonial to contemporary. Among some of the impressive buildings are New York’s cathedrals; like Riverside ChurchCathedral Church of St. John the Divine, and St. Patrick’s Cathedral, among others. See 7 Buildings you should see when in NYC.

Free Fun Activities in New York City

  • Want to be on TV? Attend a Show Taping of Good Morning America or Today Show.  These shows welcome guests of all ages to their regular tapings. During the summer concert series, you can see famous artist performances for free. Tickets can be requested through each show website.

Free Outdoors Activities in New York City

Staten Island Ferry on the New York Bay

  • Without any doubt, Central Park is on top of the list of outdoor activities year-round, whether it is sunbathing or catching a free concert in the summer or playing in the snowy hills on the northern side of the park.
  • Take the Staten Island Ferry for a scenic maritime tour of the New York Bay.  This free commuter ferry runs from Manhattan to Staten Island and provides an up-close view of The Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and Manhattan skyline.
  • Relax and enjoy the Hudson River while walking along Riverside Park. This park runs along the west side of Manhattan from Midtown to Uptown.  There are many sports activities along the park and a limited number of kayaks can be borrowed for free.
  • Want to see animals in their habitat?  Head to the Bronx Zoo on a Wednesday, it’s free to the public.  Also on Wednesday, you can enjoy for free the New York Botanical Garden, located at the Bronx.
  • Stroll the High Line and enjoy the city from a different perspective by walking at this elevated rail-line linear park. Join their Tuesday’s free yoga class. See the best ways to experience the High Line.

These are just a few of the free year-round activities New York City offers. As you can see, there are tons of things to do that won’t break the bank but that will keep you entertained and help you explore the city in a different way.

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19 Comments

  1. Great post. New York is one of my favorite cites but everyone assumes it’s so expensive. It’s nice to see some options for people on a budget.

    1. Thanks Amy. Truth is New York is expensive, but if you look closely, it also has a lot of cheap and free attractions all around, year round. Thats one of the things I love the most about NYC.

  2. This is a great, comprehensive list. I just returned from Washington D.C. which was all free. It’s nice to know New York has a lot to offer too!

    1. Thanks Ben. There are so many free things to do in D.C… I have been there a couple times and each time I find new free and cheap things to there. New York is the same. The city is focused on providing a good living standard to its citizens (and tourists) by providing good and cheap public activities and attractions.

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