The Good and the Free in NYC
New York City may be known as one of the most expensive places in the world, but insiders know that it does not have to be. The city can be hard on your wallet, with $30 street hot dogs and Broadway show tickets hitting four figures being more and more the norm. However, if you know where to look, this city has a surprisingly large number of free things to do.
From a plethora of sprawling parks, to views that will surely up your Instagram game, to museums that have special pay-what-you-want times, we put together a guide for you to see this city on a shoestring budget. This is not your grandma’s list. Prepare your walking shoes and an adventurous attitude for a day out in the city. After all, Headliners, you can’t be dancing all the time.
The High Line
A repurposed park built from the remains of the West Side Line, the High Line attracts a ridiculous number of tourists—and for good reason. At almost a mile-and-a-half long, the park is the perfect way for you to get views of the West Side and the Hudson River. Probably one of the coolest aspects of the elevated park is how it interacts with the old rail line. Take the 7 to the end at 34th Street—Hudson Yards Station, and walk north to south for the best experience. It drops you off in the hippest area of the city, Greenwich Village, where spotting your favorite celebrity acting bohemian is almost all but guaranteed. Avoid the crowds by going in the morning.
Staten Island Ferry
You can’t visit New York without checking out the Statue of Liberty. But take it from us: Actually visiting it is a nightmare. From overpriced tours to more time waiting in line than actually being on the island, take a hard pass on actually visiting it and ride the free Staten Island Ferry instead. It is around a 30-minute ride, and it has some of the most spectacular views of the statue, as well as the city. It runs every half-hour, 365 days a year. But here’s the clincher, and a little-known fact: It’s BYOB! Grab your favorite craft brew and enjoy seeing Lady Liberty like she was meant to be seen—free and with a buzz. Take the 1 train to the end at South Ferry Station.
Coney Island Boardwalk
As the original beachfront amusement, this relic of times past holds a special place in every New Yorker’s heart. Grab a hot dog at the original Nathan’s, and take a spine-adjusting ride on the wooden coaster that inspired them all, the Cyclone. Open weekends in May, and starting daily in June, take Q & F to West 8th Street Station or D, F, N & Q to the Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue Station.
Brooklyn Bridge Park
Take a stroll over the Brooklyn Bridge to this beautiful park on the East River. It is less crowded than Central Park and has the best view of the city from the east. Pack a picnic and spend a day throwing the Frisbee and kicking the soccer ball around, all while sunbathing in the shadow of the Big Apple.
Bronx Museum of the Arts
Focusing on 20th-century American artists, the Bronx Museum of the Arts is one of the only constantly free museums the city has to offer. Don’t let the lack of a price tag fool you; this museum is a contemporary art lover’s paradise. Always featuring an exhibit that focuses on the Bronx, the museum is currently showing paintings by Valeri Larko. They explore the vibrant graffiti culture that has been prevalent in the Bronx throughout the years. Take the D or B train to 167th Street Station.
Public Boathouse Kayak Rental
Starting in May, boathouses throughout the city offer free kayak rentals. All you have to do is sign a waiver, and you are off. What better way to check out the city than on the water? Pick up a kayak at the New York City Downtown Boathouse, Brooklyn Bridge Park Boathouse, Long Island City Community Boathouse, Red Hook Boaters or Kayak Staten Island. Hours vary, so make sure to check their websites before planning your day out on the water.
New York Public Library
Built in 1911, the main branch of the New York Public Library is a sight to see. The maze-like design lets you escape from the world outside and find yourself lost within history. Grab a book to read or just walk around, basking in all the research your favorite scholar has done over the years here. It is tranquility within noise. Nestled between Times Square and Grand Central Station, it is easily accessible by a multitude of subway lines.
Roosevelt Island Tramway
Not technically free, as you have to swipe your MetroCard to board it (however, a free transfer is allowed from the subway, so be clever), the Roosevelt Island Tramway is a relic of the past. More suited to the Alps than the city, the 110-person gondola whisks you away from Manhattan, giving you spectacular views of the East River. Catch the tram at Tram Plaza on 60th Street at Second Avenue.
The granddaddy of them all, Central Park is full of tourists and overpriced cafés, and yet we still keep going back for picnics on the lawn and concerts in the park. It offers people-watching at its finest. While there are plenty of ways to spend money here, it is best to just bring a blanket, sit back, and take in the surroundings. To avoid the crowds, we recommend entering via 72nd street from the west. Take the A, B, or C to 72nd Street Station.
It is always fun to take a few hours of the day off from normal life and feel like you are royalty. Hop around from gallery to gallery, pretending like you understand art (don’t worry; even the people who can afford these pieces don’t understand them). This is your Sex in the City afternoon, and you deserve it. Remember, if you act like you belong, you belong. Times vary from gallery to gallery, but you should easily be able to plan your afternoon around their operational hours. Take the A, C, or E to 23rd Street Station.
The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Late Night With Seth Meyers, and Saturday Night Live all call New York home. The difficulty in getting free tickets to these events depends entirely on when you visit, but you should have no problem getting into one of them. The process is different for each one, so click the links above for more info.
Socrates Sculpture Park
Located in Long Island City, a quickly gentrifying neighborhood in Queens, Socrates Sculpture Park is an outdoor museum and park created by American sculptor Mark di Suvero. Built on an old illegal landfill, it is an immersive experience that is constantly changing; don’t be surprised if you see an artist working on their next big project. Hours are 10am till sunset. Take the N or Q to Broadway.
Brooklyn Brewery Tour
While the beer is not free, this brewery gives out free tours on Saturdays and Sundays, every half hour on a first come, first served basis. A craft beer staple before craft beer became a thing, Brooklyn Brewery has become a landmark in Williamsburg. Converted from an old matzo factory, it’s one of the last standing large-scale production factories in the area and a throwback to pre-gentrified Williamsburg. While you are there, it would not hurt to grab the classic Brooklyn Lager while you learn the fermentation process behind your favorite beverage. Take the L to Bedford Avenue Station.
Friday Night at the MOMA
Every Friday from 4–8 pm, the Museum of Modern Art opens its doors to the masses for free. As one of the most influential modern art museums in the world, the MOMA is a must-visit for first-timers in New York. Currently on display is A Japanese Constellation: Toyo Ito, SANAA, and Beyond, which focuses on the network of architects and designers that has developed around Pritzker Prize winners Toyo Ito and SANAA. It regularly cost $25, so Friday night is a steal. Expect large crowds and, if you can, arrive after 6pm. Take the M or the E to the 53rd Street and Fifth Avenue Station.
Grand Central Station
The center of the world, or so they say, Grand Central Station is a historical labyrinth featuring more than 100 rail tracks. Another place to take that perfect New York picture, Grand Central is a haven for architectural buffs and a nightmare for those who use it for their commute. Nevertheless, do not let the crass locals get you frustrated; they secretly awe at its beauty on a daily basis.
Sunset at Battery Park
Located at the tip of Manhattan, Battery Park is the best place in the city to take in a sunset. The park, named after the artillery that protected the island back in the day, is as picturesque as it gets. It is impossible to express the feeling one gets while watching the sun set behind Lady Liberty. Take the 4 or 5 train to Bowling Green Station.
As the butt of hundreds of jokes by locals, Times Square gets exactly the rap it deserves. It is ridiculously crowded, and you cannot walk more than five feet without a creepy dude in a Minions costume trying to get you to take a picture with him for money. But for all the flack it gets, it would be hard to imagine a trip to New York without seeing the Naked Cowboy and the huge LED signs. In recent years, the area has been overrun with topless women wearing body paint over their private parts; these Desnudas have caused quite a controversy in the area, sparking a debate from both sides of the coin. If taking a picture next to a seminude woman with Spiderman hanging out in the background is your thing, you can make that happen in Times Square. Take the 7, N, Q, R, 1, 2, or 3 train to 42nd Street Times Square Station.
When you’re surrounded by a concrete jungle, it is a nice change of pace to see things from an actual jungle, and there’s nothing better than a trip to the zoo to clear your head. Every Wednesday, entry to the Bronx Zoo becomes donation-based. It is the largest metropolitan zoo in the United States and home to a diverse range of animals; and the Bronx River runs through it, allowing for natural, water-based habitats. Take the 2 train to Pelham Parkway Station
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