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Best Free Things To Do In New York City

New York City is one of the most popular destinations on Earth for travelers, but it’s also known for quickly draining a vacation budget. It’s easy to overspend in the Big Apple, with its award-winning Broadway performances, upscale restaurants and world-class shopping (Fifth Avenue! Soho!). Fortunately, there are plenty of free NYC activities and attractions as well — although in many cases, we advise booking in advance. Some, such as outdoor film screenings and ferry rides, are seasonal (or at least way more enjoyable in the summer), while others are available year-round. So, whether it’s your first trip or you’re a bona fide regular, consider these 11 free things to do in New York City. Your wallet will thank you.
Ceiling of the Morgan library

Explore The Morgan Library & Museum

Pierpont Morgan commissioned Charles McKim of McKim, Mead and White to design an Italian Renaissance-style palazzo for his private library of illuminated, literary, and historical manuscripts, early printed books, and old master drawings and prints. The jaw-dropping space, which now includes a 75,000 square foot expansion, designed by Renzo Piano, that offers visitor amenities like a gift shop, café and reading room, is filled with the rare books, manuscripts, prints, and other artifacts the financier collected during his lifetime. Visitors can see the collection — including a Johannes Gutenberg bible, the only surviving manuscript of John Milton’s Paradise Lost, Rembrandt etchings, and the original manuscript and art for Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince — for free on Fridays from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Reservations are required but can be made up to a week in advance by visiting the Library’s ticket page.

Visit The 9/11 Memorial & Museum

Honor the lives lost on 9/11 and celebrate New York’s heroes and resilience at one of the most poignant places to visit in the city. You can pay your respects at the twin reflecting pools, or learn more about the events of September 11, 2001 at the adjacent museum. First come, first serve tickets for Monday afternoons from 3:30 to 5 p.m. are available to reserve for free. Special groups, including families affected by the attacks; rescue and recovery workers; and active and retired U.S. military personnel always have free access to the museum and memorial, but, again, timed tickets are required.

Cross The Brooklyn Bridge

One of the best views of Manhattan is from Brooklyn, so take the train or a cab to downtown Brooklyn and walk back to Manhattan along the Brooklyn Bridge — a cable-stayed suspension bridge that extends over the East River. From here, you can not only admire Manhattan’s iconic skyline, but also Brooklyn and the Statue of Liberty. Best of all, the bridge is open 24 hours a day and it’s always free.
High LIne trail

Stroll Along The High Line

This public park-meets-art-gallery occupies a nearly mile-and-a-half-long stretch of elevated freight railway snaking along Manhattan’s West Side from the Meatpacking District to Hudson Yards. You can take your time and make a morning (or afternoon or evening) of it or hop on/hop off along the way. The hours vary, depending on the season, but access to the park is always free. For a more guided experience, check the website for free docent-led tours, which are available several times a week.

The Staten Island Ferry on the harbor

Take The Ferry To See The Statue Of Liberty

Skip the overpriced boat rides and enjoy a free ride on the Staten Island Ferry to see the Statue of Liberty instead. This commuter ferry connects the Whitehall Terminal, at the bottom of Manhattan, with Staten Island, and it operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Ferries typically run every 30 minutes, and during the free ride, you’ll get up close views of Lady Liberty as well as a great look at Lower Manhattan.

View from the St Cloud rooftop

See Times Square Without The Crowds

Head to the top of the Knickerbocker to the St. Cloud rooftop for incredible views over Times Square, ‘gram worthy living greenery walls and a carefully curated menu featuring seasonally focused small plates and a progressive cocktail list. OK, so the cocktails aren’t free, but they are delicious, and for each one purchased, we donate to our charitable foundation, Save the Children. Not a bad exchange for being able to spend an hour or two hovering above the city. Escape the crowds here Tuesday through Saturday from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m.

Winter skating in Bryant Park

Summer Movies And Winter Skating At Bryant Park

For ten magical Monday nights each summer, you can partake in a beloved NYC tradition by packing a blanket and heading to Bryant Park for a free outdoor screening of a classic or new film. From December through early March, the Park is home to New York’s only free-admission ice skating rink (we recommend reserving in advance), complete with private igloos available to rent and free seasonal attractions like caroling by the New York City Opera, holiday markets and live entertainment.

Experience Hudson Yards

Calling Hudson Yards a mixed-use development is akin to calling Times Square an entertainment district: it is, of course, but it’s oh, so much more. Since opening Phase One in 2019, this city within a city has become home to a shopping and dining hub, The Shed, a multi-disciplinary arts center, Edge, the highest outdoor observation deck in the Western Hemisphere, and, perhaps most famously, the Vessel — a Thomas Heatherwick-designed beehive sculpture that was imagined as a staircase with 80 landings for exercising, communing with fellow New Yorkers and visitors, and taking in the city from different vantage points. Sadly, the upper levels are closed indefinitely but the base level is free and open to the public Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Sunday 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., with no reservation required. It’s surrounded by a public square and gardens that make for fun people-watching and coffee-sipping.

The exterior of the New York Public Library

Check Out The New York Public Library

You can’t see Midtown Manhattan without paying a visit to the New York Public Library’s iconic flagship on the corner of 42nd and Fifth Avenue. The branch itself, known as the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, is an architectural masterpiece, but beyond its elegant Beaux-Arts façade, you’ll find some of the most incredible collections of literature and research texts on Earth. Experience it firsthand with a free tour of the permanent Polonsky Exhibit of the New York Public Library’s Treasures, from Thomas Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration of Independence to the original Winnie-the-Pooh and Friends, and more. Tickets are available Monday through Saturday at 12:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. and Sundays at 1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.

See a Late-Night Comedy Show

Many of the most famous late-night comedy shows, including Last Week Tonight With John Oliver and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, give out free tickets to the live studio audience. You may have to enter an online ticket lottery or wait in line outside for standby tickets. But visitors with perseverance and patience can have the once-in-a-lifetime experience of seeing their favorite comedians and television hosts in person for free.

The interior of the Guggenheim

Visit The Guggenheim

Usually, tickets to the Guggenheim cost as much as $25 for adults. But every Saturday, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., visitors can pay what they wish as long as they reserve a timed ticket in advance. The suggested fee is $10, but if you want to visit for free, you can. Many museums in New York City, including the Whitney Museum of American Art and the New Museum, offer pay-what-you-wish hours (timed tickets required) on a weekly basis.

Discover More Of New York City

There’s no end of amazing neighborhoods and attractions to explore in New York City. Check out our NYC Travel Guide for recommendations on where to eat and what to do to have the best New York experience.

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