Things to do in New York City are pretty endless. Museums, monuments, markets, theatres, theme parks, breweries, bridges…you name it, they have it. But for many, New York is definitely on the more expensive side when it comes to city breaks, so if you’re looking to be savvy with your spending, why not tick off these activities first? After all, they’re free…
Walk the High Line
I’ve been to New York City three times now and I would say my biggest piece of advice is a rather obvious one: you see more when you walk! Unfortunately it’s a big city that’s really spread out, so some locations take a long time to get to (that’s what the Subway is for), but if you’re looking for somewhere guaranteed to have views, The High Line is perfect.
The High Line is an elevated park just under two miles long, on what was originally a railway track situated in West Manhattan. It’s been transformed by pathways, and is dotted with art installations. You can spot the Statue of Liberty (albeit in the distance) at the Hudson Yards end, along with the Empire State Building as you descend on your way to Chelsea. There’s lots of seating along the way too if you’re looking to take a break, have a picnic or just watch the world go by.
Head to a Major Museum on Their Free Day
Living in London, I totally took free museums for granted because New York City has some of the most exciting, but they all come at a price! If your visit typically covers a Friday, you’re in luck. A lot of the major museums offer free entry on a Friday evening, which is amazing. Check in advance to plan which one you’ll visit, but we headed to the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, which did not disappoint.
Here are some other museums and the days they are free to enter:
Museum at Eldridge Street
Yeshiva University Museum
9/11 Memorial Museum 5-8 pm
Brooklyn Botanic Garden
Staten Island Museum 12-2 pm
Wave Hill 9 am-noon
Bronx Zoo (pay what you wish)
Museum of Jewish Heritage 4-8 pm
New York Botanical Garden
Queens Botanical Garden April-October, 3-6 pm
Van Cortlandt House Museum
Yeshiva University Museum 5-8 pm
Brooklyn Children’s Museum 3-5 pm
China Institute 6-8 pm
International Center of Photography 6-9 pm (pay what you wish)
Museum of Arts and Design 6-9 pm (pay what you wish)
Museum of Chinese in America
New Museum 7-9 pm
Trinity Church: Concerts at One 1-2 pm (September through May)
Japan Society 6-9 pm
Morgan Library & Museum 7-9 pm
Museum of Modern Art 4-8 pm
New York Aquarium 3 pm-closing (pay what you wish)
New York Hall of Science 2-5 pm (September through June)
Rubin Museum of Art 7-10 pm
Staten Island Museum 12-2 pm
Whitney Museum of American Art 7-9:30 pm
Brooklyn Botanic Garden 10 am-noon
New York Botanical Garden 10 am-noon
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum 5:45-7:45 pm (pay what you wish)
Wave Hill 9 am-noon
Frick Collection 11 am-1 pm (pay what you wish)
New York Hall of Science 10-11 am (September through June)
Queens Botanical Garden April-October, 4-6 pm
Wander Central Park and Climb Belvedere Castle
Not to be cliché, but Central Park really is one of the highlights of New York City, all year round. I’ve visited when it’s snowed, and when it was sunny and it’s equally magical. Wander the trails, take in focal points and head to Belvedere Castle for great views over the park. It’s free to enter, and like the name suggests (‘belvedere’ quite literally means ‘beautiful view’ in Italian), you’re guaranteed some good pictures.
Other must-sees are the Alice in Wonderland statue, Strawberry Fields, Conservatory Garden and Bethesda Terrace.
Take a Self-guided Tour of Bushwick
Street art fans unite. Bushwick in Brooklyn is the perfect place to view some iconic open-air art. Just seven stops from Manhattan, jump off the L train with an up-to-date map and take to the streets to discover everything from subtle faces to giant murals, political statements to the plain weird.
Climb The Vessel
A copper honeycomb structure situated in Hudson Yards, West Manhattan, The Vessel is essentially a walkable piece of art that provides some pretty cool views. You have to book a time slot online before you visit, but it’s totally free and the perfect place to start if you’re looking to walk the High Line afterwards.
Take the Staten Island Ferry to see the Statue of Liberty
The Statue of Liberty is of course, the definitive symbol of the Big Apple, and if it’s your first visit I’m sure it’s high on your list. There are boat tours aplenty, but a lot of them come at a price – the Staten Island Ferry however, is free.
It is a commuter ferry, so don’t expect any glitz and glamour but it’s nice to stand on the upper deck and enjoy both views of the Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline.
Visit Ground Zero
9/11 shook the country – and the whole world – and to me it was essential to visit Ground Zero. There are a couple of museums you can visit (I recommend the 9/11 Tribute Museum instead of the 9/11 Museum as this was set up by survivors) but it’s free to visit the memorial and I think it’s important (and poignant).
Walk Across Brooklyn Bridge
I mean, do I really need to sell this to you? Walking from Brooklyn to Manhattan (or vice versa) is essential on your visit and it’s super picturesque on a sunny day.
There’s a bike lane and a walking lane, so take your pick, and it takes around 20 minutes to walk from one end to another. If you’re headed to Brooklyn, a wander around DUMBO is always a good idea, and if you’re headed to Manhattan, take to Chinatown.
Recreate Scenes from Iconic Movies
Think about some of your favourite films or TV shows. I bet you, one of two of them were filmed or set in New York. You can get all sorts of interactive maps online that show you where your faves were filmed, and you can build your own tour and recreate some of the images.
We headed to the Ghostbusters Fire Station and a scene where Godfather Part II was filmed, but you can also visit countless filming locations from Gossip Girl, Sex and the City, Law and Order, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Will & Grace and Spider-Man, and that’s just touching the surface.