Things to do in New York for free

things to do in New York for free

There are almost an infinite number of things to do in New York. But you could spend a ton of money doing them all. Quite easily.  If you don’t fancy taking out a second mortgage then you may want to know about a few of the things to do in New York for free.  This is a selection of the ones we’ve found on our visits. 

Ride the Staten Island Ferry

This has to top our list of things to do in New York for free. Why? 

Firstly, if you go first thing in the morning you’ll be rubbing shoulders with commuters on their way to their jobs in the city.  Getting an understanding of how the locals do things is a huge part of travel in our opinion.

Secondly, it’s heated!  So if you’re visiting New York in the winter it’s a great way to do some sight seeing in the warm.

And thirdly, but absolutely not least, because you get pretty decent views of the Statue of Liberty and…..

…great views of Lower Manhattan on the way back

Visit Lower Manhattan

Talking of Lower Manhattan it’s definitely worth a stroll through Chinatown and City Hall Park on your way back from Battery Park.  The Civic Centre of Manhattan, it’s home to some interesting buildings such as New York City Hall and the Courthouses and can be a very calm and peaceful place in the City that never sleeps.

Walk across Brooklyn Bridge

From City hall you’ll be less than half a mile away from Brooklyn Bridge.  So iconic this just has to be high up on the list of things to do in New York for free.

It’s over a mile across to Brooklyn and another back but you get views here unlike any other place in the city.

Ground Zero & 9/11 Memorial

Just half a mile from Brooklyn Bridge, Ground Zero and the area around it is quiet, peaceful and poignant.  The memorial is open 24/7 and free to visit but there is an entry charge for the museum.  Amongst the things to see here are St. Paul’s Chapel, a memorial to the survivors, the Sphere sculpture that survived 9/11 and One World Observatory. 

Walk Fifth Avenue

Hop on the subway, hail a cab or simply walk to Fifth Avenue. Even if you don’t like shopping it’s still an interesting place to be.  Most of the world’s biggest brands have their flagship store here.  

Nintendo New York, in Rockefeller Plaza just off Fifth Avenue, was, at the time we visited, the only Nintendo store on the planet.  Selling video games and merchandise including clothing exclusive to the store you also have the opportunity of playing games on massive screens and there’s a display of Nintendo game systems from the past.  Both free!

Fifth is also home to the original Tiffany’s store which is worth a look around, even if just for the history.  You can add this to your list things to do in New York for free as long as you look but don’t touch!

Trump Towers, is also on Fifth Avenue and Central Park, the Plaza Hotel and the Rockefeller Centre are all within a stone’s throw from here. All free to visit!

There’s an Microsoft store at the junction of Fifth Avenue and Central Park opposite the Plaza Hotel where there’s 5 floors of interactive things to do for free!

Explore Central Park

As we’re on the subject of and close to Central Park it’s open every day between 6 a.m. and 1 a.m. and absolutely free!

What makes it one of the great things to do in New York for free is the Ice Skating Rink.  Fun if you want to get on it but just as enjoyable to observe if you don’t.

The Chess and Checkers House and the Alice in Wonderland statue are just another couple of the huge array of things to do here.  At over 840 acres you really could spend an entire day here and still not get around it all.

American Museum of Natural History

This on is a little bit of a cheat as it’s not strictly one of the things to do in New York for free but during the late afternoon there does appear to be a more relaxed approach to admission charging.  It was around 4.30 in the afternoon when we visited and we got in for free.  Things could be very different now because of COVID but if you’re going anyway, time you visit carefully.

Opposite Central Park on Central Park West between 77th and 81st streets is The American Museum of Natural History.  The museum is the star of Night at the Museum and the largest natural history museum in the world.  You can easily spend a full day here.  And if you choose to there are plenty of places inside to eat and drink.  The museum is made up of permanent and temporary exhibitions dedicated to Earth and Space, Fossils, Animals, Environment, Humans amongst other things. 

Bryant Park

Bryant Park in New York in February

Bryant Park is a small green space near the foot of the Empire State Building just off Fifth Avenue.  You can skate, sit or play table tennis here.  There’s also a great cafe where you can get a hot drink. And whilst none of those are free it costs nothing to stroll through or take a break here.

Times Square

Times square in New York in February

Probably no visit to New York is complete without a visit to Times Square.  It’s usually very busy but not too bad early in the morning.  Good Morning America is filmed here and you can see it live through the studio window.  If you’re early enough and lucky enough you may get asked if you want in to the studio!  

Times Square is worth a visit just to see the big screens and experience the hustle and bustle and is definitely one of the must do things to do in New York for free.

More things to do in New York for free

There are still lots of things to do in New York for free that we haven’t managed to do yet. Such as exploring Ellis Island, Staten Island and the Highline.  But that’ll have to wait until next time!

Planning your trip to New York in Winter

Check Skyscanner for the best up to date prices on flights to New York and for places to stay.

We got our dollars from the Post Office and this guide really helped us with our planning.

For more information such as how to get around visit our New York page.

Check out our other city posts below

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