New York City is one of the most expensive cities to live in or visit in the United States, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of cheap or no-cost ways to have a good time in the Big Apple. Here are the best free things to do in New York City.Less
Central Park spans 863 acres (349 hectares) and approximately 3.5 square kilometers (1,34 square miles) in the middle of Manhattan. The park is free for all to enjoy, so pop in and explore all of its lush nooks and crannies. Stroll across the romantic Bow Bridge, a picturesque cast-iron bridge that serves as the setting for unforgettable TV and film scenes as well as wedding and engagement photos.
Visit the main branch of the New York Public Library next to Bryant Park to take in the majestic Rose Main Reading Room. This famed room, located on the third floor, is the main feature of the Beaux-Arts-style library, which opened in 1911. Boasting 52-foot-tall (16-meter) ceilings, the Rose Main Reading Room has undergone facelifts and renovations in 1998-99 and 2014-16.
Situated high above the city’s west side is the High Line. Built on an old freight line and opened in 2009, this public space stretching 1.45 miles (2.33 kilometers) features seasonally shifting works of art, food vendors, gardens and performances. The High Line stretches from Gansevoort Street to West 34th Street, and it’s open year round, making it an excellent way to head uptown and get a unique perspective on the Chelsea streets and the Hudson River beyond.
Taste the local suds at the Brooklyn Brewery taproom in Williamsburg. You can purchase affordable tokens to sample the wares or take a tour to find out how the hops come to be. Free tours (limited to 40 people) run every half hour from 1pm to 6pm on Saturday and Sunday, but beware, there are long lines to get in on nice days.
Saturday Night Live (SNL) is almost synonymous with NYC television, so it’s no surprise that tickets to its tapings are coveted. If you don’t know, SNL is a live comedy and entertainment show that airs Saturdays at 11.30pm, so if you’re looking for laughs, there’s no better option. Because of its popularity, tickets are given out once per year via lottery. Of course, you can always try getting a standby ticket – as long as you’re willing to wait outside 30 Rockefeller Plaza before 7am.
The Staten Island Ferry plows New York Harbor between the Whitehall Ferry Terminal in Manhattan and the St George Ferry Terminal in Staten Island. Hop aboard for free and enjoy scenic views of the city plus a killer look at the Statue of Liberty, no matter what time of day or year – the ferry operates 24 hours a day, seven days per week. Food and beer concessions are available on each boat.
If you’re brave enough to stand outside all night (and most of the day) to watch the ball drop on December 31 in Times Square, it doesn’t cost a penny. Space is first-come, first-served, and no tickets are needed for the annual New Year’s Eve celebration that dates back to 1907 – just come prepared for a long (chilly) night and know there are no public restrooms available.
Finding a moment of calm amid the hectic urban scene is crucial (just ask the locals) – and there’s no better place to do it than in the cloistered escape of Prospect Park, with sprawling green grass below your downward dog and clouds floating above your mountain pose. Free yoga happens every Thursday at 7pm from the beginning of June until the end of August on Long Meadow, and you just have to fill out the online waiver before your first class.
While it might cost a subway fare or the price of a rental car and about an hour of your time to get there, visiting New York City’s beaches – including those at Rockaway, Brighton and Coney Island – is free. Relax on the beaches, take a dip in the water or wander up and down the boardwalk to sightsee, people-watch or grab a bite to eat. NYC Parks maintains 14 miles (23 kilometers) of beaches with lifeguards on duty daily during the summer from 10am to 6pm.
No one wants to be indoors when the weather is nice – unless you’re in dire need of air conditioning – so pack a blanket and venture to a park or rooftop to enjoy an outdoor movie. Since 1992, when HBO began showing films in Bryant Park, outdoor movies have become a summer pastime in New York City. Take in recent blockbusters, indie films or classics all summer long at spots all over the city like Brooklyn Bridge Park, Pier 63, or Hotel Hugo – just check each location’s website for more info.