The Best Free Things to Do in NYC

Since moving to New York at the beginning of 2018, I have done my fair share of google searches and Pinterest finds on what are the best free spots in NYC. In hopes of helping others who are new to the city and/or are visiting on a budget, I have compiled a list of my favorite free things! Some of these you could choose to spend more money at, but most come at absolutely no cost. I hope you find these helpful and definitely comment below any of your favorite free NYC spots that didn’t make my list.

  1. Public Parks: Central Park, Union Square, Washington Square, and many more

When first moving to New York, I thought I would miss being around nature, but all the public parks makes spending time outside accessible. Parks are a good way to take a quick break or spend the day relaxing. They can be quite popular during nice days or more quiet and serene depending on the weather. Definitely my best recommendation is to explore and utilize the many public parks here since they are free and beautiful!

Central Park, New York, NY
  1. Ferry to Staten Island

I took this by necessity when I first got to NYC before I moved into my apartment, but it was actually an amazing way to see the city skyline for free. Ferries run between Staten Island and Manhattan every half-hour with no cost. It’s a great way to get out on the water and see Manhattan from the outside.

  1. Brooklyn Bridge & Brooklyn Bridge Park

Brooklyn Bridge is one of the tourist sites in NYC that I don’t believe is overrated because the architecture is stunning and it is at a great point between downtown Manhattan and Brooklyn. I have fallen in love with Brooklyn Bridge Park, which is my absolute favorite place in NYC. It has the most amazing view of the Manhattan skyline and I have taken many photos there. Pro-tip: go at sunset to see golden hour and the city light up for night.

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Skyline view from Brooklyn Bridge Park
  1. Governors Island

Governors Island is a seriously underrated destination off the South tip of Manhattan. It was a military fort for a couple hundred years before becoming a national park. Now you can take the ferry there for free on Saturday mornings and enter at no cost. There are buildings to explore, lots of paths to walk or bike, and The Hills gives you a 360 view of Manhattan, New Jersey, the Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn, and Staten Island. A free spot like that can’t be beat.

  1. Flea markets: Chelsea Market, Brooklyn Artists & Fleas

This is one where you can choose how much money you want to spend, but I enjoy just browsing around flea markets to see what all is being sold. It is a cute pass time that doesn’t require money. Certain flea markets charge you to enter, but plenty of the good ones do not so don’t bother with those.

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View from The High Line
  1. The High Line

This old railroad track turned public park is a stunning place to visit on the West side of Manhattan. It is a fun place to walk and explore that also provides some great photo ops! It’s a great way to see stunning views of the West Village and there are often cool street artists as well.

  1. Brooklyn Botanic Garden: free Fridays before noon

A little bit further out from the heart of Manhattan is this lovely spot. It is still reasonably priced for normal ticket admissions, but to go for free plan a visit on a Friday morning. There are many beautiful gardens, paths, and exhibits here. It’s a great spot to spend a nice afternoon, explore, have a picnic, read a book, or take pictures. From some points in the park you can’t see anything urban, which makes it a nice respite from the city.

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Taken at Brooklyn Botanic Garden
  1. Free summer concerts

There are lots of free concerts that you should keep your eyes peeled for while in NYC especially for the summer. I recently saw the New York Philharmonic play at Prospect Park for free which was such a win: a great orchestra in a beautiful park at no cost! Because they are free, there will be a lot of people there, but it can be a fun way to hear great music at a fun location.

  1. Union Square Free Fitness Classes

I currently live in Union Square and was excited to learn that the park has free fitness classes every Thursday during the summer. I literally get to do yoga in the park for free! How great is that? You would be surprised at where free events will pop up so this is just one great example of that. Plenty of different free events happen all the time across the city, but if you are near Union Square be sure to check out these classes as well as the music jams pumped throughout the day.

  1. Window shopping: SoHo, Fifth Ave. Thrift Stores

Shopping is what many people think of when visiting New York because it is such a fashion capital, but you don’t have to spend money to take part in it. I love walking around just looking at stores, which can be a fun experience too. It’s up to you how much you want to spend, but thrifting can be another great way to go because there are tons of great thrift stores where you can find fashionable pieces at half the price.

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Grand Central Terminal
  1. People Watch: Grand Central, Times Square, Central Park

Watching people is a great past time in any busy location (of which there are many in NYC). Plopping yourself down on a bench or laying in the grass can be a fun experience to observe the New York atmosphere in real time. New Yorkers are some of the most interesting people ever, so people watching here is like no other.

  1. Walk in any direction and explore!

Finally, sometimes when I don’t have a specific place in mind I will literally just go outside and wander to my heart’s content. I often will do this for photography inspiration, but it can be something great to do for your mental health or to see what the environment around you is like. Golden hour is my favorite time to do this!

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Wandering Midtown during Golden Hour

I hope you enjoyed these tips and found them helpful. I am still learning all the hidden gems in NYC, but these are just some of my favorites that don’t come with a hefty price tag. For more of my tips on New York City, check out my YouTube channel. In collaboration with this blog post I have also made a video on my tips for moving to NYC. Check it out here:

All photos © Darcey Pittman 2018

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