These Are the 12 Best Free Things to Do in NYC

Best Free Things to Do in NYC

Free Things to Do in NYC

New York City is one of the top tourist destinations in the world. It ranks seventh when it comes to international visitors, with 13.6 million tourist in 2019. When you include domestic visitors as well, that number jumps to 66.6 million. That accounts for a total of $47.4 billion in spending in 2019, which was before the pandemic decimated travel. 

NYC has a lot to offer. There are tons of museums, historic sites, a wide variety of food options and you can always get those amazing photos of the city’s skyline. But one downside is the cost of living or traveling to the Big Apple. New York City is quite expensive. Rent is high, restaurants are expensive, and many activities will cost you way more when compared to other cities around country, or even the world. But don’t worry, not everything comes with a cover charge. There are plenty of things to do, and places to visit, and you don’t even have to bring your wallet. Check out this list of the best free things to do in NYC.

1. Kayaking at Brooklyn Bridge Park

Visit the Brooklyn waterfront for free kayaking sessions at the Brooklyn Bridge Park Boathouse. Through the end of August, you can grab your free kayak on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays and get on the water from Pier 2. Kayakers can paddle around our protected embayment for 20 mins with stunning views of the NYC harbor. You will be provided with boats, paddles and life vests. You just have to do the paddling. On Sundays from 12 pm to 2:30 pm, there are sessions for kids and their guardians only. Kids age 7 or older can paddle alone (as long as a guardian is present). Reservations are required.

Here are the times:

  • Wednesday 4:30 pm to 7 pm
  • Thursday 4:30 pm to 7 pm
  • Saturday 10 am to 3 pm
  • Sunday (kids) 12 pm to 2:30 pm

2. Little Island NYC

Little Island is New York City’s newest park and its latest tourist attraction. The park sits on 132 concrete structures that rise 15 feet above the Hudson River. The support structure provides a variety of elevations, ranging between 15 and 62 feet. Within the park, there are 350 species of flowers, trees and shrubs, a plaza with seating and food option called “The Play Ground,” a lawn area named “The Glade,” and an amphitheater called “The Amph” that sits up to 687 people.

The park is open from 6AM to 1AM. But, if you want to go between noon at 8pm, which are expected to be high-traffic times, you’ll need to make a reservation on the park’s website. Before 12PM or after 8Pm you can just walk in. Check out more information and tons or images from my visit there on opening weekend.

3. The High Line

Just a few blocks away from Little Island, you can find The High Line. This is another free public park built on a historic freight rail line elevated above the streets of Manhattan. It can actually be a great time to visit since the Little Park is drawing all the crowds. The nearest entrance is at Gansevoort Street & Washington Street. 

The High Line is open daily, with COVID-related measures in place. These measures, such as reduced capacity and asking visitors to wear a mask or face covering, help ensure an improved and safer visitor and employee experience. On weekdays there is open access ( 7am – 9pm) and no reservations are required. On weekends, you need to make a free reservation. Also note the entry locations, as they are limited to just a few stairways.

You can also check out Chelsea Market, more restaurants and entertainment in the Meatpacking Districts and north of Little Island, on Pier 57, more community spaces will soon open up.

Staten Island Ferry

4. Ride the Staten Island Ferry

The Staten Island Ferry provides 22 million people a year (70,000 passengers a day not including weekend days) with ferry service between St. George on Staten Island and Whitehall Street in lower Manhattan. The ferry is the only non-vehicular mode of transportation between Staten Island and Manhattan. While it is just a mode of transportation for locals, it can be an awesome activity for tourist.

The Staten Island Ferry is a great way to get close to the Statue of Liberty, without having to pay for it. It is definitely one of the best free things to do in NYC if you want to get some of those Instagram worthy photos. Make sure you travel on a sunny day, so those pictures come out perfect. Grab a good viewing spot and take in the skyline from the water as the boat heads away from Battery Park. Once in Staten Island, check out the Empire Outlets, which opened earlier this year.

Central Park, NYC, USA

5. Stroll through Central Park

Central Park is an urban park in New York City located between the Upper West and Upper East Sides of Manhattan, covering 843-acres. It offers great views and plenty of things to do for free. Here are some highlights:

  • The Mall – A large pedestrian esplanade (an ‘esplanade’ meaning a long, open, level area, usually next to a river or large body of water, where people may walk). It leads to Bethesda Fountain and provides the only purely formal feature in the naturalistic original plan of Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux for Central Park.
  • Belvedere Castle – This is home to a visitor center and gift shop managed by the Central Park Conservancy. It’s one of the most iconic features in the Park
  • Strawberry Fields – A memorial to the British rock musician and peace activist John Lennon (1940–1980). The memorial consists of a five-acre landscape near the West 72nd Street entrance and includes the Imagine mosaic, where many come to pay tribute to Lennon. The memorial’s name is a reference to the 1967 song Lennon wrote and performed with the Beatles, “Strawberry Fields Forever.”

You can also just walk through. The park is huge and you will not be disappointed. Lots of green trees, blossoming flowers, picturesque meadows, narrow pathways, lakes, and lots of birds. And it is all free for you to enjoy.

6. Public Beaches

NYC has several beaches, that are free and easily accessible. There’s no need to travel out to Long Island, or take a long trip to the Jersey Shore. NYC beaches officially opened on May 29 and will stay that way through September, 12, 2021. That just really means that lifeguards are on duty during that time, until 6PM.

The NYC Parks Department maintains 14 miles of beaches. You can access all of these beaches via public transportation. If you’re driving, give yourself some extra time to look for parking. You can check out parking info for individual beaches at the NYC Parks site here. While street parking could be free, your only options might be paid parking. Check some of the best free beaches, and things to do at each one:

  • Coney Island in Brooklyn
    • Nathan’s Famous hot dogs
    • Luna Park amusement park
    • New York Aquarium
  • Brighton Beach in Brooklyn
    • New York Aquarium
    • Lots of dining options (especially Russian cuisine)
  • Far Rockaway in Queens
    • Surfing
    • Playgrounds
    • Food Court
  • Jacob Riis in Queens
    • Few food options
    • Large parking lot
  • Orchard Beach in the Bronx
    • Playgrounds

The Rose Main Reading Room at the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building

7. New York Public Library

The main branch of the New York Public Library is located next to Bryant Park in Manhattan. You can walk in for free and check out the majestic Rose Main Reading Room. It measures 78 feet by 297 feet—roughly the length of two city blocks—with 52-foot-tall ceilings displaying murals of vibrant skies and billowing clouds. This breathtaking Beaux-Arts space weaves Old World architectural elegance with modern technology. Here, patrons can request material from the Milstein Stacks, the Library’s environmentally optimal storage facility located underneath Bryant Park with a capacity of over 4 million items. Visitors can also browse and read the thousands of reference volumes lining the shelves.

You can also check out the permanent exhibition “The Polonsky Exhibition of The New York Public Library’s Treasures” in the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building with more than 250 unique and rare items. Reserve your free tickets here.

best free things to do in NYC

8. Governors Island

Governors Island is a 172 acre island in the heart of New York Harbor. It’s only 800 yards from Lower Manhattan, and even closer to Brooklyn. Whether you are a city-dweller looking for a serene, quick getaway from the hectic city life, or just visiting NYC, Governors Island fits the bill. The ferry to Governors Island is $3 round trip, but it is free on Saturdays and Sundays before noon. Access to the island is also free all year round. There’s a 2.2-mile bike path, mini golf, art installations all around the island, a picnic area, and  military sites. There are also guided tours departing from the Soissons Landing Welcome Center.

9. Brooklyn Brewery Tours

Brooklyn Brewery, located in the heart of trendy Williamsburg, offers free tours on the weekend. The 15-minute long tours run on Saturday and Sunday only. They start every half hour, kicking off at 1pm, with the last tour offered at 6pm. You can find more information about the tours here.

Brooklyn Bridge Park, NYC

10. Brooklyn Bridge Park

Brooklyn Bridge Park is an 85-acre park on the Brooklyn side of the East River in New York City. From north to south, the park includes the preexisting Empire–Fulton Ferry and Main Street Parks; the historic Fulton Ferry Landing; and Piers 1–6, which contain various playgrounds and residential developments. The park also includes Empire Stores and the Tobacco Warehouse, two 19th-century structures, and is a part of the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway, a series of parks and bike paths around Brooklyn. It’s a great place to walk around, enjoy beautiful views of Manhattan, play soccer and basketball on piers above the water, barbeque, or just sit down and relax. Nearby you can also find the number one item on this list of best free things to do in NYC.

11. Queens Country Farm Museum

This Queens County farm is the city’s longest and one of the longest continuously farmed sites in New York State. It has been in operation since 1697. The 47 acres feels like an entirely different world compared to Manhattan. The site includes historic farm buildings, a greenhouse complex, livestock, farm vehicles and implements, planting fields, an orchard, and an herb garden. You can feed and pet the barnyard animals, including sheep, ponies and goats, hop aboard a hayride and come back during the fall harvest season when you can go pumpkin picking and attempt to find your way through the Amazing Maize Maze. The farm is owned by the New York City Department of Parks and is operated by the Colonial Farmhouse Restoration Society of Bellerose.

Admission is free except on special ticketed event days. Located at 73-50 Little Neck Parkway in Floral Park, the farm is not easily accessible with public transportation. If your group has 20 or more participants please contact Queens Farm at least two weeks in advance to arrange a guided visit.

12. Watch Free Movies at Brooklyn Bridge Park

Movies With a View, the free film series that takes over Brooklyn Bridge Park each summer, is officially back for the season. Here’s the list of movies for this summer:

  • July 7: Before Sunrise (R, 105 minutes)
  • July 14: The Bourne Identity (PG-13, 119 minutes)
  • July 21: Crazy Rich Asians (PG-13, 121 minutes)
  • July 28: How Stella Got Her Groove Back (R, 124 minutes)
  • August 4: Jurassic Park (PG-13, 127 minutes)
  • August 11: Thelma and Louise (R, 130 minutes)
  • August 18: The Mitchells vs. the Machines (PG, 114 minutes, Family Film)
  • August 25: Public Choice with options of: Back to the Future [PG], Mamma Mia! [PG-13] or Mission Impossible [PG])

Best Free Things to Do in NYC: Guru’s Wrap-up

New York City is a great place with tons of things to do. Picking just the top 11 best free things to do in NYC might not do it justice. There’s are also other great sites to visit, such as park, museums, free concerts that go on all the time and much more. Please let me know what some of your favorite things are, even if they have a small fee. Also let me know if you have visited any of the attractions listed here.

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