What to Do in New York City for Free
This post lists hundreds of free things to do in NYC, including nighttime activities, things to do with kids, and museums and attractions.
Due to the ever-changing restrictions, entry times, etc. resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, we have not updated each location or activity.
And before we get started, consider joining our NYC Travel Tips + Hacks Facebook group and get ideas from our guides and travelers who have visited NYC.
TOP 10 FREE THINGS TO DO IN NYC
There are so many free and cheap things to do in NYC that it’s totally possible to spend a few days in NYC and only pay for food and accommodation.
Below are the top 10 free activities and attractions not to be missed.
1. Stroll through Central Park
This pastoral escape from the hustle and bustle of the city streets is everything you imagined it would be.
With wide-open spaces, rides, zoos, sculptures, shade trees, ponds, and lakes, there are so many things to do.
Watch this 32-minute long abridged version of our live guided tour.
2. Walk Across the Brooklyn Bridge
This bridge is loved by locals and visitors alike and offers great views of the city and the harbor. It also has a fascinating history behind it.
Our guide to walking the Brooklyn Bridge can help you to have the best experience possible.
3. Ride the Staten Island Ferry
Take a free ferry ride from Manhattan to Staten Island and back again.
Whether you ride it during the day or at night, you will get spectacular views of Lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty.
For other ways to get out on the water, see our post about all of NYC’s boat tour options.
You may also be interested in other free ways to view the Statue of Liberty.
Podcast Episode: Listen to tour guides Lori and Katherine discuss free things to do in NYC on an episode of our NYC Travel Tips podcast.
4. Visit the 9/11 Memorial
Located in a simple, spacious wide-open plaza in Lower Manhattan, this memorial to the lost lives of 9/11 is an essential feature of New York City. The memorial is free to visit
The museum covers the tragic events of 9/11 through artifacts, documents, film, recordings, and more.
5. Explore NYC Neighborhoods
An excellent and free way to spend your time in NYC is to visit its most popular neighborhoods. It’s the neighborhoods that give the city its character and there are no entry tickets!
Our Top Ten neighborhoods to visit are:
- Midtown Manhattan
- Times Square
- Wall Street and Financial District
- Greenwich Village
- Little Italy
- Brooklyn Heights
- Lower East Side
We have even more profiles on our NYC neighborhoods explained post.
6. Walk the High Line
The High Line, a unique park, is built on an abandoned and repurposed elevated railroad.
The story of how the park came to be is fascinating and the views of the Hudson River and the surrounding streets of Chelsea and Midtown are unparalleled.
Our guide to the High Line will help you plan your visit and get the most out of this interesting urban park.
7. Visit a Free Museum
NYC has more museums than you can count and many of them are free to visit!
Here are just a few museums that are either always free or have free days/hours. See our list below for even more.
- American Museum of Natural History – always free
- National Museum of the American Indian – always free
- Museum of Modern Art – free Fridays 4 pm-8 pm
- 9/11 Museum and Memorial – free Tuesdays all day
Be sure to check our extensive list of free NYC museums.
8. See the Splendor of Grand Central Station
From its massive celestial ceiling to its secret ‘whispering gallery’, there is no train station like it in the world.
Grand Central also has an amazing history and architectural details and quirks that you can read about in our guide to Grand Central Terminal.
We also cover this information in our audio tour with GPS, though not free, is just $1.99 to download.
9. Seasonal Free Things To Do
All four seasons in NYC bring with them all sorts of free activities.
In the summer, you can cool off in the water, watch free movies outdoors, and see dozens of free concerts like Summerstage.
And of course, you have the famous Shakespeare in the Park free theater.
See the full section below on seasonal and monthly free things to do in NYC.
10. Get an All-Inclusive Tourist Attraction Discount Pass
An all-inclusive tourist discount pass affords you free entry into most of NYC’s most popular attractions and tours all for one low price.
While the passes themselves certainly aren’t free, if you plan your itineraries well, you will end up getting one or two attractions for free each day.
There are several different types of passes, so be sure to read our comparison post to learn about how you can save the most money on your trip.
See a TV Show Taping
Learn how you could become a member of an audience of over a dozen popular TV shows for free, including The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and the Late Show with Stephen Colbert!
Hear Gospel Music
Many churches, particularly in Harlem and Brooklyn, open up their doors on Wednesdays and Sundays for religious services that are heavy on gospel music.
There are no tickets, but donations are welcome. Find out where you could experience NYC gospel music.
Check Out Street Art
New York has some of the best street art in the world and Bushwick in Brooklyn is one neighborhood that you can see a lot of world-renowned artists.
This section lists even more free nighttime activities.
Take a look at our post on things to do at night in NYC which has a section dedicated to free activities and attractions to enjoy in the evening.
Take a Free Night Tour
You can also take one of our free guided night tours, which are:
- Midtown Manhattan
- 911 Memorial and Brooklyn Bridge
- High Line
- Central Park.
- Ghost Tours
Enjoy Free Skyline Views
New York is known for its skyline. You don’t need to pay any money to get spectacular skyline views day or night.
One of the most impressive free views is from the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, located just across the East River from Lower Manhattan. Make sure to have that camera ready!
Read our post on where to find the best free skyline views.
Take the Roosevelt Island Aerial Tram
The Roosevelt Island Aerial Tram offers an almost-free, jaw-dropping 360-degree view of New York City and it runs past midnight every night.
It is a commuter tram that crosses over the East River to Roosevelt Island and costs the same as a subway ride.
Roosevelt Island has quite a number of things to see and you can use our free, self-guided tour of Roosevelt Island to explore the area.
Take an Almost-Free Ferry Ride
Though the East River Ferry is not free, it is just $2.75, and it runs well past 9 pm (21:00) every night.
Like the Roosevelt Island Tram, the East River Ferry is a commuter ferry, but anyone can sit back and take in the nighttime (and daytime) views from the water.
Read our post on the East River Ferry for details as well as suggestions of what you can do at each of the neighborhoods the ferry goes to.
Go to a Free Museum
As noted above, there are dozens of free museums in NYC. There are quite a few museums that stay open late and are free to visit during those late hours.
Just a few are:
- Museum of Modern Art – Fridays from 4 pm (16:00) – 8 pm (20:00)
- National September 11th Museum – Tuesdays until 8 pm
- National Museum of the American Indian – Thursdays until 8 pm
See a full listing here.
Go to a Free Party at a Museum
For a more festive nighttime activity, these below museums have free nighttime events that are more like a party than a museum.
You can see their art exhibits, as well as hear live music, dance to a DJ, or watch films.
Usually, refreshments including alcoholic beverages are available for purchase.
- K2 Friday Nights at the Rubin Museum
- First Saturdays at the Brooklyn Museum
- First Fridays at the Schomberg in Harlem
- Library After Hours at the New York Public Library
See the Bright Lights of Times Square
Times Square can be explored 24 hours a day. It is especially exhilarating at night as the neon lights and billboards are abuzz.
Be there just before 12:00 am to take part in the Midnight Moment.
See our guide to Times Square which lists things to do in the area at night and also during the day.
Times Square, day or night, is ideal for people-watching. Just grab a seat on the big red stairs at the TKTS Booth and watch the world go by.
Other places and neighborhoods where you’ll see some colorful characters at night are:
Explore Rockefeller Center
This complex of buildings centered around its iconic promenade is very lively at night. Lots of people come for Top of the Rock observation deck, but there is more to see.
It is especially charming in the winter when the promenade is transformed into an ice-skating rink and the famous Rockefeller Christmas Tree is put up.
Use our free self-guided tour of Rockefeller Center to locate the sights you can see at night.
From April to October, members of the Amateur Astronomers Association bring high-powered telescopes to various parks in NYC.
The public is invited for free to gaze at the stars, planets, and moon. Experts are there to answer questions.
See a Free Comedy Show
New York is known for its comedy clubs. Though most do charge a cover price or require tickets, there are free comedy and improv shows such as these:
- Poco in the East Village
- Pete’s Candy Store in Williamsburg
- Bomb Shelter Comedy Club in Times Square
- QED in Astoria
- Knitting Factory in Williamsburg
You can find free comedy at many other locations from Free Stand Up NYC.
If you can spend a little money, read our post on affordable comedy clubs in NYC.
Seasonal Night Activities
After dark, you have many activities unique to each season. In the warmer months, especially summertime the choices are endless.
You have a long list of outdoor movies, free concerts of every genre of music, theater performances, including Shakespeare in the Park and Broadway in Bryant Park to choose from.
In the fall, you can see the amazing Halloween Parade and take a Ghost Tour or see the leaves changing color in Central Park
In winter and around the holidays, you can see the Holiday Lights, go ice-skating and celebrate New Year’s Eve in Times Square.
Browse our list of monthly things to do posts for more ideas when you are in town.
And take a look at our post on things to do at night in NYC which has a section dedicated to free activities and attractions to enjoy in the evening.
As you probably have realized, many free things to do mentioned in other sections are also appropriate for families.
This section lists even more things to do with your kids for a memorable visit to New York City.
Visit Central Park
With the number of things to do for kids in Central Park year-round, you would think it was created just for them!
Here’s a just a sampling of free activities in Central Park:
- Play on the many statues like Alice in Wonderland
- Hear a free story by the Hans Christian Andersen statue on Saturdays from June to September
- Become a scientist at Belvedere Castle, which houses the Henry Luce Nature Observatory
- See the dancing animal statues on the famous Delacorte Clock, which plays nursery rhymes every day on the hour and half hour from 8:00 am – 6:00 pm.
- Watch the model sailboats in the Conservatory Water pond. You can bring your own small boat to launch onto the water or rent one there.
There are dozens of more activities for kids and families in Central Park, so be sure to read our post things to do in Central Park.
Go to a Kid-Friendly Museum
Many of the major museums in NYC are well-suited for kids and have free admission for children under certain ages.
Additionally, NYC has quite a few museums created just for children. Some are free all the time while others have free days/hours.
These are among the best:
- American Museum of Natural History – always free
- Houdini Museum – always free
- Children’s Museum of the Arts – free on Thursdays 4 pm – 6 pm
For a full listing of children’s museums, see our post on things to do with kids in NYC.
Check out our post on free museums in NYC for even more options.
Playgrounds and Parks
Though Central Park is the granddaddy of them all, there are many other awesome playgrounds and parks for kids throughout the city. Here are three we highly recommend.
Washington Square Park has separate playgrounds for toddlers and older children.
In summer the fountain is on and they can splash around romp in the water. There’s lots of music for them to dance to!
Bryant Park has free kids’ programs that include juggling lessons, puppet shows, and a kids’ reading room with a StoryTime.
Brooklyn Bridge Park is a huge park in DUMBO, Brooklyn.
Just a few of the free activities are free kayaking in the summer and the SPARK Children’s Museum which is free on Thursdays from 1 pm – 6 pm.
There is also the historic Jane’s Carousel. Though the carousel does cost $2, it is absolutely worth it as and is one of the top 10 things to do with kids in Brooklyn.
Play Indoors in and around Rockefeller Center
Too cold to play outdoors? Let the little ones run wild in the mega-stores in Rockefeller Center.
See our map of 25 things to do with kids in Midtown Manhattan for both free and non-free activities.
Explore Grand Central Terminal
Another great indoor activity is to visit Grand Central. Kids can learn about the zodiac lesson from the celestial ceiling and learn about acoustics from the secret “whispering gallery”.
Choo-choo lovers can watch trains depart from 44 platforms, more than any other train station in the world. In the winter see the free holiday train show
See other ways you and your children can enjoy the station in our guide to Grand Central.
Free Music and Theatrical Productions
Though many of the free musical and theatrical performances for kids take place outdoors in the warmer months, you can find some that take place year-round.
- Washington Market Park
- CityParks PuppetMobile
- Madison Square Park
- Hip to Hip
- Harlem Meer Festival
You can also find theatrical for kids that is very inexpensive such as the Theater for Children with tickets approximately $6.
If you can spend a bit more, check out the New Victory Theater in Times Square with quality productions just for kids year-round.
Another show that is great for kids and adults is There are multiple ways to get good deals on tickets. See our post on getting discount tickets for Blue Man Group.
Lastly, if you are here in February, you can catch Kids’ Night on Broadway, an annual event where children 18 years old and under can attend a Broadway show for free when accompanied by a full-paying adult.
Ride the Subway
Chances are you will be taking the subway while you are here. Take advantage of the free and engaging activities to be found on subways and in subway stations!
Hear live music, see magicians, and more. Read our post about the subway and street performers, to find out where to find the best performers.
The whole family can admire the unique art in the subway. Many stations have art installations and special tiled murals and artwork relating to the neighborhood above ground.
For example, the 81st Street Station by the American Museum of Natural History has large, tiled of mosaics of replicas of fossilized bones and prehistoric creatures.
The 14th Street-8th Avenue station in Chelsea is filled with mischievous bronze creatures by sculptor Tom Otterness.
If you want to be led to the best subway art, we have a pay-what-you-wish subway art tour.
TIP: Use our post on Navigating the Subway to learn the ins and outs of the subway system.
Seasonal Activities for Kids
Summer in NYC keeps the kids busy with water activities, outdoor movies, playgrounds, and theatrical performances.
The fall has the Halloween Parade, Thanksgiving Parade, and pumpkin-related events galore, like the Great Pumpkin Flotilla in Central Park.
In winter, they can go ice-skating and see the holiday lights, including the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree.
Spring has Easter egg hunts, Governors Island opens for the season, and baby animals abound at the Bronx Zoo.
See the Seasonal/Monthly section below for more information.
Be sure to look at the monthly posts for the time you are visiting, as they have a section dedicated to things to do with kids, including some free events
This section provides you with lists of free attractions and includes items mentioned in the other sections.
We’ve broken this down into 3 sections.
- free museums (both art and historical)
- free attractions (memorials, historic buildings, etc.)
- free activities (music, tours, etc)
NOTE: Free usually means pay-what-you-wish or donation, though many places are really free.
Below we’ve listed the top ten museums you can visit for free. We’ve noted which are always free and which have specific days/hours when you do not have to pay to enter.
- American Museum of Natural History – always free
- Museum of the American Indian – always free
- Federal Reserve Bank Museum – always free
- New York Public Library – always free
- Museum of the City of New York – always free
- Museum of Modern Art – free Fridays 4 pm-8 pm
- Guggenheim Museum – free Saturdays 5 pm – 8 pm
- National September 11th Museum – free Tuesdays
- Whitney Museum – free Fridays 7 pm-9:30 pm
- South Street Seaport Museum – every other Friday 3 pm-7 pm
For a comprehensive list of museums and cultural institutions in NYC that are either always free or offer free days/hours, click here.
We encourage you to read through all the sections of this post for other attractions to visit such as Grand Central Terminal, the Brooklyn Bridge, and the High Line.
You can also see our post on NYC Attractions which has lists both free and paid sights to see and activities to do.
Historical Sights and Memorials
- 9/11 Memorial
- Federal Hall
- Castle Clinton
- Memorials in Battery Park
- Irish Hunger Memorial
- Belvedere Castle in Central Park
- John Lennon ‘Imagine’ in Strawberry Fields
- African Burial Ground National Museum
- City Hall Tours
- New York City AIDS Memorial
- General Ulysses S. Grant National Memorial (Grant’s Tomb)
- Soldiers and Sailors Monument
- Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace
- Alexander Hamilton Grange National Memorial
- Alice Austen House Museum
- BLDG 92 at the Brooklyn Navy Yard
- Dyckman Farmhouse
- Harbor Defense Museum
- King Manor Museum
- Lefferts Historic House
- Wyckoff House
- The Old Stone House
Zoos and Aquariums
- Bronx Zoo – Wednesdays all day
- Staten Island Zoo Wednesdays 2 pm-4:45 pm
- New York Aquarium Wednesdays 3 pm-5 pm from Memorial Day to Labor Day and 3 pm – 3:30 pm the rest of the year.
Botanical Gardens and Farms
- New York Botanical Garden Wednesdays all day
- Queens Botanical Gardens Wednesdays 3 pm-6 pm
- Wave Hill Cultural Center Tuesdays 9 am-12 pm
- Queens County Farm Museum always free
Historic Houses of Worship
Historic Graveyards and Cemeteries
- Greenwood Cemetery
- Trinity Church
- St. Paul’s Chapel in Lower Manhattan
- First Shearith Israel Graveyard in Chinatown
- St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery in the East Village
Libraries That Are Also Museums
- New York City Public Library
- Schomburg Center in Harlem
- New York Public Library for the Performing Arts
- New York Society Library
- Brooklyn Historical Society
Iconic Buildings to Photograph
- Statue of Liberty
- Chrysler Building
- One World Trade Center (the Freedom Tower)
- Flatiron Building
- Dakota Apartments
- The Friends Apartment
- New York Stock Exchange
- Woolworth Building
- Trump Tower
- United Nations
- The Stonewall Inn
Here are a bunch of free activities in NYC you can enjoy for free year-round.
For more ideas, see our master post on things to do in New York City.
See Free Art
See our post on free museums in NYC for a long list of options.
Hear Free Music
Year-round you can hear performances of all sorts of music, from pop, classical, jazz, and more. Some venues are
- Trinity Church
- Library for Performing Arts
- American Folk Art Museum
- New York Public Library
- Schomburg Center
In the warmer months, from late May to early September, there are numerous free concert series.
See our Summer Guide to NYC for a long list.
Go to a Gospel Performance
For another free music experience, you can see free gospel performances in Manhattan and Brooklyn.
See our post on where to see the best free gospel performances in NYC.
Attend a Free TV Show Taping
There is no cost at all to see the taping of a TV show and there are many to choose from.
See our post on how to get free tickets to a TV show taping.
See Free Breathtaking Views of NYC
There are many locations where you can find free skyline views.
You can also go to a rooftop bar and order a soda, and while not free, the view will be worth the few bucks you spend.
If you can splurge a bit, we encourage you to go to one of the observatories for outstanding 360 views of NYC.
You can find prices and descriptions from our post comparing the Empire State Building, Top of the Rock, and One World Observatory.
Free Performances, Classes, Movies, and More!
These parks offer a wide range of programs that include free activities like music, dancing, movies, readings, nature exploration, boating, arts, theater, classes, fitness, and activities just for kids. The list is endless!
Bryant Park in Midtown Manhattan hosts over 1,000 free activities a year including theater, dance, movies, classes, games, birdwatching, fencing juggling, chess, ice skating, and so much more!
Hudson River Park has many free activities throughout the year, including water activities, classes, music, dance, and movie series.
There are too many programs to list here, but you can find hundreds of free activities on the NYC Parks Department’s website.
You can participate all year in free fitness classes through the Shape Up Program.
See our Summer Guide to NYC for a full listing of sports and fitness activities.
Be Entertained by Street Performers
New York City has some of the best subway musicians, buskers, and performers.
Our post about where to find New York City Street Performers and Subway Music will lead you right to them!
Join the Amateur Astronomers Association on the High Line to safely look at the sun through telescopes designed to observe sunspots.
See their website for dates.
Go to a Rollerskating Dance Party
From mid-April to late October, on most Saturdays and Sundays, the Central Park Dance Skaters Association has a free “Skate Circle” party with a DJ in Central Park.
Commune with Nature in a Park
There are loads of parks in NYC, but these are our favorites:
- Central Park with expansive green spaces and statues and monuments
- Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village for great people-watching and a funky, fun vibe
- Prospect Park is a bit off the beaten track and located in gorgeous Park Slope neighborhood
Get a Free Drink
Free Brewery Tours – New York City is home to several craft breweries, and a couple of them offer free tours (and free samples!) of their facilities.
Our post on taking a free brewery tour tells you which breweries offer tours, how to get to them, and what else to do in the area.
Wine Tastings – In the early evenings, wine shops all over the city have wine tastings where you can sample usually 4-6 different wines.
Here are wine shops that have tastings several times a week.
- September Wines – in the Lower East Side
- Chelsea Wine Vault in the Chelsea Market
- Union Square Wines in Union Square
- Nolita Wine Merchants – near Little Italy
- Astor Wines in the East Village
Pair your wine with a free, self-guided tour of the neighborhoods! We also have audio tours and our pay-what-you-wish tours as well. Find out about all of these tours here.
Happy Hour – For other free drinks, you can take advantage of Happy Hours in many bars, pubs, and lounges in NYC. Happy Hours often have a “Buy one, Get one” deal.
So while not entirely free, it’s still a good deal. See our post on Happy Hours in NYC.
Watch a Free, Practically Professional Basketball Game
The West 4th Street Basketball Courts, known informally as “The Cage” is famous for its high-quality players. NBA scouts regularly come by looking for the next Michael Jordan.
You can join the audience standing along the fence on 6th Avenue and West 4th Street in Greenwich Village. You can also join in a pick-up game…if you dare!
See a Parade
NYC has some of the biggest and best parades in the world! Among the best are the Halloween Parade, the Mermaid Parade, and Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade.
See our Seasonal section below for a listing of more parades.
Festivals and Street Fairs
To get more information on these and other festivals throughout the year, see our monthly posts. See below for links to each month of the year.
- Chinese New Year and Parade in Chinatown
- 9th Avenue Food Festival in Hell’s Kitchen
- San Gennaro Festival in Little Italy
- Egg Rolls, Egg Creams and Empanadas on the Lower East Side
- Atlantic Antic – Brooklyn Heights
- Harlem Week Festival in Harlem
Free Seasonal Activities
The four seasons in NYC bring with them activities unique to that time of the year. What is so great about NYC is that you can always find fantastic free things to do at any time of the year.
The highlights of free activities are:
Summer offers the chance to see dozens of free movies and concerts and attending a free performance of Shakespeare in Central Park.
In the fall, nothing could be more fun than watching (or even marching in) the Village Halloween Parade. Seeing the leaves change color in Central Park is also very special.
Winter brings free, festive things to do, like seeing the Holiday lights around Midtown and other neighborhoods. And there is nothing like the iconic Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree.
Spring is filled with flowers at the free Macy’s Flower Show, the Cherry Blossom Festival and the buds sprouting in the High Line Park.
See our Seasonal section below for more ideas.
In addition to the free activities we’ve listed so far, you can find more if you purchase an all-inclusive tourist discount pass.
Though the pass does cost money, you can plan your itinerary so that you get one or two attractions for free for each day you have the pass.
Here are the Top Ten attractions included in the big three tourist passes.
- Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island
- Hop-on-hop-off Bus Tour
- National September 11th Museum
- Circle Line River Cruise
- Top of the Rock Observation Deck
- Radio City Music Hall Stage Tour
- Madame Tussauds Wax Museum
- Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum
- Museum of Modern Art
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art
This list is just a handful of the dozens of attractions, activities, and discounts included in tourist passes.
Our post comparing tourist passes can show you how to make the most of your trip budget.
Our monthly posts include a section on free things to do that month. This includes special events, parades, festivals, that are held during that month.
We also created a post on when is the best time to visit NYC, which includes a section on the cheapest times.
Winter Holiday Season
- Christmas Activities
- Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting
- Ice Skating
- New York Holiday Lights Tour
- New Years Eve in Times Square
- Easter Parade and Easter Bonnet Festival
- St. Patricks Day Parade
- Cherry Blossoms in Parks and Botanical Gardens
- Fleet Week
- Shakespeare in the Park
- Governors Island
- Summerstage Concerts
- New York City Beaches
- See our Summer Guide to NYC for many more free activities
- Little Italy’s San Gennaro Festival
- Village Halloween Parade
- Ghost Tours
- Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade