19 Free Things to do in NYC

When visiting New York City it’s easy to get overwhelmed at the prospect of what to do, especially as a budget traveller! NYC is hardly known for being a cheap city. But after visiting twice, for under $25usd/day (not including accommodation-that was about $70usd/night thanks to airbnb!) for both of us to eat, drink and enjoy our days, we realized we found quite a few budget options!

Budget travel tip: Get an unlimited Metrocard. They sell 7 and 30 day options. This will help cut your transit costs down. If you will hop on a train more than 13 times in a week, you’ll save money! We found we’d take 3-4 trains a day while touristing around the city, so it was nice to know we didn’t have to count our trips!

So here’s a (no doubt incomplete) list of things we enjoyed doing in the city that DIDN’T break the bank!  

 

Free Things to do in NYC

1. $1 Pizza

(If you get to know me, it’s no surprise that cheap food tops my list of things to do haha!) You may get some resistance here from New York City locals, but I stand by my love of $1 pizza. Both because it’s cheap (which is my favourite thing ;)) but also because their budget-friendly combination of thin crust, light sauce and melty cheese is actually delicious! Sprinkle on some garlic salt and chili peppers for an added bite! (Note- fresh is best especially at these ones. If there’s a line out the door, you want to be in that line! Shows high turnover, so fresh pies coming out regularly.)

 

2. Free Tours by Foot

Just like the title implies, these are free walking tours all over New York City. They are a great way to see the city, with the accompaniment of a knowledgeable local. Check their website for the schedule and to book. We’ve done the Greenwich Village Food Tour and the Central Park All-in-One tour and highly recommend both! The food tour will cost you around $10/person for the food samples, but otherwise just bring a few bucks to leave a tip for your guide!

 

3. Wander central park

Obvious choice? Sure. Intimidating? Definitely! Our first visit to New York City we didn’t even make it there, partly because it was so big we didn’t know where to start! Now, I feel comfortable saying just find an entrance and walk around. No matter where you get in, there’s plenty to see. If you’re as intimidated as we were, start with the Free Tours by Foot tour to get your feet wet.

 

4. Get a bagel

Ya, you’ve had bagels before. But you’ve never had a New York City bagel!! They are giant, fresh and delicious in ways you’ve never experienced before. They are hand-made and boiled fresh daily in most NYC bagel shops, and the cream cheese is made with REAL ingredients, not a bunch of dried herbs! Here’s a list of some of the best in the city. Try as many as you can, see which are your favourite! They are definitely something you MUST experience while here!! (I loved the ones at Europan Cafe.. In part because Seth loved the giant cookies!)

 

5. Visit the Chelsea Market

You probably already have this one on your list. If you don’t you need to add it! This funky market is worth a visit. It can be as cheap or expensive as you want it to be. There are several places to grab a bite or drink inside, but we had a couple $1 pizza slices before, so could easily resist the delicious looking (though somewhat expensive on a budgeters wallet) fare. Even so, there are a number of funky shops to walk around in and wile away an afternoon. Don’t forget to hit Artists and Fleas on the west entrance!

 

6. The Intrepid Aircraft Carrier Museum

The Intrepid museum is not exactly on the cheap end of the list at over $20/ticket, but you can pretty much always find a discount. Do a search on Groupon before buying, or make use of this deal (note, they don’t ask for any proof of transit use to use it). It’s definitely worth a visit, regardless of your age or interest level. It’s fascinating to see where men have actually lived while at sea and at battle!

 

7. American Museum of Natural History

Like many Museums in New York City, the American Museum of Natural History operates on a ‘pay what you will’ fee schedule. They do have suggested admission prices, though what they don’t advertise is that you can opt to pay less. Just let the teller know when you get to the desk how much you’d like to pay, and voila! Good to go. Bring a snack to avoid the overpriced cafeteria food. And plan to spend the better part of the day here. There’s LOTS to see!!

 

8. Times Square

Another pretty obvious tourist destination, but I couldn’t put together a list of things to do in New York City and leave it off. It’s worth going just to experience the sheer magnitude of the screens and Broadway billboards and screens. Not to mention the window shopping you can do! Sadly, the Toys R Us store closed down in the summer of 2016, and it was by far the most impressive store in the square. Though the Hershey’s store and the M&M store deserve a pass through, if even just to drool at the selection.

 

9. Walk the Brooklyn Bridge

Talk about cheap thrills! Walk the bridge to get some beautiful views of both Manhattan and Brooklyn. Wander around the South Street Seaport in Manhattan and DUMBO in Brooklyn before and after your walk to make a day of it.

 

10. Staten Island Ferry

This by far the easiest way to get a look at the Statue of Liberty and a beautiful view of Manhattan. Sure, you don’t get to climb to the crown, or walk on the Island. But, it’s FREE! So totally a cool trade off for us as budget travellers.

 

11. The New York Public Library

This library is one of the biggest in the world, and worth a visit. Look up at the high ceilings and stunning architecture. Pose with the marble lions guarding out front. And have a coffee and read a book by one of the fountains on either side of the entrance. If you remember the movie ‘Day After Tomorrow’, you may recognize the main hall of the library!

 

12. Visit an Art Gallery

While art doesn’t currently top our interests list, I’d be remiss if I didn’t include it on this list of cheap things to do in New York City. The Metropolitan Museum of Art is another museum that operates on a ‘Pay What You Will’ system. Buy your tickets on site to take advantage of this. And the Museum of Modern Art offers free admission on Friday nights from 4-8pm.

 

13. Bryant Park

This is a bustling little park behind the New York Public Library. Actually, it was rebuilt in the 1980’s so that the Library could build a structure to house it’s stacks underneath. You will find tables with games set up, groups watching chess matches, a carousel, and maybe a market or a show. There’s also a beautiful little restaurant where you can enjoy the peace in the middle of the busy city. Highly recommend a walk through this park!

 

14. Find a farmer’s market

One of my favourite activities anywhere is exploring a farmer’s market. Thankfully, this is another area in which New York City is top of the game! It would be nearly impossible to offer you any sort of comprehensive list, but these 2 websites do a pretty good job… Greenmarket and Timeout. I’m pretty confident in saying these are not the only ones though, so do a google search to see if there’s some in your area!

 

15. Walk the Highline

Highline Park is an awesome departure from the hustle and bustle of the city. It was built on an abandoned rail track in Chelsea, and does a fantastic job of bringing an authentic green space into a city of steel. Walk just a piece of it, or the whole 2.3km. You’re in for a treat- street art everywhere, lovely places to sit and enjoy the ambiance, and great views of Chelsea and it’s stunning architecture.

 

16. Walk 5th Ave

This is a pretty broad suggestion, so forgive me. But no matter where you plan to start, there is so much to see. Whether you start at the arch in Washington Square Park, the Flat Iron Building and Madison Square Park, or the Empire State Building, you’ll find plenty to occupy your day. We were ambitious and walked from the Arch all the way to The Empire State building and back.. It was wonderful! Great way to spend a day!

 

17. Have Lunch at Tom’s Restaurant from Seinfeld

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you clearly spent the 90’s living under a rock! Seinfeld was one of (or maybe THE) most popular TV show’s of the 90’s. The outside of Tom’s Restaurant was in the intro credits and where many of the shows were filmed. (Don’t get too excited, the interior shots were filmed in an LA sound stage, so you won’t recognize the inside). Nevertheless, the owners have done a great job of decorating the inside with pieces of the show, so it’s definitely worth a visit if you were a fan! Bonus tip: The Soup Man at 1021 6th Ave is the famous Soup Nazi! Stop in to see the rules for yourself!)

 

18. Do a Tour of Grand Central Station

Grand Central Station is a fascinating place. And you won’t really know why unless you take yourself on a tour. You could pay for one, or join in the free tours offered by a couple different groups. You can find that information here. FreeToursbyFoot also offers a guided tour of the Station and its surrounding neighbourhood. What we opted for though, was their self-guided readable tour from their website. All of these are great options, so see which one suits your schedule!

 

19. Explore Little Italy and China Town

2 neighbourhoods that are situated side by side at the base of the Manhattan Bridge in Lower Manhattan. Lots of great little restaurants and shops to explore here! And you may have heard that this is the place to do some souvenir and purse shopping 😉 Head on up to Lombardi’s (32 Spring Street) for some delicious classic NYC pizza when you’re done!

 

Thanks for reading! I hope this list gives you some budget-friendly ideas of how to spend your time in NYC! If I’ve left out anything awesome, let me know so I can check it out next time I visit!

And don’t forget to share so your friends can try some of these out, too!

About the author

A. Blizzard

I’m a former teen mom, a career chef and an entrepreneur with a life-long wanderlust. My son and I recently became unschoolers and world-schoolers! This means we travel full-time and use our real-life experiences as a basis for his education. It’s a blast, and we’re both learning so much as we go!
Follow us to keep up with our nomadic adventure!

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4 Comments on "19 Free Things to do in NYC"

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Lena Ameri
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Totally need this!! We are going back to NYC in November and everything is so expensive! This list will really help! We missed The Highline last time and will totally do that this time around!

Christine
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I use to live in New York and have done most of these! I love New York, there is juts so many amazing things to do and all for free! The Highline is definitely one of my favorites

Sarah
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As a born and raised New Yorker, I approve of this list! Glad you enjoyed my hometown and found some budget and free things to do!

Kristen
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Excellent post! You really mastered how to do NYC for cheap, which is not an easy place to travel on a budget! Awesome suggestions!

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