New York City is filled incredible things to explore — keep reading for the best free things to do in NYC! While living and visiting NYC can be expensive, we highly recommend off-setting the costs by taking advantage of the free events, parks and outdoor attractions the city has created.
Ride the Staten Island Ferry
Staten Island is one of the five boroughs found in New York City. The best way to access Staten Island is via the Staten Island Ferry which is completely free. Not only is it used as a major commuting ferry, but it doubles as the best, free, sightseeing ferry. Once again, you do not need to present a ticket to board, or use your MTA card. You also do not need to book your trip in advance. The Ferry is first come first serve, all you have to do is line up at the Ferry Port in Whitehall Terminal before the doors close.
The best part of Staten Island Ferry? The stunning views you get of both the Manhattan skyline and the Statue of Liberty! To see the Statue of Liberty, stay on the right side of the ferry on your way to Staten Island, and the left side of the ferry on your way to Manhattan. For the best view, go to the second or third level viewing deck. The ferry has plenty of indoor seating, however the ferry is best enjoyed via one of their several outdoor platforms. Be sure to head to the front of the ferry when heading back to Manhattan to enjoy the stunning skyline views.
For more details on the ferry schedule and planning your day, check out our complete guide to the Staten Island Ferry.
Wander Through Central Park
Central Park is iconic and for good reason, it truly is one of our favorite spots in NYC. Central Park is a great spot to visit no matter the season, although the summer is much warmer! There is something for everyone anytime of year. The Bethesda Fountain is an iconic spot and the backdrop of many movies. The Bow Bridge offers great views of the Upper West Side and The Lake. In the summers, you can rent a row row boat for $20 and explore the The Lake, which a great spot for some Instagram photos! Additionally, there are many rock formations you can walk on top of to get some midtown skyline views.
Local tip: some of the best sunsets happen in Central Park and it’s often not too crowded at this time for photos.
Pay What You Wish Museum Days
NYC is filled with museums and we highly recommend checking out at least one when you visit, or if you’re local, check them all out! A lot of the museums found in the city will have ‘Pay What You Wish’ days at the museums, an effort to help make museums more accessible to all. Each museum will have the details to their free museum days on their website, but we have compiled a list here as well.
- Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum: Saturday, 4 pm–6 pm
- The Jewish Museum: Free all day on Saturdays
- American Museum of Natural History: admission by donation for any New York residents all the time
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art: admission by donation for any New York residents all the time
- The Morgan Library & Museum: Friday, 2-5pm (reservations are required)
- Museum of Modern Art: Free admission for students and some government employees
- New York Historical Society: Friday 6-8pm pay what you wish
- New Museum of Contemporary Art: Thursday, 7-9pm pay what you wish
- The Frick Madison: Thursday, 4-6pm pay what you wish
Relax at the Little Island
Little Island is one of the newest public parks in the city and is found along the Hudson River in Manhattan. Located at Pier 55, Little Island is a man-made island that is home to grassy hills, an amphitheater and food trucks. It’s free to visit, but in the warmer months you will need to make a reservation on their website. Little Island is open from 6 am to 1 am, we recommend getting there early to avoid the crowds.
NYC Free Concert Series
NYC Parks puts on free, outdoor, concerts throughout public parks in NYC in the summer months. The musicians will vary concert to concert, featuring a variety of genres. These concert series are an incredible, and free, way to see musicians from around the world perform. To check out the schedule and upcoming concerts, visit the NYC parks website.
Walk Along The High Line
The High Line is a free 1.45 mile long walking trail that was built on an old railway tracks, located in Hudson Yards. It’s one floor above street level, which offers a unique perspective of the surrounding area. The trail offers many view points along the way, allowing you to check out the buildings, street art and have many Instagrammable moments. The trail itself also has art installations, including archways and benches to sit and enjoy the sun. You can either choose to end the walk at Chelsea Market or The Vessel, two great options!
Walk Across the Brooklyn Bridge
One of our absolute favorite free things to do in NYC is walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. This is one of the most iconic bridges in the world and remains a must see spot despite the masses that gather in tourist seasons. Let’s be honest, all seasons in NYC are tourists seasons, so get here early! Our favorite way to see the bridge is to enter from the Brooklyn side and walk across. Bonus, it’s usually less busy on this side.
Local tip: head into Dumbo to explore the neighborhood before heading across the bridge into Manhattan.
Coney Island Boardwalk and Beach
Another iconic NYC location is the Coney Island Boardwalk and Beach, both of which are free to visit and explore. You will need to pay to go on any of the rides at Luna Park, however it is free to walk around and explore. Coney Island is located in Southern Brooklyn, so it can be trek from Manhattan or Queens via the subway. Luckily, brand new this year is the NYC ferry route ‘Coney Island’. The NYC ferry will go from Pier 11 (Wall Street, Manhattan) to Bay Ridge (Southern Brooklyn) to Coney Island. This route is brand new for 2021 and will take a total of 37 mins from Pier 11. For $2.75, this route is the best and easiest way to get Coney Island. Once here, you can sunbathe on the beach, explore the boardwalk or test your nerves at the amusement park.
Visit The New York Public Library (476 5th Avenue)
The New York Public Library has many branches throughout the city, but the main branch on 5th Avenue in Midtown should be on your list to see. The library was built in the 1890s and became a NYC designated landmark in the 1960s. The exterior has massive steps and pillars, which are perfect for those Instagram photos. We also encourage you enter the library as the interior is just as breathtaking. Inside the library features art exhibits, reading rooms and 52 ft high ceilings. When visiting, be mindful as many people are using the library as a work and study place.
Lastly, we highly recommend heading down to Lower Manhattan to explore the 9/11 memorial. The memorial commemorates the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack and was opened in 2011. The memorial itself features twin waterfall pools in the footprints of the twin towers. This area provides a quiet place to reflect and pay homage amid the bustling pace of Lower Manhattan. The 9/11 museum is also located here, however there is an admission fee.
These are our favorite free things to do in NYC, however there are many more free things to explore throughout the boroughs. We highly recommend decreasing the costs of visiting the city by adding in these free events and places. Happy exploring!