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New York City is one of the most popular destinations on Earth for travelers, but it’s also known for quickly draining a vacation budget. It’s easy to overspend in the Big Apple, with its award-winning Broadway performances, upscale restaurants and world-class shopping (Fifth Avenue! Soho!).
Fortunately, there are plenty of free activities and attractions visitors can enjoy all across New York City. Some, such as outdoor film screenings and ferry rides, are seasonal (or at least way more enjoyable in the summer), while others are available year round. So, whether it’s your first trip or you’re a bonafide regular, consider these 11 free things to do in New York City. Your wallet will thank you.
Pierpont Morgan’s former private library is filled with the rare books, manuscripts, prints, and other artifacts the financier collected during his lifetime. Visitors can see the collection (including a Johannes Gutenberg bible, the only surviving manuscript of John Milton’s Paradise Lost, and Rembrandt etchings). Visit for free on Fridays from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Arguably one of the most important museums and memorials in the city, visitors can pay their respects at the twin reflecting pools, or learn more about the events of September 11, 2001 at the adjacent museum. On Tuesdays from 5 p.m. until close tickets are available for free. Special groups, including families affected by the attacks; rescue and recovery workers; and active and retired U.S. military personnel always have free access to the museum and memorial.
One of the best views of Manhattan is from Brooklyn, so take the train or a cab to downtown Brooklyn and walk back to Manhattan along the Brooklyn Bridge — a cable-stayed suspension bridge that extends over the East River. From here, you can not only admire Manhattan’s iconic skyline, but also Brooklyn and the Statue of Liberty. Best of all, the bridge is open 24 hours a day and it’s always free.
This public park-meets-art-gallery occupies a nearly mile-and-a-half-long stretch of elevated freight railway snaking along Manhattan’s West Side. The hours vary, depending on the season, but access to the park is always free.
Skip the overpriced boat rides and enjoy a free ferry ride to see the Statue of Liberty instead. This commuter ferry connects the Whitehall Terminal, at the bottom of Manhattan, with State Island, and it operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Ferries typically run every 30 minutes, and during the free ride, you’ll enjoy impressive views of Lady Liberty.
Head to the top of the Knickerbocker to the St. Cloud rooftop for incredible views over Times Square from a distance. Escape the crowds here Monday through Saturday from 4 p.m. to 1 p.m., or on Sundays from 2 p.m. to midnight. OK, so the cocktails aren’t free, but it’s a small price to pay to spend an hour or two hovering above the city.
Come summer, pack a blanket and head to Bryant Park for a free outdoor screening of a classic or new film. Start with a picnic at the park before sundown, when the featured movie starts. In 2019, visitors could watch everything from the 1976 “Carrie” starring Sissy Spacek to the breakout Netflix romantic comedy, “To All the Boys I Loved Before.”
At the center of New York City’s new Hudson Yards development is the striking Vessel — a Thomas Heatherwick-designed staircase sculpture designed to be climbed. More than a mile of steps are folded into this landmark, and from the top, visitors can enjoy impressive views of the still-exposed railyards and the surrounding neighborhood, even across the Hudson to Jersey. You need to book tickets for your desired time slot either that day, on location, or a couple of weeks in advance online. But these tickets are always free.
You can’t see Midtown Manhattan without paying a visit to the New York Public Library’s iconic location on the corner of 42nd and Fifth Avenue. The elegant Beaux-Arts facade contains some of the most incredible collections of literature and research texts on Earth, and the building itself is an architectural masterpiece. Experience it firsthand for free during your next New York City trip by joining a complimentary tour at 11 a.m. Monday through Saturday, or at 2 p.m every day of the week.
Many of the most famous late-night comedy shows, including satire news programs like “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver” and “Late Night With Seth Meyers” give out free tickets to the live studio audience. You may have to enter an online ticket lottery, or wait in line outside for standby tickets. But visitors with perseverance and patience can have the once-in-a-lifetime experience of seeing their favorite comedians and television hosts in person for free.
Usually, tickets to the Guggenheim cost as much as $25 for adults. But every Saturday, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., visitors can pay what they wish. The suggested fee is $10, but if you want to visit for free, you can. Many museums in New York City, including the Whitney Museum of American Art and the New Museum, offer pay-what-you-wish hours on a weekly basis.
After your run, there’s so much more to explore in New York City. Check out our NYC Travel Guide for recommendations on where to eat and what to do here in New York.