Free things to do in New York City

Free things to do in New York City was written by travel blogger Shobha George of Just  Go Places.

A visit to New York City is on many travelers’ bucket lists. But, visiting the Big Apple can be an expensive proposition. It’s always good to know where you can cut costs when you are visiting. It’s a fabulous walking city with hidden treasures jammed into nooks and crannies. I encourage you to put on your walking shoes and explore these free things to do in New York City.

Visit Central Park

Free things to do in New York City - There are lots of great free things to do in Central Park, photo Just Go Places

There are lots of great free things to do in Central Park, photo Just Go Places

Central Park is the most visited park in the USA. It’s also a firm favourite with locals. Although it gets crowded, you can find spaces to chill out in the park. My kids love the playgrounds especially the Hecksher Playground (it’s on the west side of the park between 61st and 63rd streets) The best access is the park entrance at 7th Avenue and Central Park South). People bike, skate, skateboard, run and walk around Central Park. The Mall, with its grand trees, is the lead up to Bethesda Fountain. You will no doubt recognise the fountain which has appeared in many movies. It’s perfect for people watching and for watching the buskers and skateboarders do their thing. There is so much to see that you can easily spend a day strolling through the park. For example, there is the Strawberry Fields memorial to John Lennon, the Loeb Boathouse, a vintage Carousel, ice skating rinks in winter and The Tavern on the Green restaurant. Every summer the Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park gives out free tickets for their plays. You can bet there will be a long ticket line outside the Delacourte Theater as to these as their productions are excellent. Like the locals grab your New York Times and a picnic and hang out waiting for your free tickets, given out starting at noon. There really are worse ways to spend a day!

Walk the High Line


Free things to do in New York Citiy - Walking the High Line, photo Just Go Places

Walking the High Line, photo/Just Go Places

The High Line is a park that runs along a former elevated railroad track on the lower West side of Manhattan. It was inspired by the Promenade Plantee in Paris. The High Line has inspired other former railroad parks in cities including Chicago and Philadelphia. It runs from the Meatpacking District to West 34th Street between 10th and 12th avenues. Along the High Line there are lookout points, gardens, public artworks, and restaurants. Best of all are the lounge chairs that enable you to sit and to watch the world go by.

Browse the Public Art

Free things to do in New York City - Robert Indiana’s LOVE sculpture at the corner of 6th Avenue and 55th Street, photo Just Go Places

Robert Indiana’s LOVE sculpture at the corner of 6th Avenue and 55th Street, photo/Just Go Places

New York City has an amazing collection of public art along its streets. For example, you have Robert Indiana’s famous LOVE sculpture at the corner of 6th Avenue and 55th street and Isaumu Noguchi’s Red Cube sculpture at 140th and Broadway. The famous Charging Bull statute at Bowling Green started off as guerrilla art in 1987. Now, it is a famous landmark of its own. The world’s largest chessboard is on the wall at 767 Third Avenue. Check out the New York City’s public art and map guide for the hundreds of works that you will come across as you walk through the city. You will also find artworks that are in private spaces but free for the public to view. For example, there are two giant Marc Chagall works at the Metropolitan Museum of Opera at Lincoln Center. You can find more public art here.

Stroll Fifth Avenue

Free things to do in New York City - St. Patrick's Day Parade on Fifth Avenue photo Nat @acooknotmad

St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Fifth Avenue, photo/Nat @acooknotmad

Fifth Avenue runs the length of Manhattan from Harlem to Washington Square in Greenwich Village. From 110th Street to 59th Street, it goes along the east side of Central Park. Along the way there are eight museums that make up Museum Mile (including the Guggenheim Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art) as well as the side of Central Park. The windows of the luxury stores that line Fifth Avenue are a window-shopping treat. From the Apple Store to Tiffany’s and Bergdorf Goodman, the world’s biggest names make their presence felt on this street. Further down Fifth Avenue, you have the edge of Rockefeller Center and the landmark St. Patricks’ Cathedral; both are free to visit. Next door you have Saks Fifth Avenue and The American Girl Store. Keep walking and you will get to the New York Public Library with its giant lion statues; Lord and Taylor, another famous American department store; the Empire State Building and the Flatiron Building.

Explore Rockefeller Center

Radio City Music Hall at the western edge of Rockefeller Center, photo Just Go Places

Radio City Music Hall at the western edge of Rockefeller Center, photo/Just Go Places

Rockefeller Center is 22 acres of prime real estate in the middle of Manhattan, developed by the Rockefeller family. Even if you are visiting outside of the extra busy Christmas season when everyone and their mother shows up to see the Rockefeller Plaza Christmas Tree, Rockefeller Center is a popular place. Hang out outside the NBC studios and watch the Today Show being filmed. Maybe you’ll be lucky and get onto the show. My children adore the Nintendo Store at 10 Rockefeller Plaza. They have lots of consoles where you can play Nintendo games for free. Unfortunately, there are no seats for the parents. Another kiddie favourite is the LEGO store which showcases a replica Rockefeller Plaza made entirely of LEGO blocks. The Rockefellers commissioned a lot of public art for their development. Among other works, you have Lee Lawrie’s statue of Atlas on Fifth Avenue, Paul Manship’s Prometheus statue in the lower plaza just above the skating rink and Joseph Maria Sert’s giant mural American Progress in the lobby of 30 Rockefeller Plaza (aka 30 Rock).

Tour Times Square

Free things to do in New York City - Times Square at night, photo Just Go Places

Times Square at night, photo/Just Go Places

Times Square, at the junction of Broadway and Seventh Avenue, is a cacophony of sights, sounds and smells. With its neon signs, the people rushing around and the cartoon characters trying to get you to pay for a photo with them, this place could only exist in Manhattan. Have a browse around this playground for adults and children alike. Visit shops such as the M&M store, the Disney store, Sephora and Forever 21.

Get cultured at a Museum

Metropolitan Museum of Art on 5th Avenue, photo Just Go Places

There are many New York City museums that offer free entry all the time or on specific days/hours. For example, the American Folk Art Museum and the New York City Public Library are always free. The 9/11 Memorial & Museum is free on Tuesdays from 5pm to 9pm and the Museum of Modern Art is free every Friday evening from 4 to 8 pm. In addition, certain museums are pay-what-you-wish all of the time or at certain times. The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a suggested admission price of $25/adult but it is clear that the amount you pay is up to you. As an impoverished student, I have waltzed through the doors without paying many a time. The Bronx Zoo offers pay-what-you-wish admission on Wednesdays.

Parades and festivals

Free things to do in New York City - Balloons getting blown up for Macys Thanksgiving Day Parade Nat @acooknotmad

Balloons getting blown up for Macys Thanksgiving Day Parade Nat @acooknotmad

If you are in New York City for any of the holidays, check out if there are any parades. The St. Patrick’s Day Parade and the Easter Parade on Fifth Avenue, the Halloween parade in the Village, and the Thanksgiving Parade on Central Park West are highlights of the year for both tourists and locals. New York City also has a lot of annual festivals and parades including the Coney Island Mermaid Parade and the National Puerto Rican Day Parade, both in June as well as the San Gennaro Festival in Little Italy in September.

Be Part of an TV Audience

 My New York, Radio City Illustration by Christina Dallorso

My New York, Radio City, Illustration by Christina Dallorso image/courtesy Christina Dallorso

A lot of American talk shows are filmed in New York City. Get online and see if you can be part of their audience. These shows always have great guest stars and they need audiences. You can request tickets to shows like The View, and LIVE with Kelly and Ryan. Other shows that work with free tickets for audience members include The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and Saturday Night Live. This website shows you what shows are available but keep in mind that you don’t need to pay their $3 registration fee. Just check online for the show that you are interested in and find out how to get their audience tickets for free.

There are so many free things to do in New York City that you don’t need to pay too much to entertain yourself. Trust me, the hotels are expensive enough!

What are your free favorite free things to do in New York City?

Shobha George is an ex-New Yorker living currently in London. She writes at Just Go Places about culture, luxury and family travel. You can like her Facebook page and follow her on Instagram.

Thanks to Nathalie M. Harris of A Cook Not Mad for the St. Patrick’s Day and Macy’s Parade photos and to Santa Fe artist and renaissance woman Christina Dallorso for her Radio City illustration.

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4 Responses to “Free things to do in New York City”

  1. Nathalie
    June 29, 2019 at 8:26 pm #

    Makes me miss our NYC days. Thanks for including my pictures.
    Nathalie recently posted..The Road to FlorenceMy Profile

    • Billie Frank
      July 1, 2019 at 10:50 am #

      It made me think of my NYC days as well. Especially Central Park and Rockefeller Center. The only thing I couldn’t relate to was the High Line as it was only tracks in my day. It’s on my must-do list for the city,

  2. usoro
    July 6, 2019 at 11:26 am #

    Thanks a lot,am visiting New York city in few weeks time,and i really want to enjoy my stay there.

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