Free Things To Do When In New York City [NYC Editor’s Picks]

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If you’ve ever spent even one day in Manhattan, there’s one thing you already know: NYC is expensive!

Going to bars, clubs, restaurants, and shows will cost you – there’s no doubt about that. But those aren’t the only ways to occupy yourself.

Believe it or not, NYC offers tons of fun, FREE things to do year-round.

Looking for some ways to occupy yourself in New York City without having to spend a dime? Here are our favorite FREE things to do in NYC.

Enjoy the Natural Beauty of Central Park

There’s a reason why Central Park is always packed with tourists and locals alike – it’s one of the greatest gems that New York City has to offer. And spending the day in the park doesn’t cost a thing.

Hang out by Bethesda Fountain. Pay your respects to the late, great John Lennon with a visit to the Imagine mosaic in Strawberry Fields. Relax on a bench nearby the Alice in Wonderland statue. Walk, run, bicycle, or lay on a blanket on the great lawn.

It’s the perfect place to be on a nice, sunny day.

If you don’t mind spending a few bucks, head to the Loeb Boathouse and rent a rowboat for $15 per hour. Paddling on the lake you’ll see some of the most spectacular views of the NYC skyline!

People Watch

One of the things we love most about NYC is that you can do pretty much anything you want and no one will care. It’s the city to be if you want to be yourself and not give any F’s about what anyone else thinks.

And that’s what makes people watching one of our all-time favorite things to do in New York. Grab a bench in any park or any square and sit back – you’ll see hundreds if not thousands of people pass by every minute of the day.

Spending the day downtown?

Check out Union Square Park or Washington Square Park. If you’re a basketball fan, walk a block down to the West 4th Street Courts. It’s THE destination for real deal b-ball players looking to get a game in with friends (and sometimes even with pros).

In midtown, relax and take in the beauty of Bryant Park. The library is within the same city block, so if you love books, it’s easy to kill a few free hours in there!

Greeley Square, which is more of a paved walkway with tables as opposed to an actual green park, is another great people-watching spot. It’s full of commuters rushing in every direction you can imagine, so it’s especially entertaining during rush hour and lunchtime.

Take in a Show

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Broadway tickets will cost you – but those aren’t the only shows worth seeing in NYC. There are a lot of TV shows filmed in Manhattan, and a lot of them give away free tickets.

Want to watch a taping of The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon or Saturday Night Live? Prefer to check out a morning show or a daytime talk show? There are plenty of free tapings you can attend, especially on weekdays.

Just keep in mind, you’ll need to request tickets for most shows in advance. You can’t just show up the day of and hope to get a seat.

DIY Movie Tour

DW labs Incorporated /

New York City has been the backdrop of thousands of movies and television shows over the decades. And while there are plenty of movie tours you can pay for, you can create your own for free.

A fan of the original Ghostbusters movie from the ‘80s? 14 N. Moore Street in lower Manhattan is the famed firehouse where the ‘busters worked.

Can’t get enough of Jerry, George, Kramer, and Elaine? The original Monk’s Café from Seinfeld (where they filmed the exterior shot) is located at 112th and Broadway.

Want to have your “I’ll have what she’s having” moment? Katz’s Deli from When Harry Met Sally is located near the Bowery at 205 E. Houston Street.

So pick a few of your favorite flicks or shows, Google where they were filmed, and map them out on your phone.

The best way to experience New York City is always on foot!

Lose Yourself in Times Square

Andrey Bayda /

Most locals find it incredibly annoying, but for tourists, Times Square is something you simply have to see. And we’re not just talking about on New Year’s Eve when the ball drops.

Times Square is a crazy, active hub of the city at all times of the day and night. And with so many people and police around all the time, it’s one of the safest places in the city to be.

Tibet House US Cultural Center

Mazur Travel /

In the mood for something a bit more cultural?

The Dalai Lama himself founded the Tibet House US Cultural Center in 1987 as a way to ensure that Tibetan culture would survive outside of China. 

And admission is always free. A donation of $5.00 per adult is suggested, but not mandatory.

There are various exhibits that highlight the unique beauty of the Tibetan culture as well as meditation sessions. The center is open Monday through Friday from 11am to 6pm, so check out their events calendar for a full list of what’s happening throughout the next few months.

The Guggenheim Museum

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You can see some of the most amazing art in the world for free if you head to the Guggenheim between 5pm and 8pm on Saturday nights. During these hours, the museum is pay what you wish, otherwise, it’s $25 for admission for adults. A $5.00 donation is suggested.

And $5 is a really small price to pay to see an original Jackson Pollock or a Kandinsky painting in real life.

Want to brush up on your art history knowledge before heading to the museum? Start your Saturday art adventure with a stroll through the halls of the New York Public Library.

We suggest visiting the main branch on Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street. (It also happens to be where Carrie and Mr. Big didn’t get married in the Sex in the City movie, so it ticks two boxes on this list!)

Walk Across the Brooklyn Bridge

Need a little exercise to walk off all those bagels and pizzas you’ve been eating?

One of our favorite walks to take anywhere in the city actually leads away from it – a walk over the Brooklyn Bridge.

The Brooklyn Bridge is only 1.1 miles long, so you can do a quick walk in about 30 minutes or a leisurely stroll in about an hour.

Once you get to Brooklyn, there are a ton of other things to do and see, so we recommend spending a few hours checking it out. Stroll down the streets looking at the various murals, browse Brooklyn’s amazing flea markets, or stretch your legs in Main Street Park.

The best part about a walk over the Brooklyn Bridge?

The incredible views of the New York City skyline you’ll see on the walk back!

Can You Do Anything for Free in NYC?

Despite New York’s reputation as being one of the most expensive cities on earth, it’s full of fun, FREE things to do, regardless of the time of year.

Walk around and check out the architecture. Grab a park bench and people watch. Visit museums when they offer free admission. Check out your favorite movie locations, wander around Times Square, or spend the day in Central Park.

Broadway shows and five-star restaurants may be at the top of your NYC to-do list, but when you don’t feel like breaking out the credit card, don’t! Some of the best things to do in NYC are, and will always be, totally free.

Jessica Heston

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