New York City might seem like the most expensive place in the world, but good deals are easy to find if you know where to look. In fact, NYC is full of many activities that are completely free of charge! From museums to movies, you can spend an amazing day here without hurting your wallet. Some of these activities are always free, and some are free on certain days, but all of them are available to the public. So where are these miraculous deals? Read this ultimate guide to free activities in NYC to find out.
Free Outdoor Activities in NYC
- The Bronx Zoo: The Bronx Zoo is the largest and most popular zoo in NYC. Normally, admission would be around $40 per person. However, every Wednesday they offer “pay-what-you-can” tickets, so you can visit this gorgeous zoo for free! Tickets for Wednesdays at the zoo become available on their website every Monday at 5 p.m.
- New York Botanical Gardens: One of the largest botanical gardens in the world, the New York Botanical Garden is a masterpiece in The Bronx. Wednesday is their free admission day, but there are tiers to said admission. Non-NYC locals can enter for free between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m., whereas people who live in the city can enter free all day on Wednesday.
- The New York Aquarium: Another amazing place to experience animals and nature, this beautiful aquatic sanctuary has outdoor shows and much more. Tickets are “pay-what-you-can” every Wednesday, and become available on their website on Mondays at 3 p.m.
- The High Line: This gorgeous place is technically a public park, but it was created from an old elevated rail line. There are snack carts, shows, and incredible views, and entry to the park is 100% free!
- The Staten Island Ferry: Though most people who take the ferry use it as a way to commute to the city, others use it as an inexpensive date night. The views from the ferry are breathtaking, and include the Manhattan skyline, Ellis Island, and the Statue of Liberty. The best part is that this ferry is a free service! Just be wary of scammers trying to sell fake “tickets.”
- The Brooklyn Bridge: To walk across the Brooklyn Bridge is to walk across history. Thousands of people walk the bridge for exercise, a date, or even just for fun. The views of the city are great, and it’s entirely free 24/7.
- SummerStage: An annual concert series from the good folks at the City Parks Foundation, this event lasts from May until early October, and the vast majority of performances are free. See how many you can attend!
- Free Summer Movies: You don’t have to leave the city to have a drive-in experience anymore! NYC parks play movies all summer long, most of which are free. They show classic films and new releases.
- Little Island: While all New York Public Parks are free, Little Island is definitely the park on everyone’s minds right now. An elevated, man made park, this place is incredible, and has a variety of attractions and lawns to enjoy.
- The Gowanus Dredgers Canoe Club: A non-profit organization dedicated to educational recreation, these folks provide locals and tourists with free canoe tours of the Gowanus canal. They also host kayaking adventures in nearly every borough!
Free Museums in NYC
- The Natural History Museum: A perfect place for families, this museum features some amazing exhibits, including huge dinosaur fossils. Entry to the museum is “pay-what-you-wish” for residents of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, and free for members of the museum.
- National Museum of the American Indian: An important museum that holds the histories, arts, and cultures of many of the nations that were here before us, this museum is a great way to learn about the past and begin thinking of an equitable future. Visiting the museum is always free of charge.
- The African Burial Ground: A solemn reminder that this city, and this nation, was built with slave labor, this is the largest mass burial ground in North America. With both an outdoor monument, and indoor education center, this place is sacred, and reminds people to never forget the horrors of slavery.
- MoMA: One of the most revered art museums in the world, the MoMA is a must see when you’re in the city. There are several ways to get free admission, including becoming a member, being a college student or veteran, or just being a NYC resident, as they get free admission from 4-8 p.m. the first Friday of every month.
- Museum of the Moving Image: A museum dedicated to the history and technique of film, this Astoria staple is perfect for movie lovers. Free admission is offered every Thursday from 2PM-6PM, as well as to NYC teachers and military both active duty and veterans.
- Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art: A museum dedicated to art created by LGBTQ+ artists, this gorgeous place in SoHo is all about love and freedom of expression. The museum has a suggested donation of $10, but you can enjoy the museum for free.
- Museum of Jewish Heritage: This Holocaust memorial is powerful, showcasing the terrible events that can transpire in the face of hate. It’s a reminder of what fascism can do, and how the fight for justice is never ending. Free admission hours must be booked in advance on their website and occur every Thursday from 4-8 p.m.
- The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology: A celebration of fashion and culture, the Museum at FIT is an eclectic place that will even fascinate fashion cynics. This museum features new works and older styles, and is constantly receiving new exhibits. Admission is always free here.
- Tibet House US Cultural Center: This cultural center was built by request of the Dalai Lama, who wanted to preserve and celebrate Tibetan art and culture. The Gallery has a ton of cool exhibitions, with new ones coming in all the time. There’s a $5 suggested donation, but you can enter the gallery free of charge if you’d like.
- The Queens County Farm Museum: Both a museum and an outdoor activity, this is the oldest working farm in NYC. Dedicated to teaching folk about agriculture, their food has been feeding New Yorkers for over 300 years. The grounds and museum are completely open to the public, unless there’s a special event happening.
Free Food and Drinks in NYC
- Rudy’s: Maybe the most famous dive bar in NYC Rudy’s the place to go in Midtown Manhattan. They serve beer for very affordable prices, and they give you a free hotdog if you buy anything. Seriously, anything. It could be t-shirt or a shot, but you will get that free hotdog either way.
- Astor Wines & Spirits: A famous wine and liquor store, this place hosts a number of events every year. However, their most celebrated events are their tastings. Tasting occurs a lot here, and never on a regular schedule. Check their website for info on what’s being tasted when.
- Alligator Lounge: A dive bar with old arcade games, this place has been popular with Brooklynites for years. Every drink order comes with the option of a personal pan pizza. Said pizzas are small, so you’ll probably end up wanting a snack after every drink away.
- The Thirsty Scholar: A bar that celebrates the written word—and how much the people who wrote those words liked to drink—this bar is a hit with young and old crowds alike. They have happy hour deals weekdays from 5-8 p.m., and those deals include some free bar food, like chicken tenders, when you purchase a drink.
- Blind Tiger Ale House: An upscale dive bar, this place takes pride in the food and drink they serve, touting themselves as NYC’s premier draft beer hall. This place is a bit fancier than your average dive bar, which is why they give you a free personal cheese plate when you buy a beer on Wednesdays after 6 p.m.
Free Tours in NYC
- City Hall: One of the oldest functioning City Halls in the nation, NYC’s city capitol building is an architectural marvel that still plays an important role in the government. Exploring this huge structure could be a chore, which is why they offer free tours on Wednesdays.
- Stephen A. Schwarzman Building: This building is the main branch of the New York Public Library, and it’s gorgeous and enormous. The free tours of the building will help anyone navigate a future visit, and show people things that are normally off limits to the public. Tours take place Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m to 2 p.m.
- Hamilton Grange: Though not in its original location, most of Alexander Hamilton’s federalist style home has been left intact and in pristine condition. This home showcases what it was like to live in the 1700’s, and even has some of Hamilton’s old belongings. Admission, and self-guided tours, are free every Friday through Sunday as long as you register on the website.
- Gracie Mansion: The classy and illustrious home of New York City’s Mayor, the Gracie Mansion is equal parts government building, home, and art museum. Though the mayor lives here—in one of the oldest surviving wooden structures in the country—new exhibits appear here all the time. Public tours are given of the mansion Mondays at 10:30 a.m. and 12 p.m.
- St. Patrick’s Cathedral: Easily the most famous church in NYC, St. Patrick’s Cathedral is the house of worship for the ArchBishop of New York. The building is massive and beautiful, steeped in history and gothic architecture. You can take a guided audio tour of the cathedral Monday to Friday starting at 9 a.m. that’s free with a membership or sightseeing pass.
- The Brooklyn Brewery: Supplying NYC with delicious beer, the Brooklyn Brewery is a hip place that’s beloved by locals and tourists alike. Their free tours take place hourly on Sundays from 1-6 p.m. The tour is so good that it will make you want to reserve a spot for a future tasting!
- Big Apple Greeter: A free service with a “no-tipping” policy, Big Apple Greeters will show new residents and tourists the ins and outs of the city from a native New Yorker’s point of view. These tours happen all day everyday, so head to their website and see what the city has to offer you!
- Village Alliance: With a large number of self-guided tours that are available to everyone, the Village Alliance is a wonderful way to explore Greenwich Village and Astor Place. Tours include things like famous filming locations, LGBTQ+ history, and art & literature tours. Print off the tour from the website, or download their free app so you can explore today!
- Free Tours By Foot: Specializing in neighborhood tours of NYC, Free Tours By Foot will lead anyone who wants to go on a tour that focuses one history, entertainment, food, and more. They have walking tours for just about any area in Manhattan, and take pride in the knowledge of the folks who lead their tours. Check out their website for booking info.
- Moonlight Ride Through Central Park: The largest and most active tour on this list, the Moonlight Ride is a large, nocturnal bike tour of Central Park. This tour is totally safe, and lets residents and visitors experience the park in a way that most New Yorkers never get to experience. Rides usually happen the first Friday of every month at 10 p.m., but check out their calendar to confirm.
Free Entertainment and Wellness Activities in NYC
- Yard Beats and Eats: An awesome concert series in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, this activity is perfect for those who want to get up and groove. They even have karaoke and games to play, so you know you’ll have a good time. This annual event has concerts July 7th, August 4th, and September 1st, and it’s completely free to register.
- Wallabout Wellness: Another event from the Brooklyn Navy Yard, this series is all about fitness and health. Yoga is offered on July 30th, HIIT classes take place August 27th, and dances classes take place September 24th. Register for free on the website now, because spaces for these classes are limited.
- Lincoln Center’s Summer for the City: Lincoln Center’s most anticipated summer series is back until August 14th, and the fun never stops while you’re here. Hosting events that include concerts, movies, and dances, this summer series has a little something for everyone to enjoy. Most events are totally free!
- Shakespeare in the Park: A longtime annual event from the Public Theater, Shakespeare in the Park is a free theatrical experience that brings the arts to the people. They do several shows every year, so you have plenty of chances to see something. This year’s productions include Richard III and As You Like It. Check the website to see how you can get your free tickets.
- Shape Up NYC: With locations across all five boroughs, Shape Up NYC is a free service that the city provides to residents. There are tons of fitness classes that last year round. You have to live in the city in order to take them, but you can do a variety of classes from weightlifting to Zumba.
- The Classical Theater of Harlem: Always entertaining and mind opening, the Classical Theater of Harlem will turn anyone into a theater fan. Most shows produced here are free, and they even hold special events for the community like their annual Bryant Park Picnic Performance.
- Bryant Park Boot Camp: Short, sweet, and sweaty, the Bryant Park Boot Camp is a half hour, core intensive workout that goes from 7-7:30 a.m. by the Fountain Terrace. This class meets every week, all year round. That means, even in winter, you can get up and workout with other members of your community. There’s no need to register. Just show up and start working out.
- Comedy, Spoken Word, or Poetry in the Glade: We’ve already discussed Little Island, but they have free weekly events that everyone can enjoy. Especially unique are their comedy/poetry nights. Every Thursday, professionals and newbies grace the stage and pour their heart out.
- Pershing Square Sounds: Grand Central Partnership’s annual event is back and better than ever! With a summer full of free concerts and events, you won’t want to miss out on this. No registration required. Just show up!
- Stooping NYC: This Instagram account turns trash into treasure by finding unique items on the sidewalk that are up for grabs. Recent items include furniture, paintings, and even old arcade games. Stoop treasures may be waiting for you in your own neighborhood!
Nothing is better than free stuff, and NYC has a ton of it. While it’s easy to spend your life savings here, you can have a wonderful time in the city by simply looking around. Many of NYC’s most iconic places have something available for free. This list should prove to be a great starting point for your free NYC adventure. Go out and save some money!
Russell is a writer and comic based in New York City. His plays have been featured at Penn State’s Cultural Conversation’s Festival, The NYC Thespis Festival, and Imaginarium’s Inaugural Theater Festival. Follow him on TikTok and Instagram @pooleparty528