Planning a vacation to New York? Our insiders put together a list of our top free things to do in NYC.
New York City can be an expensive place, but it doesn’t have to be! There are a lot of things to do in New York that don’t require any money, from touring galleries to exploring historical neighborhoods.
Our local experts put together a list of some of the best free things to do in New York, all great suggestions that can help round out your vacation itinerary.
A Way to Save on Ticketed New York Attractions
We know that this blog post is about listing the FREE things to do in New York, but, are you looking to visit a few of the ticketed attractions during your vacation?
Consider using a New York City Explorer Pass – which includes free admission to dozens of the area’s most popular attractions – all for one low price.
A New York City Explorer Pass can save you up to 50% off combined admission vs paying at the gate.Note: the below ads are not affiliated with SmartDestinations.com
Another great place to visit that many people haven’t discovered yet is Governors Island. Located off the coast of downtown Manhattan, Governors Island has quietly.
This 172-acre island is filled with activities and opportunities for every outdoor enthusiast. Take the free ferry from Lower Manhattan (or the subway, but that will cost you) to this popular seasonal playground and enjoy the diversity of attractions available to you and your family.
Visitors to the island can experience miles of car-free biking by bringing their own bikes or renting one for a nominal fee. There are also tons of installations with artisan goods on display and for sale at places like Brooklyn ARTery, Rising Tide (a showcase of works inspired by Hurricane Sandy) and Better Than Jam: A Handmade Gifts Shop.
The island is open every Saturday, Sunday and Holiday Monday (Memorial Day and Labor Day) until September 29 from 10 am to 7 pm and ferry service to and from the island is punctual and free.
New York Public Library
Everyone will love a visit to this iconic institution. Housed in a famous building that just recently turned 100, the New York Public Library is among the most prestigious libraries in the country.
Snap photos of the guardian lions, “Patience” and “Fortitude,” and explore the many fascinating exhibits like a Gutenberg Bible and a collection of historical maps.
If you want a more formal introduction, take a free guided tour (available at 11 am and 2 pm Monday-Saturday and 2 pm on Sundays).
Bring the kids to Heckscher Playground to let off some steam. This 3-acre, recently refurbished playground is now the largest in Central Park. In addition to typical playground equipment, it features sprinklers on warm days, a rock mountain for climbing, a wooden suspension bridge, and a play area for toddlers.
It’s also a great place for adults to lounge around and people-watch. Restrooms are located inside the playground area, so you won’t have to worry about bathroom breaks.
American Girl Place New York
Let your children window shop and play at the American Girl Place New York and FAO Schwarz on the famous Fifth Avenue. American Girl Place is a young girl’s paradise, featuring every American Girl character ever created and endless outfits, accessories, and props.
The store even has hands-on activities like arts and crafts. Then, for the ultimate toy experience, head over to FAO Schwarz, one of the most renowned and largest toy stores in the world.
You’ll hardly believe it’s a store when you enter the fascinating Grand Hall, adorned with more than 20,000 computer-controlled colored lights.
Grand Central Terminal
Enjoy the beautiful and historic Grand Central Terminal building while your kids marvel at the huge number of trains traveling in and out.
Even if you’re not headed out of town, Grand Central is worth the trip. Everyone will also love the “Whisper Wall” where you can whisper to a friend (and still hear one another!) from opposite ends of the wall.
You can also take free tours of Grand Central Terminal through the Grand Central Partnership.
No New York vacation is complete without a visit to Times Square. Though Times Square is perhaps the most popular tourist destination in the world, don’t be alarmed; traveling here with your family is really not as much of a challenge as you think.
Tons of tourists (and locals) bring their kids to Times Square every day! The whole family will be in awe at the excess of signs, lights, people, stores, and buildings.
If you don’t mind spending a little, stop for a bite at Katz’s Delicatessen.
Traveling with friends? Why not take a free tour of the popular Brooklyn Brewery? It’s a great way to get a glimpse behind the scenes of New York’s burgeoning beer scene and enjoy sampling some tasty brews for free. You can also purchase a number of branded souvenirs, including six packs of their most popular beers!
If you’re an artsy kind of person, you’ll definitely relish the chance to explore the creative Chelsea district. It’s filled with dozens of experimental and innovative art galleries, almost all of which are free to visit.
If you time it correctly, you might even enjoy a wine and cheese reception on a Thursday evening!
Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) Museum
Interested in fashion and clothing design? Then the free FIT museum is a must-see for you. Featuring rotating exhibits by students at FIT, this quirky gallery is always filled with the innovative and avant garde in the fashion world.
There’s also a fascinating exhibit detailing the history of fashion in the US, with items dating all the way back to the 18th century.
Curated from a broader collection of more than 50,000 items, this retrospective exhibit is well worth a visit.
It’s most famous for its ice skating rink and Christmas tree, but there’s even more to see and do at this iconic public space. Explore the public art pieces scattered throughout the plaza and a few of the buildings, like the statue of Prometheus and the giant Atlas supporting the world.
Remember that while official tours of Rockefeller Center do come with a fee, wandering around on your own is totally free!
Let’s Recap on How to Visit New York for Cheap
So there are some fun ideas for free things to do in in New York.
Remember, if you want to add some attractions to your itinerary that normally cost money, consider purchasing a Go New York Card.
With the New York City Explorer Pass you get free admission to dozens of attractions all for the one low price of the pass. You can save up to 55% off combined admission costs vs paying at the gate.