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50 Free Things

50 Free Things to Do in NYC

From high art to lowbrow comedy to everything in between – 50 free, fun things to do so you can go for broke in NYC without going broke

“Free NYC” isn’t an oxymoron. New York City may be one of the most expensive cities in the world, but it also has an astounding variety of free activities, from pay-as-you-wish museums with world-class art collections to raucous comedy nights showcasing some of the city’s best alternative stand-up comics. Stargazing, ping-pong, interactive video gaming and more can all be enjoyed without opening your wallet, as can saying “Hi Mom,” live, on TV shows like the Late Show with David Letterman and the Rachael Ray Show.

 

50 Free Things

Clockwise from left: Brooklyn Bridge (Nyer82/Flickr CC), Bronx Museum of Arts (Courtesy photo), Baryshnikov Arts Center (Courtesy photo), Brooklyn Botanic Garden (Ennuipoet/Flickr CC), Bronx Zoo (Shri_ram_r/Flickr CC)

African Burial Ground
Called one of the country’s most important urban archaeological finds of the 20th century, this African graveyard in Lower Manhattan — now a designated National Monument — dates back to New York’s colonial era, and includes a powerful memorial and info-packed visitor’s center. 290 Broadway, 212-637-2019, nps.gov

Baryshnikov Arts Center
Celebrate dance from around the globe at this pioneering dance center in Midtown, which hosts free events throughout the year, from contemporary African dance to staged readings to video installations. 450 West 37th St., 646-731-3200, bacnyc.org

Big Apple Greeter
The Big Apple can be a lot to chew on by yourself. Big Apple Greeter and its tour guides are here to help — and, astonishingly, it’s completely free. Founded in 1992, this “welcome visitor” program has over 300 friendly, knowledgeable volunteer guides who guide visitors to neighborhoods and sights across New York City. You can even select the language, and make a note of your particular interests. 212-669-2896, bigapplegreeter.org

Bronx Museum of the Arts
The Bronx may be best known for Yankee Stadium, but the borough has much more, like the innovative, free Bronx Museum of the Arts, which focuses on multicultural contemporary art, including pieces by Bronx-based artists. In celebration of its 40th anniversary in 2011, the museum implemented its free admission policy. 1040 Grand Concourse, The Bronx, 718-681-6000, bronxmuseum.org

Brooklyn Bridge
If a picture is worth a thousand words, this is the bridge that has inspired epics. Trek across the iconic bridge and take in views of the water, the shoreline and the skyline. Be part of the story and bring the camera. 311, nyc.gov

Bronx Zoo
Wednesday is pay-what-you-wish day at the Bronx Zoo, the country’s largest urban zoo, with renowned exhibits like the Congo Gorilla Forest and Madagascar!, where you can go face-to-face with crocodiles and tigers. The excellent children’s section includes a giant spider web on which to climb. It’s enchanting any time of year, but there’s a special thrill in spring when many of the baby animals are born. Bronx River Parkway at Fordham Rd., 718-220-5100, bronxzoo.org; Wednesday, pay-what-you-wish 

Brooklyn Botanic Garden
There’s a lot to love at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, with its 200 cherry trees, 5,000 rose bushes, expansive conservatory and native plant workshops, but free admission on select days seals the botanical deal. 1000 Washington Ave., Brooklyn, 718-623-7200, bbg.org; free Tues., Sat. (10am–noon) and winter weekends (Nov.–Feb.)

Brooklyn Brewery
Sample made-in-Brooklyn brews on a free weekend tour of the handsome Brooklyn Brewery in Williamsburg, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2013. 79 N. 11th St., Williamsburg, Brooklyn, 718-486-7422, brooklynbrewery.comfree tours Sat. 1–5pm, Sun. 1–4pm

Brooklyn Museum
The listed admission at this world-class museum is $12, but this is just a “suggested contribution,” so you can pay what you wish. Additionally, it’s free admission on the first Saturday of the month (5–8pm) when the museum features live music and pop-up gallery talks. The magnificent collection crosses the globe, and highlights include the Egyptian and Ancient Near Eastern Art collection of wall reliefs, plaques and sculptures, like the remarkable chlorite head from a female sphinx. 200 Eastern Pkwy., 718-399-8440, brooklynmuseum.org; suggested contribution, free first Sat. of month (5–8pm)

 

50 Free Things

Clockwise from left: Green-Wood Cemetery (David Shankbone/Wikimedia CC), Downtown Boathouse Kayaks (Courtesy photo), Children’s Museum of Manhattan (Courtesy photo), The David Letterman Show (Jeffrey R. Staab/CBS), El Museo del Barrio (Courtesy photo)

Central Park
Manhattan may be the priciest island in the world, but these 843 verdant acres in its center are open to all — completely free of charge. Stroll shaded walkways and feel the spray from fountains, but also take advantage of the multitude of free activities, including guided nature walks, catch and release fishing, outdoor yoga, birding for families and much more. 212-310-6600, nycgovparks.org

Chelsea Art Galleries
Saunter through Chelsea on a Thursday night, when many of the area’s formidable galleries celebrate free art openings, along with complimentary nibbles and wine. Plus, you can often meet the artists, and perhaps walk out with a signed work of art (and a wine buzz). Between 10th and 11th Aves., from W. 18th to W. 28th, chelseagallerymap.com

Children’s Museum of Manhattan
Calling all tykes: This colorful, five-floor museum, which is free evenings on the first Friday of the month, is filled with interactive exhibits, from Adventures with Dora and Diego to the summertime City Splash to Modern Masters art classes, where little artists can get creative with paint. 212 W. 83rd St. 212-721-1223, cmom.org; free first Friday of the month 5–8pm

Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza Greenmarket
New York City has many farmers markets, including the famous Union Square Greenmarket, where the browsing is always free. But only one can claim proximity to more visiting heads of state than perhaps any produce market in the world. The weekly Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza Greenmarket fills an elegant plaza across from the U.N., and is bursting with fresh produce from local farms. 47th St. at Second Ave., grownyc.org; open Wednesdays 8am–6pm year-round

David Letterman, Rachael Ray and other free TV shows
New York City is the land of TV talk shows, from The Late Show with David Letterman to The Rachael Ray Show to The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and most need to pack in a studio audience. Yes, it takes plenty of pre-planning (you’ll need to sign up online often months in advance) but it’s free – and you may even get your 15 seconds of fame. Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, latenightwithjimmyfallon.com; Late Show with David Lettererman, cbs.com/late_night/late_show; The Rachael Ray Show, rachaelrayshow.com; The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, thedailyshow.com. For a complete list, see Live From New York It’s Free Entertainment

Downtown Boathouse Kayaks
The closest that most New Yorkers get to the Hudson River is strolling along its banks. But, the river is actually ideal for kayaking, with placid waters and steady breezes, plus, of course, gorgeous views of the skyline. Even better? You can do it for free, at the Downtown Boathouse, which offers complimentary kayak rental at a variety of locations on the Hudson River and at Governors Island. Downtown Boathouse, Hudson River Greenway, Pier 40, Pier 96 and 72nd St., downtownboathouse.org; seasonal May through September

Museo del Barrio
Celebrate Super Sabado — the third Saturday of the month, when entry is free, as is the musical entertainment — at this colorful museum that showcases more than 800 years of Latino art and culture. 1230 Fifth Ave., 212-831-7272, elmuseo.org; free third Sat. of the month

Federal Reserve Bank of New York
Talk about a gold rush. Head on a free tour (weekdays, six daily) of the Federal Reserve Bank’s vaults, 80 feet underground, which hold more than 10,000 tons of gold reserves. 33 Liberty St., 212-720-5000, newyorkfed.org; bank is only accessible via the free tours (Mon.–Fri., 6 tours daily), which must be reserved in advance.

Governors Island
The ferry ride is only 10 minutes but, as the cliché goes, Governors Island feels worlds away. A former Coast Guard base in the middle of New York harbor, Governors Island is, like many of New York City’s green spaces, free. But even better: The ferry to the island, from both Brooklyn and Manhattan, is also free, as are many events, including open-air sculpture exhibits, summer concerts and festivals, which have included the NYC Unicycle Festival and the NYC Poetry Festival. govisland.com; open weekends Labor Day through end of September 

Green-Wood Cemetery
Roam the final resting place of many New York names, from Leonard Bernstein to Jean Michel Basquiat to F.A.O Schwarz, at this landscaped beauty, where entry and maps are free. 500 25th St., Brooklyn, 718-768-7300, green-wood.com

 

50 Free Things to Do in NYC

Clockwise from left: Museum of Modern Art (Denise.goldsworthy/Flickr CC), Museum of the Moving Image (YGX/Flickr CC), New York Public Library (Cabbit/Flickr CC), National Museum of the American Indian (Asterix611/Flickr CC), Kids’ Night on Broadway (Courtesy photo)

Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum
When you think of Queens — home to the roaring jets of JFK and LaGuardia airports — peace and solitude probably don’t leap to mind. But that’s what you’ll find at the quiet sculpture gardens at the Noguchi Museum, which is pay-as-you-wish on the first Friday of the month. 9-01 33rd Rd., Queens, 718-204-7088, noguchi.org; pay-what-you-wish first Fri. of month

Kids’ Night on Broadway
At the wildly popular Kid’s Night on Broadway — generally lasting for one week in February or March — young folks (6–18) can enjoy a glitzy Broadway show for free when accompanied by a paying adult. Kids’ Night on Broadway, kidsnightonbroadway.com; in 2014, it’s Feb. 24-March 2 with tickets on sale Jan. 8

Mad. Sq. Music
Tap your toes to free concerts at Madison Square Park, which hosts a wide array of music for all ages, including the Mad. Sq. Kids Concerts, held twice a week in the summer. The park also has a free bi-annual Kids Fest, with storytelling, face-painting and more. Madison Ave. at 23rd St., 212-538-1884, madisonsquarepark.org

MoMA
The Museum of Modern Art offers a double draw: The world’s largest collection of modern art and sculpture; and a unique building, which is a work of contemporary art in itself. The museum is free on Friday evenings, and the bonus is that this also includes screenings of often unique — and rare — international films. 11 W. 53rd St., 212-708-9400, moma.org; free Fri. 4–8pm

Museum of the Moving Image
Lights, Camera, Art. It’s a long way from Hollywood, but Queens has one of the finest movie museums in the nation – and it’s free on Friday evenings. The permanent exhibit includes historic cameras and vintage TVs, but the real draw is the museum’s interactive exhibits, like dubbing in your own voice in famous movie scenes. Are you talkin’ to me? 36-01 35th Ave., 718-777-6888, movingimage.us; free Fri. 4–8pm

National Museum of the American Indian
Explore the diverse history of the Native people of the Americas, from art to ceremonial dance, at this free Smithsonian museum. Plus, the wee ones can be entertained with daily film screenings for kids. 1 Bowling Green, 212-514-3700, nmai.si.edu

New York Earth Room
The draw at this long-term Dia Art installation by Walter De Maria is the juxtaposition: In the heart of SoHo, amid the most expensive real estate in the world, is a massive room filled with nothing but dirt. Yes, 3,600 square feet of dirt. Try not to think what they could rent it out for. 141 Wooster St., diaart.org; open Sept.–June Wed.–Sun. noon–6pm (closed 3–3:30pm)

New York Hall of Science
Please touch the exhibits: New York City’s largest science and technology center, which is free on Fridays and Sundays, enthusiastically courts kids, with more than 450 interactive exhibits that “invite touching, exploring and manipulating,” from viewing a colony of leaf-cutting ants to Internet arm-wrestling. 47-01 111th St., Queens, 718-699-0005, nysci.org; free Fri. 2–5pm, Sun. 10–11am (excepting July and August)

New York Philharmonic in the Parks
Ease into the night with soaring classical music under the stars at the New York Philharmonic summer concerts at parks across the five boroughs, from Prospect Park in Brooklyn to CUNY Center for the Arts in Staten Island to Van Cortland Park in the Bronx. A bonus: The concerts are often followed by fireworks. 212-875-5900, nyphil.org; summer concerts at parks across New York City

New York Public Library
All it takes is some “Patience” and “Fortitude,” as the two famous NYPL stone lions are called, to discover free NYC, and a first stop should be the library’s stately Manhattan headquarters. In addition to the grand Reading Room — where Internet is notably fast and free — the library hosts all manner of free events, from readings and lectures to career-enhancing classes. 475 Fifth Ave., 917-275-6975, nypl.com

 

50 Free Things

Clockwise from left: Smorgasburg (Wallyg/Flickr CC), South Street Seaport Museum (Doverholt/Flickr CC), Sony Wonder Lab (En321/Flickr CC), Queens County Farm Museum (Courtesy photo), Public Art Fund (Courtesy photo)

Ping-Pong at Bryant Park
Hone your ping-pong skills at Bryant Park, which has two ping-pong tables and free paddles and balls: Just sign up with an attendant to reserve a spot. Bryant Park also has many other free activities, including summer movie screenings, petanque and juggling classes. between 40th and 42nd Sts. and Fifth and Sixth Aves., 212-768-4242, bryantpark.org

powerHouse Arena
Think books are on their way out? The powerHouse Arena will change your mind. This innovative bookstore, gallery, boutique and event space is a theater for the mind, with a richly diverse lineup of free lectures, readings, performances and more. 37 Main St., Brooklyn, 718-666-3049, powerhousearena.com

Public Art
NYC is a boon for public art, from its iconic works, like Robert Indiana’s love sculpture at Sixth Ave at 55th St., to the graffiti art currently being splashed across the city by the elusive U.K. artist Banksy. For info on new public art that’s installed year-round throughout New York City, check out the excellent nonprofit Public Art Fund online, or our own article on 8 Must-See Public Art Pieces. Among 2013′s pieces is a playful cube, Playground (through Feb. 2014), on Doris C. Freedman Plaza, near Central Park, which is the first U.S. public art work by Brazilian artist Iran do Espirito Santo. publicartfund.org

Queens County Farm Museum
If the closest your kids get to a garden are the potted plants on the fire escape, then pay a visit to this 47-acre historic working farm, where you can commune with frisky goats and the resident cows Ci Ci and Franny and other farm animals, tour verdant fields and the barnyard for free. 73-50 Little Neck Parkway, Floral Park, Queens, 718-347-3276, queensfarm.org; admission is free except for special events

Red Hook Flicks
One of the best summer deals in NYC are the free outdoor movie screenings, which take place across the city. At Red Hook Flicks in Brooklyn, the motto is “free movies on the water and under the watch of Lady Liberty.” And in July and August you can see everything from cult classics to indie flicks in its weekly screenings. Valentino Pier, Red Hook, Brooklyn, redhookflicks.com; July–Aug.

Rockaway Beach
The nickname for this peninsula — Rockapulco — may be a bit of a stretch, but this sun-warmed spit of land that juts into the ocean does have some of the NYC’s best beaches. Bonus: The A train will take you there for just $2.75. Rockaway Peninsula, nycgovparks.org

Rudy’s Free Happy Hour Snacks
There was a time when Happy Hour seemed to have gone the way of the three-martini lunch. But, Happy Hour is back — and happier than ever, since many NYC bars still throw in complimentary snacks. The perennially popular dive bar Rudy’s famously serves free hot dogs (until they run out) along with its cheap brews. 627 Ninth Ave., 646-707-0890, rudysbarnyc.com

Shakespeare in the Park
For many New Yorkers, summer is synonymous with Shakespeare in the Park, presented by the Public Theater at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. The lines are notoriously long for the free tickets but, hey, that’s part of the experience. Delacorte Theater, Central Park, 212-967-7555, shakespeareinthepark.org; summer only

Smorgasburg
From the smoky sent of Baby Got Back Ribs to the sweet aroma of S’More Bakery, the smelling’s free at Smorgasburg in Brooklyn, the sister food market to the wildly popular Brooklyn Flea Market (also free and well worth a browse). Plus, vendors will sometimes let you sample their wares, so all you really need to bring is an appetite. Saturday in Williamsburg, Sunday in Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pier 5, smorgasburg.com

Socrates Sculpture Park
Tap into New York City’s vibrant  outdoor art scene at this striking, free sculpture park that sprawls on a reclaimed riverside landfill — one of the only places in the city to showcase a body of large-scale sculpture and multi-media installations. Plus, the park hosts lots of free events, from Halloween to Summer Solstice. 32-01 Vernon Boulevard, Queens, 718-956-1819, socratessculpturepark.org

Sony Wonder Lab
Embark on a digital adventure at this free four-story interactive technology and entertainment center that appeals to all ages, from tots to teens to grown-ups who’ve never grown up. Play video games, connect with robots or let loose and do dance moves with animated characters. Sony Plaza at 56th St. and Madison Ave., 212-833-8100, sonywondertechlab.com; reservations recommended

South Street Seaport Museum
Explore New York City’s seafaring history at the beautifully renovated South Street Seaport Museum, which is free on the third Friday of the month. Afterwards, check out the tall ships on the harbor — some of which open to the public for a suggested donation of $5 — and stroll Pier 17. 12 Fulton St., 212-748-8600, seany.org; free third Sat. of the month

 

50 Free Things

Clockwise from left: Staten Island Ferry (Mgendelman/Flickr CC), Williamsburg Spelling Bee (Roboppy/Flickr CC), Theatreworks USA (Courtesy photo), The Highline (Specialkrb/Flickr CC), Wave Hill (Beyond My Ken/Wikimedia CC), Upright Citizens Brigade (Courtesy photo)

Staten Island Ferry
The free ferry continues to be one of the greatest deals in New York City, with sweeping views of the harbor, the Statue of Liberty, and the glittering Manhattan skyline on its journey between Lower Manhattan and Staten Island. Departs from Whitehall Terminal, at South St. and Whitehall St. in Lower Manhattan, 212-639, 9675, siferry.com

Staten Island Museum
Delve into Staten Island’s unique history, from its rich natural parkland to contemporary art by Staten Islanders, at this suggested-admission museum, which also hosts “Sneak Peek Tuesdays” when it’s officially free noon–2pm. 75 Stuyvesant Pl., 718-727-1135, Staten Island, statenislandmuseum.org; free Tuesdays noon–2pm

The High Line Stargazing
Usually, the only stars you’ll see in New York City are at the ritzy restaurants and clubs. Not with the Amateur Astronomers Association, which from April to October, hosts free stargazing nights at New York City’s elevated park (which itself is also always free). Gazing up at the stars and planets via high-powered telescopes gives a sobering sense of place. The High Line between W. 13th and W. 14th Sts., 212-500-6035, thehighline.org; April to October for stargazing, year-round for park itself

The Metropolitan Museum of Art
New York City’s — if not the world’s — most famous museum is also, should you wish, free. Though the listed admission is $25, that’s simply the “recommended” price, and you may pay what you wish. Of course, many are still willing to fork over the full amount, as it helps fund the exhibits of the museum’s international treasures, which span thousands of centuries, from the Americas, Europe, Africa and the Far East, as well as the classical and ancient worlds. 1000 Fifth Ave., 212-535-771; www.metmuseum.org

The Museum at FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology)
High fashion isn’t free, but the exhibits at New York City’s leading fashion museum are. Founded in 1969, the museum is known for its creative exhibits like Gothic: Dark Glamour and The Corset: Fashioning the Body. Also, the free Gallery FIT exhibits by students and faculty. Seventh Ave. at 27th, 212-217-4558, fitnyc.edu

Theatreworks USA
This venerable nonprofit theater company showcases free summer shows every year, from Shakespeare to high-kicking musicals, that cater to children and families. 151 W. 26th St., 212-647-1100, theatreworksusa.com; free summer theater shows at various locations

Upright Citizens Brigade
From Jack Benny and Rodney Dangerfield to Woody Allen and Jerry Seinfeld, New York has a long comedy legacy. Happily, this translates into lots of comedy showcases, many of which are free, like the Monday 11pm Whiplash night at Upright Citizens Brigade, hosted by Leo Allen, featuring NYC’s alternative stand-up comics. 307 W. 26th St., 212-366-9176, newyork.ucbtheatre.com; free Whiplash night, Mon. at 11pm

Wave Hill
Walk in the footsteps of Mark Twain and Teddy Roosevelt who once resided in the stately Wave Hill House. It reopened in 2013 after a two-year renovation in the heart of this historic garden and cultural center overlooking the Hudson River. W. 249th St., Riverdale, The Bronx, 718-549-3200, wavehill.org; free Saturdays: 9am to noon and free Tuesdays: January-April, 9am-noon May-June, July-August, Sept.-Oct. 9am-noon, Nov.-Dec.

Williamsburg Spelling Bee
How do you spell F-U-N? This free monthly spelling bee is a night of silly fun, fueled by cocktails, comedy and competition. Pete’s Candy Store, 709 Lorimer St., Brooklyn, williamsburgspellingbee.com; first Monday of the month

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