The extravaganza and glamour of New York City for free? They said it couldn’t be done, but we showed them! This handy guide is my gift to you to experience a full week (or more) of completely free tours, landmarks and attractions in New York City, USA.
FYI: Nearly every activity (but not 100%) on this list has been truthfully tested and joyously experienced by myself and April. We receive no rewards or special treatment for advertising any of these as they are already being given away, literally. It is simply my goal to share and inspire you to do and see more without financial limitations.
Part I of New York City for Free – The Weekday Edition
Start your New York journey at the same place where this great city was born, now known as Lower Manhattan.
Take the free ferry to Staten Island and back for free! Breathtaking views of the Manhattan skyline, the Brooklyn bridge, the Hudson and East Rivers, Staten Island, New Jersey and of course, the closest you can get to Lady Liberty without shelling out a pretty penny. (http://www.siferry.com)
Stroll through Battery Park for the fresh air, war memorials, street performers and history. If you pay attention, you might even find hidden bee farms stacked amongst the gardens of an industrialized city.
Gain more insight at the National Museum of the American Indian. Admission is free. Open 10-5pm. (http://nmai.si.edu/home/)
Get your shots of the symbolic ‘Charging bull’ by Maestro Arturo Di Modica just up Broadway. (http://chargingbull.com)
Follow Broadway uptown, watching ‘the suits’ line up for not-so-cheap street meat. (Careful these guys have NO patience for your meandering.) A short ways up, Trinity church stands apart in the shadow of the modern skyscrapers. Turn right onto Wall Street and follow the cobblestones to the New York Stock Exchange. Explore the European styled building facades of the original magnums of the New York’s Financial District.
Finish of your day with a visit to the World Trade Center Memorial Plaza and the new One World Tower. Entrance is free though they do encourage donations. ($10 gets u a rubber bracelet). Airport style security! President Barack Obama was in town to inaugurate the museum ($24) at the time of our visit.
#TravelTip A limited number of tickets is provided for no cost admission to the museum: Tuesday evenings from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Book online as far in advance as possible. (http://visit.911memorial.org)
The Museum of Natural History, one of the gems of New York City, will never be beyond your reach. This is entirely thanks to their ‘Suggested Admission’ policy. Quite literally, the price on the box is just a suggestion! You can choose to pay whatever you can afford, all day long, ANY DAY OF THE WEEK! Amazing! (10am – 5:45pm. Central Park W and 79th St, NY. www.amnh.org/)
Decompress your mind after a crash course on the Big Bang, Prehistoric Earth, Geology, Archaeology, Biology and any other –ology currently featured at the museum with a gorgeous walk across Central Park (only ½ mile across) to 5th Avenue’s Museum Mile. (http://www.centralpark.com/) Take the straightest path, a minuscule piece of the park, and you still get to breathe in the rows of lavender flowers hanging lazily from every tree through Shakespeare’s Garden. You will also pass by Swedish Cottage, Marionette Theater, glimpse the stadium Delacorte Theater (home to the famously free Shakespeare in the Park: http://publictheater.org/en/programs–events/shakespeare-in-the-park/?SiteTheme=Shakespeare), climb Belvedere Castle for panoramic views of Turtle Pond under the big city and eventually end up at the doors of the regal Metropolitan Museum of Art (http://www.metmuseum.org/) . This one is definitely not free, but if architecture and art is your thing, you will love Friday’s section, below.
Museum Mile (uptown along 5th Avenue from the MET) is fittingly named for numerous museums lining what is undoubtedly one of the richest streets in the world. One bedroom shoe-box apartments in these buildings go for millions. The price of the ultimate view in New York (I’m talking about Central Park of course).
Head further east into the Upper East Side and revel at the glittering lobby’s being serviced by perfectly outfitted doormen (just like in the movies). Check out Lexington Avenue for hundreds of dining options and the closest subway lines.
The world’s largest metropolitan zoo, the Bronx Zoo features pay-what-you-can every Wednesday, all day long. (9am – 5pm. www.Bronxzoo.zom 2300 Southern Blvd, Bronx, NY 10460)
The New York Botanical Gardens, just a hop and a skip away, also offers free grounds admission to everyone, all day long, every Wednesday. (Also on Saturdays from 9 a.m. – 10 a.m. http://www.nybg.org/ 2900 Southern Blvd, Bronx, NY 10458)
If you haven’t had enough yet, take the #5 subway downtown, exit at Lexington Avenue. Take 59th St. westward until you find yourself standing in the middle of Grand Army Plaza with 360 degrees of some of the most recognizable landmarks of New York City: The Plaza Hotel, F.A.O. Schwartz, the Apple Store, Disney store, Tiffany & Co. Window-shop-til-you-drop!
Each neighbourhood in Manhattan seems to have its own story, identity and claim to fame. Many are named for their industry: Meatpacking District, Art Gallery District, Flower and Garment Districts are just some examples. Some still hold true, for example the Theater and the Diamond Districts. Others are named after the peoples who settle there; like the ever-growing Chinatown, one of the largest in the U.S. and Little Italy of course. Other neighbourhood names seem to just be a matter of location, but their history is no less interesting. The East Village for example, broke out as its own district in the 50’s as a center of counterculture and home liberal arts movements and punk rock. Eventually, gentrification brought high prices and trendy coffee shops (pushing out those can’t afford to define the old neighbourhood).
Still, evidence of the cultural evolution can be found in each of these districts. (Peter Laskowich – your Friday tour guide, would remind us that even buildings can talk to us.) So put on your walking shoes or rent a bike if you can brave the New York City streets and get exploring. Break up the miles with stops and street entertainment at any of these really cool parks: Washington Square Park (near NYU), Union Square (has a farmer market), Madison Square Park (home of the original Shake Shack), Bryant Park (my favourite – directly behind the New York Public Library) and Thompson Park.
And don’t miss the High Line, a nature walk above the city (parallel to 10th Avenue between West 12th and 30th).
Fridays offer the greatest wealth of free activities – choices will have to be made.
Take the morning to arrive at Grand Central Terminal with time to simply stand in awe. Explore the levels and halls, paying attention to how you feel and what is driving you there. Chances are, there is very good explanation for your increased pace, but Peter will explain all that to you when you arrive at Sculpture Court (120 Park Avenue – next to Pershing Square – inside the glass walls, no actual sculpture there so don’t look for that as a landmark.)
Free tour starts at 12:30 every single Friday afternoon and should be mandatory for every visitor to New York City. Come on, it’s a free tour with passionate and brilliant historian Peter Laskowich. (He also does custom tours of the rest of Manhattan and the 5 boroughs. I would personally, highly recommend him. His knowledge and energy is unparalleled. Contact Peter at email@example.com)
Now it’s decision time:
1. Stroll through midtown to The Museum of Modern Art or MoMA (at 53rd street between 5th & 6th avenues) – completely free between 4 and 8 p.m. Then get your Friday night started off right with a night time visit to Times Square. It’s bright, it is loud, it is chaos, it’s New York City. You have to do it, at least once.
#TravelTip Arrive at MoMA super early or face a line up around the city block. Better yet, take your time, check out Rockefeller Center (6th ave and 48th street) on the way up and then walk right in any time after 5ish. The crowds have all moved inside by now but at least you don’t have to push and pull for a ticket like they did.
2. Following your Grand Central Tour, go underground immediately. Take the 4-5-6 downtown to 14 Street – Union Square. Switch to the Q train, Brooklyn bound and stay on until the appropriately named Aquarium stop (W. 8th St. and surf Avenue). Make it quick because this beach-side aquarium only offers its pay-what-you-can promotion from 3 PM to close… and they don’t stay open late. Stay for the rides and freak shows going on all summer from May 17th.
Coney Island itself can still be free! The beach and boardwalk alone can constitute a whole day. Bring a picnic lunch or indulge yourself at Nathan’s, home of the famous hot dog eating contest, right on the boardwalk and refreshing reasonable prices!
*Make sure you read Part II of ‘New York City for Free – Weekends and Anytime Edition’ for more tips on how to keep your entire trip budget, including food and shelter, at a minimum 🙂 https://karinasextraordinarylife.com/2014/06/09/free-new-york-city-weekends-anytime/
~ An Extraordinary Story by Karina Noriega ~
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I LOVE you ladies and love all the articles and all the pictures!!!!
You are a true inspiration for other travellers!
Love you and miss you.
Please continue to have FUN, but please be safe.
(Ya that’s right. I’m pulling the mom card!!)
Thank you so much Jen. You have been soooo supportive of us in our journey AND in our attempts to share our stories and inspire others.
We always take care of each other so don;t you worry 🙂
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OMG! Is this for real!
Absolutely. All 100% researched and accounted for (at the time of writing). There’s no better way to experience New York City 🙂
Don’t forget to check out the weekend edition: https://karinasextraordinarylife.com/2014/06/09/free-new-york-city-weekends-anytime/
I need to to thank you for this fantastic read!!
I definitely loved every little bit of it. I’ve got you book-marked to look at
new stuff you post…
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