13 Free Things to Do in NYC that are Actually Worth Doing
By: Sarah Funk
Are you looking for free things to do in NYC that are actually worth it? Then you’ve come to the right place! New York is known to be an expensive city. However, it is not impossible to experience much of what it has to offer for free or dirt cheap. In this guide, I’ll show you 13 free things to do in NYC that you can do right now.
Watch my video below for some of the top things to do in the Big Apple that are completely free or budget-friendly.
Free Things to do in NYC that are Actually Worth Doing:
1. Join my live NYC YouTube tours!
One to two times a week during COVID times, I offer live free tours of New York through my YouTube channel. The tours are about history, food, culture, art, and more. To get notified of the next live tour, enter your email below.
2. Free Tours By Foot
Though I do offer in-person tours, they are not free. Therefore, if you are on a budget and would like to go on a tour then I recommend Free Tours by Foot. These tours happen several times a day and take place all over the city. Groups can be quite large (up to 30 people) so stay close to the guide so that you can hear what they are saying. If you enjoyed the tour, please consider leaving a tip to support the guide!
3. Movies with a View at Brooklyn Bridge Park
There are many different locations that offer movies outside for free during the summer but I think the best one is at Brooklyn Bridge Park. It certainly is a free thing to do in NYC that is actually worth doing! They set up the viewing screen to be at the bottom of a hill so that no one’s view is blocked, plus you have stunning panoramic vistas of the Manhattan Skyline surrounding the screen. Make sure you arrive early to claim your spot because it can get crowded. I recommend bringing a picnic with you to enhance the experience.
4. Bryant Park Free Daily Activities
Another free thing to do in NYC that is actually worth doing would be Bryant Park’s many free activities. Bryant Park is located on 42nd street between Times Square and the New York Public Library (which also has free exhibits inside). Every day Bryant Park offers a variety of free activities, such as juggling lessons, ping pong, yoga classes, fencing, and much more. During the summer they also have free movie nights and even do free Broadway performances occasionally!
During the winter they have an adorable winter village with tons of shops, ice skating, and a winter lodge. Though ice skating is not free, it is a great experience none-the-less! If you’re visiting NYC in winter, make sure you dress for it (read my article about that here).
5. The Skint
I’ve been using The Skint since college because it consistently delivers on free things to do in NYC that are actually worth it. This daily newsletter consolidates all of the free (or budget-friendly) activities happening in New York each day. Sign up for their newsletter to get the daily happening sent directly to your inbox each day.
6. Visit beautiful Botanical Gardens for FREE!
Though NYC is known as a concrete jungle there are still many beautiful botanical gardens here. The two I love the most are the Brooklyn Botanical Garden (free Winter Weekdays: Tuesday–Friday, December–February) and New York Botanical Garden (New York City Grounds-Only Admission is free all day on Wednesdays. Proof of NYC residence is required). You can get into both for free if you plan your schedule around their free days. I listed the free days here but please double check on their website before visiting because sometimes they change. Read my experience on visiting the NY Botanical Gardens here.
7. Visit NYC’s Museums for free
New York City has some of the world’s best museums in it but that doesn’t mean that you need to break the bank to visit them. Here is a comprehensive list of museums that offer free entry.
African Burial Ground Memorial Site
American Folk Art Museum
The Bronx Museum of the Arts
Federal Hall National Memorial
General Grant National Memorial
The Harbor Defense Museum
MoMA PS1 (free for NYC residents)
The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology
National Museum of the American Indian
The New York Public Library Stephen A. Schwarzman Building
New York Public Library for the Performing Arts
New York Transit Museum Annex & Store, Grand Central Terminal
Queens Botanical Garden (November through March only)
Queens County Farm Museum (except during special events)
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden (grounds and botanical garden only)
Socrates Sculpture Park
Soldiers and Sailors Monument
Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace
The following museums typically require paid admission but open their doors for free on specific days or times—though again, some do charge for admission to specific events or sections. Be sure to consult their websites or call ahead if you hope to see a specific exhibition.
Museum at Eldridge Street Synagogue (pay what you will, 10am to 5pm, tours)
Bronx Zoo (does not include admission to special exhibitions like the Butterfly Garden, Congo Gorilla Forest and JungleWorld)
Frick Collection (pay what you wish, 2 to 6pm)
Historic Richmond Town (suggested donation)
Museum of Jewish Heritage (4 to 9pm)
New York Aquarium (pay what you will, 3pm to close)
New York Botanical Garden (free grounds access; does not include entry to the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, special exhibitions like the Orchid Show and Holiday Train Show, Everett Children’s Adventure Garden, Rock and Native Plant Gardens or Tram Tour)
Queens Botanical Garden (April to October, 3 to 6pm; all day rest of year)
Van Cortlandt House Museum
Staten Island Zoo (2 to 4:45pm)
First Thursday of the Month
Museum of Chinese in America
Asia Society (September to June, 6 to 9pm)
Brooklyn Botanic Garden (March to November, before noon)
Japan Society (6 to 9pm)
Morgan Library and Museum (7 to 9pm)
Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) (5:30 to 9pm)
Museum of the Moving Image (4 to 8pm)
New York Hall of Science (2 to 5pm)
The New-York Historical Society (pay what you will, 6 to 8pm)
Rubin Museum of Art (6 to 10pm)
First Saturday of the Month
Brooklyn Museum (5 to 11pm)
Brooklyn Children’s Museum (4 to 7pm)
The Morgan Library and Museum (J. Pierpont Morgan’s Library only, 4 to 6pm)
New York Hall of Science (10 to 11am)
Queens Botanical Garden (April to October, 9 to 11am; all day rest of year)
8. Free Kayaking
One of the things most people are surprised to learn is that you can actually kayak for free in New York! Brooklyn Bridge Park Boathouse offers this service for free in 20-minute intervals. Make sure you reserve in advance to claim your spot. It is a beautiful way to see the Manhattan skyline!
9. Watch your favorite musical artists live
If you’ve always dreamed of seeing big-name performers, such as Katy Perry, Adriana Grande, the Backstreet Boys, and more then you can’t miss this free thing to do in NYC. At the Good Morning America Summer Concert Series, you can see your favorite performers completely for free. The only catch is that you need to wake up very early to do it. The series takes place in Central Park during the summer and each year’s new schedule is announced in the Spring (click here to see what’s happening this year).
10. Enjoy live theatre for free
A beloved New York City tradition for more than 60 years, Free Shakespeare in the Park has provided free performances of world-class theater to more than five million people. Located at The Delacorte Theater in Central Park, Free Shakespeare in the Park is the manifestation of founder Joe Papp’s vision of a theater that is of, by, and for all people. Getting tickets for this spectacular event can be tricky. My best advice is to arrive very early so you can get the free tickets they distribute on the day of the performances. For more details on how to do that, visit their site.
11. Have your own Picnic in Central Park
Want to have a trillion-dollar view while enjoying a nice meal? Well, you don’t have to spend trillions to do it! You can simply have a lovely picnic in Central Park (click here to learn my secret picnic location). This is one of my favorite free things to do in NYC that are actually worth it because it is so peaceful and beautiful. Spring, summer, and autumn are great times to do this. Before or after your picnic you could take the rowboats out near the Loeb Boathouse or bike throughout the park using a Citi Bike. Want to learn even more about Central Park? Then watch my virtual tour on YouTube about it.
12. Walk Across the Brooklyn Bridge
Is there anything more “New York” than the Brooklyn Bridge? It is a right of passage for any New Yorker or visitor to walk across it. The best part? It is FREE! The best way to do it is to start in Dumbo, Brooklyn (known for its epic skyline views). I love Dumbo because the Time Out Market is there. In fact, Dumbo is where my NYC Foodie Feast tour happens! Watch my Dumbo guide below for more details on what to do there.
Next start walking across the bridge from Brooklyn to Manhattan. This is the best way to walk across it because as you are walking you’ll get epic views of the Manhattan skyline. The bridge is about a mile in length (1.6 km) so make sure you bring comfortable walking shoes and water.
13. Laugh the night away at free comedy shows
Another free thing to do in NYC is to go to some of the free comedy shows. We have incredible comedians here (such as my lovely tour guide Tom Delgado), and you can see many of them for free. Read this article for the most up to date information on free comedy shows to see in the city now.
Those are my top 13 free things to do in NYC that are actually worth doing! I hope that it helps you have the best time possible in the city. If you live in the city or are visiting, check out my budget food guide, budget shopping guide, and article on how to save money in New York City. They will help you make the most of this amazing place!