13 Free Things to Do in NYC that are Actually Worth Doing

Photo by Susan Yin on Unsplash

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.

Sarah and Tom. Photo by Jason Gonzalez-Smith

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!

Sarah’s NYC Foodie Feast tour with guide Luis Yanes

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.

Brooklyn Bridge Park. Sarah Funk & Luis Yanes. Photo by Laura Peruchi

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!

Photo by Krisztina Papp on Unsplash

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.

Sarah Funk. Photo by Andrew Downing

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.

Brooklyn Botanical Gardens. Photo by Pascale Amez on Unsplash

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.

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. Photo by Reno Laithienne on Unsplash

Always Free

African Burial Ground Memorial Site
American Folk Art Museum
BRIC House
The Bronx Museum of the Arts
Federal Hall National Memorial
General Grant National Memorial
Hamilton Grange 
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

Sometimes Free

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.   

9/11 Memorial. Photo by Julien DI MAJO on Unsplash

Mondays

Museum at Eldridge Street Synagogue (pay what you will, 10am to 5pm, tours) 

Tuesdays

9/11 Memorial & Museum (5pm to close)
Morgan Library and Museum (J. Pierpont Morgan’s Library only, 3 to 5pm)
Staten Island Zoo (2 to 4:45pm, through Feb. 11, 2020)
Wave Hill (9am to noon)

Wednesdays

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)

Bronx Zoo. Photo by Haniel Espinal on Unsplash

Thursdays

Brooklyn Children’s Museum (2 to 6pm)
Museum of Arts and Design (pay what you will, 6 to 9pm)
New Museum (pay what you will, 7 to 9pm) 

First Thursday of the Month
Museum of Chinese in America

Fridays

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)

MOMA museum. Photo by Ben Coles on Unsplash

First Friday of the Month
Frick Collection (6 to 9pm, except September and January)
Neue Galerie (6 to 9pm)
The Noguchi Museum

Saturdays

The Jewish Museum
New York Botanical Garden (free grounds pass, 9 to 10am)
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (pay what you will, 5 to 8pm)
Wave Hill (9am to noon)

First Saturday of the Month
Brooklyn Museum (5 to 11pm)

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. Photo by Alexandra Nicolae on Unsplash

Sundays

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)

The Morgan Library and Museum. Photo by Susan Yin on Unsplash

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!

Sarah kayaking on the Hudson River

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.

Central Park picnic with Sarah Funk & Luis Yanes

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.

Photo of Tina Line from @OfLeatherAndLace

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.

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

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!

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2 Comments

  1. Ken Rabbins on April 24, 2022 at 8:16 pm

    Thanks for all of the great information! I live in N.Y.C. with your inspiration, and I might get out now and then.
    Do you have Mapes/ Addresses for the Places you have recommended, so I don’t need to look each one up?
    Side note. I think Apotheke or something like it is in the west 40s

    • SarahFunky on April 29, 2022 at 12:32 pm

      Hi Ken! Thank you for the support 🙂 and yes, in my itineraries I usually have the address to most places. Otherwise in youtube I mention some addresses, but not all as sometimes the name remains but the restaurant/place might move. Hope that helps!

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