New York City – Free Activities

Between the costs of travel, lodging, and dining, a New York City vacation can quickly become an expensive ordeal.

It doesn’t have to be, though! One way budget-conscious travelers can save money while visiting the Big Apple is by taking advantage of free activities. There are a lot to choose from, including a ferry ride around the Statue of Liberty and walks through some of the city’s most gorgeous greenspaces.

Want to learn about ways you can have fun in NYC without spending a dime? Check out the list of free things to do below.


Staten Island Ferry

Being that the Statue of Liberty is one of, if not the most, iconic landmarks in New York City, you’re probably thinking that it costs a pretty penny to see it up close. Fortunately, that’s not the case.

That’s right; you can go see the Statue of Liberty for free. How? With a ride on the Staten Island Ferry, of course!

In operation in some way, shape, or form since 1887, the current iteration of the Staten Island Ferry runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It shuttles locals and tourists alike between the Whitehall Terminal in Lower Manhattan and the St. George Terminal on Staten Island. The five-mile trip takes about 25 minutes.

As if getting to see the Statue of Liberty for free wasn’t good enough, the Staten Island Ferry offers outstanding views of the New York City skyline to boot. If you plan on snapping some pictures, which you totally should, head to the back of the upper deck and stake out a spot along the railing to the right side of the ferry.


Central Park

Of course, it wouldn’t be a guide to the best free activities in NYC without Central Park. Spanning more than 840 acres in the heart of Manhattan, you could easily spend the better part of a day there just wandering around.

New York CityGetting in touch with nature isn’t the only thing you can do for free in Central Park, though. You can also visit landmarks like Belvedere Castle, the Bethesda Terrace and Fountain, and Cleopatra’s Needle, an ancient Egyptian obelisk.

But that’s not all. Want to brush up on your chess or checkers game? Play a few matches at the Chess & Checkers House. Beatles fan? Pay tribute to John Lennon in Strawberry Fields, a section of the park named after one of his favorite songs, “Strawberry Fields Forever.”

Central Park also hosts free events, mostly during the summer months. If you’re lucky, there might be one going on while you’re in town. Check online before you go to find out.


High Line

New York CityIf Central Park seems a bit too touristy for you, maybe the High Line will be more your style. Built on what was once an elevated spur of the New York Central Railroad, the High Line brings together greenery, art, and beautiful views of Manhattan’s West Side.

The High Line is 1.45 miles long, stretching from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District, through Chelsea, to 34th Street, near the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. While that might not seem like a lot of space compared to Central Park, don’t worry; High Line still has plenty to offer.

As you make your way along the High Line, points of interest await you at every turn. From gardens to art installations to overlooks, there’s something for everyone 30 feet above the bustling streets of New York City.

Another upside to visiting the High Line is its close proximity to Chelsea Market. This food hall has become a mecca for foodies with its wide variety of vendors. Eating there isn’t free, of course, but with all the money you’re saving, you might as well treat yourself.


The New York Earth Room

This next free attraction brings the outside in… literally.

The New York Earth Room is an art installation created by artist Walter de Maria in 1977. The installation features a 22-inch-deep layer of earth spread across a 3,600-square-foot, second-floor loft on a cobblestoned street in SoHo. Simply put, it’s a room full of dirt.

It’s more interesting than it sounds. Believe it or not, one of the main appeals of Earth Room is the smell. Yes, really. Because the dirt is watered on a regular basis, it gives off a rich, musty aroma, like a field in the rain. A smell like that is hard to come by in a place like New York City.

Earth Room also just plain looks cool, with the dark brown dirt set against the white walls of the apartment. Make sure you get a good look, though, since photography is not permitted. Sorry, Instagrammers!


Brooklyn Bridge

To see the city from a whole new perspective, go for a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. From there you’ll be able to enjoy views of the Brooklyn waterfront, Manhattan skyline, East River, and Statue of Liberty.

This historic bridge has connected the boroughs of Brooklyn and Manhattan since 1883. Every day it’s crossed by thousands of people, including more than 4,000 pedestrians, many of whom are sightseeing tourists like you.

New York City

There are a few ways you can go about crossing the Brooklyn Bridge’s approximately one-mile span. The recommended way is to walk from Brooklyn to Manhattan. That way Manhattan’s skyline is in view the entire time.

If it’s more convenient for you to start on the Manhattan side, however, consider turning around once you get halfway across. You won’t get the full effect, but it beats having to keep turning around to get a good look at one of the most iconic images of New York City.


Times Square

Speaking of iconic images, it doesn’t get much more quintessential NYC than Times Square, with its bright lights and busy streets. In addition to being one of the most recognizable places in all of New York City, Times Square is also where you can find fun, free things to do.

One thing you can do for free in Times Square is browse all the different stores there. It’s not like you need to buy anything just to look around, right? A lot of them have good spots for photo ops too. Some of the most popular stores in Times Square include M&M’s World, the Disney Store, LINE FRIENDS, and the Rock Shop in the Hard Rock Cafe.

Also, if you’re taking the whole “city that never sleeps” thing literally and are in Times Square just before the clock strikes 12, stick around for Midnight Moment. This digital art exhibition takes place across multiple billboards every night from 11:57 p.m. to midnight. And like everything else on this list, it’s free.