As a local from New York City, my primary obligation is to tell you everything you should know about the best free things to do in NYC. Over the past decade or so I have spent here, most free attractions are pretty familiar to me. I do have quite a lot of places to see which you can visit this year too, without having to spend a fortune.
So, without dragging this discussion further, here are the 10 best free things to do in NYC, especially meant for first-timers in the Big Apple!
The ultimate best thing to do in New York City should begin right in the heart of the city - Central Park. It is truly a staple for us all and, luckily, one of the best free things to do in NYC. To top it off, Central Park is amazing all around the year. Be it the Cherry Blossom season during spring, fall foliage, or even those cute summer picnics, no matter when you visit this park, you will not be disappointed! It truly has a lot to offer.
One of my favorite places to visit when I am in Central Park is The Mall, especially during the Fall season. I recommend visiting Bethesda Fountain, Belvedere Castle, and the Bow Bridge. Central Park is located just between the Upper East Side and the Upper West Side, with a sprawling size of 843 acres.
If you are okay with spending a little, you should also try to go on a walking tour around the park. There’s a lot to this park that you don’t know about. But, whatever you do, please do not ride the horses here. These poor little ones are treated harshly!
Did you really visit New York if you did not see Times Square? Yes, the iconic Times Square is one of the most important things that should be on your itinerary in NYC. This is even more important if you are a first-timer. Plus, it’s free!
Those huge billboards, the huge M&M store, people doing eccentric things around the street, the semi-naked cowboy, everything about Times Square is interesting. Most people you see here will be tourists since locals avoid it entirely. But it is still totally worth it to really feel the hustle and bustle, the soul of NYC.
Head to Times Square during evening hours to really see the city light up in front of you!
Soho is one of my top favorite places to be in NYC. The cute little cobblestone streets, all the shopping and art scenes, it is one of the perfect places to find out where the true spirit of New York lies. If you love Nespresso too, you even get to visit their flagship store here on Spring and Prince Street!
The art here is always changing. But, there are a few noteworthy locations that you should really check out:
1. Flowers Mural at 250 Mulberry St.
2. Yumi Kim trash can mural at the Station St.
3. Bowery New York Mural at Houston St.
4. Color Factory Wall at Spring St.
When speaking about the 10 best free things to do in NYC, how can you forget Washington Square Park? This is another one of my favorite places to be in the city, especially when it's a pleasant day!
Head to Washington Square Park, hang around fountains, grab a snack, watch other eccentric people around you, and adore the Washington Square Arch. In the summer season, you even get to experience plenty of activities that you can indulge in! When visiting this park during the holiday season, you get the opportunity to admire the exuberant Christmas tree.
Free transportation in NYC? Yes, it is possible, but in a way. This ferry is a paid ride to the free viewing of the Statue of Liberty! Yes, it takes $15 to cross into Staten Island across the Verrazano Bridge.
While on this ferry, you can get a soothing view of the NYC skyline and the Statue of Liberty, stand at the back of the boat to get the best views. And, if you are really into photography, you should head to this ferry during sunset to get even more epic sights.
One of my all-time favorite places in New York is Rockefeller Center. This is the ultimate place to visit, especially during the holiday season. There are plenty of options to eat around here, along with Saint Petersburg Cathedral and the Radio City Music Hall. You can even stroll down to 5th Ave and step into the luxurious fashion world!
If you have a budget, you should definitely buy a ticket to see Top of the Rock. It is one of the best observation decks in New York and is located right here at the Rockefeller Plaza. If you are planning on some paid attractions, make sure you also get a sightseeing pass that will cover many things in and around the Rockefeller Center.
Other wonderful free things to do in NYC include the must-visit Brooklyn Bridge. From here, cross over the Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass to visit Brooklyn. This bridge spans almost 1 mile and is one of the largest suspension bridges in the world.
When the bridge first opened, it was not a free thing to do. It would cost you a penny to cross this bridge on foot and 5 cents by carriage and horses. However, today, it has become one of the most iconic things to see in NYC. Have fun here, and get some Instagram-worthy pictures!
Who knew a subway station could be so pretty? Grand Central Station is perhaps the most scenically-perfect station in NYC, and for this reason, it is one of the must-visit attractions in New York. Grand Central is home to stunning ceiling art besides being the backdrop in various romantic movies and TV shows. It is also an amazing place just to sit and watch people going about their day.
Inside, you will find many restaurants, shopping places, and a farmer’s market too. How cool is that? Grand Central brings you close to Times Square too. So, yay! Grand Central has over 750,000 people visiting on a daily basis. It is truly an iconic landmark around the city.
NYC is truly a heaven when it comes to history, diversity, and culture. There are plenty of amazing museums you can visit, some of which are free! You should keep some of these museums as a part of your itinerary.
1. The MoMA - Free of cost for all visitors on Friday evenings from 5:30 PM through 9:00 PM.
2. 9/11 Museum - Free of cost for everyone on Tuesdays from 5 in the evening through 8 PM.
3. Morgan Library and Museum - Free for visitors from 5 in the evening through 7:00 PM under happy hours. Free of cost to galleries from 7:00 PM through 9 in the evening.
4. FIT Museum - Free for all visitors.
5. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum - Free on select Saturdays for the entire day and pay as you wish on other Saturdays from 4 in the evening through 6:00 PM.
If architecture is what fascinates you, you should visit The Flatiron Building, one of the most iconic and photographed buildings in the city. The building is famous for its triangular shape that splits two streets.
While you cannot really go inside, you can still snap a few pictures for the ‘gram. You can even hang out at Madison Square Park or hit up Eataly to gorge on some heavenly food.
Our list of the 10 best free things to do in NYC now comes to an end. Most of these things are totally free. I hope you’ll have a wonderful time in New York doing these amazing things. Cross them out of your bucket list.
Happy vacationing to you!