Whether you are a NYC visitor or a native like me, this list of the best FREE things to do in New York City offers something for everybody.
And everything on this New York City on the cheap list is easily accessible by public transportation. Plus, everything is within a five-minute walk from the nearest subway stop.
Some of the links are to the archive site of my former website,
NYC on the Cheap, now rebranded as NYC Travel Guru.
Beware of imitators, phishing & malware.
Top choices for first-time visitors to NYC
Get a close up look at the Statue of Liberty and picture postcard views of the Manhattan skyline – for FREE, since it is free to ride the Staten Island Ferry.
Please avoid morning and afternoon rush hour, when the ferry is crowded with commuters traveling to and from work between Staten Island and Manhattan.
Note that while the ferry gives you a close-up view of Lady Liberty, the Staten Island Ferry does not dock at Liberty Island or Ellis Island.
The only way to visit Liberty Island and the Statue of Liberty is to purchase a ticket on Statue Cruises, which also stops at Ellis Island, where millions of immigrants arrived on these shores in the last century, including my own grandparents.
SCAM ALERT – Beware of hustlers selling tickets to “see” the Statue of Liberty. You could wind up on a bus to New Jersey, where you’ll get a long distance view.
- Board the Staten Island Ferry in Lower Manhattan at South Ferry. You must get off the ferry at St. George Terminal in Staten Island.
ecoXplorer tip – Leave some time to browse the discount shopping at Empire Outlets, the shopping mall attached to the St. George Terminal. There are restaurants and cafes, too.
You’ve seen the soaring, two-block long Main Reading Room in countless Hollywood films and TV shows.
See it for yourself, along with free exhibits focusing on books or New York City or both.
There are also free docent tours of this historic Beaux Arts building.
- Fifth Ave., between 42nd and 40th Streets.
Take a test drive of the latest gadgets and gear, check your email, or troubleshoot a problem with one of the Genius Bar gurus.
There also are classes to help you improve how you use anything Apple, from making videos to using the cloud.
There are Apple stores in Soho, Lincoln Center and Grand Central Terminal, downtown Brooklyn and elsewhere, but the only one open 24/7 is at Fifth Avenue and 59th Street.
There is also a Microsoft store on Fifth Avenue, close to Rockefeller Center, where you can check your email and test drive new products.
The site of the original World Trade Center twin towers is a memorial to the victims of that terrible day. Their names are engraved in the marble that surrounds the original footprints of the two towers and their sunken waterfalls.
Docents will help you find a particular name, hometown or country of a 9/11 victim, or the unit of a First Responder.
Visiting the 9/11 Memorial Plaza continues to be free.
Federal Reserve Bank
Show me the money!
You’ll feel like a million here, since there’s as much as $100 million in gleaming gold bars stored in the Gold Vault, five stories under Wall Street.
There are daily 60-minute tours, and heavy security that includes no cameras or camera-equipped smartphones.
You must have a reservation and a valid photo ID to enter. Show me the money!
Federal Hall National Monument
George Washington took the oath of office here as the first US President, when New York City was the first capital of the new United States of America.
His statue is out front, and there’s a small US history museum inside.
Take a FREE tour with one of the National Park Rangers, every hour on the hour.
- On Wall Street, directly across from the New York Stock Exchange.
FREE Museums in New York City
This outpost of the Smithsonian houses one of the world’s best collections of Native American art and artifacts, from tribes throughout the Americas, from the Arctic Circle to Patagonia.
Plus, there are free film screenings, cultural performances and workshops for kids. Be sure to look up at the Rotunda, which reminds me of the U. S. Capitol.
- NMAI is in Lower Manhattan, at Battery Park.
- A few blocks away is the Museum of Jewish Heritage
This little-known museum in Upper Manhattan contains one of the largest collections of Velasquez and Goya paintings outside Spain, plus other Hispanic treasures dating from the Bronze Age from Spain, Portugal and Latin America, including intricate tiles from Moorish Spain.
There are free docent tours on weekends.
- Located 155th St. and Broadway in Washington Heights.
FREE things to do in Brooklyn
Designed as a park in the 1800s for the residents of the independent City of Brooklyn, before it became part of New York City, it also happens to contain 500,000 permanent residents.
They include stained glass king Louis Comfort Tiffany, Broadway musical legend Leonard Bernstein, inventor Samuel B. Morse, and Charles Ebbetts, owner of the beloved Brooklyn Dodgers, who played in Ebbetts Field. There’s also a section of Civil War soldiers.
There are both free self-guided and docent tours, and a trolley tour.
New York City is the only place in the world I know of where you can take the subway to miles of white sand ocean beaches, including some stretches dedicated to surfing real ocean waves.
Coney Island and Brighton Beach are in Brooklyn, including the world-famous Cyclone roller coaster and the original Nathan’s Hot Dogs stand, still serving after 100+ years. And the famous Boardwalk, too.
There are additional stretches of Atlantic Ocean beach in Rockaway, Queens.
All have have boardwalks, lifeguards between Memorial Day and Labor Day, and plenty of room to spread out a blanket.
This was published originally on NYC on the Cheap, published by ecoXplorer Evelyn Kanter from 2008 to February 2022, and now rebranded as NYC Travel Guru.
So some of the links in this article are to the archive site of my former website, NYC on the Cheap, now rebranded as NYC Travel Guru.
Some of the links are to the web archive pages and the original postings, which are (C) Copyright Evelyn Kanter.
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Or at email@example.com, an email address I continue to keep and use. Beware of imitators.