It’s no secret that New York City is one of the most expensive cities in America, but that doesn’t mean you have to go into credit card debt just to have fun. In fact, one of the greatest benefits of living in a city as big as New York is the abundance of free things to do and see. Of course, you could go out every weekend and spend a couple hundred dollars getting bottle service at a club, but then you’d probably have to sell some non-essential body parts to make your rent. So, to make your wallet (and your landlord) happy, take advantage of these completely free activities, from comedy shows and brewery tours to museum visits and tapings of late-night TV.
Every Saturday from 10am-12pm, admission to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, located on the north side of Prospect Park, is completely free. There’s plenty to see year-round, but make sure to head there in the spring when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom.
You’re not a true New Yorker unless you’ve stood in a line for over an hour, and no line is more worthwhile than the one for the free Sunday night Upright Citizens Brigade improv show ASSSCAT 3000 in Chelsea. Each week, a guest monologist (which could be a comedy writer, talk show host, or actor) tells stories from his or her life, and a group of improv comedians comes up with on-the-spot sketches based off the stories. Amy Poehler, who helped open the theater 20+ years ago, has been known to stop by as well. Here’s how the line works: Line up by 6:30pm to ensure you’ll get in (the theater passes out numbers at 8:15pm). You’ll have an hour to grab some food before lining up in the same order at 9:15pm to enter the theater. The show starts at 9:30.
Located at the very top of Manhattan in Fort Tryon Park, the Cloisters is a museum dedicated to Medieval art and architecture and the perfect place to wander away an afternoon. Take the A train to 190th St and then stroll through the park nestled right along the Hudson River. Although there’s a suggested price for admission, similar to the Met, The Cloisters’ sister museum, you can choose not to pay anything.
This free garden and public park in Long Island City is NYC’s only space dedicated to large-scale sculptures and outdoor multimedia installations. Highlights include a piano harp that’s been transformed into a beehive and a self-sustaining forest garden.
See a live taping of a daytime or late-night talk show
It will cost you exactly $0 to be in the same room as Jimmy Fallon, Seth Meyers, and Whoopi Goldberg as tapings to daytime and late-night talk shows filmed in NYC are completely free. You can put in requests for Good Morning America, Live with Kelly, The Chew, The View, and Late Night With Seth Meyers on this website, and information about many other free studio audience tickets can be found here. Most of these shows tape during weekdays, so if you work Monday-Friday, it might be harder to find a time that will work. However, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver tapes on Sunday afternoons, so it’s the perfect show for anyone who has a full-time job.
Yoga to the People, with five locations in New York City, offers donation-based yoga classes, which means if you don’t have a dollar, nobody’s going to stop you from getting your zen on. Unsurprisingly, the classes are pretty popular, so make sure you get there at least 15 minutes early to snag a spot, and bring your own mat (rentals are $2). If yoga isn't your thing, there are plenty of other ways to get fit in New York without spending any money.
Williamsburg & Astoria
Williamsburg-based Brooklyn Brewery offers free tours of its facility every half hour on Saturdays and Sundays, and after the tour, you can drink the beer for only $5 a pint (which isn’t free but still cheaper than most bars in New York). In Astoria, SingleCut Beersmiths holds a free tour at 5pm on Saturdays and Sundays.
Lower Manhattan & Staten Island
Tickets for ferry rides to the Statue of Liberty are ridiculously expensive, and you have to battle pushy tourists for a good seat. To get an up-close view of Lady Liberty and Ellis Island, take the Staten Island Ferry, which departs from Manhattan every 30 minutes. If you take it during sunset, you’ll get great views of the skyline, and you can sip beer right on the ferry for about $4 a drink (or BYO).
The North River Lobster Co. (a seafood-focused restaurant/bar located on a boat docked at Pier 81), will offer free rides along the Hudson River when it reopens in April. You’ll obviously have to pay for any drinks or food, but no one’s stopping you from visiting the floating lobster shack just to enjoy the views.
Admire some of the world’s finest art
Many New York City museums offer free admission days or pay-what-you-wish. There are also museums that are always free, like the FIT Museum in Chelsea, which features exhibits dedicated to fashion. Below are some of the best free museum days you’ll want to put in your planner now.
Stroll the High Line and Brooklyn Heights Promenade
Meatpacking & Brooklyn Heights
Once the weather starts to warm up, spend an early weekend morning walking the High Line, an abandoned aboveground railroad track turned into an urban park, or the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, which features the best views of Lower Manhattan. You’ll avoid the tourist crowd and get some exercise in all before brunch.
Suspend yourself above the East River
If you have an unlimited subway pass, trips on the Roosevelt Island Tram are free, so if you’re looking to conquer your fear of heights, there’s no better place than suspended above Midtown East and the East River. Once on Roosevelt Island, head south to South Point Park where there’s plenty of room to picnic, sunbathe, or set up an impromptu Instagram photo shoot with the skyline in the background.
Cuddle up with a good book inside an iconic building
After a two-year renovation, the iconic Rose Main Reading Room at the flagship New York Public Library in Bryant Park is now open to the public again, and it’s the perfect place to head on a rainy day to discover a new book. If you want to learn more about the library’s history, free one-hour tours of the whole building are offered on a first-come, first-serve basis Monday through Saturday at 11am and 2pm and Sundays at 2pm.
Tickets to the Broadway hit Hamilton are going to cost you a few hundred dollars, but for free, you can visit many of the places that Alexander Hamilton actually frequented or lived. The highlight of your self-guided tour around the city is Hamilton Grange, which is where Hamilton lived the last few years of his life.
Test your movie knowledge
Bushwick & Williamsburg
Tuesdays in Brooklyn are the perfect time to see if your film knowledge is strong enough to get you free drinks. Every other Tuesday at 8pm, Syndicated Bar in Bushwick hosts a free movie-trivia night (winners get certificates to the movie theater in the bar, and there are chances to win free drinks throughout the night). Every Tuesday at 8:30pm, Videology in Williamsburg also hosts movie trivia with the prize of a free round of drinks for the winning team. Time to round up that one friend who can name every Best Picture winner since 1938.
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