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10 Things to do in New York City for Free

Written by 2 May 2012 10 Comments

I love New York. I know it’s a cliché, but it’s true. Unfortunately, my love affair with the Big Apple quickly turns sour when I remember what an expensive date she is.

Despite New York’s notoriously high price tag, I – and millions of others – decide to risk bankruptcy again and again just to visit it. However, when I went to New York last summer, I was on a budget. Convinced I could enjoy what my favourite city had to offer without spending a fortune, I set out to find some (free) adventures.

Here is a list of 10 things that you can do in NYC for free, some of which were the best moments I had on my holiday.

1. The High Line

High Line NYC 600x401 10 Things to do in New York City for Free

Photograph: Personal

The High Line is a public park located on the lower west side of Manhattan. While it’s true that the city is full of beautiful parks, none of them are quite like this. The High Line park is a recycled elevated New York Central Railroad – hence the name. It’s open from 7am – 7pm daily and offers lush greenery, interesting views of the city and the peculiar feeling of being in a park and yet at the same time, in the middle of a road. Not to mention the abundance of opportunity for many a quirky photo. And, if nothing else, go for a pleasant walk and the novelty it brings.

2. Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge

Brooklyn Bridge 10 Things to do in New York City for Free

Photograph: Personal

This was by far the highlight of my trip. It was the middle of summer and boiling hot. With no shade to be seen, the task was a little daunting at first and the thought of sipping an ice tea in Starbucks seemed a much more appealing option. However, I’m so glad I actually walked across the bridge and back and I’m sure you would be too. The walk itself was rewarding, but the views of the iconic New York skyline and of the East River are magnificent, and the ‘all-in-this-together’ atmosphere amongst us pedestrians definitely spurred me on. The lengthy stroll also provides ample opportunity to get snap-happy and means there’s no need to pay for the subway or a cab to get to Brooklyn.

3. See a show at the UCB Theatre

Upright Citizens Brigade 10 Things to do in New York City for Free

Photograph: Marcin Wichary. “Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theatre”

The Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre can be found on West 26th Street and if you like to laugh then there’s no excuse not to go. Every day of the week there are improv, sketch, and stand-up comedy shows performed by up and coming actors and comedians. Not all the shows are free but just check out the schedule on line (http://newyork.ucbtheatre.com/schedule) and you can find out which performances have no charge. Of course, you still have to get tickets but if you arrive early enough and don’t mind waiting in line then this shouldn’t be a problem. I highly recommend ASSCAT 3000, which I was lucky enough to see. It’s a long-form improv show whose cast is the actual Upright Citizens Brigade, one of whom is Amy Poehler. It was by far the best improv show I’ve seen, and it was genuinely hilarious. It’s definitely not to be missed.

4. Kayak on the Hudson

Kayaking on the Hudson 10 Things to do in New York City for Free

Photograph: “Kayaking on the Hudson River

Although the iconic means of travel in NYC is the New York taxi, or perhaps even the subway, why not be original and jump into a kayak on the Hudson River? As long as you know how to swim and aren’t afraid of getting a little wet then it’s a fun activity and a new way to explore New York. The Downtown Boathouse offers free walk-up kayaking every weekend, normally between 9am and 6pm (10am – 5pm on 72nd Street) and they provide everything you’ll need, including lessons. They even offer a 3-hour guided trip from Pier 96 if you already have a little kayaking experience.

5. Wine tasting at Big Nose Full Body

1brookvin 10 Things to do in New York City for Free

Photograph: Papermag

If you’re looking for an afternoon pick-me-up, or simply appreciate fine wines, but you want to save your cash for some holiday souvenirs then give Brooklyn’s Big Nose Full Body a visit. Every Saturday between 4 and 6 they offer free wine tastings and have more then 300 wines on offer. Not only that, but the staff are excellent, doing everything they can to accommodate you and make you feel welcome. Helpful staff, a huge selection and free alcohol – what more could you want?

6. Spice up your life with free salsa

salsa havanna 7 600x450 10 Things to do in New York City for Free

Photograph: via Club History

If you liked Latin and Hip Hop music, you need to go to SOB’s in the west of SoHo. If you like free salsa dancing, you need to go there too. Every Friday from 7pm you can attend a free class and then dance the night away using your newly acquired skills with no charge. Even if you don’t take the class beforehand, ladies need pay no admission fee to enter the club, though unfortunately for men, they have to pay $10 to get their groove on. Sometimes it’s wonderful to be a woman.

7. Hang out with The Bard in Central Park

ShakespeareinthePark 10 Things to do in New York City for Free

Photograph: Joseph Moran. “Free Shakespeare in the Park performances have been offered in New York’s Central Park since 1954”. http://travel.nationalgeographic.com

If you’ve never heard of Shakespeare in the Park before, then let me explain. It’s an annual outdoor festival held in Central Park. Every summer, tourists and New Yorkers alike flock to the park in the morning to join the queue of people attempting to secure a free ticket. Those who are successful can then enjoy a wonderful evening in the outdoors watching a performance of one Shakespeare play or another. Sometimes, even a famous actor or two will appear on stage just to add to the excitement. It really is a lovely experience, so it’s definitely worth the wait.

8. Have a ride on the Staten Island Ferry

Staten Island Ferry 10 Things to do in New York City for Free

Photograph: Personal

This is both a fun activity and a cheeky way to cheat the system. Whether you want to have a look round Staten Island or not, it’s worth taking a ride on the ferry. It gives you a chance to see the breathtaking panorama of NYC, as well as giving you a sneaky look at the Statue of Liberty on your way past, without having to pay for a ferry ticket to Liberty Island. However, be warned: if you stand on the front deck you’ll be sporting a wind-swept hairdo when you disembark.

9. Fill your stomach at The Mark Bar

TheMarkBar 10 Things to do in New York City for Free

Photograph: “The Mark Bar”. http://brooklyn.cityvoter.com/the-mark-bar/biz/30902#more

Situated in Brooklyn’s hipster neighbourhood, Greenpoint, The Mark Bar has a creative clientele. But the real reason you want to pop into this quaint little pub is the fact that after 6pm they give away pizza and cold cuts for free, and if you’re around Brooklyn on a Sunday then give it a visit after midday and fill your boots with free coffee and bagels. I spent so much time here when I was in New York that I almost became a hipster myself. Almost.

10. Go to food heaven at Union Square Greenmarket

new york city green market union square 600x450 10 Things to do in New York City for Free

Photograph: “Union Square Greenmarket” by Eden Pictures

Every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, between the hours of 8am and 6pm, Union Square is packed with market stalls, brimming with fresh, organic produce. Of course, the option to buy some of that mouth-watering food is there, but if you don’t want to spend any money then there’s the option to just wander around, taking in the sights, the smells, and the best part: the tastes. The farmers are more than happy to let you sample some of their delectable fresh fruit, vegetables, bread, cheeses and jam (amongst other things). It’s the perfect place to go for a free meal, especially when you’re feeling fickle.

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10 Comments »

  • Sonja said:

    your article makes me want to go to nyc again!!! immediately:)

  • Roy Marvelous said:

    Also, one of my favorite things about NYC – Open bars!
    Check out: http://nyc.myopenbar.com

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  • Angie said:

    Ever since the day I watched Breakfast at Tiffanies I have desperately wanted to explore New York. This blog is by far the best travel blog I have read. Not only is this blog a pleasure to read, but it has information that is actually relevant to young globe trotters like myself, who have too much adventure in their blood, and not enough money in their bank accounts. The photographs really inspired me and it’s a relief to find a blog where the bloggers are creating content and not just reposting other peoples. I just decided my next holiday destination is New York!

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  • Ingo said:

    Will certainly try some of our advices…thanks so much for sharing…great posting!

    Cheers!
    Ingo

  • tim said:

    as a new yorker, i’m not sure why central park isn’t on your list outside of visiting the bard. Strawberry Fields, The Ramble, and The Northern Gardens are some of the most amazing places in this city. Also, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is a suggested donation with many visitors paying only a dollar or two. Albeit this is not ‘free’, the Met is one of the best museums i have ever been to, and i’ve personally spent entire days inside. With endless exhibitions on constant rotation, and a breathtaking open rooftop bar/snack area which doubles as exhibition space overlooking all of central park, i think the Met deserves a special recognition.

  • Evan Fain said:

    I’d also recommend checking out Summer Sparks, a completely FREE outdoor, learning series held at Hudson River Park (Pier 63). Every week, Summer Sparks offers unique, pop-up classes taught by the city’s best instructors in topics iphone-photography, origami, kimchi-making, drawing , salsa dancing, and more. Classes are free but require registration on CourseHorse at: http://coursehorse.com/summer-sparks-classes-nyc

  • John - Ny Shopping said:

    New York is an amazing city with some many things to do.
    The High Line is park is one of my favorite places to walk.

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