Many of New York City’s buzzed-about locations don’t come cheap. For example, an elevator ride to the top of the Empire State Building can set you back more than $30, while a quick walk inside the crowded hallways of the Met costs no less than $25.
Indeed, the Big Apple certainly isn’t at the top of the list for many budget travellers, which is a shame considering the many activities you can still enjoy in this metropolis without paying a single dime. So, if you’re saving your money for a spicy meal at Ugly Baby or a Broadway show at the Lyceum, make sure you take advantage of these great activities in NYC that are absolutely free.
1. Ride the Staten Island Ferry
Want an amazing (and free) view of the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and the skyscrapers of Manhattan? Then get onboard the Staten Island Ferry. On a regular day, they move as many as 60,000 passengers, and you can even grab a cheap beer (or have dinner) while enjoying a dramatic sunset view. Pro tip: Avoid the faster craft unless you’re in a hurry — there’s no outside deck.
2. Visit St. Patrick’s Cathedral
The Gothic-themed St. Patrick’s Cathedral is a stunning place that hosts free daily tours. It’s also less than 20 minutes away on foot from convenient locations like the Grand Central Terminal and iconic hotels such as Westgate Hotel New York City, making it an ideal spot if you’re planning on seeing New York while avoiding the madness of hailing a New York taxi cab.
Here are just some of the things you can expect on a visit to St. Patrick’s Cathedral:
- Grand ceilings
- Beautiful choir music (if you’re lucky)
- Magnificent art-filled stained glass windows
- Spectacular decorations during the holiday season
- Awe-inspiring sculptures of different saints
Other popular religious destinations in NYC include the Cathedral of St. John the Divine and Trinity Church.
3. Tour the World’s Largest Gold Vault
If you’re done checking out the nice churches in the area, you can book a tour to visit the Federal Reserve, home to one of the largest known gold deposits in the world. It’s highly recommended to book a tour 30 days in advance since they only allow for roughly 50 openings per day, which can get snagged quickly. Choose among the six different time slots available between Monday to Friday. and get a chance to see the vault, museum, plus a collection of rare coins from all over the world.
4. Enjoy Free Outdoor Movie Screenings
There’s no shortage of action blockbusters, family-friendly animated films, and Hollywood classics to be enjoyed at Brooklyn Bridge Park. This accurately-named event—“Movies with a View”—takes place once a week (usually Saturday) and offers a beautiful opportunity to have a picnic, with the Manhattan skyline as a backdrop as you watch iconic oldies and newer movie releases.
5. Check Out Free Museums
Surprise, surprise. Many of New York’s museums offer free admission, too. Make sure to visit these locations for an expense-free cultural experience:
- Socrates Sculpture Park
- American Folk Art Museum
- Waterfront Museum
- Neue Gallery (First Friday of the month, 6-8 p.m.)
- Museum of Modern Art (Every Friday, 5:30-9 p.m.)
- American Museum of Natural History
- New York Public Library Tours
While not exactly free, there are also museums that specifically let visitors pay what they wish, which can sometimes be zero.
Pay What You Wish:
- Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (Every Saturday, 5-8 p.m.)
- Whitney Museum of American Art (Every Friday, 7-9:30 p.m.)
- Frick Collection (Every Wednesday, 2-6 p.m.)
- National September 11th Museum (Every Tuesday, 5 p.m. to closing time, varies by season)
You’ll have to arrive early for them though since these schedules are not exactly a secret anymore, and the lines are long as a result. Schedules may also differ from the ones posted here, so make sure to check their websites.
6. Visit the Chelsea Galleries
Since the 1990s, the galleries in Chelsea have established a reputation as windows to New York’s thriving art scene, and you’ll be happy to know that dozens of these galleries cost nothing at all to visit and with no pressure to buy.
It’s also a great way to get introduced to the city’s contemporary art scene, which is teeming with talent.
Some of the Free-to-Visit Galleries:
- David Zwirner Gallery
- Gagosian Gallery
- Agora Gallery
- High Nine Line
- 303 Gallery
- Tanya Bonaker Gallery
- C24 Gallery
- Wilensky Exquisite Mineral Gallery
Granted, there’s been a noticeable dimming of artistic splendour in the area because of gentrification, but it’s still a one-stop-shop for creatives and art enthusiasts.
New York Is a Great Destination for Savvy Travellers
Luckily for us, there’s plenty of fun and enriching activities in the Big Apple that don’t require us to spend. So the next time you think about travelling to New York City, there’s no reason to hold your wallet tight in fear for your savings. The city has something for everyone, including the budget-conscious.