There are a gazillion FREE and budget-friendly things to do in New York City any time of the year, especially in December, with all the FREE holiday tree lighting ceremonies, FREE light shows and store windows to enjoy, plus FREE concerts and dance performances and so much more.
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That’s our motto, and we’re sticking to it, and we’re family-friendly, too.
Some events require advance registration to manage space, so if you are interested, sign up.
See our complete guide to
all over town, Including
Rockefeller Center, Bryant Park and Central Park
Take a ride into the past on the annual MTA Holiday Nostalgia Train, on old-fashioned subway cars that were in service from the 1930s to the 1970s.
The vintage cars operate every Sunday in December, for the same price as a regular subway ride – $2.75 or less if you have a discount pass.
Yeti, Set, Snow Returns to the Swedish Cottage
Yeti, Set, Snow! – an original story and marionette show produced by City Parks Foundation – is now open at the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre in Central Park, with performances into February 2020.
Perfect for families with young children, this winter adventure with puppetry and music is perfect for getting into the winter holiday spirit.
Yeti, Set, Snow! tells the story of a young girl named Widget, and her friend, Twig, who encounter a yeti named Pascetti and a cat, Tinsel Kitty, on the first snow day. Pascetti, who lives on a mountaintop nearby, dislikes the snow. Through songs and outdoor activities, Pascetti learns not only that snow can be fun, but also that friendship is important.
Again this year, tickets are a bargain $8 for kids and $12 for the adults who accompany them.
Ticket purchases help to support FREE PuppetMobile performances in NYC parks.
There are as many as three performances a day, and even so, the most popular days around the holidays get sold out first.
They are all open now, and offering handmade and distinctive gift items, many by local NYC artists and artisan makers.
All are open through December 24th, and a few are open into January
Every holiday season, the New York Transit Museum’s Grand Central Gallery plays host to a city within a city with the display of a miniature electric railroad running over, through, and beneath some of New York’s most magnificent landmarks.
Celebrating its 18th year of operation in 2019/2020, this beloved annual holiday exhibit features model trains traveling along a 34’ long, two-level, “O” gauge model train layout.
Departing from a miniature replica of Grand Central Terminal, the Transit Museum’s collection of Lionel trains including Metro-North, Polar Express, and vintage subway train sets will dazzle the eyes of children and adults alike as they make their way past New York landmarks and on to the North Pole.
Because everybody loves trains.
- FREE, through February 23, 2020
Join members of the NYC Ski Council, which represents multiple ski clubs in the Tri-State Area, for a FREE event at Paragon Sports, with giveaways, raffle prices, free beer and snacks, live entertainment from a local fiddle band, and the chance to sign up for ski trips, and shopping discounts
There’s a chance to win FREE lift tickets from Plattekill and Gore Mountain in the east, and Whitefish Mountain and Homewood Mountain in the West.
- FREE, 6pm to 8pm, Saturday, Dec. 7 at Paragon Sports, Broadway at 18th St.
The U.S. Census Bureau is recruiting thousands of people in NYC across the country to assist with the 2020 Census count.
Attend this FREE program at the New York Public Library branch in Midtown to find out how to get a job that pays $20 an hour or more.
The U.S. Census Bureau is hiring for a variety of temporary jobs, including census takers, recruiting assistants, office staff, and supervisory staff. To be eligible, you must be at least 18 years old, have a valid Social Security number, and be a U.S. citizen.
Learn how to apply for full- time and part- time positions available with the pay starting at $20/hr. for NYC residents.
- FREE, 10am to 11:30am on Friday, Dec. 6
- At the SIBL branch of the NYPL (SIBL stands for Science, Industry, Business Library), Madison Ave. at 35th St.
- Seating is on a first come, first seated basis.
- Bring something to take notes on, such as an old-fashioned pen or pencil and paper
Turn the clock back to Christmas 1964 at this FREE special holiday program at the NYPL Library for the Performing Arts in Lincoln Center.
Join Gotham Radio Theatre for an afternoon of classic television, starring Rudolph and his merry band of misfits.
It’s a version of the classic tale, presented with a hint of parody and complete with vintage commercials, comprised of humorous twists and fond memories that will keep you laughing.
This is for the young AND the young at heart.
- FREE, Saturday, Dec 14 at the NYPL Library for the Performing Arts in Lincoln Center
- Two Performances Only: 1:00 PM and 3:30 PM.
- Free tickets at the door one hour before each performance.
This FREE family festival returns to Brooklyn in mid-December.
In honor of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing in 2019, this year’s theme is ORBIT THE EARTH. BECOME A ROBOT. EXPLORE THE BRAIN.
City of Science is for kids and the grown-ups who love them and want to encourage them to learn more about the wondrous properties of science, technology, engineering, and math collide. It’s an all-day event filled with interactive demonstrations and hands-on activities.
Unleash your inner scientist with these events and activities:
- Orbit Around the Earth and Sun
- Fly Drones and Code Robots
- Extract DNA and Hold Brains
- Collide Particles and Smash Atoms
- Build Rockets and Boats
- Walk on Water and Defy Gravity
FREE 10 am to 4pm Saturday, Dec. 14th at the Park Slope Armory YMCA, 361 15th St., Park Slope
You may not recognize the name Clement Clark Moore, but certainly you know his famous poem.
This annual event includes a reading of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, along with performances of holiday songs by local school group choruses.
- FREE, 3pm Sunday, Dec. 15
- Church of the Intercession, Broadway at 155th St.
Free and Cheap Things to Do in NYC Dec. 16-31
Pass the applesauce! Pass the sour cream! You’ll be eating for a good cause.
The 11th Annual NYC Latke Festival is a benefit for The Sylvia Center, a nonprofit nutrition education program that focuses on teaching cooking in underserved communities, inspiring children, teens and their families to eat well through hands-on experiences on the farm and in the kitchen.to inspire young people to make healthier eating choices, including teaching them to cook and bake nutritious food.
For the fourth year in a row, the 11th Annual Latke Festival will be held at the stunning Brooklyn Museum,
Tickets start at $60, and all net proceeds go to The Sylvia Center, as they have since 2008.
The Latke Festival is 6pm to 8:30pm, Monday, Dec. 16 at the Brooklyn Museum.
Go hungry, my friend.
Celebrate the Winter Solstice on Sat, Dec. 21 with dozens of FREE musical perforamances on New York City streets and in New York City parks, including musical parades.
You can sign up to perform, or just be the audience.
Make Music Winter Festival performances include caroling in Washington Square Park, a bell ringing extravaganza and these two events, one in Brookyn, one in Staten Island.
Prospect Parade –
The Flatfoot Flatbush organizers welcome dancers, fiddlers and pickers of all ages and skill levels to join their annual hootenanny down Flatbush Avenue playing old-time tunes while flat footing, a form of percussive dancing from Appalachia.
Beginning dancers can also sign up to attend a workshop with the Flatfoot Flatbush String Band to learn the steps of this rhythmic dance form just prior to the event. And the fun continues at an after-party featuring additional music and dance sets.
This popular parade is led by members of the City Stompers and the Porch Stomp festival organizers and is produced in association with the North Flatbush Business Improvement District.
Renegade Parade – The team behind HONK NYC, which brings street band music and spectacle to audiences citywide, invites musicians to join the second annual Renegade Parade down Bay Street in the St. George neighborhood of Staten Island.
Special concert and menorah lighting at the Museum at Eldridge Street for this joyous Hanukkah holiday celebration.
Clarinetist Greg Wall’s band Klezmerfest! gets the whole family singing, dancing and dabbling in Yiddish at this annual favorite concert.
The band will play their award-winning Klez For Kidz program for two shows – 12:00 PM and 2:30 PM – melding old-country sounds with contemporary Lower East Side energy.
Following each show, celebrate the fourth night of Hanukkah with special holiday songs and a menorah lighting.
- December 25 @ 12:00 pm – 5:00 pm
- Tickets are $14
- Museum at Eldridge Street, 12 Eldridge Street
Origami Holiday Tree
An annual Museum tradition, the delightfully decorated Origami Holiday Tree and two merrily lit 19-foot Holiday Barosaurs welcome visitors throughout the holiday season.
The theme of this year’s 13-foot tree is T. rex and Friends: History in the Making, with models inspired by the Museum’s special exhibition T. rex: The Ultimate Predator, which celebrates the world’s most famous dinosaur species, first discovered, named, and exhibited to the public by the Museum. In honor of the Museum’s 150th anniversary, the Origami Holiday Tree includes more than 150 origami models of theropod dinosaurs, including T. rex, as well as models of other Museum icons like the blue whale.
Volunteers, including local, national, and international origami artists, fold year-round, contributing to a collection of more than1,000 models that will be displayed on the tree. Each year the 13-foot-tree features a different theme relating to the Museum’s special exhibitions or to its collections, which include more than 34 million artifacts and specimens.
Past themes have included Oceans of Origami; Unfolding the Senses; Mighty and Microscopic Life; Origami Night at the Museum; Wicked, Wild, and Wonderful; Fantastic Creatures: Mythic and Real; Origami in Flight; Origami A to Z; and Origami Safari. During the holiday season, volunteers will be on hand to teach visitors of all ages origami, the art of paper folding.
The two Holiday Barosaurs, which greet visitors to the Museum on the front steps throughout the holiday season, are made of openwork stainless steel and festooned with pine boughs and lights. Illuminated at night, the whimsical dinosaurs flank the Museum’s Central Park West staircase and echo the Barosaurus mount in the Theodore Roosevelt Rotunda.
The Origami Holiday Tree is located in the Grand Gallery.
The Holiday Barosaurs are located outside the Museum’s main entrance on Central Park West at 79th Street.
- FREE to view, at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH)
- Nov. 25 to Jan. 12, 2020
I’m also the author of several NYC and Hudson Valley guidebooks, including my latest, 100 Things to Do in NYC Before You Die.