Whether you are a NYC visitor or NYC native, this NYC on the Cheap list of the best FREE things to do in New York City offers something for everybody.
Several of the best FREE things to do in New City are included in the latest guidebook by NYCOTC Editor Evelyn Kanter. Publishing May 2019, and available now for pre-order on Amazon.
Staten Island Ferry
Get a close up look at the Statue of Liberty and picture postcard views of the Manhattan skyline. Please avoid morning and afternoon rush hour, when the ferry is crowded with commuters traveling to and from work between Staten Island and Manhattan. So please avoid morning and evening rush hours, when the Staten Island Ferry is crowded with New Yorkers getting to and from work.
Note that while the ferry gives you a close-up view of Lady Liberty, it does not dock at Liberty Island. The only way to visit the island and the statue 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.
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 unit of a First Responder.
Visiting the 9/11 Memorial continues to be free, but there is a fee to enter the excellent National September 11 Museum, which adjoins the Memorial, and a separate fee to visit the One World Observatory.
Apple Retail Stores
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 stores in Soho, Lincoln Center and Grand Central Terminal, but the only one open 24/7 is at Fifth Avenue and 59th Street.
New York Public Library
There are also free docent tours of this historic Beaux Arts building, on Fifth Ave., between 42nd and 40th Streets.
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.
This photo is one of the Thunderbird American Indian Dancers, a group of New Yorkers of various Native American tribes, who perform often at the museum.
Learn about the future of mobility – that’s the new word for “transportation”, including self-driving and autonomous cars, ride-sharing, shared ownership, managing congestion and pollution, and more, including interactive and “virtual reality” games. Helpful Ford Guides to explain the future technology, and there’s a wall of miniature cars and trucks that also will fascinate kids of any age.
In the Oculus, the transportation center/shopping center in Lower Manhattan.
They include stained glass king Louis Comfort Tiffany, Broadway musical legend Leonard Bernstein, inventor Samuel B. Morse, and Charles Ebbetts, owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, who played in Ebbetts Field. There are both self-guided and docent tours.
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. At 155th St. and Broadway in Washington Heights.
Hidden in the basement of a Fifth Avenue office building steps from Rockefeller Center and St. Patrick’s Cathedral, this is a treasure trove of ancient Greek artifacts, including statues, mosaics, jewelry and coins.
There are rotating exhibits, family workshops and docent tours, all free.
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 tour with one of the National Park Rangers, every hour on the hour.
On Wall Street, directly across from the New York Stock Exchange.
Federal Reserve Bank
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!
Coney Island and Brighton Beach in Brooklyn and Rockaway in Queens have boardwalks, lifeguards between Memorial Day and Labor Day, and plenty of room to spread out a blanket.
NOTE This showcase of interactive high-tech exhibits and free movie screenings in Midtown has closed but remains listed on many outdated NYC guides.
We’ll be adding more NYC freebies. If you have a favorite you’d like to see included in this list, email us at [email protected]
This list was published in May 2016, and last updated in February 2019.